Allegory of Hagar and Sarah
Galatians 4:21-5:1
Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?…

Tell me, ye that desire to be under the Law, do ye not hear the Law? He conceives of them as men who could not do without the bondage of the Mosaic Law, and he wilt read their condemnation out of the Pentateuch, in which that Law is contained.

I. HISTORY ON WHICH THE ALLEGORY IS FOUNDED. "For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the freewoman. Howbeit, the son by the handmaid is born after the flesh; but the son by the freewoman is born through promise." The two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, had the same father. They differed in two respects.

1. Ishmael was by the handmaid, Hagar; Isaac was by the freewoman, Sarah.

2. Ishmael was born after the flesh, i.e. according to the ordinary course of nature. That there is not excluded from "flesh" a certain ethical meaning is seen from its being opposed in the twenty-ninth verse to the Spirit. Isaac was born through promise, i.e. through the Divine efficiency present in the promise, surmounting natural obstacles.

II. ALLEGORY. "Which things contain an allegory." By "which things" we are to understand, not merely those which have been mentioned, but the whole class of things pertaining to Hagar and Sarah. Allegorizing is explaining one thing by another. In this case there is the plain historical meaning to begin with. Upon that there is imposed a second meaning. We are not to understand that the apostle evolved this second meaning out of his own thoughts. But God really meant more than the historical meaning. It is true that God thinks through all history; especially does he make known his thoughts through sacred history. More particularly in his dealings with Hagar and Sarah he intended to indicate what his dealings were to be with others, represented by them. "For these women are two covenants."

1. Hagar.

(1) She represented the Sinaitic covenant. "One from Mount Sinai, bearing children unto bondage, which is Hagar." Hagar was an Egyptian bondwoman in the household of Abraham. To the mind of God, she represented the Sinaitic covenant. As Hagar bare children unto bondage, so the Sinaitic covenant bare children unto bondage. A remark is made regarding the locality of Sinai. "Now this [the thing] Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia." Mount Sinai is situated in Arabia. This country is inhabited by the descendants of Hagar. The Arabs to this day regard themselves as the sons of Hagar. It was a country with which Paul had been made familiar during his residence in it for three years after his conversion. Once, in its lightnings, and thunderings, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest, Mount Sinai had been made to body forth the terrors of the Law. As Paul had felt it in its oppressive blackness and ruggedness, it seemed to body forth sufficiently the despair of the Law. It was a fit locality for bondmen.

(2) The Sinaitic covenant answered to the Jewish Church. "And answereth to the Jerusalem that now is: for she is in bondage with her children." The Sinaitic covenant answered to the literal Jerusalem that was then standing, i.e. the Jewish Church. What was true regarding the Sinaitic covenant was true also regarding the Jewish Church, which was its embodiment. The bondwoman represented both. The Jewish nation at that time was a mother whose children were born to pass under the Roman yoke. So viewed ecclesiastically it was a mother whose children were born to pass under a yoke more grievous than the Roman.

2. Sarah. "The other is from Mount Zion, bearing children unto freedom, which is Sarah. Now this Sarah is Mount Zion in the Holy Land, and answereth to the Jerusalem that is above, for she is free with her children." That, we may suppose, is how the allegory would have run if it had been fully drawn out. It has already been stated that Sarah represents the other covenant, i.e. the gospel covenant. And it may be regarded as implied that, as Sinai breathed the spirit of despair, so Zion breathed the spirit of hope. But all that the apostle does here, is at once to oppose the Christian Church to the Jewish Church. "But the Jerusalem which is above." Opposed to the literal Jerusalem, which was then undestroyed, was the spiritual and indestructible Jerusalem, of which even now we are regarded as citizens.

(1) The Christian Church regarded as a mother. It has three marks.

(a) It is free. "Is free, which is our mother." We are taught to think of the Church as our mother. We are the Church's sons, through the efficiency of Christ in the Church and its services. All our well-springs are in the Church. It is of Zion that it is said, "This man and that man was born in her." The Church of Christ is represented by the freewoman. We are taught to regard it as the home of freedom. We feel free in our covenant position before God, in our immediate relation to him, and in our glorious prospects.

(b) It has a numerous offspring. "For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for more are the children of the desolate than of her which hath the husband." This is a quotation from Isaiah 54:1. In the same prophecy (Isaiah 51:2) use is made of God giving Abraham and Sarah a numerous offspring. In this language the prophet makes use of Sarah having a more numerous people descended from her than Hagar. And what the apostle does in quoting it is to give the fact another application. The Church represented by the desolate Sarah is to have a more numerous offspring than the Church represented by the favoured Hagar.

(c) It has an offspring according to promise. "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise." We are not certainly children according to the course of nature, or in virtue of influences that belong to our nature. We are children through the Divine influences that are efficient in the gospel surmounting great natural obstacles. We are miraculously, supernaturally born.

(2) An instructive parallel added.

(a) The persecutors. "But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was horn after the Spirit, even so it is now." It is said, in connection with a festival in honour of the weaning of Isaac, that Sarah saw the son of Hagar, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. This little circumstance is referred to here, not so much for what it was in itself, as for its foreshadowing the bearing of the Arab tribes toward the Israelites. As the descendants of Ishmael persecuted the descendants of Isaac, so in the apostle's day did the Jews persecute the Christians. It was a well-known fact that they were the bitterest enemies of the Christians and were the principal instigators of persecution against them.

(b) Their fate foreshadowed. "Howbeit what saith the Scripture? Cast out the handmaid and her son; for the son of the handmaid shall not inherit with the son of the freewoman." Ishmael could not be allowed to live in the same house with Isaac. He had to be cast out and was no sharer of the inheritance with him. So the Jewish Church and the Christian Church could not coexist. Jews could only be in the Church as Christians. As Jews they were cast out of the special covenant position, the stern reality of which was soon to be made evident in the destruction of Jerusalem and the breaking up of the Jewish nationality.

(3) General conclusion regarding our slate o/freedom. "Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the freewoman." Exhortation founded on it.

(a) To maintain our freedom. "With freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore." We owe our freedom to Christ. And it can be said that with a great price have we obtained our freedom, that price being his blood. We are not, therefore, to treat lightly what has been so dearly won. We must show our sense of it by maintaining it in its entirety.

(b) To eschew bondage. "And be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage." They had formerly been under the yoke of heathenism; they were not to put themselves under the similar yoke of Judaism. A slave who has been liberated does not voluntarily put himself into the hardships he has left. So they who had experienced the sweets of Christian liberty were not to go back to bonds. - R.F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

WEB: Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, don't you listen to the law?

The Tender Anxieties of Ministers for Their People
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