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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-31


1. Under the law in the state of minority. (Galatians 4:1-3 )

2. The Son revealed to redeem. (Galatians 4:4-5 )

3. Because ye are Sons; the Spirit of Sonship. (Galatians 4:6-7 )

4. The backsliding Galatians. (Galatians 4:8-20 )

5. The sons of the bondwoman and of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-31 )

Jewish believers were, before Christ had died, the children of God, and as such they did not differ from servants. They were in a state of minority, as children who do not know the father’s thoughts, nor could they fully know God as Father.

“He compares the believer before the coming of Christ to a child under age, who has no direct relation with his father as to his thoughts, but who receives his father’s orders, without his accounting for them to him, as a servant would receive them. He is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Thus the Jews, although they were heirs of the promises, were not in connection with the Father and His counsels in Jesus, but were in tutelage to principles that appertained to the system of the present world, which is but a corrupt and fallen creation. Their walk was ordained of God in this system, but did not go beyond it. We speak of the system by which they were guided, whatever divine light they might receive, from time to time, to reveal heaven to them, to encourage them in hope, while making the system under the rule of which they were placed yet darker. Under the law then, heirs as they were, they were still in bondage.”--Synopsis

But a great change had taken place. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that He might redeem those under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” God sent His Son from His bosom to become man and “made under the law.” He took His place down here in two relationships. First with man, through the woman, and with the Jews, as born under the law. Sin and death came in by the woman; Christ came into this world by woman also. Through the law, man is under condemnation and Christ came as under that law. But that law was no bondage for Him. He fully worked out the righteousness of the law. Yet his righteous and holy life could not redeem those under the law. Redemption from the curse of the law was accomplished in the death of the Cross. And the glorious result of the coming of the Son of God and His finished work is for all believers in Him “the adoption of sons”--that is, placed, through grace, before God as sons. And because believing Jews and Gentiles are sons, through the efficacy of the redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ, God sent the blessed proof and power of sonship. “He sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” The Holy Spirit was given as the seal of redemption, and as the joy of sonship. “Wherefore, thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

“Was it possible, then, that any could desire to put the Gentiles under the law, when they (the Jews) had been brought out from it themselves by the will of God, the work of Christ, and the witness of the Holy Spirit? What a gross inconsistency! What a subversion, not only of the truth of God revealed in the gospel, but also of redemption, which is its basis! For Christ bought off those that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons, bringing them, by grace, into a place of known salvation and intelligent joy in relation with our God and Father, out of that bondage and nonage which the law supposes.”--W. Kelly

Then follows the appeal of the apostle to the backsliding Galatians, who were fast falling away from grace and turning to the weak and beggarly elements. Galatians 4:8-10 are of much interest and significance. They were heathen, and knowing not God, they served idols. Now, as being converted, they had known God, or rather God had known them. Turning to Judaism, to the law with its ordinances, meant, for them, a turning back to the weak and beggarly elementary things in which they were as heathen. They were, practically, turning again to that which they had left--”how turn ye again?” As heathen they had ceremonies, different offerings, and they observed different days by which they tried to please their supposed gods. Ritualistic observances upon Christian ground are more than a perverted gospel: they are heathenish in principle. Some African fetich-priest attires himself in a fantastic costume. He takes a rattle, dances and mumbles something in an unintelligible way. Then he declares what he does will induce the gods to send rain. In a magnificent edifice caged “church” stands a man who wears different colored robes. This man goes through different ceremonies, bows and crosses himself, mumbles something in a foreign language, then lifts up a receptacle before which the people bow in worship. He claims that, through him, blessing comes upon the people. Both, the African heathen-priest and the ritualistic-priest follow the same principle, and the practice of the so-called “Christian priest” is as much heathenish as the practice of the other. And so as to the observance of special holy days, months and years. “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” The gospel knows nothing of the observance of days and seasons such as saint-days, Lent, etc. All these special saint-days and most of the feast-days kept in Christendom were taken from the heathen.

Then what a tender appeal follows! He reminds them of the former days when he preached first the gospel unto them. In the infirmity of the flesh, physical weakness, they had not despised nor rejected him, but received him as an angel of God, as the Christ whose blessed ambassador he was. Then they enjoyed great blessedness and would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him. But where was their blessedness now? Had he become their enemy in speaking the truth to them? He addresses them as His little children “of whom I travail in birth again.”

He needed, so to speak, to travail in birth afresh with them till Christ should be formed in them. Nevertheless, he calls them his children: his love inspired him with confidence, and yet filled his heart with uneasiness. He would have desired to be with them that he might change his voice, suiting it to their state; not only teaching them the truth, but doing whatever their need required. Mark here the deep love of the apostle. Moses, faithful as he was, grew weary of the burden of the people and said: Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swearest unto their fathers? (Numbers 11:19 ); but the apostle is willing to travail in birth with them as his children a second time, in order that their souls might be saved.

Galatians 4:21-31 give an interesting, typical foreshadowing and contrast. As they were abandoning grace, he wants the law to speak to them. Abraham had two sons, one by Hagar, the bondmaid, born after the flesh; the other son was Isaac, the son of promise, born by Sarah, the free woman. Both illustrate the covenants of God. Mount Sinai, the law-covenant, which gendereth to bondage, is represented in Hagar and her son; the other, the covenant of promise, “Jerusalem which is above”--the mother of us all--it is the true church of God viewed in her heavenly state; she is free. He quotes Isaiah 54:1 , “Rejoice thou, barren, that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not, for the desolate has many more children than she which hath an husband.” These words are addressed to Jerusalem during the millennial kingdom, in the time of her promised restoration. Then Israel, redeemed and blessed, will look back and find that, during our age, this gospel-age, many more children were begotten by the gospel, during the time when Israel was cast off and Jerusalem trodden down by the Gentiles than at the time when Jerusalem flourished and enjoyed the favor of Jehovah. “Now, we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” Those who believe and are saved by grace are, therefore, the true children of promise. But, as then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted “him that was after the Spirit, even so it is now.” The Jews persecuted Paul for preaching the gospel. They opposed the gospel and all those who believed in Christ. But what was said about the bondwoman and her son? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the free woman.” This has happened to Israel ; she, for a time, is disowned and their house is left desolate. “So then, therefore, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” It would be impossible to be children of both. Equally impossible is it to be under law and under grace. The two cannot exist together. We are children of the free woman and of her only and have nothing whatever to do with the law-covenant. We belong to a risen Christ, with whom we have died, who has borne the curse for us and bestowed upon us life and righteousness, and, therefore, we are free from the law, from its service and ceremonies.

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Galatians 4". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/galatians-4.html. 1913-1922.
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