And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing: I pray you, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
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Didymus the Blind
As for the anagogical [mystical] teaching, one could explain the text by recalling that Paul allegorically transposed the two women into the two covenants. Philo also used allegory here but giving the text another application: He understood Sarah to represent perfect virtue and philosophy, because she was a free woman and wife, of noble birth and living with her husband in lawful union. Now virtue lives with the wise man in lawful union so that he can give birth from her to a divine progeny: “Wisdom,” in fact, “begets a man of discernment.” In Scripture the devout and holy man is addressed with the words “your wife is like a fruitful vine …. Your children are like olive shoots around the table. So shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” Sarah then is allegorically transposed into perfect and spiritual virtue. Hagar, the Egyptian slave, symbolizes, according to Philo, the preliminary exercises (progymnasmata), and, in Paul, “the shadow” [of good things to come]. It is not possible, in fact, to understand anything of the spiritual or elevated ideas without the shadow that is the letter or without a preliminary study of the introductory sciences, for one must first bear children from inferior unions. In the era of the shadow, they offered actual animal sacrifices, they celebrated Passover in an external and tangible way, they received physical circumcision, and all of this was preparing them gradually so that eventually they could “offer to God a sacrifice of praise,” which pertains to the free woman. As the zeal of the wise impels them to go on to the higher realities in due order, virtue impels them, by divine intention, to make use first of the introductory sciences and to have children from them. Since it is impossible, in fact, for one who has just recently approached virtue so successfully to attain perfection as to have children through her too, virtue counsels such a one to subject himself first to the preparatory disciplines so that by this path he might perfectly grasp her, if he is able.