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"Who's Your Mother?"
Galatians 4:21-31

Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
April 12, 2006

This is often considered one of the most difficult passages in Paul's letter. And yet, it illustrates one of its richest truths. It is well worth the effort to understand.

A. Paul begins by speaking directly to those who place their trust in the law and seek to earn God's favor by living under it. He asks (somewhat sarcastically) if those who seek to be under the law have really heard it! This suggests that they are being contradictory: they want to be under it;
1. Paul explains elsewhere that the law was not written to make us righteous; but rather to declare us to be sinners in need of a Savior (Gal. 3:19-25). They who seek to live under it are not using it "lawfully" (1 Timothy 1:7-11).

2. Thus, Paul - under the guidance of the Holy Spirit - shows from the law that those who seek to live under it are clearly misunderstanding it.

B. He illustrates this by pointing - in the "law" - to the story of two sons: Isaac (to whom all Jews would associate themselves) who was born of his wife Sarah (Genesis 21:1-7), and his half-brother Ishmael.

1. Ishmael was born of Sarah's Egyptian bondwoman Hagar (Genesis 16:1-16); and this was because of an effort to have a son through the effort of the flesh.

2. Isaac was born several years years later of Sarah (Genesis 21:1-7); and this was an act of God in fulfillment of His covenant promise by faith (Gen. 15:1-6; 17:1-22).

C. Paul makes clear that these things are "symbolic" (allăgoreő). They illustrate a spiritual truth concerning two different covenant relationships toward God. Being a son of Abraham - and therefore an heir to the promise of God made to him by faith - is not a matter of being a physical son (Matthew 3:9; John 8:31-44), but of being in a spiritual relationship with God by faith in His promise (Galatians 3:9, 26-29; 6:16; see also Romans 4:16).


A. A "covenant" is "a bond in blood sovereignly administered" (O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of The Covenants, p. 4), by which God makes Himself the God of a people and they themselves the people of God.
1. The "Old Covenant" is illustrated by Ishmael who was born of a bondwoman according to the operating principle of the flesh. It speaks of the effort to seek God's favor through conformity to His law.
a. It is associated with Mount Sinai in Arabia (the land of Ishmael), where the law was given.

b. And Mount Sinai is associated with "Jerusalem which now is" - that is, the source of Judaism which taught God's favor through works of the law. It is a "Jerusalem" which is in "bondage" (as was Hagar) with her children (as was Ishmael).

2. The "New Covenant" is illustrated by Isaac (the child promised before the law; but born after Ishmael). He came, not as an effort of the flesh, but as a result of the promise of God.

a. It is spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-34; and is associated with "the Jerusalem above".

b. The "Jerusalem above" is a spiritual relationship with God through faith in His promise through Christ. It is a relationship that is described as "free" (as opposed to bondage); and is said to be "the mother of us all".

3. Paul supports this by turning to the prophetic word given to the people of God though Isaiah (in Isaiah 54:1-3). It promises that Israel - taken in captivity to Babylon - will return in greater numbers than it left. Paul, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, applies this to God's promise of blessing to those who associate themselves with Sarah - the mother of the free-child through faith in God's promise; rather than to Hagar - the mother of the son of bondage through the works of the flesh.


A. We who have trusted Christ, then, are not of Hagar. We are of Sarah; and are thus associated with Isaac as "children of promise". To trust in the law - as those who were seeking to be "under the law" were trying to do - is to be inconsistant with the relationship we are now in by faith in the promise. It is essentially a wish to be placed in bondage!
1. Paul offers proof of our relationship with the promise by the fact that, as believers, we suffer persecution by those who wish to be under the law. This was, of course, illustrated in how Ishmael persecuted Isaac (Genesis 21:8-9); and was realized in experience by the fact that the Judaizers persecuted those who trusted in Christ by faith - who are "born according to the Spirit" (1 Thess. 2:14-16; see also Galatians 5:11; 6:12).

2. Yet, he also cites Genesis 22:10-12 to show that there will be no promise of the inheritance to the son of the bondwoman. There can be no mingling of the two, therefore; Paul eliminates works of the law as a means of earning God's favor, and leaves only faith in God's promise through Christ.

B. The last verse should be seen in light of what follows in 5:1-6. We are not, as he asserts, children of the bondwoman, but of the free. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage."

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