“Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set” (Galatians 4:1-2 NET).
In first-century world of the Galatian churches, a father often appointed guardians to assume responsibility for the welfare of his children. Galatians 4:2 borrows from that imagery to illustrate the experience of those who lived under the Mosaic Law. In a sense, the Law mirrored the relationship between a parent and a young child in several respects. For example…
- Much like a small child is not permitted to eat whatever he or she may desire, the Law prohibited the people of Israel from eating certain foods (Leviticus 11).
- Just as a parent or guardian may restrict the style of clothing a youth might wear to ensure that he or she maintains a God-honoring appearance, the Law instituted dress restrictions as well (Deuteronomy 22:5, 11).
- If left to themselves, children will generally demonstrate little respect for authority. Therefore, the Law taught them to do so (Leviticus 22:9).
- An immature child must often be motivated to do what is right through various forms of punishment. The Law did much the same thing (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
- A child must often be given a schedule of activities to perform. In a similar manner, the Law scheduled a number of mandatory observances for the people of Israel (Leviticus 23).
So the Mosaic Law functioned much like a mirror that reflected the immature relationship that existed between God and His people under the Old Covenant. But this was not only true for the people of Israel; it was also true of those who did not have access to the Mosaic Law, but in a much less formal way. You see, Galatians 4:3 goes on to say this…
“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world” (Galatians 4:3).
One version of this passage refers to the “elements of the world” in this manner: “…when we were children (spiritually immature), were kept like slaves under the elementary [man-made religious or philosophical] teachings of the world” (AMP). While the Jewish people were bound to the dictates of the Law, others were bound by a different set of rules: the elementary principles reflected in the attitudes, values, and belief systems of a world that rejected the God of the Scriptures.