Here Paul is reminding them that salvation has always been by grace, through faith. “…just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). So Paul attempts to show unequivocally the truth about justification by faith. His argument is that the Mosaic Covenant, which came after the Abrahamic Covenant, could not alter the unconditional Covenant between and Abraham. The truth is, like today an agreement between two people, once ratified cannot, years later, be changed. But much like our world today, we fail to learn from history. “The Judaizers failed to consider accurately the historical record concerning the way man can be right before God. The looked at Mosaic Law, misunderstood its function, and declared that obedience to its commands would bring salvation. They ignored the fact that everyone stood condemned, not justified, under the Law’s perfect standard.” –Swindoll
“Paul is amassing Old Testament verses that support the concept of justification, or salvation, by faith. And the reason it's so very important for him to support it from the Old Testament is that the Judaizers have used the Old Testament to propagate the doctrine of salvation by works. And so Paul takes the Old Testament, which they claim to believe and study and use to support their view of works, and he turns it around and shows them that the Old Testament, in fact, teaches salvation by grace through faith.”–MacArthur
Verse 15: “Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.”
When people die often they have a will. After the death, families gather around for the reading of the will. A will is a document where we specify who gets what and how much. Some are very pleased by what they get, while others may be furious and contest the will, but no one can alter its contents as long as the signer was of a sound mind and aware of their actions when the document is signed. I heard of one person who said in their will, “I _______being of sound mind and aware of my actions, spent it all.” If a person’s will (covenant) can’t be altered or revoked how much more unchangeable is an agreement (covenant) made by God?
The words, “I speak in the manner of men” give the idea of, “I speak from a human point of view,” or, “I speak as men do concerning their affairs.” Paul is not apologizing for the illustration he is using, but is desirous of accommodating himself to the ordinary way in which the average man thinks, so as to be perfectly intelligible to his readers.
Paul uses a term that everyone knew regarding covenants that men made with other men. A “covenant” is a legal term denoting a formal and legally binding declaration of benefits to be given by one party to another, with or without conditions attached. It literally conveys the idea of a testament, as in one's last will and testament. And when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. The only ones who can alter it are the ones who made it. To add or take away anything from it would be illegal.
Can we trust God’s covenant? The word of God confirms that He is a Covenant keeping God.
2 Corinthians 1:20 MSG, “Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident.”
Psalm 105:8,9, “He always stands by his covenant—the commitment he made to a thousand generations. This is the covenant he made with Abraham…”
Malachi 3:6, “I am the LORD, and I do not change.”
Numbers 23:19 NLT, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”
Psalm 33:11 ESV, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”
James 1:17 ESV, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
“Paul stated that he was going to demonstrate that the principle of the promise that God had given, whether it was the promise to Abraham or the promise of the Holy Spirit to us, was of a higher order than the Law. The promise had the priority.” – Alfred E. Bouter
Verse 16: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, And to your Seed, who is Christ.”
“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:13-16).
Romans 11:1,2;5,6;25-27, “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew…Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work…For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
The covenant God made with Abraham was an unconditional Covenant of promise, just as the new covenant of grace through Jesus Christ is based upon promise. When we come by faith to Jesus Christ for salvation, we enter into the Covenant made to Abraham.
The Abrahamic covenant could only be fulfilled in Christ. When Christ is seen as the seed of Abraham, all those saved through Him are included. “In Your seed (offspring, descendants, posterity) all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). Only the eternal Son of God could bless all the families of earth. Christ is viewed in this chapter as also being the head of a new family; all who receive Him by faith become sons of Abraham in a spiritual sense. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” Galatians 3:28,29).
Verse 17: “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.”
