REASON THREE GALATIANS 4:1-10
GRACE MAKES US SONS, LAW IS FOR INFANTS
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS CHAPTER 4, VERSES 1-11
4:1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
4:2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
4:3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
4:5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
4:6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
4:7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
4:9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
4:10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
4:11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
|(a)||Verses 1-3||Infants in bondage.|
|(b)||Verses 4-5||God’s Son sent to redeem from bondage and bring to liberty.|
|(c)||Verses 6-7||God’s Spirit sent to enable that liberty to be expressed.|
|(d)||Verses 8-10||God’s sons return to bondage.|
(a) 4:1-3 Infants in bondage
4:1 Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child (infant)- the apostle now uses another illustration, similar to that of 3:24,25. He has spoken of believers being Abraham’s seed, as those who belonged to Christ. He now concentrates on the fact that believers are heirs as well. Differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all- as far as the realisation of heirship is concerned, the infant is no different to a slave, who has no prospects at all.
4:2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father- a tutor is a guide or guardian of infants, a guardian is a superior servant over the household, whether children or slaves. These trusted servants would be responsible for the welfare of the infant until he reached the age of maturity, at around 14 years old. Time appointed of the father- in the Roman household, the father exercised absolute control over his wife, children, slaves, and even nephews and nieces. This control lasted until his death. The instatement of an infant as his father’s heir depended absolutely on the discretion of the father.
4:3 Even so we- now comes the application of the illustration. The apostle has used the pronoun “ye” from 3:25, where he saw in the fact that Gentiles had entered into sonship the proof that the Jews were no longer in a state of infancy, if they believed in Christ. Now he uses the emphatic “we”, to signal the fact that he is now thinking of the Jews again. When we were children (infants)- the Authorised Version obscures the important distinction the apostle is making in these verses between infancy which lasted from birth to about age 14, and sonship, from age 14 onwards. He is not thinking of life in the family, but privilege. Were in bondage under the elements of the world- as the tutor of 3:24 represented the law of Moses, so here. The elements were the rudimentary principles as found in the law, the abc of God’s dealings with His people. The law was not for those who were in the full privilege of sonship. This is why chapter five will show that to go back to the law is to be hindered in the Christian life, see 5:7.
(b) 4:4-5 God’s Son sent to redeem and bring to liberty
4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come- corresponding to “the time appointed of the father”, of verse 1. When the time was right for the nation of Israel to have the opportunity of sonship. God sent forth His Son- it was evident that the law had produced none who could be an example of sonship, for God had to send forth His Son from His own presence. Certainly there was no-one who could remedy the immaturity of Israel from amongst the people. Made of a woman- the word “made” is from the verb “to become”, and has to do with what a person has been rendered as regards condition, place or rank. Here the emphasis is on the condition of the Son’s entrance into the world. He came by the normal means, although His conception was supernatural. As one born of Mary, He was a real man. The sinful nature which the rest of men possess is not a normal part of man, for it is perfectly possible to be a true man and not have a sinful nature, as was the case with Adam before he sinned. As one who was not begotten of Joseph, He was ideal man, for He did not inherit the tendency to sin which all others receive from their father. Because He was the Son of God, and as such was equal with God in all respects, He was also righteous man, for it is not possible for Him to unite anything unrighteous to His person. As one who was a real man, He manifested true sonship in manhood on the earth. Sonship is not something that can only be displayed in heaven, but can be worked out on earth. Adam failed because of the woman, whereas Christ failed not, even though His manhood was derived from a woman. Made under the law- the same remarks apply to “made”, as before. The condition of His presence here in the world was governed by the fact that He was under the jurisdiction of the law of Moses. Even though this was so, His motivation to do God’s will came from within, from the heart, and not from tables of stone. It is interesting that in the quotation from Psalm 40 which is made in Hebrews 10:5-8, the words, “thy law is within my heart”, are omitted, for there was nothing legal about Christ. He showed true sonship, involving dignity, maturity and liberty, even though surrounded by those in Israel who were immature infants.
