COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 42
Gal 4:24 “Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (Gal 4:24-26)
WHICH THINGS ARE AN ALLEGORY
When it comes right down to it, most theological confusion can be traced back to a failure to discern the difference between the old and new covenants. Notwithstanding, this is a subject concerning which very little is being said these days. As a consequence, the level of ignorance has reached epochal proportions. In turn, this has allowed the entrance of all manner of false teaching and erroneous emphases. Even in the very best circumstances it is as though only the border of this subject has been seen with any degree of clarity. It is generally thought that in Christ God has changed His stance toward men, being able to now overlook sin and be more tolerant of sinners. This is largely the reason for inordinate stress on the love of God, entirely apart from the precise expression of that love in the only begotten of the Father. When it comes to salvation and the appropriation of righteousness, no person who comprehends the nature of Law desires to be under its dominion. It is clear that the Galatians once knew this, and therefore fled to Jesus for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them in the preaching of the Gospel. However, through craftiness ministers of Satan had robbeed the believers in Galatia of this understanding, and moved them to depart from the One who had called them into the grace of Christ. Now Paul must speak to them as unto little children, for they no longer had the understanding that everyone has when they come into Christ. They had to be taught again what they had once known – and this time it will be even more difficult to receive than it was the first time. This is a fact that many professing Christians do not consider – that once a person departs from the truth, they are in a worst condition than they were before they “first trusted in Christ” (Eph 1:12). Now, the truth has to penetrate through unbelief that is actually treated by those possessing it as though it was faith. Keep in mind that this is addressing
THESE ARE THE TWO COVENANTS
Gal 4:24 “Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.”
AN ALLEGORY. “Which things are an allegory.” Other versions read, “symbolic,” NKJV “allegorically speaking,” NASB “may be taken figuratively,” NIV “this is an allegory,” NRSV “have a secret sense,” BBE “to make a midrash on these things,” [“midrash” =”a haggadic or halakic exposition of the underlying significance of a Bible” MIRRIAM-WEBSTER] CJB “illustrations,” CSB “another thing is meant,” GENEVA “ betoken mystery,” TNT”an example,” IE “has another meaning as well,” CEV “illustrates the very thing we are dealing with now.” MESSAGE
This confirms there is an overriding theme in Scripture to which every revelation and word of Divine working is connected. From the standpoint of the Messiah, the Scriptures testify of Christ (John 5:39). From the perspective of the living nature of the Word, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10). If we view the Scriptures from the standpoint of the day of salvation, and the era of the New Covenant, “all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days” (Acts 3:24). The things that took place among the people with whom God was working “happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor 10:11). They were also “written for our learning” (Rom 15:4).
An “allegory” is not merely a story, or some purely fictional word. It is a very real happening in which the purpose of God is seen. It is an event that portrays the purposeful working of God, particularly as it regards the execution of His eternal purpose. This is why Scripture is said to be fulfilled in Christ that does not, on the surface, seem to refer to Christ. Thus, the word of Hosea concerning Israel coming out of Egypt is said to have been fulfilled when the child Jesus was taken out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1; Matt 2:15). The rock from which Israel received a miraculous supply of water is referred to as “that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). When Jeremiah wrote of the women of Israel lamenting the loss of their children in Egypt, Matthew says it was actually fulfilled when the infants around Bethlehem were slain by Herod (Jer 31:15; Matt 2:15-17).
An allegory is a Divinely orchestrated event that precisely portrayed coming realities – realities that were associated with the purpose that was in place “before the world began” (2 Tim 1:9). This makes the practice of drawing illustrations only from contemporary life appear very low-level. Whatever value such a practice has is vastly inferior to an appeal to Scriptural events.
The language of this letter, as well as the history of Paul preaching in that area (Acts 16:6; 18:23; 1 Cor 16:1), suggests that “the churches of Galatia” were mostly comprised of Gentiles. Yet, these brethren are expected to be knowledgeable of events peculiar to the writings of Moses and the Prophets. This highlights the necessity of having a working knowledge of the Scriptures.
