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Hagar and Sarah

by Danny Mihailovic last modified Mar 08, 2014 10:39 AM
The Jerusalem from above is Christ Himself. To avoid Christ was to throw one’s self back under a regime that was obsolete; powerless to do anything but form lifeless clay pots, rather than a living temple, made of living stones, growing into a spiritual house.

Galatians 4:19–31 Hagar and Sarah—The law and the promise

The Apostle’s desire for his spiritual children, (v19) went beyond the fundamental issue of salvation, as complex as that was in itself, (for who can truly describe the grace of God with any degree of logic,) because Paul wanted Christ to be formed in them. This was something the Law could not do.

The law was necessary but it had no sanctifying power. Imagine forming a piece of clay into a pot. It will always remain a lump of clay but in a different shape. God did more than just form clay into a human shape when He created Adam. For God to form His image in man, the clay had to be more than just a rearranged bit of clay. God breathed life into the clay, and it became a living being.

To have Christ formed in us is to have the Spirit breathe life into our imprisoned soul and then continue forming the life of Christ into us. The law could only form the clay outwardly. Consequently, there could be no life coming from the law, as it could only address sin, not kill it. The Holy Spirit kills sin by the sword, meaning the Word of God. (Rom 8).

So then, the Apostle asked the question, “You who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” Was it because they were spiritually blind, so much so, that they forgot that under the law they were still slaves to sin? Still lumps of lifeless clay?

The key word here is “desire.” This was no mere theological debate. The Galatian Christians actually had a passion for this mix of Judaism and Christ. The difference could be highlighted like this: I desire chocolate, compared to I would like some chocolate; I desire the law compared to I don’t mind the law. One is strong, the other is indifferent. The Galatians were strong on the issue, not moderate!

If they desired the law so much, Paul urged that they should really listen to what it said. Moreover, he wanted them to understand the Law in its context. So he used the allegory of Sarah and Hagar. This was a dangerous parable, because Paul daringly pictured the holy and divine Law as being inferior to Christ.

The allegory begins with Abraham’s first child who was not of promise. That is, Ishmael came by the will of Sarah, who in her panic about being childless, encouraged Abraham to have a child with her maid Hagar. What followed was misery entwined with endless conflicts, bringing about a tragic end for Hagar. The lesson here was that man could not achieve the will of God by his own hand.

There never was any eternal good that came from the “flesh”, or by “natural means.” i.e. God works His own way—not our way. It was important that this tragedy impacted heavily on future generations as a reminder.

In Paul’s summation, Hagar represented the Law given to Moses at Sinai. Yes, the law was God given, God blessed as Ishmael was, in spite of the curse of Sarah upon Hagar, but like Ishmael, the Law could not deliver the promises of the Covenant. That is, Christ could not come through man’s natural “seed ” and neither could the law bring about salvation through its natural means, obedience!

Something far greater had to replace Ishmael; namely the seed of promise as stated back in Genesis 3:15ff. This insinuation also brought great resistance to Paul’s teaching on the Covenant. The branding iron that burned into the hides of the Galatian Judaizers left an everlasting imprint on them. To be told that there was a Jerusalem that was below and then a Jerusalem that was above would have been the height of insult. Paul made reference to the then existing Jerusalem as a place of bondage – still under Hagar – what an insult! Weren’t they children of Abraham? Perhaps…but outside of Christ, they were not Isaac’s generations but Ishmael’s. He made the point that just as Ishmael’s seed persecuted the seed of Isaac then, the Judaizers now at the time this letter was written, persecuted the Christians. (v28-29).

So what is to become of the “bondwoman” Hagar, the Law, meaning the old regime of administering the covenant? Cast her out! Paul attributes this action to Scripture. “What does the Scripture say?” (v30). "Cast out the Bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman."

These words truly incited battle for the Christian church in the days of this great Apostle. To be told that the Jews no longer had an inheritance in the Covenant was to be told that God had cast them out with Hagar and Ishmael. But was this Paul’s intention? To bring a dividing line here? Not really. It was an allegory he used to show his own people whom he loved dearly, that they had missed the point of the cross. They had missed God’s great moment in History.

The promise to the gentiles had to be expanded beyond the walls of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem from above is Christ Himself. To avoid Christ was to throw one’s self back under a regime that was obsolete; powerless to do anything but form lifeless clay pots, rather than a living temple, made of living stones, growing into a spiritual house.