A great deal of harm has been done by failing to understand the Old Testament according to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles as recorded in the New Testament. There are a few passages in the New which explicitly address this vital issue, and we now reach one of those in our study of Genesis.
In chapter 21 we find the human drama of jealousy, power and exclusion. We see a free woman abuse her servant because the servant’s son mocked. For us today, the penalty imposed was harsh, but like everything in the Old Testament, there is a purpose in relation to the New Testament.
It is a fundamental and vital principle for Christians to understand that the New interprets the Old. While the New is implicit and foreshadowed in the Old Testament, the Old is explained by the New Testament. The Old serves as backdrop for the New – the stage for the drama; it serves to show the critical need for the New. The Old is not to be taken alone, or too literally.
Chapter 21 provides a critical example. If a person reads only the passage in Genesis, that person could very well draw out the wrong lessons. But thankfully we have the clear teaching of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians where he explains this event to us. In chapter 4, Paul tells us clearly what this passage means and how to understand it. Starting at verse 21, Paul writes:
TELL ME YE THAT DESIRE TO BE UNDER THE LAW, DO YE NOT HEAR THE LAW ?
FOR IT IS WRITTEN, THAT ABRAHAM HAD TWO SONS – THE ONE BY A BONDMAID, THE OTHER BY A FREEWOMAN. BUT HE BORN OF THE BONDWOMAN WAS BORN AFTER THE FLESH; BUT HE OF THE FREEWOMAN WAS BY PROMISE. WHICH THINGS ARE AN ALLEGORY: FOR THESE ARE THE TWO COVENANTS; THE ONE FROM MOUNT SINAI WHICH GENDERETH TO BONDAGE [that is ‘slavery’] WHICH IS AGAR. FOR THIS AGAR IS MOUNT SINAI IN ARABIA, AND ANSWERETH TO JERUSALEM WHICH NOW IS, AND IS IN BONDAGE [ie in slavery] WITH HER CHILDREN.
BUT JERUSALEM WHICH IS ABOVE IS FREE, WHICH IS THE MOTHER OF US ALL [ie of Christians]. 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.
NOW WE BRETHREN – AS ISAAC WAS – ARE THE CHILDREN OF PROMISE. BUT – AS THEN – HE THAT WAS BORN AFTER THE FLESH PERSECUTED HIM THAT WAS BORN AFTER THE SPIRIT [ie the Holy Spirit], EVEN SO IS IT NOW.
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 FREE WOMAN.
SO THEN BRETHREN, WE ARE NOT CHILDREN OF THE BONDWOMAN, BUT OF THE FREE.
Don’t be surprised, then, if you live by God’s Word and by his Spirit as you should, when the religious persecute you.