THE FREEWOMAN, SARAH, SIGNIFYING THE COVENANT OF PROMISE (GRACE)
Sarah, the freewoman, signifies the covenant of promise (Gal. 4:23). God’s covenant of promise with Abraham was a covenant of grace. In that covenant God promised that He would give Abraham the seed, without having any intention that Abraham needed to do anything in order to have it. God would work something into him that he might bring forth a seed to fulfill His purpose. It would be God’s doing, not Abraham’s. This is grace. Sarah, as the freewoman, the proper wife of Abraham, was a symbol of this covenant of grace. She brought forth Isaac not by man’s strength but by God’s grace.
THE BONDWOMAN, HAGAR, SIGNIFYING THE COVENANT OF LAW
Hagar, the bondwoman, signifies the covenant of law (Gal. 4:25). It was when the children of Israel ignored God’s work of grace upon them and attempted to please God by themselves that the law was brought in. When man is ignorant of God’s grace, he will always endeavor to do something to please God, and this brings in the law, of which Hagar, the bondwoman, the improper wife of Abraham, was the symbol. Since she was the improper wife, she should not have come in. What she brought forth could not remain in God’s economy. This signifies that the law should not have come in and that the produce of the law has no position in fulfilling God’s purpose. Hagar brought forth Ishmael, who was rejected by God, by man’s effort, not by God’s grace. The produce of man’s effort through the law has no share in the fulfillment of God’s purpose.
According to God’s economy, a man should only have one wife. Thus, Sarah’s proposal that Abraham have a seed by Hagar was absolutely against God’s economy. Hagar was not a proper wife but a concubine. Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, was a symbol of the law. By this we can see that the position of the law is the position of the concubine. While grace is the proper wife, the mother of the proper heirs (Gal. 4:26, 28, 31), the law is the concubine, the mother of those who are rejected as heirs. According to the ancient custom, men mainly took concubines because their wives could not bear children. This is quite meaningful. When grace has not yet worked and you are in a hurry, you will join yourself to a concubine, to the law. Sarah was a symbol of grace, of the covenant of promise, and Hagar was a symbol of the law. Grace is the proper wife and the law is the concubine.
THE COVENANT OF PROMISE (GRACE) BEING MADE FIRST
The promise was given in 12:2, 7; 13:15-17; 15:4-5, and the covenant was made in 15:7-21. According to God’s intention, the covenant of promise came first. God had no intention of bringing in the law and of having man endeavor to keep it for the fulfillment of His purpose. What He originally intended to do was to work Himself into man to fulfill His purpose through man.
THE COVENANT OF LAW BEING BROUGHT IN LATER
The covenant of law was brought in later by the effort of the flesh in Genesis 16. What we have in Genesis 16 is the effort of the flesh that brought in Hagar, the symbol of law. The promise was given when Abraham was called in Genesis 12, about 1921 B.C., and the law was given in Exodus 20, four hundred thirty years later, after the exodus out of Egypt about 1491 B.C. (Gal. 3:17). Grace always comes first, but the law follows to frustrate. Not very many Christians see that the position of the law is that of a concubine, that it is against God’s economy, and that its produce is under God’s rejection. Nevertheless they appreciate the law and try their best to keep it, making themselves Ishmaels, the children of the bondwoman.
(Abraham—Called by God, Chapter 10, by Witness Lee)