CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XL)

Renown British independent Baptist preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), in his lecture on verses twenty-two and twenty-three, where Paul reiterates about Abraham’s two sons. But what really caught Spurgeon’s attention was that another two brothers, Esau and Jacob, were born of the same mother, at the same birth, yet is it written, “I love Jacob, but I hate Esau.”[1] One became precious, and the other became profane. How much closer can two children come together than as twins, and yet end up so far apart? It was surely possible that the two were placed together in one crib, and the one is chosen, and the other forgotten; but two that came into the world at the same moment, and yet one of them will receive his inheritance from God because the other was willing to sell his birthright to him for a scrap of meat and a bowl of oatmeal.

Likewise, says Spurgeon, we may be in the same church, baptized in the same water, seated at the same communion table, singing the same psalm, and offering the same prayer. Yet, we may be products of two different genealogies.[2] So in Spurgeon’s mind, it’s not what you claim to be, but to whom you trace your spiritual lineage. The Jews traced theirs back to Abraham through Moses, Jacob, and Isaac, The Christians traced theirs back to Abraham through Jesus, Jacob, and Isaac. One with an earthly inheritance and the other with a heavenly inheritance. So which one are you? The one who believes they will inherit eternal life through the Church, or the one who believes they will inherit eternal life through Christ – the Anointed One?

Then, in one of his sermons, Spurgeon tells us that in his mind, there cannot be a more significant difference in the world between two ideologies than there is between Law and Grace. And yet, as strange as it may seem, while these things are diametrically opposed and essentially different from each other, the human mind is so depraved, and the intellect so degenerated, even when blessed by the Spirit, they become so alienated from making right decisions. One of the most difficult things in the religious world is to discriminate properly between Law and Grace. He sees a lesson in what the Apostle Paul says here in verse twenty-four about there being two covenants between God and humankind.

Spurgeon wonders why someone who knows the difference and often recalls the essential difference between Law and Grace – has not grasped the connective tissue between Divinity and Grace. They are not far from understanding the Gospel theme in all its simplicity and complexity, its gifts, and its graces, and able to accurately tell the difference between Law and Grace. There is always in scientific research some factor that is very simple and easy after it is learned, but at first glance seemed to stand like a huge obstacle blocking the way.

However, says Spurgeon, the first difficulty in attempting to learn the Gospel is this: Between Law and Grace, there is a difference plain enough for every Christian to see, and especially to every enlightened and instructed individual. Nevertheless, even the most enlightened and instructed have a tendency to get the two mixed up. And yet, they are as opposite as light and darkness and cannot be combined any more than fire and water. Still, mankind will be perpetually striving to make them two-in-one. This is often done in ignorance, and sometimes willfully. They seek to blend the two when God positively and purposely kept them apart.[3]

Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952) points out that there are many significant scriptures that declare their divine authorship. For instance, in Psalms, we read, “Here I am! I’m coming! In the scroll it is written about me,[4] and in the book of Hebrews, it is said that when the Messiah came into the world, He announced: “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll,[5] which is confirmed by Jesus Himself who said to the Jewish religious leaders, “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me.”[6] Many fail to discern the contemporary importance of the First Covenant scriptures, which are dismissed by so many readers of the Bible, and the Final Covenant. To put it another way, what we find in the First Covenant is a blueprint of what is constructed in the Final Covenant.

In addition to these declarations of the Final Covenant quoted above, there are a number of additional passages that also teach the same thing. John the Baptizer hailed our Savior as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,”[7] that is, as the great Representation of the Sacrificial Lambs of a First Covenant ritual. In His discourse with Nicodemus, our Lord alluded to the lifting up of the Brazen Serpent in the wilderness as a type of His own lifting up on the Cross.[8] Writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul said, “The Anointed One is our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed for us,”[9] thereby signifying that the lamb down in Egypt pointed forward to the Lord Jesus.[10] Writing to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul again makes mention here in verse twenty-four of the history of Abraham, his wives, and his children and then states, “which things are an allegory.

Now, says Pink, there are many brethren who will accept the characteristic significance of these things but who refuse to acknowledge that anything else in the First Covenant except those which are expressly interpreted in the Final Covenant. But this is a great mistake and places a limit on the scope and value of the Word of God itself. We must ask ourselves, are there no more prophecies in the First Covenant than those which, in the Final Covenant, are said to be “fulfilled?” For sure! So, let us admit the same concern for those types yet to be fulfilled, many of which are a part of prophecy.[11]

