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Read Introduction to Galatians
 

“…which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:
“Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband”
 

 
4:24
which things are symbolic.
 
Paul uses an historical situation to illustrate the superiority of grace over legalism. Although the Greek word for “are symbolic” is the term for allegory, this is not an allegory in the sense of hiding a truth behind fiction. We can translate this phrase as “which contain an allegory” [NASB]. Paul uses the actual history of Sarah and Hagar as an illustration allegorically. He does not interpret Genesis 16-21 allegorically. He carefully connects these women with an interpretation that is true to the facts of Scripture.
 
The word “which” means which class of things. Therefore, we can take these things in principle and can apply it to our lives today.
For these are the two covenants:
Hagar, the slave, represents the Mosaic covenant – the Law. Sarah represents the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of promise. The Abrahamic covenant was an unconditional promise. The responsibility to fulfill that covenant rested entirely on God, not on Abraham.
Paul already made the point that the purpose of the Law is to demonstrate our need for a Savior (Galatians 3:10). It is not a system of salvation or sanctification.
the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—
Paul uses the situation of the birth of the two sons of Abraham as a “symbolic” illustration of the contrast between law and grace. He turns an historical situation into an illustration. In the illustration Hagar, as a slave, represents the law. Sarah, as free, represents grace.
Legalists appeal to the Mosaic covenant. Grace oriented people appeal to the promise of grace in the Abrahamic covenant.
4:25
for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—
Paul introduces another corresponding metaphor – the contrast between the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem. The word “corresponds” is literally to stand in the same rank with. The Jerusalem that “now is” is the Jerusalem of Paul’s day. “Mount Sinai” is the location where Moses received the Law. Both the Jerusalem of Paul’s day and Mount Sinai stand in the same rank with legalism.
4:26
but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.
True believers are children of “the Jerusalem above” and this Jerusalem is “free.” We do not gain God’s favor by merit; we receive God’s grace freely (Galatians 5:1; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Freedom is the mother of grace. Salvation and sanctification are free because of the finished work of Christ on the cross.
4:27
For it is written:
“Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband.”
This verse is a quotation from Isaiah 54:1, which is a prophecy of the future of Israel. The quote speaks of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Israel was like married woman without children. The woman with “many more children” is Israel restored to the land especially during the Millennium when Christ will reign on earth. Christians operate in the new Jerusalem by grace, not works. Whether in the new Jerusalem in heaven or in the restored Jerusalem in the Millennium, Christians reside there by grace.
Principle:
The best way to interpret Scripture is by the normal method we interpret any other literature, and by this we find the principle of grace.
Application:
The best way to interpret Scripture is to take it in its normal sense. The allegorical method of interpreting Scripture regards the normal sense of Scripture as secondary to the spiritual idea. However, the problem with this method is that objective data does not govern interpretation but someone’s view of what is “spiritual” about the passage governs the understanding. The interpreter’s understanding of what is the spiritual meaning becomes the determining idea of the passage, making the passage subject to personal opinion. Allegorical interpretation is subjective, whereas normal interpretation is more objective.
There is a difference between the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture and using allegory as a teaching tool. The allegorical method alters the normal meaning of the passage to jump to the spiritual meaning. Sound interpretation always gives due consideration to history, grammar, occasion, context, etc. Biblical allegory always seeks clarification of truth. It also seeks to apply truth to experience.
All this shows that whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, God always deals with us in grace.
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