Wednesday, 4 May 2016
But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, Galatians 4:23
Paul is making his analogy between the law and grace by using Isaac and Ishmael as examples of the two. The word “But” is given to show that there is a notable difference in the two sons. He had just said, “For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.” From this sentence, one could not really discern any difference in the boys, just in who they were born to, “But…”
Now to show the contrast, he continues with “he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh.” This was Ishmael. He is the son of the union between Abraham and Hagar. Abraham went into her, she conceived, and then she bore the child. There was nothing unusual about this. It was how things have always been. Further, there was nothing in advance to suggest that there was anything special or important about the coming child.
On the contrary, Isaac came in a completely different manner. Paul says that “…he of the freewoman [came] through promise.” Before Isaac was conceived, the Lord had made a promise to Abraham that he would have an heir. This is recorded in Genesis 15 –
“Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Genesis 15:2-4
Eventually, Abraham had Ishmael. Abraham had no reason to assume that this wasn’t the son of promise. A child had been born to him, and so he raised him thinking that this was the promised child. However, some years after Ishmael’s birth, Abraham was told something new –
“As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” Genesis 17:15, 16
Some time after that, the promise was further refined. During a visit from the Lord, Abraham was given this specific promise –
“I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Genesis 18:10
From these verses, we can see that there is a difference between how Isaac and Ishmael came to be. Ishmael came according to the flesh; Isaac came according to a promise. In fact, the timing of Isaac’s birth was specifically given. The Lord knew, in advance, what was to occur and it demonstrates that He had a plan concerning the future of the two boys.
What will occur a short time later in their lives will be used as a comparison between what should occur between adherence to the law and trusting in the grace of Christ. Paul is making this as simple as possible for the Galatians (and thus us!) to understand. And yet, his words are not listened to by Judaizers and legalists to this day. How sad it is!
Life application: What good is adherence to the law if the law has been fulfilled in Christ? Think it through and give up on your legalism. It can only end badly for you when you stand before the Lord.
Lord God, You know the end from the beginning. Before Isaac was born, You told of His coming. And later, you even pinpointed the time that His birth would occur. The same is true with Your church. In the fullness of time, You sent forth Your Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. The plan is marvelous, and it was foretold in advance. How could I put aside the grace of Christ in order to pursue my own righteousness? No way! I stand on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Period and end of story! Amen.