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 XLIII)

4:27 Isaiah talked about this incident when he wrote: “Rejoice, O childless woman! Break forth into loud and joyful song even though you never gave birth to a child. For the woman who could bear no children now has more than all the other women!”[1]

But there is more to this story than what Paul quotes here. It involved an expression of the LORD’S love for Israel. The LORD goes on to tell Israel that they are to make their tent bigger. To open their doors wide. Not to think small! Put up a large tent that is strong because they will grow in all directions. Their children will become leaders in many nations and live in cities that were once destroyed. They are not to be afraid! They will not be disappointed![2]

Now, remember, Paul says this right after declaring that the New Jerusalem is for the habitation of the Jews descendant through the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, Jerusalem represents their Mother, Sarah. That means, when they see the earthly city of Jerusalem destroyed, not to lose hope, another Jerusalem is coming. So, call in as many people as possible to become part of spiritual Israel, so when she moves in, they will be able to move in with her. These other people include Gentiles, not just Jews. But according to what the Galatians are doing now, they are not only forfeiting that privilege for themselves, but for all the Gentiles they might reach out to for inclusion.

Similarly, in Hannah’s prayer, we find a revelation concerning this situation. She prayed that people with plenty of food in the past must now work to get food. But those who were hungry in the past now grow fat on food. The woman who was not able to bear children is no longer childless. But the woman with many children is sad because all her children are gone.[3] The point here is that before Yeshua the Messiah came, the Jews enjoyed all the blessing of God and the wonders He performed for them. They grew as a nation into a world player. But after they rejected the Messiah, God’s blessing began to flow to the Gentiles who before were given no stake in spiritual Israel’s future. They started to grow in record numbers in the church while the Jewish members declined. Even the Psalmist picks up this theme by saying God gives children to the woman whose home is empty. He makes her a happy mother. Praise the Lord![4] Oh, if the Galatians only saw what group they were siding with, they would run back to the Lord in droves.

Probably no woman in the Bible represents this more than Ruth the Moabitess. Because of a terrible famine in Judea, a man named Elimelech from Bethlehem moved his wife Naomi and two sons to Moab. There, his sons found no Jewish women to marry, so they married Moabite women. Eventually, Elimelech and his two sons died, leaving the three women all by themselves. Then Naomi heard that things were going better back in Judea, so she decided to return back home. At first, both of her daughters-in-law decided to go with her. But Naomi knew that as non-Jews, they would not be welcomed back in Bethlehem. So, she told them to stay, remarry, and make a life for themselves and their family in their homeland and their gods.

Oprah, one of the daughters-in-law, kissed Naomi and decided to stay. But the other, Ruth, said: “No, I’m going with you.” Even though Naomi insisted that she remain behind because Judea was under the God of Jacob and she may find that hard to accept, Ruth spoke those immortal words, “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”[5] We know the rest of the story. Ruth found a new husband in Boaz, and it was through her children that King David came, and the Messiah was promised. So, for the Galatians, here was a woman willing to give up her country and her gods for Yahweh, and He rewarded her with a unique place in the history of His people. So why were they who met Yeshua, the son of Yahweh, now turning away from Him to join those who rejected Him?

To help explain what Paul is saying here, Chrysostom likens the church to a woman with a husband. Their marriage is not the type found in the Legalistic Synagogue where one is married to the Law. The Gentile’s marriage is found in Grace Chapel. For years the one married in the synagogue produced dozens and dozens of children, whereas the one married in Grace Chapel was at first barren. But now, her children outnumber the other woman’s. That’s because the synagogue consists of only one family while the children of Grace Chapel filled Greece, Africa, land, sea, and the whole inhabited world. Do we see as the Apostle Paul did how Sarah foreshadowed our future in deeds and the vision about her in the words of the prophets?[6]

Scottish theologian and Biblical critic John Eadie (1810-1876) pens an interesting commentary on what Paul says here in verse twenty-seven about Israel’s estrangement from God as represented by Paul when quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning a childless woman whose husband forsook her but ending up giving birth to more children than the fertile woman with whom her husband now lives. Eadie puts it rather poetically as he relates that Isaiah was addressing ancient Israel, not Jerusalem, simply because no children were born there during their exile in Babylon. Her desolate condition is to be succeeded by the blessings of prosperity. Zion in her youth was espoused by Yahweh, but the nuptial covenant was broken, and she was repudiated and suffered the reproach of widowhood, “forsaken and grieved in spirit.”

