Meet Sarah: The Mother of Believers (Pt 3)

Daily Devotion | Day 319

“Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise . . . So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free [woman]” (Galatians 4:28, 31).

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote to address a hotly contested issue among Christians of that region. Some Jewish Christians, mostly based in Jerusalem, had convinced Gentile believers that submission to the entire law of Moses was necessary for their salvation. They were not asking the Gentiles to replace faith in Christ with the law. They did insist, however, that submission to Christ and His law was not enough. Gentiles needed to be initiated into the law of Moses as well via circumcision.

Paul heard about this. To his dismay, some of the Gentile Christians had either embraced this false doctrine or were close to doing so. His letter to the community was a sharp rebuke for their gullibility. Additionally, Paul took the opportunity to reiterate the sound teaching regarding these matters. In doing so, he combined the power of rhetoric, familiarity with the Scriptures and his divinely inspired insights into the new covenant. Today’s opening passage falls within this context.

Paul brought Sarah into the picture when he wanted to contrast the old covenant with the new. He did not mention her by name, but the context made it clear that he was speaking of Sarah (Galatians 4:22). Paul wanted to convey the following message: Whoever chooses the law over Christ (or in addition to Christ) chooses slavery over freedom. And to bring this point home, he made use of an allegory which involves two women: Sarah and Hagar.

Let us note that these two women are not fictional characters. They are historical figures in the Bible. And they both represent deeper spiritual realities with far reaching implications for believers. Paul’s goal is to show the ‘prophetic’ relationship between the two women and the two covenants they represent.

Hagar was a slave.  She represents Mount Sinai, earthly Jerusalem, life in the flesh, spiritual slavery and the law (old covenant). Children born of Hagar are born in bondage. As a result, Hagar’s children do not inherit the promises God made to Abraham.

In contrast, Sarah was a free woman. She represents the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26-27), life in the Spirit, spiritual freedom and the new covenant. Consequently, children born of Sarah are free; they are children of promise and heirs of God: “the Jerusalem above [represented by Sarah] is free, which is the mother of us all” (4:26).  This being the case, Paul confidently concludes that we, Christians, are children of promise as Isaac was (4:28), and “we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free” (4:31).

To sum up:

Being a child of Sarah is about identity, origin and destiny. If you do not know your origin and spiritual lineage, you will be confused about your identity and your heritage. Confused identity leads to a confused life. If you do not know you are from a royal family, you will live the life of a slave. This is what the Galatians were tempted to do.

But the Father wants you to know where you came from, which family you are part of, who you are and where you are going. Here, the life of Sarah is instructive. Sarah is more than a character in the Bible. She represents royalty, grace and freedom in Christ. And she is the mother of all who believe. Glory to God for giving us Sarah. Amen.

For further studyGalatians 4:1-7, 21-31 and John 8:31-47

Your Life Matters to God

Daily Devotional: Day 158

“And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation . . . And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow” (Genesis 21:17-18, 20, ESV).

 I once met a young woman who shared with me and others the story of how she was born. Let’s call her ‘Jane.’ Her mother had taken steps not to have a baby, resorting to a contraceptive method that was known for its near-perfect success rate. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whose side you take), unbeknownst to her, there was a hitch. Consequently, the woman later found out that she was pregnant. Thankfully, she didn’t abort. And, that’s how baby ‘Jane’ landed on planet Earth.

Today’s Scripture passage tells the story of Ishmael. Unable to conceive, Sarah urged Abraham to give her a child by having relations with her servant, Hagar. Abraham did. However, when Hagar became pregnant, she used that as an occasion to despise Sarah. Consequently, Sarah had the pregnant Hagar kicked out of Abraham’s house. By the intervention of an angel of God, Hagar returned to Sarah. But the tension didn’t end there. Ishmael was born; and later, Isaac. Sarah wouldn’t entertain the presence of Ishmael due to inheritance issues; so, for the second time, Hagar and her son were driven out of Abraham’s house; this time, for good. Abraham grieved over this matter, but he had to let Ishmael go.

Ishmael was conceived under unusual circumstances. He wasn’t the ideal child Sarah wanted. He came into the picture because Sarah thought she had run out of options. In a sense, Ishmael was the ‘PLAN B’ child. Even as a child, Ishmael had the bitter experience of being separated from his father as well as from Isaac, his half-brother. Ishmael became the ‘unwanted’ child born out of necessity and disposed of when his presence was deemed inconvenient. He was the innocent casualty of the drama in Abraham’s household. But thankfully, the God of Abraham is the Father of the unwanted, who welcomes the rejected, who gives hope to the hopeless, and who turns our mourning into dancing (cf. Psalm 30:11). He didn’t forget Ishmael. He blessed the boy and made him into a great nation. Later, Ishmael became an archer, an expert with the bow.

We all have different beginnings and different stories about how we got here. Your existence is not a mistake. Regardless of the circumstances of your birth or childhood, your life is not a mistake. People may have treated you in the past as something disposable or expendable. Don’t worry. You matter to God, and He has wonderful plans for you. How you got here shouldn’t be your problem. What matters is, you’re here; and where you go from here should be your focus. Don’t focus on those who don’t want you around; focus on the loving and faithful Father who wants you and wants to do great things with you. He was there for Ishmael. He will be there for you, too.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.

For further study: Luke 1:59-80