“Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year:
You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty); and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labours which you have sown in the field;
and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labours from the field.
[Exodus 23:14-16 NKJV]
I am currently reading a book about the Lord’s feasts. It is called “The Feasts of Israel” by Kevin J Conner. This book, like a lot of Conner’s work is presented as a textbook for study purposes, and in this regard his books excel. This, however was not my reason for the scripture I have chosen for today; it was more to do with this being the last day of 2020 — a year which will go down in the history books like few others.
Some have named 2020 as ‘the beginning of the end’. I do not agree. That beginning began centuries ago; we might now be in the realisation of prophecy, and if so, we can be thankful in knowing our God. It is easy to put doom-laden ‘end of the world is nigh’ labels on 2020/2021 — it has happened many times in history — but we should always have a reassurance in our Heavenly Father that whatever may befall, He is in control of all things.
Exodus mentions three feasts ‘unto the Lord’ in the year, culminating in the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year when you have gathered in the fruit of your labours. This, of course is not referring to the end of the calendar year, but to the Spiritual year, (and also to our individual maturing in our walk with Jesus Christ, as well as to the fulfilment of the entire plan of God).
In Israel they had two calendars — a secular calendar and a religious calendar, set seven months apart. This may seem like boring detail, but it provides confirmation of some scriptural truth. e.g. the Feast of Passover — the first great feast, which we celebrate as Easter — could be seen as the Feast of Tabernacles, depending on which calendar you looked at. This is significant and unveils the profound revelation, that what for us is ‘Passover’, was ‘Tabernacles’ for Jesus. Put simply: in Jesus’ death and resurrection is our beginning.
So it is with today — at the end of the year — we are about to step forward into a new year, a new time, a stepping forward with hope for better days. January takes its name from the old Roman god of the doorway, Janus, who was always portrayed as looking back and forward at the same time. New Year is, for us all, a time of considering the old year and trying to put it in perspective, and for starting afresh on a new path.
As believers we have something immeasurably greater — a God who gives us resurrection life now, as we walk towards Him, and the promise of everlasting life with Him. There is no looking back. We need not worry about the temporal, when we know the eternal.
The ideal is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us—“I reckon on you for extreme service, with no complaining on your part and no explanation on Mine.” God wants to use us as He used His own Son.
So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned.
And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, "Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac." And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham's sight because of his son.
But God said to Abraham, "Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed."
[Genesis 21:8-13 NKJV]
When I was young, there was a game that was played called Truth or Consequences. In this parlour game, someone would ask a question and if the others failed to give the right answer, a penalty was exacted; usually something like “you must wash the dishes for a week”. Rarely in my experience did “the punishment fit the crime”, which is why I refused to take part in such an unjust game. I believe that there was an American game show based on this idea and with the same title.
Abraham in this Genesis story found himself in the middle of such a thing. He had to face up to God’s truth and pay the consequences too. God is just and merciful, but His immutable law of sowing and reaping (as you sow, so shall you reap), cannot be ignored
This is an aspect of this that we must consider in the inheritance battle between Ishmael and Isaac. In the meditation “Submit Yourself”, we looked at the consequences of how two people Abram and Sarai dealt with their desire for a child, despite all the odds against this. Sarai seems to put aside her trust in God and offers her maidservant, Hagar, an Egyptian, to Abram, and the child Ishmael is born. We can see in this story that Ishmael is always going to be the firstborn in you and I, for he is a type of a natural birth.
Thirteen years later, Isaac is born supernaturally to Sarah (noblewoman) and Abraham (father of a multitude) — both having their name and nature changed from natural to spiritual by The Lord. By this I mean that when we give ourselves to The Lord, we are reborn into His life, which is of the Spirit — thus Isaac is born in us also. Being “born again” does not mean that our old life is done away with; instead we have Ishmael and Isaac battling in us for dominance. Ishmael the older and stronger is always likely to push Isaac the younger out of the way and is why we struggle daily to keep our older “flesh” nature under control and allow the “spiritual” to flourish.
