Galatians 4.21-31

February 4, 2007 Series: Galatians

Topic: Gospel Passage: Galatians 4:21–4:31

My birthday is coming up next week.  I don't think I'll tell you how old I am because when you reveal your age, people pretty much create an immediate opinion about you-whether they actually know you or not.  If you tell them what is perceived as a "young age", then they can only think of a few possible reactions.  ONE - Wow, that guy is really mature for his age, which, translated means the guys is really boring and should have a bit more excitement in his life.  OR, TWO, that, yeah, that's what I guessed...he's sure acts like a kid. 

On the other hand, if you tell them a perceived "old" age, you still can't win and come out with a positive reaction. They will either think, WOW, you sure are immature OR, possibly even worse, by your age they will expect you to be mature, wise, and knowledgeable which can only lead to me letting them down when they find out how ignorant I am about all kinds of things.  They will simply say...well, you should know that.

The kids at school always ask my age.  So, I usually respond by asking, "Why do you want to know."  Of course, I probe a bit further and ask, well, what happens if I tell you I'm 25?  What if I tell you I'm 45?  I guess if they think that I'm still young, I can understand them better because, of course, OLD THINGS or OLD PEOPLE don't understand anything.  I have grown out of the "young buck" label at school.  But I haven't quite arrived at the "seasoned oak" status.  I guess I am in some sort of maturation limbo where it doesn't really matter what age I am-I am just plain irrelevant to everyone; as neutral as Switzerland in WWII.

I guess there are very few things that naturally gain value when they get old.  A good Wine, land, perhaps an old stamp or coin, well, that's about it.  The rest of the world seems to lose value when it gets old.  No one wants an old cell phone-you are immediately ostracized when you pull out the big old box while everyone else is talking on their razor thing plastic tumor builder.  No one wants old food-some people don't even eat leftovers.  Old news is just that, old news.  Old houses fall apart and may lose their value while the land goes up.  Old cars are kind of a toss up.  If you are lucky enough to have a car that is considered a ‘classic', then it might gain a bit of value.  Most of us have cars that lost money the minute we drove them off the lot.  Don't even speak of the old Pentium computer you have, or 14.4 modem it has.  Computers get old faster than we can buy them. 

I'm learning that our bodies get old too.  Funny how I don't feel old, I mean, it sees like yesterday that I was 16 and stud of studs-perhaps that's a delusion of old age.  My mind is as sharp as a tack but I certainly cannot play with the high schoolers like I used to when I played or when I coached.  Although I feel like I'm 18, I'm not.  I can't eat like I used to.  I can't run like I used to.  I can barely breathe like I used to.  I'm young, but I'm getting old.

As an English teacher, I see first hand how quickly people dismiss things because they are old.  There are all kinds of works of literature, some written by dead white guys from thousands of years go, some by dead people from 20 years ago.  Many of you probably hating your English classes as you wondered why this teacher HATES you so much that he would make you study a poem called the Chambered Nautilus from the 19th century.  Some teachers, more clever than me, will insert contemporary songs in order to really "grab the attention" of the students by relating to them.  Ironically, even the songs we THINK are new are old.  Only 3 kids in a class of 25 had every heard of U2 yesterday...ouch.   My film classes are full of students who fall asleep once that black and white film from 1942 hits the screen. We don't like things that look old, sound old, smell old, taste old, or feel old. 

__________________________________________The Old Testament as opposed to the new

I see the same aversion for "old" things in the church.  In many "emerging", but not all, circles of the church there is a huge reaction against traditions once held sacred.  Instead of appreciating their value, reforming them, then reapplying them in today's contexts, things are thrown out completely.  Now, don't get me wrong, I enjoy having a guitar versus a pipe organ-but I wouldn't mind a pipe organ every so often.  I love the sing hymns, but I certainly like the way Brad plays them.  In fact, I like all the "Christian" songs we play, as long as they don't sound like what one pastor has called PROM SONGS FOR JESUS.  No one wants to come to a prom for 2007 and hear Bon Jovi or Guns and Roses playing.  That which is old is not evil, in fact, it is often some of the most substantial, meaty, and meaningful stuff there is whether it be music or something else.

But I sense this aversion to OLDNESS extends over into our appreciation of the Old Testament for the average person. I remember growing up that my mom and dad, or pastor, or whoever, would encourage me to read my Bible.  And I did.  I would skip around the New Testament searching parts I either understood or enjoyed.  I wouldn't spend too much time in the Old Testament because, well, it's old.  I couldn't see what how someone could enjoy reading geneologies-because that is all that is there, or what they could possibly learn from guys named Habbakuk, Zephaniah, or Nahum. 

