The New Covenant vs. The Old
What happens within when a believer tries to live under the Law rather than as a son of God? The person who tries to relate to God by rigorous legalism will, as the Galatians, lose his or her joy. He
will find himself or herself in bondage, living as a slave rather than a freeman. To prove his point, Paul cites the allegory of Sarah and Hagar.
Illustration 1: God’s Covenants in Bible
Future events hinge on God’s covenants with His people. An important part of the study of Bible prophecy is based on the interpretation of these divine covenants.
There are 8 important Bible covenants:
Edenic Covenant—Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:15-17.
Adamic Covenant—Genesis 3:14-19.
Noahic Covenant—Genesis 8:21-9:17, 24-27.
Abrahamic Covenant—Genesis 12:1-3.
Mosaic Covenant—Exodus 19:5-8.
Palestinian Covenant—Deut. 28:63-68; Deut. 30:1-9.
Davidic Covenant—2 Samuel 7:4-17; 1 Chron. 17:3-15.
New Covenant—Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:6-13.
All of these Bible covenants—except the Mosaic—are unconditional and eternal. That is, they depend on God, not man, for fulfilment.
Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.
I. Historical Facts
A. Perhaps the easiest way to grasp the historical account is to trace briefly Abraham’s experiences as recorded in Gen 12 through 21. Using his age as our guide, we will trace the events on which Paul is basing his argument for Christian liberty.
75 – Abraham is called by God to go to Canaan; and God promises him many descendants (Gen. 12:1-9). Both Abraham and his wife, Sarah, wanted children, but Sarah was barren. God was waiting until both of them were “as good as dead” before He would perform the miracle of sending them a son (Rom. 4:16-25).
85 – The promised son has not yet arrived, and Sarah becomes impatient She suggests that Abraham marry Hagar, her maid, and try to have a son by her. This act was legal in that society, but it was not in the will of God. Abraham followed her suggestion and married Hagar (Gen. 16:1-3).
86 – Hagar gets pregnant and Sarah gets jealous! Things are so difficult in the home that Sarah throws Hagar out. But the Lord intervenes, sends Hagar back, and promises to take care of her and her son. When Abraham is 86, the son is born, and he calls him Ishmael (Gen. 16:4-16).
99 – God speaks to Abraham and promises again that he will have a son by Sarah and says to call his name Isaac. Later, God appears again and reaffirms the promise to Sarah as well (Gen. 17-18).
100 – The son is born (Gen. 21:1-7). They name him Isaac (“laughter”) as commanded by God. But the arrival of Isaac creates a new problem in the home: Ishmael has a rival. For fourteen years, Ishmael has been his father’s only son, very dear to his heart. How will Ishmael respond to the presence of a rival?
103 – It was customary for the Jews to wean their Children at about the age of three, and to make a great occasion of it. At the feast, Ishmael starts to mock Isaac (Gen. 21:8) and to create trouble in the home. There is only one solution to the problem, and a costly one at that: Hagar and her son have to go. With a broken heart, Abraham sends his son away, because this is what the Lord tells him to do (Gen. 21:9-14).
B. On the surface, this story appears to be nothing more than a tale of a family problem, but beneath the surface are meanings that carry tremendous spiritual power. Abraham, the two wives, and the two sons represent spiritual realities; and their relationships teach us important lessons. (BE Commentary)
II. The allegorical interpretation (4:24-2 7)
A. In order to emphasize the contrast between Law and grace Paul next used the historical events above as an allegory, that is, he treated those two mothers figuratively (allegoroumena). He did not in any sense deny the literal meaning of the story of Abraham, but he declared that that story, especially the matters relating to the conception of the two sons, had an additional meaning. Thus, he compared the narrative to the conflict between Judaism and Christianity.
B. (This “allegorizing” is a far cry from the practice of “allegorical interpretation” – followed by Origen, Augustine, and many others down through the ages and into the present day – in which the historical facts are relegated to a lower, less significant
level and fanciful, hidden meanings unrelated to the text, are considered vastly more important.)
C. First, the apostle pointed to two covenants (Gal. 4:24). One, the Mosaic, had its origin at Mount Sinai. Those under this legal covenant were slaves. As Hagar brought forth a slave, so does the Law. At this point the reader is expected to understand and supply the implicit reference to the Abrahamic Covenant, a gracious system represented by Sarah which through its messianic promise brought forth children
who are free.
