Just about almost everything in life can be achieved through toiling or by God’s grace. For instance, if you are a hard worker and you have financial intelligence, you can be rich in this world without being spiritual. Also, a person can be healthy by simply just working out, eating healthy foods, taking proper rest and by observing certain health routines.
The point is, engaging common sense and aligning with certain universal principles will produce certain visible results in this world. But as good as that may look on the surface, God’s best for us is not that way. He has a superior method for us, far better than we can imagine. It is the way of grace.
In Genesis 13, The Almighty God promised Abraham a covenant child but because he felt God was slow, He did it his own way by sleeping with Hagar his maid who had a son called Ishmael. After thirteen years of silence, God again reminded Abraham of His promise to bless him with a covenant child. Abraham and Sarah his wife had Isaac at almost one hundred years old.
It is interesting to know that this account is a story of God’s grace wrestling with legalism. It is imperative to know that God has always desired to relate with His people through the way of grace alone.
Our Heavenly Father has a sense of humor and His wisdom is infinite. He waited until Abraham was old, with no more desire and no more energy to put any woman in the family way. Then grace kicked in. The grace of God is for the hopeless, it is for the weak and those who cannot help themselves. Remember the old popular saying? “Heaven helps those who help themselves”. Not really. It is the other way around – Heaven helps those who cannot help themselves.
The real point of this story connects to the mysterious display of grace under the old covenant with the relevant types and shadows that the Apostle Paul by divine revelation unpacks in Galatians 4. It symbolizes two covenants.
There are six types and shadows in this story that must be understood so as to fully appreciate Jesus and His finished work.
1. ISHMAEL: This is beyond the name of the son Hagar the maid bore for Abraham. He represents work, self-effort, struggle, toiling and everything that has to do with human ability alone. Ishmael was the product of Abraham’s self-effort. Is your so-called breakthrough causing you stress? Is it at the expense of your family, peace, health and even your life? The good news is, you can still get the same results and even greater ones through the covenant of grace which is far better. Like we noted earlier, certain results may be attractive on the surface, but the question is, what is the cost?
Ecclesiastes 9: 11 says “I returned and saw under the sun that—the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.” This scripture simply means, true success in life comes through God’s kindness.
Ishmael speaks of bondage, toiling and slavery “But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise,” (Galatians 4:23 Nkjv). Did you see that? It is theologically safe to say that anything that has to do with struggling and legalism is Ishmael.
Debby and I used to joke about a nice car we once had that we called Ishmael car. I told some people one day that I was not driving the car but the car was driving me because I was always sad with the monthly notes. I eventually let it go and I started to experience peace again. Ishmael represents the law or the old covenant.
2. ISAAC: This name means laughter. It is representative of the new covenant with better promises. Could that also be the reason why grace people are always joyful and happy? This is the covenant of grace based on God’s goodness alone. It is interesting to know that Isaac came when Abraham and his wife were hopeless and weak. The law is designed to break us down, weaken us and frustrate us until we surrender to Jesus. Proverbs 10:22 says “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” God’s will for his children is to have Isaac marriage, Isaac financial breakthrough, Isaac health, Isaac ministry. Everything we enjoy in this life ought to come by grace alone. Even when we work, we should work from rest. Jesus said in John 5:17 “…My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” It means Jesus is not the one working but the Father. He is only working the Father’s works. Did you see the synergy? It’s like saying Jesus did everything without doing a thing. What a paradox!
Ishmael (Law) was born of the bondwoman, while Isaac was born of the freewoman (Grace) through promise which things are symbolic (Gal 4:23). Isaac is peace, favor, rest and God’s mercy in the new Covenant.
3. MOUNT SINAI: This is symbolic of the fleshly location for the inauguration of the deadly old covenant law. Over 3,000 people died on Mount Sinai which gave birth to bondage the day the law was handed down to Moses. The covenant of law ministers death. 2 Corinthians 3:7 calls it the “ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation”
4. HAGAR: Abraham’s maid, Hagar is the mother of this covenant of death metaphorically. Therefore, we should look beyond her name and see deeper into what it represents. This has nothing to do with any particular religion. We are talking about covenants here. If you are hanging out with legalism, you are simply being raised by Hagar.
5. JERUSALEM: The word Jerusalem is a combination of two words. “Jeru” which means City and “Salem” which means peace. Jerusalem therefore literally means the “City of Peace”. “…But the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all…” (Galatians 4:26). If Jerusalem is free and Isaac is of the free woman, it logically follows that Sarah and Jerusalem are connected.
It takes a free woman to give birth to a free child. No wonder three thousand souls were set free from the power of darkness on the day of Pentecost when the new covenant of grace was officially inaugurated as Peter preached Jesus and His finished work. See the difference, three thousand people perished when the Law covenant was given on Mt. Sinai. three thousand people were saved when the new covenant of grace was unveiled on the day of Pentecost. The question is, which one is better? Grace of course is better and superior to law any day.
6. SARAH: She represents the womb or the incubator that births grace. The new covenant of grace cannot be effectively preached without the person of Jesus Christ. He suffered and carried us in His womb as the New covenant church until He went into labor so to speak, for a glorious delivery that cost Him His life on purpose and by intentional design. For He had to die for us to live. He had to be buried, resurrect and ascend. We were in Him when He did all these. He deleted Adam’s sinful race forever to set us free from the old covenant of bondage while introducing us to the new covenant of grace.
It is up to us to choose. Is it Law (Ishmael) or Grace (Isaac)?
It’s Grace for life. Receive grace and peace for today in Jesus Mighty Name.
Expecting your comments in the comment section below.