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THE TWO SONS OF ABRAHAM (Galatians 4:22, 23

Paul calls specific attention to two of the sons of Abraham here in Galatians 4. Abraham had more sons who were born to him by Keturah. (Gen. 25:1, 4) The Chronicler writes of this in I Chronicles 1:32, 33. These sons are here not brought into account as proof from “the law” that we are not under law or bondage of sin, but to show that we are under grace, and, therefore, we are free-born sons of God. Only these two sons come here into reckoning. 

Of them there should be careful notice! 

These two sons are the basis for the great and deep meaning of the covenant history in the times of the patriarch Abraham, who is the father of all believers. The history here recorded is realhistory. The things here recorded are concerning real people, who actually were born and who lived in the dispensation of God’s covenant dealings with Abraham and with his seed. This is not allegorical history, but this is history which has an allegorical meaning. This fact we here repeat; it is of great importance, in our day, that this be underscored. The so-called new hermeneutic would like to reason away that this is real history here. But these proponents of the “new hermeneutic” really destroy the evidence here brought forth by Paul in his having us “hear” the law, the Pentateuch. They really deny that Abraham “had” (eschen-Aor indicative) two sons. Paul uses the fact tense! Let it be noticed! 

It ought to strike our attention that Paul does not name these two sons here. He does not speak here of Isaac and Ishmael, but he identifies these sons as “born from a bond-woman” and “born from a freewoman.” Paul is interested in the legal status of both Ishmael’s mother and Isaac’s mother. The legal status of each mother determined the legal status in which the sons were born. The legal status of the father did not determine the status of the children. Such is the clear implication here in the text. Thus it is written in the law. 

The first matter which we notice concerning the two sons is that they were the one a bond-child, and the other a free-born child. However, there is here a second element added which we must carefully notice: it is that the manner of the birth was also different. Not only were their mothers different radically, but they had a different coming into this world as to manner. 

Let us try to see this. The text says that the one born to the bond-woman was born “according to flesh.” He was born just as every other child is born. Except for the great miracle .and wonder-work of God which we see in every conception, there was nothing exceptional about this birth. Both Abraham and Hagar had the natural vigor to produce seed. That is why Sarah had said to Abraham, “I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.” (Gen. 16:2) And so all that was born was “according to flesh,” the natural law of be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. Nothing happened as for the bringing forth of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth, . . . .” (Gen. 13:16-17) Even when God makes a great nation of Ishmael for Abraham’s sake (Gen. 16:10Gen. 21:13) this does not bring forth the seed. Shall any of this nation be saved they must be saved in the son of the free-woman. For that which is flesh is flesh, and it profits nothing. (John 3:6John 6:63) The birth of the son of the bondwoman was according to flesh. 

How different was the way in which the son of the free-woman was born and conceived. Notice that Paul does not say that this was “according to promise,” but he says that it was “throughpromise.” The preposition through (“dia“) in Greek is instrumental. It means here: by means of the promise. The promise here refers to God’s sure word of what he would do for Abraham and for his seed. Paul referred to this in Chapter 3.8 where he speaks of the Lord preaching beforehand that “in thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Gen. 18:18Gen. 12:3) This is the fulfillment of the great Gospel-promise first revealed by God in paradise. (Gen. 3:15) But there is here one more thing implied and designated with this miraculous birth. It is that the promise here was not merely a fulfillment of what was predicted by the Lord, but it was by the efficacious operation of God in which he fulfilled His promise that Isaac, the son of the free-woman was born. God here raised the dead to life and called the things which be not as if they were. It was upon this power that Abraham learned in faith to hope against all hope, and to look away from the deadness of Sarah’s womb as well as from the deadness of his own body. And thus this child was brought forth in faith. (Heb. 11:11, 12) Thus there was a child brought forth, from one who had died, as the stars in the heaven in multitude, and as the sand by the seaside, innumerable. (Rom. 4:16-21) This is all implied in the short phrase: “born by the promise.” Here we see that with God nothing is impossible. He is God Almighty ! 

Thus Abraham had two different sons, by two different women! 


We must bear in mind that these two different mothers, in their bringing forth of two different kinds of sons in two different ways, are here presented to us in an “allegorical” interpretation. The term here is not the noun “allegory,” but it is the passive participle, which is alleegoroumena in Greek. Paul says that the two women here, in their bringing forth of sons, must be classified in the things which are of an allegorical nature. (atis). Each of these mothers represent, answer to (sunstoichei) a kind of covenant. Paul does not say that Moses in writing of these women in Genesis is writing an allegory. Not at all. He was writing history, the things which must come to pass quickly, the unfolding of the counsel of God, the fulfillment of the promise of God. The force of the passive participle here is that this history and the great implications must be treated as an allegory. 

