You Need The Box Top To Make Sense Of The Jigsaw Of The Old Testament: The Abraham Affair

by Jonathan McLatchie

When asked for what I consider to be the most compelling argument for the truth of Christianity, I often offer the cumulative force of the argument from prototypic foreshadowings of Christ and the new covenant which are so delicately interwoven into the Old Testament fabric.  Just as one needs the Box Top to make sense of a jigsaw puzzle, so one needs Christ in order to properly understand what’s going on in the Old Testament. In this article, I present one of those foreshadows.

First, some background. Abraham, the progenitor of the Hebrew race, is said in Genesis to have had two sons. The sons were distinct in a number of ways. For example, they had different mothers. One son, Ishmael, was born of a slave woman (Hagar), whereas the other, Isaac, was born of a free woman (Sarah). Hagar was the Egyptian slave of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Many years after God first promised a son to Abraham, Sarah had not yet borne him a son. Not wanting Eliezer of Damascus to be his only heir, he cried out to God in request for a son to be his heir, a request that resulted in God’s re-affirmation that “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”

The years went by, and Abraham had still not conceived a son by his wife, Sarah. Sarah thus decided it was time to take matters into their own hands, and induced Abraham to father a child through her female slave, Hagar. Hagar thus conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. Abraham’s second son — the one that had been promised by God — was later conceived through his wife, Sarah.

The Apostle Paul explicated this event in his epistle to the church in Galatia. Our text is taken from Galatians 4:21-5:1:

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

In what sense was Ishmael (the child born through Hagar) born in the ordinary way? The answer lies not so much in the physicality of the conception, but rather in the fact that he was conceived through human scheming and planning — the way of the flesh: the way of works and self-effort. In contrast, Isaac was born by the free woman, Sarah. His conception was supernatural because the Holy Spirit had miraculously enabled Abraham and Sarah to conceive a child after she was far beyond the age of childbearing…

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