Abraham, The Father, And Jerusalem, The Mother Of All

by A.E. Knoch

ABRAHAM is the father of all who believe (Rom.4:16) and Jerusalem above is the mother of all who are free from the law (Gal.4:26), quite apart from all administrational distinctions. Such fundamental matters as faith and freedom are not confined to any one group of saints, but embrace them all, though of course they come to their highest unfolding where God's purpose is furthest developed. Circumcision and Uncircumcision, in the past, the present, and the future, need only have faith in God to find in Abraham their father, irrespective of their other distinctions.

     In the Scriptures the term "father" embraces far more than with us, and includes "forefather" as well. Physically and literally, Abraham was the forefather of the Circumcision. Even here he is not restricted to one nation, Israel. Many nations can trace their ancestral lineage back to him. He is the father of them all. He was not a Jew, nor is that which goes back to him Jewish, for how could he be a descendant of his great grandson? He was a Syrian, one of the nations. The faithful of the Uncircumcision are related to him in uncircumcision. By a fine figure he is called their father, because the whole family of the faithful have his characteristic, a belief in God's word despite all impossible appearances.

Abraham, Sarah, Hagar as Allegorical Figures

"Those of faith, these are sons of Abraham" (Gal.3:7). Those who follow the footprints of his faith enter into his family. This does not involve an alliance of any kind with the nation of Israel, his physical descendants, nor with their special hopes and expectations, for they were not promised until long after the time of Abraham. Nothing was said to him of any kingdom. That goes back only to Saul and David. Nothing was said to him of any law. That goes back only to Moses at Sinai. His faith antedated the rite of circumcision. It is to Abraham, uncircumcised, without law, without royal rights, a perishing Syrian, that all believers, as such, look back as their father.

     At the same time that Abraham's faith was being tested, events were taking place in his family which set forth the relation of faith to the law. His wife, Sarah, and her maid, Hagar, are allegorical figures, representing the two future covenants, one of which, the law of Sinai, corresponds to Hagar, the slave girl, who could only generate slaves; the other, the new covenant, corresponds to Sarah, the freewoman, who could only bear a freeman. The important point was the fact that the first was not an act of faith, but of unbelief, and led into bondage. It was an act of the flesh, contrary to faith, so could not stand for the generation of believers. Hagar is not the mother of believers.

     But Sarah, notwithstanding her own lack of faith, is the allegorical figure in Abraham's family which stands for the fruit of faith. We are not the children of the maid, but of the freedman (Gal.4:31). Let it be noted that the Scriptures carefully avoid saying that we are the sons of Sarah. Sarah did not have the faith of Abraham, or she would not have tried to help out God by giving her maid to Abraham, nor would she have laughed when the messengers announced the birth of Isaac. Sonship implies likeness, and we should not be like Sarah in regard to faith. But we have her freedom, hence we are children of the freewoman.

     Let us note also that all of this was staged before there were such distinctions as Circumcision and Uncircumcision, Israel and the nations. This was done advisedly, so that they should not be confined to any of these, but have a universal application. Just as Adam was the head of the whole race, so Abraham is father of all the faithful, and the freewoman is mother of all who are free.

     In order to put the matter more practically, the apostle adapts the allegory to the special circumstances under which he is writing. Jerusalem had become the center of those who called themselves sons of Abraham, yet were zealous keepers of the law. Hence he calls the city their mother, and compares it with Hagar and the slavery of her children. In effect he says that these emissaries from Jerusalem who were persecuting and troubling the believers in Galatia and elsewhere by seeking to put them under law are really in the same rank with Ishmael, hence in slavery. If Jerusalem is in line with Hagar, what city may represent Sarah, the freewoman? Alas, no such city existed on earth at that time. And the application can be understood only if applied to the period in which Paul is speaking.

     All of the early saints looked to Jerusalem. Paul himself kept returning there. Whatever changes came with fresh revelations did not alter the fact as to the origin of the elementary truths common to all. All believers were sons of Abraham, and remained so in regard to their faith. All who knew their freedom in Christ were children of the freewoman. In these things Jerusalem was divided. Paul makes it clear that the Jerusalem of that day was in slavery with her children, like Hagar. Yet he did not point to another time, but a higher location, where there was a Jerusalem which was free like Sarah. Above the fleshly slaves, as it were, was a higher city whose sons were free. This he acknowledged as mother of all the free.

Abraham and Sarah Prefigure all believers

     In the promises to Abraham there was a sharp contrast between two classes, flesh and faith, and this was illustrated by giving one a higher place than the other. There was the seed like the soil, and there was that like the stars. The apostle falls back upon the same device, by making Jerusalem above the mother of those who are free, that is, those in the city who correspond with the star seed of Abraham, who are really his sons by faith. These correspond with Isaac, and form a higher community. From these it is that the evangel went forth at first, and these it was that Paul visited and recognized, not the nether Jerusalem, these Ishmaelites who were seeking to enslave the Galatians.

     There was a time when the Uncircumcision were guests at Israel's board. They had no allotment of their own. Now that they have a celestial destiny, does this denote that all the bonds between them have been broken? By no means! Much is still ours in common. The figure of father does not demand that he have only one son, or that all of his children share identical destinies. The figure of one mother does not deny vast differences between her offspring. We have the same God as Israel, and the same Messiah. Adam and Noah are common ancestors of all. In faith, Abraham and Sarah embrace all. Then, however, the division commences. Some believers are circumcised, and some are not. Some have a terrestrial destiny and others a celestial. But their relation to Abraham and the freewoman remains.

