Scripture Reading: Galatians 4:21-31

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a salve woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh while the son of the free woman was born through promise.” (Galatians 4:22-23)

Paul uses the birth of Abraham’s two sons as an example of two contrasting faith systems. He is addressing people who are trusting in their obedience to the law to save them — “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” (v. 21). It is so easy to drift back into legalism and moralism. This was the essential problem of the Galatians.

Paul earlier reminded them that they were children of Abraham by faith — “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (3:7). As spiritual children of Abraham, they were the recipients of the blessings that were promised to Abraham — “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (3:14). However, some of the Galatians had drifted back to a works salvation. Thus Paul uses the two sons of Abraham to remind them that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law.

The sons were different in that they were born of different mothers — Ishmael by a slave woman and Isaac by a free woman. Each son took after his mother. They were different in that they were born in different ways — “But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh while the son of the free woman was born through promise” (v. 23). Ismael was born by ordinary means — according to the flesh. Isaac was born in a supernatural way — through the promise. Thus, in this allegory, Ishmael was born a slave according to nature; while Isaac was born free according to God’s promise.

Paul goes on to write that these two women represented two covenants — two ways of relationship with God, two completely different approaches to God. The old covenant was based on law (Mount Sinai and the present Jerusalem). It depended upon one’s efforts to earn God’s favor by being obedient to the law. The old covenant leads to slavery (v. 25). The new covenant was based on promises (the Jerusalem from above). In the promises God keeps the responsibility to Himself. The new covenant leads to freedom (vs. 26,27).

Let me summarize. Hagar bore children into slavery and she stands for the covenant of law. She corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. On the other hand, Sarah bore children into freedom and she stands for the covenant of promise. She represents the Jerusalem above where our citizenship resides and where true freedom is found.

The crucial question concerns who our mother is. If it is Hagar, we are like Ismael — in bondage to the law. If it is Sarah, we are like Isaac — in true freedom through Christ. Paul draws this conclusion: “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.’ So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman” (vs. 30,31).

Lord Jesus, I am so thankful that I am a son of the free woman and not of the slave woman. Thank You for setting me free from bondage to the law as a means of salvation. I know that it is only by grace alone through faith alone in You alone that I have eternal life.


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