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 XLV)

Rabbi Saba shared in his commentary on the Torah, where the Scriptures say in Genesis that “God created man in His image.”[1] He argues that this is impossible since God does not possess a body. But also, if it were true, then everyone in the world would look exactly the same. So, the word “image” must contain some other meaning. Since Elohim is a one-of-a-kind God, He made each human individually one-of-a-kind. In fact, there are no two humans with identical fingerprints. And mankind, like God, possesses a heart,[2] spirit,[3] and mind.[4] Rabbi Saba goes on and says that the real majesty of mankind is found in what the Scriptures say: “A ruler over people must be upright, ruling with reverence to God.[5] Therefore, God’s greatness is demonstrated by His most advanced creature, the human being, that is unmatched, with no duplicates just as there is no duplicate or match of the Creator Himself.[6]

Also, in the writings of Rabbi Eliezer, he tells us that when Abraham arose and sent Hagar and Ishmael away from Sarah and Isaac, he was not only sending them from this world but also the world-to-come.[7] On top of this, we take note of what the venerable Rabbi Moses Maimonides writes concerning Ishmael’s relationship with Abraham: “A person’s son who is born by a maid-servant or a Gentile woman is not considered his son at all, and is given no right of inheritance whatsoever.”[8]

Maimonides goes on to explain that when a Gentile man fathered a son before converting to Judaism, his firstborn is given no rights concerning an inheritance. However, if a Jewish man fathered a son from a maid-servant or by a Gentile woman since they are not considered his sons any son he fathers afterward from a Jewish woman is considered his firstborn with regard to the laws of inheritance, and he receives a double portion of his father’s estate.[9]

This connects directly to what Paul says here in verse thirty-one that we who are real spiritual children of Abraham can trace our genealogy back to the free woman Sarah, not to Hagar, the slave woman. As Rabbi Saba tells us, the story of Hagar and her son being sent away into exile were deliberately told in the Torah in order to bring about a hostile attitude between the Israelites and Ishmaelites to be better understood by later generations.[10] We see that even today between Jews and Muslims.

Preacher Chrysostom gives an interesting exposition on verse twenty-seven. He questions what person is Paul quoting about from Isaiah, who was “barren,” and “desolate?” Clearly, it is the Gentiles that were deprived of the knowledge and Word of God? Who then is she with the husband, asks Chrysostom? Plainly, it refers to the Synagogue. Yet the barren Gentile woman surpassed the free woman in the number of her children, because Israel only embraces one nation, while the Gentile children of the Church came from the Greeks and Barbarians, the continents of earth and islands of the sea – the inhabited world.[11] While there is nothing objectionable in what Chrysostom says, it is another case of taking the real facts of the Bible and turning them into an imaginary tale.

While Paul’s allegory back then surely fell on ears that understood all his references to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Hagar, it may not play well to an attentive audience in today’s world.  Present believers may even ask how does God’s promises to Abraham affect them? It seems that many churchgoers today depend so much on their loyalty to their church, its religious rituals, and regulations to provide God’s approval on their lives and their inheritance of everlasting life.  Does that mean churches should disband and let everyone live out their Christian lives as they see fit?  No!  By no means!

First of all, buildings only become churches when the body of the Anointed One assembles there, other than that they are only material structures and symbols of the spiritual Church that worships there. When the body of the Anointed One arrives to adore their God, their LORD, their Savior, Jesus the Anointed One, and the Holy Spirit with praise and worship, as well as hearing anointed messages; brotherly and sisterly fellowship, they can enjoy their spiritual relationship with each other and the Trinity. But when people attend church out of obligation to laws, religious rituals, and regulations conceived by man, believing this will save their souls and qualify them for everlasting life, they inadvertently and unconsciously reject Jesus the Anointed One as the only way, truth, and life; as the only acceptable Master and Redeemer, LORD and Savior, by deciding to be saved by their own efforts, not by faith. Therefore, God finds no reason to include them in His Final Testament and add them to the list of those promised the inheritance of everlasting life with Him.

One might think that by the time Paul started preaching the Gospel, God grew tired of religious rituals and regulations, serving as a feeble attempt on man’s part to obtain salvation by their own efforts.  But the prophet Isaiah tells us that in his day, God already became disgusted. “Listen to the LORD, you Sodom-like leaders. Listen to our God’s directions, you Gomorrah-like people. ‘What makes you think I want any of your sacrifices?’ says the LORD. ‘I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of plump cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship Me, who asked you to parade through My courts with your rites and rituals? Stop bringing Me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts Me!’”

