Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:21-26 NIV)
The law-simply stated-can communicate different ideas to different people. Sometimes the term is used in reference to the Old Testament as a way of distinguishing it from the New Testament. The term law can also be used to refer to a certain collection of laws within the first five books of the Old Testament often referred to as the Pentateuch. Sometimes it is in reference to the Ten Commandments or the decalog. When we come to the New Testament we find Paul using law to contrast works (Col. 3:15, ref. Lev. 13:5) from faith (Gal. 3:11, ref. Hab. 2:4). So it goes without saying that any study of Scripture would require a good understanding of the law if for no other reason than its repeated occurance throughout Scripture and its relationship to the Gospel.
From the text above (Gal. 4:21-26) there is a significant amount that we can glean about the law. Dr. James P. Boyce has written, The two covenants of works and grace are spoken of in Gal.4:22-31, and are called “the two covenants” in verse 24… That of works, is the covenant of the law entered into between God and all mankind through the first Adam, their natural head and appropriate and appointed representative… A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties by which any one or more things are to be done under the sanction of reward or penalties (Abstract Of Systematic Theology P.235). Covenant is a term that we are not as familure with but one of vital importance if we are to understand the law and Gospel. For this we will now look at our text.
For this explanation Paul takes his readers back to Genesis 16. His reason for doing this was probably to properly explain the proof-texts used by the Judaizers who argued that obedience to the law brought about fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul explains that Sara and Hagar are two covenants. Sarah is the free woman who represents those who are united to Christ through faith. Hagar represents the law and the covenant that was given on Mt. Sinai. In this covenant Moses and the elders swore the oath of ratification and obedience to the law. Under this oath the sanction of reward was life and the penalty was death. Thus Hagar’s children are born in bondage because they were born under the law.
The principle here is one of blessing or curse in the covenant of works. If God’s people are obedient to the law given on Mt. Sinai coventat blessings will fall upon them. However if God’s people are not obedient to the law covenant curses will fall upon them. Paul believes this is the case of present Jerusalem and this would also apply to anyone who envokes the law over grace. That is why Paul says, For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:10-11 ESV). According to the covenant of works you must obey it perfectly both inwardly and out in order to recieve the blessings of life. But as Paul says “it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law.”
Having said all this it is important to keep in mind that someone did keep the law perfectly inwardly and outwardly and received the blessings of life. If it wasn’t for Jesus’ active obedience to the law their would be no righteousness for us to receive under grace. Using Paul’s figurative interpretation we are of the free woman (Col.4:28) because we are born of the promise (Col. 4:24). It is important to realize that the covenant on Sinai doesn’t simply go away, with any covenant there is a promise that is made, and if Israel doesn’t keep their end of the promise God must keep His. This reaches back to Adam our covenant head who was the first to break the covenant with God (Rom. 5:12-21).
There are a number of ways to simplify this. One scholar put it this way, Adam was offered life on the condition of his obedience, he could but didn’t. Israel was offered life on the condition of obedience, the couldn’t because they were fallen so they didn’t. Christ takes that same promise of life offered to Adam and Israel and not only could he but He did. Jesus in other words met all the demands of the law and executed them perfectly. Under the covenant of works He merited life and that life was passed on to all who have faith and believe.