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 slave woman and one by the free woman. But the son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is speaking allegorically, for these women are two covenants: one coming from Mount Sinai giving birth to 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 enslaved with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written: “Rejoice, infertile one, you who do not give birth; Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for the children of the desolate one are more numerous than those of the one who has a husband.” And you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is even now. But what does the Scripture say? “Drive out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.” So then, brothers, we are not children of a slave woman, but of the free woman [Gal4:21-31].
“The Law” Paul is referring to in the opening verse is the Pentateuch, being the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. For he is quoting from Genesis. Hagar was the servant-girl Abraham (then Abram) took to himself encouraged by his wife to conceive an heir. As we know, Abraham later miraculously conceived a son Isaac through his elderly wife Sarah in accordance with God’s promise. This led to rivalries between Sarah and Hagar and between the two young boys. The Scripture Paul quotes regarding “driving out” the slave woman and her son was a retort of Sarah. As was the case with his description of the Law’s purpose, Paul doesn’t always present the full picture but is making a particular pastoral point. For Abraham had felt very differently about the matter to his wife regarding Ishmael and Hagar. Indeed, Abraham called upon God to bless Ishmael and the Lord obliged (Gen17:20). Ishmael was also circumcised by his father and was sent away having received Abraham’s personal blessing. Yet as Genesis and Paul indicate, it was certainly the case that God had chosen Sarah’s son whom He insisted be called Isaac (“He Laughs”) in view of his parents’ bemused tittering (Gen17:17 &18:15). It was to be his seed rather than Ishmael’s that would be the members of God’s elective (i.e. exclusive) covenant.
Yet as stated above, Ishmael was not only blessed by his father but by Father God. That was not to condemn him and his seed “to a lost eternity”. That would have been no sort of a blessing for a human soul who was also the fruit of Abraham’s loins. Yet Ishmael’s seed, like the vast majority who have occupied the planet were not to be the children of promise. The covenant with Isaac was exclusive as is its replacement sealed with Christ’s blood that Paul refers to in the passage under consideration (Gal4:28). That is a matter of God’s elective choice, it is not the covenant that determines the eternal destination of the soul. That pertains to who is of God and who is of the devil (1Jn3:10). That in turn is determined through the theologically eluded covenant referred to back in Genesis 4:7(strictly KJV), the participants appropriately being the first two human beings to born of woman, Cain and Abel. Abel didn’t “get saved”, Cain reprobated having shown himself to be “ek tou ponerou” – derived from the Evil One (1Jn3:12). Whilst that was not the covenant Paul was alluding to in this passage, the apostle’s reference to Isaac and Ishmael impinges upon the subject that is always closest to my heart: the breadth of God’s benign providence. For that in turn pertains to the Creator’s intelligible goodness and equitable justice, including towards the Arab people of which many believe Ishmael to be patriarch. I commented on the matter in my book with which excerpt I will close:
“Just as Cain and Abel being the first siblings to be born of woman were representative players in the Universal Covenant, Ishmael and Isaac are such for the new embedded elective covenant established through Abraham. The difference here is that unlike Cain, Ishmael was not disqualified by his actions, he just wasn’t selected in the first place, whereas within an inclusive covenant all are admitted but some default. Ishmael had been circumcised by his father Abraham and blessed by God [Gen17:20] but Sarah’s son Isaac was elected to inherit the promises given to his Father Abraham. However, God continued to relate favourably to Ishmael [Gen21:20]. He was still accepted within the Universal Covenant of life as potentially were his descendants. Others outside or preceding the Abrahamic Covenant specifically referred to as righteous in the Old Testament include Abel, Enoch, Noah, Lot and Job. As for the Christian:
You brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise [Gal4:28]
And you sisters and brethren, if baptized, are in the elective covenant that replaced Abraham’s and you are there by grace alone. Others like Ishmael are loved by God but not elected to that exclusive family predestined before the foundation of the world to form the community in which the education and spiritual resources are provided for individuals to become holy and faultless in love before God through Jesus Christ [Eph1:4-5]. That is the Church, priesthood for the world, brought forth by God’s will to be the first fruit of a restored universe”. [Excerpt from “The Little Book of Providence” – chapter 3]
The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible: Download a free PDF of e-book suitable for desktop computers HERE[updated September 2023] Large-print version for mobiles HERE [565 pages]
Related post: children of God