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Galatians--Part 20--The Two Covenants

Aug 30, 2010

We now come to the core of Paul's dispute with the Judaizers. When he links the two covenants to Hagar and Sarah, Paul opens up a whole new avenue of thinking, based on the types and shadows of Abraham's two wives.

In Galatians 4:19 and 20, Paul speaks of Sonship, wherein Christ is formed in us in a kind of spiritual pregnancy. But the question is this: what kind of "wife" are you? Are you a Hagar or a Sarah? The answer will determine the kind of Son you are bringing forth. Will it be the inheritor of the promises to Abraham? or are you bringing forth a fleshly son that is to be disinherited?

This is the motive behind Paul's discussion of Hagar and Sarah.

(21) Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?

To be "under law" was a legal term that meant that a sinner had been convicted by the law and was thus bound by its authority to pay its penalty, such as restitution. All sinners are under law unless their penalty has been paid, in which case they are no longer sinners in the legal sense. Hence, the whole world has become guilty before God, Paul says in Rom. 3:19, and thus the whole world is under the law until the penalty has been paid.

Jesus came to pay the penalty, so that the law would have no authority to condemn us any longer. We are therefore "under grace." The law was not set aside to put us under grace. Rather, it was upheld and respected when Jesus paid its full penalty on the cross. If the law had been put away or set aside, Jesus would not have had to die on the cross to pay its penalty.

In the verse above, Paul was referring to the belief that men still had to do something to be justified or to attain perfection. The underlying question is this: Is there something that man must do, some command to keep, which will make God rule in our favor or pronounce us justified before the law? Or is our faith in the work that Jesus Christ did sufficient to pay the full penalty for our sin?

(22) For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. (23) But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.

In other words, Hagar brought forth Ishmael by a "natural" process that has characterized every man's birth since the first Adam. There was nothing supernatural about Ishmael's conception. Hagar was a young woman of child-bearing age. On the other hand, Sarah conceived when she was 89 and brought forth a son at the age of 90. That was supernatural because the birth occurred after menopause. This was no "natural" birth. It was miraculous, because God had to intervene in order to fulfill His promise to Abraham.

(24) This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. (25) Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.

The Jewish religious leaders had rejected the only Mediator of the New Covenant, deciding instead to retain the first mediator (Moses) and his covenant. This put Jerusalem under the authority of Mount Sinai, which, as Paul reminds us, is in ARABIA, the inheritance of Ishmael. Thus, the priests' rejection of Jesus as the Christ put Jerusalem under the jurisdiction of Ishmael and left it in bondage.

For this reason, in time God honored their decision and gave that land to Ishmael. The Jews wanted to be "under law," and so that is precisely what God gave them. They preferred the bondage of slavery to Ishmael, and so God granted their wish.

The problem is that the Jews wanted to have it both ways. They wanted to claim Hagar-Jerusalem as their mother and yet be free. In principle, this is no different from the physical Ishmaelites themselves wanting to be free while adhering to an Old Covenant religion (Islam). Both have confidence in their mother Hagar, thinking that they can inherit the promises by the covenant made at Mount Sinai.

And so, when the Galatians were influenced by the Judaizers to consider Jerusalem to be the "Mother Church," their mother was Hagar. The Church did indeed begin in Jerusalem, but NOT at the temple. When the high priest was offering the Pentecostal offering to God of two loaves baked with leaven, the disciples were in the upper room, not attending those ceremonies at the temple. The high priest was continuing under the Old Covenant method of keeping Pentecost, but the disciples were adopting a New Covenant and a new way to keep the feast. They kept it in the place where God had placed His name--in their foreheads (Rev. 22:4). The fire of God accepted the offering of their own hearts by resting on their heads (Acts 2:3).

When the "Ishmaelites" of the temple persecuted the believers, they were scattered from Jerusalem to other places (Acts 8:1). No longer would they remain centered in Jerusalem. No longer was Hagar their mother. But the family ties to Hagar were not broken so easily. Culture and friends had a strong pull on them, and they tried desperately to remain in good standing with the Ishmaelites of Jerusalem.

Finally, however, after 40 years of transition, God sent His armies to destroy that city and burn it with fire (Matt. 22:7). This was a type of the death of Hagar, and the Jewish Christians only then began to become acquainted with their new mother--Sarah, the New Jerusalem.

(26) But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

It is important to see that Paul's opponents (the Judaizers) were identifying with "the present Jerusalem" rather than with the New Jerusalem. They were falling into the same trap that Judaism itself had fallen when it rejected the Mediator of the New Covenant. The distorted gospel, as Paul called it, was the belief that one could have two mothers. This absurdity put the Galatians in danger of losing their inheritance as children of Sarah. In placing their hopes in the old Jerusalem, they could attain nothing but more bondage.

This bondage is not being "enslaved to God" (Rom. 6:22). Sinners want the freedom to be enslaved to sin. There are many lawless Christians who demand the same right. Being free in Christ means that we become like Him. It means that we identify with Jesus Christ and walk as He walked. 1 John 2:6 says,

(6) The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Jesus was the Lamb without spot or blemish. He did not violate the law, because the law was written in His heart. So also is it with us. The Old Covenant would tell us to vow obedience and to strive by the flesh to fulfill our vow. The New Covenant tells us to be in Christ, walk by the Spirit, and allow the Holy Spirit to write the law in our hearts from within. The New Covenant is established by the vow of God, that is, His Promise to Abraham.

There are more children of Hagar than of Sarah, both in Paul's day and in our own day. But the day will come when this is reversed, for Sarah's promise was that she would be the mother of nations (Gen. 17:16).

(27) For it is written, "Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband."

This is a quotation from Isaiah 54:1. Sarah was the "barren woman," having no children until she was 90. Isaiah spoke prophetically of the New Covenant here, telling us that the children of the New Covenant, which had been barren from Moses to Christ, would ultimately bear more children than Hagar.

This is the twentieth part of a series titled "Galatians." To view all parts, click the link below.


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Dr. Stephen Jones

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