Genesis 16-25
Abraham had already received the promise of a seed, so by faith in that promise (trusting God as the quickener of the dead), he was now standing in righteousness before Him. (Gen. 15)
That promise, I may observe, had not mentioned Sarah in connection with the Seed, but there was strong intimation that she was to be the mother.
However, be this as it may, Sarah's suggestion to her husband at the opening of chap. xvi. too clearly discloses the working of an unbelieving heart, and the principle of confidence in the flesh, two things which go together and measure each other. The more the simplicity of faith is surrendered, and grace refused, will the law, either in its morality or religiousness, be taken up.
For grace, or the promise, calls us out of ourselves, unto God and His resources; and Abraham had followed that call in Gen. 15 But now at the suggestion of Sarah he takes up himself again. He is back again in the flesh, or under the law, or becomes a dependent on his own resources. For these are all one and the same thing. Hagar is his confidence, and not the divine Quickener of the dead.
This is very sad; but it is not destructive of his standing. Surely not. It betrays the bad, mistrustful habit of the soul, and has to be rebuked and chastened, but Abraham is still the heir of God through righteousness by faith.
Very expressive, I judge all this to be, and very significant or typical also. For the law, after this pattern, entered through man's confidence in himself, Israel accepting this offer of it and saying, "all that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Ex. 19:88And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. (Exodus 19:8)*); as Hagar is now seated in Abraham's house through the same want of faith and the same confidence in the flesh.
But there is much more of this same typical character. For Hagar's despising of her mistress, is, in the Lord's esteem, highly out of place; and as He meets her in her wanderings, He knows her only as Sarah's maid, and sends her back with this injunction, "return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hand." She may get promises respecting the son that was to be born to her, but she is Sarah's maid still, and submission is her only duty. The law, too, has its hour. It may fill the house of God for a time, as Hagar and Hagar's seed now do the house of Abraham for fourteen years. But to the elect, or the heirs of promise, even the dispensation of the law is, or was, still only a servant. Sarah, likewise, may betray herself in other ways, in her undue impatience against Hagar, as well as in giving her to her husband, but still the relationship is unaffected by all this. Hagar is still and only Sarah's maid, and as such she must reside iii the family as long as she is permitted.
All this is strong, decided teaching, and teaching of mysteries, as I have said. For Hagar, as we know (Gal. 4:21-3121Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? 22For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 23But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. 24Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. 28Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. 29But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. 30Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. 31So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. (Galatians 4:21‑31)), is the law of the Old covenant, which, though it filled and formed the house of God for its hour, was hut serving some great purpose of instruction or discipline to the heirs of promise. And all the time there was a great underplot, so to express it, in this mystic house of the Patriarch; which, in a divine sense, was surely the chief thing. Ishmael is born and circumcised, and being the only child and heir apparent, he becomes the object no doubt of daily solicitude. But with God, Ishmael is but second. He appears to be principal in the scene, but he is not really or divinely so. Accordingly neither is he or his mother scarcely noticed by the Spirit or hand of God after this, while they reside in the house, till the due time for their dismissal comes. Abraham, through human or fleshly fondness, draws him forward for a moment under God's eye, and he is circumcised as any purchased slave would have been; but neither is he or his bondwoman-mother the Lord's object. The elect Abraham and Sarah, or persons and things connected with them, are His thoughts. His communications are with them, and His discipline' spent upon them, they learn and experience their value in His esteem, and others are made to know it also (17.-20.).
Is not this, in like manner, a word of instruction to us? Hagar and her child were in the house all this time. But Sarah and Abraham are God's objects. As again I may say, during the age of the law, the `house of God was, it is true, manifested as under law-the law filled it with a material of its own workmanship; hut there was all the while a hidden action of the Spirit with the elect-the elect in the house were really God's objects.
These two stages in the way of the Egyptian bondwoman are, thus, very significant. Her 'entrance into Abraham's house as the mother of his first child Ishmael, and then her residence there for a season, have this mystic sense in them. But these things' do not dispose of the whole history. We have still to look at her dismissal from the house.
