World English Bible translation
4:19My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you-- 4:20 but I could wish to be present with you now, and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. 4:21 Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, don't you listen to the law? 4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the free woman. 4:23 However, the son by the handmaid was born according to the flesh, but the son by the free woman was born through promise. 4:24 These things contain an allegory, for these are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage, which is Hagar. 4:25 For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to the Jerusalem that exists now, for she is in bondage with her children.
The Letter to the Galatians is loaded with images of families and family life. Paul has already effectively used the image of the family of God to represent all those who are being saved. He has used the image of adoption to symbolize the process by which God brings us out of our former life and places us into His family. Most of all, Paul has enlisted the image of the patriarch Abraham as the ancestor of all those that have come to God by faith.
Now Paul draws on another familial image. He pictures himself as a mother in labor, awaiting the spiritual birth of the children that he has brought to God. "I am again in travail," or labor," until Christ is formed in you." Also, like a mother, he wishes that he could be with them so that so that he could fuss at them. He was perplexed that the Galatians could so easily be swayed by the Judaizers who were only zealous to take them away from the gospel.
So he gives them another image from Genesis and the story of Abraham. He reminds them that Abraham had two sons. One son was born of Sarah and was the child of the promise. This son, Isaac, was the son that Paul had compared all believers to. But Abraham had another son. This son, Ishmael, was born to a slave, Hagar. Hagar was the handmaid of Sarah. Sarah thought that she could "assist" God when the child of the promise was delayed. She offered her handmaid to Abraham in order to fulfill the promise in her own way.
But, God had promised that the child of the promise would be born of Sarah. Ishmael represents all of our efforts to do the work of God in the flesh. Paul also tells the Galatians that the story of Hagar represents something else as well. The story of Hagar and Sarah was an allegory for their own situation. Just as there were two sons and two women in Abraham's life, there are also two covenants in the lives of the Galatians. Paul was offering the gospel of grace through Jesus Christ to the Galatians. The Judaizers were offering the Law of Moses.
Paul writes that Hagar represents the law and the flesh. Sarah represents the promise and the grace of God offered in Christ. One woman lived in bondage and slavery (Hagar). One woman was free (Sarah). Hagar represents Mount Sinai and Sarah represents the New Jerusalem of God in heaven. One is earthly and the other is spiritual.
Paul wants the Galatians to know that every day they have the opportunity to choose one path or the other. We can choose to follow the flesh or we can choose to follow the Spirit of God. Choosing to place one's self under the power of the law is to place one's self under the power of sin and the flesh. But, placing one's self under the power of the Son of God is to place one's self under the covenant of God's mercy and grace. It means declaring by faith that sin is dead and that we are no longer under the power of the law. It is accepting by faith that we are completely forgiven by God, cleaned of all our unrighteousness. It is accepting, as much as we would like to cling to it, that we are free from our sins - that we are free to be the true children of God.
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