Don’t try to make a parable walk on all-fours.
Hebrew parable is the opposite of Western descriptive language. Whereas the latter seeks to encode discrete ideas that are the same in all contexts, parable seeks to offer imagery that adjusts to the context. Instead of freezing knowledge in some state of perfection, parable breathes life into thinking so that it meets fresh challenges.
We are going to shift the parable Paul used in Galatians regarding the difference between Hagar and Sarah. Let’s examine a typical Hebrew household during the days when Israel lived in tents, as Abraham did. There was the patriarch, and his feudal domain that consisted not of land, but of the people and movable property. In his household were family members, paid servants and slaves. It was an ancient near eastern (ANE) feudal community that moved.
God portrays Himself as a patriarch of that sort. He has his one first born Son, and then other family members who share in owning all His wealth. These are people of faith. Indeed, it was typical of an ANE patriarch to extend his family by adopting worthy servants and slaves who exhibited a level of devotion on par with family members. He would offer the adoption as a covenant. In God’s case, His Son is His only blood kin; everyone else in His family are adoptees by covenant.
God also has servants, hired hands who inherit nothing, but receive a lot of benefits from His wealth. These are folks under law covenants. Family is allowed to know Him on a personal level of warmth; they know His heart. They can serve Him by instinct because they are oriented on His interests. Servants will know Him less well, but still serve His purposes. Slaves know next to nothing about Him, and never have personal contact with Him. They take orders and have no clue what’s going on, and generally don’t care. These are the mass of humanity who do not acknowledge God.
So in this parabolic context, a faith covenant brings you into His family. A law covenant provides both servants and slaves the means to approaching faith if they are so inclined.
In the Old Testament setting, God had a few family members in Israel. The Covenant of Moses made them a nation of hired servants as the means to bringing them to adoption. Most of them refused to meet that standard. Much of the time, the whole nation failed. When Christ came to personify the covenant, it was both a law covenant and a faith covenant combined. His Presence was meant to put faith in easier reach by clarifying how law worked.
This was the maturation of Moses, and it was mandatory. The old covenant was like an old and fruitless fig tree, and whatever God had been doing through Moses was at an end. The time was ripe to plant a new tree in its place. Jesus in His human manifestation raised a fresh challenge in this new covenant. Law and faith were merged in Him. And instead of one big nation of laws and kings, He was creating an empire of many tiny nations of extended family households, each reflecting His character in their own unique settings. We call these tiny nations “churches.”
Previously, faith was masked by law. You would have to dig into the applicable law covenant to find an expression for faith. That was the purpose of the Law Covenants. Somewhere in all of this, when God felt it was appropriate, He would grant His Holy Spirit to those whose faith had borne fruit. In Christ, having merged faith and law, faith is offered up front, and the Holy Spirit is granted right away. It’s still necessary for you to surrender to His Spirit’s guidance, but He’s there. Now you still have to go back and poke around in the Law to discover how to bear fruit, but it’s no longer masked. Law is highly accessible because of the enlightening guidance of the Holy Spirit.