Posts Tagged ‘Hagar’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

© C. O. Bishop 2012, revised 2018

Genesis, chapters 16 and 17

Introduction:

There are many ugly histories in the Bible: God doesn’t pull punches when telling “what happened,” and “who did what.” Actually, that is one of the things that helps convince me that this actually is God’s Word, and not the word of man: God does not put his “heroes of the faith” on pedestals: he lets us see exactly what kind of flawed individuals they really were, and then shows us what He can do with such shabby, unpromising raw materials. We saw the sin of Adam, the drunkenness of Noah, and the foolishness of Lot: but all were saved individuals.

Virtually all the patriarchs, judges and kings also had deeply flawed lives; some far worse than others. But God chose them because of what He could do with them, not because of what “wonderful people” they were. He is still choosing that way today. He deliberately chooses “losers” through whom He will bring about victories. He leaves the “self-sufficient” to be just that…self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and self-centered. They feel no need for a Savior, and they see themselves as great people. (Perhaps they are, in fact, from strictly a human perspective.)

This story is about a couple of “failures, and losers,” living in the midst of a culture of failure, idolatry, and slavery, where life was cheap, and “human rights” were scarce, or even unheard of. We don’t like these subjects, as they make us uncomfortable, at least, and sometimes angry.

Genesis 16: Faith can Stumble

Back in chapter 15, God had made a promise of offspring, but Abram and Sarai were evidently tired of waiting. So Sarai had a “brilliant idea,” which was evidently a common “cultural norm.” She suggested that Abram impregnate her servant, Hagar, and she herself would simply claim the child. Abram, a typical man, apparently thought that was a great idea.

We would be horrified, today, in our culture, to even hear of such an idea, let alone to hear of someone attempting to carry it through, or, worse yet, actually doing such a thing. But there are actually more slaves today than ever before, and we simply are unaware, because it is mostly hidden, or in particular parts of the world. And, in those places, such a plan would be taken as a matter-of-fact solution, not a gross moral violation (which it certainly is and was.)

We will eventually see how Hagar felt about it all, but not in detail. However, this little scheme produced deep, serious trouble of the “fatal” kind, which continues still today. All the Arab peoples claim Ishmael (and Abraham) as their forefather, and believe that they are the chosen people of God (the Q’uran tells them so).

This incident occurred about ten years after Abram had moved into Canaan, so he was at least 85, since he left Haran at 75 years of age. The end of the chapter says he was 86 when Ishmael was born. We are not told how old Hagar was (much younger, evidently), but I can sympathize with her in this matter—as a slave, she was given no choice. She was being treated as a thing, an object…a possession; she had no more self-determination than did a domestic animal. She probably was not in favor of the plan, being forced to sexually serve her mistress’s husband; to be a surrogate mother; not even being allowed to claim her own son. She was not exactly a sex-slave, as that was not the intent: it was strictly for procreation, but when forced upon a woman, it isn’t much different. Whatever her initial feelings had been; once she was pregnant, she felt some satisfaction, or vindication, knowing that she could bear a child, while Sarai could not.

Sarai saw Hagar’s satisfaction (and the smugness and disrespect that followed it) and blamed the whole plan on Abram (how quickly we forget!) She called on God to judge him for his sin. But Abram said, in effect, “Hey, she’s your slave; you take care of it”. So Sarai physically abused Hagar (we don’t know how: the text just says “dealt hardly with her”), and Hagar ran away.

The Consequences of Sin

The story could have ended there, with a poor, lone, pregnant woman lost in the desert. But God met with Hagar in the desert at a spring where she had sought refuge, and He told her to go back. He further told her that she would have a son, that her son would be called Ishmael, and that he would be the father of a multitude…also, that he would be a “wild man” (some translations say “a wild donkey of a man”), whose hand would be against everyone, and against whom everyone else’s hand would be raised. (Does that sound familiar? The Arab nations all call Ishmael their father (whether he was or not), and they are at odds with the whole non-Arab world. The current pattern of worldwide Islamic terrorism has been deliberately exerted against all parties, in the attempt to start a world war, and bring about some particular prophecy in the Q’uran. Their stated desire is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth…in fact, to kill every single Jew.)