I feel like today's churches still do that.  You see pastors skipping around to the "fun stuff" to preach, the least offensive stuff, the passages that are easy to make connections with.  Have we forgotten what the Bible says?-à

1Timothy 3.16

16 dAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness[i]

Romans 15.4

For xwhatever was written in former days was written for our yinstruction, that through endurance and through zthe encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.[ii]

1Corinthians 10.11

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but tthey were written down for our instruction, uon whom the end of the ages has come.[iii]

Luke 24.27

27 And nbeginning with oMoses and pall the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself

In this passage of Galatians, Paul continues to contrast Grace and Law, Faith and Works.  As all words of scripture are breathed by God, God's Spirit hear directs Paul to go into the OLD TESTAMENT to make a comparison, an analogy, for the situation here in Galatia.  In verse 24, the KJV, NASB, and ESV translators use the term ALLEGORICAL (Allegory), a term Paul uses to describe how he is using an Old Testament story to teach a truth not initially obvious.  The term is a bit misleading.  Allegorical interpretation is in fact, quite dangerous.  It can be used to perpetuate false understanding and confusion.  Quite literally, Allegories is either a fanciful or fictional story carrying a hidden meaning OR a true story in which the apparent meaning is in fact meaningless.   

At Damascus Road, we believe all Scripture is to be interpreted literally, though at times it may take a figurative form (i.e. using metaphor, comparisons, etc.) to communicate a literal truth. Paul's use of the O.T. story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar we believe is both historical and meaningful.  In hopes of recognizing the difficulty of the word ALLEGORY, NIV translators use the word figurative, which is helpful.  Basically, this means that the literal story (which has meaning and history) has additional implications and meaning.  This historical account is used as an illustrative comparison or analogy

That might not seem like a big deal, but it's huge.  If someone can go into the Bible and simply say that Jesus going to the cross is not in actually a fact of history, it is simply a nice allegory for how we are to live a life of sacrifice.  Suddenly, the cornerstone of our faith has been thrown out because someone had an idea to not take it literally.  We begin with literal and move out from there.  So the question then becomes, what is Paul illustrating to these Galatians through this story and what is God saying to us today through this story that happened over 4,000 years ago.

_______________________________________________READ GENESIS 4.21-31

One thing to note here is that when Paul says the LAW, he can often mean different things.  The law can refer to the actual laws and regulations that include the 10 commandments.  The term can also relate to the entire old Testament.  In this case, it refers particularly to the Pentateuch, or the five books of the law - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  They were all written by Moses and Paul challenges the Judaizers to embrace EVERYTHING that is said in the law.  In this letter, he has used to that to prove that they can't in fact achieve salvation because they cannot actually meet every requirement of the law and therefore deserve eternal death.   Jesus sermon in Matthew 5 showed that man could not, in their own power, reconcile with God.  They cannot meet the hold demands which require a perfect heart.

Here, Paul uses the Law to mean all the events and stories in the Bible.  He will take one in particular and demonstrate how this actually event of history proves that grace comes before law, that faith comes before works-and it always has.  

So, what is the history?

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.

_______________________________________________READ GENESIS 21.1-14

Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, was chosen by God in Genesis chapter 12.  He tells him that he will make him a GREAT NATION and that the earth will be blessed through his family.  So, Abraham ups and leaves his home town of Ur.  Then, from Genesis 12-about Genesis 25, then ultimately through the rest of Genesis, we read the record of Abraham and the God of Abraham, his SON, Issac, and his son Jacob.  But Abraham had two sons, Issac and Ishmael. 

The birth of Ishmael was according to the flesh. , not because it was physical, but because the means by which his birth came about.  Even though Sarah AND Abraham said they believed God's promise of true heir, their behavior said differently.  In Genesis 15, Abraham was freaking out because God said he would have offspring but there were none.  God then promised that Abraham would have offspring and they would be blessed. But, several years passed, and both Sarah and Abraham were getting older.  He was 86 and she was 76.  Instead of trusting in the promise, they decided to try and FIX IT themselves.  Sarah devised a clever plan to get a child by giving her servant (who they picked up in Egypt where they weren't supposed to be), and she conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. 

