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The Two Covenants
Summary —Children, While Minors, Not Free. So the Israelites Under the Bondage of the Law Until Christ Came. Christ Frees From This Bondage. The Folly of Gentiles Seeking This Bondage. How the Galatians Had Once Welcomed the Gospel. The Two Covenants, Hagar, and Sarah, and Their Significance.
1–3. That the heir, as long as he is a child. In the last verse of chapter 3, Paul speaks of heirs He now shows why the bondage of the Jewish law preceded the gospel. Even an heir is not free when a child. It is needful that he be controlled, even as though he were a servant. He is kept (verse 2) under tutors and governors. The tutors had charge of his person; the governors were stewards who managed his estate. These had control until the time appointed by his father in his will, that he should be free and have full charge. 3. Even so we. Both Jews and Gentiles. We were minors, children, not yet delivered from bondage, since the time had not come appointed by the Father. Under the elements of the world. The law of Moses and whatever law might be diffused among the heathen. The law of Moses was a temporal law, having temporal promises.
4–6. When the fulness of time. The time appointed by the Father. See verse 2. Made of woman, made under the law. Not only by taking upon himself the nature of humanity, but also subjecting himself to our legal conditions. 5. To redeem them that were under the law. Those under bondage need redemption in order to secure freedom. Paul has shown that those under the law were in bondage. From this bondage Christ came to redeem us. How the redemption was wrought is shown in 3:13. That we might receive. This “adoption of sons” is bestowed as a gift. We cannot have it, and still be in bondage. 6. Because ye are sons. The spirit is bestowed not to make us sons, but because we have become sons by the faith. See John 1:12. Crying, Abba, Father. See notes on Rom. 8:15. Abba is simply the Syriac for father. It is found also in Mark 14:36. This spirit of adoption helps the son to realize that he is a son, and to look up to God and to address him, if a Semitic, as Abba; if a Greek as Pater; is an Anglo-Saxon, as Father.
7–9. Wherefore, thou art no more a servant. Because redeemed, adopted as a son, having received the spirit of adoption. If a son, then an heir. Compare Rom. 8:17. Heirs of a heavenly inheritance. 8. Howbeit, then. These Galatian brethren had been idolaters, and had worshiped idols which were not gods at all. At that time they knew not God, the true God, at all. 9. But now, after that ye have known God. Having learned the knowledge of the true God. Or rather, are known of God. God, himself, had sought them through the gospel, and had offered them eternal life. They knew God because God had taken note of them and sent them the gospel. How turn ye again. How can they, known of God, called from the bondage of those that are not gods (verse 8), turn back again to bondage? The bondage referred to is that of the law. They had been delivered from the bondage of idolatry, but were relapsing into another bondage. Weak and beggarly elements. Weak, because they have no spiritual power to strengthen us; beggarly, because they have no rich promises like the gospel; elements, because they belong to a rudimentary condition, to an undeveloped state to the childhood of the race.
10–11. Ye observe days. These are specifications of how they were “turning back” to the Jewish law. Compare Col. 2:16. The days are the Jewish Sabbaths. The months are the new moons; the times are the Jewish festivals; the years are the Sabbatical years. In observing these there was legal bondage to an obsolete system. 11. In vain. See notes on 2:2.
12–16. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am. Literally, “Become as I am.” Come to my ground. For I am as ye are. Rather, I become as ye are. I gave up my bondage to Judaism, the religion of my fathers, and made myself as a Gentile to Gentiles. Ye did me no wrong. My complaint against you is not on personal grounds. You have not wronged me. 13. Ye know how, through infirmity, etc. The Revision is clearer. Some fact, not explained to us, but well known to the Galatians, is referred to. It is implied that some physical weakness caused him to preach in Galatia the first time. Perhaps he was passing through and was stopped by an infirmity that prevented him from traveling. The first time. This implies he had preached there more than once. The Acts speak of two visits to Galatia. 14. And my temptation which was in my flesh. The Revision follows the best manuscripts: “Your temptation, which was in my flesh.” His “infirmity” is meant. It was probably some malady which hindered his work—might have disfigured him, and been a temptation to the Galatians to ridicule and despise him. Probably 2 Cor. 12:7 refers to the same affliction. Both these allusions show that the infirmity was one that he severely felt. But the Galatians despised not, nor rejected him on that account, but received him heartily, even as an angel of God, God's messenger. 15. Where, then, is the blessedness? They then congratulated themselves that Paul had come to them with the gospel. I bear you record. So great was then their joy and sense of obligation, that they could not do enough to show their gratitude. Why, they would even have given him their own eyes!—a proverbial expression denoting very strong devotion. 16. Am I, therefore, become your enemy, etc. Then, you were so devoted to me; has the fact that I tell you the truth alienated you? It is probable that he refers to truth told on his second visit.
