|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:28-31 The history thus explained is applied. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free. If the privileges of all believers were so great, according to the new covenant, how absurd for the Gentile converts to be under that law, which could not deliver the unbelieving Jews from bondage or condemnation! We should not have found out this allegory in the history of Sarah and Hagar, if it had not been shown to us, yet we cannot doubt it was intended by the Holy Spirit. It is an explanation of the subject, not an argument in proof of it. The two covenants of works and grace, and legal and evangelical professors, are shadowed forth. Works and fruits brought forth in a man's own strength, are legal. But if arising from faith in Christ, they are evangelical. The first covenant spirit is of bondage unto sin and death. The second covenant spirit is of liberty and freedom; not liberty to sin, but in and unto duty. The first is a spirit of persecution; the second is a spirit of love. Let those professors look to it, who have a violent, harsh, imposing spirit, towards the people of God. Yet as Abraham turned aside to Hagar, so it is possible a believer may turn aside in some things to the covenant of works, when through unbelief and neglect of the promise he acts according to the law, in his own strength; or in a way of violence, not of love, towards the brethren. Yet it is not his way, not his spirit to do so; hence he is never at rest, till he returns to his dependence on Christ again. Let us rest our souls on the Scriptures, and by a gospel hope and cheerful obedience, show that our conversation and treasure are indeed in heaven.
Verse 29. - But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit (ἀλλ ὥσπερ τότε ὁ κατὰ σάρκα γεννηθεὶς ἐδίωκε τὸν κατὰ Πνεῦμα). (For the phrase, "after," or "according to, the Spirit," see note on ver. 23.) It must be conceded that the apostle somewhat strains the expression in applying it to the case of Isaac; but he does it for the purpose of exhibiting the manner of his birth as homogeneous with that of his antitypes; for these are they of whom it is the more characteristically true; for they are begotten through the Spirit's agency, into the Spirit's kingdom, to be to the uttermost perfected by the Spirit. The imperfect ἐδίωκε, was persecuting, points to the scene presented to our view in Genesis 21:9, in the midst of which intervenes the injunction," Cast out," etc.; or possibly the apostle regards what then took place as one among other incidents exhibiting the same animus on the part of Ishmael. We cannot doubt that St. Paul points to the word "mocking," which occurs in the passage referred to. At the feast held in honour of Isaac's being weaned, "Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking." The same Hebrew verb is used of insult and disrespect in Genesis 39:14, "He hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us;" so again ver. 17. The Septuagint, as we now have it, instead of "mocking," has παίζοντα μετὰ Ἰσαὰκ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτῆς, "at play with Isaac her son;" which would indicate no unkindness on Ishmael's part, but suggest the idea that Sarah's resentment was simply a movement of jealous feeling, roused by her seeing Ishmael assuming a position of equality with a child of hers. But the apostle disregards this interpretation, if indeed the words, "with Isaac her sons" had already then been interpolated into the passage. As those words are not in the Hebrew, the participles lacking any such explanatory adjunct, would fail of itself to express this idea. It is further rendered improbable by the disparity in age between the two lads; for Isaac, having been just weaned, would be only two or three years old, whilst Ishmael would be sixteen or seventeen. It is much more likely that Ishmael, having arrived at these years, participated in Hagar's feelings of jealousy and disappointment that this child should have come to supersede him in the position which, but for this, he might have held in the family; and that, on the occasion of this "great feast," by which the aged pair were celebrating their pious joy ever this "child of promise" as well as very markedly signalizing his peculiar position as Abraham's heir, the elder-born indulged himself in ill-natured and very possibly profane ridicule of the circumstances under which Isaac was born. Hagar's feelings towards her mistress had of old been those of upstart insubordination (Genesis 16:4). That both mother and son were very greatly in the wrong is evidenced by the sanction which Heaven accorded to the punishment with which they were visited. The critics (see Wetstein) quote the following passage from the rabbinical treatise, 'Bereshith rabb.,' 53, 15. "Rabbi Asaria said: Ishmael said to Isaac, 'Let us go and see our portion in the field;' and Ishmael took bow and arrows, and shot at Isaac, and pretended that he was in sport." St. Paul's view, therefore, of the import of the Hebrew participle rendered "mocking" is corroborated by the rabbinical interpretation of the word - a consideration which in such a case is of no small weight. The particular word, "persecuted," with which the apostle describes Ishmael's behaviour to his half-brother, was, no doubt, like the expression, "born after the Spirit," suggested by the antitypal case to which he is comparing it. But the features justifying its application to Ishmael viewed as typical were these - spiteful jealousy; disregard of the will of God; antipathy to one chosen of God to be Abraham's seed; abuse of superior power. Even so it is now (οὕτω καὶ νῦν); even so he does now. The full sentence represented by this elliptic one is: "even so now does he that is born after the flesh persecute him that is born after the Spirit." This was a fact with which the apostle's experience was but too familiar. In Asia Minor itself, as the Acts abundantly testifies, from city to city had he been dogged by the animosity of the "children of Hagar." No doubt something of this had been witnessed even in the Galatian towns, of the evangelization of which we have no equally full particulars; there, too, we may believe, St. Paul's converts had had to note the abhorrence with which their master was regarded by the adherents of the old religion; and it was natural that this should have a tendency to lessen his hold upon their minds; for were not the Jews the ancient Israel of God, the depositaries of his revelations? Moreover, the hostility which harassed him would also alight more or less upon them as being disciples of his (see Jerusalem that is above; etc. Galatians 6:12, and note). All this might make some of them the more ready to listen to Judaizing suggestions. In this verse, therefore, St. Paul is not merely breathing out a sorrow of his own but is fortifying the Galatian believers against a temptation assaulting themselves.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But as then,.... In the times of Abraham, when Hagar and Sarah, the types of the two dispensations of the covenant, and Ishmael and Isaac, the figures of the two different seeds, the natural and spiritual seed of Abraham, legalists and true believers, were living:
