The Old Testament in Galatians

 Article by Phil Scranton


The book of Galatians shows the apostle Paul’s strong dependence on the OT Scriptures, not just for wisdom and historical facts, but also for typical representations embedded in the Hebrew narratives.  As we explore the relationships between different passages it will also accent our appreciation for the inspiration of the Scriptures.  We will not look at all the OT quotations in Galatians, but we will look at a correspondence of other things such as ideas associated with places like Damascus.  We will see a practical application of Paul’s basis for associating slavery with the law, and hope to better grasp his rejoicing in the freedom of grace.  And we will also see the basis of his use of Sarah and Hagar as representatives of different covenants.  This last is a theme of the Scriptures that carries through even to the days of David.  This carrying over of the covenant theme through history required a change in representative features.  Originally the promise covenant required the birth of children by Sarah and Rebekah.  The symbolic role of these women would be transferred to the ark of the covenant as the nation grew and the covenant could no longer be represented by a single person.

               One of the miraculous things about the inspiration of the Scriptures is that events are often recorded in such a way that they foreshadow other things.  This does not require any misrepresentation of the actual events, but it simply depends on recording the appropriate details of an event so that it can represent more than just historical facts.  We live in a day when criticism of the sacred texts has been so extensive that many fail to see the true glory of God’s book.  We hope to awaken a fresh confidence in Him and in His communication with humanity.


The Damascus Connection


               There are some very interesting correlations between Genesis 15 and the opening chapters of Galatians.  What we want to point out is the similarity in the flow of topics addressed.  The most curious of these is probably the mention of Damascus.  In Genesis 15:2 Abraham asked Yahweh about His promise of descendants, noting that his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, would be the heir to his possessions if he failed to beget a child.  The mention of Damascus here seems a chance detail, while in Galatians (1:17) where Paul mentions it, it was the place of a significant event.  This correlation is strengthened because in chapter 14 Abraham had just travelled near to Damascus to rescue Lot (Gen. 14:15), so both Abraham and Paul journeyed toward Damascus.

               It was on the road to Damascus that Paul met the Lord, was struck blind, and then fasted and prayed in Damascus for three days.  Then he received his healing and his call to carry the evangel to all nations—not just the Jews.  In Genesis 15:2 Abraham’s complaint to God was that the only heir he had to all his possessions, and the only heir he had to carry on in God’s plan and purpose, was a foreigner.  He was not a natural son of Abraham and was not from Abraham’s homeland.  We might well ask the question, “Who was more perplexed with the possible involvement of other peoples in God’s plan…Paul or Abraham?”

               But the mention of Damascus is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg here in the parallels between these passages.  At the end of Genesis 14, between the two mentions of Damascus, Abraham met Melchizedek, whom we are told was a type of Christ (Heb. 5:5-10; 7:1-3).  Paul, on the road to Damascus, met Christ Himself.  Not only did Abraham meet Melchizedek, but Melchizedek brought bread and wine—the symbols of Christ’s cross—a cross that was a stumbling block to Paul and many Jews.

               Genesis 15 begins by telling us that Abraham had a vision in which he conversed with God.  Paul was struck blind on the road by his vision of Christ, and in Damascus he had a vision of Ananias coming and healing him.  In the vision of Abraham, Yahweh said to him, “I am your Shield, your exceedingly increased Reward.”  Abram had already seen God as his shield in his victory in chapter 14 over the raiding kings who captured Lot, and also in Egypt when Sarai was taken by Pharaoh.

               Yahweh’s final words in Genesis 15:1 seem very suggestive of a change—God was Abraham’s greatly increased Reward.  How was it that this Reward had increased?  Abraham responded to Yahweh that He had given him no seed.  Yahweh assured Abraham that he would indeed have seed that came from his own internal parts that would be his heir.  Then Yahweh brought Abraham outside, told him to count the stars if he could, and promised him his seed would become as the stars in number.

               Numerous commentators have suggested the idea that this refers to Abraham’s seed from among the nations, and Paul says as much in Galatians 3 when he tells us those who are Christ’s are Abraham’s seed.  And according to the evangel committed to Paul, Abraham’s seed from all nations has a celestial allotment in the kingdom, making the star seed especially appropriate to describe them.  This promise is greater than the initial promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.

               But the correspondences between Genesis 15 and the early chapters of Galatians have not been exhausted.  Immediately after Yahweh promised Abraham that his seed would be as the stars in number, we are told that Abraham believed Him and God counted it to him for righteousness—justification by faith.  Beginning in Galatians 2:15, after mentioning Damascus and the evangel going to the nations, Paul gives us one of the great passages on justification by faith. 

