Throughout the Bible there runs two groups of people. The story is an old one. It goes back to the Garden of Eden when a smooth-talking serpent conned a backwoods babe with a fixation on forbidden fruit. There followed a voice in the Garden, some embarrassing questions and then a promise from the Lord that was to set the stage for the rest of history.

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel." (Genesis 3:15).

This verse provides the theme of the rest of Genesis. This will be a book about two seeds:

Even though Cain was descended from Eve, he eventually follows the way of the Serpent in rebellion against God. While he is the physical descendant of Adam and Eve, he is the spiritual descendant of the Serpent. Like the Serpent, he rebels against God. And like the Serpent, he is cursed for his rebellion. The story continues as we are given two separate genealogies representing each of these two seeds.

Lamech is the culmination of the Seed of the Serpent through Cain. He takes Cain's sin and compounds it, threatening to do seven times the damage that Cain had done. In contrast, Enoch walks with God and Noah obeys the Lord in the building of an ark. But after Noah, there is again a departure of a seed to follow after the Seed of the Serpent.

Ham sins and shows by his sin that he is of the Seed of the Serpent. His son Canaan is cursed and continues to be a curse to the Israelites. The pattern continues as Ishmael is cast out while Isaac shows himself to be the son of faith. And again when Esau despises the promises of God, it is to Jacob that the promise is given.

Moses writes the book of Genesis to the Israelites in the wilderness. It is much more than a mere history book. It is a call to be a seed and a generation and a people. The question before the Israelites in the wilderness is which seed they will be a part of - the seed of the serpent or the seed of the woman? Each new generation will determine which seed it is. Will it continue in the covenant relation to God and show itself to be a part of the promised seed? Or will it turn from God to join and be a part of the seed of the serpent?

But the question does not stop with Genesis. The rest of the Bible, indeed, the rest of history contains the same issue. There are those who will seek the Lord and there are those who will seek their own way.

As we come to the end of Galatians 4, we see that Paul establishes a similar contrast. It is a contrast between two groups of people.

Two Churches

The true church

The false church

Two Cities

New Jerusalem

Spiritual Babylon

Two Crops



Two Women

The bride of Christ (Revelation 21)

The harlot of Revelation 17

We have already seen this chapter as a study in contrasts. We have contrasted the bondage of the Law versus the Adoption that we have in Christ. We have contrasted both the teachings and the attitudes of the Judaizers versus that exhibited by Paul. The final set of contrasts will come in the form of an allegory.







What is an allegory? Paul uses the term in verse 24 when he says: This is allegorically speaking. The Greek term used here is a present participle. It is a compound word made up of the joining together of two Greek words:

Allos : Another

Lego : To speak

An allegory is a story which speaks another message beyond the plain meaning of the story. In the midst of its narrative it carries a deeper message which is apart from the story itself. This brings up a question to our Western minds. Why would Paul summarize his arguments with an appeal to an allegory? Several reasons can be proposed:

  1. This allegory brings us full circle back to where Paul began in chapter 3 with the story of Abraham.
  2. It is possible that this method had been used by the Judaizers and now Paul turns their own method against them.
  3. Paul is able to use this allegory to illustrate and to review all of his main points.
  4. a. There is a radical difference between law versus faith.

    b. Life under the Law brings a curse; the life of faith brings blessing.

    c. Life under the Law leads to slavery while the life of faith is liberating.

  5. The story is a fitting climax to both the formal argument of 3:1 - 4:11 as well as to the personal appeal of 4:12-20.
  6. It allows Paul to gently suggest in story form what he wishes the Galatians to do as a result of his epistle -- that the Galatians should obey God by casting out the legalizers.



Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. (Galatians 4:21-23).

Paul is going to tell a story. It is a story that is known to his readers. It is a story about Abraham. Paul began his doctrinal section with Abraham and now he has come full circle and will close this section with Abraham.

Abraham had two sons. That in itself was significant because he originally was unable to have any children. He and his wife were both old and his wife had been barren even when she was young. God had promised to take Abraham's offspring and make from it a great nation. Abraham figured that he would help God out by having a son by his wife's handmaid. This was considered to be an acceptable practice in those days - I don't recommend trying it today.

Abraham had Ishmael by Hagar the Egyptian handmaid. But then God demonstrated that He didn't need Abraham's help in the first place when Sarah became pregnant. She gave birth to Isaac. Instead of having no sons, Abraham had come to have two sons. And to make matters worse, they did not get along. This was sibling rivalry multiplied by a factor of ten.

Judaizers and their Legalism

Paul and his Message of Grace

Abraham had a son by the bondwoman

Abraham had a son by the free woman

Hagar gave birth to Ishmael

Sarah gave birth to Isaac

Born according to the flesh

Born according to the promise.

A natural birth

A supernatural birth

The birth of Ishmael is the story of Abraham not trusting God but instead, trying to accomplish the right thing in the wrong way. It is a story of unbelief. And that is exactly what has been at issue in Galatia.