4:5 To redeem them that were under the law- verse 3 has spoken of bondage, and slaves need to be redeemed if they are to be brought into the position of sons. It was perhaps a shock for those in Israel to be told that they were slaves, but the law had brought them to this, see John 8:34. The essential features of slavery are lack of liberty, dignity, and maturity, and only God’s free sons have these things. Christ came to “Preach deliverance to the captives, and to set at liberty those that are bruised”, Luke 4:18. His word sets free, John 8:31, so the opportunity of freedom was given to the nation by His preaching, but it was only those who realised they were “bruised” that were set at liberty. The lawyer of Luke 15 would no doubt have seen himself as the Good Samaritan, performing works in love to his neighbour. He ought to have realised, however, that he was pictured by the man wounded at the roadside, half-dead, and sinking slowly until he was fully dead. As One who was under the law, but, being virgin-born, was sinless, Christ was in a position to rescue others under the law. That we might receive the adoption of sons- the apostle has already explained how Gentiles become sons, in 3:26, now he shows how those in Israel are brought to the same position. The Gentiles were brought straight from slavery to sonship, when they believed. Israel, however, was in a national relationship with God as an infant, and the practice of adoption needed to operate. The phrase “adoption of sons”, refers to the practice in Roman culture of a father who had no son and heir legally adopting a suitable son from another family. The adopted son was introduced into all the privileges of his new family, being legally as if he were born into it. So those from Israel who believed the gospel, entered into the full privilege of being sons of God.
(c) 4:6-7 God’s Spirit sent to enable liberty to be expressed
4:6 And because ye are sons- the apostle now resumes his remarks regarding believers who were formerly Gentiles, but who had been brought into sonship through faith in Christ. God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts- this shows conclusively that all believers are sons, for the following reason. All believers possess the Spirit of God, as Galatians 3:2 shows, so if all have the Spirit, and all have the Spirit because they are sons, then all believers must be sons. This is confirmed by 3:26, where sonship is based on faith, not progress. Of course there should be progress in the manifestation of this relationship, as Matthew 5:44,45 indicates, “That ye may be (become) the children (sons) of your Father which is in heaven”. The Spirit of God, who was upon the Lord Jesus, was the power by which He lived here for God. So because we have that same Spirit, we are enabled to live here for God, too, and that as His sons. Dignity, liberty and maturity should mark us, as it marked Him. Into your hearts- it was God’s promise under the terms of the New Covenant that He would write His laws in the hearts of His people, Hebrews 10:16. This is in contrast to His laws being written on tables of stone. See how the apostle elaborates on this in 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6. No longer are believers under the law as a religious code by which they seek to please God and earn His favour. Instead, there should be willing obedience in their hearts to all that He commands, just as there was with Christ, Isaiah 50:4,5; John 8:26-29; 38; 12:49,50; 14:24; 17:8. The power to do this is found in the indwelling Spirit of God. As the apostle teaches in Romans 8:2,3, having been made free from the law which highlighted sin and brought in death, the believer is able to fulfil the righteousness of the law in the measure in which he walks after the Spirit and not after the flesh. The righteousness of the law is all that the law demanded as being right. Sent forth- not only has God sent forth His Son, because sonship had not been exhibited under the law, but He has also sent forth the Spirit, for the power to live as sons is not found amongst men either. Crying, Abba, Father- in Romans 8:15 it is the believer who cries “Abba”, whereas here it is the Spirit who does so. Now God the Father is not the Father of the Holy Spirit, so the meaning must be that the Spirit so relates to us in our sonship-position, (remember He is the Spirit of God’s Son), that our crying is said to be His. On earth, we cry by the Spirit, “Abba”, whilst the cry is heard in heaven through the mediation of the Spirit of God. Compare a similar action of the Spirit in the matter of prayer generally in Romans 8:26,27. This is what Jude calls “Praying in the Holy Spirit”, Jude 20. It is said that slaves in the Roman household were forbidden to use this word to the father in the house, so the fact that believing Gentiles can use it in their address to God is conclusive evidence that their slave-days are gone. The word abba is an Aramaic word, as brought back by Israel from their captivity in Babylon. The word translated father is of course a Greek word as originally written by the apostle, so is the word Greek and Roman sons would use. The fact that all believers use both words shows the fact that there is in Christ neither Jew nor Gentile, 3:28. The use of the word abba denotes a closeness of relationship, a fondness for the one addressed, and a freeness in his presence, that was never known by Israel under the law, and certainly not by Gentiles as they worshipped idols.
