on Galatians 3 :19
Wherefore then serveth the law? - If the law does not annul the Abrahamic covenant, and cannot confer salvation on its votaries, why did God give it? This was a very natural objection, and must arise in the mind of any Jew who had paid attention to the apostle's reasoning.
It was added because of transgressions - It was given that we might know our sinfulness, and the need we stood in of the mercy of God. The law is the right line, the straight edge, that determines the obliquity of our conduct. See the notes on Romans 4:15 (note); and especially on Romans 5:20 (note), where this subject is largely discussed, and the figure explained.
Till the seed should come - The law was to be in force till the advent of the Messiah. After that it was to cease.
It was ordained by angels - The ministry of angels was certainly used in giving the law; see Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53; and Hebrews 2:2; but they were only instruments for transmitting; Moses was the mediator between God and the people, Deuteronomy 5:5.
on Galatians 3 :19
Wherefore then serveth the law? - This is obviously an objection which might be urged to the reasoning which the apostle had pursued. It was very obvious to ask, if the principles which he had laid down were correct, of what use was the Law? Why was it given at all? Why were there so many wonderful exhibitions of the divine power at its promulgation? Why were there so many commendations of it in the Scriptures? And why were there so many injunctions to obey it? Are all these to be regarded as nothing; and is the Law to be esteemed as worthless? To all this, the apostle replies that the Law was not useless, but that it was given by God for great and important purposes, and especially for purposes closely connected with the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham and the work of the Mediator.
It was added - (προσετέθη prosetethē). It was appended to all the previous institutions and promises. It was an additional arrangement on the part of God for great and important purposes. It was an arrangement subsequent to the giving of the promise, and was intended to secure important advantages until the superior arrangement under the Messiah should be introduced, and was with reference to that.
Because of transgressions - On account of transgressions, or with reference to them. The meaning is, that the Law was given to show the true nature of transgressions, or to show what was sin. It was not to reveal a way of justification, but it was to disclose the true nature of sin; to deter people from committing it; to declare its penalty; to convince people of it, and thus to be "ancillary" to, and preparatory to the work of redemption through the Redeemer. This is the true account of the Law of God as given to apostate man, and this use of the Law still exists. This effect of the Law is accomplished:
(1) By showing us what God requires, and what is duty. It is the straight rule of what is right; and to depart from that is the measure of wrong.
(2) it shows us the nature and extent of transgression by showing us how far we have departed from it.
(3) it shows what is the just penalty of transgression, and is thus suited to reveal its true nature.
(4) it is suited to produce conviction for sin, and thus shows how evil and bitter a thing transgression is; see the notes at Romans 4:15; Romans 7:7-11.
(5) it thus shows its own inability to justify and save people, and is a preparatory arrangement to lead people to the cross of the Redeemer; see the note at Galatians 3:24. At the same time,
(6) The Law was given with reference to transgressions in order to keep men from transgression. It was designed to restrain and control them by its denunciations, and by the fear of its threatened penalties.
When Paul says that the Law was given on account of transgressions, we are not to suppose that this was the sole use of the Law; but that this was a main or leading purpose. It may accomplish many other important purposes (Calvin), but this is one leading design. And this design it still accomplishes. It shows people their duty. It reminds them of their guilt. It teaches them how far they have wandered from God. It reveals to them the penalty of disobedience. It shows them that justification by the Law is impossible, and that there must be some other way by which people must be saved. And since these advantages are derived from it, it is of importance that that Law should be still proclaimed, and that its high demands and its penalties should be constantly held up to the view of people.
Till the seed should come ... - The Messiah, to whom the promise particularly applied; see Galatians 3:16. It is not implied here that the Law would be of no use after that; but that it would accomplish important purposes before that. A large portion of the laws of Moses would then indeed cease to be binding. They were given to accomplish important purposes among the Jews until the Messiah should come, and then they would give way to the more important institutions of the gospel. But the moral law would continue to accomplish valuable objects after his advent, in showing people the nature of transgression and leading them to the cross of Christ. The essential idea of Paul here is, that the whole arrangement of the Mosaic economy, including all his laws, was with reference to the Messiah. It was a part of a great and glorious whole. It was not an independent thing. It did not stand by itself. It was incomplete and in many respects unintelligible until he came - as one part of a tally is unmeaning and useless until the other is found. In itself it did not justify or save people, but it served to introduce a system by which they could be saved. It contained no provisions for justifying people, but it was in the design of God an essential part of a system by which they could be saved. It was not a whole in itself, but it was a part of a glorious whole, and led to the completion and fulfillment of the entire scheme by which the race could be justified and brought to heaven.
And it was ordained by angels - That is, the Law was ordained by angels. The word ordained here διαταγεὶς diatageis usually means to arrange; to dispose in order; and is commonly used with reference to the marshalling of an army. In regard to the sentiment here that the Law was ordained by angels, see the note at Acts 7:53. The Old Testament makes no mention of the presence of angels at the giving of the Law, but it was a common opinion among the Jews that the Law was given by the instrumentality of angels, and arranged by them; and Paul speaks in accordance with this opinion; compare Hebrews 2:2. The sentiment here is that the Law was prescribed, ordered, or arranged by the instrumentality of the angels; an opinion, certainly, which none can prove not to be true. In itself considered, there is no more absurdity in the opinion that the Law of God should be given by the agency of angels, than there is that it should be done by the instrumentality of man.
In the Septuagint Deuteronomy 33:2 there is an allusion of the same kind. The Hebrew is: "From his right hand went a fiery law for them." The Septuagint renders this, "His angels with him on his right hand;" compare Josephus, Ant. xv. 5, 3. That angels were present at the giving of the Law is more than implied, it is believed, in two passages of the Old Testament. The one is that which is referred to above, and a part of which the translators of the Septuagint expressly apply to angels; Deuteronomy 33:2. The Hebrew is, "Yahweh came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paron, and he came (literally) with ten thousands of holiness;" that is, with his holy ten thousands, or with his holy myriads מרבבת קדשׁ mēribbot qodesh. By the holy myriads mentioned here what can be meant but "the angels"? The word "holy" in the Scriptures is not given to storms and winds and tempests; and the natural interpretation is, that he was attended with vast hosts of intelligent beings.
The same sentiment is found in Psalm 68:17 - "The chariots of God are myriads, thousands repeated; the Lord is in the midst of them, as in Sinai, as in his sanctuary." Does not this evidently imply that when he gave the Law on Mount Sinai he was surrounded by a multitude of angels? see Stuart on the Hebrews, Excursus viii. pp. 565-567. It may be added, that in the fact itself there is no improbability. What is more natural than to suppose that when the Law of God was promulgated in such a solemn manner on Mount Sinai to a world, that the angels should be present? If any occasion on earth has ever occurred where their presence was allowable and proper, assuredly that was one. And yet the Scriptures abound with assurances that the angels are interested in human affairs, and that they have had an important agency in the concerns of man.
on Galatians 3 :19
3:19 It - The ceremonial law. Was added - To the promise. Because of transgressions - Probably, the yoke of the ceremonial law was inflicted as a punishment for the national sin of idolatry, Exod 32:1, at least the more grievous parts of it; and the whole of it was a prophetic type of Christ. The moral law was added to the promise to discover and restrain transgressions, to convince men of their guilt, and need of the promise, and give some check to sin. And this law passeth not away; but the ceremonial law was only introduced till Christ, the seed to or through whom the promise was made, should come. And it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator - It was not given to Israel, like the promise to Abraham, immediately from God himself; but was conveyed by the ministry of angels to Moses, and delivered into his hand as a mediator between God and them, to remind them of the great Mediator.