Here is the point. It is possible to be the physical son of Abraham and still not be a partaker in the promise. The Judaizers were the sons of Abraham, but they had abandoned the promise that came through Abraham and Sarah. They wanted to hold on to the old bondage of the Law. They wanted to hold onto their own works-righteousness. It is as though they were of Hagar. They are like Ishmael who was born according to the flesh but are not children of the promise.



This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.

Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. (Galatians 4:24-25).

Now we have a further development of the allegory. We have already seen how one woman represents the flesh while the other represents a birth that is by promise.



The Mosaic Covenant

The New Covenant

Proceeds from Mount Sinai

Proceeds from Mount Calvary

Bears children who are to be slaves

Bears children who are to be free

Corresponds to the present Jerusalem

Corresponds to the New Jerusalem

This would have been a shocking statement to the Judaizers. They knew that Ishmael had given birth to the Arab nations. They were quick to look down upon the Arabs as being the people who were descended from a slave of Abraham and therefore of less position than themselves. But Paul points out that all who were under the Mosaic Covenant were in this same position of slavery

Paul is not necessarily picking on the Jews. He is not anti-Semitic. The truth of the matter is that ALL people who are outside of Christ are in this same position of slavery.



But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

For it is written, "Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband."

And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. (Galatians 4:26-28).

In contrast to the earthly city of Jerusalem is the Jerusalem above. To what does this refer? The book of Revelation had not yet been written and John had not yet seen his vision of a city coming down from heaven. Notice that the picture is not of a city that is coming in the future, but of one that exists today. The question is not when, but where. It is the the Jerusalem above as opposed to the Jerusalem below - the one that is in the heavenlies as opposed to the one that is on earth.



The Jerusalem below

The Jerusalem above

A picture of earthly Jerusalem and its sacrificial system

A picture of heavenly Jerusalem where Christ is bringing many sons to glory

There is a lot of excitement these days among Christians about the possibility of the Jews rebuilding their Temple as though that had some wonderful prophetic ramifications. And perhaps it does. But the blessings of Jerusalem do not lie in the earthly state of Israel. They lie in the heavenly Jerusalem.



But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. (Galatians 4:29).

The Judaizers were persecuting the Gentile Christians by insisting that keeping the Old Testament Law is a priority and a privilege. Paul himself had been beaten to the point of death for preaching the gospel to the Galatians.

This corresponded to a persecution that took place by Ishmael against Isaac. Abraham seemed to be unaware of that persecution, but it was apparent to Sarah. Ishmael went out of his way to mock his younger sibling. His treatment of Isaac was paralleled by the treatment of the Gentiles by the Judaizers. Just as the flesh wars with the Spirit (5:17), so Ishmael, a child of the flesh, was at odds with Isaac, a child of the promise, born according to the Spirit (4:29).



Role of the persecutor

Role of the persecuted

Israel was the persecutor of Christ

The church is persecuted by Israel



But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman."

So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:30-31).

Paul draws his argument to a conclusion by pointing to what end Hagar and Ishmael were brought. They were cast out of the family. We normally look at the historical account and are inclined to feel that Sarah over-reacted in her jealousy and that Abraham made a poor decision because he was afraid to stand up to his wife. We read the narrative and our heart goes out to Hagar and her son who came close to death in their resulting banishment.

But the issue was the inheritance. If Ishmael was allowed to remain, he might have become a contestant for the inheritance of Abraham. God had promised a supernatural inheritance through a supernatural seed. If that promise were not allowed to be fulfilled, there would be no salvation and the human race would find itself without hope in its sin. At stake was nothing less than the salvation of mankind.

The tragedy is in those who seek to follow in the way of Ishmael. These are the people who insist on trying to approach the Lord on the basis of their own works.

1. The Ishmael Church is a product of the flesh.

It is the plan of self-effort. That is how Ishmael came about in the first place. Abraham and Sarah had a promise. But they tried to produce the promise through their own efforts. There are a lot of churches today that are only there because of self-effort. If the Holy Spirit got up and left, it would be business as usual.

  1. The Ishmael Church is man's substitute for the real thing.

It is the Isaac church that is genuine.

3. The Ishmael Church is permitted a measure of blessing.

Ishmael was permitted to be born. God promised to bring 12 princess from Ishmael and He did so. The Arab nation continues to exist as an influence in the world today. But the covenant was given to Isaac.

4. The Ishmael Church mocks the things of the Spirit.

The older they get, the sharper the division that will exist between the two. If you want to find the true church, then look to see who is persecuting whom.

5. The Ishmael Church remains in the same house for a while.

It is interesting to note that within God's plan there is always a Cain to every Abel, an Esau to every Jacob, a Korah to every Moses and a Judas to every Peter. The same is true for the church. God has allowed the tares to grow up with the wheat.

Why? Because they will each expose the other. Ishmael had no problems until Isaac came along. But the existence of the two of them brought about contention. In the same way, the Pharisees looked great until Jesus came along.

The good news is that if we are in Christ then we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. We have partaken of a supernatural birth. It has linked us to the promises of Abraham. And that has brought us true freedom.

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