freedom (ˈfrēdəm) :
the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint; the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved; the power of will or self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity
Many things can make us feel oppressed. At times, we feel so restrained that it can appear as if any level of freedom is impossible. Freedom can manifest as either physical or non-physical freedom. An obvious example of lacking physical freedom is being jailed or in prison. A societal stigma, such as not having children or a station in life, may be perceived as lacking a non-physical freedom. Regardless of which kind of freedom we feel has been lost, we can feel powerless or as if we have nowhere to turn as a result. Some may describe it as feeling like there is a straitjacket preventing us from embracing the independence and freedom we desire. When we get like this, we as human beings want to take control. We want to intercede on our own behalf, forgetting that God is in control.
However, Galatians 5:13 states:
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. NLT
In Scripture, God provides many clear illustrations of how we can stumble in our freedom by taking on His role versus ours, and therefore sin in our independence and self-determination.
Let’s take a look at two women in Scripture who represent God’s two covenants with man – the old covenant based on the Law and the new covenant based on grace. Maybe we can get a better handle on this freedom we speak of through the lens of this story’s narrative. Today, we’re going to talk about Sarah and Hagar.
Sarah, originally known as Sarai, was the wife of Abraham, originally known as Abram. Because of Abraham’s faith in God, the Lord would birth the nation of Israel through their union, but not before the freedom of both Sarah and Hagar, Sarah’s slave, had been trampled upon.
When you dive deep into Sarah’s life, you cannot miss the fact that she, who was not a slave, was deeply enslaved by societal standards.
At age 75, Abraham took his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth from Haran to Canaan at the Lord’s command. The Lord’s promise to Abraham was that He would give the land to his many descendants (Genesis 12:1-6). Side note – Sarah was barren.
Later, during a severe famine in Canaan, Abraham was forced to go to Egypt. In fear, he had Sarah, who apparently was quite beautiful, pretend to be his sister so that if she was desired by someone there, he would not be killed for it. Indeed, when they arrived everyone noticed her beauty and as was common in the day, when word reached the Pharaoh, he took her and provided many gifts to Abraham because of Sarah. What just happened?
However, because Abraham allowed her to be taken as Pharaoh’s wife, the Lord brought terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household. Once Pharaoh realized Sarah wasn’t Abraham’s sister but his wife, they were graciously escorted out of Egypt with all their possessions (Genesis 12:10-20). To add to Sarah’s sorrow, this pattern of behavior repeated years later when Abraham came into the kingdom of Abimelech, but the Lord once again redeemed Sarah (Genesis 20). Childless and tossed around like a transaction, can you see Sarah’s chains?
In the midst of Sarah’s torn life was Hagar, her Egyptian servant. Hagar, a true slave, was caught between the pages of Abraham and Sarah’s life. Years after the Lord’s original promise to Abraham, Sarah who was still barren decided it was a good idea to give her servant, Hagar, to her husband as a wife in the hopes that through her she would have children. And Hagar? Choiceless in the matter.
Abraham takes Hagar and has sex with her at his wife’s bidding. But as in most cases, when we attempt to solve our own problems without consulting God, the situation only intensifies. Once Hagar knew she was pregnant, she became hostile and disrespectful to Sarah. Sarah, consumed by emotions, first blames her husband for her servant’s behavior. Abraham, not taking responsibility for his wife’s freely given gift, attempts to smooth over things with her by giving her free reign over Hagar. An angry, bitter Sarah was told to do what she saw fit. And she did. Sarah was so cruel that Hagar ran away.
But the angel of the Lord found Hagar along the road to Shur and told her to return to her mistress and submit to her authority. Broken, distressed Hagar is promised that she would be given more descendants than she could count. Overjoyed by the fact that God saw her, Hagar for the first time in her life is free (Genesis 16:1-13).
Yet, God’s plan was untouched by any of these events. At age 99, Abraham was told his 90-year-old wife, Sarah, would give him a son the following year. And at last, Sarah is freed, birthing her own son in old age. A new, everlasting covenant was formed at the birth of Isaac. Sarah would go on to be proclaimed the mother of many nations, with kings among her many descendants (Genesis 17:15-21).
And Hagar, due to Sarah’s continued resentment toward her, would eventually be sent away with her son, Ishmael. On that day, however, Hagar would walk away a free woman forever!
The Scripture says that Abraham has two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. Galatians 4:22-23 NLT
Two women, enslaved in different ways by a society that devalued them based solely on gender, still possessed a level of self-determination and independence. In their struggle to gain their own personal freedom, they show us two different approaches we as humans take.
I can only imagine Sarah’s initial emotional distress as she was unable to have children, and then sense the growth of her desperation to give Abraham descendants. I am wrecked at her loss of freedom in having to become Pharaoh’s wife and then suffer a near similar fate with King Abimelech. Hopeless in her physical condition and desiring the admiration of her husband, she turns to a surrogate, but it leaves her feeling even more rejected.
And Hagar, having no freedom, not even in possession of her own body, grabs for any sense of status she can find. She knew even pregnant she was a slave, but now she had the one thing Sarah didn’t have at the time – Abraham’s son. Imagine the sense of freedom she must have felt in spite of her position as a slave. Her behavior would soon show it. The lack of restraint that she showed towards Sarah once she was pregnant must have been liberating for her, even if it was fleeting.
Both their stories could have ended horribly, but GOD! In their misery, He redeemed them, freed them, and elevated them both far above the common chattel they were. They are both illustrations of God’s mercy and grace! He fulfilled His promise to make them both mothers of many descendants, including princes and kings, but He did not waiver from His ultimate plan.
These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. The first woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai where people received the law that enslaved them. And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery to the law. But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother. Galatians 4:24-26 NLT
Despite our limited perspective and actions, our limitless God will continue to work everything out in this world to accomplish His will and His promises for our good. May we find freedom in that!
Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we come to you humbly, seeking freedom from all anxiety. We thank you that you give us the unrestrained freedom to follow Your Will and Purpose for our lives. We ask that you give us the power to go out boldly in Your Name and that You temper our independence and determination so that we can run the race You have place before us for Your glory. Remove the emotional hindrances and restraints that prevent us from freely serving You Precious Lord. Allow us to accept Your freely given Grace. We release the chains holding us back from true spiritual freedom. We bind the enemy’s stronghold on our emotional and physical freedoms both on Earth and in Heaven. In the Precious Name of Jesus we pray, AMEN.
Written by Melony Henderson
Please note all scripture was taken from the NLT – New Living Translation
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.