Before we continue with this chapter, take a look at the following passages of scripture to get a basic understanding of the metaphor Paul is using.
Genesis 12:1-4, Genesis 15:3-5, Genesis 16:1-5, Genesis 18:10-14, Genesis 21:1-13
(Don't forget to read Galatians 4:21-31)
In these verses, God promised Abraham that his bloodline would become a "great nation" and that all nations will be blessed because of him. While the Jewish people are descendants of Abraham and God used them to reveal himself to the world, this prophecy ultimately comes true through Jesus. Jesus is a descendant of Abraham and has made it possible for anyone from any nation or culture to have forgiveness and a relationship with the God of the universe.
Abraham and his wife Sarah were both old, and so Sarah tried to "help out God" by telling Abraham to sleep with her servant (whom Paul calls the "slave woman" in the NIV translation) so she could give him an heir instead. This only complicated matters and brought about conflict. God ultimately allowed Sarah to become pregnant with Abraham's child. The descendants of this child became the Jewish nation of Israel.
So now we pick things up at Galatians 4:21, where Paul uses this historical event to illustrate his point about the "legalists" (those who give too much importance to the law) that had been influencing the Galatian Christians.
Paul says that the slave woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai (this is where the law was given to Moses) and that her children, like her, will be slaves. Sarah used Hagar to try and fulfill God's promise on her own, much like we so naturally try to earn approval with God by our actions. But like Sarah's plan to use Hagar, our efforts fall short.
Paul also says that Hagar is like Jerusalem as it was at that time (and as it still is today). Like the rest of the world, Jersualem is filled with people in spiritual and moral slavery without Jesus. Slaves that must obey God's law perfectly (an impossible task) in order to be free. The concept of a "Jerusalem that is above" refers to an ideal Jerusalem in heaven that will one day come to earth. (Revelation 21:2) Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 where the prophet gives comfort to the exiled Jews, promising that they will be restored to glory and live in peace. Paul says that this Jerusalem of the future, inhabited by free people, is the metaphorical mother of those who trust in Jesus.
To sum up Paul's point we might say that those who try to do things their own way will be slaves to the endless pursuit of perfection and will not inherit what God has for us. Those who trust in Jesus are free from that burden and will gain everything God has promised. Paul explains that, like the slave child of Hagar(Genesis 21:9), the legalists are doing harm to the true Christians. He also strongly implies that the legalists should be removed from the church community because of their behavior. (v. 29-30)
Trying to "earn" good standing with God can seem like the right way to go. In fact, we sometimes FEEL good when we DO good. And God absolutely wants us to obey him and do what is right. But out of love for him, not out of a burden of obligation or an effort to get on his "good side". Jesus has carried that burden and by trusting in that, we get on God's "good side". God wants us to serve him freely, and that can only happen if we trust completely in Jesus for our good standing with God. Anything less, and we become slaves to a list of do's and don'ts and miss out on all that God has for us.
Coffee House Question
Expanding on Paul's "slave" metaphor, what do you think a person who tries to "earn" God's love by "following the rules" has in common with a slave? Next Week: "Paul wants men to cut off their WHAT??"
Expanding on Paul's "slave" metaphor, what do you think a person who tries to "earn" God's love by "following the rules" has in common with a slave?
Next Week: "Paul wants men to cut off their WHAT??"