SARAH AND HAGAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-30-56 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message from the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians entitled The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah. Last Sunday night we concluded with the seventh verse of the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians. And we begin at the eighth verse, and the message encompasses the remainder of the chapter. In the eighth verse:
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
But now, after that ye have known God . . . how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
Now, in the nineteenth verse:
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.
Tell me, ye that 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 slave, the other by a freewoman.
But he who was of the slave was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is the slave Hagar.
For this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
For it is written—
in Isaiah 54:1—
“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.”
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
Nevertheless what saith the Scripture?—
“Cast out the slave and her son: for the son of the slave shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.”
So then, brethren, we are not children of the slave, but of the free.
That’s a very unusual passage, and as I have said so many times, it is a type of preaching that is not usually followed. This thing of the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures was the commonly accepted way when Paul lived. It was a rabbinical method that was very much employed.
For example, at the same time Christ lived, the incomparable Jewish philosopher Philo [Philo Judaeus, c. 15 BCE-50 CE] lived. His home was in Alexandria, and he took Greek philosophy, and he made the Holy Scriptures teach that philosophy by the method of spiritualizing—allegory. That is, he took the Old Testament Scriptures and what happened back there and what was said back there, Philo made to illustrate and to teach the then-current Greek philosophy.
That Alexandrian interpretation of the Scriptures continued far up into the Christian dispensation for the school of theology in Alexandria [ancient Alexandria, Egypt] was a spiritualizing school. It was an allegorical school. They took the Scriptures, the New Testament, in their Christian era and spiritualized with them, allegorized from them—made this thing stand for this thing.
Well, the marvel is that there’s such a little of it in the New Testament itself because when Paul wrote, it was the vogue of the day. It was the way the rabbis taught. You won’t find it much in the Scriptures, in the New Testament, but you find it here. This is a very good illustration of spiritualizing, of allegorizing—teaching something by using an illustration back there to which the thing itself did not actually belong, but it illustrates what the man is going to teach. It’s an allegory. It tells a story, and he applies it.
Now, the application Paul is making here concerns a people who are like all of us. It is a mark of the depravity of the human race, the total depravity of the human family, that even though we are illuminated by the Spirit and we are taught the truth and we receive the truth, yet it is a mark of total depravity that we are unable to keep straight in our minds and in our lives the true revelation of God. The old theologians called that “total depravity” not because we are as bad as we could be, as depraved as we are possible of being, but that the shortcoming, the mistake, the sin enters all of our faculties and every area of our lives. There is no part of our lives untouched by it.
Now, an illustration of that is this confusion that we make in the doctrines of law and grace—how a man is saved. There are not any two things that are more diametrically opposite, that are more essentially different, than law and grace. Yet the human family constantly confuses them, confounds them. They try to mix fire and water, light and darkness.
And even though there is an illumination of the mind, and even though there is an understanding of the revelation of God, yet there is an always a tendency on the part of God’s people who are under grace and have been saved by the mercy of Christ to go back to the law, to go back under bondage, to go back into slavery.
That’s why you have written the epistle to the Hebrews—one of the great, great books here in the New Testament. There was a little church, a Hebrew church, and after they were saved and liberated and in grace and mercy in Christ had their sins forgiven, they were beginning to go back under the law, back into bondage, back under the yoke of Sinai.
That’s why this epistle was written, this letter to the churches of Galatia. Paul had preached to them the gospel of the true God and they had been saved and they had received the Spirit and their sins were forgiven and they were free [Galatians 3:1-5, 4:3-11]. They were at liberty [Galatians 5:13]. They were children of the freewoman [Galatians 4:31].
But then the Judaizers came by, and they taught those Galatian Christians that you can’t be saved just by trusting Christ [Galatians 1:6-7, 5:1-12]. What you’ve got to do is to add to Christ all of that bondage and all of that slavery and all of that yoke of the old law [Acts 15:1, Galatians 2:14].