               Then, in Galatians 4, Paul goes on to tell how Israel under law is represented by Ishmael and Hagar being expelled from Abraham’s house.  The casting out of Hagar and Ishmael parallels the casting out of Israel and the covenant of law.  And the casting off of Israel accompanies the revelation of justification by faith.  The freedom of justification and grace comes with the changes that cancel the administration of law.

               After justification by faith (Gen. 15:6), Abram’s vision takes up the subject of his seed coming into possession of the land.  After the preparation of the covenantal sacrifice, Yahweh told Abraham that his seed would be captive and ill-treated in a foreign land before they came into the land He promised to give them.  Afterwards they would come out enriched and return to the land.  We see this happening in the Egyptian slavery and exodus, but we also hear the prophets speak of another, greater exodus.  Paul as well speaks of a future regathering and salvation of Israel.


Genesis 14, 15: Abram

Galatians 1-4: Paul

Rescued Lot and others near Damascus 14:15

Going to Damascus to persecute believers

Met Melchizedek

Met Christ

Melchizedek had bread and wine

Christ was crucified and risen

Abraham had a vision

Paul had a vision

Yahweh, Abraham’s exceedingly increased Reward—his seed as the stars of heaven

Paul: an evangel with an increased scope.  Israel’s casting away is the conciliation of the world (Rom. 11:15)

Abaham’s seed as the stars

Paul’s evangel with a heavenly administration (Eph. 1)

Justification by faith (15:6)

Justification by the faith of Christ (2:15, 16)

Abraham’s seed to be captives and slaves in a foreign land (Gen. 15:13, 14)

Israel cast off nationally—Hagar and Ishmael cast out (Gal. 4; see also Rom. 9-11)

Future deliverance for Abraham’s seed and the land to be given to his seed.

Future restoration of Israel, and future glory for believers



The Hagar/Moses Connection: Law


               In Galatians 4 Paul tells us that Sarah and Hagar are representative of two covenants.  Some aspects of this are not too far to seek, but Paul goes so far as to say that what was written in the Scriptures was allegorizing, meant to teach us something.  How should we understand this, and is there more to it than what we see in Galatians 4? 


               “Tell me, you who want to be under law, are you not hearing the law?  For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, one out of the maid and one out of the free woman.  But the one, indeed, out of the maid is begotten according to flesh, yet the one out of the free woman through promise: which is allegorizing, for these women are two covenants; one, indeed, from mount Sinai, generating into slavery, which is Hagar.  Yet Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; it is in line with the Jerusalem which now is, for she is in slavery with her children.  Yet the Jerusalem above is free, who is mother of us all.  For it is written:

               ‘Be glad barren one, who art not bringing forth!

               Burst forth and implore, thou who are not travailing!

               For many are the children of the desolate,

               Rather than of her who has the husband.’

               “Now you, brethren, as Isaac, are children of promise.  But even as then, the one generated according to flesh persecuted the one according to spirit, thus also it is now.  But what is the scripture saying?  Cast out the maid and her son, for by no means shall the son of the maid be enjoying the allotment with the son of the free woman.  Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of the maid, but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:21-31 CV).


               Hagar was a slave.  She belonged to Sarah and was obligated to do what Sarah told her to do.  So when Sarah told her to be a surrogate mother for her she complied.  Probably Hagar thought there would be benefits in this for herself, because she would be the mother of the child of a wealthy and influential man.  Israel’s relationship to God since the covenant at Sinai was similar to this.  Israel belonged to Yahweh, and they were obligated to live for him and keep His covenant and live according to His laws.  So the Israelites, whose capital was Jerusalem, were these people under the law, and, in a very real since, they were Yahweh’s slaves.  Ishmael never rose above Hagar’s station in Abraham’s household.

               While Hagar’s pregnancy with Ishmael was by natural means, Sarah’s pregnancy was not.  Sarah had always been barren, and gave birth to Isaac when she and Abraham were very old.  This birth required an invigorating gift of life from God to Abraham and Sarah.  So the life and lineage of Isaac was a gracious gift, and shows a relationship to God based on grace.  Grace does not require obedience like law does.  Paul bases this grace in the celestial Jerusalem since it is the result of Christ’s ascension to and authority in heaven.  And as Hagar did not remain in Abraham’s house, so the Jewish nation was cast off and driven from possession of the land, while those of faith came to have a heavenly calling, as Paul explains in his evangel.  Isaac, like Christ, was sacrificed typically on Mt. Moriah, and through him the Israelites came into being.  Because of Christ’s sacrifice, life comes to all who believe.  The One who was a supernatural gift became the source of life and grace.