4:7 Wherefore thou art no more (longer) a servant (slave), but a son- they had once been abject slaves to idols, as verse 8 will go on to say. There was no process of infancy followed by sonship as there was nationally for Israel. And if a son, then an heir of God through Christ- the Father has decided that the appointed time has come, and the full rights of sonship are now possessed; with them comes the rights of heirship too. Again, there is the reminder that Israel were potentially heirs under the law, but not until they reached sonship in Christ could they know the inheritance. Gentiles go straight from having nothing, to possessing everything in Christ. As God is now their Father, they are heirs of all that He has, and this through the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be His God, and he shall be My son”, Revelation 21:7. This is the only place in John’s writings where believers are called sons, and is an allusion to Psalm 2:8, so not John’s words in one sense. Everywhere else he reserves the title for the Lord Jesus in order to preserve the uniqueness of His Sonship.
(d) 4:8-11 God’s sons return to bondage
4:8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God- eternal life involves the knowledge of God as “the only true God”, John 17:3, therefore when the Galatians worshipped false gods, they could not have known the True God. Ye did (bond)service unto them which by nature are no gods- they were enslaved to gods which, as far as their real identity is concerned, must be labelled “No-gods”. This is in agreement with the ancient prophets, who declared that the gods of the heathen were vanities, or nothings. See 1 Chronicles 16:25,26; Isaiah 44:9,10. This is not to say that the evil spirits behind idolatry did not exist, but rather that having dealings with them is a vain and worthless exercise, because it involves a person in vain worship. The stark contrast is between liberty as sons to serve the God they know to be real, and bondage as slaves to gods that are unreal.
4:9 But now, after that ye have known God- the Lord Jesus has been given authority to grant eternal life to all that the Father has given Him, John 17:2. Thus blessed, the believer knows God, and is in vital relationship with Him. Or rather, are known of God- the apostle guards against the notion that knowing God is an achievement on the part of the Galatians. It is God who has taken the initiative, and worked out in time the logical outcome of His foreknowledge of His people, Romans 8:20; 1 Peter 1:2.
How turn ye to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?- “How” asks the question “In what manner”? “By what process? The apostle is baffled as to how true believers can be so influenced, that they turn their backs on liberty and return to bondage. He will say in 5:8 “this persuasion cometh not of Him that calleth you”, again a reference to God’s sovereign call of them in line with His foreknowledge. They had not so much turned back to the weak and beggarly elements, but turned back to bondage; bound to a different slavemaster indeed, but still in slavery. The elements are the elementary and basic principles of the law, which are weak, and therefore unable to give power to put the laws into effect, for the law was “weak through the flesh”, Romans 8:3. The law was also beggarly, and so could not bring into the prosperity which God’s sons and heirs ought to know. By describing the elements as weak and beggarly, the apostle does not speak evil of God’s law, but rather emphasises the fact that it had not the power to bring into maturity, liberty and prosperity, any more than slavery to idols had.
4:10 Ye observe days- such as the Sabbath day, whether the regular seventh day of the week, or the other sabbaths which were stipulated, Leviticus 23:39, (there was no guarantee that the fifteenth day of the month would be a sabbath, and in any case the eighth day was to be a sabbath as well). And months- the Jewish feasts were regulated by the appearance of the new moon. And times- Israelites were required to appear at Jerusalem at three seasons during the religious year, see Deuteronomy 16:16. And years- the years of Jubilee and release were occasions of great rejoicing in Israel, occurring once every 49 years, Leviticus 25:8-10. All these, then, were times at which the religious ceremonies of Israel took place. The emphasis here is on the festivals and celebrations of Israel; but these only had meaning for those who were under obligation to the civil code of the law, which took the form of a covenant between God and the people of Israel- Gentiles were never under this covenant.
4:11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain- such was the zeal of the Galatians in embracing Judaism, that the apostle began to wonder whether his labour in preaching the gospel to them, and subsequently seeking to establish them in the truth, was all fruitless effort. Such is the difference between law and grace that the two cannot both be in control at the same time.
