Early in the book of Galatians, Paul, the Apostle, pointed to a problem for the Galatian believers. What Paul identified was that some of the Galatian Christians wanted to impose Judaic customs on other believers. Some Galatians believed that Mosaic (Jewish) customs were essential to salvation while others claimed they were essential for spiritual growth. In Galatians, we see Paul strongly arguing against these ideas and teachings.
Paul starts his letter to the Galatians by defending the Gospel and his Apostleship. Paul reminds them that his salvation and growth as a Christian was independent of men and even separate from the Apostles in Jerusalem. Paul comes out against the teaching that Diaspora believers must become like Judaics to be right with God.
Paul makes it clear to the Galatians that the only true children of Abraham were believers in Jesus Christ whether they be Judeans or Diaspora believers. In fact, Paul states that believers in Jesus Christ are the true inheritors and heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant which includes all its blessings and promises.
Galatians 3:7 (KJV) – Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
No Special Privilege
The Abrahamic covenant of the natural seed of Abraham was a type and shadow of the spiritual seed through Christ. Paul shows in Galatians chapters three and four that the “seed of Abraham” had come to full fruition through Christ. Galatians 3:29 (KJV) states that “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This spiritual “seed” is a progression of birth and privilege through the circumscisioin of flesh of the spiritual circumcision of the heart.
Galatians 3:28 (KJV) – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
In Galatians 3:28 Paul describes the make-up of the Church. In Christ’s Church, there is no ethnic, blood or gender distinction. Even someone that is being held as a slave can enter the Kingdom. While the Bible does not condone slavery, it was a reality in the first century.
Galatians 3:29 (KJV) – And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
This one passage in Galatians serves to wind up of the promises of the Old Covenant. In this one verse, we see the Law, the Temple and circumcision abolished. This one scripture progresses the mission from the Old Covenant into the New Covenant as a light to the world. This one passage ends any claims of exclusive rights and privileges of the Mosaic (Jewish) nation. This one sentence provides the key to the understanding of the Law, the Psalms, the Proverbs and the Prophets of the Old Testament. In Galatians chapter three, Paul intended to show that being a child of God is directly related to believing in the same manner that Abraham believed. And in doing so, the Galatians would inherit the promises that God gave Abraham.
A Return to the Law – a Bad Idea!
Galatians 3:23-25 (KJV) – But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith comes, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
Christ had come, but the Galatians wanted to return to the Law. They wanted to go back to having a tutor or the law. Instead of graduating from school they yearned to return to the schoolmaster. They wanted to return to the shadows and types of the Old Covenant instead of the living reality of the New Covenant. They wanted a return to circumcision of the flesh rather than circumcision of the Spirit.
Galatians 4:21 (KJV) – Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
Most Bible commentators see Galatians 4:21 as the most difficult Galatian passage to understand. Paul is using a form of argument that is very Hebraic. And while his first-century readers could understand what Paul is saying we might have difficulty today. In this verse, Paul is speaking to those who want to go back to Hebraism and take Jesus with them. They want to fully return to the Law of Moses. In effect Paul is addressing those who want a hybrid religion. While these Galatians intend to believe in Jesus, they also want to live under the law as a means of pleasing God.
Paul is asking these Galatians if they have considered the implications of what they are about to do? While the Galatians certainly wanted to please God, they were going about it in the wrong way. Paul warns them to stop and think. Then Paul, in the next two verses takes them back to Genesis chapter 25.
Galatians 4:22-23 (KJV) – For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
As you may remember Abraham had two sons – Ishmael and Isaac. Paul uses the birth of these two sons to provide a Bible lesson to these Galatian believers. Here’s a brief history: Abraham was a prosperous businessman in Ur of the Chaldees when God appeared to him. God told Abraham to take his wife Sarai, leave the land, and go to a land that God would later show him. Just before choosing Abraham, God had disinherited all nations and peoples because of their sin.
The Biological Clock
Genesis 12:2 (KJV) – And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
Genesis 13:16 (KJV) – And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.
These two verses point to the great promises that God has for Abraham and his “seed.” The only problem is that Abraham was 75 years old and Sarai was 65 and without children. Well in the course of time Abraham and Sarai did arrive in Canaan, the land God promised them. While in Canaan, God repeated the promise in Genesis 13:16. Well, ten more years passed and still no son! The old biological clock was ticking away. About this time Sarai suggested that Abraham take Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant. Sarai, now 75 years old concluded there was no way she could have a child.
Genesis 16:2 (KJV) – And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
Hagar became pregnant, and a son named Ishmael was born. Abraham is now 100 years old, and Sarah is 90. Both of their bodies are good as dead. There’s no natural way they are going to have a child together. Well just when Abraham and Sarai are at their lowest point God shows up. God changes Sarai’s name to Sarah which means Princess. Abraham’s name was also changed from Abram being honored Father to Abraham, father of many nations. Both these name changes are directly related to the Covenant promises.
Son of the Promise
Genesis 17:21 (KJV) – But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.
God then makes in clear verse 17:21 that Ishmael was NOT the son of the promise. God revived the bodies of Abraham and Sarah and nine months later Isaac was born. The name Isaac means laughter. It is kind of funny that a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman could have a child. Paul uses this familiar story in Genesis to drive home spiritual points.