               This pretty well covers the details that Paul mentions and insinuates, but his familiarity with the Scriptures may have included the thoughts expressed in the following table.  We would note that Moses was inextricably connected with the law.  The words in italics on both sides of the comparison represent the same Hebrew words.




“…Sarai…had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar” Gen. 16:1

Moses was born in slavery to the Egyptians, and was recognized as an Egyptian by Reuel’s daughters. 

The last two letters of Hagar’s name (gr) mean stranger, or, sojourner

Moses identified himself as a stranger (gr),  in the naming of his son Gershom

“…Hagar…she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai”  Gen. 16:8

“…Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh” Ex. 2:15  (b-r-ch m p-n-y)

Hagar stopped at a fountain/well of water in the wilderness.  Gen. 16:7, 14

Moses sat down at a well of water in Midian.  Ex. 2:15

Hagar encounters the angel of the LORD in the wilderness  Gen. 16:7

Moses encounters the angel of the LORD at the burning bush in the wilderness  Ex. 3:2

“…return to thy mistress”  Gen. 16:9  (sh-u-b)

“Go, return into Egypt”  Ex. 4:19

The angel of the LORD made concessions to get Hagar to move.1  Gen. 16:10-12

The LORD made concessions to get Moses to move.  Ex. 3:11—4:17

The angel of the LORD told Hagar He had heard her affliction.  Gen. 16:11  (o-n-y)

The LORD told Moses He had seen the affliction of Israel and had heard their cries.  Ex. 3:7

In 16:13 Hagar uses the word “here” in naming her theophany.  (h-l-m)

“Draw not “nigh here”; put off thy shoes…”  Ex. 3:5  These are the only two uses of this word in the Pentateuch.  (Under grace we draw near by the blood of Christ. Eph. 2:13)

Hagar returned to Sarai

Moses returned to Egypt to face Pharaoh

Hagar waiting for Ishmael, her coming seed, her coming son.

Galatians speaks much of the coming seed.  Moses was also a coming deliverer/seed.

Moses slays the Egyptian taskmaster—representative of Egyptian law: Christ came under law to reclaim those under law to give them the place of a son (Gal. 4:4-5)

Hagar gives birth to a son who will not get the place of a son in Abraham’s house.

Moses figuratively gives birth to a nation (Num. 11:12) that will enter a covenant of law which cannot make them sons of God.

Hagar bears her son Ishmael.

Sarah bears her firstborn/only son—Abraham’s son, his “only”  Gen. 22:2

God slays Pharaoh’s firstborn (Ex. 12:29-30) and frees His firstborn son, Israel.  Ex. 4:22

Hagar’s son and Sarah’s son cannot live together  Gen. 21:10

Pharaoh’s son and God’s son cannot live together.  Believer’s and unbelievers cannot share the same allotment.

Hagar thrust out of Sarah’s house and service.  Gen. 21:10-14  (g-r-sh)

Moses and Israel thrust out of Egypt.  Ex. 11:1; 12:31-36, 39  Israel as a nation cast away.

Hagar and Ishmael thirst in the desert, and God supplies water for them.  Gen. 21:15-21

Moses and Israel thirst in the desert, and God supplies water for them.  Ex. 15:25; 17:1-7

Hagar remains free from Sarah.

Moses and Israel remain free from Pharaoh and Egypt.  Believers freed from law (Gal. 5:1).

               1 Verses 9-11 all begin: “And the angel of the LORD said unto her…”  There is no response recorded from Hagar.  But the presence and repetition of this phrase shows that three separate comments were made by the angel.  The first two statements were not enough to make Hagar move.  But when she was told that her son would be as wild and free as the wild donkeys of the wilderness, and that he would stand face to face against every man, she decided that she had something worthy of enduring some hardship.  Perhaps these are not exactly concessions, but at least it was only after the concession of giving additional information that she was ready to return to Sarai.  Exodus 3:11-4:17 shows Moses’ reluctance to return to Egypt.


These common courses of events, the fleeing away and the theophanies, followed by a returning and a final thrusting out, along with all the other noted similarities, are too detailed to be coincidences.  The design of the records of these events in the Scriptures calls for their comparison and identification as being interrelated.