REASON FOUR 4:12-18
GRACE-MAKES THE APOSTLE LIKE AN ANGEL, LAW MAKES HIM LIKE AN ENEMY
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS CHAPTER 4, VERSES 12-18
4:12 Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.
4:13 Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.
4:14 And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
4:15 Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
4:16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?
4:17 They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
4:18 But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
STRUCTURE OF THE SECTION
|(a)||Verse 12||Paul’s interest and its entreaty.|
|(b)||Verses 13-16||Paul’s infirmity and its effect.|
|(c)||Verses 17-20||Judaiser’s influence and its evil.|
(a) 4:12 Paul’s interest and its entreaty
4:12 Brethren, I beseech you- he does not doubt their salvation when he says “I am afraid of you”, in verse 10, so here calls them his brethren. Be as I am- he wonders whether the principles of the grace of God have really been grasped by them as firmly as they should. He himself had been delivered from Judaism, and the grace of God had so impressed its truth on his soul, that he was not only free from the law in principle, but in practice too. He desired them also to be free both in principle and practice. For I am as ye are- he was free in principle, as he is convinced they were. It only remained for them to be free in practice, as he was. Ye have not injured me at all- they had not done him any harm when he came with the gospel to them, even though that gospel often arouses enmity on the part of the unsaved, since it condemns their sin. Note the experiences of the apostle when in and around Galatia in Acts 14. In fact, as he will say in verse 15, they would have healed his illness if they could. As he looks back at their initial response, it encourages him to think that they will retrace their steps and return to the things they believed at the first.
(b) 4:13-18 Paul’s infirmity and its effect
4:13 But ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first- when Paul went to the Galatian area, as recorded in Acts 14, twice he was stoned, and on one occasion was thought to be dead, such was the ferocity of the attack, Acts 14:19. It was against this background that the apostle can not only say that they had not injured him, but also that he was in a poor physical state when he came to their province, yet persevered with the gospel.
4:14 And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected- not only was he weak through persecutions, but had a trial (temptation) which seems to have rendered him repulsive to look upon. Some have suggested that he had some distressing eye complaint, hence the reference to eyes in verse 15. Tradition says the apostle may have been ugly in appearance. Certainly his enemies said that his bodily presence was weak, 2 Corinthians 10:10. An ancient non-Biblical description of Paul is as follows:- “A little man of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel”. But received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus- despite his outward appearance, the Galatians welcomed him for what he had come to say, as if he were an angel, or even as if he were Christ Himself. Such was the power by which he preached, the comparison which came to mind was that he was like an angel, a messenger from God; and such was the Christ-likeness of this man, that they thought it was as if He Himself had come. They saw no man save Jesus only, Mark 9:8; Matthew 28:20; Mark 16:20.
4:15 Where then is the blessedness ye spake of?- the gospel brings into the blessedness of sins forgiven, see Psalm 32:1; Romans 4:6-8, but now the Galatians had been influenced by the law-men, and the misery which comes when there is a lack of assurance engulfed them. For I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me- such had been the gladness which the grace of Christ had brought, that it translated into an intense love and concern for the welfare of the one who was His representative.
4:16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?- from one who brought them liberty, the apostle, in the opinion of the Galatians was now one who acted against their best spiritual interests. The apostle had not changed, but the Galatians had been influenced by the false teachers. John tells us that those who receive the apostles are of God, 1 John 4:6. The early believers continued steadfastly in the doctrine and fellowship of the apostles, Acts 2:42, so fellowship with the apostles was enjoyed because the truth was enjoyed. All truth causes the natural heart to rebel, for the lie of the Devil is more attractive to it than the truth of God, see John 8:37-47.
(c) 4:17-18 Judaiser’s influence and its evil
4:17 They zealously affect you, but not well- to zealously affect means to give close attention to something or someone. The law-teachers were diligent and persuasive, and had influenced the Galatians, but not well, that is, against their best spiritual interests. Yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them- the false teachers wanted to drive a wedge between the believers and the apostle, so that the truth he brought no longer had its proper place in their hearts. They also wanted the Galatians to give them their attention, that they might (zealously) affect them, for the word used is the same as at the beginning of the verse. See also 6:12,13.
