Gal 4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman and the other by a free woman.
Abraham had two sons. Ishmael, by his handmaiden, Hagar, who was, therefore, but a wife of secondary rank; and Isaac, by Sarah, his wife of honour. The latter was his heir; the former received such gifts as the father chose to give him. Cf. Gen 25:5, 6.
Gal 4:23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh: but he of the free woman was by promise.
He who was of the bondwoman. Ishmael was born according to the laws of natural generation, by which Abraham, though an old man, was able to raise up seed from his youthful bondwoman, Hagar.
He of the freewoman was by promise. Isaac was not born according to the usual laws of generation, for Sarah, his mother, was then sterile by age, so that Abraham could not in the order of nature beget a son by her. He was born by promise, i.e., by the supernatural power of God, in fulfilment of the promise made to Abraham.
Gal 4:24 Which things are said by an allegory. For these are the two testaments. The one from Mount Sinai, engendering unto bondage, which is Agar (i.e., Hagar).
Which things are said by an allegory. An allegory with rhetoricians is a continued metaphor. With ecclesiastical writers it is identical with a type or figure in which things and events of the Old Testament represented their parallels in the New.
For these are the two testaments. Sarah and Hagar signify respectively the two covenants, the New and the Old. There are four senses of Scripture: (1.) The literal, as e.g., when it is said that Abraham begat Ishmael of Hagar naturally, and Isaac of Sarah supernaturally; (2.) the allegorical, as when it is said, “These are the two testaments;” (3.) the tropological, of which we find an example in verse 29; (4.) the anagogical, which is used in verse 26.
The first covenant referred to here is that made by God with Moses on Mount Sinai, in which God promised to be the God of the Hebrews, and to give them the land of Canaan, and the Hebrews on their part promised to keep the law of their God, whether moral, judicial, or ceremonial. The second covenant is that made with Christ and Christians at Jerusalem, in which God promised to be the God of the Christians, and to give them a heavenly inheritance; and the Christians on their part promised by Christ and His Apostles to preserve the faith of Christ, and to obey His precepts. This latter appears throughout the Gospels, and especially in the record of the Last Supper, given by S. John in chap. xiii. et seq. There Christ confirmed this covenant in His own blood, as is narrated by SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul.
The one from the Mount Sinai. The Old Covenant, given from Mount Sinai, made slaves of the Jews, by bringing them under the shadows of burdensome ceremonies, obliging them to obedience under fear of punishment, or by the promise of earthly goods, such as abundance of corn and wine and oil.
Which is Agar. Hagar the slave typifies the covenant of slavery.
Gal 4:25 For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, which hath affinity to that Jerusalem which now is: and is in bondage with her children.
For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia. Mount Sinai was called Hagar by the Arabs, according to Chrysostom and others. But this explanation is forced, and leaves a gap in the argument. As we have just seen, Hagar represents the Old Covenant given on Mount Sinai, and this is the sense of the passage.
In Arabia. Even the Arabs typify this Jewish slavery, for they themselves are subject to it. Hence the saying, “the Arabian pipe,” mentioned by Julius Pollux, which shows their servile condition, since slaves only (and they for the most part came from Arabia) used to practise the art of music. The Old Covenant of slavery was, therefore, fitly entered into in Arabia, i.e., on Mount Sinai. Chrysostom adds: “Hagar in Hebrew denotes dwelling, Sinai temptation, Arabia falling, Ishmael the hearing of God.” Jerome says: “Hagar shows by its meaning that the Old Covenant would not be for ever; Sinai, that it would be a temptation; Arabia, that it would perish; Ishmael, as the name of one who heard only the commandments of God but did not do them, a rough man, a man of blood, the enemy of his brethren, that the Jews would be hard and harsh, enemies of Christians, hearers only of the law, and not doers.”
S. Jerome again says tropologically: “Those Christians are born of Hagar who look only at the shell of Holy Scripture, and serve the Lord in fear. Those are born of Sarah who treat the Old Covenant as an allegory, and seek for its spirit, and who serve the Lord in love.” See also the remarks of S. Augustine (contra Duas Epp. Pelag. cap. 4), where he lays down that Abraham, Noah, Moses, and all the righteous men of the Old Covenant, were really children of the New, inasmuch as they were justified by the same faith in the Incarnation and Passion of Christ as Christians, and lived by the same grace and the same love of Christ; while, on the other hand, Christians who keep the law from fear of punishment are children of the Old and not of the New Covenant.