Her child grew up to boyhood, and was, as I have suggested:, no doubt the object of family concern. But the current which had long run under- ground, or was known only in the counsels and promises of God, must appear and assert its course.. Grace and the covenant must have their way, and become principal in the scene. And therefore in due time, yea at the very right moment, "when the fullness of the time had come," Isaac is born.
The appearance of such a child was a great era. And soon was it found that he was set for a sign that should be spoken against, as well as for the joy of the elect. Abraham makes a feast, but Ishmael mocks over the very same event. Here-was the revealing of hearts. One taunts what the other glories in. But Sarah is holder still. She will not merely take part in Abraham's joy, but she is for judging the scorners. " Cast out the bondwoman and her son," says she. Here was another heart revealed, a great heart truly. Here was an energy of faith which far outdid even Abraham's. Abraham would personally and quietly enjoy the child of promise, but Sarah will not only do this, laughing with divine believing delight over him, but is for cleaning out by a summary dismissal all that would disturb his full unrivaled heirship of everything.
This was indeed great-hearted faith. This spoke the mind of God (Gal., 4:30)., This was interpreting the gift of God, the child of promise, aright. This was putting honor upon that gift as it well deserved. It was not a mother's fondness, but faith's boldness-for shall the gift of God he kept merely on a level, on the same floor, as it were, with the fruit of human strength or the creatures of man's resources?
This great-hearted faith of Sarah is very encouraging, receiving, too, as it does, the full and ready sanction of the Lord Himself. It is very happy to watch this. It is well when the soul can, with Abraham; rejoice over the accomplished councils and promises of God. But it is better, when we can be so bold in the faith as with this joy to cast-out from our hearts all spirit of bondage and fear, every fruit of nature and every confidence save in the sovereign and glorious resources of the living God-God of all grace and salvation as He is-when we can refuse to hear anything or to see anything, that may hush or cloud that goodness and power of God by which He has brought Himself unspeakably near to our hearts.
From the presence of such a faith as this everything must retire, and make room for God and His gift.
Hagar is dismissed; and of course, the mocking Ishmael. Sarah will have it so-faith, rather, will have it so. And so will God; and Abraham, let fondness and nature be as reluctant as they may, must have it so likewise.
What precious mysteries may our souls thus feed upon, while they meditate on Hagar's introduction to the house, her residence in the house, and her dismissal from the house, of our father Abraham!
But I would now also, for a little, trace the results of the birth of Isaac, of the appearance of the child of promise in the house of Abraham.
The immediate fruit of this appearance of Isaac, as I have been observing, is the dismissal of Hagar and her child. And, as I have also observed, this is a mystery.
" After that faith is come, we are no longer under a school-master;" but the exhortation now is, " stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free." (Gal. 3:25; 5:125But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:25)
1Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)
The Spirit of sonship displaces that of fear. There must be no room in the house for two children of such opposite tempers. Since Jesus had appeared, the elect stand in the righteousness of faith, and wait for the hope it inspires (Gal. 5:55For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. (Galatians 5:5).) and fear and bondage depart.
The future fruit of this great mystic event, is the covenant of peace between Abraham and the Gentiles, Abraham on that great occasion taking the lead, and soon afterward owning, for the first time, the earth as a beautiful or millenial scene, and the Lord God as the everlasting God, or the Father of the millenial age (Gen. 21:22-3322And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: 23Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned. 24And Abraham said, I will swear. 25And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away. 26And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day. 27And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant. 28And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. 29And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves? 30And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well. 31Wherefore he called that place Beer-sheba; because there they sware both of them. 32Thus they made a covenant at Beer-sheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines. 33And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God. (Genesis 21:22‑33)).
In this way the immediate and the final results of the appearance or birth of the child of the free-woman are exhibited. But there is more to be observed in the history down to ch. 25. Another thing is incidentally shown also-the fortunes of the outcast child of the bondwoman.
