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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Galatians 4

 

 

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Verse 1-2

‘But I say that as long as the heir is a child he does not differ in any way from a bondservant, even though he may be lord of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the term appointed by the father.’

The thought of our being heirs of God now leads on to a further illustration. The idea of the irrevocable settlement continues and now considers the beneficiary, the one who receives the benefit. If he is still a child then he is subject to ‘guardians and stewards’, the guardians to deal with his affairs and make major decisions, the stewards, probably slaves, to see to day to day supervision. These people were entrusted with his welfare and upbringing and had considerable power over him. He may ‘own’ everything but he was totally subject to them. What such children could do was fairly restricted and they were subject to obedience. Indeed they had no more rights than slaves, even if they were destined to inherit what had been settled on them.

It may well be that Paul is thinking of the case where the father has died and the young heir has inherited. But the result is little different. The principle is the same. The children may be rich. But they still have to obey their guardians and stewards.

This is like those who are under the Law. They also have no freedom. They are bound by rules and regulations. The Law is their custodian. But the thought probably goes beyond the Law to all restraints by which people are restricted (guardians and stewards is in the plural). It refers to anything that acts as a restraint on man.

‘Until the time appointed by the father.’ It was the father who determined finally when the child became accepted as an adult, and was thus freed from this supervision and restraint. He could name the time in the covenant settlement. This links with Galatians 4:4, ‘the fullness of the time’.


Verses 1-7

If We Are His We Are Now All Full Sons of God (Galatians 4:1-7).

Now he comes to the very heart of the matter, and that is that in Jesus Christ, all who are His now become full grown, adult, children of God.


Verse 3

‘So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments (elements) of the world.’

All men are under some restraint, whether through the Law, or tradition, or their own laws, or regulations and rules, or the principles by which their society is governed, or by philosophical ideas, or even in their own minds by their belief in invisible forces and influences over which they have no control, mediums, fortune-tellers, astrologers, fate, and so on. Thus they are like children kept under by forces outside their control, and are in bondage.

‘Rudiments, elements (stoicheion).’ This refers to elements of learning, fundamental principles, basic religious ideas and even the spoken alphabet. It could also refer to the elemental spirits such as fire, air, earth and water, and to the heavenly bodies as having influence on the world. But the former would seem to be more in mind here, for it includes the subjection to the observance of days and months and seasons and years (Galatians 4:10). Paul may, however, have intended to include all influences and restraints on men, whatever they were.

Thus man is under all kinds of ‘laws’. This reminds us that, while when Paul is speaking of the Law he has the Jewish Law firmly in mind, he also includes, in the background, whatever laws may control men. It is just as true of religious ‘laws’ today as it ever was.


Verse 4-5

‘But when the fullness of the time came God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.’

But the God Who made the covenant, when the time allotted had fully run its course, sent forth His Own Son. He became truly human (born of a woman), and restricted Himself under the Law, satisfying its requirements to the full. And His purpose in coming was to deliver men and women from under the Law which imprisoned them and kept them under restraint, so that they might be adopted as full grown sons, free from all restraints.

Only those who have felt the burden and oppression of a Law they strive to fulfil and cannot, who have felt themselves overwhelmed by forces that they felt were dragging them down and restricting them, who have seen themselves under the inexorable control of fate, or have felt themselves controlled by heavenly influences such as the zodiac, can fully appreciate the freedom that was now on offer. All restrictions would be removed and they would be responsible only to God and influenced only by God. They could throw off all restraints except the direct restraint of the Father. The burden of the ages could fall from their shoulders.

‘The fullness of the time came.’ This was no accident of chance but chosen by God from the beginning. The promise that was made to Abraham was fulfilled in the time appointed. Thus is expressed the total sovereignty of God over all things. It was neither before nor after God’s allotted time.

‘God sent forth His Son.’ Notice the implication that He was there to be sent. He was pre-existent with the Father ‘in the beginning’ (John 1:1). And God sent Him forth to be, and to live as, a human being in this world under restraint. What a price was this. He laid aside His Godhead and became a servant, He humbled Himself by becoming man, and it was for us (Philippians 2:6-8). For God ‘spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all’ that He might ‘freely give us all things’ (Romans 8:32).

‘Born of a woman.’ His humanity was genuine. He endured genuine human birth. There may even be a hint here of the virgin birth (he could have said ‘begotten by man’ or ‘born of human parents’).

