Why did Paul use the allegory of Sarah and Hagar?


By BibleAsk Team

Sarah and Hagar

Sarah and Hagar were both married to Abraham. Sarah was the first wife of the patriarch. Hagar was the servant given to her by Pharaoh (Genesis 12:14-16). God had promised Abraham many descendants (Genesis 12;1-3). But after 10 years, faithlessly concluding that there was no hope of her bearing children, Sarah being barren, decided to follow the practice of her native country in order to provide an heir for the family. So, Sarah gave her Egyptian maid to Abraham as a concubine so that she would have a child through her (Genesis 16:2).

And the maid bore a son and they called him Ismael (Genesis 16:15). Abraham was eighty-six years old when the maid bore Ishmael (Exodus 16:16). Then, Hagar looked down at her mistress. So, Sarah despised her and treated her harshly. Consequently, the maid fled away to the desert with her son Ismael. But the angel of the Lord appeared to her and commanded her to go back to Abraham and submit to her mistress. And the Lord promised that He will bless her son and his descendants (Genesis 16:9-12).

God’s Promise

At the perfect time, God fulfilled His promise and Abraham miraculously became a father at the age of 99. Sarah gave birth to a son they named Isaac (Genesis 21). God’s promise to Abraham did not depend on human strength but on faith for with the Creator nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). The maid’s son Ishmael was about 14 years old. But due to tension between the two sons and their mothers, Sarah asked Abraham to send the maid and Ishmael (about 16 yrs.) away after Isaac was weaned (about 2 – 3 yrs.).

Later on, Isaac became the grandfather of the 12 tribes of Israel and lived 180 years (Genesis 35:28). And the Promised Messiah came from his descendants. Thus, Isaac was both “the son of the promise” and the “father of the faithful” (Galatians 3:29).

Also, the Lord repeated His promise of blessing to Ismael (Genesis 21:17-18) and he became the father of 12 sons who were called princes (Genesis 25:13-15) and he died at the age of 137 (verse 17).

Paul’s Allegory

Paul used this story in an allegorical sense (Galatians 4: 24) to show the difference between being in bondage to the ceremonial system as a way of salvation and enjoying salvation that comes from faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul spoke about two covenants. One was the covenant of faith, represented by Sarah; the other, the covenant of “works,” represented by Hagar (Ezekiel 16:60; Galatians 3:15, 17–19; Hebrews 8:8–10). As long as a man depends upon the works of the law to save him, there is no escape from bondage. In spite of all that he may do to earn salvation, he can never succeed. He has obligated himself to perform an impossible task. Legalism, that is, keeping the letter of the law, kills (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Isaac was the son of promise, the son of faith (Genesis 12:3; 13:14–16; 15:4; 17:3–6, 19–21). The record of his birth is one of miraculous work (Genesis 18:10; 21:1, 2; Hebrews 11:11, 12). Every incident in his birth stressed faith. The faith of Abraham is an example of the faith the believers should have (Romans 4:16–25) for he believed God’s Word when their fulfillment seemed impossible.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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