Contrasting Two Covenants

Introduction: The Bible is a collection of writings that can be, and is, divided into two separate collections of writings. The Old Testament and the New Testament. The ability to discern between these two “testaments” is fundamental to proper interpretation of scripture. But these two testaments are connected. In fact, those who, through the Holy Spirit’s direction, wrote the words of the New Testament, often used the words and events of the Old Testament to teach God’s truth.

  • The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed; the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.
  • Go back to Genesis 15:1-6 Abraham is called the father of the faithful. Yet even fathers sometimes falter. God made Abraham an incredible promise concerning the future of his family. Because it was a promise, the expected response was faith – Would Abraham believe God’s promise or not – that was the impending question. Abraham’s question concerning his servant, Eliezer, evidenced his perplexing doubt because it had been several years since God’s promise, and he and Sarah were not getting any younger. But God reaffirmed his promise, “this one shall not be your heir, but he who comes forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” (vs. 4) Again a promise of God that expected a certain response – will he believe God or not?

“And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (v. 6)

Centuries later Paul used Abraham’s faith as evidence that the law of Moses was powerless to justify men & women. He was concerned that those who had been converted from Judaism would return, and that those who had been converted as Gentiles would be convinced to look to the law for their salvation. So again he returned to the story of Abraham.

Read Galatians 4:21-31 – 2 Women – 2 Sons – 2 Covenants

I. Hagar and Ishmael: Several years after God had reaffirmed His promise of a son to Abraham, and Sarah had still not conceived, Sarah induced Abraham to father a child through her servant, Hagar. It seemed to Sarah that God’s plan would not be successful unless she stepped in to assist.

A. When Abraham was 86 years old, his son Ishmael was born through Hagar. But after Ishmael was born, Sarah and Hagar had a falling out, and Sarah drove her & Ishmael away. (15:6)

B. Despite the birth of Ishmael, and Abraham & Sarah’s attempt to intervene in the promise, God‘s original plans were still intact. His timetable was unaltered.

1. Gen. 17:1-9 Notice how he speaks of successive generations to a man who has only one child, and that one is not the one he is talking about. See Gen 17:15-19 “Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.” When Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 99, Isaac was born. It was all just as God had planned it. It could not happen any other way.

II. Paul’s Analogy: Paul uses this bit of Israelite history to establish the contrast between 2 separate covenants. Read again Gal. 4:21-24 “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants

  • “Which things are symbolic” (are an allegory –KJV) “came to signify “to speak,” not according to the primary sense of the word, but so that the facts stated are applied to illustrate principles. The “allegorical” meaning does not do away with the literal meaning of the narrative. There may be more than one “allegorical” meaning though, of course, only one literal meaning. Scripture histories represent or embody spiritual principles, and these are ascertained, not by the play of the imagination, but by the rightful application of the doctrines of Scripture.(from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words) – So we must be careful to only make symbolic what scripture makes symbolic.

A. Bondwoman vs. the Freewoman: Abraham had two sons. In the analogy they are distinct first because of the nature of their mother.

1. One was a freewoman; one was a bondwoman. God never intended for Abraham to have a son through his wife’s slave. Hagar seemed by Sarah’s reasoning to be qualified – but she was not.

2. Ishmael was born “according to the flesh”; Isaac was born according to promise. To be born according to the flesh did not mean simply by natural means (Isaac was born naturally, as the biological son of both Abraham & Sarah) – But his birth was motivated by purely selfish desires, and fulfilled by purely human means. It was never God’s plan or work. Isaac, however, was born through supernatural intervention – Heb. 11:11 “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”

3. Hagar represents Mt. Sinai (original covenant given there), and corresponds to the present state of Judaism. The covenant given there had no ability to produce freedom; because satisfaction under it was based on perfect law-keeping, and as such only brought sinners under bondage to the law. So even now, the writer says, those who are living under it are still in bondage. But Christ (as represented by the “son of promise” produces freedom – through forgiveness of sin Gal 5:1 “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

4. But the Jerusalem above is free. Jerusalem signified the place where God and his people met. (Zion) Here it contrasts the physical city where the Jews still lived in bondage to the law of Moses. This city is a place of freedom –

a. In Heb. 12, the writer describes the mysterious and terrifying events on the original Mt. Sinai. Heb. 12:18-21 – 18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness* and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned* or shot with an arrow.”* 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”*)

b. He says we have not come to that – but God has led us onward to something better – Heb 12:22-24 “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”

5. Christians, like Isaac, are children of promise, not according to the flesh.

a. Just as Ishmael’s descendents persecuted the children of God, so the Jews became the enemy of God’s people. Paul declares to them that the Jews of the first century were more the descendents of Ishmael, than of Isaac, because the sought their freedom in a way that God did not design or promise. Jesus was, and is , the only way to be free.

b. The spiritual children of Sarah are those who seek freedom through Christ and not law-keeping. They will receive an inheritance that is unavailable to the spiritual children of Hagar and Ishmael. “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” – you cannot be saved without putting your trust in Christ.

c. Galatians 5:1-6Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

Conclusion: If you could go back before Hagar and give Abraham and Sarah some advice, what would you tell them? Don’t mess with God’s promise – trust Him to do it his way. You cannot manufacture what God has designed to give you in His own way. – Have faith.