Paul appealed to the Galatians, reminding them of their brotherly love and the charity that they had shown him a few years earlier when he had been with them. After making this appeal to their Christian duty of love, he transitioned into an Old Testament story to allegorize the frailty of their returning to the system of law-following to earn the favor of God. Righteousness, or a right standing with God, was not something they had the ability to accomplish in and of themselves. The only way that right standing with God could be had was by faith in the work that Jesus had accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection.
The story that Paul allegorized was the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Following God’s promise to give Abraham a son, since Sarah was infertile, Abraham and Sarah devised a plan whereby Sarah’s slave, Hagar, would mother a child with Abraham. This plan was the sinful human answer to an unfathomable, Divine promise. In God’s design, a son would come through Abraham’s wife, but lacking the faith that God could cause his wife to have children, Abraham had fathered a child with his wife’s slave.
The child conceived, Ishmael, while biologically the son of Abraham, was also biologically the son of a slave. In the broken system of human bondage, Ishmael would never be regarded as a full son. Conversely, when Sarah finally did become pregnant as God had promised, the son that she and Abraham had, Isaac, was a full heir of Abraham, and the true son “of promise,” since it was he whom God truly promised to Abraham and Sarah, and not his brother, Ishmael.
In the allegory that Paul wanted to relate from this historically true story, there were two sons – one born in slavery and bondage, and the other born free by the promise of God. By comparison, those people who wanted to be in bondage to the law of Moses were never going to receive the blessings that God offered to the children born free from bondage by faith. Paul addresses those who seek to be in bondage, and argues against them. He explains to the Galatians that any child who was born a child of promise by faith should never desire to become a child of bondage by strict adherence to the law.
In addition, Paul explains that in the story of Ishmael and Isaac, the son born in bondage, Ishmael constantly antagonized and scorned his half-brother, Isaac. Similarly, those who live under the oppression of the law constantly seeking to find God’s approval through a series of good-enough works, spend inordinate amounts of time and energy correcting and scorning those who have been called into the family by faith.
Paul’s final appeal to those born of faith into the promised blessing of God is that they would realize they have been born free. They should not desire to become slaves. They should rather seek to live in the freedom granted them by God through the saving work of Jesus.
Food For Thought: According to Paul, what type of people does Ishmael represent? How?