We should really think carefully about this whole story—it could sound simply like a tawdry tale of sin and abuse; the sad story of a very dysfunctional family, in a primitive, brutal society… and it is all of that. But the underlying lesson, it seems to me, is that sin always has an ongoing effect. Sin has consequences. I can’t go back and undo my errors: the hurts I have caused in the lives of others will have ongoing effects in their lives as well as my own.

Sin always affects more than just the ones sinning. The long-range results in this particular case are several nations of people who are deadly enemies to Israel—who openly state that their fondest dream is to wipe Israel off the map. I have no way to know which failure of mine will have far-reaching consequences—nor how severe. (Probably none as severe as this one, simply because I am not Abraham.) But all sin has eternal consequences: at the very least we will lose potential for eternal rewards. But we also dishonor God; we destroy our testimony, and we “…make the name of God to stink, among the Gentiles.” We drive people away from Jesus.

How many times have you met an unbeliever who has become embittered against Christians in general, and Christianity as a concept, or even against Christ as a person, specifically because of offenses committed by people claiming to be Christians? In fact, for the sake of argument, I will assume they really were Christians. Why would I assume this? Because Christians are perfectly capable of virtually every sin, if not absolutely every sin, commonly committed by unbelievers. We are supposed to be living holy lives, noteworthy for the Agape love displayed in us, and for the unity we enjoy with one another, and the general pattern of good behavior seen in all circumstances. Jesus told us to live in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God. Unfortunately, none of the above is what the World tends to see. They capitalize on the failures, and assume failure is the “real” norm, and that all the “piety” was just hypocrisy.

I asked an unbelieving co-worker, recently, if, as his children were learning to walk, he had yelled “hypocrite!” at them, every time they lost their balance and fell. He replied that, of course, he had not. I pointed out that failure, especially among untaught or immature believers is quite common, and not necessarily a mark of hypocrisy. He thought a “hypocrite” is someone who says they believe one thing, and then do something else. I corrected his thinking, pointing out that the Greek word “hupocritos” only means an actor: a pretender; a fake. A failure and a fake are two different things. A fisherman who catches no fish is not a fake, but a frustrated failure. A runner who fails to finish a race is a failure, not a fake. Such examples are unlimited in number.

What we saw in this story was a prime example of a total failure of faith. They didn’t even think they were doing wrong: they simply assumed that “cultural norms” were OK with God, and they just didn’t think to ask His opinion. They ran ahead of God (a bad idea) with their own means of “implementing God’s plan.” This is certainly not the only example in the Bible of such choices by believers, but it is one that has incredibly severe long-range consequences.

I encountered a modern-day example of this assumption recently, through a friend in another state: his church is planning to hire a pastor, and they are following the “cultural norm” of soliciting résumés, and reading letters of recommendation. This is a classic abandonment of God’s command to not “lay hands on” (ordain) someone too soon, as it is patently impossible to get to know someone in just a week’s time, and it is therefore impossible for the congregation to know and respect that individual as an elder in that assembly. But the western churches have nearly universally chosen to go with the World’s way of thinking, and have reverted to the pattern of having one hireling, like a CEO, set over a church, with abnormal authority to rule, and an impossible task to accomplish as a servant, even if he is a perfect servant…and he isn’t!

God does give instructions as to how to find, produce, train and select church leaders…and they are always plural. But very few are willing to follow those instructions, and the results are frequently disastrous. Will that church survive the error? Very likely it will! Does the fact that it is a cultural norm make it a good replacement for God’s stated plan? Absolutely not! God says for us to trust in the LORD with all our hearts and to not lean unto our own understanding. Disobedience always has consequences.

Abram and Sarai replaced God’s plan with their own ideas, based upon cultural norms, and they assumed it would be fine. But they were wrong! We are always ill-advised to assume that our “cultural norms” are a good replacement for God’s stated will. I realize that this is a troubling idea, and I have no desire to stir up controversy, but it is important that we carefully examine our practices, traditions and beliefs, in the light of all of God’s Word (not just a pet “proof-text”), to see whether they are actually what God says to do.