4:18 But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing- the apostle makes it clear that he is not against enthusiasm, but it must be directed in the right channel. And it must always be directed there, for no progress is made by those who veer from grace to law. And not only when I am present with you- the Galatian national characteristic of hasty changes of opinion showed itself by a change of allegiance when the apostle left them, and the false teachers came. They should have had the truth firmly held in their hearts, so that the truth was not just in the apostle, and left when he did.
4:19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you- immediately the apostle uses the idea of birth relationship as he introduces the truth contained in the Old Testament record of the birth and weaning of Isaac. He, like Sarah, had travailed and brought forth. His travail, however, was spiritual, as he “laboured” in the gospel until there were those who were born of God. Compare also his words to the Thessalonians, amongst whom he had “laboured and travailed”, 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8, and towards whom he acted as a nurse does towards her (own) children, 1 Thessalonians 1:7, and as a father toward his (own) children, 1 Thessalonians 2:11. The apostle’s salutation to them in both epistles to the Thessalonians emphasised the Fatherhood of God, 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1. The apostle was therefore imitating God as he acted with care towards the Thessalonians. Such was his desire for the Galatians, too.
4:20 I desire to be present with you and change my voice- having exhorted them to be zealous even when he was not present, verse 18, he assures them that saying that did not mean that he was glad to be absent- the reverse was the case. His “voice”, or tone of rebuke that he had employed in verses 8-18, he would gladly exchange for a tone of commendation and praise. For I stand in doubt of you- because of their change in thinking, he was perplexed as to where they really stood. He had not come to the final conclusion that they had never really known the grace of God, but they were acting as if they had not, and this caused the apostle disquiet.
We now come to the fifth reason why grace is to be preferred to law. In this section the apostle skilfully undermines the false teachers by using a technique that the scribes used. The difference between the apostle and them, though, is that he was inspired of God as he handled the Old Testament Scriptures, whereas they were not. So he proceeds to use a pivotal story from the life of Abraham to illustrate the need to banish law-keeping from our lives, so as to live according to the grace expressed in Christ.
REASON FIVE GALATIANS 4:21-31
GRACE MAKES US SONS OF THE FREEWOMAN
THE LAW MAKES US SONS OF THE SLAVE WOMAN
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS CHAPTER 4, VERSES 21-31
4:19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
4:20 I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.
4:21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
4:22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
4:23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
4:24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
4:25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
4:26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
4:27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
4:28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
4:29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
4:30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
4:31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
STRUCTURE OF THE SECTION
|(a)||Verses 21-23||The foundation of the allegory.|
|(b)||Verses 24-26||The explanation of the allegory.|
|(c)||Verse 27||The confirmation of the allegory.|
|(d)||Verses 28-31||The application of the allegory.|
(a) 4:21-23 The foundation of the allegory.
4:21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?- note that the apostle uses the word law in two senses in one verse here, as he does elsewhere. The first word law refers to the law of Moses given at Sinai, which formed the terms of God’s covenant with the people of Israel. The second word refers to the five books of Moses. The Old Testament was divided into three, as the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 24:44 indicate- “Which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning Me”. The book of Genesis, the first of the books of Moses, although recounting events before the law was formally given, was considered to be as binding in its instruction as the law itself, and therefore was included in the section called “The law”, or “Torah”. If the Galatians desired to be under the law, they must react as the law requires, and the apostle will show that that means rejecting the law!
4:22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free woman- thus the apostle uses the historical record as the Lord Jesus did in John 8:30-47, where it was a question of the claim of the Jews that they were Abraham’s seed. As we have seen in connection with 3:29, the Saviour did not dispute their claim to natural descent, but He did refuse their claim to spiritual descent, for they were not believers like Abraham. The first son referred to by Paul is Ishmael, son of the Egyptian slave-girl Hagar, whereas the second son is Isaac, son of the free woman, Abraham’s true wife, Sarah.
