The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, "and to seeds," meaning many, but "and to your seed," meaning One, who is Christ.
I. THE COVENANT OF PROMISE MADE WITH CHRIST AS SEED OF ABRAHAM. (Vers. 15, 16.) We are too prone to contemplate the promises of God out of their relation to Christ. No wonder that they then seem incredible. They are too good news to be true. But the exceeding great and precious promises are all yea and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20); they are promises made to Christ and secured by his obedience; and consequently they ought not to seem at any time incredible. Now, when God spoke to Abraham of a universal blessing being given through the patriarch's "Seed," it never suggested to Abraham any idea of merit upon his part. He simply hoped upon God's word, which would be fulfilled in due season. The Seed would convey the blessing. The old man's hope rested upon his Seed, the Christ whom the ages would reveal. The Seed might be meritorious, but Abraham felt that he himself was not. In the humility of felt helplessness, therefore, he trusted God, and found pardon and acceptance and inspiration through his trust. It is just here we must all begin. The Lord Jesus deserves the fulfilment of all the promises. The covenant of grace made with him by the Father has received a fulfilment of its conditions so far as he was concerned; and so he can claim the promises as no more than his due. Their guarantee is in his obedience unto death.
II. THE SINAITIC LAW COULD NOT DISANNUL THE COVENANT OF PROMISE. (Vers. 17, 18.) Four hundred and thirty years elapsed and, lo, another covenant is made with the seed of Abraham. At Sinai, and through the mediation of Moses and of angels, a "fiery Law" went forth from Heaven, and the question Paul answers here is what effect this latter covenant had upon the former. He adduces the fact that legal documents when once perfected are not disannulled by subsequent ones. The later documents must proceed upon the validity and power of the preceding. Hence the Mosaic Law could not render the Abrahamic covenant of promise null and void. It must consist with and supplement the preceding. The promise made to the seed of Abraham remained in force, notwithstanding the thunders of Mount Sinai. Nay, the thunders of Sinai were, as we shall next see, to incline the people to accept the previous promise. There was no antithesis between promise and Law; but Law came to incline the people to embrace the promise. There was something more venerable and more sacred even than the covenant at Sinai, and this was the promises made to Abraham in Canaan. These were the well-head of Jewish privileges. The Jews had not been called to law-keeping and self-righteousness, but to promises exceeding great and precious to be won by their Messiah. It was to faith, not to ceremony, that their system really summoned them.
III. THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW. (Vers. 19-22.) Was the Sinaitic covenant, then, a work of supererogation? By no means. It was a grand instrument, when rightly regarded, to drive sinners into a Saviour's arms. What did it require? Perfect obedience. Did the people at Mount Sinai fancy they could render it? Nay; the utterance of the ten commandments in the great and terrible tones convinced them that they could not stand up in their own strength before such a holy God. Hence their flight from the mount (Exodus 20:18). Hence their cry for the mediation of Moses (ver. 19). In a word, the effect of the publication of the Law was to overwhelm the people with a sense of their sin. This is the purpose of the Law. It is not to feed man's hope of claiming life by law-keeping; it is, on the contrary, to kill that hope and send him to God's free grace that he may be saved by faith in the promises. The Law is to secure our despair of self that we may build all our hope on the Saviour. What, then, were the ceremonies of Judaism? They were embodiments of the promises. The Judaizers said," We are to be saved by observing these ceremonies;" but the truth was that the ceremonies were enacted to make the promises emphatic and to lead sinners away from self-righteousness to God and his mercy. The ceremonial Law was a pictorial gospel, to keep up the hearts of those whom the moral Law had reduced to despair; but the false teachers made the ceremonies saving, and so ignored the gospel they embodied. May we be kept from all analogous mistakes! - R.M.E.
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.
Christian Age., Todd.The promise was twofold.
I. A LOWER OR TEMPORAL blessing:
II. A HIGHER OR SPIRITUAL blessing.
III. THE TWO ARE INTERMINGLED. The spiritual could not have come without the temporal, nor the temporal without the spiritual.
(Christian Age.)The promise was fulfilled in the benefits the world has received from —