Genesis 17: God’s Plan Revealed

When Abram was 99 years old—and Ishmael was 13—God met with Abram again, and reiterated his original promise, and, in the process, changing Abram’s name (which meant “exalted father”) to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”). But God also added a condition that was to be met by the recipients of the promise. The mark of the covenant was to be circumcision. Remember that this was before the giving of the Law…it was a provision that whoever was to receive the promise was to be marked as a son of the promise. In the New Testament, we see that it was a picture of discipleship—of the “putting away of the flesh.” And it is only a picture. There were countless Israelites (and millions of modern day Gentiles) who were circumcised as babies (or even as adults) but had no heart for the God of the Covenant. The flesh does not profit, at a spiritual level, unless the Spirit is driving the flesh…the physical body, in this case. But both the Jews and the Arab peoples still practice this, in the belief that they are complying with God’s demand, and that they thereby gain an entrance into the promise of God.

God went on to say that Sarai’s name would now be Sarah (meaning “princess”), and that she would bear a son, and that they would name him Isaac (meaning, “he laughs”, because Abraham laughed at the thought of a 99-year old man fathering a child.)

Abraham had his heart set on Ishmael as his heir, but God overruled: He said that, though Ishmael would be a great nation (and the father of many nations), Isaac was the son of the promise, not Ishmael. In Galatians 4:21-31 (read this), we see the explanation of what happened in Genesis 17 and 21. In Genesis 17 God told Abram that his son of the flesh (Ishmael) was not the son of the promise…in chapter 21, he was finally told to send Hagar and Ishmael away…and it deeply grieved him to do so. Abraham sincerely loved his son, Ishmael.

But God set up this picture, using the circumstances, so that we could see, almost 4000 years later that Law and Grace do not dwell together. The Law brings a curse, and Grace brings life. Does the Law have a purpose, today? Certainly, it does! The Law lets us know that we are a condemned sinner and in need of a Savior. Grace joins us to the savior.

“Doctor Law” diagnoses the need for a new heart. “Doctor Grace” is the surgeon who gives the new heart, and binds the believing heart immutably to Christ. They do work in the same clinic, but they never set foot in one another’s offices. Doctor Law always sends his patients to Doctor Grace—if they will go—and Doctor Grace never sends them back. They work well as a team—but always separately!

So, Isaac was a picture of Christ, in the sense that he was the Son of the Promise (and it showed in his life-story in a couple of places). Jesus is the Eternal fulfillment of the promises of God.

Chapter 17 ends with the circumcision of all the men in Abram’s extended household. (In chapter 14, remember, Abram had led into battle 318 fighting men from his own household. By this time there were undoubtedly more, as it was thirteen or fourteen years later. There must have been a lot of grief in that camp that week. That particular “surgery” is not a light thing for adults.

But: the result of obedience is blessing. Abraham continually received God’s blessing and protection. And, every time God gave him a command, Abraham got right in there and did it. We especially see this in Genesis chapter 22, where God tested Abraham.

Conclusion: Final “Review” Questions

  • Which came first, Faith or Obedience?
  • And, based upon which of those, was Abraham declared to be righteous, by God?
  • Which showed him as “righteous” to his fellow humans?

Answers:

  • Abraham believed God, and God declared him to be righteous on the basis of that faith.
  • Afterward, Abraham obeyed God, and, because of that, all of us can see the reality of his faith. He “put his money where his mouth was.” He put “shoe-leather” on his faith.

We already had discovered that this was Jesus, personally dealing with Abraham. After declaring Abraham righteous, on the basis of faith alone, Jesus made some demands on Abraham’s life, which we see as works.

Application: He does the same thing for us today:

  • He declared us righteous on the basis of faith in His blood at the Cross.
  • He then declared us to be his personal possession, as well as his offspring, and set us aside for His service, His purpose, and His blessing.
  • Finally, He says there are some things he wants us to do in response to faith, and in a personal response to Him as our Savior and Master. He wants us to walk with him and commit ourselves to His service.

Are you truly willing to follow him? Or is your faith going to be more like that of Brother Lot? Though he was truly saved, Lot was never really willing to make his relationship with God a priority in his life. As we will see next time, the results were not so good.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts and let us step forward in faith, breaking free from cultural norms, and doing what does not come naturally to our minds. Make us tools in your hands, to accomplish your will.


