Providential Opportunities

I was recently struck anew by reading Genesis 26. It’s the story of Isaac dwelling in Gerar. The story is familiar. We might read it in “like father, like son” fashion. As Abraham told Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, Isaac did the same. Yes, we sometimes learn from our parents. Even the patriarchs passed on what was not good.  But that’s not what struck me. 

There was a famine in the land and the Lord told Isaac not to go down to Egypt but to dwell in the land of Canaan. There is direction and wisdom here. In other words, Egypt was forbidden by divine precept, but the land of Promise remained open before Abaraham’s heir.  So, he thought it wise to go to Gerar. While there he prospered but also encountered conflict. The Philistines were quarreling with him and displacing him. They chased him from water, which was needed in the best of times but especially during famine.  But eventually we read in Genesis 26:22,

And he moved from there and dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it. So he called its name Rehoboth, saying, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.”   

I am struck by Isaac’s patience under difficult providences. I’m not saying that he didn’t sin when he was chased from the wells his father had dug. Even if he didn’t say anything audibly, he was perhaps having an inaudible conversation in his own head and “saying” things better left “unsaid.” Who has not had those “in-house” conversations?

But despite his own self-dealings, Isaac was able to see God’s hand in it all.  The recognition of God’s providence is visible in the statement “the Lord has made room for us.”  The sense of the Hebrew is that God has created an opportunity for us.  Now, that is a good response. We could and should learn from it. Situations and circumstances, providential moments, are not tea leaves to be read so that we can discern the future. They are not signs from God for us to read like hieroglyphics. Providential moments are opportunities for us to be faithful. Isaac recognized that God had given him an opportunity to be faithful and fruitful without hinderance.

Previous hard providences weren’t opportunities to be unfaithful. Certainly not! They too called for the same faithfulness as peaceful providences. However, let’s face it, hard providences feel, well, hard and restrictive rather than wide and spacious. But there is something else we forget. The hard providences of humiliation prepare us for the green pastures of exaltation and fruitfulness.

Where are you today? Is someone quarreling with you? Are you experiencing someone’s hatred? As hard as it is to hear, you are being given opportunities for faithfulness. Don’t shrink back from them. Don’t wish them away. Don’t curl up in the fetal position and engage in self-pity. See these moments as opportunities to be faithful knowing that the Lord who is faithful is with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you and he will make room for you. 

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is the Editorial Director of Ref21 and Place for Truth both online magazines of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 


Jeffrey Stivason