Abraham found this an immense struggle, and could not banish his son Ishmael from his presence as Sarah said that he should. Eventually God took a hand in this — for the furtherance of His plan — and says to Abraham "Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.
It is a hard truth, and one that we must hear or face the consequences. We need to cast out the bondwoman and her son — and allow His Holy Spirit to flourish in you and I. We are assured of The Lord’s help. His plan will succeed.
In tribulation, misunderstanding, slander, in the midst of all these things, if our life is hid with Christ in God, He will keep us at ease. We rob ourselves of the marvellous revelation of this abiding companionship of God. God is our refuge”—nothing can come through that shelter.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.
Then Sarai said to Abram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me.”
So Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.” And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.
Now the Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”
The Angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.”
[Genesis 16:1-10 NKJV]
This story is an important one, and although the interaction between Sarai (Princess) and Abram (exalted father) seems unusual in our eyes (Sarai requests that Abram has a child with her maid, and the child would then be hers), it appears that it was the practice in those days. However, once the maid Hagar (flight) bore the child Ishmael (God will hear), she turned against Sarai — and thus, this very human situation in one family sparked an enmity which has reverberated through the centuries and remains a conflict for many in the present day, for through Ishmael’s line we have the Islamic faith, and through Sarai’s child Isaac (he laughs), came the Judeo-Christian expression.
Then, in one of those quick scene changes at which the Bible excels (we cannot complain that the story takes too long to come to the point), the Angel of The Lord appears to Hagar at Shur (wall, from a root meaning to turn or travel about as a harlot or merchant) and tells her to return and submit herself to Sarai, in return for which “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” [NLT]
It is surely a wonderful mercy that the Lord will come to us in a time of wandering in sinfulness — when we are “digging ourselves deeper” — and promise such abundance if we will but submit and return. Our willingness to repent; submit our will to His, is the key to unlocking a deeper relationship with Him and opens the door to His manifold blessings.
Hagar’s reward was many descendants, but her son was not to be the one with whom God would make His everlasting covenant:
And Abraham said to God, "Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!"
Then God said: "No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year."
[Genesis 16:18-21 NKJV]
A river touches places of which its source knows nothing, and Jesus says if we have received of His fullness, however small the visible measure of our lives, out of us will flow the rivers that will bless to the uttermost parts of the earth. We have nothing to do with the out-flow—This is the work of God that ye believe. . . .” God rarely allows a soul to see how great a blessing he is.
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.
Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.
And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent.
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.
But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness.
So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him.
[Genesis 9:1,18-24 NKJV]
Our last meditation was on fruitfulness and mentioned the younger son, and that reminded me of a word that I had heard a few years back of how God many times reveals His truth through the younger son.
The first mention of this is in Genesis, chapter 9 shown above; but who is the younger son to which Noah refers? Is he referring to his grandson Canaan, or to his younger sons Shem and Japheth? Ham was his firstborn son, although he was the one who had acted incorrectly.
What is clear is that, although Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God; Noah was not without sin. This is important for us to get hold of — we can be just, perfect in our generations, and walking with God; but we can still fall short of the perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
There is a lot to be pulled out of these verses; but we shall stick with ‘the younger son’. Various sources differ as to who was Noah’s younger son. Some say Ham, some say Japheth; but whatever order they were born, we can be assured that God is saying many things through these verses.
To look at the story, it makes clear that Noah and His sons were to populate the earth spiritually. It seems that Ham and his offspring went south to Africa, while Shem covered the Jewish people and Japheth the gentiles; in this way they filled the earth.
As if this was not enough to the story, there is also the personal aspect. Noah had too much wine and exposed himself to approbation. Ham (hot) saw this and pointed it out to Shem (name) and Japheth (opened), who, rather than condemn, covered their father (literally) and refused to see him in his exposed state. In other words, they protected him; they showed love and confirmation, in a way that Ham did not.
Shem and Japheth showed love and wanted to cover their father. Our Lord shows exactly that to us; He is our covering.
But as to the Younger son; we can see that most notably in the stories of Ishmael and Isaac, as well as Esau and Jacob and, in the New Testament, the story of the Prodigal Son. Our Heavenly Father reveals His line and His plan through the younger.