The birth of Issac, however, was according to the promise. 13-14 years after the birth of Ishmael, Sarah finally conceived and gave birth to the promised son Issac.  The conception was nothing short of supernatural as Sarah was around 90 with a dried up oven, and Abraham was at least 100 and Viagra hadn't been invented yet.


In a very REAL SENSE, the conception of of Ishmael represents man's way, the way of the flesh, the way to obtain blessing by works.  The conception of Issac represents God's way, the way of promise. 

The story that Paul recounts is when Issac, the son of Promise, has finally stopped breastfeeding and Dad wants to throw a big party to celebrate. Most likely, Issac is about 3 years old which makes Ishmael approximately 16 or 17.  Right before Ishmael was born, the angel of the Lord told Hagar that her son would be a "wild donkey of man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him."  In other words, he's going to be a real jackass which might explain why he is mocking this three year old at his party.  We don't know exactly why or what he is doing, but it is enough to get Mom mad, and Dad too. 

In response to Ishmael's insult, which I would guess is not the first time, God tells Abraham to do whatever Sarah wants him to do as he will take care of him because he is Abraham's son.  Like any protective mom, Sarah says get him out and Abraham listens.  He does not daddle, is not wishy-washy about his decision, and there is no mistaking the abandoning of this son of flesh.  He gives Hagar some bread, some water, and she and her teenage son go into the wilderness of Beersheba...never to be seen again.

So what does this mean for the Galatians allegorically?

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.

Now this is wear Paul's allegorical interpretation begins. He explains that these two women represent TWO COVENANTS.  Hagar and Ishmael represent the OLD COVENANT, the covenant of law and works.  Sarah and Issac, represent the NEW COVENANT, the covenant of grace and faith. 



The Old Covenant: Hagar & Ishmael

  • The Old Covenent is the covenant of Law given through Moses at MOUNT SINAI and required God's chosen people, the Jews, to work to keep all the commands that he gave in the covenant
  • Terms of Covenant were IMPOSSIBLE to we became RELIGIOUS SLAVES just as Hagar, and her son Ishmael, were slaves struggling by their own efforts to become righteous-which they could not.
  • The descendents of Ishmael eventually moved into Arabia (where Mt. Sinai is in fact located) and is today known as the Arabian Pennisula.
  • The conflict between these two brothers is in fact still going on - SAME DAD.
  • Mt. Sinai, and this Old Covenant, correspond to the present day (Galatian present) Jerusalem...really just a representation of the center of Judaism, AN EARTHLY Jerusalem.
  • In other words, Hagar and Ishmael are just like the Judaizers who they are interacting with. These legalists are quite accurately slaves, ignoring grace, sons of the flesh, and their religion is simply a result of their own effort to work their way as opposed to God's way.
  • Jerusalem, therefore, becomes synonymous with Legalism City!  Many of us have grown up in that Jerusalem, fled from that Jerusalem, or avoided that Jerusalem.  In a very real sense, that is the Church for many of us.

The New Covenant:  Sarah & Issac

  • This is the new covenant of grace, that comes through faith in the son of promise.  
  • We already learned that the true son of Abraham, the true son of promise, is Jesus Christ.  
  •  The Galatians, and anyone who accepts the gospel of grace, are not inhabitants of the old Jerusalem, LEGALISM CITY, but are in fact citizens of a much greater city.   
  • We are citizens of Heavenly Jerusalem, a city that is above, or spiritual, a city of freedom.   

Hebrews 12.18,22 says it perfectly comparing the covenant given at Sinai with the new...


18 For you have not come to zwhat may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and athe sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words bmade the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, c "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." 21 Indeed, dso terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." 22 But you have come to eMount Zion and to the city of the living God, fthe heavenly Jerusalem, and to ginnumerable angels in festal gathering[iv]


That is the church we are a part of!  How easily we get allured by the Jerusalem's of this world...How easily we lose sight of our true citizenship and our real home.  We get so immersed in "doing church" here on earth that we forget that everything we have in this world is nothing more than a speed bump to eternity.  That's what legalists do...they get excited about their trappings.  It's like the Pharisees and their beads.  They are more concerned about how they look down here then how they will feel when they stand before God.  A kingdom mind remembers where we're from. I remember my trip in Amsterdam...


Paul then continues with another passage from the Old Testament...


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."