‘Born under the Law.’ From birth He was subject to all the stipulations of the Law, both ceremonial and moral, and to all the other restrictions that affect mankind. Even the stricter Pharisees could find nothing to point the finger at in His life and behaviour except in points where He soon revealed them to be wrong. And He perfectly fulfilled all that the Law required, for only so could He be the Redeemer. He ‘knew no sin’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). He ‘did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth’ (1 Peter 2:22). He was ‘tempted in all points like we are and yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15).

‘That He might redeem those who were under the Law.’ And His purpose in coming was in order to ‘redeem’. His deliverance is regularly seen in terms of redemption, of ransom (Mark 10:45), of the payment of a price (1 Peter 1:18), but includes also the thought of redemption by power (Titus 2:14). Here the thought is of being released from the bondage of the Law and Galatians 3:13 demonstrates that substitution is involved, the taking by One of what should be borne by another. However it must not be seen just in terms of a straight swap. The substitute also summed up in Himself the ones substituted. The Creator was dying for His creation.

Redemption is an Old Testament concept. God redeemingly delivers by the expenditure of His power, depicted in terms of being at great expense to Himself or with great power (Genesis 48:16 with Genesis 32:24-30; Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 15:15; 2 Samuel 7:23; Nehemiah 1:10; etc.) Something can also be redeemed by being replaced by a substitute (Exodus 13:13-15; Exodus 34:20) or by the payment of a price (Exodus 21:8; Leviticus 25:25-26; Leviticus 25:29-31; Leviticus 25:48-49; Leviticus 27:13-33; Numbers 3:46-49; Numbers 18:15-16; Ruth 4:4-7; Nehemiah 5:8), and some sacrifices also contain this idea.

Often when God ‘redeems’, a regular Old Testament concept, no price is mentioned, but there is always some kind of price to be paid because God must exert Himself on their behalf. In one case the idea of price is specifically excluded (Isaiah 52:3), although the idea then is rather of being without price to the recipients. It does, however, confirm the general principle that it usually involves a price. So here the main thought is of His active intervention in power, seen against the above background of a price for redemption. It is God active in getting back what is ‘lost’ to Him by the exercise of power. But the term itself assumes a cost.

So the overall idea of redemption is of the deliverance of something or someone who is lost to the redeemer, or is enslaved, or is doomed to die, either by the exercise of power, by God giving of Himself, or by the payment of a price, or by providing a substitute.

In the New Testament era the redemption of slaves by the payment of a price was common and this idea is regularly used in the New Testament while also having the above background in mind. We are redeemed, not with silver and gold, with something more valuable, by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:15). We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23. 2 Peter 2:1). As here in Galatians the death of Christ was necessary for our redemption (compare Mark 10:45 - the ‘ransom for many’). But that that redemption includes the exercise of the power of God is clear from Titus 2:14, and the close connection of the reception of the Holy Spirit with redemption is patent (Galatians 3:13-14), while 1 Peter 1:18 is also found in the midst of such ideas. There is no thought of redemption without genuine deliverance.

‘That we might receive the adoption as sons.’ The heirs are now to become fully grown sons. The purpose in His coming was to deliver us from the restrictions of religion and the world as we become adopted by God as His full grown sons, and thus are no longer under the Law or any other restraint, other than that of the Father Himself in Christ. But we become responsible sons. And that is why we will do what we should. We do it now because of what we are. We would disdain doing anything else.

It is elsewhere made clear that this is not an invitation to licence. It does not free us from our obligations to the world and to society. For as His grown up sons we are responsible to the Father of all things. But as Paul says, it is so that Christ might live out His life in us. So what it does mean is that from now on our response to these things is made as a response to the Father. We fulfil them gladly because we do it for Him. And we treasure the Law as something which shows us how we can please Him. In the words of the Psalmist, ‘O how I love your Law (Instruction)’ (Psalms 119:97).

‘Adoption as sons.’ This indicates the action whereby a child is established as a grown up son able to handle his own affairs. He comes of age.


Verse 6-7

‘And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father”, so that you are no longer a bondservant but a son, and if a son then an heir through God.”