“From Israel’s sojourn in Egypt (Exodus 12:40) to the giving of the law at Sinai (1445 bc). The law actually came 645 years after the initial promise to Abraham (ca. 2090 bc.; cf. Genesis 12:4 21:5 25:26; 47:9), but the promise was repeated to Isaac (Genesis 26:24) and later to Jacob (1928 bc Genesis 28:15). The last known reaffirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob occurred in Genesis 46:2-4 (1875 bc) just before he went to Egypt—430 years before the Mosaic law was given.” –MacArthur
The 430 years from the Abrahamic promise until the giving of the law to Moses and the 430 years of Israel's extended stay in Egypt parallel each other, provided that the reference to "the covenant" here in verse 17 refers to the final ratification of this covenant, as confirmed to Jacob just as he and his family were leaving Canaan for Egypt (Genesis 46:1-4). Between the giving of the promise and the promulgation of the law at Sinai there had been an interval of ‘four hundred thirty years’ (Exodus 12:40) or, in round figures, ‘four hundred years’ (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6). Or it may be that the years of bondage were 400 and the 430-year figure, used in Exodus 12:40 and here in verse 17, refers to the time between the last confirmation of the Abrahamic covenant and the giving of the Mosaic Law. (Acts 13:19, where 450 years is the approximate time from the beginning of Egyptian bondage until after the conquest of Palestine, including the 40 years of wilderness wandering.) ” –Precept Austin
“Is that not a splendid argument? The covenant was made with Abraham that God would bless him and his seed. Well, 430 years after, the law was given on Sinai, but that could not affect a covenant made 430 years before. The argument goes to prove that the covenant of grace is not affected by any law of rites and ceremonies—no, not even by the moral law itself. The covenant made with Abraham and his seed must stand. The seed signifies those who believe; therefore, the covenant stands fast with Abraham and all other believers.” –Spurgeon
Verse 18: “For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”
“For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise” (Verse 18, New Living Translation).
This verse seems to relate to Galatians 2:21, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
The promise to Abraham was given a long time before the Law existed, and when it was given, it was only dependent on the faithfulness of God. It was a free unrestricted promise, and it included all of the nations of the world. So it has nothing to do with the Law, and can be enjoyed without recourse to the Law. It preceded the Law and transcends the Law.
God promised to bless Abraham and, through his descendants, the whole world, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3). This promise pointed to the coming Messiah for whom Abraham looked. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). The promise stated that through the seed “all the families of the earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:2–3). But it was only after Jesus death for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), and His resurrection that all nations could be blessed through Him. In our time, the church age was ushered in when the apostles began to spread the gospel (Acts 1,2). This promise of Abraham is still the only hope for the world! God has never had another plan to bless the world. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen” (Matthew 28:19,20).
“All through the book of Genesis, it is promise, promise, promise. Isaac was an heir of the promise, and Jacob was an heir of the promise. In fact, Isaac was born by promise and Ishmael, the elder brother, did not inherit the blessing because he was born after the flesh. Those who believe in Christ are heirs according to the promise. Now a promise takes us out of the region of law. God gave it to Abraham by promise. It was a free gift; He did not bestow it upon the condition of merit on Abraham’s part. Isaac was born not according to the power of the flesh, but according to promise, and the whole covenant is according to free grace and divine promise. So then we know it is by promise, and God must keep His promise, and we must believe it. It must be true. And if we do believe it, we shall prove it to be true, and it will be fulfilled in every jot and tittle to every believing soul.” –Spurgeon
Isn’t it comforting that God is faithful? Whatever He promises will come to pass, you can take it to the bank!
Numbers 23:19,20, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.”
2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT, “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory.”
2 Peter 1:3,4, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
What has God promised us in Christ?
God promises salvation to all who believe in His Son. Romans 1:16–17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
God promises to supply our every need. Philippians 4:19, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
God promises to give us sufficient grace in time of need. 2 Corinthians 12:9, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
God promises to give us His everlasting mercy, which is His love in action. 1 Chronicles 16:34, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”
God promises to keep us from falling. Jude 24, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.”
God promises victory in life and in death. 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:54, "Death is swallowed up in victory.”
God promises every spiritual blessing in Christ. Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
God promises that everything will work for good for His children. Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
God promises to finish the work He started in us. Philippians 1:6, “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
God promises an inheritance for each of His children. 1 Peter 1:3,4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”
God promises to keep us. 1 Peter 1:5, “…who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
God promises that His children will never die. John 10:27,28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish…”
God promises protection. Psalm 121:5-8, “The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.”
God promises His presence. Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).