World English Bible translation
4:26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 4:27 For it is written,
"Rejoice, you barren who don't bear.
Break forth and shout, you that don't travail.
For more are the children of the desolate than of her who has a husband."
4:28Now we, brothers, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 4:29 But as then, he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 4:30 However what does the Scripture say? "Throw out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid will not inherit with the son of the free woman." 4:31 So then, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free woman.
Two women … Two children … Two cities. This is the allegory that Paul is drawing from the story of the patriarch Abraham in the Hebrew scripture. Abraham had received the promise of God. The Lord had sworn to Abraham that even though he was very old, Abraham would be the father of many nations. As the years passed, Abraham thought to fulfill the promise by having a child through Hagar, his wife's handmaid. But God had sworn that the child of the promise would come through Sarah. In due time, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, a child was born to her. Though she was barren and well past the time when she could normally conceive, God fulfilled His promise as an example of His power and His faithfulness.
Now to Paul this picture of the two children of Abraham was an allegory of exactly what the Galatians were going through right at the time of his writing. Abraham had two children, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was born of man's planning. He was born of a slave woman. Paul further says that Ishmael represents the earthly Jerusalem ruled by the Jewish leaders. But Isaac was born of the promise of God. He was born to a free woman, not a slave. Isaac represents the Jerusalem that is in heaven, that is perfect and without sin.
Those who have accepted Christ by faith and trust in His substitutional sacrifice for their sins have entered into the promise of God. We are like Isaac. We trust in God's provision and upon his grace. Those who live by the law, on the other hand, are attempting to work out their own salvation in the same way that Abraham sought to fulfill the promise of God through his own efforts by taking Hagar as a wife. We can choose to follow after our own efforts or we can rely on the promise of God. The blessings of God and the inheritance of God are for the children of the promise.
The contrast that Paul paints here is dramatic. He means it to shock the Galatians. He is telling them that in listening to the Judaizers that they were risking losing the inheritance that was given to them in Christ and that such a thing would be the equivalence of enslaving themselves to the law and to sin. Christ had redeemed them so that they might be free. He did not redeem them in order to enslave them to the law.
That is the lesson we can all take from this section of the Epistle to the Galatians. Christ brings freedom. Where there is no Christ, there is no freedom. Anything that shackles us in the bonds of sin and death is not of Christ. That can be our own desire to follow after the flesh. It can be our own desire for rules and laws of our own making. It can even mean, by Paul's own words, trying to live by God's own holy laws that were given to the Jewish people for God's own purposes and reasons.
Did God's law bring evil to us? Never, for sin was in the world before the law was given. But, the law came in order, like a tutor, to lead us to the Christ. Now that our Savior has come, we leave the law behind, naturally as the adult puts away the things of childhood.
Where there is Christ, there is freedom. Do you live free in Christ? Truly free? Have you set aside the chains of sin and the blinders of the law? Do you know the joy of the freedom of the children of God's promise?
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