Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message I am burdened to give a further word concerning the worship of God from 20:24-26. Worship is a very crucial matter in man’s relationship with God. Throughout the thousands of years of human history, thoughtful people have considered the matter of the worship of God. When such people ponder the universe with the sun, moon, and stars, and the earth with all the plants, living creatures, and mankind, they realize that there must be a God, an almighty Being. Then they begin to wonder how this God is to be worshipped. Considerations such as these have given rise to different religions. The religions invented by man have their source in the considerations of thoughtful people. By studying nature man has discovered certain things. Furthermore, as a result of his observations and discoveries, he has made inferences. Religion is the result of a thoughtful study of nature with man’s philosophical inferences.
According to the Bible, however, God does not allow man to devise his own way to worship Him. God does not give any ground to man’s natural concept or thought. He does not permit fallen man to worship Him according to inferences drawn from the study of nature. God condemns man’s natural inferences as related to worship. On the contrary, in the Bible God reveals how man is to worship Him.
In Genesis we do not have a clear revelation concerning the way to worship God. Exodus contains a much fuller revelation of this. After God brought His chosen and redeemed people to His mountain, He came to have fellowship with them. We have pointed out that the decree of the law on the mountain was given in an atmosphere of courtship. This means that at Mount Sinai God was courting His people. After giving them the Ten Commandments, the governing principles of the entire law of God, God went on to issue a number of ordinances. Between the giving of the Ten Commandments and the decreeing of the ordinances, God spoke to the people concerning the way they should worship Him (20:22-26). In the short span of five verses, the main points related to the worship of God are covered. As we shall see, in 20:24-26 both man’s work and man’s way are utterly rejected by God.
When I was young, I regarded these verses in Exodus 20 as primitive and uncultured. It seemed to me that no skill or inventiveness was required to make an altar of earth or stone. Even a child can do this. Even the most primitive, uncultured, and uneducated people can build such an altar for the worship of God. I could not understand why God was willing to accept such a primitive altar. Man’s way is not to build this kind of altar.
According to the history of civilization, man likes to build towers and skyscrapers. Those who live in New York, Paris, and Tokyo may boast respectively of the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, and the Tokyo Tower. The thought of fallen man is to build up something high. The first occurrence of this was at Babel (Gen. 11), where the people sought to build not only a city, but also a tower of which they could boast. This indicates that tall buildings are constructed so that man is able to boast. The more cultured people are, the more tall buildings they build. But God’s way is to have an altar without steps. Man’s way is to build up something with as many steps as possible. As far as the worship of God is concerned, God gives no room for man’s skill, ability, inventiveness, wisdom, labor, or power. On the contrary, the altar God requires must be something which, in the eyes of man, is primitive and uncultured.
Concerning the worship of God, the tendency of the natural man is to use his own power and wisdom. People use their wisdom to make plans and use their power, including whatever skills and abilities they possess, to carry out their plans. But according to 20:24-26, God does not recognize man’s wisdom and power. Even though Moses had been educated in Egypt and was familiar with all the aspects of Egyptian culture, being “trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), God did not allow him to use his wisdom to build an altar for the worship of God. Moses was not the only one among God’s people familiar with Egyptian culture. All those who came out of Egypt with him had been born there and knew the Egyptian way of doing things. All of them had received a strong infusion of Egyptian culture. In 20:24-26 God gave them a clear word concerning worship, telling them to make an altar either of earth or of stones. They were not to use hewn stones, and they were not to build an altar so high that it required steps in order to reach it. God seemed to be saying to the people, “I do not care for human work or invention, and I do not care for man’s way or concept. For the altar, you must use the materials created by Me. I care only for what I have created, not for man’s work or man’s way.”
In theology a distinction is often made between natural religion and revealed religion. Many regard Christianity as a revealed religion, a religion which has its source in God’s revelation, and regard all other religions as natural. However, it is very sad that even in Christianity today there is a great emphasis on man’s work and man’s way. In any Christian group it is easy to detect man’s work and way, but it is difficult to find something which is purely according to God’s revelation. Consider the situation in Catholicism and Protestantism. How much there is of man’s invention, skill, ability, plans, ways, power, and wisdom! Even the sermons given are filled with such things. Where can you hear a sermon that is pure and limited to the revelation of the Bible? Most sermons have many elements of culture, often mixed with the truth of the Word. A few years ago some of us heard a message given by the pope. This message was a mixture of biblical truth and human thought. Man’s work, way, power, and wisdom have thoroughly saturated today’s Christianity. As a result, it has become a mixture of God’s revelation and natural religion.
If we read carefully 20:24-26, we shall see that God’s revelation leaves no room for man’s work or way. God does not give even the slightest amount of space to man’s power, ability, skill, strength, wisdom, or plans. In like manner, in the Lord’s recovery we do not give place to man’s work or way. I have the assurance that if someone would conduct research on the recovery, he would find that we do not give ground to man’s work or man’s way. Some may wonder if the practice of pray-reading the Word is a way invented by man. However, pray-reading is not an invention of man; on the contrary, it is according to the Bible.
In today’s Christianity it is easy to see man’s work and way. This can be observed even without studying things closely. Among most Christians, man’s work and man’s way are very evident. Some who have been strongly influenced by man’s work and way consider the meetings of the churches in the Lord’s recovery to be primitive and uncultured. Their attitude toward us is that we are ignorant and have no knowledge or education. When a certain person visited me a few years ago, he asked how many among us have doctoral degrees. He boasted that among those associated with him there were more than one hundred with Ph.D. degrees. This is one illustration of the fact that in today’s Christianity much attention is given to human power, ability, skill, and wisdom. The consequence of this is that God is actually set aside. People may claim to worship God, but in their worship the work and way of man have actually caused them to put God aside. When the Roman Empire embraced Christianity, many elements of culture were brought into the so-called Catholic Church. Constantine the Great opened the way for many pagan things to be brought in. This caused Christianity to become a melting pot of different elements of man’s culture. Furthermore, the Catholic Church introduced many such things into their worship. For this reason, in the worship practiced in Catholicism there are many human inventions. Catholicism is filled with human ways, works, power, and wisdom. However, it is abominable in the eyes of God to bring anything man-made into the worship of God.
At this point I would like to say a word especially to the young people. We do not know how long it will be before the Lord comes back. The recovery may need to continue for many years. When some of you begin to take the lead in the churches, you may think that the Lord’s recovery was brought to this country in a very primitive way. Then you may want to use “tools” to hew stones to beautify the recovery and to lift it up. Automatically “steps” will be necessary to reach what has been built up in this way. In fact, in the past proposals were made to lift up the recovery in certain ways. Some even tried to build a pyramid related to the service groups. But by the Lord’s mercy and grace, this pyramid was demolished. Every step leading to the top of the pyramid was torn down. Instead, we simply gave everyone the opportunity to serve if they so desired.
Young people, do not bring man’s work or man’s way into the worship of God. To bring in anything of a human source is to insult the very God whom we worship. If we study the history of religion and the present situation of Christianity, we shall see an abundance of man’s work and way. But I repeat, God does not allow these things to have any place in His worship.
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