Sunday, June 10, 2018

THE ALLEGORY CONCERNING SARAH

- or -
HOW TO LIVE IN FREEDOM
I have already discussed much of Sarah’s history in a previous post, but perhaps it would be helpful to also introduce her perspective from the very beginning as it is given to us.


The first we learn of Sarah is way back in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans, which was far to the east of where she was living in the land where God eventually led her and her husband Abraham. She was already married to Abraham in Ur. He was called “Abram” at that time, and she “Sarai,” but I will just refer to them by the names later given to them by God: Abraham and Sarah.

In chapter 12 of the book of Genesis, we learn that while the couple were still in the city of Ur, that the Lord called Abraham to “Go forth from your country and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to a land which I will show you” (Genesis 12:1; Acts 7:2).

It is not mentioned in this verse, but of course this calling also meant that Sarah was also to leave her country and her family as well. We are not given a detailed chronology of the lives of Abraham and Sarah, but it is quite possible that Sarah was a rather new bride at this time.

We often speak of how it perhaps was for Abraham to leave his life behind to go to an entirely new and unknown place, but consider for a moment what it must have been like for this young woman. We do not know what sisters and brothers Sarah had, what friends.

If I can speak from my own experiences, it has seemed to me that the wives are the ones who usually have made the deepest relationships with their family and friends. For them to leave the security of all of this is much more difficult than it is for the husband. The husband is often somewhat oblivious to much of this and just thinks that this might be a “grand adventure.”

Whatever was the case with Abraham and Sarah, Sarah left all that she knew and traveled with her new husband and their nephew on Abraham’s side. Ur of the Chaldeans was near the mouth of the Euphrates River. They settled for time in the city of Haran, upriver some six hundred miles or so. Also with them was Abraham’s own father, Terah.

On to Canaan, then to Egypt, and then back to Canaan

Terah later died, and when this occurred, God renewed the same call to Abraham, and he, Sarah and Lot moved down into the land of Canaan. This was another move of several hundred miles and into another strange land. Abraham was seventy-five years old at this time, so Sarah was about sixty-five.

They did not stay in Canaan long this first time however, since a famine soon gripped the land. Abraham soon took Sarah and Lot into Egypt. It was during this time in Egypt that Abraham asked Sarah to tell people that she was his sister so that they would not kill him—hardly a virtuous thing for a husband to do.

As a result of this lie that she was forced to tell, and because she was a very beautiful woman, the Pharaoh of the land took her into his harem. The text is not explicit as to whether or not there was any sexual encounter as a result of this, but Pharaoh did later tell Abraham that he had taken her “as his wife.” It was only because God spoke to Pharaoh in a dream about the situation that Pharaoh confronted Abraham and sent him and Sarah away. The trip back to Canaan was probably a long and very silent one.

It was after all of these events that Sarah approached Abraham with the solution to her inability to have children—the solution that involved Hagar. The sad truth of the matter is, after Abraham had put Sarah through some very trying times, it was probably Sarah who felt guilty about not having children. She probably blamed herself.

But it was God who was causing this, and he was causing it for a reason. 

Laughter at God’s Plan

We have learned a couple of posts ago of the episode with Hagar and her son by Abraham, the boy named Ishmael. It was after Ishmael was already thirteen years old when the Lord again appeared to Abraham.

The Lord, along with two angels, came to Abraham while the old man was relaxing at the entrance to his tent.

“Please let some water be brought so that you can wash your feet, and kindly stay and have a meal with me,” Abraham said to his guests.

As they ate, they asked their host, “Where is your wife, Sarah?

“She is in the tent,” Abraham responded.

One of the visitors said to Abraham within the hearing of Sarah, “About this time next year I will return to you, and your wife Sarah will have a son.”

When Sarah heard this, she laughed within herself. “After I am worn out and my husband is an old man, is now the time for me to have a child?”

It was not an audible laughter, but when she did so, the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did your wife laugh at this thought? Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Sarah must have stepped outside at this point, for she wished to defend herself. “I did not laugh,” she lied. She did this because she was afraid that she had doubted the Lord.

“Yes, you did laugh,” the Lord replied. 

Abraham Seemingly had Not Yet Learned

It was not long after this that Abraham took Sarah and again moved from where they had been living. This is not as unusual as it may sound, since they always had led a nomadic lifestyle, and in fact, never did build any kind of permanent house (Hebrews 11:9). This time they were in a region called “Gerar,” which was under the rule of a man name Abimelech.

As Abraham had done in Egypt, in this land of Abimelech he again told people that Sarah was his sister, and as before, because Abimelech believed Sarah was unmarried, took her into his concubines.

This time we know that this did not result in a sexual encounter, because God came to him in a dream at night and told him, “You are a dead man, for the woman that you have taken into your concubines is a married woman.”

Abimelech rightly defended himself: “I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands, for the man said to me, ‘she is my sister!’”

God responded that he knew Abimelech was innocent in this matter and for that reason he had prevented the man from touching Sarah, but God told him that he should return Sarah to her husband immediately, “For he is a prophet,” God said.

Abimelech not only returned Sarah to her husband, but after reprimanding Abraham, the king sent him away.

To Sarah he said sarcastically, “I am giving your ‘brother’ a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.” 

Isaac is Born

It was after all of this, about one year after the visit of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of Abraham, that a child was born to Sarah. She was ninety years old at the time. It was indeed a miracle.

