whytheology

For the Intersection of the Everyday and the Sacred

March 21 Reflection, Galatians 4:24-31

Galatians 4:24-31 KJV (NIV Link Below)

24Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

25For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

26But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

27For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

28Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

29But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

30Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

31So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

Link to NIV text

A Child of Freedom

Paul states unequivocally that he is speaking of Isaac and Ishmael only as an analogous situation. What he is really concerned with are the two covenants: the one established at Sinai (by the giving of the law) and the one established by Jesus Christ that has fulfillment in the new Jerusalem from above. He references a passage from Isaiah. We need to look around that specific verse to understand the full implications of Paul’s reference.

This section of Isaiah was written directly to the Israel in exile. From chapter 40 onwards Isaiah’s tone shifts from condemnation of an impending exile to comfort in the midst of it because God would send a redeemer to bring them out the exile. The chapter directly prior to the one in our text today is a reference to the “suffering servant” that has clear implications about the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death, something of which the early church was very much aware. This death ushers in the scene describe in Isaiah 54 (from which Paul is quoting). In it the childless woman is told to get ready because she will have more children than she knows what to do with. She is told to expand her tent, lengthen the chords of her tent and not hold back. Incidentally that verse (Isaiah 54:2) later served as the basis for William Carey’s “deathless sermon” that sparked the modern missions movement.* We are told this will be possible because God will be our husband (Christ weds the church) and a picture of the new Jerusalem is given. The specific verse quoted by Paul, it seems, is a cry that new children of God will come where it was not thought possible and they will be too numerous to count: the promise to Abraham that his seed will outnumber the stars in the sky would come true.

Jesus’ death removed the barrier of separation between God and man, and in so doing allowed the Gentiles to become children of the covenant: a new covenant built upon promise, not one of human effort; as such it is entirely based upon grace. Paul can’t help but continue to draw the parallel between the relationship of Isaac and Ishmael and his own with the Judaizers. Therefore, Paul argues that the Galatians take the same approach as in that situation: get rid of the child not of promise; stop trying to earn God’s salvation and receive it for the gift it is. In the new covenant no one is excluded because of what they have or haven’t done. Instead, as Isaiah 55 tells us, there is an invitation for all who are thirsty to come. That is all that is needed: only to come, and by doing so have your thirst quenched. If you have time, I encourage you to read Isaiah 54, and possibly the surrounding chapters.

Add your thoughts below. What do you think Paul means by saying that the new Jerusalem (the one from above) is our mother? How do you think salvation is analogous to quenching thirst?

*William Carey’s sermon is no longer available, but we do know its two primary points were 1) Expect great things from God and 2) Attempt great things for God. What expectations do you have for God now? Are you attempting anything great for him?

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