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15 Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
Perhaps Paul's most enlightening reference to his affliction is what he says to the Galatians who, like the Corinthians, had once shown him great affection as the bearer of the Gospel of life to them, and then had despised him at the instigation of his enemies. In Galatians 4:13-15 he says --
"Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the Gospel unto you at the first: and my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected."
The word for "rejected" literally means to "spit out," and is used about things that are repulsive and disgusting.
This gives us more light on the nature of Paul's humiliating affliction. In their earlier thankful affection for him they had not despised him nor been repelled by the offensive-appearing nature of his infirmity. He continues (v. 15) --
"Where is then the blessedness ye spoke of?"
"For I bear you record that if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes and have given them to me."
It is principally this statement that has convinced many that Paul's "thorn" was an affliction of his sight by a disease which gave him repulsive appearance. This, as a counter-balance to his visions, is considered all the more fitting as a reminder, for it was his eyes that were affected by his first vision of Christ on the road to Damascus.
But it is not conclusive and it is better not to speculate. What he says concerning the Galatians giving him their very eyes, if possible, is not an unusual way of expressing extreme affection, and may have no direct reference to the nature of his affliction.
We do know it was a great burden, humiliation, and handicap. Beyond this we cannot go.
22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
Abraham had two sons; Ishmael the son of Hagar an Egyptian handmaid; and Isaac the son of Sarah. Ishmael was fourteen years old when Isaac was born. He was born in the ordinary course of things, and therefore said to be "born after the flesh;" while Isaac was born out of the usual course, Sarah being ninety and Abraham a hundred, she being also strengthened of God, according to the promise, and consequently said to be " born after the Spirit."
Hagar was a bondwoman, but Sarah was free: yet, had it been left to Abraham, he would have made Ishmael his heir as well as Isaac, for he loved them both. But Ishmael manifested an evil spirit towards Sarah and Isaac, which he imbibed from his mother. Moses says he mocked Isaac, or spoke contemptuously of him; which the apostle terms persecuting him, and characteristic of those of Ishmael's class.
Sarah's indignation was fired at this; "wherefore, she said to Abraham, cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac." Although Abraham was exceedingly grieved at this, God approved of Sarah's decision, and informed him that Christ should descend from Isaac, and not from Ishmael, saying, "In Isaac shall thy Seed be called:" nevertheless, because Ishmael was his son, He would make a nation of him also with twelve princes for its fathers.
This fragment of Abraham's history has a signification besides what appears on the face of it. The apostle informs us that the incidents are allegorical. That is, that the two women and their characteristics, represents two covenants; and the, two sons of Abraham by them, two seeds, or classes of persons. The covenants are, "the one from Mount Sinai in Arabia," and the other, the covenant confirmed of God 430 years before that of Sinai was promulgated; and which, being a matter of promise, the subject of which is Christ as the Inheritor of Canaan, and its future King in Jerusalem, now at the right hand of God, is said to be "Jerusalem which is above."
The apostle says that Jerusalem is the subject of both these covenants; but in different periods of her history. During her existence as the metropolis of the Hebrew commonwealth under its Sinaitic constitution, she was represented by Hagar the bondwoman; because the covenant from Sinai "gendered to bondage;" and in consequence the citizens of the commonwealth were in bondage with the mother city. They were "entangled with the yoke of bondage," "under the rudimerits of the world." They were bound to keep the whole law, by which they sought to be justified; and as they could not do it owing to the weakness of the flesh, they came under the curse.
But this state of things was only provisional. God did not intend the Hebrew commonwealth to exist perpetually under the Sinaitic constitution. Israel was not always to be in bondage to the law of Moses. A great revolution was predetermined of God which should result in the abolition of the Arabian covenant, and the dispersion of Israel among the nations. This is allegorically styled, "casting out the bondwoman and her son;" which was necessary for the good and all-sufficient reason, that the Sinaitic constitution was not adapted for the people and state when Christ should sit upon the throne of His father David, and the saints should possess the kingdom.
The law of Moses enjoined ordinances concerning the flesh, such as " the water of separation" (Numb. 19; Heb. 9:3), which would be quite incompatible with the realities of the age to come. Under the law there was "a remembrance again of sins every year" (Heb.10:3); but under the new constitution from heaven, "the sins and iniquities of the people will be remembered no more" (Jer 31:31-34).
The Sinaitic constitution was faulty; it was therefore necessary that it should give place to a better, which shall be established on better promises (Heb. 8:2,7). Hence, the bondwoman was to be cast out, to make room for a more perfect arrangement of the commonwealth.
Since the expulsion of Israel by the Romans, Jerusalem and her children are in the situation of Hagar and her son, while wandering in the wilderness of Beersheba. She is divorced from the Lord as Hagar was from Abraham, and "being desolate, she sits upon the ground" (Gen. 21:1), and bewails her widowhood (Isaiah 3:26).
But, there is to be "a restitution of all things." Jerusalem is to become a free woman as Sarah was; and to take her stand in the midst of the earth, as "the city whose architect and builder is God." She will then "remember the reproach of her widowhood no more. For her Maker will be her Husband; the Lord of Hosts is His name; and her Redeemer the Holy One of Israel (even Jesus) the God of the whole earth shall He be called.
She will then be the metropolis of the world, and her citizens, or children, will be more numerous than those she rejoiced in under the law, as a married wife. The period of her glory will have arrived; the twelve tribes be again the united, peaceful, and joyous, inhabitants of the land; the "greater than Solomon," their King; and His city, "the heavenly Jerusalem," which "is free, and the mother of us all."
