CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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byusing ourNEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XLII)

Now, says Haimo of Auxerre (820-885 AD), not only were the transgressors subject to physical punishment, but they were even subject to the curse contained within the Law itself: “Cursed is everyone who does not remain subject to all these laws.”[1] As long as a person is bound by commandments of this sort, they are servants in some fashion. However, the freewoman, Sarah, who gave birth to the free son, signifies the grace of the Final Covenant that gave birth to Christians who are liberated not only from the original and actual sins but from every form of legal servitude. This is the inheritance of the Anointed One and His Promised Land they will inherit.[2]

Early medieval commentator Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101 AD) shares his opinion about the literal understanding of this metaphor concerning two women – Hagar and Sarah, and two men – Ishmael and Isaac. When using our spiritual understanding, Hagar, the handmaid who gave birth to her son while bearing the yoke of bondage, signifies the Law that gave birth and held the Jewish people under the yoke of bondage. So, what conscious awareness was the Jewish people servants? They were servants in the sense that they were compelled to serve the Law and observe circumcision, offer legalistic sacrifices, and preserve countless other rituals that they must not violate for fear of punishment.

In reference to the “curse,” renowned Jewish Rabbi Avraham Saba quotes from his Hebrew edition of the Torah which reads: “Cursed be whoever does not uphold the terms of this Torah to observe them.”[3] He goes on to say: “This verse contains allusions to honoring Torah in thought, speech, and deed. It is up to each one of us to preserve the divine image of the Torah by continually planning how best to do so. He who does not attempt to do so is subject to the Torah’s curse.”[4] The word “curse” here should be understood as “consequences.” For instance, if one sees a sign that says: “Electric Fence,” and then ignores the warning, the consequence will be a numbing shock. The same is true of God’s Word and His commandments.

Bruno goes on to say that he believes Paul regards these two individuals as representative of the two testaments. “Testament” takes its name from the word “witnesses.”  The First Covenant produced many witnesses, among whom were the angels, Moses, and the other prophets. But in the Final Covenant, witnesses are the one most true Lord Jesus the Anointed One and the Apostles by whose ministry it was spread abroad to the four corners of the earth. When Paul speaks of the First Covenant,[5] he is referring to the testament that was given on Mount Sinai, birthing the Jewish people into servitude. This testament, which is Hagar, refers to what is signified by Hagar herself, namely, the Law that was given through the teachers of the synagogue and was birthing a people into bondage itself.”[6]

Later medieval commentator Robert of Melun (1100-1167) gives us his understanding of the allegories. For him, the Holy Scriptures have a fourfold sense. The historical sense is signified “through the words,” and the mystical sense is understood through those things that are signified by those words. The mystical sense is, in itself, threefold. By the moral sense, we understand what we “are to do.” The allegorical sense designates what we “are to believe,” and the analogical sense signifies what we “must hope for” in heaven.  One can observe these senses in the name “Jerusalem.”  When it is taken in the literal sense, it signifies the “capital city” of the Jews; in the moral sense, the “faithful soul;” in the allegorical sense the “suffering Church;” and in the analogical sense the “triumphant Church.[7]

In his historic classical work, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan describes a scene that comes right out of verses twenty-one through twenty-seven here in Galatians four. In looking for the pathway to heaven and everlasting life, Pilgrim Christian walks by himself and encounters another traveler coming on a trail through a field to a place where their paths happened to intersect. The other wanderer introduced himself as Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who lived in the town of “Carnal Policy,” a large town that Pilgrim Christian passed along his way. However, Mr. Worldly Wiseman seemed to know Pilgrim Christian, since by now, his fame spread far and wide as having escaped the “City of Destruction.” Once they met and shook hands, Mr. Worldly Wiseman engaged Pilgrim Christian in a conversation.

The first question he asked was if Pilgrim Christian was married with children? Pilgrim replied that he was and did have a family, but he was so busy trying to find the way to heaven and everlasting life that he wasn’t able to spend as much time with them as he wanted to. Pilgrim Christian said Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s question was almost as though he has no family at all. Mr. Worldly Wiseman asked if he might offer some good advice? Then Pilgrim Christian said if it was good guidance, he was ready to accept anything that helped. Mr. Worldly Wiseman advised Pilgrim Christian to get rid of any obligations to his family since constant worry about them would take his mind off of the benefits of the blessings God held waiting for him down the road.