D. Next, Paul pointed to two Jerusalems (Gal. 4:25-26) Hagar also stood for the first century city of Jerusalem, a city enslaved to Rome and in slavery to the Law. Sarah, on the other hand, corresponded to the Jerusalem…above, the mother of all the children of grace. This heavenly city, which one day will come to earth (Rev. 21:2), is
now the “city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22), the home of departed believers of all ages.
E. The quotation from Isa. 54:1 prophesied the changing fortunes of Israel, which Paul applied to Sarah’s history. Israel before her Babylonian Captivity was likened to a woman with a husband. The barren woman was Israel in Captivity. The woman bearing more…children may have pictured Israel restored to the land after the Exile, but more particularly it portrays her millennial blessings. Paul applied this passage (he did not claim it was fulfilled) in this context to Sarah, who though previously barren, was later blessed with a child, and who would ultimately enjoy a greater progeny than Hagar.
III. The personal application (Gal. 4:28-31)
A. In applying the truth from the biblical illustration, Paul made three comparisons.
1. First, Paul compared the birth of Isaac to that of Christians. As “Isaac” experienced a supernatural birth and was a child by means of a promise, so each believer experiences a supernatural birth (Jn. 3:3,5) and is a recipient of the promise of salvation (Gal. 3:9,22,29). As children of promise Christians are in a distinct category and should not live as children of bondage.
2. Second, the apostle compared Ishmael’s persecution of Isaac to the false teachers’ opposition to believers. Abraham celebrated the weaning of Isaac with a banquet. On that occasion Ishmael mocked Isaac, laughing derisively at the younger boy, since Ishmael was the elder son and assumed he would be heir to his father’s estate (Gen. 21:8-9). That early animosity has been perpetuated in the two peoples which descended from the two sons of Abraham and is seen in
the current Arab-Israel tensions. Paul likened the Judaizers to Ishmael as those who were born out of legalistic self-effort; he charged that they continued to persecute the true believers who were born by the power of the Spirit. With few exceptions Paul’s persecution came from the Jews, the people in bondage to the Law.
3. Third, Paul compared the action of Abraham to the obligation of” the Galatians. When Sarah observed Ishmael mocking Isaac, she asked Abraham to expel the slave woman and her son lest Ishmael become a joint heir with Isaac. And God granted Sarah’s request (Gen. 21:10,12). This reminded the readers that Law observance brought no inheritance in the family of God, and it also charged them to excommunicate the Judaizers and those who accepted their false
doctrines. A fundamental incompatibility remains between Law and grace, between a religion based on works and a religion based on faith.
4. In conclusion, Paul affirmed that he and the Galatian believers were not children of the slave woman who was driven away and was denied a share in the inheritance. Rather all believers are children of the free woman, “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). (BK Commentary)
Illustration 2: Kraft Cheese Founder’s Covenant with God
When Dr. W.A. Criswell, pastor of the largest Southern Baptist church in the world, was preaching in the North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago, he was entertained at the home of deacon James L. Kraft,
who was superintendent of the Sunday school and founder of Kraft Foods.
Kraft said that as a young man he had a desire to be the most famous manufacturer and salesman of cheese in the world. He planned on becoming rich and famous by making and selling cheese, and began as a young fellow with a little buggy pulled by a pony named Paddy.
After making his cheese, the youth would load his wagon, and he and Paddy would drive down the of Chicago to sell the cheese. As the months passed, young Kraft began to despair because he was not making any money, in spite of his long hours and hard work.
One day he pulled his pony to a stop and began to talk to him. He said, “Paddy, there is something wrong. We are not doing it right. I am afraid we have things turned around. Our priorities are not
where they ought to be. Maybe we ought to serve God and place him first in our lives.”
Kraft then drove home and made a covenant that for the rest of his life he would first serve God and then would work as God directed.
Many years after this, Dr. Criswell heard James Kraft say, “I would rather be a layman in the North Shore Baptist Church than to head the greatest corporation in America. My first job is serving Jesus.”
The New Covenant is clearly more superior and better than the Old Covenant and it’s a folly to live under the Law now that we are under grace.