This is one of the passages used to say that Israel has been replaced by the Church; after all, didn’t Paul plainly say that the woman of bondage is the Jerusalem which is now? In regard to this, all I can say is that such an exegesis can only come from arrogance. To interpret this passage so shallowly astounds me. This would be likened to someone standing before God in all His radiance and saying, “Yeah, but that guy over there is just a normal guy…”
When I read this passage, such hope fills my heart. Can you vision it? We aren’t any longer bound by this Jerusalem upon the earth, but are of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is free. Maybe a little bit of historical culture might help.
In the time of Jesus and Paul, Judea was ruled by the Herods. Herod the Great (given the name by Romans, no doubt) taxed the people of Judea to such a point that people could not afford to live. The normal tax across the board, unless you were in Jerusalem, was 80%-90% of your income. You had to tithe 10%. Then, there was the temple tax on top of that. There were taxes from the money changers to buy the sacrifices necessary. By the time you finish paying just the religious taxes, you’ve spent about a third of your paycheck. On top of that is the fact that Jerusalem didn’t have any kind of agriculture accessibility. So, the question is, how do you, if you’re in Jerusalem, eat? You force those who are making a living from agriculture (which was about 80%-90% of the people, so I’ve been told) to pay a “tax” that gives their produce to Jerusalem.
Thus, after the religious taxes, there were political taxes to Herod, and then beyond Herod there were political taxes to Caesar.
To live in Judea during the time of Paul or Jesus was to live in utter bondage. In fact, there are historical records of Herod being reprimanded because of the poverty of the common people in his governance. There was such poverty that there was only hopelessness among the people of Israel. And, if you can’t afford to pay your taxes, you’re evicted from the family land – which you inherited from Joshua’s generation. If you’re evicted, you have to find a city and move there, taking up some sort of trade to figure out how to make ends meet. Can you imagine the guilt and shame?
Essentially, there are only three groups of people in Jerusalem. There were the religious leaders under Herod, who served as political leaders as well. These were the Sadducees, also sometimes called the chief priests and elders/rulers. Then, there were the religious elite, who could afford to live in Jerusalem because they were the leading scholars who taught at the Temple – known as the Pharisees. Lastly, there were the poor who had nowhere else to go, and were essentially the homeless of Jerusalem.
What kind of religious system is it that is built upon oppressing the people for the benefit of wealth and security? (I want to remind you that Paul’s own testimony was of being a Pharisee.) It is the religion that is built upon law, rather than faith. The oppressive Jerusalem is directly the result of a religion that is founded upon “do this; don’t do that”.
Here in Galatians 4:21-31, what is important to gather is that we are no longer bound by that. For example, in regard to paying tithes, Jesus asks Peter, “Do the sons of the king pay taxes or the common people?” Peter answers, “The common people.” Thus, the sons are exempt (paraphrase). Do you see how radical Jesus’ statement is here? The sons of God are exempt from the Temple tax and the tithe. If you suggest something like that today, you’d not only be labeled a heretic, you’d be cast out with furor! Yet, because we’re not of the oppressive Jerusalem, but of the freedom of New Jerusalem, we are no longer in bondage to the religious infrastructure ruled by the principalities and powers!
Does that statement make you want to turn to Israel and be like, “Yeah, but… they don’t have this, right?”
Do you see why I find replacement theology about as detestable as it comes? It takes the very promises of God and tosses them aside, simply because it would rather show that God has chosen the Church instead of Israel. How about we look at what is being proclaimed here and rejoice to the uttermost. (For the record, I don’t believe that this passage, nor Galatians 3:16 or 3:28-29 suggest that Israel has been replaced. After all, if we take Galatians 3:16 to mean that Jesus is the only seed of Abraham, then that excludes you and I, which ironically defeats replacement theology anyway. Paul expressly claims that you and I are part of Abraham’s seed, so obviously the “seed” versus “seeds” point can’t be about whether Abraham’s seed is only Jesus or plural.)
What would it mean for us to take this seriously?
For my wife and I, we’ve pretty well proclaimed that the thing that calls itself church, the fathers promoting such bitterness and spite against the Jew and women that you can barely read their words without feeling the venom, isn’t our mother. That thing that calls itself the real deal, but is only a brick and mortar system isn’t really my mother. My mother is beautiful, has compassion, and weeps for her children. That thing that calls itself church, but is only too quick and willing to cast away the marginalized and perplexed is not. It is at best to be likened to the woman who rides the beast; at worst the beast itself.