And I see that everywhere. We have whole denominations, great vast sum of them, who are persuaded that simple faith in Christ is not enough, but there must be also and then an innumerable measure and counting and genuflection and observance, days and months and feasts and laws and deeds and penances and endless, endless appurtenances of so-called religion.
Now, it was to liberate us from that, it was to free us from that, that the great gospel message of salvation in Christ alone was preached unto men [Romans 8:2-4; Galatians 5:1]. So, Paul, trying to pull back those Galatian Christians out of the slavery and out of the bondage and out of the yoke of the creeds and deeds and observances endlessly of the law, he wrote this letter [Galatians 1:6-11, 4:8-11, 21]. And in trying to show the people the difference between what it is to be saved by law and what it is to be saved by grace—to show the difference, he used this allegory of the two wives of Abraham—of the two sons of Abraham and their two mothers [Galatians 4:22-31]. Now, the story is this—well if you don’t know it, the allegory means nothing.
In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Abraham is eighty-six years old [Genesis 16:16] and Sarah, his wife, is seventy-six years old. God has promised them a son, but no son has come [Genesis 15:11-5]. No son’s been born. Abraham has no heir, and Sarah, his wife, is barren [Genesis 16:1]. Therefore, Sarah concocts a scheme whereby—even though God has promised them a son—yet Sarah concocts a scheme whereby she will have an heir.
She has a slave in her household named Hagar, and that slave is an Egyptian. And she takes Hagar and places her in the bosom of her husband in order that by her maid, she may have an heir [Genesis 16:1-5]. So Sarah does that, and there is a child born to Hagar, the slave, whom they name Ishmael [Genesis 16:6-12, 15]. Now, that’s in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis.
In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Abraham is one hundred years old and Sarah is ninety years old [Genesis [17:17]; and God visits them and says, “You are to have a child according to the time of life” [Genesis 18:10]. And Sarah laughs. Isaac—laughter. She laughs. She, an old woman, ninety years of age and she’s to have a baby—a child, an heir! [Genesis 18:11-12] She laughs. But God said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” [Genesis 18:13-14]. The child is to be born of parents as good as dead [Romans 4:18-22]. It is by grace. It’s by the intervention of God. The child is to be a gift of God, not a gift of the flesh. It’s something God miraculously does. So according to the time of life, Sarah has a child and she named him “laughter”—Isaac [Genesis 21:1-7]. She’s ninety. He’s a hundred.
In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Genesis, [Ishmael] is about thirteen or fourteen or fifteen years old [Genesis 17:25], and he mocks Isaac and he makes fun of Isaac [Genesis 21:9]. That’s what the Ishmaelites, the Arabs, have been doing to the Hebrews ever since. That’s where that started. And it’s still going on only more viciously and terribly: Ishmael sticking out his tongue at Isaac; Ishmael making fun, mocking, troubling Isaac.
And when Sarah saw that, the son of the slave making fun and mocking and belittling her son, she said unto Abraham, “The son of the slave shall not inherit with my son, but the son of the slave shall be cast out” [Genesis 21:9-10]. So Abraham gave to Hagar and to Ishmael, her son, a portion and sent them away [Genesis 21:11-14]. And God, according to His mercy [Genesis 21:15-21], took care of them and blessed them and made of Ishmael a great nation, your Arab people today. Now, that’s the story.
Now, Paul here in this passage [Galatians 4:21-31] says that those two women represent—now, this is an allegory; this is spiritualizing—Paul says that those two women represent the two covenants: one, the covenant of law, the covenant of Sinai, which is Hagar the slave [Galatians 4:24-25]; and the other woman represents the covenant of grace, the freewoman, which is Sarah the wife [Galatians 4:26-27].
