COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 43
Gal 4:27 “For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. 29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. ”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(Gal 4:27-29)
MANY MORE CHILDREN
Divine history is an intended template for the future. It is not perfect in all of its details, and is not meant to be. However, the principle things that are to be known concerning the working of the Lord have been exhibited in the history of God working with people – particularly with Abraham and his progeny. All of this presupposes a plan that was made before the world began, which doctrine is taught in Scripture. It also postulates the sovereignty of God to carry out His purpose to the finest detail, doing whatever is necessary for its implementation. This may involve great deliverances, staggering curses, changing the hearts of kings, and imparting supernatural abilities. It may require the frustration of human intentions, the voiding of human wisdom, and the imposition of His will upon men. In order for texts like this to be projections of the will and purpose of God, God’s will must be the preeminent will – the dominating will – the will that cannot be controverted. This is God’s will from the standpoint of Divine purpose and determination. A failure to understand these matters makes the satisfactory comprehension of salvation impossible, and casts one back upon the principle of law. Furthermore, when men prefer Law to grace, and works to faith, those preferences hide the truth of God. His purpose becomes obscure. His sovereignty can no longer be seen, and the intent and consummation of salvation is intentionally hidden from them. Paul is now uncovering the gems of truth that have been hidden by an erroneous emphasis on Law and works. When what men are to do becomes the thrust of preaching, a fog falls upon what God has done – and that noble work will not be seen until the fog is lifted, and faith takes hold of what God has revealed about Himself, His Son, and His great salvation. As simplistic as that may appear, we are living in days when this is not known, The ignorance that has been produced is the cause for false prophets rising up. As a result, religious people are being exploited, and sin has become more prominent.
THE BARREN HAS MORE CHILDREN
Gal 4:27 “For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.”
Paul is now expounding the absolute unreasonableness of any person in Christ returning to the principle of law to gain Divine acceptance. It is an inexcusable retrogression, and cannot be justified. It can be explained, but an explanation is not what is needed. Such a backward stance must be abandoned, with no attempt to lessen its seriousness by explication.
IT IS WRITTEN. This phrase occurs 26 times in the Gospels, and 37 times from Acts through First Peter. In the Gospels it always refers to the writings of Moses and the Prophets, generally substantiating that Jesus was the Christ. In Acts through First Peter, it is always used to confirm that what was being written was foretold and supported by the declarations of Moses and the Prophets. In every case “it is written” contributes to sound kingdom thinking and reasoning. The phrase “it is written” never refers to the writings of heathen men, worldly philosophers, or the wise men of the world. It always refers to writings inspired by God.
REJOICE THOU BARREN. This is a quotation of Isaiah 54:1, which immediately follows the great Messianic 53rd chapter of Isaiah. In Isaiah 54, the grand effects of Christ’s vicarious death are chronicled. Other versions read, “Rejoice you childless one, you who bear no children.” NRSV and “Rejoice, O barren woman, who has not given birth to children.” AMPLIFIED
Paul is applying the words of Isaiah 54 to “the mother of us all,” which is the Jerusalem “which is above” (Gal 4:26). Isaiah applies it to the Lord Jesus Himself, who had no generation, being “cut off” without begetting any seed (Isa 53:8). If there was no hope in the flesh of Abraham having any offspring, there is even less hope of Jesus having any fleshly offspring.
BREAK FORTH AND CRY. The Amplified Bible reads, “break forth into a joyful shout, you who are not feeling birth pangs.” The idea is that though nature could not produce children of God, yet the shout of joy would come from “the mother of us all,” even though she did not have earthly birth pangs. The children that would be born would not always experience physical deliverances like Israel did. The begetting of these spiritual children would not be the product of worldly wisdom or planning. Jerusalem which is above would experience joy and rejoicing greater than was experienced by those under the Law. It would be a transcendent joy.
THE DESOLATE HATH MORE CHILDREN. Abraham had Isaac when he was hundred years old and Sarah ninety. Jesus died when he was thirty-three, and never was married. Yet, as Isaiah prophesied, he beget more children than the married. The point here is that the children given to Christ would be infinitely more in number than those which were under the first covenant. They would come from “all families of the earth” (Gen 12:3), and “all the nations of the earth” (Gen 18:18).
The outcome of Jesus’ death would call for the enlarging of the tent of occupancy: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (Isa 54:2). Exponential enlargement would take place: “For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (Isa 54:3).
From the standpoint of Israel, her tree would be greatly enlarged and enhanced by the grafting in of branches from the wild olive tree. As it is written, “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree . . .” (Rom 11:17). Thus sudden and exponential growth was not accompanied by the travail of the flesh – yet it yielded more increase than is possible in the flesh.