THESE ARE THE TWO COVENANTS. Other versions read, “these women are two covenants,” NASB “the women represent two covenants,” NIV and “these mothers are the two testaments.” GENEVA The two women are “the bondwoman” Hagar, and “the freewoman” Sarah. Both are viewed in the capacity of mothers who themselves beget a child. The covenants are the “first covenant” (Heb 8:7; 9:1), which has now been made “old” (2 Cor 3:14; Heb 8:13), and the “new covenant” (Heb 12:24), or “new testament” (Matt 26:28; Heb 9:15). It is the declamation of the New Covenant that has made the first one “old” (Heb 8:13).
THE ONE FROM MOUNT SINAI. “ . . . the one from the mount Sinai . . . which is Agar.” This is the covenant that was given and ratified at Mount Sinai (Ex 31:18; 34:32; Lev 26:46; Neh 9:18). The “words of the covenant” were the Ten Commandments (Ex 34:28). The covenant itself was the pledge to keep all of those words all of the time (Ex 19:8; 24:3; Lev 18:5).
GENDERETH TO BONDAGE. “ . . .which gendereth to bondage.” Other versions read, “which gives birth to bondage“ NKJV “bears [children destined] for slavery.” AMPLIFIED The parallel is amazingly detailed. Israel is referred to as “children . . .of the covenant” (Acts 3:25). While that text refers to receiving the advantage of the Messiah, their condition was that of slaves who were by no means free. That is the kind of children Law begets. Law is a means of holding the wayward in check, and is depicted as being for “the lawless and disobedient” (1 Tim 1:9).
There is no way to get around this truth. Those who operate by the principle of Law become all the more slaves to sin. Thus it is written, “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor 15:56). Rather than repressing sin it causes sin to “revive,” gaining the dominance over the individual (Rom 7:9). Those who zealously hawk rules and procedures designed to reduce sin, have actually only caused it to increase the more. The “motions of sin,” or “sinful passions,” NKJV were “aroused by the law” (Rom 7:5). That is the doctrine of Scripture, confirming that the old covenant actually caused sin to be more strong – even though the Law itself was holy, and not sinful (Rom 7:7). This is because it addressed people as sinners, not as saints; as disobedient, not as obedient. It identified who they were without Christ, and all of its children are slaves. It was designed for sinners, nor saints.
MOUNT SINAI AND JERUSALEM WHICH NOW IS
4:25 “For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.”
In developing this subject Paul is showing the absurdity of a system of religion that relies upon law instead of grace; that centers in the flesh rather than in the new creation. These are matters that were no longer clear to the Galatians. They had bought into a system that did not rely upon Christ, did not give preeminence to faith, and did not involve inherent freedom. The dominance of this kind of religion in our day is staggering. Even though it enslaves men to sin, doctrines have been foisted upon the church that present sin as a state of normalcy. “We all sin,” these false teachers declare, and ‘God is able to handle that situation.” There is little or no talk about a new heart, a new spirit, a new creation, the circumcision of Christ, or newness of life.
THIS HAGAR IS MOUNT SINAI. And what may be said of Hagar? She was actually not an Israelite, but was an Egyptian (Gen 16:1,3). She was not the real wife, but was a handmaid to the wife (Gen 16:1). She was not free, but was a slave (Gal 4:23). She was not capable of bearing the promised child, and there was no way her child could be the heir. Therefore, she and her son were eventually expelled from the house when the promised seed was sure (Gen 21:10).
This is how Mount Sinai is to be considered. It was the place of the giving of the Law, which constituted the words of the covenant (Ex 31:18; 34:4,32; Lev 26:46; 27:34; Neh 9:13). Sinai was not in the promised land, but was in Arabia.