Now, Paul says, those two children represent those who live under those two covenants [Galatians 4:22-24]. Ishmael represents those who live under the law [Galatians 4:24-25, 30]—slaves, bondmen—and Isaac represents those who are children of promise, who live under grace, who have been saved into the glorious liberty of the children of God [Galatians 4:26-28, 31]. That’s what Paul says those four mean. Now, it’s a brilliant, brilliant thing inspired of God, so let’s apply it. Let’s look at it.
Hagar is a slave and her son is a bond slave. In the days of slavery, the children of the slaves were also slaves. Hagar is a slave. She is a handmaid [Genesis 16:1]. She’s in the house to do service. She is not the wife. She was not intended to be the wife. She’s a slave. She has certain duties to perform.
Paul says that’s the way with the covenant of works and of laws. No man is saved by the works of the law [Galatians 2:16]. The works of the law was never intended to be the wife. The works of the law are slave works never thought of God to be the wife or the mother of the children of promise but has an assignment to do, has a task to perform—a hireling, a slave—a duty to do [Galatians 3:18-24].
Now, we are not to despise Hagar because she is a slave, nor are we to despise the law because those who are under the law are slaves of the law [Romans 7:6-7]. It was only when Hagar—and you can read this in the sixteenth chapter of Genesis—it was only when Hagar assumed to herself the prerogative of the wife of Abraham that Sarah cast her out. Had Hagar remained where God appointed, in her place, nothing would ever have happened. But it was only when Hagar assumed to herself, usurped the places of her mistress, that Sarah cast her out.
So it is with the law. The law is fine in its place: “Do this and live; obey this and go to heaven; be absolutely perfect and you’ll be saved.” That’s fine in its place, but it gives no life and it can never save [Romans 8:2; Galatians 2:21, 3:21].
And—and listen to this: and the children of the slave woman are slaves, and those who seek to go heaven by their own merit—by the works of the law, by being good, by obeying the commandments—those who seek to be saved by that are slaves! Not only is that true because the Bible says so [Galatians 3:10-12], but it’s true because in life it turns out to be so.
This man who seeks to be saved by his own merit, by the works of the law, by obedience to commandments, that man is a slave all of the days of his life. The hardest taskmaster in the world is the law. After you’ve worked and worked and worked and worked, you’re still a slave. You’ve just done your duty—that’s all. And the next day you got to get up and do the same thing again.
It’s like at a treadmill. You grind and you grind and you grind and everlastingly you’re under that burden of saving yourself: “I’ve got to be good. I’ve got to be better or I’m damned. I’ve got to obey. I’ve got to keep the law.” And you grind and you grind and you grind, and then at long last you find yourself still a sinner and you’re damned and lost forever. You’re a slave. You’re not free. You’re a slave. You’re not free. You’re a bondman. You’re not free. You’re obeying commandments and rituals and the good Lord only knows what men do in order to be saved.
They count beads endlessly. They go through responses endlessly. They observe feasts and days endlessly. They try to do this and try to do that endlessly. Life is a bondage by day and life is a yoke by night, grinding and grinding and grinding, trying to merit eternal salvation. That is what it is to be under Hagar.
Now, let’s look at Ishmael, her son. Ishmael is the older. He’s born first. That’s right. We are all born legalists. We are all born in the flesh. We are all born under the law [Galatians 4:4-5], every last one of us, and the law has a disciplinary teaching for us. We are under tutors and governors and paidagogoi.
If you’ve been listening to me preach, when we’re young, I first was under the law, disciplined. “Thou shalt not do this, or I’ll whale the daylights out of you!”
“Thou shalt not do this, or I get the strap!”
“Thou shalt not do this, or I’ll give you the worst spanking you ever had in your life!”
I asked my mother when—about my going to church. And she said, “You were two months old when I took you to church.”
“Well,” I said, “didn’t I disturb the preacher?”
She said, “Yes, you did just one time. And I took you out and the next time you were real nice and from then on in church.” Just one time, just one time.
