“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia” (Gal. 4:21-25).
Hagar represents the covenant from Sinai. Hagar was a bondwoman, and an Egyptian. Her son, therefore, was a bondson. He was a bondson, by whatsoever means he might have been born: because his mother was a bondwoman. As we have seen, the means by which Hagar’s son was born was altogether out of distrust of God and of unbelief in his promise—was only a scheme of the flesh; and, therefore, “he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh.” But, “The minding of the flesh, the carnal mind, is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7, 8).
Accordingly, the covenant for which Hagar stands—the covenant from Mount Sinai—is a covenant in which people, knowing only the natural man and the birth of the flesh, seek, by their own inventions and their own efforts, to attain to the righteousness of God, and to the inheritance which attaches to that righteousness. This, because, as we have also seen, Sarai and Abram had the fullness of the promise of God, and of his righteousness, in God’s covenant confirmed in Christ, before ever the scheme concerning Hagar was invented. And this scheme was invented, and could be invented, only by forsaking that promise and covenant. And to forsake that promise and covenant was to trust only in the flesh.
Did, then, the people at Sinai have any promise of God, or any covenant, in which they could trust, before they entered into the covenant of Sinai? —They had. They had the Abrahamic covenant, exactly as had Abram and Sarai before they entered into the scheme which brought in Hagar.
Not simply did they have this covenant with Abraham, as a far-distant thing, bedimmed by the lapse of time between Abraham and them: but they had it repeated to them, directly by the Lord, and made with them, as with Abraham; and all this before they ever left Egypt at all. Read, “And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him, I am the Lord: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God, which brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear [“lift up my hand,” margin] to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it to you for an heritage; I am the Lord” (Ex. 6:2-8).
Here was given to the children of Israel, in Egypt, all that was ever given to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. The same covenant precisely that was “made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac,” and which was “confirmed” unto Jacob, was made with Israel, while they were yet in Egypt, when God came down to deliver them from Egypt.
How, then, could it come about that Israel must enter into a covenant at Sinai? —Just as the scheme concerning Hagar had come about. How could another covenant be brought in at all? —Just as Hagar was brought in—altogether because of distrust of God’s covenant; altogether because of unbelief of the promise of God confirmed by his oath. For if they had trusted the promises of God which he had made to them in Egypt, they would have had all that Abraham or any other person ever could have, they would have had the righteousness of God, his everlasting salvation, and the inheritance promised to Abraham: and this all in Christ; for this is how Abraham had it.
True, they had sung the song of triumphant faith at the Red Sea, after crossing; and if they had continued in this faith, they would have continued in God’s everlasting covenant which he gave them in Egypt: and there never would have been any covenant at Sinai.
But they did not continue in that faith; for, immediately afterward, when in their journey they came to Marah, they murmured against the Lord. And when the Lord had delivered them from those fears, they came into the Wilderness of Sin and, “the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured” again. “And the children of Israel said unto them [Moses and Aaron]. Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, and when we did eat bread to the full: for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 17:3). And when the Lord had delivered them from their fears that time, and they had left the Wilderness of Sin, and had come to Rephidim, again they murmured, and said: “Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? They be almost ready to stone me” (Ex. 17:3, 4).
All this shows confirmed distrust of God, and unbelief of him, on the part of Israel. And this distrust and unbelief hid from them the blessings and the power given to them in the covenant with Abraham, which God had given to them when they were in Egypt.
They could not trust God for the inheritance to which they were coming, not for the righteousness, which alone would entitle them to that inheritance. This they thought that they themselves could earn. And, that they might see how far short of earning it they would come, the Lord gave to them the widest possible opportunity to try. Accordingly, he said: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice INDEED, and keep my covenant, THEN ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine; and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. [“So shall ye be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer. 11:4).] These are the words, which thou shall speak unto the children of Israel. “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, all that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord” (Ex. 19:4-6).
They had not yet heard his voice; but, when they did hear it, the Ten Commandments were spoken. And so they had agreed to obey the Ten Commandments indeed. And, even after they had heard his voice in such majesty that they feared and “removed and stood afar off,” they declared, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient” (Ex. 24:7).
But they corresponded to the child of Hagar the bondwoman, who “was born after the flesh.” They knew only the birth of the flesh; and so had only the mind of the flesh, which “is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;” (Rom. 8:7) and they could no more obey that law “indeed” than Ishmael, the child of the flesh in the family of Abraham, could fulfill the promise to Abraham. In that condition they could no more keep God’s covenant than the scheme of Sarai in bringing in Hagar was the keeping of that covenant.
How, then, could such a covenant ever be brought in? Why did they enter into such a covenant? —“They had no true conception of the holiness of God, of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts, their utter inability, in themselves, to render obedience to God’s law, and their need of a Saviour. All this they must be taught . . . .The people did not realize the sinfulness of their own hearts, and that without Christ it was impossible for them to keep God’s law; and they readily entered into covenant with God. Feeling that they were able to establish their own righteousness, they declared, ‘All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient’” (Patriarchs and Prophets, pages 371, 372/.
They were already in the bondage of sin and self-righteousness; and in that bondage, with minds “not subject to the law of God,” and which indeed could not be, they promised to obey the law of God “indeed.” But in the condition in which they were, it was inevitable that they would break their promise: they simply could not keep their promise. It was not in them to do it. Thus, in that covenant, they were breakers of the law, and breakers of their promise not to break the law.
And this is all that they could be, in that covenant, or by virtue of anything in that covenant. Accordingly that covenant, AS HAGAR, gendered, and could gender, only to bondage. And this, all simply because of their distrust of God and their unbelief of his promise as revealed in the covenant with Abraham, which covenant was given to them directly, before they ever started from Egypt at all.
“These are the two covenants; the one from Mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Hagar. For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to Jerusalem, which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all . . . Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.”
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | June 12, 1900]