Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Apparently Exodus 18 is not a difficult chapter. However, it is actually the most difficult chapter in the book of Exodus to understand. To understand this chapter, we need to realize that, in principle, Exodus is a picture of God’s full salvation. Every case and story recorded in this book is part of this portrait. In this message we shall consider what part of God’s salvation is portrayed in chapter eighteen.
Some readers of the Bible may wonder why chapter eighteen is included in the book of Exodus. They may think that it would be better to go directly from chapter seventeen to chapter nineteen, from the defeat of the Amalekites to the mountain of God, where the people received the heavenly vision. Chapter eighteen seems to stand alone, having no connection with either chapter seventeen or nineteen. However, if we care for the principle that Exodus is a picture book portraying God’s full salvation, we shall want to know the significance of Exodus 18 with respect to this portrait. What is the meaning, the significance, of this chapter in God’s salvation?
If we read carefully the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, we shall find that what is recorded in Exodus 18 was not written according to the sequence of history. The events in Exodus 18 did not take place immediately after the events recorded in Exodus 17. Actually, the events in chapter eighteen took place after the building of the tabernacle and not long before the children of Israel began their journey with the tabernacle toward the good land. Therefore, according to historical sequence, chapter eighteen should come after chapter forty. Deuteronomy 1:6-18 proves this. The time to which Moses refers in Deuteronomy 1:9 was the time the children of Israel were about to begin their journey with the tabernacle to the good land. At that time, Moses told the people that he alone could not bear their weariness, burden, and strife (Deut. 1:12, Heb.). That was the time captains were appointed over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.
Since these things took place after Exodus 40, why are they recorded in Exodus 18 and inserted between chapters seventeen and nineteen? To answer this question we need to recognize another important principle: the Bible was written mainly to give us a complete revelation of God’s economy. For this reason, sometimes the biblical record is not according to the sequence of history, but is instead according to doctrine. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, was not written according to the sequence of history; rather, it was written according to a particular doctrinal arrangement. The Gospel of Mark, on the contrary, was written according to the sequence of historical events. Matthew arranged the events according to doctrinal significance. This principle applies to the placement of Exodus 18.
To be sure, the book of Exodus does not record everything that happened to the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt and spent the first period of time in the wilderness. The same principle applies in the four Gospels. The Gospels do not include everything the Lord Jesus did in His life on earth. The writers of the Gospels selected certain things and put them together for the purpose of presenting a view of the divine revelation. Exodus was written in the same principle and for the same purpose. The purpose of Exodus is not to give us a detailed history of everything that happened to the children of Israel; it was written to present a complete view of God’s full salvation.
In Exodus 17 Amalek is defeated. This signifies the subduing of the flesh, which frustrates God’s people from going on with Him. After the defeat of Amalek, there is the need of something to portray the kingdom of God. Under divine inspiration, Moses inserted an event which occurred later in order to fill the gap between chapters seventeen and nineteen and to show us that in God’s full salvation the kingdom comes after the defeat and subduing of the flesh. After the defeat of Amalek, the kingdom is needed for the building up of God’s dwelling on earth.
We have pointed out again and again that Amalek signifies the flesh, God’s enemy within man. Satan is God’s enemy. Through the fall of man, Satan has brought forth another enemy of God. This enemy, man’s flesh, is God’s enemy within man. In the eyes of God, the two greatest enemies of God are Satan and the flesh. In a sense, Satan also is in fallen man. But the actual subjective enemy of God in man is the flesh. For this reason, God hates man’s flesh.
According to the New Testament, when man’s flesh is defeated and subdued, the kingdom of God immediately comes in. This point is clearly indicated in Galatians 5:17-25. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these oppose each other.” Verse 21 tells us that those who practice the things of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. Verse 24, using the phrase, “have crucified the flesh,” refers to the cross. When the flesh is crossed out, the kingdom is present with us. This is confirmed by our experience. The Spirit is versus the flesh. In the Spirit there is the power to cross out the flesh. When the Spirit with the power of the cross defeats our flesh and causes it to be subdued, the kingdom of God is with us.
Four crucial words in Galatians 5:17-25 are flesh, Spirit, crucified (referring to the cross), and kingdom. Each of these four terms may be signified by a color: the flesh by black, the Spirit by green, the cross by red, and the kingdom by blue. It may even be helpful to mark these words in our Bibles with these colors. The flesh certainly is black, whereas the Spirit is green, full of life. The red cross deals with the black flesh. This brings in the kingdom, signified by blue, the color of the sky. If we focus our attention on these four terms, we shall be enlightened. In our experience today we have the black of the flesh, the green of the Spirit, the red of the cross, and the blue of the kingdom.
