One of the most profound truths in the Scriptures is the comparison of Isaac and Ishmael.
Paul ‘allegorizes’ the two sons of Abraham in his letter to the church in Galatia.
The Galatians had a difficult time accepting the truth that Christ was all sufficient. Many Jews wanted to return to the law or at least place some confidence in the validity of the law for their salvation.
“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” Galatians 4:21
Paul was asking the Galatians if they really understood the insufficiency of the law.
Paul had already proclaimed in this letter that it was impossible to be ‘justified by works of the law…’ If one chose to be justified by obeying the law, they must fully obey every aspect of the law, which was impossible.
“Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Galatians 3:10, Deuteronomy
Then Paul explained the difference between the law and faith. He began by confirming that Abraham’s son Ishmael was born to Sarah’s young slave girl Hagar as a result of human intervention attempting to fulfill God’s promise of a son for Abraham. Thus Ishmael was the ‘son of the bondwoman,’ or the ‘son born according to the flesh.’ ‘Flesh’ in the present context means ‘born of normal descent.’
Then Paul described Isaac, Abraham’s son born to his aged wife Sarah by faith. Isaac was born to Sarah as promised even though Sarah would be 90 years old when she gave birth. Thus Isaac was the ‘son of the free woman,’ or the ‘son of promise.’ ‘Promise’ in this context means ‘spiritual seed.’
In Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, Hagar and Ishmael represented the law given on Mount Sinai while Sarah and Isaac represented the heavenly Jerusalem.
Paul very clearly explained that believers in Christ were as Isaac was, i.e. children of faith in the promise given to Abraham and Sarah.
“Now we brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.”
And then Paul made a remarkably significant statement based on an incident that had occurred two millennia earlier.
“But, as he who was born according the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now.” Galatians 4:29
Recall how Ishmael, as a teenager, persecuted (scorned, derided, mocked) young Isaac at Isaac’s weaning celebration.
Persecution of Christians by legalists is growing drastically. Christianity is the most persecuted ‘religious’ group on earth today.
Paul gave a stern warning to those who wanted to return to the law represented by Ishmael.
“Nevertheless, what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’” Galatians 4:30
These were nearly the exact words spoken by Isaac’s mother Sarah two thousand years earlier.
Paul summarized his argument by confirming that his brethren were children of the ‘free woman’ and not children of the ‘bondwoman.’
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1
Those born of the ‘free woman’ are indeed true sons of Abraham.
“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:29
However, the Bible is very clear in defining Abraham’s seed.
“…nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” Romans 9:7-8
The offspring of Ishmael represents the world, while the offspring of Isaac represents the kingdom; once again the two divisions of all mankind.
In Israel’s history, Isaiah described why God temporarily turned His back on His people.
“For you have forsaken…the house of Jacob, because they are filled with eastern ways…” Isaiah 2:6
The battle of the brothers rages on…to this very day!