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Hagar and Sarah March 13, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 4:21-31.

Summary: Paul begins by using the following allegory from Genesis to make a point to the Galatians: Hagar and Abraham have a son, Ishmael; also, Sarah and Abraham have a son, Isaac. Now Ishmael was only born at Sarah’s request, while the birth of Isaac was foretold by the Word of God.

Paul then clarifies to the Galatians that he is using an allegory here: Hagar represents the law, as the law was given to the Jews on Mount Sinai (the Arabic equivalent of Sinai is Hagar) – yet the Jews are not the heirs of God. Indeed, the law is practiced in Jerusalem by a servile people. On the other hand, Sarah represents the church, as the church consists of free children who have the same Holy Spirit. He then cites Isaiah 54:1 to bolster this allegory: although the church is apparently forsaken by God, she has actually been fruitful – while those who hold to the law and appear to be fertile will not receive the inheritance that the church will receive.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they, like Isaac, are the children of Abraham based on God’s promise. Now the world hates the children of Abraham – just as Ishmael hated Isaac. Yet he infers from Genesis 21:10 that God will overthrow the world and preserve the children of Abraham. Paul concludes by reminding the Galatians that they are not under the law; instead, they have Christian liberty and have been justified by God.

Thoughts: This passage reminds the reader of the account in Genesis 16 where Hagar gives birth to Ishmael. Luther offers some interesting thoughts on this account in his commentary:

We see Sarah’s great humility in this temptation and trial of her faith. She thought, “God is no liar; what he has promised to my husband, he will certainly do. But perhaps God does not want me to be the mother of that seed. It will not grieve me that Hagar has this honor.”

This is certainly an interesting interpretation of the events of Genesis 16. Now I had always assumed that Sarah allowed Hagar to conceive Ishmael with Abraham out of a desire to maximize her personal happiness. In Genesis 16:2 we read that Sarah consented to this act and stated “…perhaps I can build a family through her.” One could interpret her statement as her desire to make the most of the present situation (she knew that she could not bear children). Of course, this interpretation is not necessarily more valid than Luther’s take on the situation, so it is possible for modern readers to view Sarah’s actions in a more sympathetic light. Perhaps allowing Hagar to conceive a child with Abraham was actually quite humiliating for Sarah (even if it reflected her limited understanding of God’s plans for her family).

In verse 29, we see that the children of the promise are persecuted by the children of the law. Luther offers some insights on this point:

But we must arm ourselves with the knowledge that the faithful must bear the reputation in the world of being seditious and schismatic and the originators of innumerable evils. Hence our adversaries think they have a good case against us, and indeed that they perform a great service for God when they hate, persecute, and kill us (John 16:2). Ishmael has to persecute Isaac, but Isaac does not persecute Ishmael in return. Whoever does not want to be persecuted by Ishmael should not profess to be a Christian.

Clearly Luther spoke from personal experience, as Catholics undoubtedly accused him “of being seditious and schismatic” based on his actions during the Protestant Reformation. Now, as noted in the Introduction to his commentary, it is actually based on 41 lectures that he delivered at Wittenberg University in 1531. One must wonder if Luther’s students were also actively persecuted by Catholics at that time. Were they regularly assailed – at least verbally – by Catholics who exhorted them to drop out of Luther’s class? Did Catholics occasionally interrupt Luther’s lectures and cause a ruckus? We can only hope that Luther’s students responded positively to his lectures and had their faith in God – and resolve – strengthened by his impassioned arguments, especially in the face of Catholic persecution.

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1. Doing Good to All | Ringing In - March 27, 2013

[…] I noted in a previous post, this commentary is based on a set of lectures that Luther delivered at Wittenberg University in […]


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