Is it too late for Hagar and Ishmael to return to the table?
What an odd question! But there is a reason for it and I need to explain.
Many people would rightly trace the complex enmity in the Middle East all the way back to Abraham and Sarah’s household 4000 years ago. You probably remember that Sarah was barren and yet God had promised Abraham that he would have a son. Sarah knew she was getting too old, so she asked her husband to sleep with her Egyptian maid Hagar, and Ishmael, father of the Arabs was born and was a joy to his father.
More than a decade later, Sarah did conceive and Isaac, father of Jews, was born. Tension in the family between the two mothers and their sons became unbearable and Sarah demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away. You can read the story in Genesis 21. But also notice in Genesis 17 that Ishmael was blessed by God and made part of the covenant with Abraham when they, and all the men of their household, were circumcised as a sign of that promise of blessing.That is the ancient story, and it still influences our world today. And that brings me to the title question. Is it too late for reconciliation between these two branches of the Abrahamic family? If it is even remotely possible, how could it start? Countless attempts have been made and all have failed.
Jesus made some startling promises to his followers and one of those was, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” That promise of authority is then repeated frequently repeated in the epistles. In other words, in the right circumstances of obedience to God’s direction, we can exercise governmental authority. When God speaks, and we obey in faith, we can change the world.
This brings me to events that occurred this week on a small holiday island in Thailand. We were about 150 people from 25 nations. We were not drawn together by an organization; what we had in common was a deep sense of family love and God’s direction on our lives. Some have walked together for twenty years or more and others were there for the first time but came because they were convinced that the Holy Spirit wanted them there. You might say these 150 were a microcosm of the Body of Christ—Chinese, South African, Canadian, Japanese, Korean, German etc. For the first time, there was a strong group from Egypt, along with Israeli leaders from the Messianic movement. The Lord is preparing the Church to be a bride fit for The King and the movement this group represented is one of the many unprecedented expressions of His work on the earth. We are in the epoch of the “last days”; how long it will be no one knows, but it is marked by turmoil, suffering and powerful growth of the Kingdom of God. The Bridegroom is coming!
Back to the 150 men and women in Thailand: though this movement started more than 20 years ago in Canada under the leadership of an Egyptian medical doctor, much of the focus of the past several years has been on East Asia with many gatherings of believers, sometimes numbering more than 20,000 people. These very large gatherings are the more visible manifestations of a deep work of unity and family love among leaders of millions of Christians in China and Korea and Japan and the many nations of that region.
Meanwhile the Holy Spirit has spread this fire of love to other parts of the world as diverse as Guatemala and South Africa, but the spotlight has begun to focus on the Middle East and also Europe. I believe the strength of what God has done with the East Asians is a force for breakthrough in these other parts of the world. The Church in China, having been purified and made strong by suffering, is particularly powerful in prayer, often acting as “midwives” to the birth of new unity and love in other nations and between nations. They are prepared to travel in their thousands to other nations to pray and travail until they prevail in God’s purposes for the nations. This is the nature of Chinese spiritual leadership for this season.
And so we came to worship, enjoy family ties across the tribes and nations and to ask God what he wanted to say to us. On the face of it, that seems an extravagant thing to do—people flying half way around the world in some cases, to spend four days together with no other agenda than to worship and wait on God. But, remember those amazing promises of God—that His people can have the authority to change the order of things in the unseen world. When things change in that dimension, it impacts the earth.
From the first session there was a very strong sense that this was one of those occasions, quite rare in my experience, when the Holy Spirit grants governmental authority to a group of His people. That means that He can lead us to ask and believe for things that are on His agenda and they will be done. As is often the case, the spiritual momentum grew each day until there was a great sense of authority on the last day. That did not come without a price though.
God-given authority is safest in the hands of humble people who only want what He wants. So there were times of public confession, tears and joy. As is so often the case, some of the Chinese led the way a acknowledging that they were often a fractious people, used to fighting against the odds and sometimes fighting each other. All of us grew to love them more as some of them confessed that they had been alienated from one another, but now were reconciled by God’s loving transformation of their hearts. The confessions were deeply personal, emotional and public.
The atmosphere then changed to one of governmental authority to loose God’s purposes on earth. The Holy Spirit directed us to address the issue of women’s freedom to be all that God intended for them. Women make up the majority of the Body of Christ globally but they are often reduced to a shadow of what God intended for them as men hold them back and dominate them.
Almost as if to demonstrate what the Lord intended for women, when the subject was the enmity in the Middle East, the women took the lead. Egyptian women willingly identified with Hagar and confessed the rejection, envy and resentment she felt when Abraham cast her out of the family as Sarah demanded. (This spirit of rejection has dogged the Arab peoples every generation since. Those who have been set free from it are often magnificent people, but the ethnic type prevails.) Agonised tears were wept by the Egyptians and everyone else as we experienced a measure of those emotions. They confessed that they had hated and mocked “Isaac” and his offspring.
Then an Israeli mother stepped forward to plead, “There are two empty places at our family table. Won’t you come home? Our family is not complete. Isaac needs his older brother, who was blessed by God first.” These words I have used don’t begin to express the depth of significance and emotion of the moment. I hope you can imagine a bit of the atmosphere.
Some people will no doubt think, “So what? It might have been a touching moment for a small group of people, but what difference does it make?” I understand that, and in human terms it will make little difference. But if God was really speaking to and through those women, as the rest of the 150 felt at the time, then it will make a big difference. How will we know?
The Lord often starts to change the world with just one person and then He draws in others who are in the place of obedience to Him and will walk in unity and love. Then what they do will spread to larger groups, then even larger groups, until the change is felt widely.
I have had the privilege of participating in many events where Jews and Arabs have come together in Christ-centred unity and this was the deepest time yet. God is on the move in unexpected ways. Never in history have so many Arabs come to faith in Jesus, but many of them have been soaked in a cultural atmosphere of hatred for Israel and Jews, but the Holy Spirit is making the Bride of Christ ready for the Marriage Supper and the usual national, ethnic and tribal hatreds cannot continue. We are approaching the time “when the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come Lord Jesus, come!”
I am writing as I travel back to London and the world around me looks the same as it did a few days ago, but in my spirit I know there have been some big changes in the unseen world and those changes will be worked out visibly in due course. Please remember these believers as they return to their countries, especially in the Middle East where it is dangerous to not hate “the enemy”.
Also note that one of the larger global gatherings will be held in Jerusalem, November 7-11. If you yearn to worship with the nations, to just be in God’s Presence with no agenda but His; if you hunger to be with some of the great Chinese family of God, with Israeli believers, as well as Egyptians and other Arabs, ask the Lord if He wants you to go. A website will soon be available; just do a search for Global Gathering Jerusalem 2016.