What does this mean? 

The study of the term “allegory” is really quite fascinating. Anyone who desires to study this a bit in depth we refer to Lightfoot’s discussion on page 181 of his Commentary called Epistle To the Galatians. Lightfoot points out that the key to understand the implication of this allegorizing is found in the term “answers to.” (sunstoichei) We quote the three following paragraphs.

“Literally the term ‘answers to’ means: belong in the same column with. In military language this means a file, a rank of soldiers. The word is here best illustrated by the Phythagorean sustoicheian (belong to together) of opposing principles, which stood thus: good-bad, finite-infinite, one-many, permanent-changing, etc., etc.” 

“The allegory in the text then may be represented by the susstoichai thus: 1. Hagar, the bondwoman—Sarah, the freewoman. 2. Ishmael, the child after the flesh—Isaac, the child of promise. 3. The old covenant—the new covenant. 4. The earthly Jerusalem—the heavenly Jerusalem, etc.” 

“The old covenant is thus sustoichos (agrees with) the earthly Jerusalem, but antistoichos (against the agreement with) to the heavenly. It is not improbable that St. Paul is alluding to some mode of representation common to the Jewish teachers to exhibit this and similar allegories.”

Now let us attend to the text. It is quite clear that we are dealing with two covenants. On the one hand we are here dealing with the covenant of Mount Sinai. This was the covenant of the law-giving by means of angels in the hand of the Old Testament Mediator, Moses. (Gal. 3:19) In our exposition of this passage we noticed that the very manner of the law-giving, by means of angels, indicated that it was a covenant less great than the covenant of the promise in which God spoke directly. This is the covenant which “genders to bondage.” It says, “do this and thou shalt live.” Those who will to be under law, will to be under that manner of obtaining salvation: works of law. But that is bondage. It is the very opposite of the “liberty wherewith Christ has liberated us.” (Gal. 3:12Gal. 5:1) And such is the covenant of Sinai. And that is Hagar. She is a bondwoman, a mere slave in the family; under the do this and thou shalt live. She had only one son. He was born into bondage. Had she received many more sons by Abraham, as did Keturah, still they would be bondmen. They would not ever remain in the house. (John 8:34, 35) They would merely be doers of sin. The law cannot make alive. (Gal. 3:21) The law-covenant is quite different from the covenant of the promise in Christ. Allegorically speaking, Hagar is that Mount Sinai. All her children are bond-children, slaves of sin, without right to the kingdom of heaven. 

Now the covenant which is of Sinai is the covenant which is being perpetuated by Jewry and by these false teachers who are disturbing the minds of these Galatian saints, insisting that they must be circumcised to enter the kingdom. They must first be in the covenant of Sinai before they can be in the covenant of grace in Christ. They must be under the “do this and thou shalt live” before they can be under the gift of grace which is “he that believes in Christ shall be saved.” They must keep days, months, and years and times to inherit the kingdom. This is not clinging to Christ the head, who has nailed this all as a “handwriting against us” to the Cross. (Col. 2:10-15) Wherefore Paul can write that the old testament law of Sinai, with all its ceremonial duties, answers to “Jerusalem which is now.” That was Jerusalem with the glittering temple, its solemn rituals, reflecting the glory of the thunder and lightning of the mount in Arabia. (Gal. 4:25Heb. 12:18-21) The awesome sight of Sinai made even Moses to tremble and quake exceedingly. This was the pure holiness of God and His justice in His law confronting the naked and guilty and damnworthy sinner. Here is no hope. It is all bondage. The redeemed must. be made free and be married to another. (Rom. 7:1-4

Allegorically speaking, Ishmael is this son, who is born unto bondage. He cannot ever abide in the house as do the children. (John 8:39-41) Ishmael does not do the works of father Abraham. He does not walk in the footsteps of father Abraham. As Esau was a profane man, Ishmael was a “mocker” and a “persecutor” of the royal seed, personally and in his generations. (Gen. 21:8, 9) This was not some innocent teasing of a big brother toward a little brother. It was the mockery of unbelief, mocking the work of God, His wonder-work in the birth of the free-born child. That is the meaning here of the Spirit. For the words of Sarah to Abraham are not some momentary explosion of an irate mother, but they are the very oracles of God, which Abraham must obey in humble faith, which tries his father-heart greatly. Abraham must love the Lord more than kith and kin, more than the son of his own loins! He must act as the viceroy of the covenant Jehovah, the office-bearer in the church. Shall Ishmael be saved in his generations(Acts 2:11) then he must come to the true Jerusalem where the Gospel is heard in his own language. But then he separates from Hagar, from Mount Sinai, and clings to Christ the head of the church, the Jerusalem above!