4:23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh- the word “but” suggests to us that there are important differences between these two sons, (apart from the fact that they had different mothers), and this is the case, as the apostle now explains. Ishmael and Isaac were both men of flesh and blood, so the word flesh here must be used, not in that sense, but in the sense of carnal. Sarah, realising that she was approaching the time when her inability to have children would never, naturally speaking, be remedied, employed the custom of the day, (hence the fact that Ishmael was born after the flesh), and suggested that Abraham have a child by Hagar to provide an heir. This he did, and Ishmael was born. It is significant that after this event, recorded in Genesis 16, we read in Genesis 17:1 that God exhorted Abraham to walk before Him and be perfect, thus suggesting that for thirteen years since the conception and birth of Ishmael, Abraham had not been doing this. But he of the freewoman was by promise- Isaac was born as a direct result of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:4, which he had ignored by listening to Sarah’s carnal suggestion. He is described in verse 29 as having been born after the Spirit. These facts prepare the way for the application of the events related in Genesis.
(b) 4:24-26 The explanation of the allegory
4:24 Which things are an allegory- unfortunately this translation might give the impression that the apostle believed that the book of Genesis was a collection of allegories, and was not historical fact. Nothing could be further from the truth, for time and again the apostle based doctrine on what happened in the early chapters of the book of Genesis, and there would have been no point in doing this if they were not real events. See for example the following passages:
The principle of justification by faith is established by reference to the history of Abraham.
The contrasts and comparisons between Christ and Adam are used to show both the result of man’s link with Adam by nature, and the result of his link with Christ if he believes.
1 Corinthians 11:3-12
The headship of the male believer, and the subjection of the female believer, is established from the early chapters of the book of Genesis.
1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49
Just as man bears the image of the earthly man, Adam, so believers shall bear the image of the Lord from heaven.
1 Corinthians 14:34,35
The need for the sisters to be silent in the assembly is based on the principle of subjection established in Eve.
2 Corinthians 11:1-4
The way Satan deceived Eve is given as a warning to believers today.
The prospect of blessing for Gentiles if they believe like Abraham believed.
The formation of Eve is seen as a foreshadowing of the union between Christ and His people.
1 Timothy 2:11-15
The order in which Adam and Eve were formed, and the fact that Eve sinned first, is used to show that the sisters should not usurp the headship of the brothers by engaging in teaching.
1 Timothy 4:3-5
The fact that God sanctioned the eating of meat after the flood indicates that meat is now sanctified for the believer’s use by the word of God. So Paul indicates, in an inspired epistle, that Genesis 9 is the word of God.
That Paul believed in the authority of the book of Genesis is not surprising, for the Lord Jesus, whom Paul served, taught the historicity of the book of Genesis too. In fact He quoted from, or referred to, every one of the first eleven chapters, (the ones that are especially attacked by liberals and infidels), as follows:
“He which made them at the beginning made them male and female”, Matthew 19:4.
“For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave unto his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh”, Matthew 19:5.
“Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father will ye do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it”, John 8:44.
“The blood of righteous Abel”, Matthew 23:35.
“The days of Noah”, Matthew 24:37, 38.
“The flood came”, Matthew 24:39.
“The flood…took them all away”, Matthew 24:39, (“Of them was the whole earth overspread”, Genesis 10:19, implying that only the eight that were in the ark survived).
“Before Abraham was, I am”, John 8:58.
Furthermore, every chapter of the book of Genesis is alluded to in some way in the New Testament and every New Testament writer alludes to, or quotes, the book of Genesis, so that there are more than one hundred quotes or allusions to the book of Genesis in the New Testament. When the New Testament writers referred to the book of Genesis, they never give the impression that they believed it to be anything other than literal, historical fact. If the events described are not real, then the doctrine based on them is not real either.
To return to the apostle’s use of the word allegory. It would be better to understand him to mean that the incident he refers to in the life of Abraham and his family, whilst it is literal fact, is also allegorical. This means it has an alternative and spiritual meaning that we may put alongside of it, and which gives an added reason why it has been included in the Word of God. Although the same word is not used in Hebrews 11:19, where Abraham is said to have received Isaac back from the dead in a figure, yet there is a similar idea. Isaac had not actually died, but in figure he had, in the person of the ram, and his return from the place of sacrifice as a living son was a figure of resurrection. So in Galatians 4, the incidents are true literally, but are also true figuratively and spiritually, for principles are illustrated by them. This does not give us licence to use our imagination with the Old Testament, and make it mean what we want it to mean, since we are not inspired by the Spirit of God to infallibly interpret Scripture as the apostles were. For these are the two covenants- now we have the spiritual meaning which the apostle sees, by the Spirit, in these facts.
