The analogy of Hagar and Sarah. 4:21-5:1


Having concluded the doctrinal section of his letter, Paul embarks on a series of exhortations. In our passage for study we look at the second of these. Paul takes the story of Hagar and Sarah, v21-23, expounds its meaning, v24-27, applies it, v28-29, and then ends with an exhortation - "stand firm and do not submit again to the slavery of the law", v30-5:1.

The passage

v21. Addressing those members of the church who now feel it necessary to place themselves under the law of Moses, Paul asks them if they have really understood how the law impacts on their life.

v22-23. Three facts are pinpointed in the story of Hagar and Sarah. i] Abraham has two sons, Ishmael and Isaac; ii] There are two mothers, one a slave and the other free; iii] The birth of the two boys is different: Ishmael is born in the normal manner, but Isaac, although he underwent a natural conception and birth, was a child of promise. With Ishmael, Abraham relied on his own ingenuity and effort, while for Isaac, he relied on God's grace.

v24-25. Paul presents an interesting typological interpretation of this story. He doesn't suggest that the original writer intended these conclusions, just that in light of the revelation of the mystery of the kingdom of God in salvation history, "figurative" conclusions can be drawn. The two women stand for two agreements ("covenants"). Hagar, the slave, represents the agreement between God and Israel on Mount Sinai, an agreement which promised access to the Abrahamic blessings through obedience to the law - an impossible demand. As Hagar, the slave, bore children into slavery, so the law bears children into slavery. The law's message is that the law enslaves us to sin and death.

v26. On the other hand, Sarah represent God's eternal agreement, the promise of life, in all its fullness, as a gift of grace appropriated through faith, a promise even now realized in "the Jerusalem above" as believers gather with Christ in the heavenlies, Eph.1:20, 2:6.

v27. Isaiah 54:1 foretells that the new Jerusalem, rising from the ashes of the exile, will far exceed the glory of Solomon's kingdom. The children of the free woman will exceed that of the slave. Ultimately, the children of faith will surpass the children of obedience.

v28. Paul now gets into application. The Galatians are not Hagar's children, but the children of Sarah, and along with Isaac, are the inheritors of a promise that is by grace through faith and not works of the law.

v29. Paul draws his application: As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so Jews, particularly Judaizers (nomist believers), will harass Christ's disciples.

v30. In this and the next two verses Paul gives his concluding exhortations. As the slave-woman and her son are cast out, so must believers disengage from the law and its adherents. Promise and works, grace and law, faith and effort, cannot coexist.



v31. Who then are Abraham's true children and heirs of the promise made to Abraham and his descendents? Those who, by faith, rest on God's free grace. Believers are the children of the free woman, Sarah, not the slave.

5:1. "Whatever you do, never surrender the freedom Christ has won for you", A.M. Hunter. Be sure of this, we lose our freedom when we submit to Biblical law to access God's promised blessings.

The lure of slavery

In democratic societies there is a constant tussle between the will of the people and the will of the political elite. This is particularly so in former English penal colonies such as Australia where, although now a free people, there remains a tendency to look to political masters to "make the hard decisions." In a true democracy it is the wider community, the people, who resolve matters of national importance.

Many Western democracies are by no means "the land of the free." Citizens may constantly affirm democracy, the rule of the people by the people for the people, but when it comes to the crunch, they submit to the will of the politician, the expert, the special interest group, ...... It is widely assumed that only they know what is best. There is this pervading assumption that the general population cannot really be trusted to "correctly" make the right decision for the national good.

Luckily, when faced with criminal charges, democratic communities know their well-being rests with twelve fellow citizens, and not with the police, lawyers, or judges. When it comes to the law, we do not put our life in the hands of experts. Yet, with national affairs we seem to trust the experts rather than the people. In truth, it is more likely that the people together make the best decisions for the well-being of a nation. Democracy is always a better option than autocracy.

In the spiritual realm, as in the political realm, it is very easy to find ourselves slaves and no longer free. In writing to the Galatians, Paul the apostle addressed believers who were ensnaring themselves again in the bondage of sin and death. These believers were replacing the gospel of grace with submission to Biblical law, as if obedience could maintain or advance their standing with God so as to access his blessings. In Christ, everything is ours as a gift of grace through faith. So, whether it be the political or spiritual realm, "never bow your necks again under the yoke of slavery."


1. Discuss Paul's analogy of the two women and their sons.

2. Compare the drift from freedom to slavery in both the political and spiritual realms.

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