It seems the promises of God are always fulfilled on the other side of a wilderness. Biblically, the wilderness is a place where one is both tested and matured. These are necessary to ready a person to enter into that which God has called him. Abraham had his wilderness wanderings. The further he walked away from his past, the closer he got to his promise of God. Moses and his multitude had their experience as well. Forty years they journeyed through the wilderness of Sin, allowing unbelief to die and belief to mature. This wandering did not stop when they finally crossed into Canaan, for they entered with the Law as their guide. For the almost 1500 years from Sinai to Jesus, the Law reigned in the lives of the Israelites. The Law never was the completed Promise, but rather was the servant that led and guided the immature children of Israel to their true promise, Jesus Christ (see Gal 3:19, 24). Paul used this wilderness in his allegory of the sons of the bond and the free women.
(21) Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
(22) For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
(23) But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
(24) Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
(25) For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
(26) But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
(27) 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.
(28) Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
(29) But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
(30) 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 freewoman.
(31) So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
In this symbolic comparison we see both God’s curse for man’s sin and immature adamlikeness, and His blessings for man’s obedience and journey of faith to mature Christlikeness. The first is physical Israel without God. The latter is born again spiritual Israel in Christ. This last location is the place of Promise, which is the position to which God had always desired to bring man.
The Son of Flesh
In the wilderness, Moses received the Law at Sinai. Paul likens this to Agar’s son whom he says was born “after the flesh.” This term is easier understood as being spiritually immature. The children in this system, Paul explained, are born into the slavish burden of the covenant of Law. This same relation is the subject of Romans 9:6-8:
(6) Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
(7) Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
(8) That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
These passages in no way imply God cast His natural people away from their opportunity to be partakers of His Promise. This access is, and always has been, available to all nations and all people (see Gen 17:14; Mat 28:19; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; Rev 7:9)! However, Paul explains natural Israel never was God’s goal. Instead God’s focus was on a spiritual people of whom the Bible says He already foreknew. This group is made up of those who believed in Jesus Christ. These were, as Paul said, the “remnant according to the election of grace” (see Rom 11:5).
Those remaining outside this group were in disobedience to Jesus’ New Covenant, and, as Paul indicated, would be guilty of doing harm to the remnant believers. The book of Acts supports this by recording how some natural Jews did persecute the spiritual believers in Jesus Christ. Because of this uprising, Paul said those of the flesh would be cast out and not share in the coming inheritance of the Promise. What one needs to remember is that those disobedient to God never will “inherit the kingdom of God” (see 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21). God always has a people who are obedient, faithful, and holy!
The Son of Promise
Though Sarah and Abraham were well beyond their childbearing years, when the time came, they brought forth a son of promise (see Gen 17:15-21, Gen 18:11-14, Gen 21:1-2). Hebrews 11:12 says: “Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.” At one-hundred years old, Abraham would have been counted as dead in this world. But through God’s intervention, life sprang forth, and that miraculous birth was to become “so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.” Stars are celestial and speak of spiritual heirs. Sands are terrestrial and speak of physical heirs. Genesis 22 confirms this and speaks of the vastness of this promised multitude:
(17) That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
(18) And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.
If this promise was literal, then Abraham and Agar’s son, Ishmael, could have inherited and fulfilled it just as easily as the promised son, Isaac. Also, if there were no distinctions as to whom this promised child was to be, then any of Jacob’s sons could have literally fulfilled this promise. In Galatians 3:16, Paul limited this fulfillment to only one son of promise. He said that only through this “one seed,” or son, would God’s promise be fulfilled. So, who is this son? Let’s first define the degree to which Abraham’s natural descendants fit into this scenario.
In Jesus’ day there were several differing opinions on who exactly was a Jew. There was the judgment of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the Scribes, the Essenes, the Zealots, and many other faceless opinions regarding who they believed qualified to be a “true Jew.” This isn’t a subject limited to just that time, for this same difference is argued among Jews of today. The answer to this complex issue comes down to understanding the difference between a “race” to which people are born into and a “system” to which people are collectively found.
Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary of American English defines “race” as:
The lineage of a family, or continued series of descendants from a parent who is called the stock. A RACE IS THE SERIES OF DESCENDANTS INDEFINITELY. Thus all mankind are called the race of Adam; THE ISRAELITES ARE OF THE RACE OF ABRAHAM AND JACOB. Thus we speak of a race of kings, the race of Clovis or Charlemagne; a race of nobles, &c.
With Webster’s definition of a race being a common physical ancestry, we can better understand how black-skinned Africans, brown-skinned Mexicans, yellow-skinned Japanese, olive-skinned Middle Easterners, and white-skinned Europeans can all be considered to be Jewish. How? Because Judaism is not about race, but is instead a system through which various ethnic groups can be blended together. This system is why modern Israel has Ashkenazi Jews from Germany, France, and Eastern Europe, and Sephardic Jews from Spain or Portugal, and “Oriental Jews” from the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia, all within her borders. As a Jew, you can follow any religion in the world and remain a Jew, BUT IF YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST, YOU ARE REJECTED FROM BEING JEWISH. One’s religious beliefs do not affect their race, but it can affect their status within a given system. Remember, a Caucasian male cannot become a member of the Asian race, but, if he wanted to, he could become a member of the Jewish system.
Judaism has always been about a system of people and not about a people of race. This is why the Pharisees were known for their evangelism. Jesus referred to their efforts when He said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Mat 23:15). By saying this, Jesus was not being anti-any-people; He was just stating that the SYSTEM these proselytes were converted into was not of God.
Moses left Egypt with a “mixed multitude” of people. Many of these people were not related to Abraham (see Exo 12:38). This is not a dilemma for the Word of God since Abraham was promised to become a “father of many nations.” Likewise, Jesus was insistent that God’s Kingdom be available to all Jews, Samaritans, and Greeks! This is exactly what the Apostles taught the early Church; it is also exactly what we should be teaching the Church today!
Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I am not suggesting there are no Jews in the world today. If you think that is what I am saying, then you have not been following me very carefully! I firmly believe there are Jewish people today and that we should unreservedly love them just as we should love all men. But, I also believe that if we truly do love them, we will tell them the truth, which is, they, like all other men, are lost without the New Covenant message of Jesus Christ. This is exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). In statements such as, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Act 4:12), we see that the apostles taught the very same thing. God is no respecter of persons and neither should we be. Jesus’ greatest desire was to see all men saved. We, as His body, should accept nothing less!
Abraham’s blessings were both temporal and spiritual. He found himself blessed in abundance with monetary and spiritual things. On the other side of Abraham’s wilderness journey was the promise that hem would inherit numerous spiritual descendants and a dwelling whose builder and maker is God. This was the promise that compelled Abraham to keep seeking that that was on the other side of his wilderness.
Copyright © 2004 TK Burk. All Rights Reserved.