Already, in His public teaching, the Lord Jesus had seen in Ishmael and Isaac an illustration of those who were simply sons of Abraham by natural descent, and those who were sons of Abraham by faith, John 8:33-41. Coupled with this, the prophet Isaiah, in the passage the apostle will quote in verse 27, saw a reference to two aspects of the nation of Israel in their relationship with God. Furthermore, the apostle has already told the Galatians that they are Abraham’s seed, and has thereby prepared the way for the further ideas in this passage. Thus there has already been a three-fold use of the truths in relation to the sons of Abraham, by Christ, by Isaiah, and by the apostle himself.
The relationship which Abraham had physically with two women, is used to illustrate God’s moral relationship with the nation of Israel considered from an earthly standpoint, and then from a heavenly. The one from the mount Sinai- God’s relationship with Israel at Sinai was based on the covenant of the Law. The terms on which God had dealings with them as a nation were detailed in that set of laws. In Jeremiah the Lord refers to this covenant, and declares He was a husband to Israel, Jeremiah 31:32. Which gendereth to bondage- gendereth means produces children, as Hagar produced Ishmael. As a result of the Sinai-relationship with God, there was produced those who were in bondage, because the demands of the law were impossible to meet, and therefore they became under obligation to God to remedy the situation. Which is Hagar- that is, in the symbolism of the allegory, Sinai, and all that it involves, is portrayed by Hagar.
4:25 For this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia- that is, this Hagar in the language of the allegory, not Hagar literally, for a woman cannot be a mountain. And answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children- Sinai corresponds to, (answereth to), Jerusalem on earth, the centre of Judaism, where that which was given to the nation at Sinai was at that time enforced. Those who are Jerusalem’s “children”, or product, are in bondage, just as Jerusalem itself is, the place of bondage to the law. It was those who had come from Jerusalem that led the Galatians astray in the first place, as they tried to win them over to law-works for salvation. This is the road to bondage.
4:26 But Jerusalem which is above is free- there is a heavenly city, where God makes His presence felt, and from whence also the Lord Jesus came in grace. Note the similar argument of the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 12:18-24. Which is the mother of us all- that is, the mother of all believers, including the Galatians. Just as Jerusalem on earth represented the religion given at Sinai, so Jerusalem which is above, in heaven, represents the grace of God in Christianity. The believer is to rejoice that his name is written in heaven, in the roll of the citizens of the heavenly Zion, Luke 10:20. Our citizenship is in heaven; just as the citizens of Philippi, a Roman colony, had citizenship of distant Rome, so believers have citizenship in heaven, Philippians 3:20,21. The Lord Jesus spoke of being born again, and the word for “again” is used when John the Baptist said Christ had come “from above”, John 3:31. So inasmuch as our life is the life of heaven, then we are the “children” of that place, and as such are free, being born as a result of the grace of God expressed in Christ.
(c) 4:27 The confirmation of the allegory
4:27 For it is written- The apostle not only has the sanction of the words of the Lord Jesus in John 8:33-36, but also the way the prophet Isaiah spoke of Israel firstly under the figure of a woman who was barren, and then of a woman who rejoiced at the number of her children. Break forth and cry, thou that travailest not- Isaiah exhorts Israel, under the figure of a woman, to break out into singing, and cry cheerfully. This is all the more startling, because the words follow the account of the life, rejection, and crucifixion of their Messiah, the Man of Sorrows. But this is the reason for the change in the nation, for they have joy through His sorrow. Thou that travailest not- like Sarah, Israel considered naturally was barren, and only the grace of God could remedy this. For the desolate- as Sarah was deprived of the attentions of Abraham in favour of Hagar, so Israel was not only barren of results for God, in her natural state, but was, Hagar-like, linked to the God of the law. Hath many more children than she which hath a husband- or better, “she which hath the husband”. It was Hagar who had Abraham the husband, leaving Sarah desolate in her barrenness and loneliness, just as Israel was separated from God. At last, however, it was Sarah who triumphed, for in the birth of Isaac there was the prospect of the fulfilment of God’s words of promise that Abraham’s seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude, Genesis 15:5.
