Galatians 4:21-31

We have been absolutely awestruck by the series on SBS based upon a book by Margaret Attwood; The Handmaids Tale. After cataclysmic events, life in much of America is taken over by radical religious group, who go back to Old Testament; Abraham and Sarah, and Sarah giving her handmaid Hagar to Abraham to fulfill God’s promise.

The story from scripture has a distinctly Dysfunctional Soap Opera feeling. We have in this story: One Father; Two Mothers; Two Sons; One son born the ordinary way; One son born by God’s intervention; One son born by spiritual compromise; One son born according to God’s promise; Ishmael born according to works—trying to solve the problem by human effort; Isaac born because Abraham and Sarah believed God’s promise. The whole family is like a dysfunctional soap opera because self-effort and faith in God cannot live in harmony.

What does Paul do with all this? We can sum up the allegory this way: One man had two sons by two mothers. The two mothers represent two covenants—law and grace. One comes from earth, the other from heaven. Law produces bondage; grace produces freedom. This is the difference between religion and Christianity. Hagar and Ishmael stand for all those who want to help God out by doing good works to earn salvation. Sarah and Isaac stand for all those who believe God’s promise and are saved by faith alone. Picture Abraham as the father of two vast streams of humanity. What starts as a purely personal family problem comes to signify the great division of humanity into two groups—those who trust in God alone for salvation and those who trust in their works to help them earn salvation. From one man the two lines of humanity come forth: The line of works and self-effort looks like this: Abraham; Hagar; Ishmael; Mt. Sinai; The Law; Earthly Jerusalem; Bondage; Death. The line of faith looks like this: Abraham; Sarah; Isaac; Mt. Zion; The Gospel; Grace; Faith in Christ; Freedom, forgiveness, salvation; Heaven.

Sarah and Abraham succumbed to the idol of control. They couldn’t see God’s plan coming to fruition, so they though they needed to do it themselves. Paul’s challenge to the Galatians, and to us, is clear; put our trust in God and his ways. Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Where do you need to let go of control and trust in God’s provision?

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