History Lesson

Scott Hoezee

Read: Galatians 4:21-31

But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. (v. 23)

This is a hard text. Paul is desperate to find analogies to convince the Galatians that salvation comes by grace and not by keeping the law. This time he reaches back to Israel’s history.

God promised that Abraham and Sarah would have a child. But it took 25 years. Given how old both of them had been when the promise was first made, with each passing year it seemed less likely. Eventually they got impatient and Sarah suggested that Abraham fulfill God’s promise by having a child with her servant Hagar. Abraham did so and Ishmael was born. But God was not pleased. Abraham should have waited, because eventually the promised child, Isaac, was born to Sarah.

In a curious move, Paul makes Hagar stand for Mount Sinai where the Law was given. He makes Sarah stand for grace. He then says that followers of Christ should want to be Sarah’s/Isaac’s kind of people: people who embrace the promises of God and not people who jump ahead of God and do things on their own.

This is not the only place in the New Testament where someone interprets an Old Testament story differently than we might expect. But we believe Paul was inspired and so got it right. However, the point is clear: don’t dump God’s grace for some other scheme. Joy can be found in the gospel only. Stick with it! —Scott Hoezee

Prayer: Keep us steadfast in your promises, O God.