Of this there is much more to be said — but not today. May the Lord bless you and keep you; holding you to Himself in these difficult times.
Put all “supposing” on one side and dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about that thing. All our feet and worry is caused by calculating without God.
And to Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Poti-Pherah priest of On, bore to him.
Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house.”
And the name of the second he called Ephraim: “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
[Genesis 41:50-53 NKJV]
Some of my better paintings have only come about through a great inner struggle. I doubt any ability or creative talent The Lord has given me, and my hand does not obey the vision in my mind.
It is only when I give up any idea of myself that anything is achieved. It is said that Michelangelo could ‘see’ his completed sculptures within the marble and that all he did was release them. Michelangelo was a believer* and, I believe, was given much Holy Spirit insight in his creativity. There is a book to be written (or more likely several books have been written) on this subject, so I shall not venture further here; but more than a few artists have expressed the feeling that the hand of another was guiding their work.
Joseph acknowledged his debt to God by naming his sons to express his gratitude to God. Manasseh the firstborn (forgetting) for God has made me forget all my toil, and his younger son Ephraim, meaning “doubly fruitful”, for God has caused me to be fruitful. “Ephraim” comes from Ephrath (fruitful), the old name for Bethlehem. I am in awe of the way that Scripture interweaves and locks real depth of meaning and revelation into the background of every verse.
Joseph says for God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction; and we know that when God causes fruitfulness He does so abundantly. It is a reminder that whatever our endeavours, we need to seek the Lord’s help — He will turn our efforts from failure to fruitfulness if we follow His will and not our own.
*. Michelangelo was a devout person, but later in life he developed a belief in Spiritualism, for which he was condemned by Pope Paul IV. The fundamental tenet of Spiritualism is that the path to God can be found not exclusively through the Church, but through direct communication with God. Pope Paul IV interpreted Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, painted on the wall of the Sistine Chapel 20 years after completing the ceiling, as defaming the church by suggesting that Jesus and those around him communicated with God directly without need of Church. (source: Scientific American)
“Gloria in excelsis Deo” — Glory to God In The Highest
There are many things that are perfectly legitimate, but if you are going to concentrate on God you cannot do them. Your right hand is one of the best things you have, but Jesus says if it hinders you in following His precepts, cut it off. This line of discipline is the sternest one that ever struck mankind.
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
[Luke 2:7-14 NKJV]
There is always something miraculous about the birth of a child, and I consider myself so hugely fortunate with our children and grandchildren; each one so beautifully fashioned that it breaks your heart. Every new life precious.
Not everyone is able to experience that particular joy — and for many and varied reasons — but I believe that our Lord is one who mends every broken reed, and we should all be encouraged and find joy in every moment.
Be assured this is not easy, as we know only too well, and indeed identify with al those who are troubled at this time of year. Easy to say and difficult to do. Exactly right.
When Jesus was born, it was into the humblest of circumstances. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords was born in a cowshed. The place of your birth and the nature of your nurture does not define you. These things, impactful as they are, need not make you who you are. Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ can transform your situation if you turn to Him. Only He can lift you out and raise you up. That has been my experience and that of so many.
“the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.“
At this time of year and in this particularly trying year on every front, we pray for that great joy of the new birth for you all; that we may be refreshed and renewed for a regenerating year in 2021.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
[Isaiah 9:6-7 NKJV]
Jesus Christ is God incarnate coming into human flesh from the outside, His life is the Highest and the Holiest entering in at the lowliest door. Have I allowed my personal life to become a “Bethlehem” for the Son of God?
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.
So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.
[Luke 2:1-6 NKJV]
The Bible pays great attention to lineage and heritage. We have already seen that, bearing the name of the father — passing that name and nature from one generation to the next is paramount. Why? It is is the everlasting, the continuing of an unbroken line through eternity; not merely in the natural realm, but that the Spirit of the Living God is forever alive in a people through all generations.
We see that most readily to modern understanding in Matthew chapter 1, where Jesus lineage is set out as proof of His royal heritage.
It begins: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: [Matthew 1:1 NKJV] and concludes with And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations. [Matthew 1:16-17 NKJV].
