ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN OF ISAAC’S BIRTH (Galatians 4:28)
Paul is continuing to show the allegorical meaning and implication of the birth of the two sons of Abraham, the one from the bond-woman and the other from the free-woman. The one son was born a slave child and the other was born a free man, with the rights of sonship; he is born an heir with right to the inheritance of father Abraham, the right to the kingdom of heaven! Now this allegorical implication is here applied to the New Testament church of Christ, called out of every tribe and nation, the “many children of the barren woman,” who must rejoice with a loud and victorious exaltation to God. Only those who belong to this church of Jesus Christ are heirs of the kingdom of heaven. The children who are born after the flesh are “cast out.” (Gen. 21:10) Jesus says of those who come to him, hungering and thirsting, that they shall never be cast out. (John 6:37) The LORD cast out the heathen before Israel and gave them the land for a perpetual possession. (Ex. 34:24; Josh. 13:12; Psalm 78:15, 80:8) That was His mighty judgment in which he vindicated His people, fulfilled His promise, and rewarded the wicked. (Gen. 9:25, 15:16) When the Lord casts out He drives away from His presence. For such is the meaning of the term “cast out” in the Hebrew. It means to cause to depart. Such is not our lot. We are the sons who may abide forever in God’s house as sons. (John 8:35) There are two different readings here in the text in Galatians 4:28 in the Greek text. Our KJV follows the reading “we are” (eemeis esmen), while the other reading given is “ye are” (humeis este). In the first instance Paul emphasizes that what is true of Isaac’s birth is true of the entire church, all the elect in Christ; in the second reading Paul emphasizes that what is true of Isaac’s birth in its allegorical interpretation is true of these Galatian believers, these “brethren.” Now this discrepancy in reading is not of great moment. Whether the one reading or the other is chosen, the truth of the Gospel remains that all God’s redeemed children, born from above, are born according to the Spirit, as was Isaac by promise. For in both verses 27 and 31 we read of “our” and “we,” the first person, referring to the entire church. We are not children of the bondwoman, the Jerusalem which is now, but we are children of the free, Jerusalem which is above, born from above. (See John 3:3) All God’s elect children are born by water and by Spirit. And to this “all” the Galatian believers also belong! We, therefore, prefer the reading given in our KJV of the Bible!
THE SON OF THE BOND-WOMAN CAST OUT (Galatians 4:29, 30)
There is something in this history of Abraham and his two sons which fills my heart with deepest awe and reverence. We stand here before the mystery of God’s sovereign good-pleasure. He will have mercy upon whom He has mercy, as was made known to Moses at the mount of God. (Ex. 33:19; Rom. 9:14, 15) And here we are told: nay, but who art thou, O man, that answereth against God. (Rom. 9:19) We take the shoes from off our feet, and bow before God as did Paul inRomans 9:1-5. We shall keep this latter in mind when we write these paragraphs. Our text speaks of the divine oracle as it proceeded from the lips of Sarah.. Surely, Sarah was not uttering her own selfish feelings, hurt maternal, natural feelings, when she uttered these fiery words to her husband, Abraham; but she was uttering what the Holy Spirit gave her to say. She was turned into God’s prophet by God Himself. Does not Paul say here in Galatians 4:30, “but what saith the Scripture.” The Holy Scripture of God speaks clearly, and we had better listen carefully. When we read we might be tempted to say: what saith the angry Sarah, and might begin to try to show that she of all women had the least reason to talk. Was she not the one who suggested to Abraham that he take Hagar, her Egyptian handmaiden to wife, to raise up seed upon her knees? Had she not thought that in this way the promise to Abraham could be fulfilled? Was it not she who had master-minded this ill-planned birth of Ishmael from Hagar, the bond-woman? Had not the free-woman erred here? Yea, she had grievously gone astray. And the LORD had not given her much joy in this; she had no laughter. Only ill came forth from it. How could Sarah, as a mere woman, command such a word to Abraham, and that Abraham would believe? Was Abraham twice the mere tool of his wife? Was she out of her role of calling Abraham her “lord”? (Gen. 18:12; I Peter 3:6) Not at all. Sarah speaks the word of the LORD as the free-woman, whose children will be born by the Spirit and who belong to the Jerusalem which is in heaven.
Here we take the shoes from off our feet once more!