Which hath affinity to that Jerusalem which now is. So the Vulgate. S. Jerome and Chrysostom take it of a literal vicinity to Jerusalem, inasmuch as Jerusalem borders on the desert in which Sinai is situated, the hills of Idumæa alone intervening. But these hills comprise the whole of Idumæa, which is a large tract, and, therefore, it cannot be said Sinai is joined to Judæa. It would be more accurate to say that it was widely separated from it.
S. Thomas interprets it to mean that Sinai is joined to Jerusalem, not by nearness, but by a continuous road, because the Hebrews went from Egypt by a straight road through Sinai into Judæa. But this is too far fetched. In the same way the Red Sea, and Egypt itself, might be said to be joined to Judæa.
Accordingly, it is better to understand the words to mean that the conjunction is not of place but of likeness.
With this agrees the Greek word here, συστοιχεί, which means kinship or likeness. Στοίχειν means to go forward in order, or to stand in one’s place. So grammarians call the letters of the alphabet στοιχει̃α, because they are joined in a certain order. Philosophers call the elements—earth, air, fire, and water—by the same name, because each of them has its due place, and its relation to the others. Also verses are called στίχοι, and lines in order, στίχαι. Hence, as Budæus says, kindred things are called σύστοιχα, and συστοιχία is a series of similar things duly arranged. So here, of Mount Sinai it is said that it, συστοιχει̃, i.e., it has a similarity, it is in the same series or order of things as Jerusalem, because it represents it by a convenient type.
This it does (1.) because, as Mount Sinai is sterile in the desert, so is Jerusalem in its ceremonies. Moreover, the law was given in the first, preserved in the second. (2.) Sinai was outside the Promised land; the Jerusalem of the law is outside the Church of Christ, whether militant or triumphant. (3.) Which is more germane to the Apostle’s purpose; as Sinai nourished and brought up slaves whether Jews or Arabs, and as from it proceeded a servile law, with the sound of the trumpet, with thundering and earthquake, which, therefore, suitably drove its votaries into obedience by fear; so is now Jerusalem, so far as its life and doctrine are concerned, Sinaitic, and produces slaves to the shadows of the law, who obey through fear only. (4.) Sinai is related to Jerusalem also, because the Jews, who received the law at Sinai, were the fathers of those who kept it in Jerusalem; and as the I fathers were, so are the sons.
By metonymy, Sinai and Jerusalem are put for their inhabitants. As Hagar the bondwoman signified the bondage of the Old Covenant, so Mount Sinai, in bringing forth slaves, typified Jerusalem, which did the same. Such as Sinai was, such is Jerusalem. The former was the parent of the slaves, so too is the latter.
Thus there were two wives: Agar the bondwoman and Sarah the freewoman.
There were two sons: Ishmael, a slave born after the flesh and Issac, born according to the promise.
There were two covenants: the Law given at Sinai, and the Gospel given at Sion.
There were two cities: the earthly Jerusalem, the synagogue of the Jews in bondage, and the heavenly Jerusalem, by grace the mother of all the faithful, free.
There were two sons: the Jews immersed in the shadow of the ceremonial law, and the faithful who enjoy the grace of Christ.
Jerusalem which now is. The earthly Jerusalem is contrasted with the heavenly, the transitory with that which is to endure for ever.
It may be noted that Jerusalem is not compounded of Jebus and Salem, as Erasmus and others have thought, but of a Hebrew word meaning he shall see, and Salem, in allusion to Gen 22:14. Hence the meaning of the word is the vision of peace.
And is in bondage with her children. The reference is of course to Hager. As she, a bondwoman, bore Ishmael, he and his descendants inherit their mother’s status; so does the Old Covenant, typified by her, bring forth bondmen. On the other hand, as Sarah was a free woman, her children are free, as are the children of the New Covenant.
The slavery of the Old Covenant consisted mainly in two things, in its obliging men to obedience by fear, and in burdening them with a multitude of dumb ceremonies, which were of no avail to justification. On the other hand, the liberty of the Gospel consists in its leading us to obedience through love, and in teaching us to worship God in spirit and in truth. It has no doubt its own ceremonies, nut they are all aids only to the spiritual life.
