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This is a verse-by-verse commentary on Paul's epistle to the Galatians, which was written to combat those Jewish Christians who were unable to leave the Old Covenant and adhere to the New Covenant. In their attempt to add the New Covenant to the Old, and to add Jesus to the temple system of animal sacrifices and other rituals, they had distorted the gospel.
Category - Bible Commentaries
We now come to the core of Paul's dispute with the Judaizers. When he links the two covenants to Hagar and Sarah, Paul opens up a whole new avenue of thinking, based on the types and shadows of Abraham's two wives.
In Galatians 4:19 and 20, Paul speaks of Sonship, wherein Christ is formed in us in a kind of spiritual pregnancy. But the question is this: what kind of “wife” are you? Are you a Hagar or a Sarah? The answer will determine the kind of Son you are bringing forth. Will it be the inheritor of the promises to Abraham? or are you bringing forth a fleshly son that is to be disinherited?
God married Israel at Mount Sinai with Moses officiating as the minister. We know this because the prophets spoke of this husband-wife relationship, particularly when speaking of God’s divorce from her. Hosea 2:2 says of the House of Israel,
2 Contend with your mother, contend, for she is not My wife, and I am not her Husband.
Jeremiah 3:8 speaks directly of this divorce, saying,
8 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she went and was a harlot also.
The law of divorce in Deut. 24:1-4 says that a man must first give a written writ of divorce to the wife he is divorcing, before it is lawful to send her out of the house. That way, the law says, she may remarry lawfully without fear that he might become jealous and accuse her of adultery by marrying someone else.
And so God through the prophets gave her a writ of divorce and then used the Assyrians to evict Israel from His house. Later, Judah too was found to be worse than Israel had been (Jer. 3:11). But God did not divorce Judah, because Jesus yet had to be born from that nation and could not be born out of wedlock. So Judah was allowed to return after a 70-year “separation,” while Israel was sent among the nations, having been divorced.
Our point for now is to show that Israel had been married to God, though it was an Old Covenant marriage. There is also a New Covenant marriage relationship prophesied in the Old Testament and revealed more fully in the New. These two covenants are depicted by Hagar and Sarah in the life of Abraham, and this is the motive behind Paul's discussion of Hagar and Sarah.
Paul writes in Galatians 4:21,
21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?
To be “under law” was a legal term that meant that a sinner had been convicted by the law and was thus bound by its authority to pay its penalty, such as restitution. All sinners are under law unless their penalty has been paid, in which case they are no longer sinners in the legal sense. Hence, the whole world has become guilty before God, Paul says in Rom. 3:19, and thus the whole world is under the law until the penalty has been paid.
Jesus came to pay the penalty, so that the law would have no authority to condemn us any longer. We are therefore “under grace.” The law was not set aside to put us under grace. Rather, it was upheld and respected when Jesus paid its full penalty on the cross. If the law had been put away or set aside, Jesus would not have had to die on the cross to pay its penalty.
In the verse above, Paul was referring to the belief that men still had to do something to be justified or to attain perfection. The underlying question is this: Is there something that man must do, some command to keep, which will make God rule in our favor or pronounce us justified before the law? Or is our faith in the work that Jesus Christ did sufficient to pay the full penalty for our sin?
22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.
In other words, Hagar brought forth Ishmael by a “natural” process that has characterized every man's birth since the first Adam. There was nothing supernatural about Ishmael's birth. Hagar was a young woman of child-bearing age.
On the other hand, Sarah conceived when she was 89 and brought forth a son at the age of 90. That was supernatural because the birth occurred after menopause. This was no “natural” birth. It was miraculous, because God had to intervene in order to fulfill His promise to Abraham.
24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
Why does Paul connect Mount Sinai in Arabia to Jerusalem? Jewish pride in their ancestry would have been insulted by such an analogy. After all, they despised the genealogical Ishmaelites for being outside the covenant of God. But Paul was speaking of a spiritual and legal connection.