There is another threefold comparison to consider which reiterates that above.  In Genesis 15 the LORD God made a covenant with Abahram.  “And he said unto Abahram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years” (v. 13).  These are three conditions that must be met before Israel was freed from Egypt: (1) strangers, (2) servants, (3) afflicted.  In Exodus 1 we find that the Egyptians afflicted the Israelites and made them serve with rigor (vv. 11-14).  But apparently the Israelites were at home in Egypt, because there is no mention of them being strangers there.  It is not until Moses has a son, and names him Gershom, “for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land,” that the narrative of Exodus makes an abrupt shift which turns attention to the deliverance of Israel (Ex. 2:22-25).  The Hebrew word stranger, or, sojourner is made of the letters gr.  The g and r in Gershom provide the word stranger.  Moses fulfilled this aspect of the covenant in Genesis 15 for Israel.  He was alone enough to realize that his people were strangers in Egypt. 

In the story of Hagar, the same three words are prominent.  Hagar’s name is made of 3 letters, including the gr.  The first letter, which we have as H in English, makes her name mean the stranger.  The word afflict occurs in Genesis 16:6, 9 referring to Sarai’s treatment of Hagar.  (Most translations do not render these texts with the word afflict, but the same Hebrew word is used.)  And in chapter 21, the feminine word is used which corresponds to the masculine for serve.  Clearly there are many aspects regarding Hagar that are recorded in the scriptures in such a way as to give a representation of Moses, Israel, and the bondage of law.  It appears that Paul was not simply clairvoyant, but he was interpreting the scriptures from a deep familiarity and understanding of them, coupled with divine guidance.


The Wife/Sister Connection: Promise/Covenant Protection


               “Yahweh said to Abram: God by yourself from your land, from your kindred and from your father’s house to the land that I shall show you.

               “I shall make you into a great nation,

               And I shall bless you;

               I shall indeed make your name great,

               And you will indeed be a blessing;

               I shall indeed bless those blessing you,

               And I shall curse the one maledicting you.

               In you all the families of the ground will be blessed.

So Abram went just as Yahweh had told him; and Lot went with him” (Gen. 12:1-4).


               These verses show a promise that God made to Abraham.  It did take some time for Abraham to become separated from Lot and actually be alone, but he did God’s bidding.  And God placed Himself under obligation to fulfill His promise to Abraham.  Obviously, since the promise involved Abraham having a family, Sarai played a key role in God’s plan and promise.

               In Galatians Paul tells us that Sarah and Hagar represent promise/covenants that God made, not only with Abraham, but also Israel, and especially Christ.  There are three instances in Genesis where wives, Sarah and Rebekah, are presented as the sisters of their spouses.  These narratives form a similar and progressive set that reveals Sarah’s and Rebekah’s position as representative of the covenant relationship of Israel to God.  The content of these passages will be presented in comparisons similar to that of Hagar and Moses.  The relationship of Abraham to Hagar was simply that of servanthood, or ownership.  The relationship of Abraham to Sarah was twofold: relative and spouse.  There was the familial relationship and the covenant of marriage relationship.  Rebekah was a cousin to Isaac, as well as being his wife.  This double relationship is more like that of God to believers.  He is related to us through creation and also through the covenant in Christ’s blood.  God is Israel’s Creator as well as Husband (see Isa. 43:1-7; 54:5). 

The protection of Sarah and Rebekah is a typical representation of God’s protection of His people, and also of the fact that He will not allow His covenant to be violated.  Some commentators today suggest that Sarah was violated during her tenure in Pharaoh’s and/or Abimelech’s house.  We disagree with that conclusion.  While the Genesis account is silent on the point, Psalm 105:9-15 is more emphatic.  The fact remains that the promised seed came and was the son of Abraham and Sarah, and the sons of Isaac and Rebekah, and on down to Christ.  As we see God’s protection and maintenance of His covenant with Israel among the Egyptians and Philistines, we see that the purpose of the sister/wife episodes was to represent God’s faithfulness to Israel because of His promises and covenants.


Abraham and Sarai in Egypt

Israel in Egypt

“there was a famine in the land”  Gen. 12:10

“for the famine was also in the land of Canaan”  Gen. 42:5 

“for the famine was heavy in the land”  Gen. 12:10 CV

“the famine, it was heavy in the land”  Gen. 43:1

“Abraham went down to Egypt to sojourn there”  Gen. 12:10

Joseph’s brothers: “we have come to sojourn in this land”  Gen. 47:4

Sarai was a fair woman; “the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair  Gen. 12:11, 14  (y-ph-h) 1

“now Joseph was well-favored in shape as well as well-favored to the sight”  Gen. 39:6 CV

Abraham to Sarai: “Then they will kill me, but keep you alive”  Gen. 12:12 CV

King of Egypt to Hebrew midwives: “if it is a son then you will put him to death, and if it is a daughter then she will live”  Ex. 1:16 CV

“the princes of Pharaoh…commended her before Pharaoh”  Gen. 12:15

The chief butler commended Joseph to Pharaoh to interpret his dreams.

