Studies in Galatians | The Two Covenants (2) | Gal. 4:21-24 .

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 freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.”

Thus the two covenants were in the family of Abraham. For “these women are two covenants.” Verse 24, R.V.

But how did the two covenants get into the family of Abraham, and one of these even the covenant from Mount Sinai? “For these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Agar.”

Since Hagar is one of the two covenants, —the one from Sinai, and the one that genders to bondage,—the story of Hagar in the family of Abraham is the story of the covenant from Sinai.

But God had made a covenant with Abraham himself, before ever Hagar was heard of. And this covenant was confirmed in Christ, before ever any mention was made of Hagar.

This covenant was the covenant of God’s promise to Abraham and to his seed—not “seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” This was the covenant of God’s righteousness,—the righteousness of God which is by faith,—for when God had made promise to Abraham, Abraham “believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

This promise was to Abraham, that in him should all families of the earth be blessed,—that to his seed would he give the land of promise, which is the world to come; and that his seed should be as the stars of heaven.

This seed, to whom the promise was made, being Christ, this covenant was made in Christ; and, when Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness, this covenant was confirmed in Christ. This is, therefore, the everlasting covenant, which answers to Jerusalem which is above; for, in that covenant, because of that promise, Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

All this came to Abraham when as yet he had no child; and the promise was to be accomplished in his seed. Several years had passed after the first mention by the Lord of Abraham’s seed when as yet he had no child. Abraham was already old when the thought of his seed was first suggested, and was growing older without seeing any seed. Accordingly, he said: “Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thee hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

“And behold, the word of the Lord came unto him saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.” Gen. 15:2-7.

And when Abram asked: “Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” the Lord “said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.” Then it was that the Lord, by passing between those pieces, “made a covenant with Abraham,” a blood covenant, in which he pledged himself to the fulfillment of every promise that had yet been made to Abraham. 

Here, then, was God’s own heavenly, everlasting covenant, made and confirmed with Abraham, with God’s own life pledged that everything promised should be accomplished, so that nothing promised could any more fail than that the Lord should cease to exist.

But still the time passed, and no child was seen, for “Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children.” But Sarai “had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.” Gen. 16:1, 2. Thus Hagar comes upon the scene, and is brought into the story.

But how was it that Hagar was brought into the story at all? Was it by trusting the promise of God?—No. It was altogether because of distrust. Was it by faith?—No. It was altogether because of unbelief. This is confirmed by the fact that when this part of the program had all been carried through, it all had to be repudiated, and the promised seed had still to be expected by Sarah herself; and “through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” Heb. 11:11.

This being so at the last, why was it, then, AT THE FIRST, that “Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children”?—It was simply because of her unbelief, and her not judging “him faithful who had promised.”

Then it was that, in this distrust of God, this unbelief, Sarai invented the scheme, which brought in Hagar. And this scheme, springing from distrust of God, and unbelief in him, was altogether a scheme of the natural mind—an invention of the flesh—to fulfill the promise of God.

The important consideration in this scheme of Sarai’s is that it was to fulfill the promise of God. The thought was not merely that the Lord had not fulfilled his promise, but that he had refused to fulfill it. For Sarai said plainly, “Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing.” This straightly charged unfaithfulness on the part of the Lord. And since it was held that the Lord had failed to fulfill his promise, it was naturally concluded that they were to fulfill it themselves, by an invention altogether of their own, springing from distrust and unbelief in God.

And even Abram swerved from his trust in God, from his faith in the Lord’s promise. Abram fell in with this scheme of distrust and unbelief, this invention of the flesh. “Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.”

“And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived.” “And Hagar bare Abram a son.” Gen. 16:3, 4, 15.

“But he who was of the bondwoman was born after THE FLESH.” How could he be born of anything else? The whole scheme, by which he was ever born at all, was altogether of the natural mind, in distrust and unbelief of God,—an invention of the flesh.

“Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia.”

The covenant, therefore, for which Hagar stands,—the covenant from Mount Sinai,—is a covenant in which people, in distrust of God and unbelief of his promise, 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.

But the righteousness of God, with the accompanying inheritance in all its fullness, is a free gift.

[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | June 5, 1900]