The Pastoral Epistles

This has had a spate of recent excellent commentaries.

I should definitely mention the best book on the difficult passage of 2:8-15 entitled Women in the Church, edited by Kostenberger and Schreiner. It is now in the second edition. It is a stout defense of the complementarian position on the passage.

First-rate: Johnson (1&2 Timothy), Quinn/Wacker (1&2 Timothy), Knight, Marshall, Mounce, Quinn (Titus), Liefeld, Fairbairn, Taylor (Puritan on Titus), Towner

Second-rate: Liddon (1 Timothy), Kelly, Oden, Dunn, Dibelius/Conzelmann, Fee, Guthrie, Lea/Griffin, Stott, Hughes

Third-rate: Lock, Collins

Forthcoming: Beale (ZEC), Porter (BECNT), Koestenberger (EBC), Malherbe (Herm), Yarbrough (PNTC)

Conservative: Knight, Mounce, Fairbairn, Taylor, Liddon, Fee, Guthrie, Lea/Griffin, Stott, Hughes

Moderate: Johnson, Marshall, Quinn, Liefeld, Towner, Kelly, Oden, Dunn, Lock

Liberal: Quinn/Wacker, Dibelius/Conzelmann, Collins

Of the forthcoming, Beale, Porter, Koestenberger and Yarbrough will all be conservative, even on 2:8-15. Malherbe will be liberal. Towner just came out (in NICNT). I understand he takes an egalitarian position on 2:8-15, but it is a massive commentary that cannot be ignored.

Whose Son Are You?

Genesis 21:8-21
In our family right now, we are experiencing displacement. What I mean is that Ila occasionally thinks that she is being replaced by James. What is her reaction to this? She will hit James, or do anything to steal away the attention from her brother. She doesn’t care if we spank her. She just wants attention of any kind. Of course, she loves her brother really. But sharing the limelight is hard for her, having been used to having it all for herself. What we must answer is this question: does the thought of Jesus fill you with joy or with scorn? Whose son are you, the son of the slave woman, or the son of the free woman? These two questions are actually the same question. Who you are will control how you react to Jesus.

We have a similar situation to our family’s situation right here in Genesis. Isaac had just been weaned. This is not a small detail. Infant mortality was high in those days. That is why, when it appears that Isaac will live, Abraham gives a great feast. Until Isaac was weaned, it was not certain in Hagar’s and Ishmael’s minds just who would inherit Abraham’s estate. In those days, the son of a slave woman, as long as he was a legitimate son, could inherit his father’s estate. That is, after all, the whole reason why Sarah asked Abraham to marry Hagar in the first place. They wanted a son, and they didn’t really believe that it would be a complete gift from God without their “help.” But as we see in the first 7 verses of this chapter, God fulfills His promises. He promised that Abraham and Sarah would have a son, and now they do. This is the real turning point for Sarah. No longer does she doubt God’s promises. Now she believes God. That means that everything that could get in the way of Isaac will be seen as a threat. In verse 9, Sarah sees a threat. She sees Ishmael mocking Isaac. There is a word-play here, for the word describing this mocking is the same word as Isaac’s name. You could say that Ishmael was “Isaacing.” Sarah therefore saw two things wrong with this picture. The first was that her son was being mocked. No parent likes to see their child being made the object of mocking, and Sarah is no exception. The second thing wrong was that Ishmael was trying to supplant the true child of the promise. He was “laughing,” the very thing that Isaac was supposed to cause in other people. But this was a different kind of laughter. You can laugh at someone with cruel intent, or you can laugh at someone in a jolly way. Obviously, Ishmael’s laughter was a mocking, cruel laughter. This is true of us as well. We can one of two reactions to Jesus Christ. We can either mock him, as those who crucified Him did, or we can laugh in the way that Sarah laughed, the laugh of joy that God has fulfilled His promises of salvation. Furthermore, our reaction to Jesus Christ will be very similar to the way in which we react to people around us. Do we see them as a threat to us? Do we see them trying to take what should lawfully be ours? Or do we see them as needy people with whom we should share what we have? What kind of laughter will we have? Whose son are we?

