Flesh and Promise

“But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.” (Gal. 4:23)

In the previous verse, we learned that the two sons of Abraham were birthed by two separate women who are specified as slave and free. We know their names and we know which is which. This verse tells us how the birth took place. Paul is instructing the Judaizers in something they already know but they don’t yet see his point.


The slave woman’s son was born as a process of flesh. It was a fleshly act. It was not an act of love nor of a covenant. Abraham had no covenant with the slave woman and their sexual relationship produced a child in a natural way, the way all flesh reproduces. There was nothing special about this union or its results. The only thing that can be said about it is that Sarah was impatient and thought she should help God keep His promise. Not a wise thing to do.

The free woman’s son was born as a process of God’s promise. Technically, it could not be done according to the flesh because Sarah was no longer able to have a child through the fleshly sexual act. It took intervention from God for her to conceive just as it would take God’s intervention with Mary the mother of Jesus. The son of God’s promise to Abraham and the son of God’s promise to the world were both brought about by the grace of God. God did not need Sarah’s help keeping His promise and to prove that he made her wait seven more years so that she would know that the child born to her was not of the flesh but of the promise.

Paul intends for the Judaizers and the Galatian Christians to see how God works. The Judaizers, like Sarah, want to help God out. God’s promise is not enough for them because they would prefer to live by the flesh rather than the Spirit of God. Sarah, Abraham, Judaizers, Galatians and we sometimes think we know more about what needs to be done than God does. Jesus told Peter that He, Jesus, had to die and Peter rebuked him. Isn’t that what Sarah and Abraham did when Abraham had sexual relations with Hagar? Isn’t that what the Judaizers are doing when they insist that Christians first go back to the law?

Task for Today: First, let God be God. If He wants your input or help He’ll let you know. Your job is to hearken and obey. Second, be a Samuel and let God know that His servant hears Him. If God chooses to save you by faith through His mercy and Grace why should you argue and try to help Him out by doing a little on your own?

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