The Judaics (Jews) revered Abraham as their spiritual father. An according to many of the Judaic Pharisees if you were a physical descendant of Abraham then you were in good standing with God. Paul is telling them here “not so.” Paul states that it is a matter of faith and not the family tree. While Ishmael was born according to the flesh, Isaac was born as a result of God’s promise.
Galatians 4:24-25 (KJV) – Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
Paul points out that these things are an allegory. An allegory is a story that can reveal a hidden or deeper meaning. The problem in Galatia was this: the Judaizers taught that you had to follow the Traditions of the Elders be saved. And that meant being circumcised and keeping the the Law of Moses along with the Traditions of the Elders.
The Judaizers were asking “Who’s your father”? Paul was saying I’ve got another question – Who’s your mother? The Judaics were very proud of the fact that they were the descendants of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. It was part of their “bragging rights” so to speak. But Paul turns there most prized “bragging rights” on its head by saying, “No, you are the descendants of Hagar!”.
Paul is telling them that by taking matters into their own hands by seeking to keep the law, they become children of the slave women and not the free women. Paul points out that these two women represent the two covenants of God. Hagar represents the old covenant, and Sarah represents the new covenant.
Hebrews 8:7-8 (KJV) – For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
In Hebrews, Paul points out a huge difference between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah represents “grace” and Hagar represents the “law.” Sarah stands for trusting God alone. Hagar represents trying to please God thru our own efforts – the flesh. The sons born to Abraham represent the way of faith (Isaac) versus the way of works (Ishmael). Sarah, the Princess, is the linage/line of faith, while Hagar, the Alien, is the line of works. There is no third line.
Galatians 4:25-26 (KJV) – For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
Grace and Law
What happened on Mount Sinai? Answer – the giving of the Law of Moses. The “Jerusalem which now is” referred to the Jerusalem of the first century which was the world headquarters of Judaism. The Law cannot save anyone. The people who lived in Jerusalem in those days followed the Law. Hagar, the slave woman, gave birth to a slave son (Ishmael). Ishmael stands for everyone who is enslaved by Law-keeping as a means to salvation. Slavery comes from slavery; bondage comes from bondage.
Paul’s argument is the most startling in prophecy. Hagar, the Egyptian bondmaid, is identified with Jerusalem and Jewry. Sarah is identified with the true Church, the New Covenant, and the heavenly Jerusalem. This allegory declares that earthly Israel is regarded as Ishmael, in bondage to the Law and not free.
The true church is the spiritual Israel to whom the promises made to Abraham apply. Hagar and her son Ishmael stand for the Jerusalem of Paul’s day, which is the earthly Jerusalem now. But what if the New Jerusalem is from above? Let’s look at Revelation.
Revelation 3:12 (KJV) – Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
What’s important to keep in mind is that two covenants are being compared and contrasted. The earthly Jerusalem is the Old Covenant, and the heavenly Jerusalem is the New Covenant. In this passage of Revelation John tells us that this New Jerusalem is the city of God.
Revelation 21:9-10 (KJV) – And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit of a great and high mountain and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God
Who is the bride? Who is the wife of the Lamb? The answer is the New Testament Church. Jerusalem above is the wife of the Lamb, which is the church.
Galatians 4:27-28 (KJV) – For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
In Galatians 4:27-28 Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1. Paul applies this verse in Isaiah by explaining that at first Sarah had not a child. But when the promise was fulfilled her children exceeded that of Hagar. This verse ties back to Genesis 17:16 where God said of Sarah “She shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.”
Sarah = Isaac= New Covenant = Jerusalem Above = The Church
Sarah gave birth to Isaac, not by reliance on herself. This birth was an act of God from above and a fulfilled promise. Spiritually Sarah is the mother of all Christians. For like Isaac Christians are the “children of promise.” Our lives are not merely the product of human resources but of God’s supernatural work in the Spirit.
Galatians 4:29 (KJV) – But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
The phrase “after the Spirit” is synonymous with “according to the promise.” It’s the opposite of the phrase “after the flesh.” In Genesis, we read Ishmael persecuting Isaac. The phrase “even, so it is now” refers to the Judaic (Jewish) persecution of Christians in the first century at the time Paul wrote Galatians. Paul’s greatest enemies were not pagan philosophers of Athens or the Romans but the fanatical Judaic Pharisees. Paul rarely had any problems with Gentiles unless they were stirred up by the Judaics. During Paul’s day, there was a bitter struggle between fleshly and spiritual Israel. Much of the New Testament writings were designed to encourage Christians to hold fast under Judaic (Jewish) persecution because relief would soon come.
Galatians 4:30-31 (KJV) – Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
These two sons are typical of the two Israels of God. They are metaphors of the Israel of God. One Israel was born after the flesh, and the other was born after the Spirit. Paul again refers back to the Genesis story of Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham had to cast out the bondwoman and her son Ishmael.
Romans 9:6-8 (KJV) – Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
The above verse in Romans is a good summary of what we have been discussing. “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel” means that physical Israel is not the true Israel of God. That is the children of the flesh are NOT the children of God.
How about you? Who is your momma? Are you born of the flesh or of the Spirit? Do you still think there’s some way you can help God out with your salvation? Do you think you can be good enough to merit salvation? The Ishmaels of this world trust in themselves. The Isaacs of this world trust in God alone for salvation.
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