The Two Sons of Abraham

Brother Sewell: Please write up the two sons of Abraham – one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

The passage is this: “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. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth 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.” (Gal. 4:21-26.)

This is the history of the wife of Abraham – Sarah, or “Sarai” until the Lord ordered it changed to “Sarah.” Sarah had no child till she was quite old, far beyond the natural age of becoming a mother. When she had apparently despaired of ever being a mother, she gave her maid to Abraham to wife, and she became the mother of Ishmael. It was foretold by an angel to his mother before he was born that he would be a wild man, that his hand would be against every man and every man’s hand would be against him. This prediction turned out to be literally true after he grew to manhood. He and his mother remained in the house of Abraham till Isaac was born and the time for his weaning had come. They had some sort of feast on that occasion, and Sarah saw Ishmael mocking at her son Isaac; and she at once decreed that he and his mother must leave at once, and so they did. From this time we have but few items of history of Ishmael. He married an Egyptian woman, had twelve sons, and the family drifted into Arabia and led a roving, wild sort of life. The Ishmaelites bob up occasionally in Bible history for a long time, but they never accomplish much in the world’s history. But this family, Hagar and her offspring, became a sort of type – Hagar, a type of the Jewish covenant, the law of Moses; and her posterity, a sort of type of the Jewish people under that covenant. This is what Paul means in the passage as part of his allegory: That Hagar represents the covenant that was established at Mount Sinai, “which gendereth to bondage … and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” Her children represent in figure the Jewish people, which were under the law of Moses, which Paul calls a “yoke of bondage,” and the Jewish people are trying to hold on to that same yoke of bondage to this day. This is the typical meaning of the bondmaid and her son. But there is much greater importance attached to the other side of the allegory. Sarah lived on till she was quite old, when, in fulfillment of the promise of God through an angel, she bore a son in her old age. This is what is meant by Isaac’s being a child of promise, while Ishmael was born after the flesh–simply a natural, ordinary birth. Sarah was a type, or representative, of the new covenant of Christianity, and her posterity through Isaac were typical of Christians, Abraham’s spiritual posterity. So Sarah represents the church of God, the “Jerusalem which is above,” which “is free,” and “which is the mother of us all.” This is a beautiful figure, and in reality, represents in figure most of the history of the whole Bible and of the whole world to the end of time, when run out to its full meaning; for the spiritual seed of Abraham includes all Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, till the end of time. Paul used this figure in an effort to impress the Jewish Christians of Galatia with the folly and awful danger of turning back to the law of Moses, which had been set aside and which could save no one. He showed that if they undertook to keep the law they would lose all interest, all the benefits that belong to the new and everlasting covenant through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Elisha G. Sewell