“…and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house  Gen. 12:15

Joseph was taken into Pharaoh’s house to rule Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.  Gen. 41:37-44

Pharaoh treated Abraham well for Sarai’s sake.  Gen. 12:16

Pharaoh treated Jacob’s family well for Joseph’s sake.  Gen. 47:1-6, 11

Abraham’s wealth and property increased.  Gen. 12:16

Israel increased abundantly in Egypt.  Ex. 1:7

“…and the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife”  Gen. 12:17

“…LORD said…Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh…afterwards he will let you go”  Ex. 11:1

Pharaoh commanded his men to escort Abraham and Sarai away  Gen. 12:20

Egyptians pushing and urging Israel to go  Ex. 10:28, 29; 12:30-33

Abraham left with Sarai and all his possessions  Gen. 12:20; 13:1

Israel left, enriched, not leaving any of their possessions as Pharaoh had tried to compromise  Ex. 12:31-36

Abraham left wealthy

Israel despoiled the Egyptians  Ex. 12:35-36

“Abraham was heavily stocked with cattle, with silver and gold.  So he went his way by stages from the Negeb as far as Bethel”  Gen. 13:2, 3 (CV)  “And he went, following his moving platoons” Gen. 13:3 DT

It took Israel 3 months to travel to Mt. Sinai.  Ex. 19:1, 2 

“the sons of Israel…their moving platoons  Ex. 17:1 DT

“…to the place where his tent had been at the start, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar he had formerly made there  Gen. 13:3, 4 CV

“…when you bring the people forth from Egypt you shall serve the One, Elohim, on this mountain”  Ex. 3:12 CV  (came back to same place)

“…and there Abram called on the Name of Yahweh”  Gen. 13:4 CV

At Sinai Israel entered covenant relationship with Yahweh.  Ex. 19

               1 The adjective here for beautiful, fair, or, well-favored is used twice of Sarah, Rebekah, Joseph, David and Abishag; singly for others; and the noun and adjective are both used once for Esther.  The adjective is also used of Jerusalem (Ps. 48:2).  The noun (y-ph-y, instead of y-ph-h) is used of Jerusalem in Psalm 50:2 and 3 times in Ezekiel 16:14, 15, 25.  Ezekiel 16 gives the prophetic history of Jerusalem as a maiden in covenant relationship with God.  Jerusalem passes through steps similar to Sarah.  She had renowned beauty in covenant relation to God; she is taken captive for her sins; and she will be restored in pristine glory.


               By the many parallels between Abraham’s and Sarai’s sojourn in Egypt and Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, it is clear that the Scriptures mean for the two to be compared and recognized as having a similar purpose.  We cannot say that since both Hagar and Sarai have been compared to the same exodus, there is no difference between them.  If the comparisons are laid side by side, a number of differences are evident.  Hagar is extensively compared to Moses, the lawgiver.  Sarai is compared extensively to Joseph, the beloved son and savior of the world.  Other distinctions also show Sarai in the position of the favored covenant people, and the parallel closes in communication with Yahweh, in covenant relationship.


The Second Wife/Sister Connection


               The second wife/sister scene was with the Philistines at Gerar.  It has many of the same features as the scene in Egypt, and resembles the exodus from Egypt in many ways.  Yet we will compare it with the capture of the ark by the Philistines, another scene with similarities to the exodus.  These scenes also have their own unique points in common that make their comparison more suitable than comparing with the exodus again.  In Abraham’s and Isaac’s days, their wives were the vessel from which the promised seed would come.  Now the wives are compared to the ark of the covenant, since the time would soon pass when a single individual could represent the covenant.  The ark represented God’s covenant and presence with the people.

               The ark is named with a variety of descriptions which suit their contexts and lend themselves to special emphases.  The original description of the ark is found in Exodus 25:10-22.  It says there that the tablets of stone on which God wrote the ten commandments, the testimony, were to be placed inside it.  When that law is in view, the ark is called the ark of the testimony.  Occasionally it is simply called the ark, but far more often the ark of God, or, the ark of the LORD, or, the ark of the testimony, or, the ark of the covenant.  In 1 Samuel 4, the first 4 references to the ark are in relation to the covenant.  They are: the ark of the covenant of the LORD (twice, vv. 3, 5), the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who dwelleth between the cherubim (v. 4), and, the ark of the covenant of God (v. 4).  The next 45 or 50 references to the ark do not include mention of the covenant. 