I. The industry, wealth, genius, and morality of the JEWISH PEOPLE.
II. The SCRIPTURES, the monotheism and religious spirit of the Jews.
III. The MESSIAH who was Abraham's seed.
(Canon Liddon.)The Paradisiacal promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head was from the first understood of some deliverer. It was so understood when Cain was named as the expected restorer (Genesis 4:1); so again when Noah was expected to be one that "shall comfort us" (Genesis 5:29). During the long ages that followed, this promise must have been the stay of every devout and God-fearing soul. It survived the terrible judgment of the flood; it passed into the expectation of the better part of every nation. It was surely not wanting in the family of Shem, nor in the race of Eber; and when Abraham was called to be the father of a chosen nation, and it was promised that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed, he must have understood by it that the long-expected Redeemer, the seed of the woman, was to be born of his posterity. So the promise was understood as it was localized successively in the tribe of Judah and in the family of David. And the later prophets never waver in the idea that it was to be accomplished by a "Person," whose birthplace at Bethlehem is distinctly announced by Micah. He was then an individual, not a multitude. To express this in English we should say; it was not to seeds as of many; but as of One, and "to thy seed, which is Christ," without any reference to the intrinsic etymological value of the singular and plural. Similarly, St. Paul uses these words, not arguing from the force of the singular in the promise, but from the whole idea and understanding of that promise which he simply explains by the singular and plural in Greek.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)But some may object, and say, Is the law opposed to the older promise? Clearly not; for it is powerless to do that which the Faith alone could do, give life. For if the law could have given spiritual life it would have conferred righteousness. But this the law does not pretend to do, since it does but declare all to be under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. In the Epistle, then, for this day the apostle shows: —
1. That the faith in Christ, the promise made by God to Abraham and to his seed, was prior to the law of Moses.
2. That the original promise made to Abraham is more excellent in itself, and attended by more glorious circumstances, than the law of Moses.
3. That the completion, the perfection of the law itself is the faith in Christ. The covenant made by God with Abraham is here called the promises, because these promises are the instruments, as it were, by which the inheritance is conferred. These are promises, for the pledge of future possession and of future blessing was not made once only, but was often repeated; neither was one blessing only promised, — but many, — things in earth, Canaan in its fertility; things in heaven, peace, and rest, and abundant joy. All the good things of God were comprised in these promises to Abraham and his seed. The reasons why the covenant is spoken of as promises are: —
1. Because it chiefly consists of promises of God's gifts.
2. Because the covenant was revealed to Abraham in promises of blessings to be afterwards given.
(W. Denton, M. A.)
(J. Henry Burn, B. D.)
1. Establishment, character of the same in itself.
(1) (2) 2. The continuance of the same even under the law. (1) (2) 3. The perfecting of the same by Christianity. (1) (2) (Heubner.) (a) (b) (Canon Vernon Hutton.) (Bishop Lightfoot.) (Bishop Walsham How.)
(2) 2. The continuance of the same even under the law. (1) (2) 3. The perfecting of the same by Christianity. (1) (2) (Heubner.) (a) (b) (Canon Vernon Hutton.) (Bishop Lightfoot.) (Bishop Walsham How.)
2. The continuance of the same even under the law.
(1) (2) 3. The perfecting of the same by Christianity. (1) (2) (Heubner.) (a) (b) (Canon Vernon Hutton.) (Bishop Lightfoot.) (Bishop Walsham How.)
3. The perfecting of the same by Christianity. (Heubner.) (Canon Vernon Hutton.) (Bishop Lightfoot.) (Bishop Walsham How.)
3. The perfecting of the same by Christianity.
(Canon Vernon Hutton.)σπέρμα is only used to signify "grain" or "crops," the sacred writer could not under any circumstances have said "seeds as of many." The answer to this objection is, that St. Paul is not laying stress on the particular word used, but on the fact that a singular noun of some kind, a collective term, is employed, where a plural (such as τὰ τέκνα or οἱ ἀπόγονοι) might have been substituted. Avoiding the technical terms of grammar, he could not express his meaning more simply than by the opposition, "not to thy seeds, but to thy seed." A plural substantive would be inconsistent with the interpretation given; the singular collective noun, if it admits of plurality, at the same time involves the idea of unity. The question therefore is no longer one of grammatical accuracy, but of theological interpretation. Is this a legitimate sense to assign to the seed of Abraham? Doubtless by the seed of Abraham was meant in the first instance the Jewish people, as by the inheritance was meant the land of Canaan; but in accordance with the analogy of Old Testament types and symbols, the term involves two secondary meanings:(1) With a true spiritual instinct, though the conception embodied itself at times in strangely grotesque and artificial forms; even the Rabbinical writers saw that "the Christ" was the true seed of Abraham. In Him the race was summed up, as it were. In Him it fulfilled its purpose and became a blessing to the whole earth. Without Him its separate existence as a peculiar people had no meaning. Thus He was not only the representative, but the embodiment of the race. In this way the people of Israel is the type of Christ; and in the New Testament parallels are sought in the career of the one to the life of the other. In this sense St. Paul uses "the seed of Abraham" here. But(2) according to the analogy of interpretation of the Old Testament in the New, the spiritual takes the place of the natural; the Israel after the flesh becomes the Israel after the spirit; the Jewish nation denotes the Christian Church. So St. Paul interprets the seed of Abraham (Romans 4:18; Romans 9:7; and above, ver. 7. These two interpretations are not opposed to each other; they are not independent of each other. Without Christ the Christian people have no existence. He is the source of their spiritual life. They are one in Him. By this link St. Paul at the close of the chapter (vers. 28, 29) connects together the two senses of the "seed of Abraham," dwelling once more on the unity of the seed — "ye are all one man in Christ; and if ye are part of Christ, then are ye Abraham's seed and heirs according to promise."
(Bishop Walsham How.)