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Hagar and Sarah
St. Paul considers that the two women of Abraham and his two sons prefigure the ancient and new covenant (Gal 4:21-31). He calls this an “allegory” considering that the Jerusalem of his time and the Mosaic Law is represented by the slavery suffered by Hagar (Sarah’s servant and Abraham’s second wife), who gave birth to Ishmael (Gen 16:1-2, 15). On the other hand, the Jerusalem “from above”, is represented by Sarah, who, barren for a long time, finally gave birth to Isaac at an advanced age by a promise and a divine intervention (Gen 18:1-10; 21:1-7). He argues that the birth of the numerous children of faith in Christ was realized by a similar promise and cites Isaiah: “Rejoice, barren one who did not bear, break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For more numerous are the children of the abandoned than the children of the married” (Isa 54:1; Gal 4:26-28).
So the abandoned has more children at first, about which the married and barren one is sad. But later, she suddenly becomes fertile and outnumbers the children of the abandoned. This prophecy of Isaiah shall be realized at a worldwide level: “For you [the married] will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities” (Isa 54:3). The thought of St. Paul is that Israel only prefigures the spiritual reality that has come with Christ. This is why Israel was enslaved by the Mosaic Law similar to the servant Hagar. The true descendants of Abraham are those born by faith in Christ, who is the first descendant according to God’s promise, according to which Abraham will have a great posterity coming out of Canaan (Gen 12:7; 13:14-16; 15:18; 17:1-22). Explaining this to the Galatians, St. Paul tries to dissuade them from submitting themselves under the Jewish Law (Gal 3-4).
What is more interesting for us is the identity of the married, whose offspring populated the entire world. We have already seen a number of times that the past contains innumerable prefigurations of future realities. Restricting ourselves to the image represented by Hagar and Sarah, the abandoned and the married, we will understand that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the free Woman who St. Paul considers the Mother of Jesus’ followers: “So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free Woman” (Gal 4:31).
At first sight, one would think that Paul’s allegory only concerns Hagar, who was expelled (Gen 21:8-14), and Sarah, the real wife of Abraham, but it cannot be only that, for Hagar, as well as Sarah, gave birth to just one boy. A surplus of sons, according to Isa 54:1, does not therefore manifest itself on the part of Hagar, the abandoned. Neither is the enigma explained by taking into account the posterity of the two women. As for Sarah, this posterity is, of course, Israel. According to Genesis 21:13, Hagar has one too, the Ishmaelites. Yet the biblical accounts indicate no evidence that this people were more numerous than the Israelites.
This is why the figures of the abandoned and the married are not only restricted to Hagar and Sarah, but depend on a whole succession of types representing the same characteristics. This is called a typology, which is based on the announcement of a superior reality. In our case, this reality concerns a person who is prefigured in the past by a group of other persons.
As stated by St. Paul, the first type of women representing the abandoned is Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael (Gen 16:1-16). Then follows Rebekah, who brought forth Esau (Gen 26:19-25). She is the only woman of Isaac, son of Abraham, and also brought about Jacob, son of the promise, which designates her as allegorical married too. So why does she hold the figure of the abandoned? This is because of the characteristics of her two children, which we will detail further on. So we have to suppose that the figure of the abandoned and the married are united at the same time in Rebekah. Then follow Jacob’s first woman (Leah), the servant (Zilpah) of the latter and the servant (Bilhah) of Jacob’s second woman. Indeed, Leah was abandoned regarding the sentiments that Jacob granted her, for it is Rachel, his second woman, whom he liked most. Only by a swindle of her father, who wanted the eldest wedded first, was Leah united with Jacob (Gen 29:15-30). This is one of the reasons why we have to count Rachel also among the abandoned. The other reason is that she not only brought about Joseph (Gen 30:22-24), who is a son of the promise, but also Benjamin (Gen 35:16-20), who is not. So she holds, like Rebekah, at the same time the figure of the abandoned and the married.
Because Leah was not the preferred of Jacob, God did render her fertile to allow her to retrieve the love of her husband. Thus, she first bore four boys to Jacob (Gen 29:31-35) and later still two others (Gen 30:16-20). Rachel meanwhile remained infertile. This is why she took her servant Bilhah and gave her to Jacob in order to deliver him children in her place. Bilhah bore Jacob two sons (Gen 30:1-8). Leah also gave to Jacob her servant Zilpah, who bore him two sons (Gen 30:9-13).
The sons stemming from Leah, Zilpah and Bilhah are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher (Gen 35:23-26). Benjamin, the second son of Rachel, must also be added to this list of children of the abandoned. By equally adding the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, and without counting the tribe of Levi, because he was vowed to priesthood (Num 18:20-24), we obtain the complete list of the twelve tribes to which the Canaanite territory was distributed after its conquest (Jos 13-19). Thus, almost the whole Israelite people stemmed from women representing the figure of the abandoned.