Isaiah goes on with God’s message: “As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting – they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to Me.  I cannot stand them! When you lift your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Clean up your life! Get your sins out of My sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do what’s right. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Let’s latch onto this understanding,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are the color of scarlet, I’m the one who can make them as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, I’m the one who can make them as white as wool’[12]

No doubt, the reason why Sarah wanted to get rid of Hagar was because of Ishmael. Not only did she see a problem with Abraham’s relationship with this slave girl, but the impact Hagar’s son was having on Isaac. In their story, we find an interesting conversation between Sarah and Abraham, in which Sarah tells him that she saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian making fun of Isaac. So, Sarah said to Abraham, “Throw this slave-girl and her son out! I will not have this slave-girl’s son as your heir along with my son Isaac!”[13]  In other words, Ishmael was being disrespectful of Isaac. Perhaps Ishmael, whose name means “God will hear,” was making fun of Isaac’s, name which means “laughter.”  So, it could be that Ishmael was laughing, taunting, and mocking Isaac because of his name.

The highly respected Rabbi Rashi offers his comments on this incident. He mentions that when Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian making fun of Isaac, she was angry. Rashi goes on to say that the Hebrew word tsachaq is the same word used as an expression of making merry in front of an idol because it says, “…then they got up to indulge in revelry.”[14] Another explanation: An expression of illicit sexual relations, as it is said: “This Hebrew slave you brought us came in to mock me.”[15] In other words, Hagar was bragging that she gave Abraham a son while Sarah gave him none. Another explanation: An expression of murder, as it is said: “Let the boys get up now and sport before us.’[16] [17]

Added to this was another exposition by Jewish Rabbi Eliezer on this interaction between Ishmael and Isaac.  As he sees it, Ishmael was born with the prophecy of the bow, and he grew up with the bow, as it is said, “God was with the boy, and he grew. He lived in the desert and became an archer.[18] He took bow and arrows and began to shoot at the birds. He saw Isaac sitting by himself, and he shot an arrow at him, pretending to kill him. He goes on to say that this is was what caused Sarah to react so forcefully in getting rid of Hagar and Ishmael.[19] So for the Jews, this taunting by Ishmael was of the worst kind, that might lead to immorality, idolatry, and death. This certainly gives us more insight into what the Apostle Paul was aiming at with this illustration.

Augustine gives us an interesting summary of his understanding of what Paul is saying here. For Augustine, the age of Isaac’s parents signifies that although the people of the Final Covenant are new, their predestination with God and the heavenly Jerusalem itself are ancient. However, for those in the Galatian congregation who are still more interested in Self than in the Spirit, they become the source of heresies and schisms, even though they received the opportunity to be reborn from the Gospel. It began with their being born into a “salvation by works mentality,” which does not go back to the ancient truth, and, therefore, they were born of a very young mother and an aged father without the promise.

 Augustine continues by noting that it was only on account of the antiquity of the truth that the Lord appeared in the Apostle John’s Apocalypse with white hair. Consequently, those born of the Spirit were, therefore, given the opportunity contained in the ancient truth to live a new and temporal life. Thus, the Apostle says that we, like Isaac, are sons of the promise, and just as Isaac was persecuted by Ishmael, so those who began to live spiritually were being persecuted by carnal Jews. Yet this persecution is in vain since, according to the Scripture, the slave woman is cast out, and her son cannot be an heir alongside the free woman’s son. For freedom must now strongly oppose the yoke of slavery by which those luring the Galatians to circumcision were held fast in works of the Law.[20] I’m not sure how much Augustine’s allegory helps in understanding the conflict between Hagar and Sarah and its effect on us today, but it gives us something to think about.

[1] Genesis 1:27

[2] 1 Samuel 13:14; See Acts of the Apostles 13:22

[3] Genesis 1:2

[4] 1 Corinthians 2:16

[5] 2 Samuel 23:3

[6] Avraham Saba: Tzror Hamor, pp. 21. 22

[7] Pirķê de Rabbi Eliezer: Translated by Gerald Friedlander, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd, London, 1916, Ch., 30, p. 220

[8] Mishneh Torah, Moises Maimonides, Sefer Mishpatim, Nachalot, Ch. 1:7

[9] Ibid. Ch. 2:12

[10] Tzror Hamor: op. cit., Genesis 21:11, p. 277

[11] Chrysostom, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] Isaiah 1:10-18

[13] Genesis 21:9-10 – Complete Jewish Version

[14] Exodus 32:6 – Complete Jewish Bible

[15] Genesis 39:17 – This was the wife of Potiphar’s claim against Joseph

[16] II Samuel 2:14

[17] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, Genesis, Ch 21:9

[18] Genesis 21:20

[19] Pirķê de Rabbi Eliezer, op. cit., Ch. 30, p. 215

[20] Augustine of Hippo: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

About drbob76

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