Gal 4:26 But that Jerusalem which is above is free: which is our mother.
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is our mother. The Christian Church, typified by Sarah, the mistress, is contrasted with the Jewish synagogue, typified by Hagar, the bondwoman, in four points: It is above; it is Jerusalem; it is free; it is a fruitful mother.
1. Why is it said to be above? Because (a) Christ, its Head, descended from heaven, and thither ascended to rule the Church from above. (b) Because the Church is perfected by heavenly things, faith, hope, and charity, which come from above (c) Because, the efficacy of the Sacraments is from above, and shows God Himself present in His Church, as though He had come down from above. (d) Because her conversation is in heaven, and there with her Spouse are her heart and treasure. (e) Because she is striving for her eternal crown laid up in heaven. Cf. Rev 21:2.
2. Why is she called Jerusalem? Because Jerusalem means the vision of peace. This God provides for His Church, so that she rejoices, not in earthly but in heavenly peace, according to the promise of her Lord. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you” (S. John 14:27). This peace comes from a good conscience towards God, self, and all men. Literally too the Church is entitled to be called Jerusalem, because there she had her beginning, as the Jewish Church had at Sinai. Hence the prophets repeatedly designate the Christian Church by the names of Sion or Jerusalem.
3. Why is she called free? Freedom is fourfold: (a) Civil, to which is opposed the status of slaves. (b) Moral, by which is excluded slavery to passion and lust, to the fear of adversity. In this the Stoics placed the perfection of happiness, and desired that every man should be able to say of himself: Though the world were shattered around him, its fragments would strike, but not daunt him (Hor. Odes, iii. 3, 7). (c) Spiritual, springing from that perfect charity which casts out fear, by which we are able to serve God, not in servile fear, but in filial love; not with material ceremonies, but in spirit and in truth. This is the freedom in the Apostle’s mind here. (d) Celestial, which excludes all slavery of mind or body to pain, and is the perfect bliss of mankind.
The Church already enjoys moral and spiritual liberty; by hope and desire it tastes beforehand the heavenly freedom it is one day to possess.
4. Why is she called a mother? Because out of Gentile barrenness, which was subject to devils, the Church has been collected, and has borne, and still bears, many spiritual children to Christ, and this not from Jews alone, but from Jews and Gentiles, without distinction.
Gal 4:27 For it is written: Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not: break forth and cry thou that travailest not: for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her that hath a husband.
Rejoice, thou barren. Rejoice, 0 Church, called out of the Gentiles; thou who wast once barren, without faith in God, and formerly not wont to bear children to Him—now that thou art espoused to Him break forth and cry. The synagogue, whose husband was the law, or even God Himself, not as a father tender, but as a lawgiver terrible, brought forth Jews only according to the flesh. But the Church embraces as a mother all the nations that believe on Christ. Therefore the synagogue has borne to God comparatively a small number of spiritual children. She bare the Prophets, the Patriarchs, and a few other righteous men, and that not in her own strength, but by the power of Christ, the father of the New Covenant.
The Apostle quotes Isa. liv. 1. The Jews indeed interpret the passage of their return to the earthly Jerusalem. The Millenarians understood it of the thousand years of sensual happiness which they pretended that the Saints would spend on earth after the Day of judgment, as Jerome testifies of them. S. Paul, however, makes it clear that Isaiah was speaking of the happiness and fruitfulness of the Christian Church. Of this S. Ambrose writes very beautifully (de Virgin. lib. i.): “The Church is immaculate in conception, fruitful in offspring, a virgin in chastity, a mother in her family. We are born of a virgin who has been impregnated, not by a man but by the Spirit; who brings forth, not with bodily pain but with angelic rejoicing; who feeds her children with milk, not of earth but of the Apostles. She is a virgin in the Sacraments, and a mother in the virtues she produces. She is a mother to the nations, and Scripture testifies to her fruitfulness, saying: ‘The desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.’ Whether we interpret this of the Church among the nations, or the soul of each individual, in either case she is married to her heavenly Spouse by the word of God, without any deviation from the path of chastity.” S. Jerome, too, says, in his comments on this passage: “The Church, long time barren, bore no children before Christ was born of the Virgin; but when she bore to Abraham, i.e., the elect father, Christ as Isaac, the laughter of the world, whose very name spoke of heavenly mysteries, then she brought forth many children to God.”