But fear not! A reunion is promised on the part of the divine Husband by the sending of a fellow Kinsman to be known as her Redeemer, and with a new and significant title, “God of the whole earth.” In a gush of wrath, He hid His face for a moment, but in everlasting kindness, would He have mercy on her.[7] The result will be numerous offspring. Just what precise historic reference this prophecy is pointing to need not be questioned. It refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews that would last until their Redeemer came to bring them into a New Jerusalem.

Isaiah is using a very ordinary figure of speech so common among the prophets, in which it promises that after a dark and sterile period, increased spiritual blessings will come, and suddenly there will be enlarged numbers to enjoy them, as chapter fifty-five in Isaiah so vividly describes. But in the Apostle Paul’s use of Isaiah in accordance with the context, Abraham’s two wives are used for the two women in Isaiah’s prophecy. Hagar (unlawful wife) becomes the symbol of the First Covenant, the church of legalism with its children in bondage rites, rituals, and regulations. Then Sarah (the legal wife) is the symbol of the Final Covenant church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Hagar is tied to the old Jerusalem below, and Sarah has links to the New Jerusalem above.

Eadie believes that this prophecy borrowed from Isaiah and used by Paul was intended to prove and illustrate a marital relationship between believers and God. Eadie says that some of the early church fathers took a different view of this prophecy. The Roman Catholic Church Writers Clement, Origen, Chrysostom, and many others, suppose she “that bears not, the barren one,” is the Gentile church as opposed to the Jewish church or synagogue; but this is against the scope and language of the allegory. The Jerusalem that existed here below up until Paul’s time was the Jewish dispensation, the children of the bond-maid Hagar; the New Jerusalem above, which prior to the advent was sterile and childless is now a fruitful mother, her children greatly more numerous than those of her rival, for all believers like her son Isaac are the seed of Abraham, children of promise.[8]

4:28-29 Don’t you get it; my dear children in Galatia, God’s true children are those of promise, just like Isaac.  But just like back then, the same is happening now, those who are children of the flesh want to persecute those who are children of the spirit.

Now Paul turns his attention to Isaac and the true spiritual children of Abraham. It’s important to note that after Peter and John healed the crippled man who was sitting the gate “Beautiful” in Jerusalem through the power of the Anointed One, just as people gathered for prayer, the man was now leaping for joy. So, Peter took the opportunity to preach to them. And one of the things he says was that beginning with the prophet Samuel and all the prophets who followed spoke for God by telling us this time would come. And what those prophets talked about is for you. You received the agreement that God made with your forefathers. God said to your father, Abraham, “Every nation on earth will be blessed through your descendants.”[9] So, God sent His special servant Yeshua. He sent Him to you Jews first. He sent Him to bless you by causing each of you to turn away from your evil ways.[10]

This is how Paul explained it to the Romans when he told them that this means that not all who call Abraham their father are God’s true children. Abraham’s true children are those who become God’s children because of the promise He made to Abraham. And that promise was hinged upon the fact that since Sarah was unable to give birth to a child in the normal way of procreation, He planned to give her a miracle child to be the recipient of all the promises He made to Abraham. That Promised Son was Isaac, and through him, the Promised Messiah came into the world.[11] Couldn’t the Galatians see that by turning away from the Promised Messiah, they were forfeiting all the promises God gave to Him? No wonder Paul earlier called them “stupid.”

So, in effect, the Jews who persecuted Yeshua were descendants of the Promised Son Isaac, who was the forebearer of the Promised Son Yeshua. How odd is that? Paul went on to tell the Romans that believers must not be ruled by their sinful tendencies. They must not live the way their immoral inclinations wanted them to. If they use your lives to do what their corrupt passions tell them to do, they will die spiritually. But if they use the Spirit’s help to stop doing wrong things with their bodies, they will develop a real, true Christian lifestyle.[12] This may not have resonated right away with the Galatians, but as soon as they put themselves under the authority of the Law, their sinful tendencies will spring up like grass after a fresh rain. This was not only true then, but it is true today. If we try to earn salvation by obeying church laws and requirements, our sinful nature will keep it from happening. Only surrendering to God’s grace will make it possible, because we cannot save ourselves, only He can save us.

[1] Isaiah 54:1

[2] Ibid 54:2-5

[3] 1 Samuel 2:5

[4] Psalm 113:9

[5] Ruth 1:16

[6] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 70

[7] Isaiah 54:4-5, Cf. 51:2

[8] John Eadie: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit, pp.370-371

[9] Genesis 22:18; 26:5

[10] Acts of the Apostles 3:25; See Romans 4:13-18

[11] Romans 9:8-9

[12] Ibid. 8:12-13

About drbob76

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