At first he is all but dead. The provision with which he left Abraham's house is all spent, and he is cast entirely upon God. But under His provision he grows up and thrives, as a man of the wilderness. There he dwells and has his occupation, and the prophecies which went before on him (ch. 16.) were made good. But in the principle and taste -of his mind he returns, as far as he can, to his mother's native land. She gets ham an Egyptian wife.
All this is significant. For we know that Ishmael is, mystically, the children of "the Jerusalem that now is " (Gal. 4). And quite after this pattern of Ishmael, is it now with the Jew; for the Jew (or the nation of Israel) since the day of his dismissal from the house of God, since he ceased to be owned of the Lord in the land of his fathers, has been kept alive by the peculiar hand or provision of God. A full end has been made of other nations but not of Israel, and never will. For so runs -the promise: outcast that people are, but not destroyed. They have, it is true, gone back. all they could, to the flesh out of which by profession through circumcision they had come; they have, in principle, returned to Egypt, or found affinity with the ways of an uncircumcised world; but there they are to this day, kept by the present hand of God for the coming purposes of God, all their history marking the energies of a divine hand over them.
This is all significant: the wilderness of Ishmael is as much mystic ground as the land of Israel. But further, during this growth of Ishmael in the wilderness, the house of God has been enjoying its liberty. Isaac has filled Abraham's and Sarah's heart with laughter. And all this liberty and joy was as much divine as the preservation of the life of Ishmael in the wilderness-the one betokening the Spirit, the other the hand of God. God sanctioned this joy. He would by no means have it otherwise.
And, blessed to tell it, it was a worshipping as well as a deep personal joy; for it could associate itself with any sacrifice. The father and the son, Abraham and Isaac, loved each other with the warmest affections, but at the bidding of the Lord they can go to the altar as the offerer and his lamb. And it was also a joy that could dwell in thoughts of resurrection, and lay its objects in scenes beyond the grave. And it was holy jealousy as well. It refused all kindredness or Ishmael's affinities with the world. Chapters 22.-24. exhibit these qualities in Abraham and Isaac, while Ishmael is growing up no better than an Egyptian in the desert.
This is, I believe, all deeply significant. Is it not the picture of what we in this age ought to be -in a spirit of full gladness and liberty before our God, but also in a spirit of sacrifice, and in a spirit of separation from the world?
Finally, as I have already anticipated, in a little time the scene will change to glory or the kingdom. Abraham or Israel will be courted by the Gentiles and their kings; Vie earth will be beautified, or planted with groves again; and the altar of the everlasting or millenial God (see again ch. 21.) will be raised, while a covenant of peace binds all the families of the earth together; as here at the close of Abraham's seed, as by Keturah, are sent into distant lands, with gifts as from a father, though Isaac was at home the heir of his estate! (25.)
"Witty inventions," surely, divine wisdom employs to teach our souls with joy and profit!
NOTA BENE.-It is not unworthy of notice, in connection with the foregoing article, to observe what an illustration the conduct of Esau, in Gen. 28:6-96When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan; 7And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padan-aram; 8And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father; 9Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife. (Genesis 28:6‑9), gives us of the truths, "the flesh profiteth nothing," and "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (John 6:6363It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63); Rom, 8:8); and, at the same time, the readiness-of the flesh, even in its worse forms, to turn to the law for help. Valuing a mess of pottage more than that to which the blessing of God was attached, Esau spews himself to be a "profane person," thereby, under the government of God, forfeiting the blessing. He seeks the latter "carefully with tears," but finds "no place of repentance." In this position, instead of self-judgment and repentance, "seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not his father, Esau went.... and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, to be his wife," joining affinity with the son of the bondwoman Profanity and the law (in type) linked together 1 Truly, as has been said (page 71), "the working of an unbelieving heart and the principle of confidence in the flesh go together and measure each other! "
The difference between law and grace is-grace depends on what God is for me; law, on what I am for God.