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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS - Chapter 4 - Verse 21

Verse 21. Tell me, etc. In order to show fully the nature and the effect of the law, Paul here introduces an illustration from an important fact in the Jewish history. This allegory has given great perplexity to expositors, and, in some respects, it is attended with real difficulty. An examination of the difficulties will be found in the larger commentaries. My object, without examining the expositions which have been proposed, will be to state, in as few words as possible, the simple meaning and design of the allegory. The design it is not difficult to understand. It is to show the effect of being under the bondage or servitude of the Jewish law, compared with the freedom which the gospel imparts. Paul had addressed the Galatians as having a real desire to be under bondage, or to be servants. See Barnes "Ga 4:9".

He had represented Christianity as a state of freedom, and Christians as the sons of God—not servants, but freemen. To show the difference of the two conditions, he appeals to two cases which would furnish a striking illustration of them. The one was the case of Hagar and her son. The effect of bondage was well illustrated there. She and her son were treated with severity, and were cast out and persecuted. This was a fair illustration of bondage under the law; of the servitude to the laws of Moses; and was a fit representation of Jerusalem as it was in the time of Paul. The other case was that of Isaac. He was the son of a free woman, and was treated accordingly. He was regarded as a son—not as a servant. And he was a fair illustration of the case of those who were made free by the gospel. They enjoyed a similar freedom and sonship, and should not seek a state of servitude or bondage. The condition of Isaac was a fit illustration of the New Jerusalem; the heavenly city; the true kingdom of God. But Paul does not mean to say, as I suppose, that the history of the son of Hagar, and of the son of Rebecca, was mere allegory, or that the narrative by Moses was designed to represent the different condition of those who were under the law and under the gospel, He uses it simply as showing the difference between servitude and freedom, and as a striking ILLUSTRATION of the nature of the bondage to the Jewish law, and of the freedom of the gospel, just as any one may use a striking historical fact to illustrate a principle. These general remarks will constitute the basis of my interpretation of this celebrated allegory. The expression "tell me," is one of affectionate remonstrance and reasoning. See Lu 7:42: "Tell me, therefore, which of these will love him most?" Comp. Isa 1:18: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord."

Ye that desire to be under the law. See Barnes "Ga 4:9".

You who wish to yield obedience to the laws of Moses. You who maintain that conformity to those laws is necessary to justification.

Do ye not hear the law? Do you not understand what the law says? Will you not listen to its own admonitions, and the instruction which may be derived from the law on the subject? The word "law" here refers not to the commands that were uttered on Mount Sinai, but to the book of the law. The passage to which reference is made is in the book of Genesis; but all the five books of Moses were by the Jews classed under the general name of the law. See Barnes "Lu 24:44".

The sense is, "Will you not listen to a narrative found in one of the books of the law itself, fully illustrating the nature of that servitude which you wish?"

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