Galatians 4:21-31

Two Covenants.

Galatians 4:21-31

These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. – Galatians 4:24 NLT

The Old Testament and the New Testament. Two covenants made by God with His people. Paul uses the two wives of Abraham and their two sons to serve as illustrations of the differences between these two covenants. Hagar was actually the handmaiden to Sarah, Abraham’s wife. When years passed and Sarah still found herself barren and unable to bear a son for Abraham, she came up with the bright idea of giving her handmaiden to Abraham so that he might have a son through her. This was her attempt to help God out. And Abraham willingly and eagerly agreed to the plan. The result? Ishmael. Paul makes it clear that “the son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise” (Galatians 4:23 NLT). God had made a promise to make Abraham fruitful and give him more descendants than the sand on the seashore. But when God’s promise appeared to be bogged down, Abraham and Sarah decided to step in and fulfill the promise of God on their time frame. Ishmael was the child born by human effort.

But God had not needed any help when it came to fulfilling His promise. He simply had a different time line. He refused to accept Ishmael as the substitute, in spite of the pleadings of Abraham. Instead, in the course of time, God gave Abraham a son through Sarah, even though she was quite old and barren. God fulfilled His promise in His time and on His terms. Isaac would become the child of the promise. Again, Paul uses these two women to illustrate the differences between the two covenants. Hagar would come to represent the law. She illustrated life lived by human effort. Her son was the result of human effort and planning. But he was not the fulfillment of God’s promise. His birth could not substitute for God’s promise. And as Ishmael and Isaac grew older, Ishmael would persecute Isaac out of jealousy. Ishmael knew that he was not the heir, even though he was the first born. And those who lived according to the law were persecuting the rightful heirs of God even in Paul’s day. The believers to whom Paul was writing were “children of the promise just like Isaac.” They were children of God born by the power of the Spirit of God. But those trapped under the law were persecuting them, attempting to force them to earn their rightful place in God’s family through human effort. But Paul reminds them, “dear brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman; we are children of the free woman” (Galatians 4:31 NLT). We are free. We are heirs. We are beneficiaries of the promise of God completely as a result of the efforts of God alone. Like Isaac who was born by the miracle and power of God, we have been born again by the grace and mercy of God made possible by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. None of it is due to our effort. We have not earned it and we do not deserve it. God alone saves. We can’t save ourselves. And we can’t sanctify ourselves. Human effort plays no part in God’s redemptive plan for man. It is His promise and it will be fulfilled according to His terms and through His power alone.

Father, thank You for this reminder that my effort is unnecessary. I don’t have to try to earn Your favor through my own energy. But so often I try to come up with ways to help You out. I try to step in and do what I seem to think You are incapable of doing. But Your promise doesn’t need my help. It is all based on You and You alone. My position as Your child has nothing to do with my worth or my works. It is all Your doing. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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