Sarah and Hagar: Two Covenants
Open Your Bible
Galatians 4:21-31, Genesis 16:1-16, Romans 9:6-8, Hebrews 12:18-24
I think a lot about how the circumstances of our birth affect our futures. I bet Isaac and Ishmael did too. Their mothers, Sarah and Hagar, represent the old and new covenants. Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and when she didn’t conceive, she impatiently sent her servant to conceive in her place. Her servant Hagar bore Ishmael. Sarah later bore Isaac. God established the old covenant to teach us our need for a Savior. When Christ came, He fulfilled the law and the covenant. And he ushered in the new covenant of grace.
This was an abstract and new concept for the Galatians, and the Judaizers were all over them—trying to draw them back into confusion and slavery to the law. Paul is trying to help us understand by putting it in terms we are familiar with: human efforts to solve divine problems. It’s in our nature to try to settle things on our own terms. And the ancient Mediterraneans of Galatia couldn’t fulfill the law any more than we can. Paul demonstrated that the Judaizers, in deceptively drawing the Galatians to rely upon the law of Moses for their justification, are not acting in accord with the promise given to Abraham, but are turning from that promise.
Salvation does not come to us by the works of the law, even the law of Moses, which was literally given by God at Sinai. The pursuit of salvation by works of the law is not sufficient. The end result, as it was for Ishmael and Hagar, is to be driven out. Why? Because the only means of attaining the inheritance promised to Abraham, of true fellowship with God, is by faith. To rely on deceit, or only on the law, is to reject true salvation and freedom, which comes only by faith in Christ.
Neither Isaac nor Ishmael could control the circumstances of their birth. Paul is reminding us that our identity is not established by what we have done or will do. It is not something we can earn. Rather, our identity is fixed with Christ. This should have a radical impact on how we live and think. We are simultaneously set free from the exhaustion and impossibility of earning God’s favor, and filled with gratitude for the inheritance we have so freely received. This gratitude, not the threat of the law, is the motive for Christian living.
Sarah represents the covenant of faith and grace, but Hagar represents the covenant of failed human effort. Ishmael was Abrahams and Sarah’s plan, but Isaac was God’s plan. The law is not a means to leverage salvation. Isaac received the inheritance of the promise. “Now you too, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (Galatians 4:28)