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The design of this chapter is, to show the effect of being under the Law, and the inconsistency of that kind of bondage or servitude with the freedom which is vouchsafed to the true children of God by the gospel. It is, in accordance with the whole drift of the Epistle, to recall the Galatians to just views of the gospel; and to convince them of their error in returning to the practice of the Mosaic rites and customs. In the previous chapter he had shown them that believers in the gospel were the true children of Abraham; that they had been delivered from the curse of the Law; that the Law was a schoolmaster to lead them to Christ, and that they were all the children of God. To illustrate this further, and to show them the true nature of the freedom which they had as the children of God, is the design of the argument in this chapter. He therefore states:
(1) That it was under the gospel only that they received the full advantages of freedom; Galatians 4:1-5. Before Christ came, indeed, there were true children of God, and heirs of life. But they were in the condition of minors; they had not the privileges of sons. An heir to a great estate, says the apostle Galatians 4:1-2, is treated substantially as if he were a servant. He is under tutors and governors: he is not permitted to enter on his inheritance; he is kept under the restraint of law. So it was with the people of God under the Law of Moses. They were under restraints, and were admitted to comparatively few of the privileges of the children of God. But Christ came to redeem those who were under the Law, and to place them in the elevated condition of adopted sons; Galatians 4:4-5. They were no longer servants; and it was as unreasonable that they should conform again to the Mosaic rites and customs, as it would be for the heir of full age, and who has entered on his inheritance, to return to the condition of minorship, and to be placed again under tutors and governors, and to be treated as a servant.
(2) As sons of God, God had sent forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts, and they were enabled to cry Abba, Father. They were no longer servants, but heirs of God, and should avail themselves of the privileges of heirs; Galatians 4:6-7.
(3) Sustaining this relation, and being admitted to these privileges, the apostle remonstrates with them for returning again to the “weak and beggarly elements” of the former dispensation - the condition of servitude to rites and customs in which they were before they embraced the gospel; Galatians 4:8-11. When they were ignorant of God, they served those who were no gods, and there was some excuse for that; Galatians 4:8. But now they had known God, they were acquainted with his laws; they were admitted to the privileges of his children; they were made free, and there could be no excuse for returning again to the bondage of those who had no true knowledge of the liberty which the gospel gave. Yet they observed days and times as though these were binding, and they had never been freed from them Galatians 4:10; and the apostle says, that he is afraid that his labors bestowed on them, to make them acquainted with the plan of redemption, had been in vain.
(4) To bring them to a just sense of their error, he reminds theta of their former attachment to him, Galatians 4:12-20. He had indeed preached to them amidst much infirmity, and much that was suited to prejudice them against him Galatians 4:13; but they had disregarded that, and had evinced toward him the highest proofs of attachment - so, much so, that they had received him as an angel of God Galatians 4:14, and had been ready to pluck out their own eyes to give them to him, Galatians 4:15. With great force, therefore, he asks them why they had changed their views toward him so far as to forsake his doctrines? Had he become their enemy by telling the truth? Galatians 4:16. He tenderly addresses them, therefore, as little children, and says, that he has the deepest solicitude for their welfare, and the deepest anxiety on account of their danger - a solicitude which he compares Galatians 4:19, with the pains of childbirth.
(5) In order to enforce the whole subject, and to show the true nature of the conformity to the Law compared with the liberty of the gospel, he allegorizes an interesting part of the Mosaic history - the history of the two children of Abraham; Galatians 4:21-31. The condition of Hagar - a slave - under the command of a master - harshly treated - cast out and disowned, was an apt illustration of the condition of those who were under the servitude of the Law. It would strikingly represent Mount Sinai, and the Law that was promulgated there, and the condition of those who were under the Law. That, too, was a condition of servitude. The Law was stern, and showed no mercy. It was like a master of a slave, and would treat those who were under it with a rigidness that might be compared with the condition of Hagar and her son; Galatians 4:24-25. That same Mount Sinai also was a fair representation of Jerusalem as it was then - a city full of rites and ceremonies, where the Law reigned with rigor, where, there was a burdensome system of religion, and where there was none of the freedom which the gospel would furnish; Galatians 4:25.
On the other hand, the children of the free woman were an apt illustration of those who were made free from the oppressive ceremonies of the Law by the gospel; Galatians 4:22. That Jerusalem was free. The new system from heaven was one of liberty and rejoicing; Galatians 4:26-27. Christians were, like Isaac, the children of promise, and were not slaves to the Law; Galatians 4:28, Galatians 4:31. And as there was a command Galatians 4:30 to east out the bondwoman and her son, so the command now was to reject all that would bring the mind into ignoble servitude, and prevent its enjoying the full freedom of the gospel. The whole argument is, that it would be as unreasonable for those who were Christians to submit again to the Jewish rites and ceremonies, as it would be for a freeman to sell himself into slavery. And the design of the whole is, to recall them from the conformity to Jewish rites and customs, and from their regarding them as now binding on Christians.
Now I say - He had before said Galatians 3:24-25 that while they were under the Law they were in a state of minority. This sentiment he proceeds further to illustrate by showing the true condition of one who was a minor.
That the heir - Any heir to an estate, or one who has a prospect of an inheritance. No matter how great is the estate; no matter how wealthy his father; no matter to how elevated a rank he may be raised on the moment that he enters on his inheritance, yet until that time he is in the condition of a servant.
As long as he is a child - Until he arrives at the age. The word rendered “child” (νήπιοι nēpioi) properly means an infant; literally, “one not speaking” (νη nē insep. un, ἔπος epos), and hence, a child or babe, but without any definite limitation - Robinson. It is used as the word “infant” is with us in law, to denote “a minor.”
Differeth nothing from a servant - That is, he has no more control of his property; he has it not at his command. This does not mean that he does not differ in any respect, but only that in the matter under consideration he does not differ. He differs in his prospects of inheriting the property, and in the affections of the father, and usually in the advantages of education, and in the respect and attention shown him. but in regard to property, he does not differ, and he is like a servant, under the control and direction of others.
Though he be lord of all - That is, in prospect. He has a prospective right to all the property, which no one else has. The word “lord” here (κύριος kurios), is used in the same sense in which it is often in the Scriptures, to denote master or owner. The idea which this is designed to illustrate is, that the condition of the Jews before the coming of the Messiah was inferior in many respects to what the condition of the friends of God would be under him - as inferior as the condition of an heir was before he was of age, to what it would be when he should enter on his inheritance. The Jews claimed, indeed, that they were the children or the sons of God, a title which the apostle would not withhold from the pious part of the nation; but it was a condition in which they had not entered on the full inheritance, and which was far inferior to that of those who had embraced the Messiah, and who were admitted to the full privileges of sonship. They were indeed heirs. They were interested in the promises. But still they were in a condition of comparative servitude, and could be made free only by the gospel.
But is under - Is subject to their control and direction.
Tutors - The word tutor with us properly means instructor. But this is not quite the sense of the original. The word (επίτροπος epitropos); properly means a steward, manager, agent; Matthew 20:8; Luke 8:3. As used here, it refers to one - usually a slave or a freedman - to whose care the boys of a family were committed, who trained them up, accompanied them to school, or sometimes instructed them at home; compare the note at Galatians 3:24. Such a one would have the control of them.