This verse comes from Isaiah 54.1.  These words were first spoken to The Jewish exiles in Babylon.  Before Israel went into captivity, Israel was likened to a woman with a husband just as the church today is the bride of Christ.  In Babylon, she is barren, abandoned, desolate, and in captivity.  Being barren was considered not only regretful but a mark of reproach.  Having children is a blessing, being a mother is a blessing.  Immediately, the text Paul applies to Sarah to speak to her situation as one once barren but NOT FORGOTTEN, then blessed through the birth of the promised son, BY FAITH, Isaac. 


Paul says that Sarah is our mother.  The Galatians are not children of the flesh, but children of the promise.  If we're honest, doesn't it feel like your Sarah sometimes?  I mean, this LIFE OF FAITH, it's hard sometimes, maybe a lot of the time.  A life of flesh, a life of law, a life of works, that seems so easy.  You never really upset anyone.  Everyone likes you.     

  • Sometimes I feel like a barren women who is reproached and hated, even by those in my own community.
  • Sometimes I'm that guy who knows God's promises, I heard and read what God said, but are still waiting for them to come to pass...and I begin to doubt. 
  • Sometimes, I feel like that guy who really wants to believe but can't help but feel abandoned so I try to fix it myself. 

We are to rejoice like Sarah as we place faith in GOD and not OURSELVES.  Very simply, there are two ways to live your life...a worldview based on man or one based on God.  If it is based on YOU, then there will be many times when we don't have cause to rejoice.  When we fail, when we hurt, when we feel the reproach like an ostracized barren woman-and it feels like the world is against you.   I like what the next few verses in the Isaiah passage remind us of...who we are, and who he is. 

Isaiah 54.2ff....

4 "     Fear not, mfor you will not be ashamed;

          be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;

     for you will forget the shame of your youth,

          and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

5 n     For your Maker is your husband,

          the Lord of hosts is his name;

o     and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,

     p     the God of the whole earth he is called.

6 q     For the Lord has called you

          like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,

     like a wife of youth when she is cast off,

          says your God.

7 r     For a brief moment I deserted you,

          but with great compassion I will gather you.



So what does this story mean for us?

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


So, if we take this story as an allegory or, if we can simply make some comparisons that don't sound really "spiritualized" but practical...what will they be. I have four. 

As long as we stand for the truth of grace, we'll be persecuted.  The legalists will always persecute those who hold to grace.  We must expect it.  It will not feel good, it will cause you to doubt, but you must remember that your life is not founded in the approval of men.   The legalists may not come at you like legalists, but they will attack the little insignificant things and make them big things.  This is not being made fun of because you're a Christian, this is being made fun of because you're not the RIGHT kind of Christian.  People avoid those kinds of churches.


As long as we're sucking milk, we won't be able to defend ourselves or grow up.

Just like you have to cut the umbilical cord at some point, you also have to stop sucking off of Mom at some point.  Salvation is the beginning, not the ending. After we are born, we must grow.  But many of us have grown accustomed to wearing spiritual diapers.  We must do away with childish things, grow up, and become godly men and women.  You can only make excuses for so long.  Remember, children don't really like to be weaned, but you can't be a MAN or WOMAN until you do.  


As long as we keep our old nature around, we'll have trouble.  Be brutal with legalism and be brutal with SIN.   Ishmael (representative of the flesh) caused problems for Isaac, just as our old nature causes problems for us. Ishmael created no problems in the home until Isaac was born, just as our old nature creates no problems for us until the new nature enters when we trust Christ.  I'd like to say that once you accept Jesus, everything is peachy-that is usually when the hard stuff starts because suddenly the Holy Spirit reveals the pool you've been swimming in has a some floaters.  Your life has a bunch of crap in it.  Get rid of it!

As long as we depend on ourselves, we'll fail. Finally, and most importantly, we cannot depend on ourselves.  Stop living a life of flesh where you try and fix all the bad stuff in your life, there's too much.  But I want to be a good person! do I, but there is nothing good in me.   Well, the law was set up to make people good and all it did was show them how bad they were.  Jesus came because he knew we can't be good enough.  We are not smart enough or strong enough.  Apart from Jesus we are stupid, weak, and sinful. With Jesus we are stupid, weak, sinful, loved, accepted, and restored.  We think we are so strong, but God, in the form of man became completely helpless, was called a fool, to show how weak I was. 





More in Galatians

December 17, 2007

Galatians 2.15-21

March 18, 2007

Galatians 6.11-18

March 11, 2007

Galatians 6.1-10