17–20. They zealously seek you. The false, Judaizing teachers are meant. They showed great zeal for them, but they were not seeking their good. They would exclude you. Exclude you from the great body of Gentile believers and bind you to their clique. 18. It is good to be zealously affected. To exhibit zeal and feeling is a good thing. It was good to show this feeling when he was present with them. But now it was changed in respect of himself. It was only when he was present. 19. My little children. He addresses them very tenderly as their spiritual parent. Of whom I travail in birth again. He is more than a father; he travails for them as a mother. He had done so when they were converted; he did not now again until they were so matured in Christ that they would cling to the gospel. 20. I desire to be present. When present (verse 18) they had shown warm feeling for him. He would now that they were face to face. To change my voice. To speak, not severely, as a letter would sound, but tenderly. I stand in doubt. Is perplexed by what he hears, and filled with fears.
21–31. Tell me, ye that desire, etc. What troubled him was their tendency to accept the obsolete law of Moses. He now addressed all such a question. Will they hear the law itself? 22. A bondmaid. Hagar, whose child was Ishmael. A freewoman. Sarah, whose child was Isaac. 23. Was born after the flesh. The son of the bondwoman was born in the ordinary course of nature. Was by promise. The son of Sarah was a child of promise, born when she was long past the age of bearing children. See Gen. 18:10, 14; 21:1, 2; Heb. 11:11. 24. Which things are an allegory. Though literally true, the facts had an allegorical interpretation. The two women and their children were types. Are two covenants. One, the bondwoman, represents the covenant given at Sinai, the covenant of bondage. The other, the freewoman, represents the covenant of Christ, the gospel. 25. For this Agar is Mount Sinai. Represents Sinai. This Mount Sinai is in Arabia, the very home of Ishmael and his race. Some also add that one name of the mountain is Hagar, but this is not certain. Answereth to. Represents the earthly Jerusalem, under bondage, bondage to the law herself, and also her children, as Hagar and her child were under bondage. 26. But Jerusalem which is above is free. The freewoman and her free child represent the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of Christ. Our mother. The mother of those in Christ. 27. For it is written. Isaiah 54:1. In that connection the prophet speaks of the Babylonian bondage, of Abraham and Sarah, and then of the deliverance, looking onward to the glorious deliverance in Christ. Chapter 53 is all concerning Christ, and chapter 54 speaks of the great deliverance. Thou barren. Sarah, the type of the church, long childless. The desolate. Sarah, or rather the church, that has more children by far than the children of the old covenant. 28. Now we, brethren. As Isaac was the child of promise, so are we, Gentile and Jewish Christians, of the promise to Abraham of a Seed in which all nations should be blessed. 29. As he then that was born after the flesh persecuted. See Gen. 21:9. Ishmael persecuted Isaac. So the Jews still persecuted God's spiritual children, the heirs of the promise. Paul “of the Jews had five times received forty stripes save one.” 30. Cast out the bondwoman and her son. The allegory will hold good still further. Abraham, when it was impossible that the two families should get along in peace, cast out the bondwoman and her son. See Gen. 21:10. So, too, the Jews, the children of the old covenant, had lost the divine favor, and the children of the promise, whether Jews or Gentiles, made heirs. 31. So then, brethren. This, then, is the conclusion. We Christians are not children of the bondwoman, and are not under the bondage of the law. Dr. Schaff contrasts the two covenants as follows: Hagar and Ishmael —Judaism . Sarah and Isaac —Christianity . The Old Covenant The New Covenant The Law. The Gospel. Natural Birth. Spiritual Birth. Mount Sinai in Arabia. Mount Sion Above. The Earthly Jerusalem. The Heavenly Jerusalem. Bondage. Freedom. Persecuting. Persecuted. To be Cast Out and Off. Heirs of the Inheritance.
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