What About Israel? (Part One)

What about Israel? (Part One)

Has God Forgotten Israel?

© C. O. Bishop 2/13/16 THCF 2/21/16

Romans 9:1-13; 1st Corinthians 10:11

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans for several months. The theme of the book has been “the Gospel of God’s Grace.” We have seen, traced in the first three chapters of Romans, the utter lostness of the whole human race, both Jew and Gentile, religious and irreligious; moral and immoral; good, bad and indifferent. We have seen that God has offered only one solution to the lostness of the human race: He says (Romans 1:16) that the Good News of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as full payment for sins (that’s the Gospel of Christ, by definition), being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe. And there is no other way offered. Jesus himself confirms that fact. He says “No Man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Some call that “narrow.” It is only narrow to those who reject it. To those who receive Him as Savior, it is an “Open Door”, and “whosoever will may come!”

We saw in chapter four that the perfect standing of the believer in Christ is only by the imputed righteousness of Christ, added to the believer by God (that’s Grace) through faith alone. We saw in chapter five that the believer’s position and justification in Christ provided eternal peace with God.

We saw in chapter six that our new position in Christ also ended our slavery to Sin: we no longer have to yield to sin. But, in chapter seven we saw that the only way we can lay hold of that promise is by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We cannot please God in the strength of our old nature: we still have our old sin nature, and we have to live with the burden of that traitorous old self throughout our lives, but we are no longer identified with it. God has given us a new nature, and He calls us to live in that new life, walking with Him, in the power and guidance and control of the Holy Spirit. And He no longer sees us in our old selves.

Most recently, in chapter eight, we saw that there is no condemnation for anyone in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, regardless of background, and regardless of subsequent success or failure in “walking with God”. We also saw, though, that there is a tragic loss of potential blessing and reward, if we fail to walk with Him. But, chapter eight concludes that we are unquestionably, eternally secure in Christ.

But, What about Israel?

Chapters nine through eleven, as a group, address the question, “What about the Jews?” The promises to Israel were solid, sure promises from God, but they have not been fulfilled in their entirety; so: you may ask, “Has Israel finally been rejected by God?” The answer is a resounding “NO!” God has not forgotten his covenant with Israel, though, for the time being, as a nation, they seem to have forgotten their covenant with Him. So, where do they stand, today? How does God see them? Let’s see how Paul addresses that question:

1I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

In verses 1-3 Paul grieves for the lost estate of the people of Israel, as his kinsmen; his brothers according to flesh. This is one thing that tells me this is God’s Word and God’s Work in Paul: he does not condemn them as “blind fools”, or anything like that: He grieves their lostness, as one should grieve the loss of any soul for whom Christ died. There is no “self-satisfaction” as to his own secure position. He so desperately desires their salvation that, if it were possible, he would consider it a “good trade” for himself to be lost, if it would save them.

Notice also: He does not suggest that Israel has been “forgotten by God.” This has been suggested in the past, by God’s enemies, as it would actually call into question the character and faithfulness of God. (Who is the chief accuser, who, from the beginning of time, has questioned the character of God? Give that some thought, when you hear such arguments. Consider the ultimate source of such a statement.) There are folks today who claim that Israel has been disqualified form God’s blessing, and that the Church has replaced Israel, inheriting the blessings in place of Israel. This is absolutely false, and has the same source as the above false teaching.

No, rather, Paul points out that they have forgotten the God who promised the Messiah (that is a huge difference!). They have rejected His Grace at every turn. Paul assures us that he continually grieves for Israel, and he actually wishes that he himself could be lost, if it would save all of the other Jews. But of course, that is not an option for Paul. This reflects the heart of God, who did go to the Cross in the person of Christ, offering himself, on their behalf and ours.