               While it was in the land of the Philistines, it was frequently designated the ark of the God of Israel.  Interestingly, the narration refers to it as the ark of the LORD the two times that Dagon was prostrated before it, emphasizing the superiority of Yahweh over Dagon.  And later, when the Philistines were trying to get rid of it, they referred to it as the ark of the LORD (1 Sam. 6:2).  Perhaps this suggests a degree of acknowledgment and realization of the superiority of the God Who was plaguing them.  The point we wish to emphasize here is Israel emphatically calls it the ark of the covenant before the battle, but the issue of the battle and the context following make it evident that Israel had violated the covenant.

               During the time that the ark is not referred to as the ark of the covenant, it is not housed in the tabernacle.  It was removed from the tabernacle at Shiloh to bring victory to Israel on the battlefield as in the days of conquest.  In the book of Joshua, when Israel was winning many great victories, the ark was referred to repeatedly as the ark of the covenant, and it frequently accompanied them into battle.  Apparently, knowledge of this fact caused the elders of Israel to secure it from Shiloh (1 Sam. 4:3).  But the ark was not brought by the Levites as God had prescribed, and it was accompanied by the sons of Eli, whom God had cursed for their sins.  Israel had violated the covenant and lost the ark, and the ark brought severe casualties upon Israel as well as the Philistines.  It was not again called the ark of the covenant until David was restoring it properly, according to the law, and placing it in a tabernacle in Jerusalem.

               This passage, 1 Samuel 4-7, holds many parallels to the possession of Sarah by Abimelech, and should be understood to lay great stress on the thought of covenant relationship to God.  This is part of the background for the concept of Sarah and Hagar representing covenants.  Again, italicized words represent the same Hebrew word used in both elements of the comparison.

Abraham and Sarah among the Philistines

The ark of the covenant among the Philistines

Abraham journeyed toward the Negeb—south land—in the direction of Egypt, away from the land of promise1  Gen. 20:1

Israel had fallen away from God, the priesthood was corrupt, and there was idol worship in Israel.  1 Sam. 7:3

Abraham sojourned in Gerar, land of the Philistines  Gen. 20:1

Israel went out to fight the Philistines without consulting God2  1 Sam. 4:1

Abimelech, king of Gerar sent and took Sarah  Gen. 20:2

“…and the ark of God was taken” by the Philistines  1 Sam. 4:11

God spoke to Abimelech in a dream at night  Gen. 20:3

God visited Dagon and the Philistines by night, prostrating Dagon before the ark  1 Sam. 5:2, 3

God said to Abimelech: “Behold, thou art but a dead man”  Gen. 20:3

Dagon was dead, head and hands broken off.  1 Sam. 5:2,3;  “Send away the ark…that it slay us not…for there is a deadly destruction”  1 Sam. 5:11

Abimelech rose early in the morning and called his servants.  Gen. 20:8

Philistines rose early the next day; and early the following morning.  1 Sam. 5:3, 4

“therefore suffered I thee not to touch her”  Gen. 20:6

“…but if not, then we will know that it is not his [God’s] hand that smote [touched] us”  1 Sam. 6:9

“the men were sore afraid  Gen. 20:8  the word for men is not humans, nor men as opposed to women, but enosh; the mortals were afraid; same words used in 1 Samuel

“And the Philistines were afraid…and they said…Be strong and quit yourselves like men…quit yourselves like men and fight”  1 Sam. 4:7-9

“the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech”  Gen. 20:18  Though this plague appears to have affected only women, the same general area of the body was affected by both plagues.

God smote the cities of the Philistines with tumors, in their “hinder parts” (Ps. 78:66); many died.  An infestation of mice or rats accompanied the plague (1 Sam. 5:6-12), which some suppose to have been bubonic. 

The closing of the wombs was on all under Abimelech’s authority.  Gen. 20:17, 18

God’s hand was heavy against all the cities of the Philistines.  1 Sam. 6:4, 17, 18

“So Abraham prayed unto God; and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bore children.”  Gen. 20:17

“If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, send it not empty; but in any wise return him a trespass offering; then you shall be healed  1 Sam. 6:3

“And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them to Abraham, and restored him Sarah, his wife.”  Gen. 20:14

“And take the ark of the LORD, and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return him for a trespass offering, in a coffer by the side of it; and send it away, that it may go.”  1 Sam. 6:8

“And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee:  dwell where it pleaseth thee.”  Gen. 20:15

“So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the border of Israel…and the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel.”3  1 Sam. 7:13, 14


1  Even directions, such as south, or toward Egypt, are important features of the text that should be considered and not go unnoticed.  For example, Abimelech protested to God, “wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?”  This is so like Abraham’s question to God in 18:23: “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?”  And, after that, Abraham rose early the next morning (19:27), just as Abimelech did, to see the judgment passed upon Sodom and Gomorrah.  Similarities like these invite comparisons of the texts.