And governors - This word (οἰκόνομος oikonomos) means a house-manager, an overseer, a steward. It properly refers to one who had authority over the slaves or servants of a family, to assign them their tasks and portions. They generally, also, had the management of the affairs of the household, and of the accounts. They were commonly slaves, who were entrusted with this office as a reward for fidelity; though sometimes free persons were employed; Luke 16:1, Luke 16:3,Luke 16:8. These persons had also charge of the sons of a family, probably in respect to their pecuniary matters, and thus differed from those called tutors. It is not necessary, however, to mark the difference in the words with great accuracy. The general meaning of the apostle is, that the heir was under government and restraint.Until the time appointed of the father - The time fixed for his entering on the inheritance. The time when he chose to give him his portion of the property. The law with us fixes the age at twenty-one when a son shall be at liberty to manage for himself. Other countries have affixed other times. But still, the time when the son shall inherit the father’s property must be fixed by the father himself if he is living, or may be fixed by his will if he is deceased. The son cannot claim the property when he comes of age.
Even so we - We who were Jews - for so I think the word here is to be limited, and not extended to the pagan, as Bloomfield supposes. The reasons for limiting it are:
- That the pagans in no sense sustained such a relation to the Law and promises of Gad as is here supposed;
- Such an interpretation would not be pertinent to the design of Paul. He is stating reasons why there should not be subjection to the laws of Moses, and his argument is, that that condition was like that of bondage or minorship.
When we were children - (νήπιοι nēpioi). Minors; see the note at Galatians 4:1. The word is not υἱοι huioi, “sons;” but the idea is, that they were in a state of non-age; and though heirs, yet were under severe discipline and regimen. They were under a kind of government that was suited to that state, and not to the condition of those who had entered on their inheritance.
Were in bondage - In a state of servitude. Treated as servants or slaves.
Under the elements of the world - Margin, Rudiments. The word rendered “elements” (sing. στοιχεῖον stoicheion), properly means a row or series; a little step; a pin or peg, as the gnomen of a dial; and then anything “elementary,” as a sound, a letter. It then denotes the elements or rudiments of any kind of instruction, and in the New Testament is applied to the first lessons or principles of religion; Hebrews 5:12. It is applied to the elements or component parts of the physical world; 2 Peter 3:10, 2 Peter 3:12. Here the figure is kept up of the reference to the infant Galatians 4:1, Galatians 4:3; and the idea is, that lessons were taught under the Jewish system adapted to their nonage - to a state of childhood. They were treated as children under tutors and governors. The phrase “the elements of the world,” occurs also in Colossians 2:8, Colossians 2:20. In Galatians 4:9, Paul speaks of these lessons as “beggarly elements,” referring to the same thing as here.
Different opinions have been held as to the reason why the Jewish institutions are here called “the elements of the world.” Rosenmuller supposes it was because many of those rites were common to the Jews and to the pagan - as they also had altars, sacrifices, temples, libations, etc. Doddridge supposes it was because those rites were adapted to the low conceptions of children, who were most affected with sensible objects, and have no taste for spiritual and heavenly things. Locke supposes it was because those institutions led them not beyond this world, or into the possession and taste of their heavenly inheritance. It is probable that there is allusion to the Jewish manner of speaking, so common in the Scriptures, where this world is opposed to the kingdom of God, and where it is spoken of as transient and worthless compared with the future glory. The world is fading, unsatisfactory, temporary. In allusion to this common use of the word, the Jewish institutions are called the wordly rudiments. It is not that they were in themselves evil - for that is not true; it is not that they were adapted to foster a worldly spirit - for that is not true; it is not that they had their origin from this world - for that is not true; nor is it from the fact that they resembled the institutions of the pagan world - for that is as little true; but it is, that, like the things of the world, they were transient, temporary, and of little value. They were unsatisfactory in their nature, and were soon to pass away, and to give place to a better system - as the things of this world are soon to give place to heaven.
But when the fulness of the time was come - The full time appointed by the Father; the completion (filling up, πλήρωμα plērōma,) of the designated period for the coming of the Messiah; see the Isaiah 49:7-8 notes; 2 Corinthians 6:2 note. The sense is, that the time which had been predicted, and when it was proper that he should come, was complete. The exact period had arrived when all things were ready for his coming. It is often asked why he did not come sooner, and why mankind did not have the benefit of his incarnation and atonement immediately after the fall? Why were four thousand dark and gloomy years allowed to roll on, and the world suffered to sink deeper and deeper in ignorance and sin? To these questions perhaps no answer entirely satisfactory can be given. God undoubtedly saw reasons which we cannot; see, and reasons which we shall approve if they are disclosed to us.
It may be observed, however, that this delay of redemption was in entire accordance with the whole system of divine arrangements, and with all the divine interpositions in favor of men. People are suffered long to pine in want, to suffer from disease, to encounter the evils of ignorance, before interposition is granted. On all the subjects connected with human comfort and improvement, the same questions may be asked as on the subject of redemption. Why was the invention of the art of printing so long delayed, and people suffered to remain in ignorance? Why was the discovery of vaccination delayed so long, and millions suffered to die who might have been saved? Why was not the bark of Peru sooner known, and why did so many millions die who might have been saved by its use? So of most of the medicines, and of the arts and inventions that go to ward off disease, and to promote the intelligence, the comfort, and the salvation of man. In respect to all of these, it may be true that they are made known at the very best time, the time that will on the whole most advance the welfare of the race. And so of the incarnation and work of the Saviour. It was seen by God to be the best time, the time when on the whole the race would be most benefited by his coming. Even with our limited and imperfect vision, we can see the following things in regard to its being the most fit and proper time.
(1) It was just the time when all the prophecies centerd in him, and when there could be no doubt about their fulfillment. It was important that such an event should be predicted in order that there might be full evidence that he came from heaven; and yet in order that prophecy may be seen to have been uttered by God, it must be so far before the event as to make it impossible to have been the result of mere human conjecture.
(2) It was proper that the world should be brought to see its need of a Saviour, and that a fair and satisfactory opportunity should be given to men to try all other schemes of salvation that they might be prepared to welcome this. This had been done. Four thousand years were sufficient to show to man his own powers, and to give him an opportunity to devise some scheme of salvation. The opportunity had been furnished under every circumstance that could be deemed favorable. The most profound and splendid talent of the world had been brought to bear on it, especially in Greece and Rome; and ample Opportunity had been given to make a fair trial of the various systems of religion devised on national happiness and individual welfare; their power to meet and arrest crime; to purify the heart; to promote public morals, and to support man in his trials; their power to conduct him to the true God, and to give him a wellfounded hope of immortality. All had failed; and then it was a proper time for the Son of God to come and to reveal a better system.
(3) It was a time when the world was at peace. The temple of Janus, closed only in times of peace, was then shut, though it had been but once closed before during the Roman history. What an appropriate time for the “Prince of Peace” to come! The world was, to a great extent, under the Roman sceptre. Communications between different parts of the world were then more rapid and secure than they had been at any former period, and the gospel could be more easily propagated. Further, the Jews were scattered in almost all lands, acquainted with the promises, looking for the Messiah, furnishing facilities to their own countrymen the apostles to preach the gospel in numerous synagogues, and qualified, if they embraced the Messiah, to become most zealous and devoted missionaries. The same language, the Greek, was, moreover, after the time of Alexander the Great, the common language of no small part of the world, or at least was spoken and understood among a considerable portion of the nations of the earth. At no period before had there been so extensive a use of the same language.