Abraham in Hebrew is (according to Jerome) the elect father, with a mighty sound.
1. Abraham was first called Abram, the lofty father, and as such begat Ishmael from Hagar. Then when he entered into a covenant with God, and received the promise of the birth of Isaac, and of the possession by his seed of the land of Canaan, his name was changed to Abraham, the father of a great multitude, i.e., of a numerous offspring, to be begotten of Isaac according to the flesh, and of Christ according to the spirit. This is a sounder interpretation of the name than that given by Jerome.
2. Symbolically, Abraham represents God. From Hagar, the bondwoman, i.e., from the synagogue, he begat Ishmael, the bondservant, i.e., Moses and the Jews, who were under subjection to the Old Law. To them Abraham was a lofty father, giving the law in thunder from the heights of Sinai, and manifesting himself as a great and terrible Lord. On the other band, Abraham, i.e., God, begat from Sarah, the freewoman, i.e., the Church, Isaac, laughter, who represented Christ and His followers, heirs of the promises. To them Abraham was the father of a great multitude, gathered by Christ out of all nations, and regenerated by faith and baptism. Or if we take S. Jerome’s interpretation of Abraham as denoting the elect father with a mighty sound, then we see the fulfilment of the name in the preaching of John Baptist, of Christ, and the Apostles, who with a loud voice called all nations to enter into the kingdom of God.
3. Isaac, i.e., Christ, is said to be born of Sarah, i.e., the Church, not as though the Church were actually the mother of Christ, or existed before Him, but because, in the Divine mind, the Church was, as it were, prior to Christ, and stood for His mother. For God first called the synagogue into existence, and then substituted for it the Church. Consequently, He had in His mind the idea of the synagogue first, of the Church second; and out of this He decreed that Moses should be born as the eldest son of this idea, and that he should reduce to actuality the remaining parts of the idea by instituting the synagogue. Similarly, He willed the creation of the Church, and the birth of Christ, as the first-born of His idea of the Church, who should carry out the idea, and found the Church of which He should be Himself the chief cornerstone. Hence Christ and Christians are called children of the promise and of the predestined purpose of God, because their existence was the product of the Divine will as the father, and of the Divine thought as the mother.
Gal 4:28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. Since he was born of one barren through age—not according to the flesh, but according to the promise of God.
Gal 4:29 But as then he that was born according to the flesh persecuted him that was after the spirit: so also it is now.
He that was born according to the flesh. Ishmael, born naturally of Hagar, persecuted Isaac, born supernaturally of Sarah, according to the Divine promise, and so a type of the spiritual children of the New Law. The reference is to Gen 21:9. From a comparison of these two passages it is evident that the mockery mentioned was a sort of persecution, the sort of sport that cats have with mice. So in 2 Sam 2:14: “Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise and play before us,” where the play was a mortal combat. Jerome and others think that the reason why Ishmael persecuted Isaac was because his envy was stirred up by the festivities indulged in at Isaac’s weaning, and because he was jealous of the birthright assigned to his brother by promise. Hence it appears that he was hostile to the promised Seed, i.e., to Christ.
So also it is now. As formerly Ishmael mocked and persecuted Isaac, so now have the Jews mocked and crucified Christ, the King of liberty, and are still pursuing with bitter hatred His followers. So too are they persecuting you, 0 Galatians, that they may enslave you, and turn you from the right way. See the comments of Jerome and Rupert on Gen 21:9.
Gal 4:30 But what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.
but what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son. Although Abraham shrank from this proposal of Sarah, yet God approved it, and bade Abraham do as Sarah demanded, not only because her demand was lawful and right, but also because his action would be a type of future events. The rejection of Hagar and Ishmael would typify the rejection of the Jewish synagogue, and its exclusion from the blessings of the Church, for persecuting Christ and His followers. Allegorically, Christians, as freemen, are inheritors of Abraham’s blessing, while the Jews are shut out from it, because they are envious bondmen, persecutors of Christian freemen, just as Ishmael was forbidden to share with Isaac the paternal roof. The bondman was driven away from the freeman.
Gal 4:31 So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.