Those two things that Sarah saw (Ishmael’s mocking, and his trying usurp Isaac’s place) cause her to say to Abraham, “Cast them out!” It is important to notice that the word used here for “cast out” is also the word normally used for divorce. She is asking Abraham to divorce Hagar, and send them away. What would this accomplish? Well, in ancient times, if you granted a legitimate slave son his freedom, then he would have to renounce all rights to the property. That was the price of freedom. Sarah is asking Abraham to ensure that Isaac is the only one who will inherit the estate. Notice that Sarah is not free from anger and animosity towards Hagar. Sarah calls Hagar “this slave woman,” plainly indicating what she thinks of her.

This does not rub Abraham the right way. It says that he was very displeased. In fact, Abraham blew up. He was royally ticked off. He was angry with Sarah for even suggesting a divorce with Hagar, and the expulsion of Ishmael.

Up until now, we have expected that God would side with Abraham. However, here it is plain that Sarah acted under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, for God takes her side in this, amazingly enough. We have to remember that it was Sarah and Abraham who got themselves into this mess, and now it is God who is going to get them out of it. But it is Sarah and Abraham who sinned in not trusting God to fulfill His promises, when they sought for an Egyptian solution to their childlessness (Hagar was Egyptian).

And then God tells Abraham to do what to him must have sounded unthinkable. God reassures Abraham that the promise also includes Ishmael in some ways. That is the basis for God telling Abraham to listen to the voice of his wife.

So Abraham listens to the voice of his wife, and sends Hagar and Ishmael away. Hagar presumably is intending to go gack to Egypt. However, verse 14 tells us that she was wandering. She probably got lost trying to find her way back. Abraham didn’t give her very much food and water, assuming that she would probably try to go to Egypt, which was not a long trip.

What follows is a perfect description of what happens when God gives common grace to humanity. Nothing of what happens here can be said to be related to salvation. Hagar and Ishmael are not give the promises that Isaac receives. There is no promise of the land of Israel given to them, nor is there a promise of their being a blessing to all the nations. All the blessings that God gives to Hagar and Ishmael are physical blessings. They are Egyptian, and as such they are the forerunners of the later Egyptians. Just as Hagar and Ishmael both looked down on the Israelites, so also will the Egyptians look down on the Israelites and oppress them with many hundreds of years of work without relief. All the same, these physical blessings were something for which they could be thankful. Furthermore, they look like the spiritual blessings that would come later in the time of Jesus Christ. You will remember the woman at the well. God gives to us the Living Water, with which we will never go thirsty spiritually.

God has provided us with the fulfillment of promise in the person of His Son, Christ Jesus. If that is true, then we must remove anything in our lives that poses threat to God’s work of blessing. It is not enough to say “yes” to God’s promises, and then stay put, “letting go and letting God.” We must actively pursue getting rid of all sin in our lives. It is what Paul says, “Let us throw off everything that entangles us, and run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Do we continually throw off sin in our lives? Sin makes a mockery of holiness, just as Ishmael mocked Isaac. Do we secretly loath holiness, and wish that we could be saved, and yet still sin and have a good old time? Paul has an answer to this, “Shall we sin such that grace will abound? God forbid!” It is impossible.
However, getting rid of sin in our lives must not be made into a legalism. We are saved first, such that then we get rid of sin. And we don’t get rid of sin in order to earn God’s favor. We get rid of sin because we already have God’s favor. Paul says it best in Galatians 4, the best commentary on our passage in Genesis: “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.’ Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”

Whose son are you? Are you the one trying to earn God’s favor by going to church, tithing your mint and cumin, praying so that all will hear your many words, keeping yourself pure by not helping those people who seem to be untouchable? Or are you the son of the free woman? Are the son who believes in the promises of his Father God in sending a Savior to take us to the promised land of freedom from our sin? That is our choice. Choose now.