I like the way modern British commentator N. T. Wright gives his summary of what was going on here in Galatia. He sees Paul’s opponents claiming they are blessed with the whole Jewish Law backing them up. That Paul, on his part, failed to tell the Galatians the full story. If they want to become proper children of Abraham, part of God’s true people, then they must follow the Law, plain and simple. This includes getting circumcised, something the Gentiles must be convinced to agree to. But Paul contemplated other ideas. He’s not going to let them get away with the suggestion that he doesn’t know, or follow, the Law; the Law itself, the first five books of the Bible – the Torah, that tells a story which brings a lot of weight to Paul’s side of the argument. And to make his point, Paul picks out on the least happy episodes in the Book of Genesis: the story of Abraham’s wife and Abraham’s concubine, and the sons that each of them bore. And he uses this as a picture of what’s going on in his own day.[12]

4:25-26 Therefore, Hagar symbolizes Mount Sinai in Arabia (which I now compare to Jerusalem’s mountain where all her children live in slavery under Mosaic Law). But Sarah, the legitimate wife, represents the new Jerusalem above. She’s the one who is the real mother of those who live in freedom.

Paul now continues his story: God is the Father, and Jesus the Anointed One is His Son. Likewise, Abram and his wife Sarah are loyal subjects, and their legitimate son is Isaac. But Abraham has an illegitimate son named Ishmael by his slave-mistress, Hagar. All of Isaac’s descendants are Jews, and all the descendants of Ismael are Gentiles. So, says Paul, by not accepting Jesus the Anointed One as the one true Son of God who completed all the tasks and fulfilled all the laws His father required, and by rejecting Him they not only disqualified themselves from becoming heirs and joint-heirs with the Anointed One but became no better than the descendants of Hagar’s illegitimate son Ishmael.

This type of allegorical treatment of Sarah and Hagar was not new with Paul. In fact, Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria made a similar comparison years earlier. After reading a work by Philo, we see where he identifies Hagar as representing lower and secular education, while Sarah is portrayed as the symbol of higher spiritual philosophy. In one place, Philo notes that by observing Hagar’s behavior, we see how an illustration becomes a form of instruction based on repeating a phrase. Twice she fled, the first time without being banished. While Sarah remained a symbol of all the great virtues. But Hagar then returned by way of the same road she used to get away from Sarah. By the time she got back, she was informed about her master being visited by angels. So once again, she was forced to leave, only this time she is actually thrown out of the house and told to leave and never come back again.[13] In other words, Hagar represents learning by being instructed while Sarah symbolizes learning by revelation.

Dutch protestant jurist and writer Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) says that Sinai is called Hagar, or Agar, as a figure of speech because in that mountain, there was a city named “Hagar.” In fact, Greek historian, Diodorus of Sicily 90-30 BC, called it “Agara,” and its inhabitants were named Hagarenes.[14] Then Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) calls it “Agra,” and Arminian priest Daniel Whitby 1638-1726) thinks the allusion is taken from the meaning of the word Hagar, which, in the Hebrew signifies “a rock.” English Methodist minister Joseph Benson (1749-1821) follows by making an interesting note on Hagar and the mountain in Sinai that is part of Paul’s narrative. He says that the whole mountainous ridge in Arabia Petræa, of which Sinai was a part, was called Horeb, probably on account of its excessive dryness. It was called by Moses, the Mountain of God[15], because on it, God gave the Law to the Israelites.

According to legend, Hagar fled toward the wilderness just before Sinai to the desert of Paran.[16] This is where she settled and got an Egyptian woman to be the wife of Ishmael. There’s no evidence that she married or gave birth to other children. But those of Ishmael are typically thought of as being Muslims (Arabs). Oddly enough, we read that Esau went to the land where Ishmael was and took two of his daughters to be his wives, Mahalath[17] and her sister Nebaioth.[18] We see a reference to them in the Muslim holy book the Qu’ran, where it says: “And you do not resent us except because we believed in the signs of our Lord when they came to us. Our Lord, pour upon us patience and let us die as Muslims [in submission to You.]”[19]

[1] Malachi 1:2-3

[2] Charles H. Spurgeon: According to Promise, The Two Seeds, pp. 6-10

[3] The Spurgeon Sermon Collection: Vol. 1, The Allegories of Sarah and Hagar, Sermon No. 69, Delivered on Sunday Morning, March 2, 1856, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, London, p. 398

[4] Psalm 40:8

[5] Hebrews 10:5

[6] John 5:39

[7] Ibid. 1:29

[8] John 3:14

[9] 1 Corinthians 5:7

[10] Exodus 12:7ff

[11] Arthur W. Pink: The Divine Inspiration of the Bible, Ch. 6, pp. 31-32

[12] Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone: Galatians, loc. cit., p. 57

[13] Philo of Alexandria, On the Cherubim, Part 1.I

[14] Psalm 83:6

[15] Exodus 3:1

[16] Genesis 21:21

[17] Genesis 28:9; also called Bashermath in Genesis 36:3. “Mahalath” means “stringed instrument,” such as a lyre.

[18] Ibid. 28:9; Nebaioth (Nebajoth) means “fruitfulness.” See Isaiah 60:7

[19] Qu’ran: Ch. 7:126

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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