Having adopted us as sons God has ‘sent forth the Spirit of His Son’ into our hearts. We receive the Spirit of sonship. Previously He sent forth His Son to redeem us, now He sends forth His Spirit to institute and guarantee our sonship. And we note that it was God Who sent them forth causing us to look to the Father, and say ‘abba, Father’. Thus the whole of the Trinity is involved in our salvation.

The result of the Spirit’s work, as we are born of God, and sealed by the Holy Spirit, is that our hearts are filled with certainty (although there may be occasional doubts with some) and we gladly and wholeheartedly cry “Abba, Father”. ‘Abba’ is the Aramaic word meaning father which is used fondly by a son to address his father. It is a close and intimate term, and Paul perhaps felt that it was the only term in his experience which could quite express what he wanted to say. But while being intimate, in those days it also had to be said with deference by a full grown son, even to an earthly father.

(It must be an occasion of gratitude to us that we can so address Him, but never an occasion for over-familiarity. For He is the high and lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is holy).

Or perhaps Paul had in mind, and knew that his readers knew it too, that this was how Jesus Christ Himself had addressed His Father when in the deepest distress (Mark 14:36). Thus he may be saying, ‘When the Spirit of His Son enters your heart He will pray through you with the same intimacy as Jesus had.’

And because we have received the Spirit of His Son, through Whom Christ indwells our hearts (Galatians 2:20), our lives will reveal the fruit of our sonship (Galatians 5:22), for we will not respond to the flesh, which was under the Law, but to our new life in the Spirit. We will see following the flesh as for babies. As true sons of God we will want only to follow the Spirit.

Paul spoke similarly to the Romans when he said, ‘For you did not receive the spirit of bondage, again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). Here too there is freedom from the bondage of the Law, a bondage which produced fear because the Law was broken and could only condemn. And there is also the freedom of adoption as sons of the Father, all fear having been removed because we have been redeemed from the curse of the Law. And he adds, ‘The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). So those who are His have the witness within, the witness of the Spirit, and thus are aware that they are ‘heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’, ready to endure with Him, inheriting first the suffering that comes from being those who obey God, and finally the glorification that follows (Romans 8:17).

‘You are each no longer a bondservant but a son.’ The appeal is now in the singular, speaking to each individual. Galatians 4:1 had said that the heir did not differ from a bondservant. He was treated like a bondservant even if he was the heir. Thus now Paul declares we are no longer in that state because we are sons. We have grown up and been declared adult. Therefore we should behave as sons. We should no longer allow ourselves to be in bondage to anything which is claimed to be ‘necessary for salvation’. Rather should we allow Christ to live out His life through us, following His example in all things.

‘And if a son then an heir through God.’ And if we are in Him we are not only a son but an heir, an heir of the promises made to Abraham, an heir of all God’s promises for the future, a co-heir with Jesus Christ of the glory that is to come. And as always with an heir the benefit is not earned but is a gift of free grace.

‘Through God.’ So then he cautions them to remember that this is not because of their self-worth or deserving, it is ‘through God’. They owe it all to Him and are therefore totally indebted to Him.


Verses 8-10

‘But at that time, not knowing God, you were in bondage to those who by nature were no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known of God, how do you turn back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments to which you to be in bondage over again? You observe days, and months, and seasons and years.’

Paul now looks back to their state before they were converted. They had not known God. They had not heeded the voices that spoke through nature. They had not perceived His eternal power and Godhead (Romans 1:20). They had therefore put themselves in bondage to false gods, who were not really of the nature of God, gods made in the image of earthly things. They had allowed themselves to be subject to weak and beggarly ideas, bound up in corrupt religious requirements, in vain ceremonies and in false philosophies and ideas which had to be fulfilled to ‘attain salvation’. But then they had come to know God. They had been set free from such things! And yet now, without realising it, they were turning back to similar ideas as those they had held before, and from which they had been released. For the requirements of the Judaisers can be seen as no more sophisticated and genuine in their effect than their old ideas. Previously they had been in bondage to the elements of the world, now they were thinking of entering under the bondage of the Law. They were simply exchanging one bondage from another, while all the time God was offering them full freedom in Christ.

