Before we begin this week’s Shabbat sermon, I want to remind you of some historical facts. Throughout Pauls’s life and journeys, he had to contend with what we know as the circumcision party. The circumcision party were Jews who had come to faith in Jesus as their Messiah, but they believed the oral law applied to them.
What is the oral law?
Most Jews believe Moses was given two laws on Mount Sinai, the written law, which we find in the first five books of our Bibles, and the oral law. If the oral law comes into conflict with the written law, the oral law always takes precedence over the written law. The oral law is a collection of Rabbinical thoughts, interpretations, and ideas (which sometimes contradict each other.) It has 100s of commandments, such as the commandment for ritual handwashing and the commandment that says Gentiles who convert to Judaism have to be circumcised right away as proof of their conversion.
So the circumcision party, who were Jews who believed in Jesus as their Messiah, believed the oral law still applied to them after salvation. They preached Gentiles who had faith in Jesus as their Messiah had to be circumcised right away as proof of their salvation.
Jesus, Paul, the Apostles denied the validity of the oral law. They preached adherence only to the written law of Moses. So to them, proof of salvation was not circumcision of the flesh, but circumcision of the heart shown in obedience to the written commandments in the Mosaic law. Circumcision of the flesh is a part of adherence to the Mosaic law, but it is not as crucial as circumcision of the heart.
Now let us open our Bibles to Galatians 4
Gal 4:21-31:”21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. 24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”
In Genesis, Yehovah promises to give Abraham a son even though he and his wife Sara were well past their childbearing age. It is easy to see how Abraham and Sara think when they hear this promise; if a son is to be born, they will have to have sex to make that happen. So as time goes by and Sara does not get pregnant, she suggests to Abraham he should try to make this promise come through by having sex with Hagar Sara’s slave. Hagar became pregnant, and Ishmael was born, and for a time, they both saw Ishmael as their promised son.
One day Sara becomes pregnant, and Isaac is born. Sara was well past her childbearing age, so she should not have been able to conceive. Isaac fulfills the promise of the miracle son; Ishmael is the consequence of Abraham and Sara being traditionalists and not trusting Yehovah enough to wait.
As the years went by, Isaacs’s half-brother Ishmael started mocking and persecuting Isaac. When seeing what happened, Sara demanded Abraham should send Hagar and Ishmael away. Sara’s reaction seems disproportional; was this not only some sibling rivalry? When we read the story in Hebrew, we get a bigger picture of what is happening here. Ishmael was not just mocking Isaac; he was molesting him and contemplating murder.
In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses this story figuratively to make a point about the difference between oral and written law. According to Paul, everyone who has faith in Jesus as their Messiah and repents from lawlessness back to the written law of Moses will be children of the free woman. Everyone who continues to hold on to the oral law will be children of the slave woman Hagar. Those who hold on to the oral law can never co-exist with those who abide by the written law because the one will always persecute the other. So if we want to live as children of the free woman, we have to get rid of the oral law just as Abraham did with Hagar and Ishmael. If we dont do this, Paul continues in Gal 5:1-6 warning us what might happen:
Gal 5:1-6: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
If we dont get rid of the oral law, Christ will become of no value at all, and we will have fallen from grace. But if we continue in the written law, being reconciled to Yehovah by the cross, we will continue to live in grace.
Most evangelical churches would tell you the written law of Moses no longer applies to us. Now we only have to believe Christ died for our sins, and then we will have the assurance of our salvation. The same churches will, of course, tell you it is not lawful to live any way you want, but when they remove Yehovahs law from the equation, it leaves a vacuum that needs to be filled. So they resort to making up their own laws on what a righteous Christian life looks like. According to Paul, they have become children of the slave woman and fallen from grace. But if they will repent and come back to obeying the written law of Moses, being reconciled by the cross, they can still be saved.
What about yourself?
Are you a child of Hagar or a child of the free woman?