The Jewish religious leaders had rejected the only Mediator of the New Covenant, deciding instead to retain the first mediator (Moses) and his covenant. This put Jerusalem under the authority of Mount Sinai, which, as Paul reminds us, is in ARABIA, the inheritance of Ishmael. Thus, the priests' rejection of Jesus as the Christ put Jerusalem under the jurisdiction of Ishmael and left it in bondage.
For this reason, in time God honored their decision and gave that land to Ishmael. The Jews wanted to be “under law,” and so that is precisely what God gave them. They preferred the bondage of slavery to Ishmael, and so God granted their wish.
The problem is that the Jews wanted to have it both ways. They wanted to claim Hagar-Jerusalem as their mother and yet be free. In principle, this is no different from the physical Ishmaelites themselves wanting to be free while adhering to an Old Covenant religion (Islam). Both have confidence in their mother Hagar, thinking that they can inherit the promises by the covenant made at Mount Sinai.
And so, when the Galatians were influenced by the Judaizers to consider Jerusalem to be the “Mother Church,” their mother was Hagar. The Church did indeed begin in Jerusalem, but NOT at the temple. When the high priest was offering the Pentecostal offering to God of two loaves baked with leaven, the disciples were in the upper room, not attending those ceremonies at the temple. The high priest was continuing under the Old Covenant method of keeping Pentecost, but the disciples were adopting a New Covenant and a new way to keep the feast. They kept it in the place where God had placed His name—in their foreheads (Rev. 22:4). The fire of God accepted the offering of their own hearts by resting on their heads (Acts 2:3).
When the “Ishmaelites” of the temple persecuted the believers, they were scattered from Jerusalem to other places (Acts 8:1). No longer would they remain centered in Jerusalem. No longer was Hagar their mother. But the family ties to Hagar were not broken so easily. Culture and friends had a strong pull on them, and they tried desperately to remain in good standing with the Ishmaelites of Jerusalem.
Finally, however, after 40 years of transition, God sent His armies to destroy that city and burn it with fire (Matt. 22:7). This was a type of the casting out of Hagar, and the Jewish Christians only then began to become acquainted with their new mother—Sarah, the New Jerusalem.
26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
It is important to see that Paul's opponents (the Judaizers) were identifying with “the present Jerusalem” rather than with the New Jerusalem. They were falling into the same trap that Judaism itself had fallen when it rejected the Mediator of the New Covenant. The distorted gospel, as Paul called it, was the belief that one could have two mothers. This absurdity put the Galatians in danger of losing their inheritance as children of Sarah. In placing their hopes in the old Jerusalem, they could attain nothing but more bondage.
This bondage is not being “enslaved to God” (Rom. 6:22) but enslaved to sin. Sinners want the freedom to be enslaved to sin. They want the right to “sexual freedom,” that is, the right to commit fornication and adultery without being prosecuted for it. There are many lawless Christians also who demand the right to sin. They want the right to put out their money to usury or the right to put criminals in prisons, rather than to make them pay restitution.
Being free in Christ means that we become like Him. It means that we identify with Jesus Christ and walk as He walked. 1 John 2:6 says,
6 The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
Jesus was the Lamb without spot or blemish. He did not violate the law, because the law was written in His heart. So also is it with us. The Old Covenant would tell us to vow obedience and to strive by the flesh to fulfill our vow. The New Covenant tells us to be in Christ, walk by the Spirit, and allow the Holy Spirit to write the law in our hearts from within. The New Covenant is established by the vow of God, that is, His Promise to Abraham.
There are more children of Hagar than of Sarah, both in Paul's day and in our own day. But the day will come when this is reversed, for Sarah's promise was that she would be the mother of nations (Gen. 17:16).
27 For it is written, “Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for more are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband.”
This is a quotation from Isaiah 54:1. Sarah was the “barren woman,” having no children until she was 90. Isaiah spoke prophetically of the New Covenant here, telling us that the children of the New Covenant, which had been barren from Moses to Christ, would ultimately bear more children than Hagar.
