Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In the foregoing message we saw that the law is the living word of God which infuses His substance into His loving seekers. This is a fresh viewpoint concerning the law. Those who seek God will love His law as His living word. Through such a love for God and His word, they will be infused with God’s substance and live in a way which corresponds to what He is. In this message we shall go on to cover a matter which may seem even more unusual. This is the fact that God was seeking lovers when He gave His law to His people in the Old Testament. God’s intention in giving the law to His chosen people was that they become those who love Him.
Four prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea— spoke of God as the Husband of the children of Israel and of God’s people as His spouse, His wife. Even though these four prophets lived at different times and in different places, they all had the same concept concerning this matter. To those who are religious, it may sound very strange, even offensive, to say that God has a wife. Nevertheless, the Bible clearly speaks of God as a Husband. How can God be a Husband unless He has a wife? All believers know that God is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Savior, but many do not realize that God is also a Husband and that His people are His wife. God and His people are a wonderful, universal couple. This is revealed both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Addressing the church in Corinth, Paul says, “I betrothed you to one Husband, to present a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). According to the New Testament, the church composed of all the believers is the wife of Christ. Likewise, Israel in the Old Testament was espoused to God, betrothed to Him. Jeremiah 2:2 speaks of “the love of thy betrothals” (Heb.). Hosea 2:19 and 20 say, “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.”
We need to go on to ask when, where, and how God betrothed Israel unto Himself. We find a hint in Jeremiah 2:2, where the Lord says, “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy betrothals, how thou followedst after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown” (Heb.). The word kindness here means being kind, nice, courteous. This affectionate feeling and attitude toward God in Israel’s early days was a memorial to God. The “love of thy betrothals” is a particular kind of love. There are a number of different kinds of love. The love of parents for their children is different from that of children for their parents. The love friends have for one another is yet another kind of love. The love in Jeremiah 2:2 is like that between a man and a woman who are about to be married. This kind of love is very different from that of parents for children, of children for parents, and of a person for his friends. The word love in Jeremiah 2:2 refers to the love shown in courtship, a romantic love. In particular, it refers to the woman’s reflection of the love of the man who is courting her. God told Israel that He remembered this response to His courting love in her youth.
In Jeremiah 2:2 the Lord specifically mentions “the love of thy betrothals.” This expression denotes the love of Israel at the time of her engagement to the Lord. In this verse the Lord seems to be saying to Israel, “I betrothed you unto Me, and you and I were engaged. From the time of our engagement, you had a special love for Me. I could never forget the love of your youth, when you became engaged to Me and followed after Me in the wilderness.” Here the Lord speaks of four things He remembers: His people, the kindness of their youth, the love of their betrothals, and how they followed after Him in the wilderness. Jeremiah 2:2, therefore, clearly speaks of Israel’s engagement to God.
Where and when did this engagement take place? Ezekiel 16:8 says, “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine.” According to the context of the chapter, this verse refers to the exodus and the time thereafter. Out of a deep love for the people, the Lord entered into a covenant with them. This covenant was enacted at the mountain of God, through the giving of the law (Exo. 20:1-12). Have you ever realized that the giving of the law was a transaction in which God’s people became engaged to Him?
As we shall see, the law is an engagement covenant, an engagement paper. Jeremiah 31:32 indicates this: “Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord.” The covenant here is that mentioned in Ezekiel 16:8, made at the mountain of God, after God had brought the people out of the land of Egypt. Notice that in Jeremiah 31:32 God speaks of Himself as a Husband taking them by the hand. This indicates that when God gave the law, He was courting His people. We have seen that both Ezekiel 16:8 and Jeremiah 31:32 use the word covenant, a word which refers to the law given in Exodus 20. The law was an engagement paper, an engagement covenant. When God gave the law, He betrothed Israel unto Himself, and Israel became engaged to Him. By means of the law as an engagement paper, God officially betrothed the children of Israel to Himself and became their Husband, as indicated in Jeremiah 31:32.
I doubt that very many Christians think of the law as an engagement paper. In the western world, a ring is used as the sign of engagement. But in the Orient it is common for both parties to sign an engagement paper, an engagement agreement. The signing of such a paper shows the importance of engagement and serves as proof that a certain man and woman are engaged to be married. In Genesis 24 Abraham’s servant arranged for the engagement of Rebekah to Isaac. That engagement was a betrothal, an espousal. The betrothal of Israel to God took place at the mountain of God in Exodus 20, and the law was the official paper stating the conditions for this engagement.
The law gave the terms for the engagement between God and His people. The conditions for God’s engagement with Israel were the Ten Commandments. If we do not interpret the giving of the Ten Commandments in this way, how shall we expound Jeremiah 2:2, which speaks of the kindness of Israel’s youth and the love of her betrothals? No doubt the time following the exodus from Egypt was the period of Israel’s youth. We may say that the first nineteen chapters of Exodus are chapters in which God was courting, wooing, even “dating” His people. He wanted to be their unique Beloved. His desire was that the people would love Him and Him alone. Thus, God was the loving One seeking His people’s love. God was to be Israel’s Beloved, and the people were to be His love.
