A little disagreement with Paul

Alright – today ya’ll I am going to be a bit more theological, I hope you don’t mind.

Our Passage: Galatians 4:25 through 31

I’m reading though Galatians this week, and as I come to this section, I am having an issue with what Paul is doing with it. I can clearly see he is talking to the people of the city, and, based on the previous chapters, trying to remind them that in Christ, they have freedom – so stop trying to earn God’s favor and covenant relationship by adhering to the law. He is speaking to a first century audience, one that has been walking in freedom in Christ yet is now being challenged to be more stringent by those who obey the law.

What bothers me is the Hagar and Sarah story usage. I get where he is going, I can see the analogy he’s making about how the Jews in the earthly Jerusalem are in slavery as they were unwilling to accept what God had done through Jesus, yet those who believed in Jesus and accepted his forgiveness were now citizens of the “heavenly Jerusalem”. Yet after finishing my Old Testament course, I see this passage with completely new eyes.

I do not deny that the apostle Paul was inspired by the Lord to write this for his Galatian audience. I do not deny that those who cling to Jesus are children of promise. However, his analogy with the slave and free woman, I have to beg to differ.

The way I see it, Paul actually took a piece of scripture out of context to make his point.

In verse 30 he says:

“But what does Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son’. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”

Again, I get the analogy he is making, and I won’t deny the point of us focusing on the freedom we have in Christ being the one who justifies us, rather than adherence to a set of religious rules.

But have you gone back to read the passage Paul is referencing (Genesis 21:10)? That’s not something God said, it’s what Sarah told Abraham once Isaac had been born.

Hagar and Ishmael had been around for 13 years until Isaac was born. A big feast held when Isaac had been weaned (could have been his 2nd or 3rd year)… and the text tells us that Ishmael was mocking them.

So Sarah did what any mother might naturally do when you see a teenager mocking your toddler. GET OUT OF HERE! Leave him alone. Let’s not spiritualize this too much: Her momma bear came out. I wouldn’t doubt if in the back of her head she was also thinking “he doesn’t matter anyway, MY SON is the one God promised.” (I know, some of you are probably cringing that I would assign a very selfish thought to Sarah here. But she was… human…)

Abraham was actually concerned at what Sarah was asking. Keep in mind, Ishmael was the only son he had known for 13 years until Isaac was born. He loved Ishmael. So he asked the Lord what to do. God’s response was still full of promise. Yes, he said Abraham could acquiesce and send Hagar and Ishmael away, but he promised that Ishmael would also become a great nation because he was Abraham’s seed as well.

Then what we see the text showing us is that God took care of Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 21:15-20). He didn’t abandon them whatsoever… He saw her need, and He provided for her.

This passage in Genesis, rather than condemning Hagar and her son, actually shows us God’s heart of compassion for those who are rejected and outcast. We also have to recognize that, once she left Sarah’s company, Hagar wasn’t a slave any more… she was free, and was a mother of someone that would father a nation on his own.

How’s that for throwing a wrench into Paul’s analogy?

I’m not saying his analogy didn’t work for the Galatians. I can see pieces of it now, and recognize what he is saying. Yet for me, everything in me now cries out to see this a little differently. Paul used pieces of the Old Testament to make his point, but he made an analogy and point that the original text wasn’t actually trying to make.

Man. That is a lot to think about at 7:45am. Come to think of it, I better run – it’s Saturday and I have places to go!

Hope you have a refreshing and restful weekend, whatever your plans!

By Tama Nguyen

I'm an avid reader, tea drinker, and outdoor adventure seeker. I am convinced that God is still out to fix this broken world, and He uses us to do it. Chasing after things that matter...

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