Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In chapter nineteen the children of Israel were brought into God’s presence and began to have fellowship with Him at His mountain. In the foregoing message we pointed out that in this fellowship with God His people came to know God’s grace and holiness. During the course of this fellowship, the law was given (20:1-17).
Exodus 20 has not been properly and adequately understood by many readers. It is commonly thought that this chapter tells us how the law was given. This is correct, but it is not the basic, primary concept. The basic concept in this chapter is that God reveals Himself to His people and thus enables them to know what kind of God He is. He wanted the children of Israel to know what kind of God they were approaching, what kind of God with whom they were having fellowship. It was important for the children of Israel not only to know such divine attributes as grace and holiness, but also to know God Himself.
In 20:4 the words image and likeness are used. Genesis 1:26, a verse which speaks of the creation of man, also uses the words image and likeness. God created man in His image and according to His likeness. As used in Genesis 1:26, the words image and likeness refer to God’s Person, to God Himself and to what He is. Hence, man was made according to what God is. In 20:4, however, these words are used in a warning: “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.” In verse 3 the Lord says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The word “before” here actually means besides, in addition to. Thus, the Lord seemed to be saying, “I am the unique One. Before Me, in addition to Me, you should not have any other god. You should not have any other image or likeness. The only image and likeness you should have should be Mine. I am unique and jealous. Do not make for yourselves an image or a likeness of anything.” These verses indicate that the Ten Commandments first speak of God’s image and likeness. In other words, these commandments refer us to God Himself. This indicates that the law does not merely consist of commandments for us to keep. Primarily, the law is a testimony which reveals what kind of God the Lord is.
Concerning the matter of law, there is an important principle: the kind of law a person makes expresses the kind of person that one is. For example, if criminals could make laws, they would legalize crime. Furthermore, a backward country would have rather barbaric laws, whereas a highly cultured society would have highly cultured laws. This principle applies also to God Himself. God is a Law-giver. In giving the law, He would never legalize crime or sin. He would not legalize theft or adultery, for He is not that kind of God. Only the god of witchcraft would legalize such things. A law is always a revelation of what kind of person has enacted that law.
The first function of the law is not to expose us; it is to reveal God to us. Years ago, I emphasized the fact that the law’s function was to expose us. In this message, however, I wish to emphasize the point that the primary function of the law is to reveal God to us. After God brought His people into His presence to have fellowship with Him, to serve Him, to contact Him, to worship Him, and even to feast with Him, He made Himself known to them. Prior to this time, God had not revealed to His people what kind of God He is. Yes, in Genesis 17 God did tell Abraham that He was perfect, almighty, and all-sufficient. However, that was not an adequate revelation of God Himself. Only when we come to Exodus 20 do we have a revelation of what kind of God our God is.
This revelation, however, is not given directly. Rather, it is given indirectly through the giving of the law. Apparently Exodus 20 is concerned with the giving of the law. Actually this chapter is concerned with the unveiling of God Himself. In decreeing the law, God made Himself known to His people. Through the law, they were able to understand what kind of God He is. The divine legislation is a revelation of God Himself. If we would understand this portion of the Word adequately, we must keep this concept firmly in mind.
Deuteronomy 4:13 speaks of “ten commandments,” whereas Exodus 34:28 speaks of “ten words” (Heb.). The expression “ten words” is significant. God regards the Ten Commandments, the ten laws, as ten words. This expression is a further indication that the law is God’s revelation of Himself, since the words a person speaks are a revelation of that person.
Exodus 20 does not clearly say which commandment is the first, which is the second, and so on. Although the fourth through the tenth commandments are clearly identified, it is difficult to determine which are the first, second, and third. The Jews understand this in one way, the Catholics in another way, and the Protestants in still another way. In order to have the proper understanding of the Ten Commandments, we should see that they actually begin with verse 2. Verse 1 is the introduction, and then verses 2 and 3 continue, “I am Jehovah thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Heb.). Verses 2 and 3 comprise the first commandment. Notice that in the first commandment the title “Jehovah thy God” is used. The same is true in each of the next four commandments. However, although the expression “Jehovah thy God” is used in each of the first five commandments, it is not used in any of the last five. The use of the title Jehovah in verses 2 through 11 gives us reason to join verse 3 with verse 2 and thus consider verse 2 as part of the first commandment. The second commandment is found in verses 4 through 6. Here we are commanded not to make a graven image or likeness of any thing in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, nor to bow down to them, for the Lord is a jealous God. The third commandment, concerning not taking the Lord’s name in vain, is found in verse 7; and the fourth, regarding the Sabbath day, is recorded in verses 8 through 11. The fifth commandment (v. 12) is about honoring our father and mother. The remaining five commandments are found in verses 13 through 17.