But, while Hagar represents Jerusalem under the law, and Sarah under the new constitution of the Hebrew commonwealth, Ishmael represents Israel, glorying in their fleshly descent from Abraham, and boasting in the law; and Isaac those of Israel and the Gentiles who regard the flesh as profiting nothing, and who are the sons of Abraham believing the promises made to him and to his seed. Hence, Ishmael and Isaac represent two seeds, or classes of mankind, who shall not be heirs together of the promise. Indeed, their natures are so opposite, that it would be impossible for them to fulfil in concert the destiny marked out for those who are to inherit the promises.
The Ishmaelite-seed are wild-men, whose hands are against all who believe the truth. They are mockers; for as Ishmael mocked Isaac, so Israel mocked Jesus, and spoke reproachfully of Him and His brethren who are one. The kingdom to be established is a righteous dominion, and requires righteous men for its administration; as it is written, "He that ruleth over men must bejust, ruling in the fear of the Lord" (2 Sam. 23:3). It is impossible, therefore, that the Ishmaelite-seed can be heirs of the promise.
All the honour, glory, and power, of the state were in their hands under the Arabian covenant; and cruel and unjust was the use they made of their position. They put Jesus to death; and persecuted those to whom "He gave power to become the sons of God," believing on His name; and were "contrary to all men; forbidding the apostles to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved" (1 Thess. 2:15,16). They were then "first;" but power was destined to change hands, when they who were "the first shall be last."
They had killed the Heir that the inheritance might be theirs; but they have been destroyed, and the vineyard now remains to be bestowed upon others, who shall render its Lord the fruits in their seasons (Matt. 21:38, 41). Thus, as in the case of Ishmael and Isaac, "he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so," says the apostle, "it is now;" and we may add, ever will be, until the times of the restitution of the state when "the last shall be first," and beyond the reach of evil.
No one had the right, or the power, to appoint "the Heir of all things," but God. Abraham could not appoint Him, neither could He be self-appointed. Abraham wished that Ishmael might be the heir; or as he expressed it, "O that Ishmael might live before Thee." But God would not consent to this. He therefore promised to give him one for the heir, whom be should call Isaac; and of whom He said, I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him" (Gen. 17:19).
But Isaac was not only born of promise; he believed the promises likewise; for the Scripture saith, "by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come." Now, it is written, "in Isaac shall thy seed be called ;" that is, Christ shall descend frorn him, and all who believe thcpromises, and put on Christ, shall be considered as "in Isaac;" and, being thus "the children of the promise," shall be "counted for the seed" (Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 4:28), who shall inherit the land and the world for ever. "The seed," then, is a phrase that must be understood in a twofold sense; first as referring to Christ, and secondly, to all who are constitutionally in Him. Isaac is representative of both; for Christ was in his loins, and all "in Him," must be constitutionally in Isaac also.
For want of understanding the Scripture doctrine of the two seeds some very fatal mistakes have been made by many well meaning persons. They have gone so far as to deny that the seed of Abraham after the flesh will ever be restored to the land of Canaan; which is in effect to deny the fulfilment of a vast proportion of "the testimony of God." The seed of the serpent, and the seed of the woman, indicated before the flood, were afterwards distinguished in the seed of Ishmael, and the seed of Isaac." The children of the flesh are not the children of God: neither are they all Israel, who are of Israel." This is true; but it does not therefore follow that there is nothing more to be done with "the children of the flesh" than to burn them up.
To carry out the allegory, God has yet to make of the Ishmael-seed a great nation; for though Ishmael was an outcast and a wanderer in the wilderness, God promised that he should be great, and dwell in the presence of his brethren (Gen. 16:12; 17:20). The children of Abraham according tothe flesh are "the children of the kingdom," as well as the children of the promise; only these two classes of children stand in a different relation to the government and glory of the commonwealth, and to the dominion of the nations in the age to come. The Ishmael-children were cast out of the government by the Romans; but the children in Isaac will "shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father," when the kingdom is restored again to Israel (Acts 1:6).
"In the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory," the children in Isaac will reign as "sons" while the children of the flesh will be the King's subjects, or "servants." This distinction is apparent from the following testimony:
"Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes throughout all the earth" (Psalm 45:16); of whom it is said, "If the Prince give a gift unto any of His sons, the inheritance thereof shall be His sons'; it shall be their possesion by inheritance. But if He give a gift of His inheritance to one of His servants, then it shall be his to the year of liberty; and after it shall return to the Prince: but His inheritance shalt be His sons' for them" (Ezek. 46:16, 17). The sons of the Prince are joint heirs with Him; but the servants of the Prince are only lease-holders for a certain number of years.
If the natural Israel are not restored to Canaan, the spiritual Israel, that is to say, the Prince and His sons, would inherit a kingdom without subjects to serve them. This would be like Victoria and her family reigning in Windsor Castle over the realm of Britain after all its inhabitants had expatriated themselves to the United States. it requires more than a staff to make a regiment; so also it requires a multitude of people as well as princes, priests, and kings, to constitute a kingdom in Canaan, or in any other country.
Now, the children in Isaac become the children of the heavenly Jerusalem by believing "the exceeding great and precious promises" set forth in "the manifold wisdom of God." They hope to see Canaan and Jerusalem under the new covenant, which will constitute them both heavenly.
They are even now said to have "come to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, and to the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22); but it is as yet only in spirit, that is, by faith and hope: and as the city and land will be made heavenly by the Lord from heaven, their glorious attributes are in truth "above;" to believe, then, in what will be brought down to the city from above, is for the children of the promise in Isaac to stand related to "Jerusalem which is above, the mother of them all" (Gal.4:26).
Hence, the apostle exhorts them, saying, "If then ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead (to earthly things) and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then, shall ye also appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).
Elpis Israel 2.2.