This week we come to a very good example of the caution we must use when interpreting what the Old Testament says. In my many years of Christian experience, I have witnessed nonsense routinely peddled as if it were the correct understanding of the Bible. Great care must be taken when citing and using the Old Testament of the Bible.
Before we come to this week’s specific study in Genesis, allow me to share two key insights I believe to be critical when approaching the Old Testament of the Bible.
The first is to realise that the Old is there to demonstrate the need of the New. The apostle Paul makes this clear in Hebrews chapter 8. The records of the Old Testament prove to us that human beings are incapable of serving God. Incapable. Their hearts and minds are bound down by sin.
That is the negative insight. The positive is, of course, related. Jesus Christ.
Jesus made clear in the final chapter of Luke’s Gospel that the message of him and his coming was taught in the Old Testament. If the need of Christ was made clear by the failings of human beings in the Old, then the answer to those failings was also there.
The entire Bible must therefore be seen from the perspective of Jesus Christ’s ministry – his life, his teaching, his death and resurrection, and his promised return in judgement and final salvation.
So, to our study in chapter 16 of Genesis. The story of Sarai’s maid, Hagar, whom Sarai gave to Abram to conceive a child on her behalf. The son resulting was Ishmael, the forefather of the arab peoples today.
That story could be interpreted in different ways, but the definitive interpretation and meaning is given to us by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians chapter 4, from verse 21.
There the apostle Paul explains that the meaning of the story concerns the significance of the two sons of Abram, one born then to Hagar, and the other born 13 years later to Sarai and named Isaac.
One represents the Old Covenant or Testament God made with the Jews at Sinai, and the other concerns the New Testament. And explaining this, Paul points out in chapter 4 that the inspiration and the outworking are quite different.
One is fleshly, and legalistic, and ritualistic while the other is spiritual. What is spiritual is what works. The spiritual
- originates with God – not man –
- is carried through by God, not man’s own efforts, and
- results in all glory going to God, because it is conceived and enabled by God alone
The second covenant which we call the NewTestament is a covenant of God’s Grace and God’s Glory. Man can claim nothing; man can achieve nothing of true and lasting meaning apart from God.
The meaning of this passage in Genesis 16 therefore goes to the very heart and meaning of the Christian life, and spells out the contrast of that faith with the ritualistic religion of the Jews.