The name “Hagar” means, “a stranger, one that fears” INTERPRETING DICTIONARY BIBLENAMES Just as Hagar was a stranger, so those to whom the Law was given as a covenant were strangers in the Lord’s house. They are described as “a stiffnecked people” (Ex 32:9), “a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom 10:21), “impudent and hardhearted” (Ezek 3:7), and people who “cannot serve the Lord” (Josh 24:19). Jesus said that were a people who drew nigh to God with their mouth, and honored Him with their lips, but whose heart “was far from” Him (Matt 15:8).
The Law did not change these people – even though it was a “holy,” “just,” “good,” and “spiritual” (Rom 7:12,14). Law – any law – cannot change the nature of the people. It cannot circumcise their hearts or give them ears to hear. It cannot cause them to see or be obedient. It cannot make them better, or in any way acceptable to God. All it can really do is discover their iniquitous state. Once seen, it can bring them to Christ (Gal 3:24), but it cannot put them into Christ. It cannot bring grace to them, or empower them, or make them holy.
In this regard, it is like the awesome mount Sinai in Arabia. There it thundered as it had never thundered before. Lightning flashed all about. There was a dreadful blackness, darkness, tempest, devouring fire, and the earth shook and convulsed under the weight of Divine glory (Ex 19:17-19; Psa 68:8; Heb 12:18). Thousands of angels attended the giving of the Law (Deut 33:2). Yet, with all of that, not one stony heart was removed, and not one heart of flesh was given. Before forty days had passed, the people had ordered that idols be made for them. They bowed down before a golden calf, ascribed their deliverance to it, became drunk, and “rose up to play” (Ex 32:4-8; 1 Cor 10:7). The Law brought out of them that wretchedness inherent in them.
ANSWERETH TO JERUSALEM WHICH NOW IS. Other versions read, “corresponds to Jerusalem which now is,” NKJV “corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem,” NIV “is the image of the Jerusalem which now is,” BBE and “belongs in the same category with the present Jerusalem.” AMPLIFIED The reason for this parallel is stated: “is in bondage with her children.” This is the city in which Jesus was rejected, the people not knowing the time of their visitation (Lk 19:44). It is the city in which a fierce persecution arose against the disciples of Jesus (Acts 8:1).
Yet, in this text, it does not seem to me that the physical city of Jerusalem is the point. Rather, it stands as the place where the Jewish leaders and authorities were in place. Even though Jesus and the apostles had ministered there, and there were thousands of believers there, yet the followers of Christ were apparently in the minority. This is still the city from which the advocates of Law dispensed their dogmas. It is where the ordinances of the Old Covenant were zealously maintained. The Jews who vigorously opposed Paul were “from Jerusalem” (Acts 25:7; 28:17). Bondslaves were still being produced by those who remained zealous for the Law, seeking to establish their own righteousness, and not submitting to the righteousness of God (Rom 10:3). There were still those who sought to bind Jewish observances upon the church – “in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col 2:16-17).
In the case of the Galatian churches, these Jewish zealots were binding circumcision upon them (Gal 5:2-3; 6:12). In doing this, although they boasted of more firmly securing the people to Christ, they were actually bringing them into bondage – bondage to sin, the world, and the devil. Spiritual life simply cannot be promoted by rules. It cannot be worked inside from the outside. Grace does not depend upon disciple, but upon faith, and those who refuse to walk by faith, who promote a life that does not require faith, are in bondage, and are promoting bondage.
JERUSALEM WHICH IS ABOVE IS FREE, AND IS THE MOTHER OF US ALL
4:26 "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”
Paul now draws attention to another Jerusalem – one that is not of this world, nor does it promote things unique to this world. Just as Sinai was a place of origin, so this Jerusalem is where spiritual life is both initiated and fostered.
