Last Sunday I began a new series called “Grace Foundation,” where we are examining the threads that wind through the entire Bible that show that God has always made grace the foundation for all He does.
In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul creates the frame that we use to look at Old Testament story of Abraham. He helps us see what Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac all represent in a spiritual sense from the New Testament perspective. Ishmael was born of Hagar, a slave woman. He was born in the ordinary way, meaning there was nothing supernatural about his birth. His birth came without needing to trust in God in any way. Paul says that this represents the law. If you live your life trying to be justified by the rules you keep and the things you avoid doing, that requires no power from God.
Isaac was born of the promise. Yes, Abraham and Sarah had to do the physical “work” required to conceive a child, but they both did so when they knew their bodies were incapable of producing a child without God’s intervention. You will only receive the promise that comes from living in the grace of God by believing and receiving what He promised, apart from your works.
After they received the promise, it was time to throw out the slave woman and her child. With these things in mind, now let’s look at what it says in Genesis 16. Hagar actually leaves twice. The first time was by her own choice, and the second was by Abraham’s demand. Each has spiritual significance for the New Testament believer.
In Genesis 16:2, we find that Sarah (Sarai at the time – God had not yet changed their names yet) was frustrated that they had not received the promise. She decided it was because God had chosen not to fulfill that promise. It is important, whenever you read the Bible, to not just treat everything that is said as truth. I know that sounds odd. But you must know WHO is talking and TO WHOM they are speaking. There are many beliefs people have about God that are based on things that HE did not say. The book of Job contains many of these. GOD didn’t say, “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Job’s friends said that. In Genesis 16, God did not say He was keeping Sarah from having a child. Sarah said that. Now, let’s not get upset with Sarah for her unbelief. I think Abraham has a role to play.
If you read the previous chapter carefully, you’ll find that the promises were made by God to Abraham. It would have been up to Abraham to make sure his wife understood what God said. I think this is the same error that Adam made in the Garden. God told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and what would happen if they did. When the serpent tempts Eve, it becomes clear that she didn’t have the information quite right. Eve may have eaten of the fruit first, but she was deceived because Adam may not have properly informed her. So, communication issues between husbands and wives are no new thing!
Let’s look at this first time that Hagar leaves. After she becomes pregnant with Ishmael, it says that she began to despise Sarah. Most of the translations use the word despise, but the New Living Translation uses the word contempt, which is closer to the Hebrew word originally used. Contempt is a strong word with a meaning that gives a clearer picture of what was happening between Sarah and Hagar. You would think that it would be Sarah who despised Hagar – being jealous that she was carrying her husband’s child. Why would Hagar be bothered? When we see the word contempt, it explains it. Remember, in Galatians 4, Paul said that law persecutes grace. Contempt is not just anger or bitterness but involves a feeling of superiority. Hagar saw herself as superior to Sarah because she could produce what Sarah could not (or at least what Sarah did not believe she could produce).
Law minded believers look at those who profess to live by grace with superiority and contempt. They feel superior because they work way harder than you do at “pleasing God.” They believe they can produce something others cannot – righteousness, but their righteousness is a SELF-righteousness and actually produces nothing. Paul said that the child born of the slave woman cannot inherit the promises.
Sarah then begins to mistreat Hagar until she can take it no more and decides to leave. So Hagar is gone, right? No. In Genesis 16:7, God tells Hagar that she must go back and submit to Sarah. There is great spiritual significance to this act. Remember how Paul told us to look at what each character in this story represents. Hagar (law) was required to go back and submit to Sarah (grace). This was only for a season, because later God wants them to cast her out.
I believe this span of time of Hagar being required to submit to Sarah represents the time between Moses and the Cross. Law was going to come, but it was required to submit to grace. Once the true promise came, it was to be cast out. The law came through Moses and was in effect as the means of justification until Jesus, the promised seed, came and established a new covenant. Then the law was cast out as a means of righteousness.
Even when the law reigned, it was set aside for grace. King David is a prime example. He had committed at least two sins that, under the law that ruled in his lifetime, were punishable by death. He committed murder and adultery. So, why did God not enforce the written code regarding David? I believe it is because David had a revelation of grace.
God is silent for a while after this. When we create messes by our effort, it is our job to maintain them. BUT God was silent because Adam never consulted Him or asked for help. If we cry out, like David did, God will always come to our aid and walk us through it back into grace.
I’ve taught previously that grace is not a free pass to sin but a true means of dealing with sin. Under law, when you sin you feel condemned and you hide from God. When you are truly under grace, you run TO God when you sin. This is what David would do. The fact that he did shows us that, while he lived under the law, he was not law minded. Something bigger than the law showed him that running TO God was the thing to do.
When you look at the things that made Jesus angry during his time on earth, you find that it is always in some way related to man putting rules over love and grace. Healing on the Sabbath? What was more important? Even the clearing of the temple of the money changers related to this. They were essentially using man-made law as a way to control the people and profit from the law.
Finally, in Exodus 20, immediately following the giving of the ten commandments, God has the people do something remarkable in its ability to show that grace was still the principle thing. The first order of business was to build an altar, but there were a couple specifics about this altar that demonstrate how God values man’s works. In verses 25-26, He instructs them that the stones used for the altar cannot be touched by man’s tools. They were to be left as they found them – as God made them. Once they used their tools on them they would not be holy because they would be tainted with man’s works. Then He also instructs them that there cannot be any steps made to get to the altar because it would cause people to be able to see up someone’s cloak and view their nakedness. There were many other things God had instructed them to do that would run the same risk of possible immodesty. Why was this one so important? He wanted no “man made” steps to be made, anything that people would be required to do to get to His presence. Doing so would reveal nakedness.
So many people complain that Christians are such hypocrites. They establish all these rules and restrictions, and they don’t even do what they preach, or they keep rules but don’t love people. We set up all these steps to being qualified to be near God and pretend we’re holy by our works. All the while, we only reveal our nakedness. None of our works will ever make us worthy of God’s presence!