(4) It was a proper period to make the new system known. It accorded with the benevolence of God, that it should be delayed no longer than that the world should be in a suitable state for receiving the Redeemer. When that period, therefore, had arrived, God did not delay, but sent his Son on the great work of the world’s redemption.
God sent forth his Son - This implies that the Son of God had an existence before his incarnation; see John 16:28. The Saviour is often represented as sent into the world, and as coming forth from God.
Made of a woman - In human nature; born of a woman, This also implies that he had another nature than that which was derived from the woman. On the supposition that he was a mere man, how unmeaning would this assertion be! How natural to ask, in what other way could he appear than to be born of a woman? Why was he particularly designated as coming into the world in this manner? How strange would it sound if it were said, “In the sixteenth century came Faustus Socinus preaching Unitarianism, made of a woman!” or, “In the eighteenth century came Dr. Joseph Priestley, born of a woman, preaching the doctrines of Socinus!” How else could they appear? would be the natural inquiry. What was there special in their birth and origin that rendered such language necessary? The language implies that there were other ways in which the Saviour might have come; that there was something special in the fact that he was born of a woman; and that there was some special reason why that fact should be made prominently a matter of record. The promise was Genesis 3:15 that the Messiah should be the “seed” or the descendant of woman; and Paul probably here alludes to the fulfillment of that promise.
Made under the law - As one of the human race, partaking of human nature, he was subject to the Law of God. As a man he was hound by its requirements, and subject to its control. He took his place under the Law that he might accomplish an important purpose for those who were under it. He made himself subject to it that he might become one of them, and secure their redemption.
To redeem them - By his death as an atoning sacrifice; see the note at Galatians 3:13.
Them that were under the law - Sinners, who had violated the Law, and who were exposed to its dread penalty.
That we might receive the adoption of sons - Be adopted as the sons or the children of God; see John 1:12, note; Romans 8:15, note.
And because ye are sons - As a consequence of your being adopted into the family of God, and being regarded as his sons. It follows as a part of his purpose of adoption that his children shall have the spirit of the Lord Jesus.
The Spirit of his Son - The spirit of the Lord Jesus; the spirit which animated him, or which he evinced. The idea is, that as the Lord Jesus was enabled to approach God with the language of endearment and love, so they would be. He, being the true and exalted Son of God, had the spirit appropriate to such a relation; they being adopted, and made like him, have the same spirit. The “spirit” here referred to does not mean, as I suppose: the Holy Spirit as such; nor the miraculous endowments of the Holy Spirit, but the spirit which made them like the Lord Jesus; the spirit by which they were enabled to approach God as his children, and use the reverent, and tender, and affectionate language of a child addressing a father. It is that language used by Christians when they have evidence of adoption; the expression of the warm, and elevated, and glowing emotions which they have when they can approach God as their God, and address him as their Father.
Crying - That is, the spirit thus cries, Πνεῦμα Pneuma - κράζον krazon). Compare the notes, Romans 8:26-27. In Romans 8:15 it is, “wherewith we cry.”
Abba, Father - See the note at Romans 8:15. It is said in the Babylonian Gemara, a Jewish work, that it was not permitted slaves to use the title of Abba in addressing the master of the family to which they belonged. If so, then the language which Christians are here represented as using is the language of freemen, and denotes that they are not under the servitude of sin.
Wherefore - In consequence of this privilege of addressing God as your Father.
Thou art no more - You who are Christians.
A servant - In the servitude of sin; or treated as a servant by being bound under the oppressive rites and ceremonies of the Law; compare the note at Galatians 4:3
But a son - A child of God, adopted into his family, and to be treated as a son.
And if a son ... - Entitled to all the privileges of a son, and of course to be regarded as an heir through the Redeemer, and with him. See the sentiment here expressed explained in the the note at Romans 8:17.
Howbeit - But, ἀλλὰ alla. The address in this verse and the following is evidently to the portion of the Galatians who had been pagan. This is probably indicated by the particle ἀλλὰ alla, but denoting a transition. In the previous verses Paul had evidently had the Jewish converts more particularly in his eye, and had described their former condition as one of servitude to the Mosaic rites and customs, and had shown the inconveniences of that condition, compared with the freedom imparted by the gospel. To complete the description, he refers also to the Gentiles, as a condition of worse servitude still, and shows Galatians 4:9 the absurdity of their turning back to a state of bondage of any kind, after the glorious deliverance which they had obtained from the degrading servitude of pagan rites. The sense is, “If the Jews were in such a state of servitude, how much more galling and severe was that of those who had been pagans. Yet fron that servitude the gospel had delivered them, and made them freemen. How absurd now to go back to a state of vassalage, and to become servants under the oppressive rites of the Jewish law!”
When ye knew not God - In your state of paganism, when you had no knowledge of the true God and of his service. The object is not to apologize for what they did, because they did not know God; it is to state the fact that they were in a state of gross and galling servitude.
Ye did service - This does not express the force of the original. The meaning is, “Ye were “slaves” to (ἐδουλεύσατε edouleusate); you were in a condition of servitude, as opposed to the freedom of the gospel;” compare Galatians 4:3, where the same word is used to describe the state of the Jews. The drift of the apostle is, to show that the Jews and Gentiles, before their conversion to Christianity, were in a state of vassalage or servitude, and that it was absurd in the highest degree to return to that condition again.
Unto them which by nature are no gods - Idols, or false gods. The expression “by nature,” φύσει phusei, according to Grotius, means, “in fact, re ipsa.” The sense is, that they really had no pretensions to divinity. Many of them were imaginary beings; many were the objects of creation, as the sun, and winds, and streams; and many were departed heroes that had been exalted to be objects of worship. Yet the servitude was real. It fettered their faculties; controlled their powers; bound their imagination, and commanded their time and property, and made them slaves. Idolatry is always slavery; and the servitude of sinners to their passions and appetites, to lust and gold, and ambition, is not less galling and severe than was the servitude to the pagan gods or the Jewish rites, or than is the servitude of the African now to a harsh and cruel master. Of all Christians it may be said that before their conversion they “did service,” or were slaves to harsh and cruel masters; and nothing but the gospel has made them free. It may be added, that the chains of idolatry all over the world are as fast riveted and as galling as they were in Galatia, and that nothing but the same gospel which Paul preached there can break those chains and restore man to freedom.
But now ... - The sense is, that since they had been made free from their ignoble servitude in the worship of false gods, and had been admitted to the freedom found in the worship of the true God, it was absurd that they should return again to that which was truly slavery or bondage, the observance of the rites of the Jewish law.
That ye have known God - The true God, and the ease and freedom of his service in the gospel.
Or rather are known of God - The sense is, “Or, to speak more accurately or precisely, are known by God.” The object of this correction is to avoid the impression which might be derived from the former phrase that their acquaintance with God was owing to themselves. He therefore states, that it was rather that they were known of God; that it was all owing to him that they had been brought to an acquaintance with himself. Perhaps, also, he means to bring into view the idea that it was a favor and privilege to be known by God, and that therefore it was the more absurd to turn back to the weak and beggarly elements.
How turn ye again - Margin, “Back.” “How is it that you are returning to such a bondage?” The question implies surprise and indignation that they should do it.
To the weak and beggarly elements - To the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law, imposing a servitude really not less severe than the customs of paganism. On the word elements, see the note at Galatians 4:3. They are called “weak” because they had no power to save the soul; no power to justify the sinner before God. They are called “beggarly” (Greek πτωχὰ ptōcha, poor), because they could not impart spiritual riches. They really could confer few benefits on man. Or it may be, as Locke supposes, because the Law kept people in the poor estate of pupils from the full enjoyment of the inheritance; Galatians 4:1-3.
Whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage - As if you had a wish to be under servitude. The absurdity is as great as it would be for a man who had been freed from slavery to desire his chains again. They had been freed by the gospel from the galling servitude of paganism, and they now again had sunk into the Jewish observances, as if they preferred slavery to freedom, and were willing to go from one form of it to another. The main idea is, that it is absurd for people who have been made free by the gospel to go back again into any kind of servitude or bondage. We may apply it to Christians now. Many sink into a kind of servitude not less galling than was that to sin before their conversion. Some become the slaves of mere ceremonies and forms in religion. Some are slaves to fashion, and the world still rules them with the hand of a tyrant. They have escaped, it may be, from the galling chains of ambition, and degrading vice, and low sensuality; but they became slaves to the love of money, or of dress, or of the fashions of the world, as if they loved slavery and chains; and they seem no more able to break loose than the slave is to break the bonds which bind him. And some are slaves to some expensive and foolish habit. Professed Christians, and Christian ministers too, become slaves to the disgusting and loathsome habit of using tobacco, bound by a servitude as galling and as firm as that which ever shackled the limbs of an African. I grieve to add also that many professed Christians are slaves to the habit of “sitting long at the wine” and indulging in it freely. O that such knew the liberty of Christian freedom, and would break away from all such shackles, and show how the gospel frees people from all foolish and absurd customs!
Ye observe - The object of this verse is to specify some of the things to which they had become enslaved.
Days - The days here referred to are doubtless the days of the Jewish festivals. They had numerous days of such observances, and in addition to those specified in the Old Testament, the Jews had added many others as days commemorative of the destruction and rebuilding of the temple, and of other important events in their history. It is not a fair interpretation of this to suppose that the apostle refers to the Sabbath, properly so called, for this was a part of the Decalogue; and was observed by the Saviour himself, and by the apostles also. It is a fair interpretation to apply it to all those days which are not commanded to be kept holy in the Scriptures; and hence, the passage is as applicable to the observance of saints’ days, and days in honor of particular events in sacred history, as to the days observed by the Galatians. There is as real servitude in the observance of the numerous festivals, and fasts in the papal communion and in some Protestant churches, as there was in the observance of the days in the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar, and for anything that I can see, such observances are as inconsistent now with the freedom of the gospel as they were in the time of Paul. We should observe as seasons of holy time what it can be proved God has commanded us, and no more.
And months - The festivals of the new moon, kept by the Jews. Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11-14. On this festival, in addition to the daily sacrifice, two bullocks, a ram, and seven sheep of a year old were offered in sacrifice. The appearance of the new-moon was announced by the sound of trumpets. See Jahn, Archae. 352.
And times - Stated times; festivals returning periodically, as the Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. See Jahn, Archae. chap. 3. 346-360.
And years - The sabbatical year, or the year of jubilee. See Jahn as above.
I am afraid of you ... - I have fears respecting you. His fears were that they had no genuine Christian principle. They had been so easily perverted and turned back to the servitude of ceremonies and rites, that he was apprehensive that there could be no real Christian principle in the case. What pastor has not often had such fears of his people, when he sees them turn to the weak and beggarly elements of the world, or when, after having “run well,” he sees them become the slaves of fashion, or of some habit inconsistent with the simplicity of the gospel?
Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am ... - There is great brevity in this passage, and no little obscurity, and a great many different interpretations have been given of it by commentators. The various views expressed may be seen in Bloomfield’s Crit. Dig. Locke renders it, “Let you and I be as if we were all one, Think yourselves to be very me; as I in my own mind put no difference at all between you and myself.” Koppe explains it thus: Imitate my example; for I, though a Jew by birth, care no more for Jewish rites than you.” Rosenmuller explains it, “Imitate my manner of life in rejecting the Jewish rites; as I, having renounced the Jewish rites, was much like you when I preached the gospel to you.” Other interpretations may be seen in Chandler, Doddridge, Calvin, etc. In our version there seems to be an impropriety of expression; for if he was as they were it would seem to be a matter of course that they would be like him, or would resemble him. The sense of the passage, however, it seems to me cannot be difficult. The reference is doubtless to the Jewish rites and customs, and to the question whether they were binding on Christians. Paul’s object is to persuade them to abandon them. He appeals to them, therefore, by his own example. And it means evidently, “Imitate me in this thing. Follow my example, and yield no conformity to those rites and customs.” The ground on which he asks them to imitate him may be either:
- That he had abandoned them or,
- Because he asks them to yield a point to him.
He had done so in many instances for their welfare, and had made many sacrifices for their salvation, and he now asks them to yield this one point, and to become as he was, and to cease these Jewish observances, as he had done.
For I am as ye are - Greek “For I as ye.” This means, I suppose, “For I have conformed to your customs in many things. I have abandoned my own peculiarities; given up my customs as far as possible; conformed to you as Gentiles as far as I could do, in order to benefit and save you. I have laid aside the uniqueness of the Jew on the principle of becoming all things to all men (Notes, 1 Corinthians 9:20-22), in order that I might save you. I ask in return only the slight sacrifice that you will now become like me in the matter under consideration.”
Ye have not injured me at all - “It is not a personal matter. I have no cause of complaint. You have done me no personal wrong. There is no variance between us; no unkind feeling; no injury done as individuals. I may, therefore, with the more freedom, ask you to yield this point, when I assure you that I do not feel personally injured. I have no wrong to complain of, and I ask it on higher grounds than would be an individual request: it is for your good, and the good of the great cause.” When Christians turn away from the truth, and disregard the instructions and exhortations of pastors, and become conformed to the world, it is not a personal matter, or a matter of personal offence to them, painful as it may be to them. They have no special reason to say that they are personally injured. It is a higher matter. The cause suffers. The interests of religion are injured. The church at large is offended, and the Saviour is “wounded in the house of his friends.” Conformity to the world, or a lapse into some sin, is a public offence, and should be regarded as an injury done to the cause of the Redeemer. It shows the magnanimity of Paul, that though they had abandoned his doctrines, and forgotten his love and his toils in their welfare, he did not regard it as a personal offence, and did not consider himself personally injured. An ambitious man or an impostor would have made that the main, if not the only thing.
Ye know how - To show them the folly of their embracing the new views which they had adopted, he reminds them of past times, and particularly of the strength of the attachment which they had evinced for him in former days.
Through infirmity of the flesh - Greek “Weakness” (ἀσθένειαν astheneian); compare the 1 Corinthians 2:3 note; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 12:7 notes.
And my temptation - “My trial,” the thing which was to me a trial and calamity. The meaning is, that he was afflicted with various calamities and infirmities, but that this did not hinder their receiving him as an angel from heaven. There is, however, a considerable variety in the mss. on this verse. Many mss., instead of “my temptation,” read “your temptation;” and Mill maintains that this is the true reading. Griesbach hesitates between the two. But it is not very important to determine which is the true reading. If it should be “your,” then it means that they were tempted by his infirmities to reject him; and so it amounts to about the same thing. The general sense is, that he had some bodily infirmity, perhaps some periodically returning disease, that was a great trial to him, which they bore with, with great patience and affection. What that was, he has not informed us, and conjecture is vain.
But received me as an angel of God - With the utmost respect, as if I had been an angel sent from God.