That’s the law. You are born under the law. You are born to be disciplined [Hebrews 12:5-6]. You are born under tutors, under governors. You are no better, says Paul, than a slave. “The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, a slave, though he be lord of all” [Galatians 4:1].
He’s taught in discipline. That’s what we are. Ishmael is the older. We are all born first under discipline and under the law. He’s the tougher and the rougher. Brother, there’s not anything that’s more rigorous than the disciplines of life. If you don’t discipline yourself, somebody’ll discipline you for you. It’s rough and tough!
Back here in the sixteenth chapter—good night, here our time goes! Back here in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, it says, “He will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” [Genesis 16:12].
That’s the law—rough and tough: “Do this or you’ll die. Don’t do that and you’ll die.” Aw, but he got his reward. There is a reward in obedience to the law. “Verily, verily I say unto you,” said Jesus to the Pharisees, “you have your reward” [Matthew 6:2, 5]. You have your reward. God never fails to pay [Galatians 6:7-8]. He always does. You get your reward.
But your reward is a slave reward. You’re a hireling. You’re not a son. You don’t inherit. You’re not an heir. You’re out there working for whatever reward God gives you for your works, but you’re not saved. You’re not a son. You’re not free. You’re always in bondage, working, working, working, toiling, toiling, endeavoring, endeavoring, and finally failing, lost.
But, says Paul, Sarah represents grace—the covenant of mercy and forgiveness. Sarah is Mount Calvary as Hagar is Mount Sinai. Sarah is first, not Hagar. Sarah is first. The great covenant of grace is not last but first. Before there was a covenant of works, before the law was given, there was the grace and love and pity and mercy and forgiveness of God.
Jesus Christ was slain before the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8]. Adam and Eve were covered with coats of animals before they were driven out of the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:21, 24]. Noah was given grace and favor in God’s sight [Genesis 6:8]. Abraham was called 430 years before the law [Galatians 3:16-18].
The law came after. The original plan was grace. God ordained us to be saved before the foundations of this world were laid [Ephesians 1:4]. He looked upon us before we failed and loved us. He didn’t have pity upon us after we failed, but He made provision for our salvation before we sinned [Ephesians 1:3-10]. Before we were born, in the ages of the ages past, God loved us and made a covenant with Jesus that we would be saved by the grace and mercy and blood of Jesus Christ.
And she is the wife forever. She is never cast out.
You’ll go to Machpelah—those Moslems won’t let you inside the cave, but up there at the top you can look down through a little aperture—and there in Machpelah, for these thousands of years, Abraham and Sarah lie side by side [Genesis 23:19, 25:9]. She is never cast out nor does God ever change His mind about the children of His grace [Romans 11:25-29]: in the covenant and forever washed by the blood of the Lamb [Hebrews 10:11-14], and forgiven forever [Colossians 2:13-14], saved by the chosen purpose of God forever and forever—never lost, never, children of the freewoman, children of Sarah [Galatians 4:31].
And this little word about Isaac, the child of the freewoman. Isaac is a type of those who are saved by grace [Galatians 4:28]. He’s a type of those who are children of the freewoman. Isaac is a type of those who live under the covenant of the mercy and forgiveness and love in Jesus Christ.
And now—that I had an hour. Oh, that I had an hour! He was a child of promise. He was born miraculously. He was born among those who were as good as dead [Romans 4:18-22]. His birth was not by natural birth but supernatural origin—a miraculous gift of God.
So it is with us who are born children of God. The flesh can never make us children of God. By nature—you read it this morning—by nature, we are children of damnation, children of wrath [Ephesians 2:3], children of judgment, children under the great, heavy hand of the sin of our lives. But we are miraculously born like Isaac was born. We are miraculously given life by the Spirit of God [John 3:3-7]. “As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name, who were born, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God!” [John 1:12-13]
There’s no mechanical contrivance in this world that can make a child of God out of a lost man [Luke 18:25-27]. Education won’t do it. Cultural achievement won’t do it. All of the things by which a man might ingeniously encourage another man can never achieve it. It’s done by the Spirit of God. We are born miraculously into the kingdom of our Father [John 3:1-15]. We are free children of the free woman by grace by the miraculous intervention of God, by the new birth, by being born again.