2  In 1 Samuel 4:1, the first sentence belongs to chapter 3.  “Now Israel went out…” begins a new section of the book that runs through chapter 7.  Israel did not go out to fight the Philistines under instruction to Samuel from God.  Samuel does not come on the scene again until chapter 7.  And there he tells them that if they want any help from God they must first repent.

3  There is a time gap (1 Samuel 7:2) between Israel’s reacquisition of the land and the return of the ark.  Still, these verses contain information that is presented as part of the section of the book from chapter 4 through 7.  This passage contains two battles—Aphek and Mizpeh—both with the Philistines.  Both battles are located by the Scriptures in the vicinity of Ebenezer, though that rock and place were not so named until after the second battle.  Both battles begin with a loud noise that strikes fear to the hearts of the Philistines.  There was wailing in the cities of the Israelites and wailing in the cities of the Philistines.  Dagon fell before the ark and suffered decapitation, and Eli, the corrupt priest, fell and broke his neck because the ark was taken.  Both Israel and the Philistines were smitten with plagues because of the ark, and Israel may have had more casualties than Philistia!  There are many details in the context that prove its unity, and it should be considered as such, even though considerable time elapsed before the second battle.


The Third Wife/Sister Connection


               In this section we will compare Isaac and Rebekah’s sojourn in Gerar with David’s proper moving of the ark to Jerusalem.  With Abraham, Sarah and Hagar represented two different covenants.  With Isaac, Rebekah represents a continuation of the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah.  An interesting difference in the wife/sister episode of Isaac and Rebekah is that Rebekah is never taken from Isaac.  This is in keeping with their typology.  They are a different generation of the covenant people than that which saw the casting away of the bondwoman—the nation under law.  Rebekah had come to Isaac as he represented One Who was ascended.  She travelled to the land with the servant to meet Isaac there.  This may represent Israel coming back to God through the work of the Spirit and through Christ in a future day.  The comparative episode in David’s day shows the proper restoration of covenantal devotion that had been broken by Israel, and had lain dormant many years.

               Another similarity between our primary texts is that the Genesis passage is prefixed by Jacob obtaining the birthright from Esau.  The second passage is prefixed by the house of David replacing the house of Saul on the throne.  Then David restores covenant relationship to God.

               If there is any doubt that David’s bringing of the ark to Jerusalem initiates a new beginning of covenant relationship, note the following.  “And David said…let us bring again the ark of our God to us; for we inquired not about it in the days of Saul” (1 Chron. 13:2, 3).  Then, in the account of David using the proper means to bring the ark into Jerusalem, the term ark of the covenant is used no less than seven times (1 Chron. 15:25—17:1).  The ark is mentioned in 1 Chronicles about 20 times before the account of its entrance into Jerusalem, but in none of those is it called the ark of the covenant.  In 1 Sam. 6:15, where the parallel passage is found, some manuscripts have the full phrase, ark of the covenant, but some do not.  But, historically, that is the time when the phrase comes back into use again.  The next occurrence of the term in Samuel is 2 Samuel 15:24.  There David is fleeing Jerusalem from Absalom.  He gives direction for the ark to be left in Jerusalem, with the hope that God will be pleased to bring him back to it.  This shows reliance by David upon God to fulfill His covenant with him.


               Genesis 26:1-16 relates the events of Isaac and Rebekah in Gerar.  Again, the journey to Gerar is precipitated by a famine, but the text makes it clear that it was a different famine from that in the days of Abraham.  Verses 2-5 relate an appearance of Yahweh to Isaac, the purpose of which was to make it thoroughly clear that Isaac is now the holder of the covenant promises in Abraham’s stead.  Like the passages in 2 Samuel 6:12-23 and 1 Chronicles 15:25-29; 16, there is special emphasis in the Genesis passage on the covenant.

               Contrary to the passages concerning Abraham and Sarah in Gerar and Egypt, God does not allow Rebekah to be taken by Abimelech.  In the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem, God does not allow anyone but the designated Levites to touch it.  He is fully capable of protecting His own covenant and seat.  The capture of the ark by the Philistines made that emphatically evident.

               From fear of being killed so they might take Rebekah, Isaac told the people Rebekah was his sister.  The royal personage, Abimelech, king of the Philistines, watching from the window saw (Gen. 26:8).  The royal personage, Michal, daughter of king Saul, watching from the window saw (2 Sam. 6:16; 1 Chron. 15:29).  All the same words are used in all three passages.  This is very significant repetition.