First of all the text says that the “bond-woman” must be cast out. There had been, first of all, the crisis in Abraham’s home between this bond-woman and free-woman as soon as the bond-woman had conceived by Abraham according to the flesh. It was then that we read that “her mistress was despised in her eyes.” Instead of gladly submitting as a handmaiden slave, she has a deep attitude of spiritual contempt for Sarah. She must have been informed by Sarah and Abraham concerning the purpose of her having been given to Abraham. She would serve that purpose, not for the sake of Sarah, but for her own exaltation. Then she fled from Sarah, when Sarah asserted her authority as mistress, and is told by the Lord to return to her mistress and to subject herself. Although it seems that Sarah is unjustly severe, Hagar must return. She must give birth to Ishmael in Abraham’s family, and he must grow up to be a “son” of Abraham, a son, born after the flesh. (Gal. 4:21)) But the time comes some fourteen years later when this woman must be “cast out” by Abraham, as head of the church. She is not “divorced” by Abraham, for they were never married; she is cast out upon the Word of God through Sarah. She was a mere “bond-woman” who had no rights of a wife with a husband. Such is the allegorical meaning here. We do well to “hear” what the law says. (
However, there is here more which we-must notice. The son of this bond-woman too must go. His basic attitude revealed itself against the free-born son, even as that of his mother revealed itself against the mother of the free-born son, Sarah. Ishmael was now a lad of some fourteen years old or even more. The time had come to wean Isaac, and Abraham makes a feast in his honor. He made a “great feast” in thankfulness to God that He had fulfilled the promise to him: “Sarah shall have a son at the appointed time.” Here was a son for whom he had waited in hope against hope, and from whom would be born a great people, as the stars of the heaven in multitude. Here was the son, whom God had raised as it were from the dead. And the banner of faith and hope was waving on Abraham’s premises and tent as he was a stranger in a strange land. It is in honor of the great son and heir of this father of all believers. (Rom. 4:17-21) It was Isaac’s day, and it was more than Ishmael could take. Ishmael comes to the point of the parting of the ways and to the point of no return.
Notice very carefully what Paul says here in Galatians 4:29. We read, “he that was born after the fleshpersecuted him that was born after the Spirit.” Now the text in Genesis says that Ishmael was “mocking” Isaac. The term for mocking in the Hebrew means: to laugh at, to hold in derision and scorn. And this “mocking” was what expressed Ishmael’s spiritual attitude toward the fulfillment of the promise of God, which fulfillment had utterly failed in the birth of Ishmael. And Ishmael knew that he was merely a son of a slave woman in the house of Abraham, his natural father. He was not an heir in the house. And he deeply resented this “great feast,” this grand commemoration of the fulfillment of God’s promise. His laughter to scorn was what expressed the attitude of the “persecutor.” The form of the persecution in this case was laughter and derision at the joy of salvation which was expressed in the birth of Isaac. God did the impossible for man. Isaac is the very embodiment of this miracle. And Ishmael knew it right well, as did also Hagar his mother. And Hagar must have concurred in this “persecution” of the free-born son.
And now both must go!
“Cast out this bond-woman and her son.” This Abraham must do in the name of the Lord, and not in Sarah’s name. Does not the Lord say unto Abraham, “let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of the bond-woman: in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice”? (Gen. 21:12) Such is the word of the Lord to Abraham, the father of all believers. It is God Himself speaking through Sarah. And this is called by Paul “the Scripture.”
Why must Ishmael go? Ishmael is not an heir-child of Abraham. He is a mere slave son. He must go. He must be “cast out.” That is the word which stands. And, as we have seen above, this “casting out” is the lot of the wicked. It means to be cast out of the kingdom of heaven, being shut out from the tender mercies of the Lord.
Someone will say: this was all true only “allegorically” of Hagar and Ishmael. And then reference is made to the fact that God says of Ishmael, “for I will make him a great nation.” (Gen. 21:13) He will do this for Abraham’s sake, for he is thy seed. (Gen. 21:13) Yes, God did make a great and mighty nation of Ishmael. Personally Ishmael grew and dwelt in the wilderness and became an archer. He became a warlike man, a bow-shooter, dwelling in the wilderness. And he returns to Egypt, the habitat of his mother, for a wife. And he does become a great nation, twelve princes according to their nations. (Gen. 21:20, 21) Yes, Ishmael died in the presence of all his people. (Gen. 25:18) It is possible that the “archer,” the warlike man, even died in battle. The KJV writes in the margin “fell” before all the people. Thus died Ishmael as one “cast out” because he persecuted him that was born according to the Spirit. He died an enemy of the people of God, the head of a great nation. Out of this nation shall some elect be saved “for Abraham’s sake.” That Ishmael is cast out is no mere allegory. It is historic fact! (Gen. 21:13; Acts 2:11)
This lesson of the history of the two sons of Abraham the Galatian believers, and we, must take to heart. Those who will to be under law must hear the “law” as this is contained in “the Scripture” in which God reveals to us what happens to all the sons of the bond-woman, who do not ever abide in the house, made free by Christ Himself on the Cross. (John 8:35, 36) They and we must beware lest we be “cast out” of the house by clinging to beggarly principles which cannot help the helpless and dead sinner.