Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants …
Now, you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise …
Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. (verses 21-24, 28, 31)
We can’t just pick and choose portions of scripture to use as allegory - we need to take them on their own terms. But, when one of the biblical writers themselves uses a Bible story like that, imaginatively applying the characters and events to our own situation, we are free to jump right in.
That’s what Paul does here. He takes the story of Abraham’s life, as he yearned for a natural heir, and uses it as allegory. So, jump in!
God had promised Abraham his longing for a natural-born son would be fulfilled – indeed, that son would be the beginning of a long line of descendants who would bring blessing to the entire world. What an amazing promise! It set Abraham and Sarah scheming together about how to fulfill the promise in their own strength. Sarah came up with a plan, giving her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham as a concubine. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but ended disastrously (you can read the full story in Genesis). A son, named Ishmael, was indeed born to Hagar, but this wasn’t the promise as God intended it – he had something more extraordinary in mind.
So, against all odds, against all natural expectations, long-barren Sarah became pregnant in her old age – indeed, she was 90 years old. Abraham was ten years older yet. Clearly this required the Lord’s direct intervention. The child was the “son of promise” indeed.
Inspired by the Spirit, Paul tells us this is a picture of our own situation in Christ. Our salvation has the fingerprints of God all over it, not coming about by our own effort and scheming, but rather by God’s gift. We were not birthed in slavery, but rather in freedom. It didn’t come about naturally, but rather from promise. It wasn’t ordinary, but extraordinary. Not earth-bound, rather heaven-sent.
So, don’t return to the bondage of slavery under the law. Rather, live in freedom, in the fulfilment of promise, in blessing, in heaven’s design.
There’s something further. Paul doesn’t point it out, but I can’t resist. He mentions Isaac’s name, without translating it’s meaning. But we know it already since it’s part of the Genesis story. The name means “he laughs,” or simply “laughter.” Although the initial laughter, from both Abraham and Sarah, sprang entirely from the improbable audacity of the promise, yet when the child was born, the laughter that rocked them flowed from nothing less than pure joy. “Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me’” (Gen 21:6).
Salvation is pure joy. Laugh deeply. Rejoice. And don’t ever go back to bondage.
Lord, thank you for the sheer joy of the freedom you have given me in Jesus. I am born anew of the promise. I am freed from bondage. I am brought into the rich heritage of your covenant love. Thank you. Praise your name.
Reflect: Freedom. Promise. Laughter. Which word most strongly captures your heart? Take it with you all day. Ask the Lord to unpack it for you. Walk in its light.