“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman” (Galatians 4:21-22).
Earlier in Galatians chapter three, Paul the Apostle turned to the example of the great Old Testament patriarch Abraham to contrast the difference between salvation by grace through faith and the works of the Law. Now as we enter the final portion of Galatians chapter four, Abraham will make one final appearance within this Biblical letter.
The remaining verses of Galatians chapter four will recount the experience of Abraham, his wife, two of his sons, and one of his servants to illustrate the demands of the Law and the freedom Christ brings. To grasp this analogy, we can look to the record of Abraham’s life in the Biblical book of Genesis and watch that experience as it unfolded within his life.
We can begin with God’s promise to make Abraham into a “great nation” as described in Genesis 12:1-2. Genesis 15:1-4 then goes on to tell us that God promised to provide Abraham with a son to be his heir. By the time we reach Genesis chapter sixteen, Abraham was still waiting upon God to fulfill those promises- and that’s when Abraham and his wife made a history-altering decision…
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to what Sarai said” (Genesis 16:1-2).
It seems that Sarah (1) had run out of patience in waiting for God to fulfill His promise to provide Abraham with a son of his own. So she invited Abraham to sleep with her maidservant in the hope of building a family through her. While it may be difficult to understand how Sarah could ask her husband to engage in a sexual relationship with the maid, it helps to consider the cultural background of that time.
You see, the inability to produce children was often viewed as a social disgrace in the cultural climate of that era. So Sarah decided to employ Hagar as a kind of surrogate mother. A child who was subsequently born under that arrangement would be recognized as Sarah’s own son or daughter according to the custom of that time,
Unfortunately for Sarah, that plan was about to take an unanticipated turn.
(1) God will eventually change Sarai’s name to Sarah in Genesis 17:15. “Sarah” is used within these studies for continuity purposes.