As we consider the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20, we see that the last five commandments were given in a simple, direct manner. God commanded the people not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to bear false witness, and not to covet (20:13-17). However, the first five commandments were given in an atmosphere of intimacy. Verse 2 says, “I am Jehovah thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This is not a word of legality; it is a word of love. Speaking intimately to His people, the Lord says, “I am Jehovah thy God.” The Lord is the One who was, who is, and who will be forever. As such a One, He brought His people out of bondage. In verse 3 the Lord continues, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Here the Lord is telling the people that they should not have any other beloved in addition to Him. He must be their unique Beloved. This was the first condition of the engagement between God and His people. Any man who betroths a woman to himself should require that she not love any man besides him. He should insist on being her only beloved one. To be sure, the word about having no other gods besides the Lord is a commandment. This commandment, however, is also a loving condition of the engagement of God’s people to Him. If we compare this commandment to the last five commandments, we shall see that it is spoken in love as a condition of engagement.
In verse 4 the Lord goes on to say, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Here we find another condition for this engagement. God did not want His people to make an image of anything. In like manner, when a young man becomes engaged to a young lady, he does not want her to have photographs of any other men. He wants her to have pictures only of him. Otherwise, he will be offended. The commandment about not having images is also a condition of engagement.
Verse 5 continues, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God” (Heb.). A jealous Husband, the Lord wanted His people to serve Him and Him alone. This is also true of human engagement. Every engaged man is jealous over his fiancée.
In verses 5 and 6 the Lord said that He would visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them who hate Him and show mercy unto a thousand generations of them who love Him and keep His commandments. This also is a word spoken as God was courting His people, seeking a people to love Him. From the creation of the world until the time of Exodus 20, God was alone. In a sense, He was lonely, a “bachelor.” In giving the law to His people, He was courting them, telling them that if they would love Him, He would show mercy unto their descendants for a thousand generations, a time span that will lead into eternity.
In 20:7 the Lord declares this condition of engagement: “Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain: for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Heb.). The Lord did not want His people to use His name in an improper way. As their Beloved, He wanted them to honor His name and use it lovingly. Likewise, a young man wants the woman engaged to him to honor his name and speak it in a proper way, full of love and appreciation.
Verses 8 through 11 say, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and made it holy” (Heb.). Just as a woman wears a ring as a sign of her engagement, the keeping of the Sabbath day was to be a sign that God’s people were engaged to Him. A young man who gives an engagement ring to the one he loves wants her to wear it as a sign that she is engaged to him. He would be very displeased if she did not bear such a sign.
In 20:11 we are told that God “blessed the sabbath day, and made it holy.” This means that the Sabbath day was sanctified, set apart. This was the reason that keeping the Sabbath could be a sign of engagement. Every woman who is engaged to be married is “sanctified”; she is marked out, separated, to a certain man. She is the only one who has the right to wear her beloved’s engagement ring. This separates her from all other women. In Ephesians 1:13 we are told that when we were saved, we received the seal of the Spirit. This seal is our engagement ring, a sign of our separation and sanctification. In Exodus 20, the Sabbath day was to be the mark of the separation of God’s people unto Him. As a condition of engagement, He required His people to bear a sign that they belonged to Him and that they were absolutely for Him. The Sabbath was a symbol which declared that God’s people belonged to Him alone. The Seventh-Day Adventists, in their legality and dogmatism concerning the Sabbath, ignore the true significance of the Sabbath day as a symbol that God’s people belong to Him as their Beloved, their Husband. We praise the Lord for showing us that the law is an engagement paper. When the law was decreed at Mount Sinai, the terms of the engagement of God’s people to Him were given.
Yet another term of engagement is mentioned in verse 12: “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee” (Heb.). In a previous message we pointed out that to honor our parents is to trace our origin back to its source. Ultimately, our source is God Himself. In betrothing the children of Israel to Himself, God wanted them to remember Him as their source.
The first five commandments were given in an intimate way as terms of the engagement of God and His people. Each commandment uses the expression “Jehovah thy God,” an expression uttered intimately again and again as God lovingly courted His people. He had been lonely for a long time, and now He was seeking their love. In Exodus 20 God was not seeking friends—He was seeking lovers. In giving His law to the people, He was seeking those who would love Him. After uttering the first five commandments in such a loving way, God proceeded to decree another five commandments, charging them with five “don’ts.” A man may also charge his fiancée with certain “don’ts.” In betrothing His people to Himself, God set a marvelous example of the way an engagement should take place. The young brothers among us may learn of God in this matter. We thank the Lord that the Bible affords us such a wonderful example of engagement.
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