When the Judaizers came to Galatia to “correct” the teachings of Paul, they claimed Jerusalem as the Mother Church. The implication was that the Galatians were to “honor their mother” by submitting to her authority. But Paul shows that the Church has a different mother, the New Jerusalem, if indeed we are the children of promise.
Even as Sarah brought forth just one son (Isaac) as the starting point of “many nations,” so also the New Jerusalem brought forth the only-begotten Son of God as the true starting point of “many nations.” First the type, then the antitype was manifested.
When the Holy Spirit came upon the Church in Acts 2, this was the beginning point of many nations (goy, “gentiles”). The Holy Spirit was the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49), sent to the Church in Acts 2. This promise was not given to Hagar but to Sarah, who was to become the mother of “many nations” (Gen. 17:16). The day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was supposed to be the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise to Sarah.
26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. . . 28 And you, brethren, like Isaac, are the children of promise.
The Judaizers, however, not understanding their connection to Hagar, still considered Jerusalem to be their mother. Led by “false brethren” who had been SENT (by the temple) to spy out their liberty (Gal. 2:4), the Judaizers terrorized the Jerusalem Church into continuing in all of the sacrifices and old manner of keeping the feast days and sabbaths. They were still bound by fear of the Jews, and so in many ways they continued to acknowledge Hagar as their spiritual mother.
Paul understood the conflict from an insider's viewpoint, for he had been one of the first ones that the temple had authorized officially to persecute the Church. This was while he was known by his fleshly name, Saul, the name given to him at his fleshly birth. Paul's background qualified him to speak of these things with firsthand knowledge.
29 But as at that time, he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.
When we look at the story of Ishmael and Isaac in the book of Genesis, we note a near absence of any such persecution. Gen. 21:9 and 10 says,
9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. 10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.”
Something is obviously missing here. Mocking is hardly a reason for Abraham to divorce Hagar and send her and Ishmael out of the house. I have no doubt that Ishmael was mocking Isaac, but there must have been more to the story that Scripture leaves to the imagination. And Paul must have known as well, because he says specifically that Ishmael persecuted Isaac.
The old book of Jasher (1840 English translation) relates a more detailed story in Jasher 21:13-15,
13 And when Isaac was five years old, he was sitting with Ishmael at the door of the tent. 14 And Ishmael came to Isaac and seated himself opposite to him, and he took the bow and drew it and put the arrow in it, and intended to slay Isaac.
This, we are told, is what Sarah witnessed, and as a mother she was quite upset and demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael out of the house. Abraham understood the problem and complied with this, knowing that attempted murder was sufficient ground for such drastic action. So Gal. 4:30 says,
30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
Sarah spoke prophetically when she said, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son.” How is the bondwoman cast out? In the context of Paul's letter, the bondwoman is cast out by casting out the Judaizers, ridding themselves of their dependence upon Hagar. Jerusalem was NOT their mother. Their mother was Sarah, the free woman. The Church was established by God, and the promise of the Father was given to them in the Upper Room, not in the temple. Their “Mother Church” was the New Jerusalem.
God gave Jerusalem a 40-year grace period in which to repent of their violent carnal nature. Jesus Christ had fulfilled the role of Isaac when the Ishmaelites of the temple in Jerusalem sentenced him to death. The priests had then authorized Saul to persecute the Church. Acts 8:1-3 says,
1 And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And some devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
The persecution continued even after Saul was converted, only then Saul himself became the target, as we see in the book of Acts. The violent nature of the spirit of Ishmael did not take God by surprise, nor Paul either, I presume. The angel prophesied of Ishmael’s violent nature before his birth in Gen. 16:12,
12 And he will be a wild donkey of a man [pereh-awdawm, “a wild-ass man”], his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him.
Jesus Himself spoke of this in Matt. 11:12, saying,
12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.
The violence done to John at Passover of 30 A.D. was repeated three years later with Jesus at Passover of 33 A.D. Before His crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples in John 15:18, 19,
18 If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
The spirit of Ishmael that was present in the priesthood of Jerusalem is the same spirit that operates in all carnal men and religions. It is seen most vividly in those who consider it virtuous to kill anyone perceived to be God’s enemies, whereas Jesus told His disciples to love them and not to return evil for evil.