Abraham and Sarah named the boy Isaac. As I mentioned in the previous chapter, the name means laughter.

Sarah could barely contain herself: “God has brought me laughter,” she said. “And everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age!” 

On to the New Testament

This is Sarah’s story. At least it is up to this point. Unlike Hagar, we do learn more about Sarah’s life in the years to come, but we are going to stop here for the present. What I would like to do at this time is to question why Paul, in the New Testament book of Galatians, likens Sarah to “The Jerusalem above.”

Hagar represented slavery to us. Figuratively speaking, Hagar was to us Mount Sinai where the Law was given. The lesson of the allegory of Hagar is that the Law of God is indeed righteous, but we are without power to keep it. Those who believe that they can keep the law on their own strength will only remain in slavery.

Hagar is Mount Sinai because she is in slavery and bears children who are slaves.

But Sarah is the Jerusalem above. She is the New Jerusalem, the Heavenly Jerusalem. “She is free,” Paul says, “and she is our mother.”

It is then that he quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear” (From Isaiah 54:1). 

Freedom is More than Skin Deep

Quite frankly, many women in the place of Sarah would not have lived a life of rejoicing, and perhaps Sarah herself did not. Her life had been difficult in many ways. Probably newly married, she was taken away from every security she had ever known to go to some unknown place with her new husband, where she lived a life of a nomad, traveling here and there and settling only in brief intervals.

Twice her husband put her in a compromising situation, and that is putting it lightly. She felt the social pressures of being a barren wife, she resorted to poorly thought-out schemes to give her husband a child—well, the list in incomplete, but she had had a life that was challenging in many ways.

Yet Paul says of her, “She is a free woman!”

Why was this? It was because the fruit of her life did not come about because her planning and her schemes had worked out, and that her own efforts bore success. It was because she was the recipient of a miracle! When God brought forth the promise, it was enough to make one rejoice—to laugh!

When Isaac was born to the couple whose ages were one hundred years old and ninety years old, Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me… Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age” (Genesis 21:6 NIV).

It was enough to make one so recently in bondage to their own efforts, but who now had been made free, to laugh with joy! 

Rejoice barren woman who does not bear!
Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor!
For more are the children of the desolate
Than of the one who has a husband. (Galatians 4: 27 NAS as quoted from Isaiah 54:1) 

Paul continues by saying, “And you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Galatians 4:29). 

Our Miraculous Birth

Our birthright into the Kingdom of God has not come about by a clever plan on our part, or by manipulating events so that we fulfill some requirement of society. Our birthright is a miracle! It came about because Jesus Christ died for every act of unrighteousness that we have ever committed. He took upon himself the penalty for our unrighteousness, so that we can be righteous!

Our righteousness is not our own doing, but it is because of the miracle that Jesus performed in us. We need only to accept that miracle. We do not need to do anything extra. We do not need to perform any act to show our worthiness, because the plain fact is, we are not worthy! Like Isaac, our birth as heirs of the Kingdom of God is a miracle! It is a miracle that we were ever born, but we were!

Paul told the people in Antioch, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man (Jesus) forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses!” (Acts 13:38-39 ESV).

We are free! It is enough to make us laugh with joy! 

There is No Joy in Mudville

The truth of the matter is however, many Christians simply are not the laughing type. They solemnly and heavily bear the burden of trying to live up to a standard that they have no power to keep.

Like Sarah was in the beginning, they are trying to give birth to joy by using their own planning and scheming. Like Hagar of Mount Sinai, they are trying to keep the Law by their own strength. They are in slavery and only give birth to those in slavery.

More than that, as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, if those who are born into freedom also persist in carrying about the child of slavery in their lives, they will find that they continue to bear the works of slavery. This is despite their position as a free person. They have not learned how to live as a free man or a free woman. They still bear the works of a slave. They are persecuted by their old slavery.

Paul tells us, “And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also” (Galatians 4:28-29 NAS). 

Cast Out the Bondwoman

It is here that we see the reason for Abraham so cruelly sending Hagar into the wilderness with her child Ishmael, giving them only a skin of water and a bit of bread. The event itself is puzzling, for to do so was actually uncharacteristic of Abraham. He was not a cruel man and it was plain that he loved Ishmael. He had even pleaded to the Lord to make Ishmael the promised seed.

It was uncharacteristic of Abraham, but it is here that we see that God caused this to happen for the sake of the allegory. It is here that we see the importance of gaining the teaching of the allegory. The actions of Abraham were prophetic. If we wish to live in freedom in our Christian lives, we must especially be attentive at this point: 

Cast out the bondwoman and her son,
For the son of a bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of a free woman! 

These are the words of Paul as he quotes Sarah in her directions to Abraham. Her words were also prophetic. There is no way that we can continue carrying about the burden of a Law that we cannot keep, and still live in freedom. The bondage of slavery cannot exist with the laughter of freedom.

Those in Christ are not children of a bondwoman, but of a free woman. Here are some of Paul’s words to the Romans:

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The Law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.

So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 NLT) 

Jesus has told us, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:34-36 NLT).

All of these promises are ours, if we allow Christ to live in us. Paul concludes his discussion of the allegories of Hagar and Sarah with this thought, and it is with this that I will also conclude: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 NAS).

You are free in Christ. Learn to live in freedom.

No comments:

Post a Comment