Summary: This is an installment in a continuing series on Galatians.
The Triumph of Grace
“A Man, Two Women, and Two Babies”
July 23, 2000
This Morning’s Text – Galatians 4:21-31
“Tell me, you who want to be under the Law, do you not listen to the Law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written,
“Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband.”
And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say?
“Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.”
So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.”
Begin with acted-out story of Genesis 11-21. Then, read Scripture and pray.
Today’s headlines sometimes have their roots in Biblical events, and this is true of stories many of us followed this week! For a few days now we’ve been reading about the up-and-down, back and forth, off and on progress (or lack thereof) regarding the peace talks at Camp David between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak. Arafat represents the interests of the Palestinians, who seek a homeland in the Middle East. Barak is the Prime Minister of Israel, which for years, nay decades, nay centuries, nay millennia has been an enemy! Peace remains elusive, and is likely to, as long as these perennial antagonists are living side-by-side. The animosities which exist today are but the ongoing antagonisms that began hundreds and hundreds of years before Christ, when the slave woman Hagar and her son Ishmael were at odds with Sarah and Isaac. Ishmael and Isaac are still fighting today!
Paul comes to the conclusion of this section of Galatians by means of an illustration, employing a story from the Old Testament in allegorical fashion as his clinching argument for the gospel of grace. He begins by asking
I. One Final Question – v. 21
“Do you really understand what the Law says?”
Some of the Galatians were on the verge of returning to the same kind of slavery from which they’d come, albeit slavery to the Law of God rather than slavery to the idols whom they had worshipped previously. “If you are really so bent on being under the Law”, Paul asks, “then do you really understand what the Law is saying?” He is trying to get them to read the Bible through the lens of Christ—which is the method which we must adopt today! Everything about the Bible points to Jesus, when understood correctly. Paul is challenging them to justify their position in light of the totality of the Biblical evidence, and not merely upon a cursory reading. Similarly, we have people today who want to pick particular verses out of context in order to justify their own preconceived position; indeed, we all need to guard against just this kind of thing happening in our own lives, for we are all susceptible to baptizing our own beliefs and assuming that we are always right in our understandings. Leon Morris said, “A superficial acquaintance with the Law under the guidance of inspiring leaders is not at all the same thing as a genuine understanding of what the Law teaches and what it demands.” We can “know” enough Bible to be more dangerous than we would be otherwise!
II. One Famous Story – vv. 22-23
“A Man, Two Women, and Two Babies”
Paul spins the story with which we began this morning. He goes to the Old Testament and lays out the story of Sarah and Hagar, of Ishmael and Isaac. It is a story of a gracious God and some imperfect people who manage to mess things up but also to get some things right in the end as well.
For the record, Abraham had more than two sons, but Paul is referring to these two particular sons, one born “according to the flesh” and the other, Isaac, born “through the promise.” What does this distinction mean? Were not both women impregnated through ordinary means? Certainly. Were not both women pregnant for roughly nine months? Yes. And did they not deliver children through the normal means? Indeed. What does it mean that Ishmael was born according to the flesh? It means that he was born as a result of a scheme conceived and carried out without any divine intervention. Sarai got tired of the waiting and figured that she’d better “help God”, and so, in a custom which was societally acceptable at the time, she suggested that Abram attempt to have this child with the help of her servant, Hagar. Isaac, on the other hand, was born 13 or so years later, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, well past child-bearing years. It was only through the hand of God that this could happen, and yet miraculously and according to God’s promise, it did!