JERUSALEM WHICH IS ABOVE. Other versions read, “Jerusalem on high,” BBE “the heavenly Jerusalem,” NLT and “the Jerusalem above ( the Messianic kingdom of Christ).” AMPLIFIED The word “above,” as used in this text, is a key word in apostolic doctrine. Jesus ascended “far above all heavens” (Eph 4:10). There are “things above” that are to be sought – things “where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). Our affection is to be set on “things above, not on things on the earth” (Col 3:2). James says that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James1:17). There is also a wisdom that is “from above” (James 3:17).
Elsewhere, this is referred to as “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22). In a special sense, it is also the place of residence for those who have departed from this world – “the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph 3:15). This Jerusalem is in “heaven,” which is the locus of the manner of life of those who are living by faith (Phil 3:20). Their hope is laid up there (Col 1:5), and there they presently have a “better substance” (Heb 10:34). This is the place in which we hold our real citizenship (Phil 3:20).
When we were “quickened” from death “in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), God simultaneously “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6). This is the location of the “Jerusalem which is above.”
IS FREE. Other versions read, “freeborn,” NAB and “she is not a slave to Jewish laws.” LIVING The idea here is that of being born free – being “made free” from the very moment we were “born again” (1 Pet 1:23). This does involve freedom from Jewish laws, but is infinitely larger than that. Those who are set free by Jesus, who is the Administrator of the “Jerusalem that is above,” are “free indeed” (John 8:36). That is, their freedom is not a goal, or something parabolic or euphemistic. They are free from both the guilt of sin and the power of sin. They are free from the dominion of the devil. They have been made free from the clutches of this present evil world. They are free from the dominion of lusts and the dominating influence of the body in which they are housed. They are under no obligation to sin, for sin does not have dominion over them, for they are “under grace,” not law (Rom 6:14-15). The realization of this freedom is through being led by the Spirit, for “if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Gal 5:18).
“The new man” is superior to “the old man,” being “created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4:24). In Christ Jesus the believer is provided a means that is vastly superior to Law, obviating the necessity of the principle of Law. The grace of God, which brings salvation and supercedes law, effectively teaches us “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). That is involved in the freedom to which our text refers.
THE MOTHER OF US ALL. Other versions read, “she is our mother,” NASB and “this is our mother.” IE The “Jerusalem which is above,” or “the heavenly Jerusalem” is the people of God in the aggregate. It is “the city of the living God” (Heb 12:22), the residence of God “through the Spirit” (Eph 2:22), and “the temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16).
If anyone is to be saved, converted, made a new creature, or put into Christ, they must come into involvement with the people of God – His “family” (Eph 3:15), or “household” (Eph 2:19). Whether a person is studying like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27-38), is a ruler who wants to hear the Word of God (Acts 13:7-12), a Gentile seeker from Caesarea (Acts 10:1-6), or a group of women worshipers by a river side (Acts 16:13-15), if they are to be saved, some citizen of the Jerusalem which is above must come into contact with them. She is “the mother of us all.” Some member of this heavenly city has been given to “every man” who entered in through the strait gate, and commenced journeying on the narrow way (1 Cor 3:5).
The point here is that the “household” through whom initial life was realized, injcludes the people who will be used to bring it to maturity. The “mother” not only begets the children, but raises them as well. By Divine intention, the body of Christ is the environment in which spiritual growth is realized (Eph 4:12-15). This is where God dwells (1 Cor 14:25). It is where the required gifts are dispensed (1 Cor 12:1-31). It is where the fulness of Christ is poured forth (Eph 1:23).
The churches in Galatia had been subjected to members of the earthly Jerusalem, which now is, and is in bondage with her children. As a result, they had lost their spiritual freedom, for freedom can neither be appropriated nor maintained independently of Christ and the Gospel. Make no mistake about this, both freedom and bondage are very real conditions, the former being the superior. However, they cannot exist simultaneously in the same people. In order to embrace law, one has to be removed from Him who calls men into the grace of Christ (Gal 1:6). The only way that can happen is to be seduced because of one’s spiritual simplicity.