“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.