The book of Exodus is composed of two main sections. Chapters one through seventeen make up the first section, and chapters nineteen through forty, the second section. In the first section we see that we, who were fallen, have been redeemed, saved, and delivered. Furthermore, we see that we have passed through the Red Sea and have entered into the wilderness, where we enjoy God’s provision and defeat the flesh. What a wonderful salvation this is!
In the second section, chapters nineteen through forty, we have a revelation of the building up of God’s dwelling place on earth. Several chapters in this section are concerned with the law. However, this fact should not keep us from having a complete view of the book of Exodus. The purpose of this book is to show God’s full salvation for the building up of His dwelling place. In the first chapter we see God’s chosen people in a fallen condition in Egypt, but in the last chapter we see the tabernacle as God’s dwelling place. What a contrast! God’s chosen people are saved all the way from their fallen condition into God’s dwelling place.
At the beginning of the book of Exodus, the children of Israel, God’s chosen people, are under the tyranny of the world. God saved them, delivered them, rescued them, and made them His dwelling place on earth. Thus, the focal point of the book of Exodus is not the giving of the law. Yes, this book definitely records the decree of the law. But if we only pay attention to this, we shall not see that the complete view of the book of Exodus encompasses God’s salvation for the building of His dwelling place. In the first seventeen chapters of this book we have a portrait of how God saved His people, delivered them, rescued them, and provided for them in the wilderness. Then He brought them to Mount Sinai to give them the vision of the building of His dwelling place so that they might build it according to this vision.
If we read the book of Exodus according to the natural concept, we shall emphasize the giving of the law. To us, the book of Exodus will primarily be a record of how God gave commandments, ordinances, and statutes through Moses. However, if we have a divine, spiritual viewpoint in reading this book, we shall realize that Exodus is not primarily a story of the giving of the law, but is an account of how God saved His chosen people and gave them a heavenly vision so that they could build His dwelling place on earth.
Even though we may pay attention both to the decree of the law and to the pattern of the tabernacle, deep within, our concept may be that Exodus is primarily for the decree of the law. We may pay far more attention to the law than to the tabernacle.
Between the two main sections of Exodus, the section on God’s salvation and on God’s building, there is the need for the kingdom. Without the kingdom, there is no result, no issue, of God’s salvation. This is exactly the situation among many Christians today. Because few Christians deal with the flesh thoroughly, there is not found among them the proper result of God’s salvation, that is, the kingdom. A certain Christian may be fundamental, scriptural, and ethical. Nevertheless, he may be altogether in the flesh. He may love others and be quite humble. But his love and humility may be of the flesh. Even his work of gospel preaching may be carried out in the flesh. In our preaching of the gospel we may be nice, pleasant, and humble, always talking kindly to others and never arguing with them. But all this seemingly good behavior may be of the flesh. It is one thing to preach the gospel in the Spirit and another thing to preach the gospel in the flesh. God does not first care for what we do; He cares for the means by which we do things, for whether we do them by the Spirit or by the flesh.
There are many Christians who are not able to understand such a word about the flesh. They enjoy God’s salvation to a certain extent, but in their enjoyment there is no proper result. If we enjoy God’s salvation to the extent of defeating Amalek, of dealing with God’s enemy within us, we shall have the kingdom of God as the issue, the result, of God’s salvation. Throughout all my years in the ministry, I have never seen a group of Christians who know the flesh as thoroughly and who have such a proper fear of acting in the flesh as the saints in the Lord’s recovery today. For this reason, we have the kingdom as the result of God’s salvation.
When we are in the flesh, we are easily offended by others. But when we are in the Spirit, the opposite is true. It is very difficult for anyone to offend us. Furthermore, the flesh has its own preference, its own taste in doing things. For example, many Christians like to make a display of how much money they donate to some cause. They expect to receive public recognition for this. This is of the flesh. So much of what Christians do today is done in the flesh.
Certain ones who criticize the Lord’s recovery have said that we are all under someone’s control. However, it is a fact that we are not under the control of anyone or anything. I do not control others, and others do not control me. Furthermore, the elders do not control the saints. But we are all under the control of the living Spirit with the operating cross. This kills the flesh. I can testify that the Spirit with the cross keeps me from arguing with my wife. Sometimes a negative word has been on the tip of my tongue, but the living Spirit with the operating cross came in to subdue the flesh. Because both my wife and I experience the killing of the flesh, we have a peaceful married life. If this is our experience at home and in the church life, we are living in the kingdom.
Instead of explaining the kingdom, the book of Exodus gives us a picture of the kingdom. Exodus is a book of pictures, not a book of explanations or definitions. For example, Exodus does not attempt to define God’s redemption. Instead, it presents the picture of the Passover. In this book there are no doctrinal definitions, but a full picture of God’s economy. In chapter eighteen there is no mention of the word kingdom, but there is a clear picture of the kingdom. If we read this chapter with the proper realization, we shall see that it is a portrait of the kingdom of God.
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