Even as Christ Jesus - As you would have done the Redeemer himself. Learn hence:
(1) That the Lord Jesus is superior to an angel of God.
(2) That the highest proof of attachment to a minister, is to receive him as the Saviour would be received.
(3) It showed their attachment to the Lord Jesus, that they received his apostle as they would have received the Saviour himself; compare Matthew 10:40.
Where is then the blessedness - Margin, “What was” - in accordance with the Greek. The words “ye spake of” are not in the Greek, and should have been printed in italics. But they obscure the sense at any rate. This is not to be regarded as a question, asking what had become of the blessedness, implying that it had departed; but it is rather to be regarded as an exclamation, referring to the happiness of that moment, and their affection and joy when they thus received him. “What blessedness you had then! How happy was that moment! What tenderness of affection! What overflowing joy!” It was a time full of joy, and love, and affectionate confidence. So Tyndale well renders it, “How happy were ye then!” In this interpretation, Doddridge, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, Koppe, Chandler, and others concur. Locke renders it, “What benedictions did you then pour out on me!”
For I bear you record - I testify.
Ye would have plucked out your own eyes ... - No higher proof of attachment could have been given. They loved him so much, that they would have given to him anything, however dear; they would have done anything to contribute to his welfare. How changed, now that they had abandoned his doctrines, and yielded themselves to the guidance of those who taught a wholly different doctrine!
Am I therefore become your enemy ... - Is my telling you the truth in regard to the tendency of the doctrines which you have embraced, and the character of those who have led you astray, and your own error, a proof that I have ceased to be your friend? How apt are we to feel that the man who tells us of our faults is our enemy! How apt are we to treat him coldly, and to “cut his acquaintance,” and to regard him with dislike! The reason is, he gives us pain; and we cannot have pain given to us, even by the stone against which we stumble, or by any of the brute creation, without momentary indignation, or regarding them for a time as our enemies. Besides, we do not like to have another person acquainted with our faults and our follies; and we naturally avoid the society of those who are thus acquainted with us. Such is human nature; and it requires no little grace for us to overcome this. and to regard the man who tells us of our faults, or the faults of our families, as our friend.
We love to be flattered, and to have our friends flattered; and we shrink with pain from any exposure, or any necessity for repentance. Hence, we become alienated from him who is faithful in reproving us for our faults. Hence, people become offended with their ministers when they reprove them for their sins. Hence, they become offended at the truth. Hence, they resist the influences of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to bring the truth to the heart, and to reprove men for their sins. There is nothing more difficult than to regard with steady and unwavering affection the man who faithfully tells us the truth at all times, when that truth is painful. Yet he is our best friend. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful,” Proverbs 27:6. If I am in danger of falling down a precipice, he shows to me the purest friendship who tells me of it; if I am in danger of breathing the air of the pestilence, and it can be avoided, he shows to me pure kindness who tells me of it. So still more, if I am indulging in a course of conduct that may ruin me, or cherishing error that may endanger my salvation, he shows me the purest friendship who is most faithful in warning me, and apprising me of what must be the termination of my course.
They zealously affect you - See 1 Corinthians 12:31 (Greek); 1 Corinthians 14:39. The word used here (Ζηλόω Zēloō), means to be “zealous” toward, that is, for or against any person or thing; usually, in a good sense, to be eager for. Here it means, that the false teachers made a show of zeal toward the Galatians, or professed affection for them in order to gain them as their followers. They were full of ardor, and professed an extraordinary concern for their welfare - as people always do who are demagogues, or who seek to gain proselytes. The object of the apostle in this is, probably, to say, that it was not wholly owing to themselves that they had become alienated from the doctrines which he had taught. Great pains had been taken to do it; and there had been a show of zeal which would be likely to endanger any person.
But not well - Not with good motives, or with good designs.
Yea, they would exclude you - Margin, “Us.” A few printed editions of the New Testament have ἡμᾶς hēmas, “us,” instead of ὑμᾶς humas, “you” - Mill. The word “exclude” here probably means, that they endeavored to exclude the Galatians from the love and affection of Paul. They would shut them out from that, in order that they might secure them for their own purposes. If the reading in the margin, however, should be retained, the sense would be clearer. “They wish to exclude us, that is, me, the apostle, in order that they may have you wholly to themselves. If they can once get rid of your attachment to me, then they will have no difficulty in securing you for themselves.” This reading, says Rosenmuller, is found “in many of the best codices, and versions, and fathers.” It is adopted by Doddridge, Locke, and others. The main idea is clear: Paul stood in the way of their designs. The Galatians were truly attached to him, and it was necessary, in order to accomplish their ends, to withdraw their affections from him. When false teachers have designs on a people, they begin by alienating their confidence and affections from their pastors and teachers. They can hope for no success until this is done; and hence, the efforts of errorists, and of infidels, and of scorners, is to undermine the confidence of a people in the ministry, and when this is done there is little difficulty in drawing them over to their own purposes.
That ye might affect them - The same word as in the former part of the verse, “that ye might zealously affect them” - that is, that ye might show ardent attachment to them. Their first work is to manifest special interest for your welfare; their second, to alienate you from him who had first preached the gospel to you; their object, not your salvation, or your real good, but to secure your zealous love for themselves.
But it is good to be, zealously affected - The meaning of this is, “Understand me: I do not speak against zeal. I have not a word to say in its disparagement. In itself, it is good; and their zeal would be good if it were in a good cause.” Probably, they relied much on their zeal; perhaps they maintained, as errorists and deceivers are very apt to do, that zeal was sufficient evidence of the goodness of their cause, and that persons who are so very zealous could not possibly be bad men. How often is this plea set up by the friends of errorists and deceivers!
And not only when I am present with you - It seems to me that there is great adroitness and great delicacy of irony in this remark; and that the apostle intends to remind them as gently as possible, that it would have been as well for them to have shown their zeal in a good cause when he was absent, as well as when he was with them. The sense may be, “You were exceedingly zealous in a good cause when I was with you. You loved the truth; you loved me. Since I left you, and as soon almost as I was out of your sight, your zeal died away, and your ardent love for me was transferred to others. Allow me to remind you, that it would be well to be zealous of good when I am away, as well as when I am with you. There is not much true affection in that which dies away as soon as a man’s back is turned.” The doctrine is, that true zeal or love will live alike when the object is near and when it is removed; when our friends are present with us, and when they leave us; when their eye is upon us, and when it is turned away.
My little children - The language of tender affection, such as a parent would use toward his own offspring; see the note at 1 Corinthians 4:15; compare Matthew 18:3; Joh 13:33; 1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:12-13; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21. The idea here is, that Paul felt that he sustained toward them the relation of a father, and he had for them the deep and tender feelings of a parent.
Of whom I travail in birth again - For whose welfare I am deeply anxious: and for whom I endure deep anguish; compare 1 Corinthians 4:15. His anxiety for them he compares to the deepest sufferings which human nature endures; and his language here is a striking illustration of what ministers of the gospel should feel, and do sometimes feel, in regard to their people.
Until Christ be formed in you - The name Christ is often used to denote his religion, or the principles of his gospel; see the note at Romans 13:14. Here it means, until Christ reigns wholly in your hearts; until you wholly and entirely embrace his doctrines; and until you become wholly imbued with his spirit; see Colossians 1:27.
I desire to be present with you now - They had lost much by his absence; they had changed their views; they had in some measure become alienated from him; and he wishes that he might be again with them, as he was before. He would hope to accomplish much more by his personal presence than he could by letter.
