The Place of the Abrahamic Covenant in the Salvation of Mankind

Chapter 7 - THE ALLEGORY OF HAGAR AND SARAH - Galatians 4:22-31.

The allegory of Hagar and Sarah is very enlightening when we come to explain the Call of the Gentiles. However, before discussing the allegory we should define two figures of speech that are used in this passage of Scripture.

Analogy Where the meaning exceeds the literal. Analogy denotes a resemblance of relationship: e.g. "Learning enlightens the mind". There is a relationship between learning, light and mind. Just as Light affects the eye, so Learning has an effect upon the mind. A comparison is made between the similarity of like features of two things or concepts.

Allegory A poem, play or word-picture etc., in which the apparent meaning of the characters and events is used to symbolize a deeper moral or spiritual meaning. An allegory is an extension of a simple metaphor and is always in the past tense. The comparison is by implication rather than directly stated.


The allegory of Galatians 4 is an excellent example of the interconnections of the five seeds of Abraham. The "actors" in the allegory are:

  1. The natural seed of Abraham, by Hagar, in the line of Ishmael.
  2. The natural seed of Abraham, by Sarah, in the line of Isaac.
  3. The spiritual seed of Abraham taken from the line of Isaac.
  4. The principal seed of Abraham - Jesus Christ.
  5. The Spiritual seed of Abraham taken from the Gentiles by adoption.

In the development of the allegory of Galatians 4, a number of analogies are used: Two of these are presented in Gal 4:22-23:

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

Analogy # 1 - Hagar compared to Sarah.

Hagar, the bondwoman, was an Egyptian handmaid to Sarah. She was virtually a slave-girl whom Abraham took as a concubine at the suggestion of his wife. (Genesis 16:2)

Sarah, Abraham's wife was barren, she could not conceive a child; she could not experience "travail with child" and she was, therefore "desolate". Being the legitimate wife of Abraham, she was a "free woman". She enjoyed the privileges of a wife and would be the "boss" of Hagar.

Analogy # 2 - Ishmael compared to Isaac.

Ishmael was the son of Abraham and Hagar. He was "born after the flesh" inasmuch as his mother was given to Abraham by Sarah when it became obvious that Sarah was unable to conceive. Sarah later regretted her decision because when Hagar, learning that she herself was pregnant, despised Sarah. (Gen.16:4)

Isaac was later born to Abraham and Sarah when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was ninety. God miraculously activated the womb of Sarah when she was long past the age of child-bearing and hence, Isaac is called "A child of Promise". Unlike Ishmael, who was conceived by a fertile slave-girl, Isaac's conception required the miraculous intervention of God.

Next Paul introduces two additional comparisons in Galatians 4:24-26 to further develop the allegory:

24 Which things are an allegory; for these are two covenants; the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
25 For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Analogy # 3 - The Mosaic Covenant compared to the Abrahamic Covenant.

The Mosaic Covenant was given in Mount Sinai. Why does Paul say it "gendereth to bondage"? The Law of Moses was very restrictive on human behaviour and very demanding upon its subjects. Touch not; Taste not; Handle not; were ordinances which Peter said, "Neither our fathers nor we are able to bear". (Acts 15:10). All Israelites were born under the Mosaic Covenant and were under obligation to observe its precepts however onerous or "gendering to bondage" they might be.

The Abrahamic Covenant is described in the allegory as "free". Immediately after Paul discusses the allegory, he defines what he means by "free":

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage". (Gal. 5:1)

Those Jews who have joined in the Abrahamic Covenant by baptism into Christ, are no longer under the ritual obligations of the Law of Moses which Paul describes as a "yoke of bondage". In addition, they, as well as Gentiles, are free in another sense which Paul describes in Romans 8:2:

"For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, hath made me free from the law of sin and death".

The Mosaic Covenant could not confer eternal life as Paul observes in Galatians 3:21: "If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law". On the other hand, the Abrahamic Covenant was ordained to eternal life by a resurrection from the dead for those who are constituted the true seed of Abraham.

Paul continues his argument by comparing two mountains.

Analogy # 4 - Mount Sinai compared to Mount Zion (Jerusalem).

Mount Sinai was the site at which the Law of Moses was delivered to the children of Israel after their crossing of the Red Sea in their flight from Egypt. Up to this point in Paul's argument, he describes Hagar as the mother of the seed of Abraham, the Ishmaelites, who were excluded from the blessings of the Covenant. Now he equates Mount Sinai with Hagar, and portrays Hagar as the mother of natural Israel - the Jews, - "Jerusalem which now is and is in bondage..."!!

Mount Zion is one of the principal mounts on which the City of Jerusalem stands. In the allegory Paul equates the metaphorical City of Jerusalem, that is, "which is above" and, "which is the mother of us all", with Sarah and contrasts it with the City of Jerusalem, "that now is". Frequently, in the Scriptures, the saints, the elect of God, Israelites indeed, the spiritual seed of Abraham - are spoken of as the municipality of Jerusalem:

"And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband". (Rev, 21:2)


"But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels ". (Heb. 12:22)


"and they shall call thee (the saints) The city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel". (Isaiah 60:14)

To repeat: it is at this point in Galatians 4 (verses 25-26) that the apostle Paul converts the history into an allegory. Up to this point, Hagar is seen to be the mother of the seed of Abraham, the Ishmaelites, who were disinherited from the blessings of the Covenant. Now, he makes Hagar the mother of natural Israel - the Jews, "Hagar answereth to Jerusalem which now is and is in bondage..".

