“A Symbolic Drama” of Value to Us
HOW hard it would be to discern the full significance of certain Scriptural passages if other parts of the Bible did not shed light on them! Historical accounts in God’s Word can be taken at face value. But some of these narratives contain deeper truths that are not so obvious. One example is the account of two women in the household of the patriarch Abraham. The apostle Paul called it “a symbolic drama.”—Galatians 4:24.
This drama merits our attention because the realities represented by it are of fundamental importance to all who desire to enjoy the blessing of Jehovah God. Before examining why this is so, let us consider the circumstances that moved Paul to unveil the significance of the drama.
A problem existed among Christians in first-century Galatia. Some of them were “scrupulously observing days and months and seasons and years”—things commanded by the Mosaic Law. These individuals claimed that obedience to the Law was necessary for believers to have God’s favor. (Galatians 4:10; 5:2, 3) However, Paul knew that such observances were not required of Christians. To prove this, he referred to an account familiar to any who were of Jewish background.
Paul reminded the Galatians that Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, begot Ishmael and Isaac. The first was produced by the servant girl Hagar, and the second by the free woman Sarah. Those in Galatia who were promoting obedience to the Mosaic Law would no doubt have been acquainted with the account of Sarah’s initial barrenness and of her giving Abraham her maidservant Hagar to bear a child in her place. They would have known that after conceiving Ishmael, Hagar began to despise her mistress, Sarah. According to God’s promise, though, Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac in her old age. Later, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away because Ishmael mistreated Isaac.—Genesis 16:1-4; 17:15-17; 21:1-14; Galatians 4:22, 23.
Two Women, Two Covenants
Paul explained the elements of this “symbolic drama.” “These women mean two covenants,” he wrote, “the one from Mount Sinai, which brings forth children for slavery, and which is Hagar. . . . She corresponds with the Jerusalem today, for she is in slavery with her children.” (Galatians 4:24, 25) Hagar represented literal Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital. The Jewish nation was bound to Jehovah by the Law covenant inaugurated at Mount Sinai. Under the Law covenant, the Israelites were constantly reminded that they were slaves to sin and in need of redemption.—Jeremiah 31:31, 32; Romans 7:14-24.
Whom, then, did “the free woman” Sarah and her son, Isaac, represent? Paul indicated that Sarah, the “barren woman,” symbolized God’s wife, the heavenly part of his organization. This heavenly woman was barren in that before Jesus came she had no spirit-anointed “children” on the earth. (Galatians 4:27; Isaiah 54:1-6) However, at Pentecost 33 C.E., holy spirit was poured out on a group of men and women who were thus born again as children of this heavenly woman. The children produced by this organization were adopted as sons of God and became joint heirs with Jesus Christ under a new covenant relationship. (Romans 8:15-17) One of these children, the apostle Paul, could write: “The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”—Galatians 4:26.
Children of the Women
According to the Bible account, Ishmael persecuted Isaac. In like manner, during the first century C.E., the children of enslaved Jerusalem mocked and persecuted the children of the Jerusalem above. “Just as then the one born in the manner of flesh [Ishmael] began persecuting the one born in the manner of spirit [Isaac], so also now,” Paul explained. (Galatians 4:29) When Jesus Christ appeared on earth and began announcing the Kingdom, the Jewish religious leaders behaved just as Hagar’s son Ishmael had behaved toward Abraham’s true heir, Isaac. They mocked and persecuted Jesus Christ, evidently viewing themselves as Abraham’s legitimate heir and Jesus as the intruder.
Shortly before the rulers of natural Israel had him put to death, Jesus said: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you.”—Matthew 23:37, 38.
The inspired record of first-century events shows that the fleshly nation represented by Hagar did not of itself produce sons who would be joint heirs with Jesus. Jews who proudly believed that they had a right to such an inheritance by virtue of their birth were driven out, rejected by Jehovah. Of course, some individual natural Israelites did become joint heirs with Christ. However, that privilege was granted on the basis of their faith in Jesus rather than because of their fleshly descent.
The identity of a number of these joint heirs with Christ became apparent at Pentecost 33 C.E. As time went on, Jehovah anointed others as sons of the Jerusalem above.
Paul’s purpose in explaining this “symbolic drama” was to illustrate the superiority of the new covenant over the Law covenant mediated by Moses. No one could gain God’s favor by works of the Mosaic Law, for all humans are imperfect and the Law simply highlighted their slavery to sin. Yet, as Paul explained, Jesus came that “he might release by purchase those under law.” (Galatians 4:4, 5) Hence, faith in the value of Christ’s sacrifice led to freedom from the Law’s condemnation.—Galatians 5:1-6.
Value to Us
Why should we be interested in Paul’s inspired explanation of this drama? One reason is that it gives us insight into Scriptural meanings that would otherwise have remained obscure. The explanation strengthens our confidence in the unity and harmony of the Bible.—1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Moreover, the realities symbolized by this drama are essential to our future happiness. Were it not for the appearance of “sons” according to God’s promise, our only prospect would be slavery to sin and death. Under the loving supervision of Christ and his fellow heirs of God’s promise to Abraham, however, “all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Genesis 22:18) This will occur when they are forever freed from the effects of sin, imperfection, sorrow, and death. (Isaiah 25:8, 9) What a glorious time that will be!
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The Law covenant was inaugurated at Mount Sinai
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
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What is the significance of the “symbolic drama” mentioned by the apostle Paul?