Studies in Galatians | The Two Covenants (5) | Gal. 4:21-31.

“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem, which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she, which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.”

The scheme invented by Sarai, and agreed to by Abram, which brought forth Ishmael, the son of the bondwoman, who was born after the flesh, proved unsatisfactory to the whole company, from the first step taken toward carrying it out.

“Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.” Gen. 16:3, 4. And although, as the record says, Sarai was the first to propose this plan, and that “Sarai . . . took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, . . . and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife,” yet, as soon as she found herself despised by Hagar, and this because of the success of Sarai’s own plan, she turned in reproach upon Abram, and said: “My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes.” Verse 5.

“But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleases thee.” And when Sarai dealt so “hardly with her” that Hagar ran away. And though the Lord told Hagar, “Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands,” it is evident that all was not peaceful and pleasant afterward.

Further, as we have seen, when, after Ishmael was born, Abram said to the Lord, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” he was not heard; but Ishmael was plainly set aside, and Abram was told that Sarai his wife should bear him a son indeed, and that he should call his name Isaac; “and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” Gen. 17:18, 19.

“Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.” “And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Gen. 21:2, 8-12.

But not yet was the record clear. Abraham had swerved from the clear promise of God, and had put dependence in the flesh; and not only must the bondwoman and her son be cast out, but every item of that whole scheme which had brought in the bondwoman and her son must be utterly renounced and abandoned. Accordingly, the Lord said to Abraham: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a brunt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Gen. 22:2.

Isaac was the child of promise. There was no other promise of a child, there could be no other such promise; and there could be no other child without another promise. And now for Abraham to offer Isaac for a burnt offering was, so far as could be seen, to take away all that had been promised. But when Abraham had looked thus far, he looked yet further, even back to the original promise of God, and trusted and expected that when he should offer Isaac, God would certainly fulfill his promise by raising him from the dead—by bringing him back from the ashes when he should have been burned in sacrifice.

This call of the Lord, therefore, to Abraham to offer Isaac for a burnt offering, brought Abraham back to the night of the original promise, when God had said to him: “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him. So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Gen. 15:5, 6.

Thus Abraham was brought to depend upon and trust in the naked promise of God alone, for all that the promise contained. And if Abraham had stood there from the first and refused Sarai’s suggestion with regard to Hagar, there would have been no such family trouble as came between Sarai and Hagar; Ishmael never would have been born; and Abraham would never have been called to offer Isaac. Had he from the first “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief” (Rom. 4:20), but been strong in faith, giving glory to God, fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform, righteousness might have been imputed to him throughout.

“These are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Agar.” The covenant at Sinai was the fruit of the flesh, of distrust and unbelief in God, just as was the plan that introduced Hagar and brought forth Ishmael. And just as Hagar and Ishmael, the bondwoman and her son, had to be cast out, and the whole scheme that brought them in had to be utterly repudiated, so the covenant from Mount Sinai had to be cast out, and all that brought it in had to be utterly repudiated.

As Abraham and Sarah had to cast out Hagar and Ishmael, and repudiate the whole scheme that had brought them in, and themselves come back to the original promise of God, to depend wholly upon that for all that was in it, so must the covenant from Sinai be cast out, and all that brought it in must be utterly repudiated by Israel and everybody else, and God’s original covenant with Abraham be depended upon and trusted in, wholly and alone, for all that it promises. And so we read: —

In delivering them from Egypt, God sought to reveal to them his power and his mercy, that they might be led to love and trust him. He brought them down to the Red Sea—where, pursued by the Egyptians, escape seemed impossible—that they might realize their utter helplessness, their need of divine aid; and then he wrought deliverance for them. Thus they were filled with love and gratitude to God, and with confidence in his power to help them. He had bound them to himself, as their deliverer from temporal bondage.

But there was still greater truth to be impressed upon their minds. Living in the midst of idolatry and corruption, they had no true conception of the holiness of God; of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts; their utter inability, in themselves, to render obedience to God’s law; and their need of a Saviour. All this they must be taught.

“God brought them to Sinai; he manifested his glory; he gave them his law, with the promise of great blessings on condition of obedience: “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then . . . ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” Ex. 19:5, 6. The people did not realize the sinfulness of their own hearts, and that without Christ it was impossible for them to keep God’s law; and they readily entered into covenant with God. FEELING THAT THEY WERE ABLE TO ESTABLISH THEIR OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS, they declared, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Ex. 24:7.

They had witnessed the proclamation of the law in awful majesty, and had trembled with terror before the mount; and yet only a few weeks passed before they broke their covenant with God, and bowed down to worship a graven image. They could not hope for the favor of God through a covenant, which they had broken, and NOW, seeing their sinfulness and their need of pardon, they were brought to feel THEIR NEED OF THE SAVIOUR REVEALED IN THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT, and shadowed forth in the sacrificial offerings. NOW by faith and love they were bound to God as their deliverer from the bondage of sin. NOW they were prepared to appreciate the blessings of THE NEW COVENANT.Patriarchs and Prophets,” pages 371, 372.

[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | July 3, 1900]