Galatians 3:13 (ESV) … “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”
The quotation is from Deuteronomy 21:23.
In his unconverted days as Saul of Tarsus, the archpersecutor of the church, that had been the most impossible thing about Christianity—“Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” The Old Testament Law read, “If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) …” (Deut. 21:22–23).
One terrible example of this punishment is recorded in the Old Testament. When Balaam, having failed to curse God’s people, taught Balak, king of Moab, how to corrupt God’s people, God’s judgment was swift and exemplary. “You will never conquer this people with the men of Moab, my lord king,” Balaam said. “I suggest you try the women of Moab.” It worked.
And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads [chiefs or princes] of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel. (Numbers 25:1–4)
There must have been about a thousand of them. The incident is extraordinary, because the Jews customarily executed people by stoning, probably to avoid the special curse that rested, under the Law, upon those who were hanged.
Two other notable individuals in the Old Testament died by hanging: Ahithophel, the man who betrayed David (2 Sam. 17:23), and Absalom, the man who raised the standard of rebellion against David (2 Sam. 18:9–15). In the New Testament, we remember the traitor Judas Iscariot, who hanged himself (Matt. 27:3–5).
Saul of Tarsus was familiar with both this particular Old Testament curse and the various examples of its application. So although he might have been prepared to concede certain things about Jesus of Nazareth, it was this method of His death that, to him at any rate, made the claims of Christ false and blasphemous. He had been hanged on a tree! He had been crucified on a Roman cross. According to the Old Testament Law, therefore, He had died under the direct curse of God. Saul of Tarsus might have been willing to concede the death of Israel’s Messiah. But on a tree? Never! It was the most impossible thing about Christianity. But then he met the risen and ascended Lord and saw the nail prints in His hands and feet. Thereafter, the fact that Christ had indeed died under God’s curse became the most impressive thing about Christianity. He could see it now! It was necessary for Christ to die under the curse. Only thus could the curse itself be removed.
Think again of the terrible catalog of curses that were part and parcel of the Law, aimed directly at everyone who broke the Law. When Christ died in our stead, the curses were all aimed at Him. He died on a tree, the very symbol of the curse of the Law, and wearing a crown of thorns, the very symbol of the curse from the Fall (see Gen. 3:17–19).
Thus, Christ removed the terrible burden of the Law’s curse. But more! Paul points out now to his Galatian friends the tremendous blessing that is now received through Christ: “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (v. 14). The “blessing of Abraham” was salvation by faith.
The promise of the Spirit included the baptism of the Spirit, which puts each believer in the Lord Jesus into the church, His mystical body; the gift of the Spirit, which puts all of the wisdom, love, and power of the Godhead at the disposal of the child of God; the indwelling of the Spirit, which puts God back in the man; the seal of the Spirit, which secures the believer eternally; the earnest of the Spirit, which guarantees the exceeding great and glorious future that awaits every believer in eternity; the filling of the Spirit, which enables the believer to live the life of the indwelling Christ; and the anointing of the Spirit, which empowers the believer for service.
Who would want to exchange all of that for the obsolete rites and impossible rules of a dead, Christ-rejecting religion? The believer in Christ can have all that Abraham had and more—salvation by faith, through grace, regardless of the Law. He can also have all that the Holy Spirit brings with Him when He enters a regenerated human heart. The Judaizers had nothing to offer that compared with that.
In Christ & Friends Always,