Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
A basic principle in the Bible is that the spiritual things revealed in the New Testament are portrayed by the pictures, or types, in the Old Testament. This is true in the case of the flesh, typified by Amalek. In his writings, Paul dealt with the flesh in a thorough way. In the entire Bible there are no stronger words concerning the flesh than those used by Paul in Romans 8. In verse 7 Paul says that “the mind set on the flesh is enmity against God” and that it is “not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.” In the following verse he goes on to say that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” In Galatians 5 Paul also speaks strongly and emphatically about the flesh. However, if we had only Romans 8 and Galatians 5, we would still find it difficult to have an adequate understanding of what the flesh is, because in the Bible the term “flesh” is used in several different ways with many different meanings. Thus, it is difficult to know the flesh and to deal with it.
We thank the Lord for the pictures of the flesh provided in the Old Testament. One such picture is that of Ishmael in the book of Genesis. After man had fallen again and again until, at Babel, he reached the lowest point, God came in to call out Abraham and promised to do certain things for him. In His contact with Abraham, God did not require Abraham to do anything other than to leave his father’s country. Students of the Bible realize that God’s contact with Abraham was related to the promise He made to Abraham. In Genesis 12 we have the promise, and in Genesis 15, the promise ratified to become a covenant. In Genesis 17 circumcision became the sign, or seal, of the covenant ratified in Genesis 15. God’s promise to Abraham was repeated to his son, Isaac, and to his grandson, Jacob. God had promised that He would do something for Abraham which would cause all the nations on earth to be blessed. What a great promise this was!
The nature of God’s promise to Abraham was grace. This means that God did not want Abraham to do anything to fulfill this promise. Instead, God wanted to do everything for him. Like Abraham, whatever we are and have is of the flesh. Furthermore, whatever we are capable of doing is according to the flesh. For us to do something to fulfill God’s promise means that we exercise our flesh in some way. This was the reason that God did not require Abraham to do anything to fulfill the promise. God wanted to do everything. This is grace.
However, Abraham acted upon Sarah’s proposal to produce a seed by Hagar. In doing this, Abraham exercised his flesh, and the result, the issue, produced was Ishmael. God wanted Abraham to be terminated. But, at the age of eighty-six, Abraham took Hagar and produced Ishmael by her. For the next thirteen years, God did not appear to him. Then, when Abraham was ninety-nine, God came to rebuke him and to reaffirm the promise He had made to him. At that time Abraham realized that he had been wrong.
The result of the exercise of the flesh is Ishmael. Ishmael is versus Isaac, who is the result, the issue, of grace. Grace is God becoming everything to us. In particular, grace is God as our strength and enjoyment. God had promised Abraham that He would give him a son. But God did not want Abraham to produce the seed. Therefore, God waited until Abraham regarded himself as dead, totally without ability to beget a child. Then, when in the eyes of both Abraham and Sarah it was impossible for them to have a son, God came in to enable them to have a child. According to the record in Genesis, the birth of Isaac was the coming of the Lord. When Isaac was born, God came. This, of course, does not mean that Isaac was the Son of God. It means that Isaac was born not through the exercise of man’s flesh, but according to God’s grace, according to God’s visitation. Isaac, therefore, is the issue of grace. Ishmael, the issue of man’s flesh, is versus Isaac.
Isaac was a person produced out of God’s grace to fulfill God’s eternal purpose. This is a matter of great significance. Thus, it is a very serious thing to be versus Isaac. For Ishmael, the issue of the flesh, to be versus Isaac, the issue of God’s grace, is rebellion, a great rebellion against God’s eternal purpose.
It is very difficult to define adequately what the flesh is. In this message I would like to set forth a particular definition of the flesh: the flesh denotes anything that does not work by grace. Grace is the Triune God becoming everything to us and doing everything for us. The New Testament reveals that grace does not refer to material blessings. According to the New Testament, grace is God Himself not only being our enjoyment, but also doing everything for us. Whatever we do is of the flesh, but whatever God does for us is grace. If I speak in myself without depending on God, my speaking is of the flesh, even if the subject is the Bible or spiritual doctrine. This indicates that even in speaking about spiritual things or scriptural things, we may be of the flesh. Whatever we do, good or evil, apart from grace is the flesh. For example, if a brother loves his wife by the self rather than by grace, his love is of the flesh.
In a sense the so-called good flesh is more hateful to God than the evil flesh. In 1 Samuel 15 we see that God hated the good aspects of Amalek. Therefore, whatever we do without depending on God and trusting in Him is of the flesh, no matter how good that thing may be. Anything that is not done by God is of the flesh. If I visit you in myself and not by God, that is of the flesh. If I pray for others without depending on God, but instead pray in the self, that prayer is of the flesh. Do not think that the flesh refers only to evil matters or to lust. It is obvious that such things are of the flesh. The flesh also includes good things. Notice the words “best” and “choice” in 1 Samuel 15. Saul spared the best cattle and the choice spoil. Related to the flesh are things which are the “best” and which are “choice.” Therefore, we say once again that whatever we do without the Spirit, without depending on God and trusting Him, no matter how good it may seem, is of the flesh. Whatever has its source in ourselves is an Ishmael.
Isaac typifies Christ. Hence, the issue of the flesh, typified by Ishmael, is versus Christ. God’s intention is to work Christ into us. But the flesh works in a way that is versus Christ. The result, the issue, of the flesh is versus Isaac. Whenever we exercise our flesh, we produce an Ishmael, and this Ishmael is invariably versus Christ. Ishmael cuts us off from grace and keeps us from Christ. For this reason, in John 15 the Lord Jesus said that apart from Him we can do nothing. However, we have done a great many things apart from Christ. But all the good we have done apart from Christ is an Ishmael who is versus Christ.
Ishmael keeps us from fulfilling God’s eternal purpose. We cannot fulfill God’s purpose as long as we exercise our flesh and do not trust in God, depend on Him, or live in oneness with Him.
We are accustomed to do so many things apart from Christ. We all condemn sinful things. But not many condemn good things, even those seemingly spiritual things, which are done apart from Christ. Have you ever condemned yourself because you prayed for a certain thing in the flesh? The issue of praying in the flesh will also be an Ishmael of some kind. This Ishmael is versus Christ and frustrates us from enjoying the grace of God for the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose.
Man’s flesh is versus God’s grace. This means that whatever man does apart from God Himself is a frustration to God’s purpose. This is a serious matter. We must admit that we still do many things through the exercise of our flesh. Some, however, may deny that they exercise the flesh. Yet they do not depend on the Lord either. As long as we fail to rely on the Lord, we are in the flesh and are exercising the flesh. Simply by not trusting in the Lord, we are spontaneously living in the flesh.
We need to learn not to do anything by the exercise of our flesh. Sometimes when my flesh has been strong, I did not even dare to speak to a brother. I realized that anything I would say would be of the flesh. Thus, the best thing to do was not to do anything. At such times I can only say, “Lord, forgive me. I cannot do anything. Because I dare not bring forth an Ishmael, I do not have the boldness to do anything.”
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