|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 21
Meditation Title: Slave or Free
Gal 4:31 we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman
Paul now moves to one of the biggest contrasting pictures used in his arguments. He appeals, first of all, to these Jewish believers, and possibly the believers ‘converted' to their way of thinking in Galatia and asks, “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?” (v.21) They are saying that Christians need to adhere to the Law of Moses, but are they aware of what that entails? Are they aware of the pictures conveyed from the Old Testament? He refers again to Abraham, their father: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.” (v.22) You may remember Abraham and Sarah first of all had a child via Hagar, Ishmael. It was only a number of years later that Sarah conceived and they had Isaac. Now, says Paul, note something very important about these two births: “His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.” (v.23) Ishmael had been born quite naturally through Hagar the slave, but Isaac had been born to Sarah when she was past child-bearing simply because God promised (and enabled) her that this would happen.
Now, says Paul, these things happened so that we can learn through them, i.e. “These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants.” (v.24a) So what are the two covenants that he has in mind? “One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.” (v.24b) i.e. Hagar represents the covenant that was made at Mount Sinai (Ex 19-) but in reality all that covenant achieved was to put the people in slavery to the Law. They were bound by it; it was constantly there and they had to try to live by it, but so often failed, resulting in guilt, shame and a breakdown in relationship with the Lord. Paul explains further: “Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem , because she is in slavery with her children.” (v.25) So, Hagar was a slave who had a child by natural means. Present day Judaism, based on the present Jerusalem , was still in slavery to the Law (and to the Romans!). They were seeking to use natural means to comply with God's Law and were bound by it.
But, says Paul, the Rabbis teach that the messiah brings a new Jerusalem from above: “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” (v.26) The new heavenly city is not encumbered by the Law because (implied) God is there and we will simply know Him. This heavenly city is the source of our new lives and in this sense it is our mother, we have been born from above (see Jn 3:12 ). He then quotes from Isaiah to confirm his point (v.27). Now he applies this somewhat complex rabbinical teaching: “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (v.28) Look, he says, you believers are like the miraculous son, Isaac; you have been born not according to the rules but according to God's promise of blessing through Abraham that we considered earlier.
He almost laughs as he takes the analogy further. Look, he says, “At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.” (v.29) Back then, Ishmael had derided Isaac: “Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking.” (Gen 21:9) The ‘natural' son derided the ‘supernatural' son. So it now was. The Jewish believers mocked the ‘only faith' believers for they wanted to hold onto their past. The two cannot coexist together, the one will be jealous of the other. So what had happened? “But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." (v.30). Sarah had wanted to get rid of the natural son and so Hagar and Ishmael were cast out of the family. So, says Paul, you can't get the Law and grace to cohabit, so get rid of the Law (implied). The conclusion of all this? “Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” (v.31) Realise, says Paul to the Galatian believers, that you are children of promise not children of the law.
It is rather a convoluted argument that Paul is making and it is specifically for those with Jewish history and knowledge, but the point is still made that we are to be God's children purely because He has promised us His blessing through Jesus, and not because we try to win his approval by keeping rules, in whatever form they come. The message is the same that keeps coming through in this letter and we need to hear it again and again because if we have settled into a ‘slave' mentality it is difficult to understand and come to accept, that we do not have to do things to earn our salvation. The rest of the religions and cults of the world require us to do things to earn our salvation. Christianity is unique in that it says to us that we CAN'T earn it, we have to receive it as a free gift, something that God has done for us, not something we do.