Last time we closed out the first major section of admonition and today we begin the second section, an appeal to action. This appeal will be against both Legalism and Libertinism, and to begin we will remind ourselves of Sha’ul’s central argument.
(2:16) “Yet we know that a person is set right not by deeds based on Torah, but rather through … [the faithfulness of Messiah Yeshua]. So even we have put our trust in Messiah Yeshua, in order that we might be set right based on trust in Messiah and not by deeds based on Torah—because no human will be justified by deeds based on Torah.”[i]
[Read Gal. 4:12-31]
(Vs. 12-16) Sha’ul pleads with the congregations in Galatia, to follow his example. One of the most powerful witnessing tools is the testimony of our life in Messiah. It has been said, “Preach the Good News, using words when necessary.” Sha’ul uses this same call to the congregations in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:1), Ephesus (Eph. 5:1) and Thessalonica (1 Thes. 1:6) where he called people to imitate him, just as he also imitates Messiah, Yeshua. This goes back to all the times that Yeshua said, “Follow Me.”[ii] I used to ask myself all the time, “What is my calling?” Is there anyone else who has done this? Sha’ul will later write to the congregation in Philippi, [Phil. 3:13-14] “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself as having taken hold of this. But this one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the reward of the upward calling of God in Messiah Yeshua.” The appeal to his “brothers and sisters” in Galatia is to remember how they had first followed and treated him. This shared memory, makes the question of Sha’ul even more poignant, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?!”
(Vs. 17-19) It is not wrong to follow people, but make sure that their motives are pure! This goes for me and any other religious leader. It goes for politicians, sports heroes, movie heroes, and anyone else who is trying to gain your attention and affection. I have heard Scott Brown say on several occasions that, “Every action will be judged by its motives.” In Proverbs 27:5-6 Solomon writes, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but excessive the kisses of an enemy.” Just because something hurts, does not automatically mean that it is bad, and just because something feels nice and enjoyable, does not mean that it is good!
(Vs. 20) Before we go on to the Midrash on Abraham’s two sons, I want to cover Social Media. Sha’ul writes, “I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, for I don’t know what to make of you.” When we attempt to express ourselves in writing, especially in less than 120 word, the one thing that is not expressed is tone. Be aware, whenever you discuss things online, that the other person will always hear their own tone, and their own emotions will always color your words as they read. Social Media is a powerful platform, but go to extra lengths to express not just what you are saying, but the emotions behind it. I’ll bet you did realize how relevant the Bible is to our times. ?
(Vs. 21-23) Sha’ul will now make a midrash on the two sons of Abraham. Hebrew Midrash means “study, interpretation” and comes from the root “to search.” David Stern points out that the goal of a midrash is to bring “out ethical and devotional aspects of the Bible, by sometimes drawing out and applying what is manifestly there, and sometimes imposing meanings on the test, although the norm in Judaism is not to make a midrash that violates the p’shat (simple sense) of the text.”[iii]
No doubt, the Judaizers used Abraham, Sarah and other parts of the Sinai Covenant to make their case.[iv] Their claim would have been that they were following the Abrahamic Covenant, that Sha’ul was not, and that if the Galatians wanted to be fully accepted by Adonai, then they would have to become Jewish. What Sha’ul does in this passage, is flip the argument on its head. Even though the Judaizers could claim to be physical decedents of Sarah and Abraham, Sha’ul points out that they are spiritual descendants of Hagar.[v] Their claim is based on the flesh and not based on the promise of God.
(Vs. 24-31) The midrash or allegory really begins in vs. 24 where Sha’ul equates the two sons of Abraham to two types of talmidim (disciples).[vi] Joseph Shulam points out that this comparison of the two sons is not just an “exegetical type but … an example of conduct.”[vii] This makes this comparison very similar to the Prophets Ezekiel (ch. 23,34) and Hosea (ch. 1-2) as well as similar to the Qumran documents.[viii] It is important to note that nothing derogatory was ever said in Scripture about Hagar, only that she was a slave woman. This was her state of being and not something that made her less valuable as a person. I bring this up because this comparison of the Mosaic Covenant with Hagar has to do with the issue of slavery and not of value. In a recent debate with Dr. Michael Brown, Rabbi Shmulli Boteach pointed to this passage as being Anti-Semitic, however, Dr. Michael Brown pointed out that this is no more Anti-Semitic than the prophet Isaiah, or Ezekiel, or Jeremiah. The prophets always pointed out the sin of the nation and of the leaders, and that is exactly what Sha’ul is pointing out here. The reality of the Mosaic Covenant, is that no one, no matter how good is truly able to keep all the commandments from the heart. This is the biggest problem with attempting to live under legalism. We always end up thinking that we are better than most, and we compare ourselves to each other. Sha’ul writes to the congregation in Corinth, “For we do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of these who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they have no understanding.” (2 Cor. 10:12)
Sha’ul started this section by asking, “Tell me, you who want to be in subjection to the system that results from perverting the Torah into legalism, don’t you hear what the Torah itself says?” (CJB) Do we want to receive the Justice of God, or His Mercy? We are called into the promise of the New Covenant. All of us are called into the Freedom that Messiah gives.
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[ii] Yeshua always called people into discipleship by saying, “Follow Me.” Some examples are: Matt. 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21, 19:28, Mark 1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21, Luke 5:27, 9:23, 9:59, 14:27, John 1:43, 8:12, 12:26, 13:36, 21:19, 21:22
[iii] The Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern, pg. 559.
[iv] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 11, Robert Rapa, pg. 615.
[v] Stern, Pg. 559.
[vi] A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Galatians, Hilary Le Cornu with Joseph Shulam, pg. 303.
[viii] Ibid, pg. 304 in referencing Flusser, Pharisees.