The Inheritance of Israel

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

In verses 4 and 5, Paul lists eight advantages that ALL of Israel shares…take note that they are not only to ALL Israel, they exclusively to Israel. This is what is theirs by inheritance:

  1. Theirs was originally the statement of adoption (being the stated heirs of God), and
  2. Theirs was the glory of their history, of God living and working in their midst, and
  3. To them were the covenants offered and confirmed, and
  4. To them was the Law given, and
  5. To them was committed the Service of God (in the temple: the priesthood)
  6. To them were the Promises in which they had claimed to trust for thousands of years.
  7. To them alone belong the Patriarchs, and, as far as the flesh was concerned, and
  8. Through them came the

What more could they ask? The advantages that were given to all Israel are phenomenal, and they still exist today. But, for whatever reason, the majority of Jews, today, still ignore their heritage, and do not use that advantage to good effect. Let’s not become smug, though, or be judgmental in our thinking about this. As believers in Christ, we have even greater advantages today: the completed written Word of God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

(Are you using them?  Really? Are you using them to the best advantage?)

But what entitled the Jews to take part in those promises? We can see that some did and some did not.  What made the difference? All through History, we can see that some were privileged to take part in the promises, while others were disqualified. What makes a “Jew”, born of the house of Israel, a “real Jew,” from God’s perspective?

The Heredity of Israel

Paul points out that Israel was not just a “breeding stock” that God turned loose to graze, and, wherever it wandered, or whatever brood it produced, He approved of it. His Word is complete, and His will is perfect. Read what he says about the heredity of Israel. It is not strictly physical.

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

In verses 6 and 7 Paul begins to touch on the idea that not all who are physically born of the lineage of Abraham are actually his heirs. He begins by pointing out that in spite of Abraham having had two sons (Ishmael and Isaac, at that time), God said, “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” Ishmael, though he was equally “of the seed of Abraham” according to the flesh, was not the heir. It seems that there is a spiritual principle involved. Paul goes on to explain:

That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.

10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

In verses 8-13, then, Paul reminds us that it is not the children of the flesh who are heirs of God, but rather the children of the Promise. There are two points to notice in the promise: He says “at this time”, so we can see there was a timing issue from God’s perspective: His timing, not theirs. He further says that at that proper time He would come. It was to be God’s work, not theirs.

Isaac was born of a miracle, as promised by God. In sharp contrast, Ishmael was born of a scheme of an old man and his wife, who were trying to short-circuit God’s Grace, and force the hand of God. (Is that maybe not quite the same?)

I have deliberately worded the story in rather blunt terms, to show the “seamy side” of this history: Sarah was definitely not following the leading of God: she was scheming by offering Hagar to Abraham. Abraham (as might most men) jumped at the idea of committing “legal adultery”, at his wife’s suggestion. But God makes it abundantly clear that it was not from Him.  The long-term results have been horrendous, and we are still experiencing that destruction today. Almost daily, now, we hear of more attacks by Islamic terrorists who correctly call themselves sons of Ishmael. The long-term effects of Abraham’s unbelief and sin are being inflicted on his offspring, particularly, and the rest of the World, as well; and it is increasing in frequency and magnitude. Interestingly, that is exactly what God predicted in Genesis 16:11, 12. “He (Ishmael) will be a wild man, and his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him, and he shall live in the midst of all his brethren.” (Thanks a bunch, Abe!)

(Oddly, this is one aspect of the Bible that actually adds to my conviction that it is truly God’s Word, not od human origin: Humans tend to gloss over the flaws of their heroes. God does not put the heroes of the faith on a pedestal. He shows them for exactly what they were: deeply flawed individuals through whom He showed His strength. Abraham made a mess: God says so. God is cleaning up that mess, in His way and in His timing.) And there was no condemnation for Abraham. Sound familiar?

By the way, after Sarah’s death, “good old Abraham” remarried (Genesis 25:1-4), and had six more boys by Keturah, his new wife (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.) Though we don’t know what happened to most of them, the few whose names we do recognize were enemies of Israel, later in history. The flesh has always warred against the Spirit. That was not something new in Romans 8:7, or Galatians 5:17. The offspring of Ishmael, Midian and Esau remain enemies of Israel to this day. So are the offspring of Lot.

Rebecca was a similar example, showing that the obvious human choice does not necessarily inherit the blessing of God, but rather, the choice of God will stand. God foreknew Esau’s choice to despise the birthright, trading it for a meal; and He foretold the result: “the elder shall serve the younger.” About 1000 years later He remarked, “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated”. (Malachi 1:2, 3) Was it just arbitrary, or capricious on His part? No, it was simply a recognition of the kind of person Esau turned out to be, and a statement that God knew it before it happened.