And to change my voice - That is, from complaint and censure, to tones of entire confidence.
For I stand in doubt of you - Margin, “I am perplexed for you.” On the meaning of the word used here, see the note at 2 Corinthians 4:8. The sense is plain. Paul had much reason to doubt the sincerity and the solidity of their Christian principles, and he was deeply anxious on that account.
Tell me ... - In order to show fully the nature and the effect of the Law, Paul here introduces an illustration from an important fact in the Jewish history. This allegory has given great perplexity to expositors, and, in some respects, it is attended with real difficulty. An examination of the difficulties will be found in the larger commentaries. My object, without examining the expositions which have been proposed, will be to state, in as few words as possible, the simple meaning and design of the allegory. The design it is not difficult to understand. It is to show the effect of being under the bondage or servitude of the Jewish law, compared with the freedom which the gospel imparts. Paul had addressed the Galatians as having a real desire to be under bondage, or to be servants; the note at Galatians 4:9. He had represented Christianity as a state of freedom, and Christians as the sons of God - not servants, but freemen.
To show the difference of the two conditions, he appeals to two cases which would furnish a striking illustration of them. The one was the case of Hagar and her son. The effect of bondage was well illustrated there. She and her son were treated with severity, and were cast out and persecuted. This was a fair illustration of bondage under the Law; of the servitude to the laws of Moses; and was a fit representation of Jerusalem as it was in the time of Paul. The other case was that of Isaac. He was the son of a free woman, and was treated accordingly. He was regarded as a son, not as a servant. And he was a fair illustration of the case of those who were made free by the gospel. They enjoyed a similar freedom and sonship, and should not seek a state of servitude or bondage. The condition of Isaac was a fit illustration of the New Jerusalem; the heavenly city; the true kingdom of God. But Paul does not mean to say, as I suppose, that the history of the son of Hagar and of the son of Rebecca was mere allegory, or that the narrative by Moses was designed to represent the different condition of those who were under the Law and under the gospel.
He uses it simply, as showing the difference between servitude and freedom, and as a striking illustration of the nature of the bondage to the Jewish law, and of the freedom of the gospel, just as anyone may use a striking historical fact to illustrate a principle. These general remarks will constitute the basis of my interpretation of this celebrated allegory. The expression “tell me,” is one of affectionate remonstrance and reasoning; see Luke 7:42, “Tell me, therefore, which of these will love him most?” Compare Isaiah 1:18, “Come, now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.”
Ye that desire to be under the law - See the note at Galatians 4:9. You who wish to yield obedience to the laws of Moses. You who maintain that conformity to those laws is necessary to justification.
Do ye not hear the law? - Do you not understand what the Law says? Will you not listen to its own admonitions, and the instruction which may be derived from the Law on the subject? The word “law” here refers not to the commands that were uttered on Mount Sinai, but to the book of the Law. The passage to which reference is made is in the Book of Genesis; but; all the five books of Moses were by the Jews classed under the general name of the Law; see the note at Luke 24:44. The sense is, “Will you not listen to a narrative found in one of the books of the Law itself, fully illustrating the nature of that servitude which you wish?”
For it is written - Genesis 16:0; Genesis 21:0.
Abraham had two sons - Ishmael and Isaac. Abraham subsequently had several sons by Keturah after the death of Sarah; Genesis 26:1-6. But the two sons by Hagar and Sarah were the most prominent, and the events of their lives furnished the particular illustration which Paul desired.
The one by a bond-maid - Ishmael, the son of Hagar. Hagar was an Egyptian slave, whom Sarah gave to Abraham in order that he might not be wholly without posterity; Genesis 16:3.
The other by a free woman - Isaac, the son of Sarah; Genesis 21:1-2.
But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh - In the ordinary course of nature, without any special promise, or any unusual divine interposition, as in the case of Isaac.
But he of the free woman ... - The birth of Isaac was in accordance with a special promise, and by a remarkable divine interposition; see Genesis 18:10; Genesis 21:1-2; Hebrews 11:11-12; compare the notes at Romans 4:19-21. The idea here of Paul is, that the son of the slave was in a humble and inferior condition from his very birth. There was no special promise attending him. He was born into a state of inferiority and servitude which attended him through his whole life. Isaac, however, was met with promises as soon as he was born, and was under the benefit of those promises as long as he lived. The object of Paul is, to state the truth in regard to a condition of servitude and slavery. It is attended with evils from beginning to end; from the birth to the grave. By this illustration he means to show them the folly of becoming the voluntary slaves of the Law after they had once been made free.
Which things - The different accounts of Ishmael and Isaac.
Are an allegory - May be regarded allegorically, or as illustrating great principles in regard to the condition of slaves and freemen; and may therefore be used to illustrate the effect of servitude to the Law of Moses compared with the freedom of the gospel. He does not mean to say that the historical record of Moses was not true, or was merely allegorical; nor does he mean to say that Moses meant this to be an allegory, or that he intended that it should be applied to the exact purpose to which Paul applied it. No such design is apparent in the narrative of Moses, and it is evident that he had no such intention. Nor can it be shown that Paul means to be understood as saying that Moses had any such design, or that his account was not a record of a plain historical fact. Paul uses it as he would any other historical fact that would illustrate the same principle, and he makes no more use of it than the Saviour did in his parables of real or fictitious narratives to illustrate an important truth, or than we always do of real history to illustrate an important principle.
The word which is used here by Paul (ἀλληγορέω allēgoreō) is derived from ἄλλος allos, another, and ἀγορεύω agoreuō, to speak, to speak openly or in public - Passow. It properly means to speak anything otherwise than it is understood (Passow); to speak allegorically; to allegorize. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, nor is it found in the Septuagint, though it occurs often in the classic writers. An allegory is a continued metaphor; see Blair’s Lectures, xv. It is a figurative sentence or discourse, in which the principal object is described by another subject resembling it in its properties and circumstances - Webster. Allegories are in words what hieroglyphics are in painting. The distinction between a parable and an allegory is said to be, that a parable is a supposed history to illustrate some important truth, as the parable of the good Samaritan, etc.; an allegory is based on real facts.
It is not probable, however, that this distinction is always carefully observed. Sometimes the allegory is based on the resemblance to some inanimate object, as in the beautiful allegory in Psalms 80:0. Allegories, parables, and metaphors abound in the writings of the East. Truth was more easily treasured up in this way, and could be better preserved and transmitted when it was connected with an interesting story. The lively fancy of the people of the East also led them to this mode of communicating truth; though a love for it is probably founded in human nature. The best sustained allegory of any considerable length in the world is, doubtless, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; and yet this is among the most popular of all books. The ancient Jews were exceedingly fond of allegories, and even turned a considerable part of the Old Testament into allegory. The ancient Greek philosophers also were fond of this mode of teaching.
Pythagoras instructed his followers in this manner, and this was common among the Greeks, and was imitated much by the early Christians - Calmet. Many of the Christian fathers, of the school of Origen, made the Old Testament almost wholly allegorical, and found mysteries in the plainest narratives. The Bible became thus with them a book of enigmas, and exegesis consisted in an ingenious and fanciful accommodation of all the narratives in the scriptures to events in subsequent times. The most fanciful, and the most ingenious man, on this principle, was the best interpreter; and as any man might attach any hidden mystery which he chose to the scriptures, they became wholly useless as an infallible guide. Better principles of interpretation now prevail; and the great truth has gone forth, never more to be recalled, that the Bible is to be interpreted on the same principle as all other books; that its language is to be investigated by the same laws as language in all other books; and that no more liberty is to be taken in allegorizing the scriptures than may be taken with Herodotus or Livy. It is lawful to use narratives of real events to illustrate important principles always. Such a use is often made of history; and such a use, I suppose, the apostle Paul makes here of an important fact in the history of the Old Testament.