Why is this deemed so important that it be set at the beginning of The New Testament? This is establishing from the outset that Jesus has the credentials, the family tree which establishes Him clearly in the line of Abraham and David. Matthew was writing to the Jews predominantly and he was giving the proof that Jesus was who He said He was.
More than that; if, as John says, If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. [1 John 4:12-13]. If I am one with Christ (and He lives in me), then I am of the same generation as Jesus.
Or put another way; For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [because it pleased Him and was His kind intent]--
[So that we might be] to the praise and the commendation of His glorious grace (favour and mercy), which He so freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. [Ephesians 1:5-6 AMPC]
We are adopted in His family — our natural circumstances do not apply — we too are of the house and lineage of David.
Have you ever noticed what Jesus said would choke the word He puts in? The devil? No, the cares of this world. It is the little worries always. I will not trust where I cannot see, that is where infidelity begins. The only cure for infidelity is obedience to the Spirit.
Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to our father Abraham: to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
[Luke 1:67-80 NKJV]
... through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; this is a wonderful expression; so beautifully poetic. The Dayspring from on high has visited us; but what is Zacharias referring to when he talks of the Dayspring?
The Amplified Bible translates verse 78 as Because of and through the heart of tender mercy and loving-kindness of our God, a Light from on high will dawn upon us and visit [us], which gives a more readily identifiable picture of Zacharias’ prophecy.
Dayspring however, is a lovely description of the dawning of a new day and the birth of a saviour, and delving deeper into the birth of that word, reveals a unique perspective on the profound nature of what The Holy Spirit had given Zacharias to reveal in prophecy.
anatolē, translated as “Dayspring” in the New King James Version, means east (the direction of the Sun’s rising), but is itself derived from a word meaning to rise from, be descended from. In turn that word is made up from two concept words which say — putting those ideas together — the eternal in the midst.
We can see clearly how those onlookers were astonished at what The Holy Spirit was revealing through Zacharias! Having been made speechless; he breaks with tradition in naming his child, then proclaims the most amazing prophecy; that the eternal was coming to the temporal to reveal the way of peace!
“Add to your faith virtue ...” (2 Peter 1:5).
“Add” means there is something we have to do.
We are in danger of forgetting that we cannot do what God does, and that God will not do what we can do.
We cannot save ourselves nor sanctify ourselves, God does that; and God will not give us good habits, He will not give us character, He will not make us walk aright. We have to do all that ourselves, we have to work out the salvation that God has worked in.
So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”
But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.
And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.
[Luke 1:59-64 NKJV]
In some ways in this meditation, I am shamelessly leaning on my own family and my experience of it; but it is what I know, and all of us can only speak from what we know.
In the Bible names are very important indeed. I learned that when I did a study on rebuilding the gates of Jerusalem as told in the book of Nehemiah. The names of the many saints who contributed to that work spoke enormously of the spiritual nature of that rebuilding and gave me an insight into something of which I’d been told but not realised until I’d seen it for myself.
This is important — seeing it for yourself — because our relationship with the Lord is an intensely personal thing. He speaks to you and I according to our relationship with Him, but never against His connection with His creation. Do we know this?
In this passage from Luke, many were astonished that Zacharias, John’s father, went against tradition and did not name his son after himself, but as Elizabeth had heard. This was a man who had now heard from the Holy Spirit. We are encouraged to do the same.
John, as we know, means “Jehovah is a gracious giver”. Isn’t He just. John (the Baptist) had a crucial part to play in the eternal story. Jesus’ name was important, and each one of us is named by God in His eternal purpose. We are, each one, given a new name in Him. That name is Jeshua (which is also Joshua, which is also Jesus) and means ‘He is saved’.
We are called by the name of our Father, which is salvation. Our natural fathers were integral to our earthly existence; but our Heavenly Father is essential to our eternal existence. Always remember that we have been called by the name of His Father.
Never forget that our capacity in spiritual matters is measured by the promises of God. Is God able to fulfil His promises? Our answer depends on whether we have received the Holy Spirit.
GEORGE and GILL STEWART