A study of Paul’s letter to the GALATIANS (Lesson 7)
Pastor Barry Bruce The Gathering
Abraham’s Two Sons Galatians 4:21-23, Genesis 16, 21:1-21
Those of you who have been with us throughout this series will recall the teaching on Abraham, “The Father of our Faith” and “Friend of God” (Lesson 5, Heirs of the Promise). In the passages that we will look at in this lesson, the Apostle, Paul, takes us back to Abraham once again to remind his listeners that God illustrated freedom for His people through the birth of his promised son, Isaac.
Paul begins his lesson by reminding his listeners that Abraham (Abram) had two sons. One by the “slave woman” (Hagar) and the other by the “free woman” (Sarah: Abraham’s wife). Paul makes it clear that Ishmael (Hagar’s son) was born of the “flesh” (born through the carnal scheming of Abraham and Sarah), while Isaac was the miracle result of a “divine promise” made by God.
Much “fake news” has been made of the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Some have made Hagar out to be a sort of patron saint of refugees and Ishmael her little innocent child waif. Abraham, Sarah and God have become the bad guys in the story while Ishmael, not Isaac, is even named the “fruitful man”! A simple study of the scriptures will separate the “fake news” from the real deal. Here are some things we can learn:
1.) Abraham (Abram) and Sarah (Sarai) were sinners. Just like every other person in the Bible and in history except Jesus. They doubted God’s promise of a son through Sarah and decided to hurry things up and do it their way. Their way was by using a slave girl named Hagar. This was all kinds of wrong, but God had nothing to do with their actions. When we act outside of God’s direction we are wrong too and can make terrible mistakes that hurt us and others.
2.) Hagar (the slave girl) conceived a child in sin (of the “flesh”). This was not the child’s fault or Hagar’s fault, but none the less, the child was conceived through an act of disobedience by Abraham. (he proved to be dumb…just like Adam was before him! (Genesis 3:6)
3.) Hagar “despised” (detested, hated, loathed) Sarah, likely for making her lie with her husband and carry his child, but the strong word indicates more than resentment. It is likely that Hagar expressed hate outwardly to Sarah perhaps by mocking her inability to bear her own child. Being barren with no children to give your husband was the ultimate disgrace.
4.) Sarah and Abraham refused to take responsibility for their own sin. Abraham tried to ignore it while Sarah lashed out in anger. What do you do when you’re caught up in the consequences of your sin? Notice how neither of them owned it and ask for God’s (or Hagar’s) forgiveness.
5.) Regardless of Abraham and Sarah’s sin, God confronts Hagar for being a runaway slave and tells her to return to her master and submit. We do not know why or how Hagar became a slave, only that she was one. We also do not know what actions of Hagar’s could have been wrong in God’s sight. What we do know is that God had a plan and Hagar needed to obey God to accomplish that plan. Ultimately we do not serve men but God. Not listening to Him is how this whole mess started in the first place. God’s word to slaves: 1 Peter 2:18-23, Ephesians 6:5-7.
6.) The prophecy of Ishmael is not a good one although his descendants will be many. He will not be a fruitful man but “a wild donkey of a man” who is a fighter and hostile to all. God speaks the future here but He did not make it so. The fact is that Abraham and Sarah’s unrepentant sin will always fight against the will of God. Our unrepentant sin will too.
7.) Ishmael and his mother were taken care of by Abraham for 16-19 years. They were finally banished after Ishmael mocked at Isaac’s weaning ceremony. It is likely that Hagar “despised” and Ishmael “mocked” regularly until Sarah had enough one day! Ishmael was born to Abraham when he was eighty-six (Genesis 16:16) and he was a hundred years old at the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:5). Ishmael was 14 years old when Isaac was born. According to Jewish rabbinical traditions, weaning could take place anywhere between 18 months and 5 years of age. So that would make Ishmael 16 to 19 years old on the day that he was “mocking” (ridicule, deride, scorn, make fun of) little Isaac on his celebration day.
8.) God rescued Hagar and Ishmael from their certain death and God fulfilled His promises to the Jews and ultimately in Christ through the line of Isaac. Through Ishmael (“the flesh”) did come the great nation and religion of Islam. Through Isaac (the “divine promise”) came the Christ who is the only way to God (John 14:6, Philippians 2:10). God didn’t change His “divine promise” because man made a mess of things. God fulfilled His promise and made a way to freedom through Christ for all who call on His name! John1:11-12,3:16-18
Children of the Free Woman Galatians 4:24-31, 2 Corinthians 3:17
Paul says that “figuratively” (metaphorically: derived from life) the two women (Hagar and Sarah) represent two covenants or laws. Hagar represents slavery to the law (which was given on Mount Sinai: The Ten Commandments/ the “letter of the law”) and Sarah represents forgiveness and freedom from that law through Christ.
Paul says we who are Christians (“brothers and sisters”), like Isaac, are children of the promise! Flesh and Spirit (the promise) will always war as will the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac, but we belong to the free woman’s son. We are not to live in the veil of Hagar. We are not to live in the veil of the law. Uncover your face and smile. Let the Son shine in. The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!