In the passage in question, the Apostle Paul writes that the Sinai Covenant, the “Old Covenant”, “genders to bondage”. Is that true? Did the Sinai Covenant beget bondage? Let’s analyze this passage in detail. 

Galatians 4:21  Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?

“Under the law”, in this case, means “subjecting oneself to the law as a means of justification”. That is in keeping with Paul’s arguments found in Galatians 2:16,21; 3:3,11; 5:4. There were Jews who were trying to get the Galatian believers to keep the Law of Moses in order to be justified. This was the same issue that the apostles dealt with in Acts 15.

Gal 4:22  For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

Ishmael was born of a bondwoman (Hagar). Isaac was born of a freewoman (Sarah).

Gal 4:23  But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. 

Ishmael was born out of the normal course of nature, the procreation of two fertile people. Isaac was born by promise through which Yahweh miraculously intervened to make Sarah’s barren womb and aged body fertile and fruitful. 

Gal 4:24  Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Hagar.

An allegory is a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. The word “genders” is the Greek “gennao” meaning “to procreate”. To “beget” or “bring forth” are good translations. The Sinai Covenant brings forth or begets bondage or slavery. 

Notice that Paul is not saying the Sinai Covenant IS slavery or bondage, but that it begets bondage. In 2 Corinthians 3:7,10, Paul declared the Sinai Covenant to be “glorious”. That being the case, how does that “glorious” covenant beget bondage? 

Yahweh declared that the covenant made at Sinai included blessings and curses. One curse, in particular, answers that question.

Deuteronomy 27:26  ‘Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Paul quoted this verse in Galatians 3:10 in slightly different words that are in agreement with the Septuagint and Jewish commentaries on Deuteronomy 27:26.  

Gal 3:10  For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” 

Yahweh says it similarly through the prophet Jeremiah:

The word which came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying, “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and say to them, ‘Thus says Yahweh, the Elohim of Israel, “Cursed is the man who does not heed the words of this covenant which I commanded your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ‘Listen to My voice, and do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your Elohim,’ in order to confirm the oath which I swore to your forefathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day.”‘” Then I said, “Amen, O Yahweh.”  (Jeremiah 11:1-5) 

Here are a few more passages that confirm the words of Gal 3:10:

‘I am Yahweh your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so that you would not be their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant, I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that will waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away; also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up. I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you. (Leviticus 26:13-17 )

“But it shall come about, if you do not obey Yahweh your Elohim, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: (Deuteronomy 28:15)  

These words of Yahweh were fulfilled as Daniel describes in Daniel 9:11-13; 

“Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of Elohim, for we have sinned against Him. Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of Yahweh our Elohim by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. 

Daniel’s reference to Jerusalem in verse 12 sets the stage for Paul’s words in Gal 4:25-26: 

For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bears not; break forth and cry, you that travails not: for the desolate has many more children than she which has an husband. 

Because of Israel’s sins, the curses of the Sinai Covenant came upon Jerusalem, the city where Yahweh chose to place His name. Jerusalem is the seat of government and worship for all Israel and therefore received the brunt of the curses. Jerusalem, as it existed in Paul’s day, represents Hagar the bondwoman who was Sarah’s slave. Hagar, Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s children, the Jews, were in bondage. Not only were they in bondage to the curses that came upon them, but they were in bondage to sin and death. 

Ezekiel 18:4  “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die. 

Anyone who broke the Sinai Covenant sinned and brought death upon themselves. They were slaves to sin and slaves to death. 

Paul puts it this way: 

But thanks be to Elohim that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  Romans 6:17-18

Was Paul wrong that men were freed from sin which then follows that they were once in bondage to sin? No. Yeshua said the same thing to the Jews that believed him.

So Yeshua was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Yeshua answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-36)

This freedom secured by Yeshua is what Paul was referring to by, “Jerusalem which is above is free”.  (Gal 4:26) Anyone who receives Yeshua as Savior becomes a son of heavenly Jerusalem, born from above and is a free man. Peter echoes this thought as well.

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of Elohim. (1 Peter 2:16) 

This slavery has come upon all men for all have sinned. 

Ecclesiastes 7:20  For there is not a just man upon earth, that does good, and sins not.

Romans 3:23  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of Elohim; 

Galatians 3:22  But the scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Yeshua Messiah might be given to them that believe.

1 John 1:8-10  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Every man that has ever lived, including Moses, David and Daniel, has sinned and is the slave of sin as Yeshua said. Every man who sinned under the Sinai Covenant by breaking Yahweh’s law is in bondage to sin.  They are also in bondage to death.

Yeshua said,I am he that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hades and of death.” Revelation 1:18 

Death holds all in bondage. The dead cannot escape its grasp. The keys Yeshua holds are needed to free us from death’s prison and from death itself. For Israel, this death is a direct result of sins against the Sinai Covenant. That covenant, as glorious as it was, begot bondage for those who broke it. 

Gal 4:28  Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

Yahweh promised Abraham that he would be a father of many nations. Isaac was the first child of promise. All those who receive Yeshua become children of promise as well.

And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:29)

Gal 4:29  But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. 

Ishmael persecuted Isaac by mocking him. The same was true in Paul’s day as the carnal Jews persecuted the spiritual seed of promise, the believers in Messiah. 

Gal 4:30  Nevertheless what says the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

In other words, cast out the Sinai Covenant which begets bondage through breaking it and become a son of the freewoman, heavenly Jerusalem, through Messiah who sets us free. 

Gal 4:31  So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

Anyone who receives Messiah Yeshua as Savior is delivered from bondage to sin and is set free. Sin has no more hold on us and neither does death. 

Gal 5:1  It was for freedom that Messiah set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

Seeking to be justified by the Sinai Covenant will only lead to slavery. Living under the New Covenant through the blood of Messiah leads to freedom.

Some may say that the Sinai Covenant provided a way to be forgiven of sins and therefore the slavery was broken once an animal’s blood was shed for it. Hebrews 10:1-4 addresses this:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The Sinai Covenant provided a temporary covering for sin, but could not remove the sin entirely. Only Messiah’s blood could accomplish that. The only way any man can be set free is through faith in the atoning blood of Messiah Yeshua. Those that died before Messiah came will be saved from their sins the same way, through faith.