     The time element must not be ignored in considering this passage. It is not simply Jerusalem of all times which is in bondage, but Jerusalem which now is, that is, in the apostle's time (Gal.4:25). This will not be the case in the new Jerusalem, or even in the thousand years. In fact we cannot use it of Jerusalem today with any propriety. At that time it was the seat of the apostles of our Lord, and of the greatest importance in connection with such questions as are considered in the Galatian epistle. Therefore Paul carefully indicates his contacts with Jerusalem (Gal.1:17,18; 2:1), and submitted to them his evangel, even though it was distinct from theirs and he had not received it from or through them (Gal. 1:12; 2:2). He wished to warn against the Jerusalemites who were bringing them into bondage, yet did not wish to include the spiritual in his condemnation.

     At that time an emissary from Jerusalem, who had been with the apostles, would be able to exercise a tremendous influence over the believers among the nations. They were Paul's most dangerous enemies in relation to the law and the ritual of Judaism. They were practically the only ones who were to be feared in this regard. Therefore it was necessary for Paul to particularize. As a matter of fact all Jews who held to the law were in bondage, not only in Jerusalem, but in Judea and among the nations. Yet how much more forceful to limit his charge to the sacred city! Jerusalem, where the apostles are, the head of Judaism--she is not free in Christ but in bondage to the law! She is not like Sarah, Abraham's wife, but like Hagar, her slave. She is not our mother. We should not recognize those who come from her.

     We, among the nations, are sons of Abraham, the Syrian, by faith. We have no part in Moses or David, dependent on physical bonds. Being sons of Abraham by faith, we are sons of the freewoman, not of the slave-girl. As to Jerusalem, we will not take our stand with those in her who are united to Abraham by physical ties and in bondage to the law. But we do acknowledge those in her who, like us, are children of the freewoman, who partake of the faith as well as the flesh of Abraham. Such form a Jerusalem high above the fleshly city, and we will gladly recognize such as the mother of all who are free.

The New Jerusalem is a Different Figure

     As Jerusalem no longer holds the special place accorded to her in the days of the apostles, it has become difficult to understand this reference to her by Paul. Hence it seems wiser, in these days, not to press the transient aspect of this truth, connected with Jerusalem. Jerusalem above is in line with the freewoman. We are not the children of Hagar, the maid, but of Sarah, the freewoman. We are not in bondage to the law. Christ has freed us, and we walk in spirit. Before circumcision was instituted, ere the law was given or the kingdom set up--before all these divisive factors came in--Abraham believed God and Sarah was free. Hence all who believe are sons of Abraham and all who are free are children of the freewoman.

     I was once taught that the Jerusalem here mentioned is the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21:10. But, in time, this became more and more untenable, until I was forced to give it up. Jerusalem, in fact, must always be the same city, but in figure it may stand for very different ideas. It creates a strange mixture when we make the bride of the far future a mother of those who lived long before. No clearness is possible, for the literal truths which these two embody are very different. In one we have an exclusive covenant relationship expressed under the figure of a bride. It is between husband and wife, Jehovah and Israel. The other shows the lack of legal bonds under the figure of a freewoman. It is between a mother and her children, a city and those related to it.

     Even if we violate the figure of the bride and introduce children, the result is contrary to the further details of the figure, for children of the New Jerusalem could never be non-Israelites, even though they walk in its light. They have no entrance into the city. Only their kings, probably sons of Israel, bring their honor into it. In fact they receive a place much like that of Hagar and Ishmael, who were cast out of the tent of Abraham, rather than children of Sarah, the freewoman, like Isaac. The new Jerusalem brings before us an entirely different administration, in which the nations have no such place as is accorded them in Galatians.

     The apostle connects the allegory to an entirely different period of Israel's history, at the beginning of the day of the Lord. He quotes from Isaiah 54:1-3, for then the Jerusalem above of which he is speaking, that is those who are children of faith, will go through the experience of Sarah.

"Shout for joy, barren one, she who bears not!
Crash into joyous shouting and shrill, she who does not travail!
For more are the sons of the desolate
Than the sons of the one possessed," says Jehovah.
"Widen the place of your tent,
And the sheets of your tabernacle stretch out,
Keep not back, lengthen your cords, and your pegs repair.
For on the right hand shall you breach,
And your seed shall tenant the nations.
And they cause the desolate cities to be indwelt."

     At that time all Israel will be saved. There will be no more slavery, for Jehovah will write the law in their hearts. Paul quotes this to show that the Jerusalem of his day is in slavery, and that, even in Israel, they are not in the line of blessing. That comes only through the believers, the true sons of Abraham and children of Sarah, through whom all are to be blessed. It is these believers who were the channel of blessing to the nations. They can be figured by Jerusalem "above" in contrast to that beneath, which sought to bring the nations into bondage.

     But, even in figure, we cannot make the future city a mother of those who came long before. Jerusalem at that time is figured as a mother, in slavery with her children. The context demands that another Jerusalem, at that time, be the mother of the free. Such is brought before us under the descriptive word "above." This agrees perfectly with the facts, and with the truth that the nations partook of Israel's spiritual treasures. In another relation they were grafted into the olive tree. But this freedom from law, this mothering by Jerusalem, is not connected with Israel's fleshly prerogatives, but goes back of David and Moses to Abraham and Sarah, who were Syrians, not Israelites or Jews.

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