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Galatians 4:21-30 - The Two Covenants: Hagar and Ishmael verses Sarah and Isaac

Updated: Jul 7

In Galatians 4: 21-31 the Apostle Paul elaborates on the 2 covenants. One is said to be from Hagar, the bondwoman, and the other from Sarah, the freewoman. It would correspond to their sons respectively; Ishmael and Isaac, the two sons of Abraham.

God promised Abraham that from his seed would come the promised child, the one in whom all the earth would be blessed. This promise was fulfilled through his son Isaac, which was born to Sarah, the freewoman. This promise was fulfilled through the seed of Isaac which was of course Yeshua.

In these scriptures the Apostle Paul clearly delves into what the Jews refer to as PaRDeS, the four levels of scriptural understanding. He has left the first level of understanding called P'shat, the simple, direct and plain sense, literal meaning of the text and is digging into the deeper, sometimes allegorical understanding of scripture. He doesn't give a lot of explanation for his teaching but believes his readers understand the reference.

Allegorically, Hagar and Ishmael represent the flesh and a law of sin and death covenant. Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own fleshly hands with their plan to produce a child with Hagar, Sarah's handmaiden. Hagar and Ishmael represent a rational relationship with God, one based on human nature and human understanding. There was nothing supernatural about Ishmael’s birth.  Allegorically, Sarah and Isaac represent the spiritual/heavenly/non-sinful covenant or promise. Sarah and Isaac represent that which is of God, supernatural and Supra-rational.

What most people fail to recognize is that two things were going on at Mt. Sinai. While Moses was on top of the mountain receiving the Torah from the LORD, the children of Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai were building the golden calf and calling it Yahweh, the god who brought them up out of Egypt.

During the first century, Jerusalem and her children had become corrupt. They had corrupted the way of the LORD and His Torah. They would be likened unto Hagar and Ishmael and what was going on at the bottom of Mt. Sinai. At the bottom of Mt. Sinai the people were taking matters into their own hands, like Sarah and Abraham with Hagar. They had grown tired of waiting on Moses to come down from the mountain and they decided to do the fleshly thing. They would build for themselves a god to worship, but as for Moses they didn't know what had happened to him. Paul likens his fellow brethren and the leadership to the bondwoman and her son. They were of the fleshly covenant. They were of those things fleshly, not spiritual. To bring this out Paul argues in Romans that had it not been for the Torah that he would not have known what sin was. Now he struggled in his flesh daily to be obedient to the Torah. He crucified the flesh daily. He then goes on to proclaim “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin“ Romans 7:24-25. As long as we live on this earth we shall have this struggle in our fleshly bodies. Paul is not proclaiming Torah to be bad, in fact just the opposite, he is only saying that the Sinai covenant was needed because of sin that reigns in our fleshly, fallen, bodies but the goal of Torah was Yeshua. The one who can deliver us from the bondage of sin and death. Again, the law of sin and death is represented by Hagar and Ishmael but the fuller covenant, which is spiritual, is represented by the birth of the spiritual son and his Mother and the ultimate son, Yeshua. Yeshua Himself also having a supernatural birth.

Those who serve the LORD and His Torah the correct way, with fear and trembling, are likened to what was going on at the top of Mt. Sinai between Moses and God. These are of the freewoman, Sarah, and her son Isaac. The people who received Yeshua and His teachings, accepted His salvation through His shed blood, are of the heavenly Jerusalem. They obey God and seek only to hear His voice and the voice of the one whom He sent, Yeshua. They are of an everlasting covenant or promise. They partake of the promise made to Abraham, through his seed -Yeshua. They are the ones who will be able to inherit the incorruptible crown and partake of the heavenly Jerusalem that is being prepared; where all things of the fleshly, sinful nature will have no place. 

Our Patriarch Abraham was called to leave Ur, his homeland, to go to a land which God would show him. God promised him a physical land, yet it says in Hebrews 11:10 that Abraham looked for a city not built with human hands whose builder and maker is God. This is the two covenants upon which the Apostle Paul is referring. Just as Moses saw into the heavenly Tabernacle when he was on top of the mountain and fashioned the one on earth after it, likewise Hagar and Ishmael represent earthly things but Sarah and Isaac represent the city not built with human hands: the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven where everything will be perfect.

We must strive to be of the covenant of the free woman and forsake the fleshly/sinful (doing things our own way), covenant of the bond woman and her son. 

The writings of the Apostle Paul are difficult to understand and people have twisted them to their own error. The Apostle Peter even tells us that Paul's words are difficult to understand and that people twist them to their own understanding (2 Peter 3:15-16).

The author of Hebrews tells us more about these two covenants; one of the flesh, one of the spirit. One of a earthly Jerusalem with her children and the other a heavenly city (Jerusalem) not made with hands:

Heb 12:18  For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched, and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and storm,

Heb 12:19  and to the blast of a shofar and a voice whose words made those who heard it beg that not another word be spoken to them.

Heb 12:20  For they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”

Heb 12:21  So terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am quaking with fear.”

Heb 12:22  But you have come to Mount Zion—to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, a joyous gathering,

Heb 12:23  and to the assembly of the firstborn who are written in a scroll in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous ones made perfect,

Heb 12:24  and to Yeshua, the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than the blood of Abel.

Remember: one city (Hagar/Ishmael) is earthly, and the other city (Sarah/Isaac) is of the world to come. A city not made with hands. We must prepare ourselves to enter that holy city!


Leisa Baysinger


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