Profound Allegory: Galatians 4:21-31
“21) Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22) For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23) But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.” Galatians‬ ‭4:21-23
In this broader text Paul uses the story of Abraham as an allegory to help illustrate the gospel. He notes that Abraham had two sons. Ishmael was born according to the flesh. His birth was Abraham trying to fulfill Gods promise his own way. He went into Hagar and she conceived a son. But he was not Gods promised son.
The second son was through Sarah. Even though she was old and beyond child bearing years, she was the avenue of Gods promised son. Romans 5:16-25 uses the story of the birth of Isaac as the basis of the kind of faith that brought justification to Abraham.
Paul’s point is clear, the works of the flesh do not bring the promise of the Spirit. Trying to gain acceptance with God through the self effort of keeping the Law is like Abraham giving birth to Ishmael. By contrast, justification by faith is like the story of the birth of Isaac.
But the allegory is even more profound. The promised Messiah did indeed come through the linage of Isaac. Verses 28-29 go on to explain that the son of the flesh persecuted the son of promise. Even to this day the Middle East conflict can be traced to the two sons of Abraham. Those from the flesh always persecute those from the Spirit.
As he spills into chapter five. Paul makes another profound point, the flesh always results in bondage but the Spirit brings freedom. The Law does not have the power to deliver from sin; to the contrary, it brings only guilt and condemnation. But faith in Jesus Christ brings forgiveness and freedom.
Pauls deeper argument on this point in the book of Romans leads to his profound observation of Romans 8:1-4. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because Jesus fulfilled the Law for us and He gave us His Spirit by faith. We fulfill the requirements of the Law by walking in the Spirit. He makes people clean and holy from the inside. He fills genuine believers with Agape love which automatically leads to the fulfillment of the requirements of the Law.
Paul uses Abraham as the prime example of the difference between works and faith, bondage and freedom and condemnation and justification. His arguments are bullet proof. The promise only comes through the avenue of faith.
Paul closes this context in Galatians 4:28-31 by pointing out that those who put faith in Jesus Christ are the children of promise and of the free woman. After being saved through faith in Jesus Christ and then going back to the Law is a move in the wrong direction. It is a move back to the flesh and the story of Hagar and Ishmael.
The Galatian churches were being pressured into going backwards. They were abandoning faith for works, the Spirit for the flesh, and freedom for bondage. Take time to review Paul’s amazing questions in Galatians 3:1-5. Paul was still building his case based on those questions.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global