Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 4 Study # 3
November 4, 2012
23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the 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.
27 For it is written, 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.
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
1901 ASV Translation:
23 Howbeit the son by the handmaid is born after the flesh; but the son by the freewoman is born through promise.
24 Which things contain an allegory: for these women are two covenants; one from mount Sinai, bearing children unto bondage, which is Hagar.
25 Now this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia and answereth to the Jerusalem that now is: for she is in bondage with her children.
26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother.
27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; Break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: For more are the children of the desolate than of her that hath the husband.
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.
29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, so also it is now.
30 Howbeit what saith the scripture? Cast out the handmaid and her son: for the son of the handmaid shall not inherit with the son of the freewoman.
31 Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the freewoman.
- I. The "Fleshliness" of the Birth of Ishmael.
- A. Because Paul says that the bondwoman's son was "according to the standard of flesh" in the description of the historical event, we have an excellent opportunity to understand what Paul means by "flesh".
- B. The two "births" in comparison/contrast.
- 1. The actual physical elements involved in the births are exactly the same (man/woman, sperm/ egg, etc.).
- 2. Given the general biblical teaching that conceptions and births are ultimately traceable back to God (Psalm 127:3 plus the many examples of conceptions occurring because of the divine response to prayer), the birth of Ishmael was not outside of that boundary. This means that God made Abraham's sexual activity with Hagar productive (as He did with David and Bathsheba).
- 3. The specific issue of Hagar's conception, however, was that she had no internal, physical hindrance to conception that God would have had to deliberately overcome in order for her to conceive. Sarah was not in that same category: she was physically incapable of conceiving and could not/did not do so except by specific divine action (Hebrews 11:11).
- a. When things "happen", there are at least three possible scenarios involved.
- 1) The "happening" was according to the "norm" of "sowing/harvesting" that is underwritten by Paul's warning in Galatians 6:7. Most of the "happenings" on any given day will fall under this "norm". This does not take God out of the picture, but it does emphasize the fact that people can "do" things in a physical universe and "expect" the results that are normal for the particular action.
- 2) The "happening" was contrary to the "norm" in terms of "failure". In other words, the action taken was expected to bring about a certain result and it did not (throwing bodies of flesh into an over heated furnace would typically result in the complete destruction of those bodies, but at least once in history this did not "happen").
- 3) The "happening" was contrary to the "norm" in terms of "success". When a person has certain abnormalities, the "norm" fails on a regular basis so that the actors do not expect the "norm" that exists for everyone else; thus, if the "norm" occurs, they are surprised (a barren woman who has engaged in sexual activities for years does not expect to become pregnant; so that if she does, it is a huge surprise). Mary's "norm" as a chaste virgin was beyond the realm of any expectation of pregnancy, but it "happened".
- C. The "fleshliness" of the birth of the son of the bondmaid consisted, most fundamentally, of an "attitude", not a natural and unhindered action of two physical bodies.
- 1. There can be no question that the birth of the son of the bondmaid arose out of a "plan" set in motion by a woman who was seeking to obtain the "son" whom God had promised.
- 2. We have to conclude, then, that the freewoman was attempting to obtain the outcome of the promise of God and, consequently, that this is the heart of what Paul's calls "fleshliness". This is where/how the issue gets "sticky": was Sarah not supposed to strongly desire to obtain the fulfillment of the promise of God? Is the activity involved in seeking to obtain the promise an automatic denigration into "fleshliness"? Where are the boundaries?
- a. One of the automatic boundaries is anything that conforms to the expressed will of God: if God has said anything about the particular desire, His words require conformity of both attitude and action. Abraham and Sarah were not to cease their sexual relationship to "let God fulfill His promise" because men and women who are married are not supposed to abstain. Mary was not supposed to go out and have sex with Joseph because Gabriel had told her she was to bear the Messiah.
- b. Another of the automatic boundaries is a clear dependence upon God to fulfill His promise. Anything that views the promise as beyond possibility will result in "fleshly" plans to bring the desire to fulfillment (Genesis 18:13-14). Abraham's maturation of faith ultimately came to the conclusion that God's promises were up to Him to fulfill and He would do so without any consideration of the actions of men (Romans 4:21).
- II. The Birth That Was Through "Promise".
- A. Paul deliberately alters his grammar. In regard to the birth of the son of the bondwoman, he describes it in terms of the "standard" by which it occurred. In regard to the birth of the son of the freewoman, he describes it in terms of the "agency" by which it occurred.
- B. Paul's point is in harmony with his view of what God has been all about since the beginning: the establishment of "Truth" so that it is "believed" as the "norm" of "Life". When Abraham came to the point of "faith" (Romans 4:21), God responded with fulfillment; when Sarah came to that same point (Hebrews 11:11), God responded with fulfillment. The son of the freewoman came into being by a specific action by God in response to "belief". Whenever an individual's "universe" is "set right" so that Truth is accepted as such, the fruits of "faith" flow automatically from God. This current world has been knocked off of its axis of Truth by the introduction of disbelief. When disbelief is rejected and faith is embraced, Truth reigns.
- III. A Consequent Definition of "Fleshliness".
- A. It is as clear as it can be that Paul's concept of "fleshliness" has to do with the attitude of disbelief -- whatever its cause and direction -- so that "the standard of the flesh" is the rejection of Truth by the fleshliness of the individual who disbelieves. It is altogether an attitude.
- B. Thus, the meaning of "flesh" is "the attitude that puts forth a methodology that will not produce the desired result in antagonism toward the methodology declared by God to be effective."