God knew who they were and what they would do, long before they physically existed. They were both sons of Isaac and Rebecca…they were fraternal twins, in fact—but one valued the birthright, and the other did not. One saw the things of God as being valuable—the other saw them as a waste of time and energy…and God responded in kind.

You do not “inherit godliness” from your human parents. You inherit it from your Heavenly Father, as a re-born Child of God, and you grow in it, by walking with God in obedient service. Every child of God has the capacity to become a Godly person: a man or woman of God, walking with Christ, and becoming a blessing to all around him or her.

Israel had some great promises. We have better ones. Israel also had the opportunity to walk with God. When they did so, they enjoyed His blessing. When they did not, times got lean. We can experience a leanness in our own souls when we neglect God’s Word, and ignore the leading of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want that, though. 1st Corinthians 10:11 says that all the things ancient Israel experienced were for examples, and for our admonition; an object lesson for us. Let’s learn from the failures and successes of Israel, and inherit the blessings promised to us. Their blessing is not lost; it is just postponed.

Lord; let us learn your Word, believe your promises, experience your Grace and Blessing, and become the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. Amen!


Son or Servant?

Son or Servant?  Slave or Free?

C. O. Bishop 4/9/15 THCF 4/12/15

Galatians 4:19-31

Introduction:

We have been talking about the problems associated with legalism so long I am beginning to fear that folks will think that is all I want to talk about. But as we read the Book of Galatians, we can see that Paul spent the better part of four chapters outlining the difference between Law and Grace, the dangers of legalism, the trap that it sets for the new or untaught believer, and the character or condition of those who spread such doctrine. He has minced no words—he has been quite blunt.

He has pronounced God’s curse on those who corrupt the Gospel of Grace by adding works as a condition of salvation, he has told the Galatian believers that the Law has never been a means of salvation, but rather a curse, as it only reveals the lostness of the human race. He has told them that through Jesus’ fulfilling the Law, he, Paul, had been made dead to the Law, but alive to God. He has told them that if it was possible to gain a right standing with God through works of any kind, then Jesus died for nothing.

Paul has explained the issue of what it meant to be a child of Abraham, pointing out that Abraham lived more than 400 years before the Law was given, and that the promised “seed” was singular, not plural. The Promised Seed was actually Christ, and we are to be made part of Him by faith, and so we become the children of Abraham by faith—not physical, as the Jewish offspring of Abraham claim to be, and are, but the spiritual offspring, and in a completely different category. Now Paul is addressing those believers as children.

Paul’s Concern for His “Kids”:

Paul claims these believers as his own offspring, since he is the one who led many of them to Christ. But he has some misgivings about their response to false teaching, and is wondering whether they are really born again, all of them, or just going along with the group in some cases.

19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,

 20 I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

This is a third word for “children” used here: the Greek word “teknia”—born-ones—offspring. Paul is claiming them as his spiritual offspring, and so they are, since he led them to Christ. He says that he is “in labor” again, as if they were being born again all over again. He is not sure where they stand, or who they really are. He wished that he could be there, face to face with them, and could express his heart to them more clearly. For my part, I am grateful that he could not, since it meant that we have this letter today.

Now Paul has one last major point to make regarding Law and Grace: The difference in the implied relationship between the believer and God. He uses a well-known Old Testament account to demonstrate that Law corresponds to slavery, while Grace corresponds to freedom, and son-ship. He begins by saying, in effect, “All right, then: if you like Law, let’s talk about the Law! He says:

21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

“Law-keeping” Exposed: An Allegory Revealed

Paul knows from his own experience, as well as from the Word of God, that any human claiming to keep the Law, is being very “selective” in their thinking. He knows they have not obeyed the whole law, nor do they really intend to do so.

