Wednesday, 30 March 2016
And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. Galatians 3:17
Paul now gives a further explanation of the logical thought process which he has already described, that of the promise preceding the law and which stands apart from, and superior to, the law. He has shown that those who attempt to be justified by works of the law are under a curse (v. 10); that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God (v. 11) because the law is not of faith (v.12); that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (v. 13) so that the blessings of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles (v.14).
As the Gentiles had no law, just as Abraham had no law, then how could the law somehow add to their righteousness? Christ had come and so any who received him by faith would be just as Abraham because the promises were made to Abraham and those who issued from him; those who are in Christ (v.16). Understanding all of this, Paul now says that “the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later…”
The law came long, long after Abraham’s death. It was never a part of his life and it had no bearing at all on his declaration of righteousness. In fact, the law came after a full 215 years of him and his descendants living in Canaan, and then another 215 years of his descendants living in Egypt. It was his grandson Jacob who went down to Egypt, and it was Jacob’s great-great grandson Moses who led the people out of Egypt and to Sinai where the law was received.
During all of that intervening time, there was no law and yet the people were considered righteous as they lived by faith in the promises of God. Their standing before God was a part of the promise made to Abraham, and the law had no bearing on it at all. Further, the law “cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.” Bible scholar Bengel notes that, “The greatness of the interval increases the authority of the promise.”
This is what Paul alluded to in verse 15 when using the example of a covenant between mere men. As this is applicable in such a covenant, how much more so is it when dealing with the promises of God! Paul is trying to wake the Galatians up to the fact that they are as Abraham was, living by promise and not by law. The purpose of the law has nothing to do with a declaration of righteousness. In fact, as Paul will continue to show, the law stands contrary to such a declaration.
As a final note, the duration of time that Paul speaks of here, that of 430 years, is an exact figure of time. It was precisely 430 years from the promise to the exodus from Egypt. It is too much information to include in this commentary, but it is exactly as described above – 215 years time in Canaan and 215 years in Egypt. The biblical account shows this exactingly and there is no contradiction in it.
Life application: The law came after the promise. Gentiles were never considered under the law, and for the Jews, the law was fulfilled in Christ. Therefore, to insert (or reinsert) the law is to set aside the promises of God. Don’t pursue such a path. Have faith in God and what He has done in Christ for your justification.
Lord God, how marvelous it is to see the sunrise each day and to know that everything is timed so perfectly. And looking at the entire year, we can know just what will occur at set times, year by year. And by looking to the Bible, we can see the precision of how You have laid out all the years of the ages. Each step of the way shows intricacy and design. It shows that You have a good plan for us. Help us to trust this and to not get bogged down in Today. Instead, help us to live for You in all days! Thank You for the sure promises You have made. Amen.