"Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman." (Gal. 4:21-31 ESV)
To know the history of Sarah and Hagar we must know the history of Abraham himself. God called Abraham out of a pagan nation and made a covenant promise with him. Here is that promise:
"Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb." (Gen. 12:1-9 ESV)
God made this promise and here Abraham took his wife and family with him. On the journey God made the promise about his offspring. Abraham set off on this journey with his wife. God promised them that they would have a child. Abraham thought that perhaps God wanted to fulfill this promise through adoption so Abraham asked God if he was going to receive this child this way. God ensured him that he and his wife Sarah were going to have a child together who would be their heir.
Time went on and there was still no child. This is when Abraham’s wife now devised a plan on how they would have this child of promise. There was a middle eastern custom during that time in which if you were barren you would find a surrogate mother to give to your husband. Instead of heeding God’s promise they used this middle eastern custom and Sarah gave her handmaid Hagar to her husband. She then did become pregnant:
"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go into my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her." (Gen. 16:1-6 ESV)
Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Hagar was in essence a slave women who had a child with Abraham. She was then cast out. The history of the division of the Middle East is traced back to this point in which the descendents of Ishmael and the descendents of Isaac are still at war with each other.
God kept his promise though by a miracle. Sarah was old and well past the barren years. Still she was given a child just as God promised:
"The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
8 And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba." (Gen. 21:1-14 ESV)
Here we have the historical context of what would have been known by the audience Paul was writing to and hopefully now known by us. With this background we can get a better understanding of the message that Paul was communicating.
Allegory is a powerful communication tool. One of the greatest Christians books ever written is a book called Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan which is an allegory. The Song of Solomon is another allegory that we have in the Bible. What exactly is an allegory? Allegory is a story where there are some obvious parallels and lessons from the comparative situation. It is different than a metaphor. Let me give you an example. William Shakespeare says in "As You Like It" that the world is a stage and humans are actors in a show who enter and exit the stage. This is a metaphor because the world isn't a literal stage and humans aren't actors who live in accordance to a script. The stories in “Aesop’s Fables” are allegorical, as they are narratives with an underlying message. The story of the “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” for example, is about a boy who claims to see a wolf when he does not. When he actually sees a wolf, no one believes him. The underlying story is that it doesn’t take much for a liar to lose the trust of others, which can hurt him in a time of need. Paul is saying that he is using the story of Sarah and Hagar allegorical to reveal the two covenants and in essence the two churches that exist in the world. The two churches are the unfaithful churches and the faithful ones.
This story is used allegorically to compare the two covenants. Upon first reading it is assumed that the two covenants are the Old and New Covenant. That cannot be the case. It is clearly a reference to what has been labeled as the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Hagar represents the covenant of works. She was strong and able bodied to have a child. By her merit and natural processes she was able to give birth to a son. Still she was a slave though. Her son was a slave as well. Eventually they were cast out and did not have a part in the inheritance. The covenant of works is how the Judaizers were attempting to earn favor with God. They said they were in obedience to the Law thus earning their righteousness. Paul says the only thing that they are earning is condemnation. If we desire to earn favor with God by our works then the entire law of God stands as our judge. We must be obedient to every last part of it. The only thing it will do is enslave us. Many churches today base salvation on walking an aisle, saying a sinners prayer, baptismal regeneration and the likes. These are works. If we desire to be saved by works then we must fulfill it all the way. In essence the only thing a works based righteousness will do is to lead us into slavery.
"If we desire to earn favor with God by our works then the entire law of God stands as our judge."
The other covenant is the covenant of grace. This covenant is based on God’s promise and God’s Spirit. In essence this is a covenant of miracles. Sarah had the promised child according to God’s promise and the miraculous activity of the Holy Spirit. We as sinners become beneficiaries of this covenant on the basis of miraculous activity. God keeps His promise and regenerates us!
"The only thing a works based righteousness will do is to lead us into slavery."
Then he adds that Jerusalem at that present time are the children of the slave woman, not the free one like they claim. They have attempted to be justified by their works which only leads to slavery. This is their condition, says Paul. My friends, this is their condition at present day. Our hope for Israel is a hope that is found in Romans 11, that there is a day coming that they will repent of their sin and come to faith in Jesus Christ. In contrast to Jerusalem, Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1, which there proclaims that Gentiles would come to bear many children. Jerusalem is enslaved. Those that believe in God’s promises are free.
Paul is clearly indicating that there are two different churches that exist in the world. One is like Hagar trusting in her good works to earn favor. One is like Sarah trusting in the promises of God. My fear is that our church planting movement in America is concerned with finding Hagars rather than Sarahs. Consider it. It made logical sense that Hagar would have a son. She was young, strong, and in child rearing years. It was only natural that she would be able to get pregnant and have a child. This is so different from Sarah, as it was only by supernatural means that she would have a child. It seems when we look to start churches that we want someone who is young, strong, vibrant, charismatic, a great visionary, a great assembler, and someone who can pull the numbers in and get the baptisms up. Very little concern is given to their belief in the promises of God and their reliance on the Spirit of God. It makes logical sense and you can follow their marketing plan to see why they have the “success” they do. In reality though, as Hagar, the only thing they have done is give birth to Ishmael, a slave. The people have no victory over sin. Repentance is not found in the midst. Cultural transformation is not taking place. What is the problem? They are children of the slave women.
"My fear is that our church planting movement in America is concerned with finding Hagars rather than Sarahs."
In contrast I desire a church planting movement likened to Sarah. It doesn’t make sense by natural means. The only way she could have a child is because of the promises of God and the Holy Spirit. In essence, a miracle is required. That is what I want. It is my desire that when we look at ONElife what we see is a miracle that only came about by the promises of God to build His church and by the activity of the Holy Spirit to regenerate His people. Without it, the only thing we are doing is leading our people into slavery, which is no different than what the world has to offer. Rather, we want to lead people into freedom.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.