For these are - These may be used to represent the two covenants. The apostle could not mean that the sons of Sarah and Hagar were literally the two covenants; for this could not be true, and the declaration would be unintelligible. In what sense could Ishmael be called a covenant? The meaning, therefore, must be, that they furnished an apt illustration or representation of the two covenants; they would show what the nature of the two covenants was. The words “are” and “is” are often used in this sense in the Bible, to denote that one thing represents another. Thus in the institution of the Lord’s supper; “Take, eat, this is my body” Matthew 26:26; that is, this represents my body. The bread was not the living body that was then before them. So in Galatians 4:28; “This is my blood of the new covenant;” that is, this represents my blood. The wine in the cup could not be the living blood of the Redeemer that was then flowing in his veins; see the note at that place; compare Genesis 41:26.
The two covenants - Margin, “Testaments.” The word means here, covenants or compacts; see the note at 1 Corinthians 11:25. The two covenants here referred to, are the one on Mount Sinai made with the Jews, and the other that which is made with the people of God in the gospel. The one resembles the condition of bondage in which Hagar and her son were; the other the condition of freedom in which Sarah and Isaac were.
The one from the Mount Sinai - Margin, “Sina.” The Greek is “Sina,” though the word may be written either way.
Which gendereth to bondage - Which tends to produce bondage or servitude. That is, the laws are stern and severe; and the observance of them costly, and onerous like a state of bondage; see the note at Acts 15:10.
Which is Agar - Which Hagar would appropriately represent. The condition of servitude produced by the Law had a strong resemblance to her condition as a slave.
For this Agar is Mount Sinai - This Hagar well represents the Law given on Mount Sinai. No one can believe that Paul meant to say that Hagar was literally Mount Sinai. A great deal of perplexity has been felt in regard to this passage, and Bentley proposed to cancel it altogether as an interpolation. But there is no good authority for this. Several manuscripts and versions read it, “For this Sinai is a mountain in Arabia;” others, “to this Hagar Jerusalem answereth,” etc. Griesbach has placed these readings in the margin, and has marked them as not to be rejected as certainly false, but as worthy of a more attentive examination; as sustained by some plausible arguments, though not in the whole satisfactory. The word Hagar in Arabic is said to signify a rock; and it has been supposed that the name was appropriately given to Mount Sinai, because it was a pile of rocks, and that Paul had allusion to this meaning of the word here. So Chandler, Rosenmuller, and others interpret it. But I cannot find in Castell or Gesenius that the word Hagar in Arabic has this signification; still less is there evidence that the name was ever given to Mount Sinai by the Arabs, or that such a signification was known to Paul. The plainest and most obvious sense of a passage is generally the true sense; and the obvious sense here is, that Hagar was a fair representation of Mount Sinai, and of the Law given there.
In Arabia - Mount Sinai is situated in Arabia Petraea, or the Rocky. Rosenmuller says that this means “in the Arabic language;” but probably in this interpretation he stands alone.
And answereth to Jerusalem - Margin, “Is in the same rank with.” The margin is the better translation. The meaning is, it is just like it, or corresponds with it. Jerusalem as it is now (that is, in the days of Paul), is like Mount Sinai. It is subject to laws, and rites, and customs; bound by a state of servitude, and fear, and trembling, such as existed when the Law was given on Mount Sinai. There is no freedom; there are no great and liberal views; there is none of the liberty which the gospel imparts to men. The word συστοιχεῖ sustoichei, “answereth to,” means properly to advance in order together; to go together with, as soldiers march along in the same rank; and then to correspond to. It means here that Mount Sinai and Jerusalem as it then was would be suited to march together in the same platoon or rank. In marshalling an army, care is taken to place soldiers of the same height, and size, and skill, and courage, if possible, together. So here it means that they were alike. Both were connected with bondage, like Hagar. On the one, a law was given that led to bondage; and the other was in fact under a miserable servitude of rites and forms.
Which now is - As it exists now; that is, a slave to rites and forms, as it was in fact in the time of Paul.
And is in bondage - To laws and customs. She was under hard and oppressive rites, like slavery. She was also in bondage to sin John 8:33-34; but this does not seem to be the idea here.
With her children - Her inhabitants. She is represented as a mother, and her inhabitants, the Jews, are in the condition of the son of Hagar. On this passage compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 10:4, for a more full illustration of the principles involved here.
But Jerusalem which is above - The spiritual Jerusalem; the true church of God. Jerusalem was the place where God was worshipped, and hence, it became synonymous with the word church, or is used to represent the people of God. The word rendered “above,” (ἄνω anō) means properly “up above,” that which is above; and hence, heavenly, celestial; Colossians 3:1-2; John 8:23. Here it means the heavenly or celestial Jerusalem; Revelation 21:2, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God, out of heaven.” Hebrews 12:22,” ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Here it is used to denote the church, as being of heavenly origin.
Is free - The spirit of the gospel is that of freedom. It is freedom from sin, freedom from the bondage of rites and customs, and it tends to promote universal freedom; see the note at Galatians 4:7; compare John 8:32, John 8:36; and the note at 2 Corinthians 3:17.
Which is the mother of us all - Of all who are true Christians, whether we are by birth Jews or Gentiles. We should not, therefore, yield ourselves to any degrading and debasing servitude el any kind; compare the note at 1 Corinthians 6:12.
For it is written - This passage is found in Isaiah 54:1. For an exposition of its meaning as it occurs there, see my notes at Isaiah. The object of the apostle in introducing it here seems to be to prove that the Gentiles as well as the Jews would partake of the privileges connected with the heavenly Jerusalem. He had in the previous verse spoken of the Jerusalem from above as the common mother of all, true Christians, whether by birth Jews or Gentiles. This might be disputed or doubted by the Jews; and he therefore adduces this proof from the Old Testament. Or if it was not doubted, still the quotation was pertinent, and would illustrate the sentiment which he had just uttered. The mention of Jerusalem as a mother seems to have suggested this text. Isaiah had spoken of Jerusalem as a female that had been long desolate and childless, now rejoicing by a large accession from the Gentile world, and increased in numbers like a female who should have more children than one who had been long married. To this Paul appropriately refers when he says that the whole church, Jews and Gentiles, were the children of the heavenly Jerusalem, represented here as a rejoicing mother. He has not quoted literally from the Hebrew, but he has used the Septuagint version, and has retained the sense. The sense is, that the accession from the Gentile world would be far more numerous than the Jewish people had ever been; a prophecy that has been already fulfilled.
Rejoice thou barren that bearest not - As a woman who has had no children would rejoice. This represents probably the pagan world as having been apparently forsaken and abandoned, and with whom there had been none of the true children of God.
Break forth and cry - Or “break forth and exclaim;” that is, break out into loud and glad exclamations at the remarkable accession. The cry here referred to was to be a joyful cry or shout; the language of exultation. So the Hebrew word in Isaiah 54:1 צהל tsaahal means.