‘Now you have come to know God, or rather to be known of God.’ They had ‘come to know God’, but Paul does not want them to be proud of their new ‘knowledge of God’. Indeed they have shown that they know God very little because of what they have done. But he is confident that what is certainly true is that God has ‘known’ them (compare Genesis 18:19). He has chosen them in His eternal purposes (Ephesians 1:4), and has, as it were, reached down and drawn them to Himself (John 6:44). How then can they return to something less personal and less powerful? Being ‘known by God’ they do not have to involve themselves in activities which involve a search for Him, or try to appease Him. They can walk into His inner sanctum and say ‘abba, Father’. They can know Him and walk with Him in the way and be His sons, and He will be their Father. Lesser things have therefore been done away.

‘How do you turn back to weak and beggarly rudiments.’ Here Paul equates their old ideas and their old religions with the Judaising tendencies. They were all but one and the same thing. Yet they even now they are foolishly attempting to reach God by ceremonial activity, by rites, by observances, all of which have previously proved in vain. How foolish men are. They simply behave like little children.


Verses 8-11

Is It Not then Foolish to Try to Turn Back to their Former State? (Galatians 4:8-11).

Granted then that we have received these great privileges from God, would it not be foolish to revert back to being a child under the control of tutors?


Verse 11

‘I am afraid of you lest by any means I have bestowed labour on you in vain.’

Having up to this moment shown them that he still sees them as true children of God he now expresses a doubt. Their behaviour makes him wonder whether they really can have known God, for if they had really known God it seems impossible that they could be so foolish and lacking in understanding. It makes him feel that all his efforts for them may have been in vain. It is a doubt intended to make them pause and think. It should make us all pause and think. Are there any of us who once enjoyed freedom in Christ but have now become bogged down in ‘do this, do that’, and are requiring others to do the same?

‘Lest somehow.’ He cannot believe that it is possible, for he knew that the Spirit had been at work, but their folly is giving him real doubts.


Verse 12

‘You did me no wrong.’

He assures them he has nothing against them as regards their treatment of Him. Indeed he remembers their kindness with affection.


Verses 12-20

Paul Now Reveals His Concern and Longing for Them (Galatians 4:12-20).

Paul now pleads with them from the heart. He cannot bear to think what they are losing by their foolishness.


Verse 13-14

‘And you know that because of an infirmity of the flesh I preached the Gospel to you the first time (or ‘previously’), and you did not despise, nor did you reject with loathing (literally ‘spit out’) that which tested you out in my flesh. But you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.’

It is clear that Paul had been suffering some kind of severe infirmity when he first went to the Galatian region with the Gospel, an infirmity that had made it advisable that he go there rather than elsewhere. Malaria has been suggested, so that he had to seek higher ground. In that region such fevers were often seen as demonstrating divine anger, and may thus have been regarded with loathing. But they had not despised him. Another possibility is epilepsy or even some kind of putrefying sore, or pus in the eyes, for which he sought medical aid in the region (perhaps Luke was there), and which thus prevented him from travelling any further. But the important point is that they took it without flinching and even welcomed him warmly. They were not put off by his illness.

‘You did not despise, nor did you reject with loathing.’ They might have suggested that God had smitten him, and thus have mocked him, or they might have loathed what they saw and turned away from him. He acknowledges quite freely that they might well have been tempted to do so and that it was a genuine test of their goodwill. But they had not.

‘You received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.’ See Acts 13:44; Acts 13:48; Acts 14:1; Acts 14:11-12. Rather they had treated him like a divine messenger (at Lystra literally), yes, they could not have greeted him more warmly had he been Jesus Christ Himself. He may even mean that they mistook him for the Messiah Jesus, but the warmth of his words suggests that he was speaking about more than just a mistake and therefore is suggesting that what he means is that they greeted him with the same warmth they would have shown to Jesus Christ.


Verse 15

‘Where then is that experience of blessing (makarismos - blessedness) that you spoke of? For I bear you witness that if possible you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.’

And they had then spoken of the wonderful blessedness that had become theirs. So he is seeking to bring back to them their past experience, the blessing of the Spirit that they had enjoyed. Can they not remember what blessings they spoke of? Yes, they were so grateful that they would even have given him their own eyes. This may well hint at the fact that his infirmity was to do with his eyes, but it is not necessarily so. It may have been just a popular saying, speaking of their most precious possession.


Verse 16

‘So then am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?’

What then is their response now that he is speaking stern but true words in order to try to put them right. Will they treat him as an enemy? Or will they remember the reasons for their welcome, and the blessedness they enjoyed while he was there?


