Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In chapters twenty-one through twenty-three of Exodus many ordinances are covered. In this message we shall consider the first of the ordinances concerning man’s relationship with others (21:1-6).
In the Old Testament an ordinance either adds details to the Ten Commandments or supplements them. Nearly all the ordinances in Exodus 21 through 23 are concerned with man. But, as we have pointed out, in 20:22-26 there is an ordinance concerning the worship of God. This is a special ordinance, an extraordinary ordinance, for it is concerned not with man’s relationship with others, but with man’s relationship with God. There is no doubt that 20:22-26 is a supplement to the second and third commandments and also adds details to these commandments. The second and third commandments do not tell us how to worship God. But in 20:22-26 we see that we must worship God through an altar and with the sacrifices. The altar typifies the cross, and the sacrifices typify Christ. Hence, we must worship God through the cross and with Christ.
The sequence of the ordinances concerning man’s relationship with man is unusual in that the first ordinance concerns the relationship between a master and his slave. If we had written this part of the Bible, we probably would have put some other ordinance first, perhaps an ordinance concerning children and parents. We may have followed Paul’s sequence in Ephesians and Colossians and spoken of wives, husbands, children, and parents before slaves and masters. It is indeed strange and very significant that of all the ordinances in these three chapters the first mentioned is that related to slavery. It is important to know the reason for this.
One of the best ways to understand the Bible is to endeavor to touch the spirit of the particular portion of the Word under consideration. What, we may ask, is the spirit of this ordinance in 21:1-6? It is correct to say that the spirit of this ordinance is love and also obedience. However, something else is involved, something which is a prerequisite of both love and obedience.
How can we love and be obedient? Help in answering this question is found in Philippians 2:7 and 8. According to Paul’s word here, the Lord Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of a cross.” First the Lord Jesus emptied Himself and then He humbled Himself. In Philippians 2 Christ is presented to us as our pattern. As a pattern to the believers, He is a model of a proper human life. This pattern is not of one who occupies a high position in society; on the contrary, it is the pattern of one who is a slave. Even though Christ was equal with God and had the highest rank in the universe, He became a person on the lowest level of society. The very One who was equal with God not only became a man, but became a slave. In this He emptied Himself and humbled Himself. Those who would follow this pattern must also empty themselves and humble themselves.
Keeping the ordinances of the law has much to do with taking the form of a slave. There is not one nation where all the people are willing to keep the law. Instead, many try to escape the law and even hire attorneys to help them do this. Because people are not willing to keep laws, when God gave the Ten Commandments, He spoke of the people loving Him and said that He would show mercy to those who love Him (20:6). This indicates that we cannot keep God’s commandments unless we love God. In like manner, there is a prerequisite to keeping all the detailed ordinances of the law—the willingness to be a slave. The only one who can fulfill all the ordinances of the law is one who is willing to be a slave. A slave does not stand on his own rights. He only knows to serve and to sacrifice, not to care for his own interests. A slave must always be concerned for others. This slave spirit is the spirit of the ordinances in Exodus 21 through 23. Those who intend to keep the ordinances described in these chapters must first become slaves.
This principle also applies to our living as Christians today. Galatians 5:13 says that we were called to freedom, but should serve one another as slaves through love. If we would be a good husband or wife or a good parent, we must be a slave. This means that a father must be a slave in relation to his children. Only then can he be a good father.
To be a slave is to have the spirit of sacrifice. A slave is one who does not stand on his own rights; instead, he is always willing to serve others and sacrifice himself for them. If everyone in the United States had such a spirit, life in this country would be heaven on earth. There would be no need for attorneys, for no one would be fighting for his rights. The reason people fight with one another is that everyone cares for his own interests and rights. How different things would be if all men became slaves sacrificing and serving instead of fighting for their own interests!
Do you sense the spirit underlying the ordinances in these chapters? The spirit that pervades all these ordinances is the spirit of service and of sacrifice. If the Israelites did not have this kind of spirit, there would be no way for them to keep the ordinances. However, they could keep the ordinances if they were willing to empty themselves, humble themselves, lower themselves, sacrifice their rights, and serve others. Then they would live for others and not for themselves.
Both the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul emphasized the fact that the keeping of the law is a matter of love. When the Lord was asked which commandment was the greatest, He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart, and from your whole soul, and from your whole mind, and from your whole strength” (Mark 12:30). In Romans 13:8 and 10 Paul says, “He who loves another has fulfilled the law,” for “love is the fulfillment of the law.” In Galatians 5:14 Paul declares, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” How can we love others if we maintain our rank and fight for our rights and interests? To be like this shows that we love only ourselves. Then instead of keeping the ordinances of the law, we shall break them all. In order to keep the ordinances, we must empty ourselves, humble ourselves, take the lowest position, and regard ourselves as nothing. We must be willing to sacrifice our position, rights, and interests. This is to be a slave, a person who knows nothing except to serve others and to sacrifice himself for them.
If we discern the spirit behind all the ordinances in Exodus 21 through 23, we shall understand why at the very beginning of these chapters there is an emphasis on slavery. God’s ordinances certainly are altogether different from man’s laws. In human law there is no place for humility and love. But the prerequisite of fulfilling the divine ordinances is emptying ourselves, humbling ourselves, not claiming anything for ourselves, and sacrificing ourselves to serve others.
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