“Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Galatians 4:25-26 NET).
We can view the analogy given to us here in Galatians 4:25-26 much like two vehicles on a journey towards acceptance with God. One vehicle represents a person who seeks to earn God’s favor through his or her own efforts. The other vehicle represents salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In this illustration, the first vehicle is associated with Hagar, Mount Sinai, and the present city of Jerusalem. The second is identified with Sarah, Isaac, and the heavenly Jerusalem.
While both vehicles seek to arrive at the same destination, each has chosen to take a different exit. Much like the first vehicle in this illustration, Hagar represents the Old Covenant that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai. The Old Testament book of described that experience in the following manner…
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’ The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21 NIV).
This vivid word picture illustrates what it was like to approach God under the terms of the Old Covenant. Although the Mosaic Law offered genuine forgiveness of sins, that “exit” ultimately led to a spiritual dead-end for human beings who are incapable of fulfilling its terms. Hagar the maidservant was symbolic of that approach, for it resulted in a lifetime of servitude in working to secure (and retain) acceptance with God. The legalists of Galatia sought God’s favor through the works of the Law in much the same way.
On the other hand, Sarah personified salvation by grace through faith in Christ. That salivation is freely available through God’s provision and not through human intervention. Unlike those who sought to return to the bondage of a works-oriented relationship with God, Sarah represented the freedom we receive in Christ to worship and follow God. Like the second vehicle in our illustration, this is the “exit” that leads to acceptance with God.