Galatians 4:1-31 NIV
1What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forcesa of the world.
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.b 6Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit Who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir.
Paul’s Concern for the Galatians
8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forcesd ? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
12I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus Himself. 15Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
17Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. 19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
Hagar and Sarah
21Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a Divine promise.
24These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.
27For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”e
28Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”f 31Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
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 true 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 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 to be treated as a servant AGAIN!
(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 against 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 them 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 concern 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 for a woman.
(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 cast out the slave woman 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.