“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 free woman. 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.”
Ishmael was the son of Abraham, born after the flesh. And what was his disposition? Before he was born the Lord described it: “He will be a wild man.” The Revised Version translates it: “He shall be as a wild ass among men.” “His hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.”
Remember that this child of Hagar, this son that was born after the flesh, this “wild ass among men,” was the fruit of the invention of Sarai’s, which sprang from her distrust of God and unbelief of his promise to give a son. Accordingly, bear in mind that this son was intended by Sarai to fulfill the promise of God. It was really intended, and even expected by Sarai, and even by Abraham, that this child of the flesh, this wild man, should be accepted by the Lord as the son whom he intended in his promise; and that the promises to Abraham should be fulfilled in him. This is certain, by the fact that, afterward, when the Lord told Abraham that he would give him a son by Sarai, Abraham answered; “O that Ishmael might live before thee!”
Now remember that Hagar, the mother of this “wild ass man,” represents the covenant from Sinai; and her son, who was born after the flesh,—this wild man,—represents the children of that covenant from Sinai. And just as, in the invention which brought forth Ishmael, it was intended that he should fulfill the promise of God, and that the God’s covenant with Abraham should be fulfilled through him, so these children of the covenant at Sinai, like Ishmael, born after the flesh, expected that they could fulfill the promise of God, and that the Lord’s covenant with Abraham should be accomplished in its fullness through them; that is, through the flesh.
But Abraham kept the commandments of God. The righteousness of God is an essential part of the covenant with Abraham; for, without it, no one can attain unto the inheritance given to Abraham in the covenant. But how would Ishmael, born after the flesh, keep the commandments of God, when the minding of the flesh is only enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, and neither indeed can be? How could that wild ass man keep the commandments of God, with his hand against every man, when one of the two principles of the whole law of God is, “You shall love thy neighbor as thyself”?
And this child of Hagar the bondwoman corresponds to the children of that covenant at Sinai, which genders to bondage. As Ishmael, they knew only the birth of the flesh; yet they promises to keep the commandments of God "indeed." Knowing only the birth of the flesh, and only “the minding of the flesh,” which is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be, they covenanted to keep the law of God “indeed”!
But Ishmael was not the son intended by the Lord: he could not fulfill the promise of God, nor could the promise of God be fulfilled in him. So far as God’s promise was concerned, and God's covenant with Abraham, Ishmael’s birth was no more than as if he had never been born at all.
Accordingly, when Abraham said to the Lord: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” “God said, Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.” Gen. 17:19-21.
At this time Sarai had become a believer in God’s promise, and trusted God alone, and the Lord had changed her name to Sarah. And so, “through faith Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed;” and according to the promise Isaac was born.
Now what was Isaac’s disposition? —It is illustrated in his conduct at the time that Abraham and he supposed that he was to be offered as a sacrifice. He submitted, as a lamb, to be offered. It is further illustrated in the record in Genesis 26: After Abraham had died, and Isaac was the heir of the covenant, he dwelt for a time in the land where the Philistines were. “Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth. And Abimelech said unto Isaac, Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we. And Isaac departed thence, camped in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there.
"And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them. And Isaac’s servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of springing water.” Gen. 26:15-19.
These wells were doubly Isaac’s. Abraham had digged them, and they therefore belonged to Abraham. And when Isaac became heir of Abraham, these wells became his by inheritance. And now he had digged them again, which was the same as if he had digged them new. Thus they were doubly his. Yet by even more than this they were his, because the Philistines, when the wells were open, had filled them with earth, showing in the strongest possible way that they did not wish them at all.
Yet the Philistines came now to Isaac and say of the wells which he had opened, and which by such full right were his: “The water is ours.” Verse 20. Isaac let them have it. But what would Ishmael have done? And what would you do? Which of the “two sons” of Abraham are you? “These are the two covenants.” Of which covenant are you?
Isaac “digged another well,” and the Philistines “strove for that also.” But Isaac, instead of striving with them for this, which was by such large right altogether his own, “removed from thence, and digged another well.” But what would Ishmael have done? And what would you do? Which of the “two sons” of Abraham are you? “These are the two covenants.” Of which covenant are you?
When Isaac had digged this last well, for it the Philistines “strove not: and he called the name of it Rohoboth; and he said, For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” Verse 22.
But how was it that the Lord made room for him?—Simply by Isaac’s refusal to strive with the Philistines, by his yielding to them all that they claimed, even when it was his by every possible right. But could the Lord have ever “made room” for Ishmael and those Philistines? Does the Lord “make room” for you and the envious opposers? Which of the “two sons” of Abraham are you? “These are the two covenants.” Of which covenant are you?
“And he went up from thence to Beer-sheba. And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake. And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.”
“Then Abimelec went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath one of his friends, and Phicol the chief captain of his army. And Isaac said unto them, Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?” And they said, We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee. . . . Thou art now the blessed of the Lord.” Verse 23-29. But it was only by Isaac’s continual yielding before them that they ever had any opportunity to see that the Lord was with him, and that he was the blessed of the Lord. But what would Ishmael have done? And what would you do? What do you do? Which of the “two sons” of Abraham are you? “These are the two covenants.” Of which covenant are you?
And so “it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. 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 genders to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers 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.” “Now WE, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” Are you?
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | June 19, 1900]