22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

Now here is something we might not have seen apart from God revealing it. The only thing I could have said for sure is that Abraham took advantage of what seemed an “opportunity to fulfill God’s promise” (annnnd, coincidentally, a real opportunity to gratify the flesh: to have sex with a younger woman, not only legally, but with his wife’s consent…in fact it was her idea!) Must have seemed like a great idea at the time…. But it was NOT God’s idea, and Abraham neglected to ask whether it was right. So, he went ahead, and, in doing so, he set up the genealogy for the largest group of enemies his people, the Jews, would ever have. The Children of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, have bitterly resented the Children of Isaac, his son by Sarah (specifically the Jews), for centuries. And today they completely surround the Jewish state:  by their own admission, they seek to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. (Thanks, Abe!)

But…God was also setting up an object lesson, by which we are expected to see the differences between the miraculous work that God does through faith, and the natural work that we can accomplish on our own. God is in the business of carrying out miraculous work in the lives of believers, not simply saving us and then turning us loose to do the works on our own. The difference pointed out is the difference between work of the flesh—which any natural man can accomplish, and the work of God, which only He can do. Law-keeping fits in the former category…Grace fits in the latter.

23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

What Abraham accomplished with Hagar was completely natural…even an old fossil like Abraham could have relations with a young woman who was still of child-bearing age, and produce a child. Where’s the miracle in that? What is supernatural about an old man getting a young woman pregnant? Especially since she was a slave and had no choice in the matter? (When you think of it in that way, it is not a very attractive picture, is it? Bear in mind that this was truly Sarah’s idea, and is emulated later by Jacob’s wives. The issue was not whether it was illegal, or even immoral, but whether it was of God. Yes, it was Sarah’s idea but Abraham was definitely a willing participant.)

Sarah, on the other hand, though a free-woman, was past the age of child-bearing, and could not be reasonably expected to conceive. So, in order for that union to bear fruit, God had to step in and supernaturally rejuvenate her body…which He eventually did!

The Allegory:

The result of the paired conceptions, one natural, the other supernatural, is an object lesson for us today: and one that God set up, using human failure as the starting point.

24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

Please bear in mind that this is God talking through Paul; this is not just Paul’s opinion. God says there was an allegory there for us to see and learn. This not license to claim that every passage of scripture is allegorical, so that we can read into it whatever we want.

25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

I would never have gotten this connection: Hagar represents Mt. Sinai, and the Law (which brought bondage,) and, by extension, the natural Jerusalem which is in bondage (at that time, it was in bondage to Rome… still today it is in bondage to sin.) I never would have seen these parallels unless God had pointed it out.

26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Sarah was the other side of the equation—the need for supernatural re-birth and revival. She represented the supernatural Jerusalem, still invisible, and only accessible through faith. She is a picture of the way that God chooses to deal with believers.

27 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.

Ironically, she also brings out the picture of the gentile believers, because although it says the desolate woman shall bear children, it also says she will have many more than “she who has a husband”.  Sarah had a husband! Remember Abraham? She had been married to him for many years. Why would it say specifically “than she who had a husband”?  I think that it is a prophecy that there will be more Gentile believers in the Body of Christ than will come out of Israel, the “wife of God!”

28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

Who are the “Brethren” of whom he speaks? They are all the believers, Jew and Gentile. There is no division between believers of Jewish or non-Jewish descent. But all of us became the children of promise by faith. There is no other way.

29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

Ishmael laughed at Isaac, the heir, and mocked him, as a toddler. As a result, he and his mother were sent packing. It was a heart-rending experience for Abraham, who loved his son Ishmael, and for Ishmael, as well, who doubtless loved his father.

It was a grievous thing for Hagar, too, who had enjoyed the privileges of a wife for a time, instead of the position of a slave. But she had silently sneered at Sarah because she could bear Abraham a son, while Sarah could not (God confirms this). Sarah saw that, and wanted her out. She treated her harshly and drove her out, so that Hagar ran away. But God sent her back for the time being, and kept her there until Ishmael was nearly grown, and more nearly able to care for himself.

When Hagar was finally expelled, it was a deeply bitter thing for her and her son. And God prophesied that he, Ishmael, would be “a wild man”, and that his hand would be “against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (which is being fulfilled today.) And Paul reminds them that Jerusalem will be persecuted by the sons of Ishmael (and it is happening daily today.)

 The Separation between Natural and Supernatural

30 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 freewoman.

