Author: Ron Graham
An Allegory Explained
—Galatians, third main section
In this lesson we study the third main section of Paul’s letter, Galatians 4:21-31. Although it is a very small section in terms of text, it is most significant and will require a whole lesson for study.
Hagar and Sarah
By expounding the significance of events surrounding God’s promise to Abraham, Paul shows that the law of Moses has been abolished. In this lesson Paul walks us through the real-life story of Hagar and Sarah, seen as a prophetic allegory.
1 The Scripture Text Galatians 4:21-31
¶“21Tell me, you who wish to be under the law, have you been listening to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23But the slave woman’s son was born according to the flesh, while the free woman’s son was born through promise. 24These things are an allegory, for these women are two covenants. 25Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Galatians 4:21-26).
¶“27For it is written, 'Rejoice barren woman who does not bear. Break forth and shout, you who are not in labour. For the children of the desolate are more than those of the one who has a husband' ” (Galatians 4:27).
¶“28Now brethren you are like Isaac: children of promise. 29At that time the son born of the flesh persecuted the son born of the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30What does the scripture say? 'Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son shall not be an heir with the free woman’s son'. 31So, brethren, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman” (Galatians 4:28-31).
2 The Allegorical Concepts
|C o n c e p t C h a r t|
|MEDIATOR||Jesus [God]||Moses [Man]|
3 The Explanation Verse by Verse
"Tell me, you who wish to be under the law, have you been listening to the law?"
People are easily misguided if they don't heed carefully what they profess to follow. The very things that Moses wrote indicated that his law was to be done away.
"For It is written that Abraham had two sons: one by a slave woman, and one by a free woman".
These women are:
- Abraham’s wife Sarah (the free woman), and
- Sarah’s maid Hagar (the slave woman).
Sarah could not get pregnant, so she had her slave Hagar act as a surrogate. The child of this union was called Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-3, 15-16)
However Ishmael was not the son through whom God intended to fulfil his 'seed' promise to Abraham. God told Abraham that Sarah herself would bear him a son called Isaac (Genesis 17:15-21).
Although they laughed at the promise yet in their old age Sarah bore a son to Abraham (Genesis 21:1-5).
Thus Abraham had two sons: Ishmael by the slave woman Hagar, and Isaac by the free woman Sarah.
"The slave girl’s son was born according to the flesh, and the free woman’s son was born of promise".
The birth of Ishmael was simply the result of ordinary natural process. The birth of Isaac needed supernatural help, and resulted from God fulfilling his promise.
"These things are an allegory, for these women are two covenants ..."
As God unfolded his purpose and fulfilled his promises, he caused many things in olden days to stand as symbols of things that would come to pass in latter days. Certain persons, places, objects, and events, were "shadows" or "types" of wonderful things to come.
In this way God reinforced his prophetic word and helped us to understand and believe the Bible story. Hagar and Sarah symbolize two covenants which have been discussed previously:
- (1) The law which came through Moses
- (2) The promise made to Abraham which culminated in Jesus Christ.
"Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children".
When Moses led God’s people out of bondage in Egypt, and led them to Mount Sinai, he gave them the law. Eventually they came to Canaan and Jerusalem became the seat of Mosaic law. But through disobedience, Jerusalem was destroyed. A remnant of its exiles returned to rebuild it, but it was thereafter weak and oppressed by foreign powers.
At a deeper level, the Jews were under spiritual slavery because of the way the law of Moses bound them. Paul has previously discussed this (Galatians 3:23-25, Galatians 4:3-7)
So Hagar the slave girl symbolises the covenant God gave through Moses and the physical and spiritual enslavement suffered under that law.
"But the Jerusalem above is free and she is our mother".
"For it is written:
Rejoice barren woman who does not bear,
Break forth and shout, you who are not in labour,
For the children of the desolate are more
Than those of the one who has a husband".
These verses quote from Isaiah 54 which foretells the future glory of Zion.
Many Jews thought the earthly city of Jerusalem would be liberated and rise to world dominance. Paul however interprets prophecy differently: there is a new Jerusalem —not an earthly city, but a 'Jerusalem which is above', a heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-23 Revelation 3:12).
Although we live on earth just now, we belong to this heavenly city, and we are pilgrims going there (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:8-10,16 13:14)
These ideas may seem deep, yet they are not too difficult to grasp. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3).
Sarah is a symbol of that heavenly place, because the right of residence in that place can be gained only through the one of whom her son Isaac was ancestor. Just as she was a free woman and her son was free, so those who gain entry to the city she symbolizes are free and are true sons in the house of our heavenly Father (John 8:31-43).
"Now brethren, you are like Isaac: you are children of promise".
We are to follow the covenant of promise which God made with Abraham. This remained very much a mystery until it was revealed by Jesus Christ in the gospel. The gospel, God’s new covenant, is the full revelation of the promise given to Abraham (Galatians 3:8 Romans 16:25-26)
By confessing true faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10), repenting of sin (Romans 2:4), and baptism into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3-7), we become heirs of the promise (Romans 8:16-17).
"At that time the son born of the flesh persecuted the son born of the power of the Spirit. It is the same now".
On the day that Isaac (the child of promise) was weaned, Sarah saw Ishmael (the child of the flesh) mocking Isaac (Genesis 21:9).
This is symbolic of the Jews' persecution of Christians (of which persecution Paul had been a ringleader), and the trouble in the churches caused by false teachers from Judea.
"What does the scripture say? 'Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son shall not be an heir with the free woman’s son'"
Paul paraphrases what Sarah said to Abraham, after she saw Ishmael mocking. (This was the last straw for Sarah, who had been unhappy about Hagar after the surrogacy, because of Hagar’s ungraciousness).
Abraham, with God’s encouragement, did his wife’s bidding, and cast out Hagar and her son (Genesis 21:9-14)
This symbolizes the abolition of the law of Moses, so that the promise might be established through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:22, Hebrews 8:6-7, Hebrews 10:9, Colossians 2:14)
"So brethren, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman".
We are not bound by the covenant Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, but have been set free by the truth Jesus (the promised 'seed'), brought down from heaven (John 1:12-14,16-17)
The true story of Abraham, Hagar, Ishmael, Sarah, and Isaac, is a kind of prophecy in real life.
The women represent two covenants. Hagar symbolized the covenant enacted on Mt Sinai. Sarah symbolized the covenant of promise which God made to Abraham and brought to fulfillment in Christ.
In the same way, Hagar and Sarah represent two Jerusalems. The Jerusalem on earth, which became captured and enslaved, was represented by Hagar the bondslave. The heavenly Jerusalem, which is free, was represented by Sarah the free woman.
The bondwoman and her son were cast out foreshadowing the abolition of the Siniatic law. The free woman and her son were accepted, foreshadowing the acceptance of Jesus and his sacrifice as the basis for a new covenant of promise.