Just then, Pilgrim Christian saw an Evangelist coming toward the intersection. This embarrassed Pilgrim Christian for even considering the option given to him by Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who earlier left the house of Mr. Legality, where he had asked for advice. The Evangelist asked Pilgrim Christian if he was the man who was found crying outside the walls of the “City of Destruction?” Pilgrim Christian admitted he was the one. “Don’t you remember when I directed you on how to find the gate to heaven and everlasting life,” ask the Evangelist? With head bowed and eyes to the ground, Pilgrim Christian said he remembered. So, asked the Evangelist, why is it you so quickly got off track and are now going the wrong way? Then Pilgrim Christian explained that just as he finished navigating through the swamp of despondency, he met someone who advised him how to unburden himself with what bothered him.

You shouldn’t listen to any of them, said the Evangelist, “Mr. Worldly Wiseman is an alien, and  Mr. Legality is a cheat; and for his son Civility, despite his smirking look, he is but a hypocrite and cannot help you” Believe me, there is nothing in all their chatter that you’ve heard from such mixed-up people. Their only design is to talk you out of your salvation by turning you away from the way in which I sent you. After this, the Evangelist cried out to heaven for confirmation of what he just said: and with that, there came words and fire out of the mountain under which poor Pilgrim Christian stood, that made the hair of arms and neck stand up. Here is what they heard: “People who depend on following the Law to make them right are under a curse.”[8] Now, Pilgrim Christian began to cry, even regretting every meeting Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Once he collected himself, Pilgrim Christian committed himself again to follow the advice of the Evangelist.[9] In the same way, the Apostle Paul was the Evangelist to the believers in Galatia who lost their way due to bad advice from Mr. Judaizing Wiseman and Mr. Torah Legality.

Twentieth-century commentator Ernest DeWitt Burton gives us his insight. For him, the participle “bearing” is an adjective in force and is timeless. When applied to Hagar, the phrase designates her as one who, being a slave woman, bears children who share her status of slavery. As applied to the Sinai covenant, it refers to the fact that they who came under this covenant were in the position of slaves as being in bondage to the law.[10] We can then say that the one promised miracle child was borne by Sarah, who, being a free-woman, will then share in her status of freedom. Of course, Paul makes it clear that Hagar is a metaphor for the first covenant, and Sarah is a figure of speech representing the final covenant.

When it comes to Mt. Sinai and Mt. Horeb in the Arabian desert, Jewish Rabbi Eliezer gives us some information. He tells us that from the day when the heavens and the earth were created, the name of the mountain was Horeb.[11] When the Holy One, (blessed be He), was revealed to Moses out of the thorn-bush, because of the word for the thorn-bush (“S’neh”) it was called Sinai, but it was still Mt. Horeb. And how do we know that Israel accepted the Torah at Mount Horeb? Because it is written: “The day you stood before Adonai your God at Horeb, when Adonai said to me, “Gather the people to me, and I will make them hear my very words so that they will learn to hold me in awe as long as they live on earth, and so that they will teach their children.”[12] [13]

Also, Paul’s mention of Mt. Zion and Jerusalem in the feminine sense, was very much part of Jewish thinking and writing as well.  For instance, in one Aramaic version of the Song of Solomon, it reads: “Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?  Beneath the apple tree I awakened you; There your mother was in labor with you, there she was in labor and gave you birth.” This is paraphrased to read: “Zion, the mother of Israel, shall bring forth her sons, and Jerusalem shall receive the children of the captivity.”[14]

We can hear Paul asking the Galatians, “what are you going to do?” Are you going to keep on living like the illegitimate children of Hagar with no promises for the future, or do you want to live like the legitimate children of Sarah with all God’s promises including eternal life? Do you want to tie your hopes to religious rituals and regulations that are now obsolete, or do you want to put your faith in God’s new covenant that goes to all Abraham’s spiritual descendants who pledge allegiance to Him? For heaven’s sake, make up your minds!

[1] Deuteronomy 27:26

[2] Bruno the Carthusian, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Deuteronomy, ibid

[4] Tzror Hamor, Rabbi Abraham Saba, loc, cit., p. 2031

[5] Galatians 4:12

[6] Bruno the Carthusian: on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] Robert of Melun: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] Galatians 3:10

[9] John Bunyan’s Works: Vol. 9, Pilgrim’s Progress, In the Similitude of a Dream, The First Stage, pp. 62-68

[10] Ernest De Witt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, op. cit., p. 258

[11] See Exodus 3:1; 33:6; cf. I Kings 8:9: Rabbi Abraham Saba tells us in his Tzror Hamor that the term “Horeb” is rendered “Chorev” in Hebrew, and came to be known among the Jews as the Mountain of God. (p. 863).

[12] Deuteronomy 4:10

[13] Pirķê de Rabbi Eliezer, Translated by Gerald Friedlander, Published by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd. London, 1916, p. 321

[14] The Targum to Canticles by Raphael Hai Melamed, Philadelphia, 1921, Ch 8:5, p. 105

About drbob76

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