The family of Abraham, according to the flesh, is large, for he is “a father of many nations” (Gen 17:4-5). But what is that when compared with “the nations of them that are saved” (Rev 21:24). Jerusalem which is above has brought forth children in staggering numbers from all nations, and throughout many generations. The original tent of the children of Abraham, or the people of God, could not contain them all – it had to be enlarged.
One of the remarkable traits of this spiritual family is stated in the eighth verse of Isaiah 54: “And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isa 54:13). The Amplified Bible reads, “And all your [spiritual] children shall be disciples [taught by the Lord and obedient to His will], and great shall be the peace and undisturbed composure of your children.” In the flesh, the largeness of a family diminishes the amount of personal attention that can be given to any single child. However this is not the case with the family of God.
Paul does not have to quote all of Isaiah’s text, for he assumes the people are familiar with the text of Scripture – something that cannot be assumed in our day. The point Paul is making is that the Galatians had left a larger and more blessed family to once again be tutored and directed by Law rather than grace – a system that was not tailored for productive learning.
THE CHILDREN OF PROMISE
4:28 “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.”
NOW. Other versions read, “and,” NASB “But,” DARBY “Therefore,” GENEVA and “So.” ISV The word “now” is translated from a word that grammatically is “a primary particle (adversative or continuative.”An “adversative” is a word expressing antithesis or opposition. A “continuative” is an expression that is a continuation of a thought. Both of these views apply to this text. The contrast is between those who are born of the bondmaid, and those born of the freewoman. The continuation is of the thought of freedom: “Jerusalem which is above is free.”
WE. “We, brethren.” Other versions read, “you brethren,” NASB “you, my friends,” NRSV and “you, brothers and sisters.” GWN The word “we” or “us” is in the Greek text (h`mei/j), which has the following meaning: “a reference to the speaker or writer and those associated with him or her, either including or excluding the audience.” LOUW-NIDA
This is not a generic address, but one that is very specific. The term “brethren” denotes all who are born from above, whose mother is the Jerusalem that is above. The expression does not suggest that everyone hearing this epistle are in that category, as some suppose. But those with ears to hear will hear it. You might say that every epistle is attended by this perspective: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches” (Rev 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). By saying “we” Paul is addressing those who have been born as he was – of the freewoman. Those who are not in this category will place no value on his words.
It is often said that churches noted for their carnality were addressed as saints – i.e. First Corinthians 1:2 and 3:1-3. However, it is interesting to note that Paul says they were “called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2), but they were “carnal” (1 Cor 3:3). In his letter to the Galatians, the word “saints” is never used. He simply addresses them as “the churches of Galatia” (Gal 1:2). He specifically refers to the brethren in Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae as “saints” (Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:2). His letter to the Roman church was addressed to “beloved of God, called to be saints,” whose faith was “spoken of throughout the while world” (Rom 1:7). This does not mean that every person in the churches of Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae were in that category. It does mean that he was addressing all who were so described.
AS ISAAC WAS. Isaac is the son who was born of the “freewoman” – even though Paul does not expressly say so. In fact, this verse is the only place in all of Galatians where “Isaac” is mentioned by name. “Sarah” is only mentioned three times in the New Covenant writings. The promise that she would “have a son” (Rom 9:9). The fact that by faith she “received strength to conceive seed” (Heb 11:11), and “obeyed Abraham.” Isaac is mentioned twenty times from Matthew through Revelation, but a point is never made of the fact that he was Sarah’s son.
What does all of this indicate? It shows that apostolic writings to the churches assume their familiarity with the Scriptures – else language like that of our text would have no meaning. It is not a stretch of the imagination to say there are countless numbers of professing Christians who have no clear ideas about Isaac and his mother Sarah. Such a condition can in no way be justified.
THE CHILDREN OF PROMISE. The ONLY reason Isaac was born was because God promised He would be born! Were it not for Divine intervention in the affairs of men, he never would have been born. If Abraham was not miraculously given the ability to beget children, and if Sarah was not given strength to conceive seed, there is no way that Isaac could have been born. Who does not know that this is the case?
And yet, what is the correlation of that reality with the children of Jerusalem that is above? It is this – that God was instrumental in their begetting and birth because He had promised the enlargement of the Abrahamic tent. The existence of the children of God is owing to the fact that He promised Jesus would have seed, and His generation would be declared. This is why Peter referred to those in Christ as “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet 1:2). Just as surely as Isaac was born because God said He would be, those “whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.” “Moreover whom He did predestinate He also called, and whom He called, them He also justified” (Rom 8:29-30).
Men haggle about this matter, but in the end, it will be shown that all believers in Christ have been “created in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:10), just as surely as Isaac was created in the womb of Sarah. They participated in a new kind of birth, like Isaac did – the first child to be born miraculously. They were created “free” like Isaac was – with a new heart and spirit (Ezek 36:26), according to the word of promise. Their hearts were circumcised because God said they would be (Deut 30:6).
