Lesson for Feb. 19, 2012: Inheriting Abraham’s Promise (Galatians 3:15–5:1)

This treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson is written by Sam E. Stone, former editor of CHRISTIAN STANDARD.

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By Sam E. Stone

Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to correct false teaching that had influenced the church. Some insisted that Christians must observe everything in the Old Testament law. This month’s lessons refute this idea. No one can be justified by observing the law (Galatians 2:16). The law had an important purpose, however, although the law itself was not to be permanent.

Even when God gave the Old Testament law to Israel, it is clear that it would one day be abolished. The Lord promised, “The time is coming . . . when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:31-33; see also Hebrews 8:6-9, 13).

 

The Seed
Galatians 3:15-18

The term human covenant normally suggests a last will or testament. It is also often used when referring to God’s covenant with his people (see Matthew 26:28; Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; 7:8; 2 Corinthians 3:14). “The whole of the Old Testament looks forward to . . . the Christ who sums up in himself the covenant people and in whom the Israel of God are blessed with all spiritual blessings,” explains Alexander Ross.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. Genesis 13:15 and 17:8 confirm this. Just as no one can change a human contract without the consent of both parties, it is even more apparent that a covenant made by God must not be tampered with. The inheritance of God’s people came as a result of the promise God gave to Abraham years before.

The period of time mentioned—
430 years—is a round number possibly suggesting the time from when Abraham’s promise was confirmed to Jacob down to the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai.

 

The Son
Galatians 4:1-7

Paul resumes the illustration begun at 3:24, but from a slightly different point of view. He now explains “why the bondage of the law preceded the liberty of the gospel” (McGarvey). It was for purposes of development, similar to those by which a youth is trained and prepared for manhood. The contrast is between a child (that is “a minor,” one immature both intellectually and physically) as distinguished from a full-grown adult (see 1 Corinthians 3:1; 14:20; Philippians 3:15; Ephesians 4:13). Such is the difference that exists between a slave and the owner of the estate.

William Hendriksen explains it like this: “When a young father dies, his minor child will have to wait for the inheritance until he is of age. Though this child is, accordingly, the legal heir and as such ‘lord,’ ‘master’ or, as here, ‘owner’ of everything, yet with respect to taking possession of, and exercising control over, the estate that has been left to him he is no better off than a slave.”

Then Paul makes the contrast: But when the time had fully come. Jesus was born at the perfect moment in human history. The world was ready for his coming—politically, morally, and religiously. God sent his Son, born of a woman. He was both truly divine and truly human (John 1:14). He was born under the law—a Jew—so that he could redeem those subject to Jewish law. Now we Gentiles can be adopted into God’s family, and are able to receive the full rights of sons. All Christians—both Jews and Gentiles—share and share alike in the family inheritance.

God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. The Holy Spirit lives within the Christian (Romans 8:14-16; Ephesians 1:13, 14). The cry, “Abba, Father,” is extremely significant. Abba is the Aramaic word for father. These words used together in this way unite Jews and Gentiles as they call on their one Father, God, using this name indicative of a close relationship.

The result is: you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. We are made sons by the Son, through faith in him (John 1:12). No longer slaves, we now are the children of God, heirs of his promise (Romans 8:14-17). The law’s purpose was to bring us to this point. Now we inherit Abraham’s promise ourselves.

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*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©1984, unless otherwise indicated.

HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS
February 13: Genesis 17:1-8
February 14: Acts 2:32-39
February 15: Romans 4:1-8
February 16: Galatians 3:19-29
February 17: Galatians 4:12-20
February 18: Galatians 4:28—5:1
February 19: Galatians 3:15-18; 4:1-7

 

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