Verse 17-18

‘They seek you zealously, but not in a good way. No, they desire to shut you out that you may look to them. But it is good to be zealously sought in a good matter at all times, and not only when I am present with you.’

The Judaisers have indeed come with great zeal seeking to press their teachings. Perhaps they had made a great show of fasting and observance of the Sabbath, and had prayed openly on street corners. But their aim was not good. They have suggested that because they are Jews they are superior to the Galatians, that they have something extra which the Galatians do not have. They want them to feel shut out and thus look to them for introduction to a similar superior state. They want to take the Galatians into bondage to the Law. But all that they are really doing is to take them away from Christ.

Or alternatively they want them to be shut out from the blessings of the Gospel and from those who enjoy them, so that they may look to them for everything. They are self-seeking, while professing the opposite. They are wanting disciples for themselves not considering the good of those they speak to. There are many such today.

Well, let them recognise that being zealously sought can be a good thing. But zeal is not enough. It is all right men seeming dedicated, but it is only good if the purpose for their seeking them is good. The Galatians should want to be sought by those who bring the true Gospel, which had brought such blessing to them, even when Paul is not there with them, and not just by anyone who is enthusiastic for a cause. So just as he had zealously sought them with the best of all possible things, the Gospel, they should ensure that any whom they allow to zealously seek them at any time, also do so with the same Gospel.


Verse 19

‘My little children, for whom I am again suffering birth pains until Christ be formed in you.’

Paul is now almost in anguish, and he presses home his plea tenderly and with passion. They are again putting him through the deep spiritual concern that he had already once suffered on their behalf.

‘My little children’ (teknia mou), or possibly ‘my children’ (tekna mou). The words are tender. Compare the use of a similar phrase by John (1 John 2:1 and often).

‘For whom I am again suffering birth pains.’ His concern is such that he is suffering ‘birth pains’ similar to those when he first ‘bore’ them. This may refer to the fervency of his prayers, or simply to the strong emotions that had wracked him as he had sought to bring them to Christ, or even both.

‘Until Christ be formed in you.’ This looks back to Galatians 2:20. He longs for their restoration and growth and that they may once more become Christ-like. He will not cease his travail until they become complete examples of Christ-indwelt men.


Verse 20

‘Yes, I could wish to be present with you now, and to change my voice. For I am perplexed about you.’

He wishes that he could be with them again, and then they would hear a change of voice. Probably he means that he hopes that he would then be able to change his tone to a gentler one, but perhaps he is thinking of a sterner voice, for he is perplexed at them and their behaviour.

In these words then he reveals the yearning and compassion of the under-shepherd who loves his sheep. How he longs to restore them to the fullness of blessing and to the freedom that is in Christ.


Verse 21

‘Tell me, you who desire to be under the Law, do you not hear the Law?’

So some of the Galatians want to come ‘under the Law’, being circumcised, observing the Feasts and Feast days, using ritual washings, abstaining from ‘unclean food, and so on? Well, let them now consider the Law. Are they deaf to what the Law actually says? (The Law in the latter phrase refers to the books of the Law, the first five books of the Bible, although sometimes it is used more loosely of the whole of the Scriptures).


Verses 21-31

A Lesson from the Old Testament Law (Galatians 4:21-31).

Paul now turns to the Old Testament for examples of what he is trying to say.


Verse 22-23

‘For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid and one by the free-woman. But the son by the handmaid is born after the flesh, while the son by the free-woman is born through promise.’

For the Law itself indicates two ways, one the way of freedom, and the other the way of bondage. Just as Abraham had had two sons, one born under freedom, and one born under bondage.

‘It is written.’ Indicating the word of God given through Scripture. And what does the Scripture tell us? It tells us that of Abraham’s two sons one was born of the handmaid by human choice following fleshly aims and desires, and was born in the normal way, ‘of the flesh’, but the other was born in God’s will as a result of the specific promise of God, as the child ‘of promise’, and was born miraculously.

Thus the lesson of the Law is that it is possible to be a son of Abraham by human fleshly descent and it is possible to be a son of Abraham as a result of being born supernaturally through promise. The former was the boast of the Judaisers (and all Jews). They claimed that they were, by human descent, sons of Abraham. (The fact that this was not true for many was lost in the mists of time). But if they would only realise it this simply associated them with Ishmael.