Under such glorious circumstances, what legitimate reason can be adduced for returning to Law, or having false teachers lead the people into the very bondage from which they had once been delivered? This is a delusion of such proportions that it is staggering to consider it. Those who have tasted of such bondage know that within it there is no confidence of being joined to the Lord, or assurance that the race can be finished. Yet, those who spout Law and hawk routines are growing more and more popular. We are, indeed, in the midst of a great falling away!
THE INEVITABILITY OF PERSECUTION
4:29 "But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.”
BUT. This word introduces something that some in their naivete ignore, imagining that all goes well with those whose spiritual mother begat them in freedom. We can learn from this that spiritual thinking and reasoning is integral to spiritual life. An intellectually simplistic approach to walking in the Spirit is certainly not from God. Further, juvenile sermons, books, and singing, is a reproach to the God of salvation. Behold the reasoning now set before us.
EVEN AS THEN. This refers to a time when the son of the bondwoman and the son of the freewoman were together in the same house. Those who were unfamiliar with Scripture would have no idea of the ones to whom this refers.
HE THAT WAS BORN AFTER THE FLESH. This was Ishmael, the son of Hagar. He was the result of human ingenuity and wisdom. In him we see that the flesh cannot produce anything good in the eyes of the Lord. By way of comparison, Isaac was not “born of the flesh” – even though his actual birth was no different than others. It was his begetting by Abraham and conception by Sarah that were miraculous. The birth was miraculous in the sense of it being impossible according to the laws of nature.
Anything that is “after the flesh” is unacceptable to God – anything! Jesus denounced those who judged “after the flesh” (John 8:15). Those who are born from above “walk not after the flesh” (Rom 8:1,4). Those who are “after the flesh mind the things of the flesh,” dwelling upon them (Rom 8:5). Candidly we are told, “if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die” (Rom 8:13). It is also written that “we do not war after the flesh” (2 Cor 10:3).
PERSECUTED HE THAT WAS BORN AFTER THE SPIRIT. Here again, Paul assumes the people know the Scriptures. If they do not, they will not have the faintest idea what he is talking about. And what did the one “born after the flesh” do? The record of the fact to which Paul alludes did not stretch over a lengthy period of time. Only a single reference is provided by Moses. Paul does not identify the person who was “born after the flesh,” although there can be no doubt that it was Ishmael, who was the son of the “bondmaid” Paul mentioned previously.
The persecution to which Paul refers is recorded in Genesis 21:9: “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking” (Gen 21:9). Other versions read “scoffing,” NKJV “playing with,” NRSV “making fun of,” CJB “laughing,” ESV and “making sport.” JPS The term “mocking” means to laugh and make fun of someone. Derision is involved, as though the person being mocked was inferior to the one doing the mocking.
EVEN SO IT IS NOW. Other versions read, “It is the same now,” NIV “so it is now also,” NRSV and “That's exactly what's happening now.” GWN Both Ishmael and Isaac were born before the Law. Since their births over four thousand years have passed (500 more before the law, 1,500 years from the Law until Christ, and over 2000 years since Christ). Yet in all of that time, “the flesh” has not changed. Time did not change it. The Ten Commandments did not change it. The Old Covenant did not change it. The ministry of John the Baptist did not change it. The ministry of Jesus did not change it. The New Covenant did not change it. The apostles’ doctrine did not change it. Wherever it is found, within the flesh “dwells no good thing” (Rom 7:18).
Not only does the one born after the flesh possess a different nature than he that is born after the Spirit, it has an adversarial nature toward those who are children of promise. Further, those which have a propensity toward Law are firmly set against those who live under grace. It is their nature to mock, scoff, ridicule, oppose, and fight against them. They cannot help themselves. That is simply the way they are. This by no means excuses them, as will be confirmed in the verses that follow this passage. The mocking and persecution of the people of God is never taken lightly in heaven.
You may recall that when Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the church, he was not regarded as their friend. When Jesus sent Ananias to Saul to direct him, Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name” (Acts 9:13-14). His fears were allayed only when Jesus told him Saul was a “chosen vessel unto Him” (Acts 9:15). He seemed to sense this would bring an end to Saul’s persecution of the church – and it did. Until that revelation was given, however, the saints were not naive about Saul of Tarsus.
The particular point that Paul is making is that the teachers who have led them astray were “after the flesh.” Their assault on their faith by the promotion of the Law, and their opposition to himself, were actually persecution. It was not something innocent, nor were they to be viewed as good people who simply had some different ideas. They were enemies, and their hostility was unbridled. As they were, there was no place for them in the body of Christ, just as there was no place for Ishmael in the house of Abraham. Paul’s teaching on this matter will be very strong, and that is because the results yielded by these teachers in Galatia were totally unacceptable.