The type of the married distinguishes herself by a prior infertility and a later birth of a promised son. At the beginning of this typology, as St. Paul reminds us, is found Sarah, who gave birth to Isaac. This birth was announced by the apparition of the three visitors (Gen 18:1-10), which prefigures the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38). Although Sarah doubted the word of the Lord, because being very old she believed that she was no longer able to become pregnant, a year later she bore a son as predicted (Gen 21:1-7). Isaac took Rebekah to wife, who also remained infertile for a long time. However, Isaac implored God to end her sterility. Thus, she gave birth to the twins Esau and Jacob (Gen 25:21-26). It is Jacob who announces Christ because he received the right of primogeniture by a ruse (Gen 27:1-29), although Esau came first out of the womb of Rebekah (Gen 25:25). Jacob took Rachel to wife (Gen 29:20-30), who was also sterile in the beginning (Gen 29:31). Finally, she bore Joseph (Gen 30:22-24) and later Benjamin (Gen 35:16-20). From these two sons, it is Joseph who announces Christ.
Up to here, Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel prefigure the married because Isaac, Jacob and Joseph announce Christ. The typology of the married continues, for the sterility of the figure of the married lasts as long as the abandoned delivers her children, that is to say, the Israelite people. This is why three other women corresponding to the image of the married arise during the time of Israel: Manoah’s unnamed wife, giving birth to Samson, who was an outstanding personality blessed by the Lord (Jg 13). This birth was announced by an angel (Jg 13:3). Similar circumstances also reign at the birth of Samuel, the outstanding judge of Israel, born after Hannah complained of her infertility to the priest Eli, who announced to her that the Lord will grant her petition (1 Sa 1:1-20). Finally, John the Baptist was born to Elizabeth, whose husband, Zechariah, received the visit of the angel Gabriel, who announced the end of her sterility (Lk 1:5-25).
Therefore the women corresponding to the abandoned are Hagar, Rebekah (as mother of Esau), Leah, Zilpah, Bilhah and Rachel (as mother of Benjamin). The women corresponding to the married are Sarah, Rebekah (as mother of Jacob), Rachel (as mother of Joseph), Manoah’s wife, Hannah and Elizabeth. So there are six women on each side.
The moment when the married finally became fertile was when Mary brought forth Jesus, her First-born and the true descendant of Abraham, according to St. Paul (Gal 3:15-16). This is when the children of the married greatly outnumber those of the abandoned: “For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities” (Isa 54:3), which refers to the rapidly growing Christianization all over the world greatly outreaching the Jewish religion. The promise was thus accomplished and the characteristic of the announcement ceased to be. Thus the typology ends because the type par excellence begins to play her role. This type is Mary.
This is why Mary was not barren at first, like the other women, before she gave birth to Jesus. In fact, she was betrothed to Joseph at a young age (Lk 1:27), which is predicted by Isa 7:14: “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The sterility of the women preceding St. Mary is a prefiguration of Abraham’s belated posterity, which was not brought about with his physical posterity but only lately with Christ and Mary, the Mother of all Christians. The sterility therefore reflects the time of Israel and ceases with the arrival of Christ, even though it also announces the virginal conception of Christ and Mary’s everlasting virginity.
This is why St. Mary is clearly different from the other women. She is not only prefigured by the typology of the married but, on a different level also of the abandoned because her offspring is prefigured by the Israelite people announcing the spiritual kinship bore down by Mary. So there are two levels of announcements. The first is the typology of the abandoned and the second, closer to the realization, the typology of the married, which opens on the type par excellence, that is to say, on the Virgin Mary.
Prefiguration is based on resemblance: two persons resembling each other implies that there are both common and diverging characteristics between them. Thus, the ancient Eve shares common points with Mary, for example the maternity of humanity, but is different from her through her disobedience. This is the same with Hagar, who is no anti-Mary but shares common points with Mary, like for example the fact that she was a servant, for Mary was also a servant, according to her own speech: “I am the servant of the Lord...” (Lk 1:38), which expresses her obedience, contrasting with Eve. Mary was also rejected by Joseph, her husband, before he understood that the child was from the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18-25), which is a detail announced by the abandoned.
Sarah is nevertheless closer to Mary, since she was the wife of Abraham. However, she is different from Mary in that she did not believe the Lord announcing the birth of Isaac (Gen 18:9-15). A similar incredulity also reigns at the birth of John the Baptist, born of Elizabeth, who is the last woman in the typology of the married, though it is not Elizabeth herself but Zechariah, her husband, who did not give credence to Gabriel, who announced John’s birth to him (Lk 1:11-22).
This contrasts with the realization of the prefigurations, which began with the Annunciation, the encounter between Gabriel and Mary, who believed in the angel’s announcement that she would give birth to Jesus by declaring: “...let it be with me as you say” (Lk 1:38; 1:45), although this announcement was the most incredible of all: Mary was not told of a healing from infertility, but of a conception through the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:34-35). By this unconditional trust in the word coming from Heaven, St. Mary is set apart from all the other women who prefigure her. This is why St. Paul attributes his praise of “the free Woman” and of “the Jerusalem from above” (Gal 4:26-31) implicitly to St. Mary, the Mother of all Christians.
 This transfer of the primogeniture right to Jacob, although he is born a bit later than Esau, is of course still one of these prefigurations of the two covenants, since the new one came only later.
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