Thursday, 5 May 2016
…which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— Galatians 4:24
Paul now shows that his evaluation of the story of Abraham, his two children, and the status of the children’s mothers, are given to us as for a specific reason. They are to be taken symbolically. In other words, God included this story for a specific reason that goes beyond a literal, historical account of what actually transpired in redemptive history. In that story, and in countless other such Old Testament stories, details which seemingly have no bearing on the main narrative are given.
As God doesn’t waste words, there is a reason for these details. Further, in these same stories, information is often left out which seems necessary to understand the story. Again, this is done for several reasons, such as requiring us to refer to other accounts to fill in the missing information. Thus a panorama of other points in redemptive history can be derived by properly combining the various accounts.
Some scholars see this as Paul being excessive in his evaluation of such passages and that we should not attempt to follow him in looking for the symbolic meaning of things God is presenting to us in His word. This is utter nonsense. Every story in the Old Testament can be, and should be, viewed with four separate categories in mind. These categories are the literal/historical; the moral; the allegorical/symbolic; and the anagogical/prophetic. Having said this, extreme care needs to be taken in attempting to determine the symbolic and prophetic meaning. Scripture must be used to interpret Scripture and wild speculation is to be wholly disregarded.
Understanding these things, Paul now shows us the symbolic meaning of the story he has introduced. The birth of Ishmael to the slave Hagar, and the birth of Isaac to the freewoman Sarah, is symbolic of the two covenants. The birth of Ishmael is equated by Paul directly to the covenant which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. It is a covenant which leads to bondage, not freedom. It captures all who are under it and binds them under sin. It shows how sinful sin is, but it can not free anyone from bondage.
As Paul is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, his words are those specifically chosen by God to show us exactly what He intended for us to see concerning these two examples which have been provided. We need go no further with the symbolism. Paul will continue to explain the symbolic meaning of this ancient account through the rest of chapter 4.
Life example: When reading the Bible, we should continuously remind ourselves that the ancient passages which seem to have no relevance to anything at all – either in the Bible or to us specifically, do in fact have great significance. If we can continuously remind ourselves that everything points to Christ Jesus and His plan of redemption, these seemingly quaint passages will come alive to us in ways never imagined before.
Heavenly Father, Your word shows us that the account of Isaac and Ishmael has a deeper meaning than just two boys born to Abraham. Instead, they form a picture of the bondage of the law and the freedom of Your grace in Christ. The law is a form of bondage and a heavy yoke which highlights our sin, but the grace of Christ is born of a promise. It is a life of freedom and a life of blessing. Why would we trade the grace of Christ in order to turn back to the weak and miserable principles of the law which confined us under sin? No way! Let us stand fast on the grace of Jesus Christ alone. Amen.