For the desolate - She who was desolate and apparently forsaken. It literally refers to a woman who had seemed to be desolate and forsaken, who was unmarried. In Isaiah it may refer to Jerusalem, long forsaken and desolate, or as some suppose to the Gentile world; see my note at Isaiah 54:1.
Than she which hath an husband - Perhaps referring to the Jewish people as in covenant with God, and often spoken of as married to him; Isaiah 62:4-5; Isaiah 54:5.
Now we, brethren - We who are Christians.
Are the children of the promise - We so far resemble Isaac, that there are great and precious promises made to us. We are not in the condition of Ishmael, to whom no promise was made.
But as then he that was born after the flesh - Ishmael; see Galatians 4:23.
Persecuted him that was born after the Spirit - That is, Isaac. The phrase, “after the Spirit,” here, is synonymous with “according to the promise” in the previous verse. It stands opposed to the phrase “after the flesh,” and means that his birth was by the special or miraculous agency of God; see Romans 4:0. It was not in the ordinary course of events. The persecution here referred to, was the injurious treatment which Isaac received from Ishmael, or the opposition which subsisted between them. The particular reference of Paul is doubtless to Genesis 21:9, where it is said that “Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.” It was on account of this, and at the special request of Sarah, that Hagar and her son were expelled from the house of Abraham; Genesis 21:10.
Even so it is now - That is, Christians, the children of the promise, are persecuted by the Jews, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “as it now is,” and who are uninterested in the promises, as Ishmael was. For an illustration of this, see Paley’s Hora Paulina, on this Epistle, no. v. Dr. Paley has remarked that it does not appear that the apostle Paul was ever set upon by the Gentiles, unless they were first stirred up by the Jews, except in two instances. One of these was at Philippi, after the cure of the Pythoness Acts 16:19; and the other at Ephesus, at the instance of Demetrius; Acts 19:24. The persecutions of the Christians arose, therefore, mainly from the Jews, from those who were in bondage to the Law, and to rites and customs; and Paul’s allusion here to the case of the persecution which Isaac the free-born son endured, is exceedingly pertinent and happy.
Nevertheless - But Ἀλλὰ (Alla).
What saith the Scripture? - What does the Scripture teach on the subject? What lesson does it convey in regard to the bondman?
Cast out the bondwoman and her son - This was the language of Sarah, in an address to Abraham, requesting him to cast out Hagar and Ishmael; Genesis 21:10. That was done. Paul uses it here as applicable to the case before him. As used by him the meaning is, that everything like servitude in the gospel is to be rejected, as Hagar and Ishmael were driven away. It does not mean, as it seems to me, that they were to expel the Jewish teachers in Galatia, but that they were to reject everything like servitude and bondage; they were to adhere only to that which was free. Paul cannot here mean that the passage in Genesis 21:10, originally had reference to the gospel, for nothing evidently was further from the mind of Sarah than any such reference; nor can it be shown that he meant to approve of or vindicate the conduct of Sarah; but he finds a passage applicable to his purpose, and he conveys his ideas in that language as exactly expressing his meaning. We all use language in that way wherever we find it.
(Yet God confirmed the sentence of Sarah; Genesis 21:12. Hence, Mr. Scott thus paraphrases, “But as the Galatians might read in the Scriptures that God himself had commanded Hagar and Ishmael to be sent away from Abraham’s family, that the son of the bondwoman might not share the inheritance with Isaac; even so the Jewish nation would soon be cast out of the church, and all who continued under the legal covenant excluded from heaven.”
So then, brethren - It follows from all this. Not from the allegory regarded as an argument - for Paul does not use it thus - but from the considerations suggested on the whole subject. Since the Christian religion is so superior to the Jewish; since we are by it freed from degrading servitude, and are not in bondage to rites and ceremonies; since it was designed to make us truly free, and since by that religion we are admitted to the privileges of sons, and are no longer under laws, and tutors, and governors, as if we were minors; from all this it follows, that we should feel and act, not as if we were children of a bondwoman, and born in slavery, but as if we were children of a freewoman, and born to liberty. It is the birthright of Christians to think, and feel, and act like freemen, and they should not allow themselves to become the slaves of customs, and rites, and ceremonies, but should feel that they are the adopted children of God.
Thus closes this celebrated allegory - an allegory that has greatly perplexed most expositors, and most readers of the Bible. In view of it, and of the exposition above, there are a few remarks which may not inappropriately be made.
(1) It is by no means affirmed, that the history of Hagar and Sarah in Genesis, had any original reference to the gospel. The account there is a plain historical narrative, not designed to have any such reference.
(2) The narrative contains important principles, that may be used as illustrating truth, and is so used by the apostle Paul. There are parallel points between the history and the truths of religion, where the one may be illustrated by the other.
(3) The apostle does not use it at all in the way of argument, or as if that proved that the Galatians were not to submit to the Jewish rites and customs. It is an illustration of the comparative nature of servitude and freedom, and would, therefore, illustrate the difference between a servile compliance with Jewish rites, and the freedom of the gospel.
(4) This use of an historical fact by the apostle does not make it proper for us to turn the Old Testament into allegory, or even to make a very free use of this mode of illustrating truth. That an allegory may be used sometimes with advantage, no one can doubt while the “Pilgrim’s Progress” shall exist. Nor can anyone doubt that Paul has here derived, in this manner, an important and striking illustration of truth from the Old Testament. But no one acquainted with the history of interpretation can doubt that vast injury has been done by a fanciful mode of explaining the Old Testament; by making every fact in its history an allegory; and every pin and pillar of the tabernacle and the temple a type. Nothing is better suited to bring the whole science of interpretation into contempt; nothing dishonors the Bible more, than to make it a book of enigmas, and religion to consist in puerile conceits. The Bible is a book of sense; and all the doctrines essential to salvation are plainly revealed. It should be interpreted, not by mere conceit and by fancy, but by the sober laws according to which are interpreted other books. It should be explained, not under the influence of a vivid imagination, but under the influence of a heart imbued with a love of truth, and by an understanding disciplined to investigate the meaning of words and phrases, and capable of rendering a reason for the interpretation which is proposed. People may abundantly use the facts in the Old Testament to illustrate human nature, as Paul did; but far distant be the day, when the principles of Origen and of Cocceius shall again prevail, and when it shall be assumed, that “the Bible means every thing that it can be made to mean.”
(These are excellent remarks, and the caution which the author gives against extravagant and imaginative systems of interpreting scripture cannot be too often repeated. It is allowed, however, nearly on all hands, that this allegory is brought forward by way of illustration only, and not of argument. This being the case, the question, as to whether the history in Genesis were originally intended represent the matter, to which Paul here applies it, is certainly not of very great importance, notwithstanding the learned labor that has been expended on it, and to such an extent as to justify the critic’s remark. “vexavit interprets vehementer vexatus ab iis et ipse.” Whatever be the original design of the passage, the apostle has employed it as an illustration of his subject, and was guided by the Spirit of inspiration in so doing. But certainly we should not be very far wrong, if since an apostle has affirmed such spiritual representation, we should suppose it originally intended by the Spirit; nor are we in great danger of making types of every pin and pillar, so long as we strictly confine ourselves to the admission of such only as rest upon apostolic authority. “This transaction,” says the eminently judicious Thomas Scott, “was so remarkable, the coincidence so exact, and the illustration so instructive, that we cannot doubt it originally was intended, by the Holy Spirit, as an allegory and type of those things to which the inspired apostle referred it.”)
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Galatians 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/