But then there are other sons. They are sons through promise and through the miraculous working of God. These Paul will tell us represent those who have responded to the promise of God offered in the Gospel.

And it is this basic idea that then leads on to the application of the two covenants, the covenant of promise and the covenant of works (or of the flesh), to the mothers of these two types of son, by allegory.

‘Born after the flesh -- born through promise.’ Ishmael was the result of human planning and manipulation. He was basically the product of unbelief. But Isaac was promised beforehand by God and came in accordance with that promise and all the promises that had gone before which would apply to him. He was the child of promise. And it was through believing in these promises that Abraham had been reckoned as righteous by faith. That occurred because he believed God’s promises. Thus Abraham’s blessings came as a result of faith in God’s promises, a faith which resulted in his being reckoned as righteous (Galatians 3:8), and not as a result of his fleshly activity, planned and wrought by the flesh, when he produced Ishmael.


Verse 24

‘Which things contain an allegory. For these two women are two covenants. One from Mount Sinai, bearing children to bondage, which is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to the Jerusalem that now is, for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother.’

And this was to be seen as an allegory. Note that the allegory or parable is drawn from the facts stated above about the sons, and not vice versa. The facts are Scriptural, the allegory is illustrative. In understanding what follows we need to remember that Sarah was barren and seemingly could not bear, so a son was born to Abraham on her behalf through a slave wife who had had no difficulty in bearing. Then later Sarah did have a child, Isaac, as a result of the seemingly miraculous intervention of God (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 21:2; Genesis 21:7).

By allegory the two women, slave and free, are like two covenants, the one enslaving, the other giving freedom. The covenant that enslaves is from Mount Sinai. This refers to the giving of the Law and its resulting covenant as outlined in Exodus to Deuteronomy, which brought the people ‘under the Law’. It also refers by allegory to the physical Jerusalem in Paul’s time whose inhabitants were also in bondage to the Law. It kept men in slavery. They strove to keep the Law, and added to it, so that they might somehow make themselves worthy of God. But they could not. They were slaves to sin and condemned by the Law. Like Ishmael they were children of the flesh.

The corollary is therefore that the free-woman represents God’s covenant with Abraham. And it also refers to the heavenly Jerusalem which is free. Under this covenant men are free and participate in the heavenly (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:6). In the words of Jesus, they ‘worship the Father in Spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23), and like Isaac they are the true seed, children of the promise, reckoned as righteous by faith and born through the miraculous working of God.

The first significance of this lies in the fact that the Judaisers were seeking to take the Galatians back to the old covenant of bondage and submission to the Law. They wanted to make them bondslaves. They wanted to make them like Ishmael. But Paul is seeking to bring them to the covenant of promise under which they find freedom and contact with the heavenly through the promises and covenant of God. He wants them to be the true seed of Abraham.

But the message about Jerusalem also has a second significance and that is that the earthly Jerusalem is now replaced by the heavenly Jerusalem (compare Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 11:9-10), and that the people of God no longer look to an earthly city but to a heavenly, for that is where freedom is found. They are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20). And this new Jerusalem, this heavenly Jerusalem, is their ‘mother’. In other words bears them, cares for them and looks after them. They are born anew from Heaven. The earthly Jerusalem no more has any meaning for them. They look to the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly birth, the heavenly upbringing.

‘Mount Sinai in Arabia.’ Arabia is in the desert, and it was to the desert that Ishmael fled. It was away from the place where the promises were made under God’s covenant with Abraham. It was a place of barrenness.


Verse 27

‘For it is written, “Rejoice you who are barren and do not bear, Break forth and cry you who do not suffer birth pains, For the children of the desolate are more than she who has a husband.’

A quotation is now cited from Isaiah 54:1. It refers to the divine principle that those who initially ‘have not’ are the ones who, through God’s mercy, often eventually ‘have’, because ‘their Maker is their husband’ (Isaiah 54:5). They do not look to a husband of the flesh but to a husband of the Spirit. And thus the seemingly barren become fruitful. Paul then refers this to Sarah who had been barren and had produced no children. Possibly he is considering the fact that through natural relations with her husband Sarah could not bear. When it came to having children she ‘had no husband’. Thus God Himself had to intervene, almost acting as the husband in producing a child for her. But she will yet rejoice and have many children, more than she who first bore. She who was barren will produce many children. For Sarah represents the new Jerusalem which will indeed produce many children.


