Galatians 4:21-31 “Enslaved or Free?”

Posted: November 4, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Biblical Studies, Galatians
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Galatians 4:21–31 (ESV) — 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.

Many people regard this as the most difficult passage in the Epistle to the Galatians. For one thing, it presupposes a knowledge of the Old Testament which few people possess today; there are references in it to Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Mount Sinai and Jerusalem. For another, the argument of Paul is a somewhat technical one; it is the kind which would have been familiar in the Jewish rabbinical schools. It is allegorical, although not arbitrary.[1]

People today are bound to earthly, fleshly religion today. Man-centered and man-made religion. Paul argues that our home is heavenly, the Jerusalem above. Even the earthly Jerusalem was merely a type of the heavenly one. In other words, we do not set our eyes on the earth, but we set our eyes upward, worshipping a God who constantly shows the bankruptcy of all efforts to establish a right relationship based on rules and regulations.

Paul has been arguing that we are born again by the Spirit. It is God who has saved us in Christ by His grace in giving us the Spirit. The law kills, while the Spirit gives life. The law on tablets speaks to people in conditionality, whereas the Spirit actually imparts life apart from works of the law. It is the application of the redemption Jesus bought for us.

Outline:

–          Historical: 21-23

  • Abraham had Ishmael with Hagar
  • Abraham had Isaac with Sarah
    • Jews understood this quite well, however Paul is going to turn the argument on their heads and claim that those who claim Abraham as father through Isaac are in fact children of Hagar if they insist on the law as the basis for their righteousness

–          Allegorical (Symbolic): 24-27

  • Two women represent 2 Covenants
    • Hagar = Sinai = Present Jerusalem > children of slavery
    • Sarah = New Covenant = Heavenly Jerusalem > free children

–          Personal: 28-31

  • “Brothers” (28, 31)
  • Children of Promise
  • Flesh persecutes Spirit (Ishmael v. Isaac)
  • Cast out slave woman = the way of the Law
  • We’re Free!!!
    • 5:1 Stand Firm, Do not go back
    • Galatians 5:1 (ESV) — 1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Outline:

Historical: 21-23

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?  

–          Paul is going to resolve the issue at Galatia with further exposition of the Law that the opponents claim to be upholding.

 

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.

  • Abraham had Ishmael with Hagar
  • Abraham had Isaac with Sarah
    • Jews understood this quite well, however Paul is going to turn the argument on their heads and claim that those who claim Abraham as father through Isaac are in fact children of Hagar if they insist on the law as the basis for their righteousness. Paul argues this way in Romans as well.

 

Allegorical (Symbolic): 24-27

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.”

  • Two women represent 2 Covenants
    • Hagar = Sinai Covenant = Present Jerusalem > children of slavery
    • Sarah = New Covenant = Heavenly Jerusalem > free children
    • Isa. 54:1 is quoted in v. 27. Covenant promise of many children that will be brought about by God’s promise, supernaturally.
    • It is Reformation day and in honor of Martin Luther, I will quote him here on some helpful comments about this text:
      • “On the other hand, Sarah, the free Church, seems barren. The Gospel of the Cross which the Church proclaims does not have the appeal that the Law has for men, and therefore it does not find many adherents. The Church does not look prosperous. Unbelievers have always predicted the death of the Church. The Jews were quite certain that the Church would not long endure. They said to Paul: “As concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:22.) No matter how barren and forsaken, how weak and desolate the Church may seem, she alone is really fruitful before God. By the Gospel she procreates an infinite number of children that are free heirs of everlasting life.”
      • We need to be humiliated by this good news that the Law is not the path to righteousness. I think Luther is right when he says that, “The Gospel of the Cross which the Church proclaims does not have the appeal that the Law has for men, and therefore it does not find many adherents”
      • The Gospel today has been deduced to MTD. It is no longer a supernatural religion for many adherents. It is deduced to a helpful way to live a meaningful life. We deny that our salvation has everything to do with Christ and regeneration. We want to pitch in, and by pitching in, we opt for some sense of satisfaction in our efforts over against the free grace of the Gospel.
      • The great evangelist George Whitfield said, “An almost Christian chiefly is one that is fond of the form but never experiences the power of Godliness in his heart.”
      • Even Atheists are fond of many of the “forms” of Christianity and they can in fact look a lot like us by living according to certain moral principles that they find attractive and helpful.
      • The Gospel is offensive because it is impossible on one hand, and yet completely free on the other. It’s not something you can do, especially in an age captivated by efficiency and easy steps. It also offends because it is free to us (of course bought by Christ) and denies to us any pride or satisfaction that we were saved because we attracted God’s attention.

Personal: 28-31

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.

 

  • “Brothers” (28, 31)
  • “Children of Promise” in analogous form to Isaac, who was born supernaturally, miraculously, by the sovereign work of the Spirit.
    • Paul is not talking about mere physical descent from Isaac, he is talking about being born again by the Spirit in the same way Isaac was brought forth. You were “born according to the Spirit.”
  • Flesh persecutes Spirit (Ishmael v. Isaac)
    • Genesis 21:8–12 (ESV) — 8 And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.
    • ESV Study Notes: “Just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac (not explicitly mentioned in the OT, but suggested by Gen. 21:9, so now the Jews who seek justification by human effort are persecuting Christians who trust God’s promise of justification by faith. In Gen. 16:4, when Hagar conceived, “she looked with contempt on her mistress.” This too is mirrored in the fact that now non-Christian and pseudo-Christian Jews are persecuting Christians like Paul (as seen in Gal. 6:17). History is repeating itself.”[2]
  • Cast out slave woman = the way of the Law
    • Paul is appealing to the true believers to separate themselves from the Judaizers, because they are not the children of God and only seek to mock and belittle the children of promise.
  • We’re Free!!!
    • 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
      • 5:1 Stand Firm, Do not go back
    • Galatians 5:1 (ESV) — 1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

 

Christ-centered application:

–          Christ has set us free from a fleshly, ego driven system of righteousness that only imparts death. He makes us “children” who have an intimate relationship with God. Christ purchased all the gifts that come to us in New Birth. We do not rely on works or genealogies for our standing before God, but rather on the Spirit that unites us to Christ and is the very seal of our status in God’s Kingdom. This is the greatest news on earth, but is despised because people really are attracted to their own works. God is not attracted to our works. He is attracted to Christ and to us only because we are in Christ, and were put there because he loved us while we were yet sinners.

–          Stand in this freedom!!! You will always be tempted towards minimizing the Christian Faith to the mere form and deny the power of the Gospel.

  • This standing assumes various levels of persecution. People who love their deeds will hate that you make much of Christ’s deeds. They may offer some admiration for Christ, but they dare not repent, renounce their pride and sin, and turn completely to Him.

–          We have been given heavenly promises; Jerusalem above:

Hebrews 12:18–24 (ESV) — 18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

–          We have Christ and He has us


[1] Stott, J. R. W. (1986). The message of Galatians : Only one way (120–121). Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press.

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (2253). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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Comments
  1. Jeremy Green says:

    That is pure truth your teaching Rick!Gets me fired up just reading it!

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