Though it was a bitter, terrible parting, with long-lasting consequences, the separation was by the decree of God. It was partly for practical reasons, I am sure, as God did not want Isaac to be in competition with Ishmael for Abraham’s attention; but it was also intended to set up this specific lesson: There is a sharp, uncrossable divide between the natural and the supernatural in terms of eternal value. We see this borne out in 1st Corinthians 3:10-16, where the judgment seat of Christ is in view. Works either have eternal value or they don’t. There is no “sliding scale.”

What the Galatian believers were being persuaded to embrace (works—legalism) required no “touch of God”—it required no presiding Holy Spirit. They could carry out the demands of a man-made religion strictly on their own…and countless millions in the world do just that, every day of their lives.

That is one of the distinguishing marks of both the Old and New Testaments—they both demand a degree of holiness not achievable by man, and they both provide a means of overcoming the lack that still admits no human interference. The Law demanded perfection, and said, “…the Soul that sinneth, it shall die.” It offered no way out except a shedding of blood, and the faith of the believer that God himself was the redeemer…the “goel”—the one who buys us out of our sin-debt, and sets us free. The New Testament does not change this arrangement one bit! It only concludes the long line of blood-sacrifices with the final, perfect Blood-sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which sets us free from the Law forever.

But the enmity between the natural and the supernatural was not limited to Ishmael: it is nearly universal.

The Enmity between Natural and Supernatural

Whether Jew or Gentile; those who deny this truth –especially the religious people who deny the truth of Grace—will bitterly resent the freedom inherited by the children of the Promise. They will take a stand against God and His people at every opportunity, even when claiming to be believers themselves. Remember how King Herod sought to deceive the Magi: he said “Tell me where He is, so I can worship Him too!” Far from worship, Herod intended to murder Jesus, but he pretended to be a believer, so as to deceive the real believers.

Only the Holy Spirit can bring about the real changes we hope to see in our lives. God says that the scripture has provided “…exceeding great and precious promises, that through these we might be partakers of the divine nature.” And that is how it happens. We embrace His promises by faith, and through His Word, by His Spirit, he begins to change us into His likeness. It does not happen overnight. It required growth, exercise and feeding.

Conclusion:

31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

That is the bottom line, as far as Paul is concerned: You are not a slave, but a freeborn, re-born child of God. Act like one! Don’t enslave yourself to things from which He died to set you free. Keep stepping along in the freedom He died to provide!

We keep looking to God, and, in light of His Word, in light of His holiness, we see our sin. We confess it as sin, and he cleanses us, and continues to work to change us into his likeness. But embracing a set of regulations through which we hope to “be the people God intends us to be” is a serious step backward. It puts us in the camp of the enemy, effectively, because it is exactly the opposite of what God wants.

I read a story, years ago…I have no idea whether it was true…of an old gentleman living alone in a rundown house in the commercial area of a big city. He was offered a very large amount of money for his property, and he accepted it gladly. The purchasers gave him plenty of time to find a new place to live, and to get moved out. During that time, he looked around at his shabby old house, and thought it was a shame to be selling it to the new owners in such poor shape, so he took some of the money they had paid him and renovated the house—new roof, broken windows replaced, plumbing repaired, and everything painted inside and out. The old place was really looking good, so when the new owners showed up to take possession, he happily showed them all the work he had done. They looked and listened, and finally shook their heads sadly: “We are really sorry to tell you this, but you have wasted both your time and your money: we never wanted the house at all! We are tearing it down to build an office complex, here! All we wanted was your land.”

God does not want what YOU can do: He wants what He can do in you. Ultimately, he just wants YOU. Law-keeping is something we think we can do, but no matter how good we are at it, it is not what God wants at all.

Look to the Lord to change you from the inside out, and the old ways will begin to drop away…the new nature will become more and more prominent. If you have received Christ as your Savior by faith, then you are already a child of God, by the new birth; enacting a set of rules in your life will not enhance your relationship with God. Believing His promises, and obeying his principles by faith will continually build that relationship, and you will grow more and more into His likeness.

God help us to draw near by faith, and receive your Grace as the empowering principle in our lives. Remake us into the men and women of God that you have chosen us to be.