Just as the accident of birth did not endow the Ishmaelites with the covenanted heirship, even though they were the seed of Abraham through Hagar, neither does the accident of birth endow the Jews with the covenanted heirship even though they were the seed of Abraham through Sarah and Isaac.

Paul at the first, describes Sarah historically as the mother of the natural seed of Abraham through Isaac. These are the Jews - Jerusalem which now is. But allegorically, Sarah is not their "mother" at all. She becomes the "mother" of spiritual Israel most of whom are Gentiles having come into Sarah's family by adoption.

Analogy #5 - Persecution of Natural Israel and Spiritual Israel.

Ishmael was about 15 years old when it came time for Sarah to wean Isaac. It was customary to hold a feast to celebrate this event at which Sarah observed Ishmael mocking or laughing with scorn at Isaac. In reference to this incident, Paul says, "He that was born after the flesh (Ishmael) persecuted him that was born after the spirit (Isaac)". And then he adds, "even so it is now".

When is "now"? It is estimated that the letter to the Galatians was written about 58 A.D. During this period, beginning with the ministry of Jesus, the Jews (the Jerusalem which now is - which have Hagar as their allegorical mother) persecuted the saints (the Jerusalem from above which have Sarah as their allegorical mother). The Jews (the natural seed of Abraham, born after the flesh, that is, allegorically from Hagar) persecuted the saints (the spiritual seed of Abraham, born after the spirit, that is, allegorically from Sarah).

Because of Ishmael's mocking (persecution) he was "cast out" and deprived of his right to be an heir of the blessings of the Covenant. As Paul argues, "the son of the bondwoman (Hagar) shall not be heir with the son of the free woman (Sarah)". Allegorically, this means that the natural-born Jews (as such) are not the heirs of the everlasting covenant. This inheritance is reserved for the sons of Sarah who are born after the spirit.


This is a direct quotation from Isaiah 54:1, which reads:

"Sing, 0 barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord".

Two women are under discussion in this verse: Sarah and Hagar. During Sarah's normal child-bearing period, before the menopause set in, she could have no children. She was "barren" and "desolate". On the other hand, when Hagar became Abraham's concubine making Abraham the "husband" of Hagar and constituting Hagar the "married wife" of Abraham, she conceived Ishmael in the proximate natural course.

How is the apparent enigma to be explained? How could a woman who is barren have many more children than a woman who is child-bearing? The answer is that ALL of the children of the "barren" woman are born after the spirit and not after the flesh. The first child born to the "barren" woman was Isaac. He was miraculously conceived by the spirit of God. Since that time, ALL of Sarah's children are also "born after the spirit" and are heirs by adoption.

Once the divine way of salvation was opened to Gentiles by the mouth of Peter (Acts 15:7), the number of adopted children of Sarah and Abraham greatly increased. In the last 150 years, since the publication of Elpis Israel, the adopted children have largely come from Gentiles. Very few have been adopted from the stock of natural Israel,


In this allegory the Apostle Paul almost makes a "mathematical" comparison in which four parties are involved:

  1. The seed of Abraham (by Hagar) in the line of Ishmael.
  2. The seed of Abraham (by Sarah) in the line of Isaac (Jews)
  3. The natural Jews (allegorically, sons of Hagar.)
  4. Spiritual Israel (Allegorically, sons of Sarah.)

The allegory is really comparing two relationships. The first is the relationship between the seed of Abraham in the line of Ishmael {Arabs} with the seed of Abraham in the line of Isaac. Paul points out that Ishmael was disinherited, "cast out" because of his "persecution" of Isaac, which resulted in the inheritance devolving upon Isaac.

The next comparison is the relationship between Natural Israel and Spiritual Israel. Natural Israel had Isaac as their progenitor. But sonship does not automatically confer heirship. This is another way of saying that not all "of Israel" (that is, natural-born Jews), are "Israel" (that is, the Israel of God; Israelites indeed; the elect).

Just as the accident of birth constituted both Ishmael and Isaac to be the seed of Abraham, nevertheless, by Divine fiat, the inheritance under the Covenant was conferred upon Isaac. Similarly all Jews in the line of Isaac are constituted the seed of Abraham, nevertheless, the inheritance under the Covenant is confined to the spiritual seed of Abraham who exhibit the faith and practice of their forefather. In this dispensation, it is by baptism into Christ that believers are constituted Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise. It is not by the accident of birth. It is by the method of adoption that Sarah is said to have MANY more children than Hagar. These adopted children of Sarah are born after the spirit and it is in this sense that the true believers are her children and that she is "the mother of us all".