|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:21-27 The difference between believers who rested in Christ only, and those who trusted in the law, is explained by the histories of Isaac and Ishmael. These things are an allegory, wherein, beside the literal and historical sense of the words, the Spirit of God points out something further. Hagar and Sarah were apt emblems of the two different dispensations of the covenant. The heavenly Jerusalem, the true church from above, represented by Sarah, is in a state of freedom, and is the mother of all believers, who are born of the Holy Spirit. They were by regeneration and true faith, made a part of the true seed of Abraham, according to the promise made to him.
Verse 23. - But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh (ἀλλ ὁ μὲν ἐκ τῆς παιδίσκης κατὰ σάρκα γεγέννηται); howbeit the son by the handmaid is shown as born (or, begotten) after the flesh. The ἀλλὰ is strongly adversative; both, indeed, were sons of Abraham, but there was a marked distinction in the way in which they severally came into being. The apostle has evidently in his eye the analogy presented by the natural birth of the Jewish descendants from Abraham, as contrasted with the birth of Abraham's spiritual seed through faith in the promises of the gospel. This point, however, he is content with merely, in vers. 28, 29, glancing at. His main point is the condition of both mother and child in each case, as being either both free or both in bondage. It is not clear whether the apostle by γεγέννηται meant "born" or "begotten," the verb being used in both senses: but neither is it material. The perfect tense of the verb either supposes us to be as it were present at the time of Ishmael's expulsion, in which case it would mean, "hath been born," or is used with reference to the record in the history, meaning in this case "appears in the story as having been born." So the perfect tense is used also in Hebrews 7:6, δεδεκάτωκε, εὐλόγηκε, and Hebrews 10:18, ἐγκεκαίνισται. "According to the flesh" does not precisely mean "in the common course of torture;" the word "flesh" rather contrasts the present visible sphere of human life with the invisible spiritual world, in much the same way as "flesh" is so often contrasted with "spirit." Ishmael was born "after the flesh," because he was born in the common course of nature; Isaac was born (ver. 28) "after the Spirit," because his birth was connected with the invisible spiritual world "through the promise," which on the one A hand was given by God the great Sovereign of the spiritual world, and on the other was laid hold of and made effectual in that same world of spiritual action by Abraham's and Sarah's faith. But he of the freewoman was by promise (ὁ δὲ ἐκ τῆς ἐλευθέρας δὶ [Receptus, διὰ τῆς] ἐπαγγελίας); but the son by the freewoman through a promise (or, through the promise). If the article before ἐπαγγελίας be retained, it is to be taken as pointing to the well-known promise made by the Lord to Abraham, both in the night in which God made a covenant with him (Genesis 15.). and afresh, in a more definite form, on the eve of the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18.). This promise was the means of Isaac's being born, calling forth as it did an acting of faith in God, both in Abraham (Romans 4:17-21), and likewise in Sarah (Hebrews 11:11), in consideration of which the Almighty beyond the course of nature gave them this child.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But he who was of the bondwoman,.... Ishmael, who was begotten and born of Hagar,
was born after the flesh; after the common order and course of nature, through the copulation of two persons, the one able to procreate, and the other fit for the conception of children; and was typical of the Jews, the natural descendants of Abraham, who, as such, and upon that account, were not the children of God, nor heirs of the eternal inheritance:
but he of the free woman was by promise; by a previous promise made by God to Abraham, that he should have a son in his old age, when his body was now dead, and when Sarah his wife, who had always been barren, was now grown old, and past the time of bearing children; so that Isaac was born out of the common order and course of nature; his conception and birth were owing to the promise and power of God, and to his free grace and favour to Abraham. This son of promise was a type of the spiritual seed of Abraham, whether Jews or Gentiles, the children of the promise that are counted for the seed; who are born again of the will, power, and grace of God, and are heirs, according to the promise, both of grace and glory, when they that are of the law, and the works of it, are not. All which is further illustrated in the following verses.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
23. after the flesh—born according to the usual course of nature: in contrast to Isaac, who was born "by virtue of the promise" (so the Greek), as the efficient cause of Sarah's becoming pregnant out of the course of nature (Ro 4:19). Abraham was to lay aside all confidence in the flesh (after which Ishmael was born), and to live by faith alone in the promise (according to which Isaac was miraculously born, contrary to all calculations of flesh and blood).
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