he that was born after the flesh; which was Ishmael, who was a type, or an allegorical representation of such who were under the Sinai covenant, and were seeking for righteousness by the works of the law; as he was born after the flesh, according to the ordinary course of nature, and was, as he was born, a carnal man; so are self-justiciaries, notwithstanding all their pretensions to religion and righteousness, just as they were born; there is nothing but flesh in them; they are without God, and Christ, and the Spirit, and have neither true faith, nor hope, nor love, not any other grace; they have no internal principle of goodness in them; flesh, or corrupt, nature, has the government of them, is the reigning principle in them; their minds are fleshly, and so are their tenets; and such is their conversation, they trust in the flesh, in outward performances, in their own righteousness, and so come under the curse; for as many as trust in an arm of flesh, or are of the works of the law, are under the curse of it:
persecuted him that was born after the Spirit: by whom is meant Isaac, who, though he was not conceived under the overshadowings of the Holy Spirit, without the help of man, as Christ was; yet because of the divine power which was so eminently displayed in his conception and generation, under all the difficulties, and disadvantages, and seeming impossibilities of nature, he is said to be born after the Spirit: and besides, he was also regenerated by the Spirit of God, was a good man, and one that feared the Lord, as the whole account of him shows; and in this also fitly pointed out the spiritual seed, true believers, under the Gospel dispensation, who are born again of water, and of the Spirit, and are renewed in the spirit of their minds; in whom the work of the Spirit is begun, and grace is the governing principle; in whom the Spirit of God dwells and operates; and whose conversation is spiritual, and who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. The persecution of Isaac by Ishmael was by "mocking" him, Genesis 21:9 the Hebrew word there made use of is in allusion to Isaac's name, which signifies "laughter": and Ishmael laughed at him, jeered and derided him. The Jewish doctors are divided about the sense of this: some say that the word rendered "mocking" is expressive of idolatry, according to
Exodus 32:6 and that Ishmael would have taught Isaac, and drawn him into it; others that it signifies uncleanness, according to
Genesis 39:17 and that he talked to him in a lascivious and indecent manner, in order to corrupt his mind: others that it designs murder according to 2 Samuel 2:14 and that he intended to kill him, and attempted it (a); it is pretty much received by them, that either he finding him alone, or they going out to the field together, he took his bow and drew it, and shot an arrow at him, with an intention to kill him (b), though he pretended it was but in play: and one of their writers on the text says (c), that the word used, by gematry, that is, by the arithmetic of the letters, signifies "to slay"; so that this persecution was not by words only, but by deeds: but others (d) of them more rightly think, that it meant a contention about the inheritance, which Sarah's words to Abraham seem to confirm; and that Ishmael claimed the birthright, and despised Isaac as the younger son; insisted upon the right to the inheritance, and mocked at the promise of God, with respect to Isaac; and might threaten what he would do to him, should he claim it thereupon: mocking has been always reckoned a species of persecution; so the Old Testament saints, among other instances of persecution, had trial of "cruel mockings"; thus our Lord was persecuted, and also his apostles
and even so it is now. The carnal Jews, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others, persecuted the spiritual seed that believed in Christ, both by words and deeds; they confiscated their goods, imprisoned their persons, and even put them to death; and the false teachers, though they did not, and could not go such lengths, yet as persons fitly represented by Ishmael, they derided the apostles, and mocked at the doctrines of grace preached by them, and despised those that embraced them; and pleaded that the inheritance belonged to them, upon the foot of the works of the law: and so it is at this day; though there is no persecution of men's persons and estates, yet there never was a greater persecution of the doctrines of grace, and of the righteousness of Christ, and the saints more mocked at and derided for maintaining them; and that by persons just of the same complexion as those in the apostle's time, signified by Ishmael, carnal professors, and self-righteous persons.
(a) Jarchi in Genesis 21.9. Bereshit Rabba, sect. 53. fol. 47. 4. (b) Jarchi & Bereshit Rabba, sect. 53, fol. 47. 4. Pirke Eliezer. c. 30. (c) Baal Hattrim, in loc. (d) Jarchi & Bereshit Rabba, ut supra. (sect. 53, fol. 47. 4.)
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
29. persecuted—Ishmael "mocked" Isaac, which contained in it the germ and spirit of persecution (Ge 21:9). His mocking was probably directed against Isaac's piety and faith in God's promises. Being the older by natural birth, he haughtily prided himself above him that was born by promise: as Cain hated Abel's piety.
him … born after the Spirit—The language, though referring primarily to Isaac, born in a spiritual way (namely, by the promise or word of God, rendered by His Spirit efficient out of the course of nature, in making Sarah fruitful in old age), is so framed as especially to refer to believers justified by Gospel grace through faith, as opposed to carnal men, Judaizers, and legalists.
even so it is now—(Ga 5:11; 6:12, 17; Ac 9:29; 13:45, 49, 50; 14:1, 2, 19; 17:5, 13; 18:5, 6). The Jews persecuted Paul, not for preaching Christianity in opposition to heathenism, but for preaching it as distinct from Judaism. Except in the two cases of Philippi and Ephesus (where the persons beginning the assault were pecuniarily interested in his expulsion), he was nowhere set upon by the Gentiles, unless they were first stirred up by the Jews. The coincidence between Paul's Epistles and Luke's history (the Acts) in this respect, is plainly undesigned, and so a proof of genuineness (see Paley, Horæ Paulinæ).
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