And the child of the free woman, Isaac, the child of the covenant of grace, is the heir of God and the joint heir with Jesus Christ. All that God has is for him. Heaven, every fellowship and goodness and glory that God Himself only could afford, is given to him who gives himself in faith and in trust to the mercy and goodness of God.
The old covenant: to be a slave, to work and to work and to work. The new covenant: to be a child of the king, a son in the household of the father, the great heir with Christ of all that God has and has done and yet will do [Mark 12:48-50; Romans 8:17; Ephesians 3:11]. And the works and the obedience and the things that we seek by hand and heart come not because of a hireling, not because I’m receiving wages, not because I’m paid to do them, but what we do, we do because we are children of the King [Ephesians 2:8-10]. We’re in the household of God.
This is ours. The stars that shine, the firmament above, this world itself—everything is ours and we are working now as great co-partners with God our Father and Christ our Savior and our Brother [Hebrews 2:11] in the greatest triumphant enterprise that hearts could imagine or mind could think for [Matthew 4:19, 28:18-20]. That’s the gospel of the Son of God. That’s the preaching of the doctrine of grace. That’s how we’re saved. That’s how God makes us free children in the household of the King.
Listening on the radio, have you sometimes felt, you know, “Just giving my heart to Jesus isn’t enough. Just trusting Jesus isn’t enough. I got to do this and I must do that. I must do the other or else I’d be lost?” Have you ever felt that way? Listen, friend, you’re a slave. You’ve gone back to the old bondage. You’ve put your neck again in that heavy yoke. You’re trying to gain God’s favor by personal merit. That’s a slave. “If I do this, Lord, will you give me that?” Trying to buy it! O, my brother, turn it around. “By grace are you saved, through faith”—take it—“that not of yourselves”—you don’t work for it—“it’s the gift of God, not of works” that a man could buy it; lest he say, “Look, I bought it. I took it. I, by conquest, seized it from God’s hands and look what I got: eternal life. I did it” [Ephesians 2:8-9].
No! Turn it around. Humble yourself. Bow down before the great God. Say, “Lord, in me, in my flesh, is no good thing at all [Romans 7:18]. Even my best righteousnesses are as filthy rags in Thy sight [Isaiah 64:6]. Lord, I cast myself upon Thee. For Christ’s sake, remember me. For Jesus’ sake, forgive me. For the Lord’s sake, Lord, look in pity and in mercy upon me. Lord, put Thy Spirit in my heart. Give me a new hope and a new life. O God, in compassion, save me.”
And you’ll rise a child of the king, a son of the freewoman—no longer under bondage to slave and work, trying to buy heaven [Romans 8:1-11], but taking it as a gift [Acts 15:10-11; Hebrews 4:9-10]. “I’ve been saved. Hallelujah! I’ve been born again. Glory to God! The Spirit of Christ is in my soul and in my heart” [Romans 8:9-11; Ephesians 1:13]. Hallelujah, hallelujah! And rise to love God and to walk in His presence, not a slave, not a hireling for reward, but a child, loving God, loving Christ, and loving the great kingdom’s work of the Savior [Romans 8:12-16; Galatians 4:3-6]. Would you? Would you?
In this great press of people here this morning, somebody you, somebody you, give your heart and your life in trust to Jesus. “Lord, I accept life as a free gift. I take it from Thy hands, dear Lord, not to work for it, but as a gift. I receive it, Lord. I take it. I believe. I trust Jesus. I lean upon Him. Lord, here I am and here I come.”
And somebody to put his life with us in the church, a family—as the Lord shall lead, as God shall open the way, would you come? Would you come? Would you stand by me while all of us stand and sing the hymn together?