If we read carefully the record of the Ten Commandments, we shall see that they are divided into two groups of five. As we have indicated, in the first group the sacred title “Jehovah thy God” is used with respect to each commandment. But with the second group of five, the name of Jehovah is not mentioned even once. Hence, the use of the Lord’s name is a determining factor in reckoning the arrangement of the Ten Commandments.
The arrangement of the Ten Commandments may be understood according to the Jewish way, the Catholic way, the Protestant way, or the biblical way. According to the Jewish way, verse 2 is regarded as the first commandment, and verses 3 through 6 as the second. According to the Catholic way, verse 2 is not regarded as part of the first commandment, only verses 3 through 6. Furthermore, verse 17 is reckoned as two distinct commandments. According to the way followed by most Protestants, which is close to the biblical way, verse 3 is considered the first commandment, and verses 4 through 6, the second. Then verse 17 is regarded as the tenth commandment. However, as we have pointed out, verse 2 must be included with verse 3 as part of the first commandment. This is necessary to have the sacred title, Jehovah, included in each of the first five commandments. According to the biblical way, the first commandment includes verses 2 and 3; the second, verses 4 through 6; the third, verse 7; the fourth, verses 8 through 11; the fifth, verse 12; and the sixth through tenth, verses 13 through 17 respectively.
The Bible tells us clearly that the Ten Commandments were written on two stone tablets by God Himself. The first four commandments are related to God, whereas the last six are related to man. Some readers of Exodus may think that the first four commandments, the commandments concerning God, would have been inscribed on one tablet of stone, whereas the last six, the commandments concerning man, would have been written on the second tablet. However, the Ten Commandments had to be divided into two groups of five. This indicates that the fifth commandment, concerning the honoring of parents, is ranked with the first four commandments, related to God Himself.
For years I was unsuccessful in my efforts to find a reason for this. Eventually I came to see that the reason is related to our source as human beings. In Luke 3 the human generations are traced all the way back to Adam, and then to God. This indicates that when we honor our parents, we honor our source, which, ultimately, is God Himself.
Proof that God intended to rank the fifth commandment with the first four commandments rests in the fact that the sacred title “Jehovah thy God” is used in this commandment, but not in any of the following five commandments. There must be a reason the divine name is mentioned in each of the four commandments concerning God and the first commandment concerning man, but not in any of the other five commandments concerning man. The reason is that by honoring our parents we remember our source. A number of times I have asked unbelievers who their father is. Then I have asked them to trace back further and further until they had to trace their source to God Himself. Our human fathers remind us of God, refer us to God, and bring us back to God as our source. Therefore, it is a very serious thing for a person to despise his parents. To despise our parents is to despise our source, our origin, especially when we realize that our origin is not actually our human father, but is God Himself.
Our source as human beings is God. Those who do not believe in God should ask themselves where they came from. They should trace their origin until they find their source. Those who do this honestly will realize that ultimately their source is God. To honor our parents is to remember our source. I believe this is the reason the fifth commandment was inscribed on the same tablet as the first four commandments concerning God Himself. I believe that it is also the reason that it includes the name “Jehovah thy God.”
I can testify to the blessing we receive from honoring our parents. In Ephesians 6:2 and 3 Paul pointed out that the commandment about honoring our father and mother is the first commandment with a promise. According to Exodus 20:12, if we honor our parents, our days will be long upon the earth. This refers to the blessing of long life. The blessing of longevity is related to God as our source, for only He, the source of life, can grant us a long life. This is another reason the fifth commandment is related to the first four commandments regarding God. This commandment refers us to God and indicates that He is the source of life. If we keep this commandment, God will surely give us a long life. If we want our family and our country to be blessed by God, we must honor our parents and thereby remember God Himself as our source.
I hope that all the young people in the Lord’s recovery will honor their parents and not offend them. This does not mean, however, that they should follow their parents if their parents require them to deny the Lord or to worship idols. The Word of God must be our standard. As long as their parents do not require anything that is contrary to the standard of the Bible, the young people should obey them. According to Paul’s word in Ephesians 6, this is the way to enjoy the blessing of long life.
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