Israel naturally, like Sarah naturally, was barren and unproductive.
Israel under the law was, like Hagar and Ishmael, in bondage.
Israel responding to grace is, like Sarah and Isaac, in freedom. This is true of those in Israel now who receive the gospel of grace, and also will be true of those in Israel in a future day who will receive their Messiah.
(d) 4:28-31 The application of the allegory
4:28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise- as already indicated in 3:29, believers are part of Abraham’s spiritual seed, and they have received the promised Spirit, through faith, 3:14. So just as Isaac was a son produced according to God’s promise to Abraham that he would have a child, so believers are God’s sons in accordance with the promise found in the gospel. All the promises of God in Christ are Yea and Amen, 2 Corinthians 1:20; or in other words God’s promises are certain, because they are secured by Christ- He will never say “Nay”, and thus reverse His “Yea”. The apostle John clearly states that the promise that God gives to His children involves the possession of eternal life, 1 John 2:25. Implied in this is the fact that believers are not sons of God through law-keeping, for that would depend on merit earned by us, not promise given by God in grace. We should not deduce that every promise given to Abraham is ours, but rather see that the principle on which God deals with us in grace is that of promising things, not expecting things like works of law.
4:29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit- Ishmael was born as a result of the carnal suggestion from Sarah that Abraham should have a child by Hagar. Isaac, on the other hand, was born by the direct intervention of God, and we learn here that Sarah was given strength to have Isaac by the Spirit of God Himself. It is important to notice that the exact way in which Isaac was born after the Spirit is not repeated with believers. With the latter it is the new birth that is after the Spirit, whereas with Isaac it was his natural birth. Which confirms that when we are said in verse 28 to be children of promise, it does not necessarily mean that everything promised to Isaac is ours. Even so it is now- the apostle is preparing the way for his strong words about the Judaisers in chapter 5, and is content for the present to remind the Galatians that Ishmael mocked Isaac at his weaning feast, Genesis 21:8-11. The reason he did this was because it became apparent at that time that Isaac was established as the son and heir of Abraham, and had displaced Ishmael. The apostle sees in the mocking of Ishmael the principle of persecution, for “he that hateth his brother is a murderer”, 1 John 3:15.
4:30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture?- it is a remarkable vindication of Sarah’s return to strong faith in God after her initial disbelief when she was promised a son, that her words are referred to here as scripture. Earlier in the life of Ishmael, Sarah had dealt severely with Hagar, who had despised her, no doubt because of her barrenness, Genesis 16. Then, the angel of the Lord had commanded Hagar to return to her mistress. “Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the bondwoman”- with the birth of Isaac, and his presentation to the world at his weaning feast, the time had come for the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, as before it had not. Two things had to happen; first, Isaac had to be born, and second, Ishmael had to show his true feelings towards him by mocking him. This explains why the expulsion of Hagar in Genesis 16 had to be put right, and Hagar re-instated, whereas when Ishmael mocked, it was the right time to expel both him and his mother, for the true son had been manifested. So also, when God had sent forth His Son, and presented Him to the world in the words “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”, and when also the representatives of the law had persecuted Him, then it was time for those who were produced under the law to be shown in their true character, and be rejected by God. And this response of God to the rejection of His Son by religious men, should be the response of the believer too, hence in 5:12 the apostle wishes that the law-teachers were cut off.
4:31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free- The conclusion can now be drawn that, like Isaac, believers are the children of the freewoman, Jerusalem which is above, the centre of the grace of God.
Note the three ways in which believers are described in this passage, using Isaac as the figure-
|Verse 28||Children of promise.|
|Verse 29||Born after the Spirit.|
|Verse 31||Children of the freewoman.|
The first verse of chapter 5 may be thought of as part of chapter 4, and exhorts us to stand fast in the liberty of the gospel that the freewoman represents, and not to become enslaved by the bondage to the law that Hagar the slave-girl represents.