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Commentary on "The Two Covenants"



Day 4: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar



The author recounts the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and the birth of Ishmael.



While the Abrahamic covenant was a covenant of faith, in Genesis 16 we see that God’s covenant promises are not based upon the strength of Abram’s faith. Abram believes in the Lord, but his faith is far from perfect. Abram again tries to fulfill God’s promises “in the flesh” by sleeping with Sarah’s slave Hagar and producing Ismael. We see that Abram’s failings do not invalidate the unconditional promises as God restates the covenant in chapter 17. So sure are God’s promises that God changes Abram’s name to Abraham "Father of a Multitude" at age 99.

God tells Abraham that Ismael will not be the heir and He gives Abraham the sign of the covenant, circumcision. Circumcision was intended to be a dramatic and graphic reminder that the promised seed would not come through the flesh, but by the Spirit. That is, the promised heir would not come by Abraham’s power through any means humanly possible. The heir would come by the power of God alone. The removal of the flesh of the male organ was a graphic reminder of this truth. In chapter 21 Isaac is born and we see that the child of the promise can not coexist with the child of the flesh. God tells Abraham that he will make another nation of Ishmael, but Ishmael and Hagar must be driven out of the camp. The symbolism seems clear. We are either operating in the flesh (under our own power) or in the Spirit (surrendered to God). We cannot combine the two modes of behavior.



  1. God’s promises are not dependent upon the level of our faith.
  2. God’s promises are sure despite our failings.
  3. They symbol of the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision, was a reminder that God’s promises are not fulfilled by the flesh, through human effort.
  4. Human effort and living by the Spirit are mutually incompatible.




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