Verse 28

‘Now we, brothers, as Isaac was, are children of promise.’

So Sarah, as mother of the child of promise, represents the covenant of promise, and the new heavenly Jerusalem which is ‘above’. This new Jerusalem is the ‘mother’ of Christians, and we Christians are like Isaac, being children resulting from promise. The old has passed away. We are no longer under the Law. We are reckoned righteous by faith and enjoy the full blessing of God. We are free.


Verse 29-30

‘But as then he who was born after the flesh persecuted he who was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the handmaid and her son, for the son of the handmaid shall not inherit with the son of the free-woman”.’

But significantly, just as initially the one born ‘of the flesh’ persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it still is. The true Christians are being ‘persecuted’ by the Judaisers and by the Jews. The Scripture therefore says they are to cast the Judaisers out, and have nothing to do with them, for it says, ‘Cast out the slave and her son, for the slave’s son shall not inherit with the free woman’s son’. So as we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman, we should have nothing to do theologically with those who are still slaves to the Law.

Paul has in mind the Judaisers, but the message also applies to all who seek to bring Christians into subjection to ordinances and regulations. Once these become seen as part of that which is necessary for salvation and Christian growth (rather than as just helpful) those who promulgate them must be cast out and removed.

We notice here how the argument has moved from just being ‘under Law’ and ‘under promise’, to being ‘of the flesh’ and ‘of the Spirit’ in readiness for what is to follow. To be under the Law is to live according to the flesh. To live truly under promise is to live according to the Spirit.

Furthermore there is another interesting result of his argument. It demonstrates that those who called themselves the sons of Abraham and saw themselves as the true sons of Abraham were not true sons of Abraham. In God’s eyes they were spiritually Ishmaelites. They would no longer inherit the promises promised to Abraham’s true seed. They were no longer the true Israel, the Israel of God. It was the church who were the true descendants of Abraham through Isaac. It was they who were the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). The unbelieving Jews were to be seen as descended through Ishmael. They had been cut off from the olive tree (see Romans 9:6-8; Romans 11:19-20).


Verse 31

‘Wherefore, brothers, we are not children of a handmaid, but of the free-woman. Christ set us free with a view to our freedom, therefore stand fast continually, and do not be entangled again in a yoke of bondage.’

The consequence of what had been said is that we are not to be children of slavery but children of freedom, children of liberty, equality and brotherhood (Galatians 3:28). For that is why Christ has set us free, so that we can be truly free (John 8:36). Thus the Galatians must stand firm and refuse to be entangled by a yoke that will bring them into bondage.

But of what does that freedom consist? It is not freedom to behave just as we like. It is, first of all, freedom from the requirements and condemnation of the Law. No more shall we groan under its yoke as we strive to keep it with fear in our hearts lest we fail. It is freedom from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). It is also freedom from the power of sin (Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22), and indeed freedom from all requirements that man would load upon us. Its consequence is continual responsive faith and what results from it. It is freedom to let Christ live through us regardless of all else (Galatians 2:20), for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). It is freedom from the flesh to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-22). It is the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21).

‘Christ set us free.’ Both by bearing our curse on the cross (Galatians 3:13) and by indwelling our lives (Galatians 2:20).

‘Stand fast.’ Here we have the present tense - ‘go on standing fast.’ We must be continually firm and strong in order to ensure that we do not allow ourselves to be dragged back into legalism. Men, and especially religious leaders or the priesthood, will often seek to bind us with something and put restrictions on us, for it is to their benefit. But the Christian responds only in so far as it is his duty to God. He seeks only to please God.

‘Entangled again in a yoke of bondage.’ The ox is bound by the yoke so that it must submit to the dictates of its master. The man who is under the Law is bound by the Law so that he must submit to all its dictates. His life is a constant grind. And this, says Paul, is something to be avoided. The man who is in Christ is free because the risen Christ Who dwells in him and lives through him is not bound by any law but walks simply in accordance with the Father’s will. He takes Christ’s yoke on him, a yoke which is easy, and of which the burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).


Verse 31

The Application (Galatians 4:31 to Galatians 5:12).

Paul will now apply the ideas that he has put forward in depth. For he wants them to recognise what they are turning away from.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Galatians 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/galatians-4.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 7th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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