Example of Hagar and Sarah

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

Up until chapter 4 of this letter to the set of churches Galatia, There’s a fierce battle going on.  Paul’s message was being contradicted by false teachers who were telling these new Christians:

  • believe in Jesus +
  • be obedient to the Law of God…and the result of this combination is that you will be saved.

Up to this point, Paul’s words to these churches was:

  • believe in Jesus…
  • and be saved…
  • and as a result, you will become obedent to God’s law.

And so we see the battle lines drawn up.  Whereas the Judaizers were saying obedience was an ingredient to becoming saved, Paul taught that obedience was a product of being saved.  And that’s a huge difference.  To help his readers understand, he He takes them to Genesis 16 and uses the Old Testament case of Abraham and Sarah and God’s covenant promises to them.

Abraham was 75 years old when God made His covenant promise to Abraham that he and his wife, Sarah, that He would make of them a great nation – with offspring as numerous as the stars, with all people on earth being blessed through them.  Now here we are ten years later, and….nothing.

So Abraham did what you and I tend to do when we grow impatient with God’s plans for our lives.  He took matters into his own control, and fathered a son with Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar.  The result was Ishmael.  It was an ill-advised attempt to “help God along” with His divine plan.

Why, do you suppose, God waited so long (Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90) until He made good on His promise that Sarah would bear a son to Abraham?  Precisely because He wanted to show that this child born was a result of God’s promise and did not come into being because of any human contribution.

And so these two sons born to Abraham, Ishmael (born from Hagar) and Isaac (born from Sarah) represent two ways people relate (or attempt to relate) to God.  Ishmael represents man’s attempt to take matters into his own hands and cooperate with God’s promise through his own contributions.  Isaac represents the divine promise – God’s direct and miraculous  intervention on behalf of all mankind.  Isaac would become the vessel through whom all nations on earth would be blessed.

And so as Paul addresses these Christians in the Galatian churches, he wants them to see that the false teaching of the Judaizers is likened to looking to the illegitimate son of Ishmael, rather than the child of promise, Isaac.

  • When we go the human way, we become slaves.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses the metaphor of slavery to describe those who are not living in the righteousness they’ve inherited from Jesus.
  • In a lot of ways, this harkens back a few chapters to when we talked about what our “Christ AND’s” are in our lives.
  • Paul likens Hagar to Mt. Sinai, which is to say, the Law, for that is where Moses received the Law from God.  Sarah, on the other hand, is likened to Jerusalem, the Jerusalem that is from above, as Paul says.  That Jerusalem is the assembly of all who believe in God’s promise of a Savior – both Jew and Gentile alike.  Free…no demands on us, but everthing is received as a gift.  That Jerusalem, Paul says, is our mother.
  • When it comes to making disciples who make disciples, we may be look for ways to speed up a process that we feel is taking too long to produce results.  Like Abraham growing impatient for God to make good on His promise, we may look for ways to make the doctrines of Christianity more appealing to the masses, rather than trust Jesus’ promise that a tiny mustard seed will grow into a tree.  Many church bodies are watering down the message of Christianity, downplaying the reality of sin, misinterpreting the grace of God for tolerance and acknowledgment of divergent lifestyles.  The result is an unwitting return to slavery.
  • Genesis 21:9 tells us that Ishmael bullied and intimidated his half-brother, fourteen years his younger.  As a result, Sarah demanded to, “Get ride of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the interitance with my son, Isaac.”  And God agreed with her, telling Abraham, “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned” (Genesis 21:12).  Remember, Ishmael stands for the Judaizers, and expelling “Ishmael” is the only appropriate solution for the Galatians.  Whatever it is that competes for your heart in making you rest in your righteousness, other than in Christ, you must get rid of it.
  • Lastly, I want to go back to a single word from verse 26: “But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”  Do you see it?  It’s the word IS.  What’s so significant about that word?  It’s in the present tense.  It is our current reality, not a future one. The Jerusalem that is above IS our mother.  We are God’s children, free and redeemed.  This is our identity now, and tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that.  Pray that God will help us get rid of the slave mentality, because that’s what it is – a mentality – not a reality.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.  If you’d like to receive this blog by email, please let me know at radams@trinityfreistadt.com.