Jerusalem received 40 years of grace, according to the intercession of Ezekiel (4:6). Finally, the Romans surrounded Jerusalem on Passover of 70 A.D. and began the siege precisely 40 years after John had been beheaded.
The war ended when Rome took Masada on Passover of 73 A.D., precisely 40 years after Jesus had been crucified. This was the allotted time for them to repent of their hostility against Jesus Christ, according to the law of tribulation in Lev. 26:40. Their grace period had ended without repentance of their violent attempt to take the kingdom by force of arms and fleshly strength.
Hagar and Ishmael were then cast out in 70 A.D. in a very physical manner. Jesus had said in Matt. 23:38, “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” A few verses later, in Matt. 24:1 and 2, Jesus prophesied,
1 And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
Jesus had already prophesied the destruction of the city in the parable in Matt. 22:1-7, where the ones invited to the wedding of the Son refused to come. Verses 5-7 say,
5 But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, 6 and the rest seized his slaves [God's prophets] and mistreated them and killed them. 7 But the king [God] was enraged and sent his armies [Rome] and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
Years later, at the start of the war with Rome, there was a lull when Nero died in June of 68. The Jerusalem Church then escaped from the city, for they remembered Jesus' prophecy and were given another prophecy shortly before the destruction of the city. We read this in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III, 5,
“Further, the members of the Jerusalem church, by means of an oracle given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the City before the war began and settle in a town in Perea called Pella. To Pella, those who believed in Christ migrated from Jerusalem; and as if holy men had utterly abandoned the royal metropolis of the Jews and the entire Jewish land, the judgment of God at last overtook them for their abominable crimes against Christ and His apostles, completely blotting out that wicked generation from among men.”
And so the city was destroyed, and the people either killed or enslaved in foreign lands. This was God's way of casting out the bondwoman and her son in the first century.
In Matt. 21:18 and 19, we read,
18 Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. 19 And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.
The fig tree was the national symbol of Judea. Figs manifested the hearts of the people, whether good or evil (Jer. 24). Not only is an unfruitful fig tree good only for firewood (Luke 3:9), but figs leaves have been the problem since Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.”
Fig leaves are a false covering for sin. God replaced the fig leaves with animal skins, showing that sacrifice (the blood of Jesus) is the only way that sins can be covered. Fig leaves thus represent the carnal man’s attempt to justify himself by his own works, rather than seek justification that is mandated in the Law.
Jesus later prophesied that the “fig tree” of Judah would again come back to life. Matt. 24:32 says,
32 Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
Bible scholars are quick to connect this with the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, but they are strangely blind to the fact that this “fig tree” can do nothing but produce more leaves. It must, in fact, remain fruitless, because Jesus prophesied it. Not a word is said about bearing FRUIT, because Jesus had already condemned it in His curse, saying, “No longer shall there ever be any FRUIT from you” (Matt. 21:19).
And so we see the Jewish state founded in violence and terrorism through the Irgun and Stern gangs. The cursed fig tree did indeed come back to life, as Jesus prophesied. Its many leaves have once again fooled Jesus’ disciples into assuming the tree would bear fruit. But Jesus’ words cannot be broken. That fig tree will again be cut down—and for the same reason that it was cut down in 70 A.D.
Not only is the Jewish state a fruitless “fig tree,” but its capital is the reincarnation of Hagar, who cannot bring forth the promises of God.
God has brought back the Ishmaelites to the old land and has revived Hagar-Jerusalem to complete the prophecy of Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 19, Jerusalem and Judah are pictured as an old earthen jar or bottle, which, when cast into gehenna, will never be repaired again. Jer. 19:11 says, “Just so shall I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter's vessel, which cannot again be repaired.”
Jerusalem was subsequently destroyed many times, but it was always rebuilt later. Hence, the final fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy has yet to be fulfilled, as of this writing. The bond-woman and her modern son will again be cast out in the same manner as in 70 A.D. But this time Jerusalem will never again be inhabited.