NT, Part 20. Part 13 in our discussion of Galatians.
In roughly 1996 BC-1821 BC, Sarai and Abram made decisions that still impact the world today. Abram had been instructed by God to leave his people and go to a land that God would show him. (post here) Soon afterward, after utilizing his 381 men to defeat the thieves and kidnappers in the region of Sodom and then refusing to take any goods secured by the King of Sodom, Abram had been blessed by Melchizedek .
Immediately afterward, God made a covenant with Abram — Genesis 15.
Abram, Sarai’s endearing man of faith, often doubted, was often fearful, and often took matters into his own hands. Yet, Sarai understood Abram completely, for their relationship was lifelong. They were step-siblings, having the same father, but different mothers.
But now, Abram had left their encampment by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite.
All night, Sarai tossed and turned, wondering why Abram was staying away. Where was he? Was he safe? Finally, at dawn, he quietly entered the tent, lying down beside her. His skin seemed to glow with a faint light as he lie staring upward at their tent covering, lost in a blissful reverie she didn’t understand.
Finally, with a sense of awe in his voice, Abram told her of the events of the night. The Lord had brought him out of the tent, taking him far afield, off into the darkness away from their fires as the sun disappeared in the west.
There, the Lord had said, “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.‘ Abram believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness“ (Genesis 15:5b-6 ESV).
God’s promise seared Sarai’s heart, for while Abram believed, Sarai knew she was not fertile. Abram’s naming of Eliezer of Damascus as his heir seemed to affirm that he had realized and accepted that she would bear no children, and yet now he had told her that Eliezer would not be his heir. Abram’s own child would be the heir, for this additional information about this offspring was foretold by the Lord.
“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.… The Lord had made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:17-21 ESV).
The fulfillment of the promise required a child. No offspring meant no fulfillment of the promise, Sarai realized. That familiar feeling of lack washed through her again. How could she prevent her infertility from thwarting God’s promise to Abram?
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar” (Genesis 16:1 ESV).
A thought — Hagar and the custom of handmaidens bearing children for their mistresses. Before Sarai could talk herself out of this, she rolled toward Abram.
“And Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.‘ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Genesis 16:2 ESV).
The light in Abram’s eyes when he turned to stare at her, verifying that she truly meant this, devastated Sarai, for there was lust in his gaze, and it wasn’t for her.
Feeling crushed and betrayed by Abram yet again, still Sarai whispered her consent. The next day Abram made a marriage vow to Hagar, and the two of them disappeared into Hagar’s tent. Sarai cried all night in the darkness.
From our vantage, we know that Sarai should have trusted God, and Abram should have trusted God. Abram shouldn’t have listened to Sarai, but he did.
Then things got really messy. There was competition between the women. There was jealousy on Sarai’s part. The birth of Ishmael to Hagar still impacts the world. The slave girl Hagar and her son were sent off, and Ishmael’s family grew large.
The descendants of Sarai’s son, who was finally born to them, Isaac, include the most significant descendant in human history, the Son of promise, the One and Only Son of God designated as the firstborn, Jesus Messiah, and all of us, both Gentiles and Jews, who have entrusted themselves to the Savior.
Abram and Sarai’s mistakes give us hope, for we are just as flawed as they and often make unwise decisions. And yet, like them, God still loves us and is in covenant with us through Christ Jesus.Abram and Sarai's mistakes give us hope, for we are just as flawed as they and often make unwise decisions. And yet, like them, God still loves us and is in covenant with us through Christ Jesus. #Faith #bgbg2 Click To Tweet
Even when we make ridiculous mistakes, the Lord still works out his will in order to bring about his purposes and his good for our lives.Even when we make ridiculous mistakes, the Lord still works out his will in order to bring about his purposes and his good for our lives. #Faith #bgbg2 #GodIsKind Click To Tweet
So, what does this have to do with the Letter to the Galatians? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul makes this comparison, an allegory that helps us understand.
Paul’s allegory in Galatians 4:21-31 ESV.
Slave woman Free woman
According to flesh Through promise
Present Jerusalem Jerusalem above
“21Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.
“24Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27For 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.”
“28Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29But 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. 30But 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.” 31So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman” (Galatians 4:21-31 ESV).
Translating the Greek:
“Many are the children of the desolate (the New Testament Church made up in the greater part from the Gentiles, who once had not the promise, and so was destitute of God as her husband), more than of her which hath an (Greek, ‘the’) husband (the Jewish Church having God for her husband, Is 54:5; Je 2:2).” Numerous as were the children of the legal covenant, those of the Gospel covenant are more so. The force of the Greek article is, “Her who has the husband of which the other is destitute.” 1.
The slave woman Hagar’s child was achieved through lack of faith in God and taking matters into Sarai and Abram’s own hands.
The free woman Sarai’s child was achieved by eventually arriving at true faith, believing what God said, and trusting him to fulfill the promise and all of its terms.
Galatians 4:28 and elsewhere make clear that the believers in the Galatian churches, like Isaac, were the true descendants of Abraham by faith.
“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:28-29 ESV).
In Galatians 4:30a, Paul draws an analogy from the OT scriptures, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son.” This is an imperative, a command similar to “drive off the slave girl,” a situation required to preserve Isaac’s life and his right as firstborn. The context within the Galatian church would mean kick out the Judaizers! This would preserve the Galatian believers in Jesus Messiah, Isaac’s descendant.2.
Galatians 4:31 says, “So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.” We who trust in Jesus Christ are full heirs of the Abrahamic promise. This is also expressed in Rom. 9–11.
The Lord was entirely cognizant of what Abram, Sarai, and Hagar would do in faith and what they would do out of fear. And yet, in his mercy, the Lord still worked together all of their actions, both good and bad, for his purposes and to fulfill his promise to bring a Redeemer.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified[Romans 7:6] by the law [Galatians 2:1; 3:10; Romans 9:31]; you have fallen away from grace [Hebrews 12:15; 2 Peter 3:17]. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly [Romans 8:23,25] wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:1-6 ESV)."For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love" (Galatians 5:1,6).… Click To Tweet
Circumcision is not required for salvation. In Jewish history, it was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham’s descendants, spelled out in Genesis 17:9-14. But now Christ has come.
Circumcision is no longer required, for Jesus Messiah has fulfilled the demands of the Law, meeting the terms of the covenant. Thanks be to God!
In what ways do we modern-day Christians try to impose rules and regulations upon ourselves?
Do we attempt to be legalistic, to keep a law that we feel must be kept, rather than following the instructions in God’s Words with faith and trust and reliance upon the Lord himself?
- Entire paragraph: Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 335). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Summarized from Utley, R. J. (1997). Paul’s First Letters: Galatians and I & II Thessalonians (Vol. Volume 11, pp. 50–51). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.