1a) Gal 4:3, When we were children we were in bondage under the elements of the world;
1b) Gal 4:4-5, God sent His Son to redeem us that we might be adopted as sons;
central axis) Gal 4:6, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”;
2b) Gal 4:7, You are no longer a slave but a son and an heir of God through Christ;
2a) Gal 4:8-10, When you did not know God, you served those which are not gods but weak + beggarly elements.
Paul is continuing his analogy from the previous chapter, comparing the Law to a child’s tutor. The Law was Israel’s guardian and steward, until the time appointed by the Father, when Jesus came.
Our redemption that Jesus accomplished for us, is that because we had transgressed the Law, we were under a sentence of death. Christ redeemed us from death. The blood of the Lamb has been brushed over the doorposts of our heart, and the angel of death has passed us over. Now that we have been redeemed, God has adopted us as sons, and as proof that He has adopted us, He has given us the Holy Spirit. This fulfills the prophecy we have been quoting from Ezekiel:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” Eze 36:26-27
Our obedience, now that we are heirs come fully into the inheritance, comes from the Spirit within our hearts. We want to obey, we are no longer compelled to obey by guardians (the Law written on tablets of stone) as if we were children.
On the surface, verse 10 seems to be a scathing indictment against observing Sabbath or any holy day (some semi- Christian sects such as Jehovah’s Witness observe no holidays at all based on misunderstanding verses like this one). But remember our guiding principle of Scripture interpretation: if it contradicts clear Scripture elsewhere, then we know we do not have the correct interpretation. Because we know what the rest of the Scripture says, we know that Paul is not saying, that because you observe the Sabbath day, you are in bondage to weak and beggarly elements of the world. He observed the Sabbath himself!
The reference in my Bible refers me to Col 2:20-23 as a Scripture on the same topic as this one.
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations– Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, which all concern things which perish with the using– according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self- imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Col 2:20-23
The weak and worthless elemental things in Galatians, the elements of the world that bring into bondage (Gal 4:3, 4:9), is the same thing that Paul is referring to in Colossians, the principles of the world, which are the regulations of the world, and the commandments and doctrines of men. The Colossians were mixing paganism with their faith, and the days they were observing were pagan days: Sun Day, Moon Day, etc. – the days honoring the elements of the world.
But Jesus also butted heads continually with the Jews about whether He was going to adhere to the traditions and doctrines of men. Do not mix meat and dairy is a commandment of men which is not in the Torah. The commands in the Torah are not the commandments and traditions of men, but they are the commandments and doctrines of the LORD.
In the case of the Colossians, the elements of the world were the traditions of paganism. In the case of the Galatians, the elements of the world were the traditions of Judaism — let us remember that Paul’s letter to the Galatians is in response to the “circumcision party” trying to impose another gospel on the church at Galatia; a gospel of works and not faith for salvation — works which probably also included the traditions of men which Pharisees and teachers of the Law had added to the commandments of Torah. When we remember that, Paul’s distress over the Galatians becoming enslaved to the commands and doctrines of men is understandable.
In the Torah, the LORD says, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you,” (Deu 4:2). He didn’t want the traditions and commandments of men added to His commandments, because then the commandments would be burdensome. His Commandments number Ten. His yoke is easy, and His burden, light.
1a) Gal 4:11, I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain;
1b) Gal 4:12-15, Galatians zealous for Paul;
central axis) Gal 4:16, Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?;
2b) Gal 4:1-18, False teachers zealously court you but not for your good;
2a) Gal 4:19-20, My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you/ I have doubts about you.
Who is zealously courting the Galatians, so that they might exclude them? The circumcision party. They want the Gentiles to be zealous for the circumcision party, to hang on their words, to follow their teaching. The Gentiles were being zealously courted so that the circumcision party could gain a large following of converts and become important.
But Paul says they are doing it so that the Gentiles might be excluded. In other words, the circumcision party was wanting to be exalted as Jews and God’s Chosen People, something the Gentiles could never attain to, something the Gentiles would always be excluded from being. We have seen before how this branch of Judaism was at loggerheads with Jesus, and at loggerheads with Paul and the apostles. They were also at loggerheads with the Torah, because the Torah says in multiple places, that any Gentile who attaches himself to Israel’s God is to be treated as one who is native born (Exo 12:49, Num 15:29-30, Eze 47:22). He is to be fully included, not excluded.
So all of that is to say, that what Paul was in distress, that his labor had been in vain, was that the Galatians were returning to a religion of man (talmudic judaism) which depended on the works of self- righteousness and obedience to commandments to be saved, rather than the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
1a) Gal 4:21-22, Do you not hear the Law? Abraham’s two sons, one of the bondwoman, one of the freewoman;
1b) Gal 4:23 He who was of the bondwoman was born of the flesh, and he of the freewoman of the promise;
central axis) Gal 4:24-27, Two covenants: Mount Sinai/ Hagar/ bondage vs. Jerusalem above/ our mother/ freedom;
2b) Gal 4:28-29, He who was born according to the flesh / he who was born according to the Spirit;
2a) Gal 4:30-31, What does the Scripture say? Bondwoman’s son shall not be the heir with the freewoman’s son.
Paul is reiterating the point he has already made: that what is in opposition to each other is not obedience vs. faith, but the flesh vs. the Spirit, or the promise. When he says that Mount Sinai gives birth to bondage, I am convinced that he means as he has meant elsewhere in Galatians: that to try to obey the Law out of the flesh, without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is a heavy burden and bondage. He is not telling those with the Spirit to cease obeying, but to cease trying to gain righteousness or justification under the Law instead of under grace, under the blood of Jesus.
1a) Gal 4:28, We are children of the promise as Isaac was;
1b) Gal 4:29, He who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit;
central axis) Gal 4:30a, Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son;
2b) Gal 4:30b, The son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman;
2a) Gal 4:31, We are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.
The Torah portion that Paul quotes here is prophetic (all the Torah is history which prophesies of Messiah and the gospel of grace!): the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. No one who tries to establish their own righteousness based on their works of obedience to the Law shall inherit the promise of Abraham. But only those who receive righteousness by the promise, shall be heirs.
And we who believe in Jesus Christ are not children of the bondwoman but of the freewoman, if in fact we have placed our faith in Him for righteousness, and not in our obedience. ? But because we place our faith in Him, we do not throw obedience out of the window! We become a member of the household of faith, by faith, under the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, but as good children, now that we are members, we obey the rules of the house, which are not burdensome for us if we love our Father! Historical Christianity equally emphasized the same thing that Paul emphasizes: that two verbs sum up our faith: trust and obey! It is only modern Christianity which has thrown out the obey part and made Christianity about trust alone, which is a perversion of Scripture!