               Abimelech saw: sporting (KJV, ASV), caressing (New Scofield, NASB, NIV), laughing (ESV, Emphasized Bible), fondling (RSV), making love (TEV, LB), playing (Young’s Literal), dallying (Darby’s).  What we know of what Abimelech saw is this: (1) it was something that identified Isaac and Rebekah as husband and wife, rather than brother and sister.  Probably it was sexual in some way.  (2) it is the same word family as the name Isaac (ts-ch-q).  The verb varies considerably in its sense as it changes tenses and contexts.  Sarah laughed upon hearing she would bear a son.  Lot seemed as one who mocked to his sons-in-law.  Samson made sport before the Philistines, and when the children of Israel rose up to play at Sinai, it was to commit immorality.  The same word is used in all these instances.

               All Israel played before the Lord (2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chron. 13:8).  Michal saw David dancing and playing (1 Chron. 15:29), and David said to Michal, “therefore will I play before the LORD” (2 Sam. 6:21).  In these passages an alternate form for ts-ch-q is used: s-ch-q.  Both forms occur in Judges 16 in reference to Samson being made sport for the Philistines.  If the order of O. T. books in the English Bible is used, this is the first occurrence of s-ch-q.  Except for one occurrence in Ezekiel, all the uses of ts-ch-q are found in Genesis through Judges 16.  All occurrences of s-ch-q are to be found from Judges 16 onward through the O. T.  There is no significant difference in the meanings of the words, so we may take them as a variant of the same word.  This concordant use, then, of the same expression is another factor tying the passages in Genesis 26 with those in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles.

               In both cases the royal personage looking out the window accuses the person they saw of actions of a sexual nature.  Abimelech was very displeased, and accused Isaac of negligence that could have resulted in adultery and brought a curse on his people.  Michal was very displeased and jealous and accused David of acting indecently before the handmaidens of Israel (2 Sam. 6:20). 

               Isaac’s enrichment in Gerar was not through Abimelech, but from God (Gen. 26:12).  Because of David’s love for God, he was blessed again and again, but not through Michal, who kept idols, and never bore David any children.



Isaac and Rebekah among the Philistines

The Ark of the Covenant Restored to Jerusalem

Follows the account of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for food.  Esau called Edom-same letters as Adam who also sold his birthright for food

Follows the account of Saul losing the kingdom to David.  Saul repeatedly said, “I have sinned” (1S 15:24, 30; 26:21) as one guilty of breaking law.  David said, “I have sinned against Yahweh” (2S 12:13; 24:10, 17) but understood God’s mercy and grace (Ps. 51).

A famine came to be in the land, Isaac went to Gerar among Philistines, God told him to remain in the land and not go to Egypt.

Famines caused Abram to go to Egypt (Gen. 12:10), and the family of Jacob to go down to Egypt (Gen. 41:56-42:5; 43:1).

Rebekah was beautiful

Sarah was beautiful, and God’s covenant was beautiful

Isaac said Rebekah was his sister

Abram said Sarai was his sister

Isaac sojourned in Gerar of the Philistines

Abram sojourned in Gerar of the Philistines; David overcame the Philistines who had previously taken the ark of the covenant

Strong emphasis on covenant (26:3-5)

Strong emphasis on covenant with the ark

Abimelech looked through the window and saw Isaac caressing (?) Rebekah

Michal looked through the window and saw David playing/dancing (?) before the Lord

Abimelech was royalty, king of Gerar

Michal was royalty, daughter of Saul

Abimelech accuses Isaac of lying for doing something with sexual connotations with Rebekah

Michal accuses David of risqué behavior in front of the women of the kingdom

Abimelech never touches Rebekah; Abimelech orders that none of his people touch Isaac or Rebekah.


The word for “touch” is the point of comparison here.

God does not allow anyone but the priests to touch the ark of the covenant.  Previously Uzzah touched the ark to steady it and was struck dead.  The priests had to cover all the tabernacle furnishings before the sons of Kohath moved them so the Kohathites would not die (Num. 4:15).

Touch not mine anointed” (Ps. 105:15; God to the nations; David used it of Saul)

Isaac farmed the land and God caused it to produce abundantly, flocks and herds grew, Isaac became increasingly great (Gen. 26:12-14)


(Strong emphasis on both men becoming great)

God had chosen David over Saul and anyone in Michal’s family (2 Sam. 6:21), he would be glorified in the eyes of the people (6:22), God would establish his house and make him great (7:8-16)