Life-Study of Exodusby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
The Bible is a very sweet book. We have a sweet taste when we read many portions of the Word. Psalm 119:103 declares, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” However, when we read Exodus 21:7—23:19, we may not sense any sweetness. Did this portion of Exodus taste sweet to you when you read it last? If we get into the depths of these chapters and touch the spirit in which they were written, we shall realize that this part of the Word also is very sweet.
The Bible was not only inspired by the Spirit; it was also written with a particular spirit. This is especially true of the laws and ordinances in the Old Testament. Even with respect to the secular law of a country, people speak of the spirit of the law. How much more is there a certain spirit in the law and ordinances decreed by God! If we touch the depths of 21:7—23:19, we shall have a sweet taste. However, although it is easy to touch the body of the Word outwardly, it is often rather difficult to touch the spirit of the Bible inwardly. To read only the letters in black and white is to touch the body of the Word. We must exercise to go deeper and touch the spirit of the Word.
The Bible as a whole was revealed by God according to His economy. Nevertheless, especially in the Old Testament, the divine revelation is given according to the situation of the people. For example, when I read the book of Exodus as a young man, I was troubled by the fact that God in His law did not abolish slavery. I also wondered why slaves did not have rights equal to the free. I asked why the law given by God and all the ordinances decreed by God still allowed such inequalities to exist. We are told that if an ox killed a slave, the owner had to pay a smaller amount than if the ox killed a free man (21:28-32). This indicates that a slave did not have the same rights as a free man. Some may even doubt that these ordinances were revealed by God. They may regard them simply as Moses’ own ideas. However, 21:1 clearly says, “Now these are the ordinances which thou shalt set before them” (lit.). All the ordinances in chapters twenty-one through twenty-three were written by Moses according to God’s dictation. Thus, they were not devised according to Moses’ concept. For this reason, we cannot dismiss them by saying that they are nothing more than an ancient way of thinking. But since these ordinances were dictated by God, we may ask why something like slavery was allowed to exist. Questions like this remind us that it is not easy to understand the Bible. In order to know the Word, we need to know God’s heart and also God’s economy, purpose, and plan.
The laws and ordinances of God in the Bible are written in a way that is very different from the way man-made laws are written. Often men try to write something classical when they compose a law. An attorney may even try to produce a classical writing on a particular case. However, chapters twenty-one through twenty-three of Exodus were not composed in a classical way.
As we read these chapters, it may seem to us that the ordinances are arranged in a rather unusual order. For example, 21:15 says that he who smites his father or mother shall be put to death. Then verse 16 says that he who steals a person shall be put to death. But then verse 17 speaks about one cursing his father or mother and being put to death for this offense. Why are verses 15 and 17 not put together? Why does verse 16 come between them? If we had composed this chapter, we probably would have put verses 15 and 17 together, followed by verse 16. But God inserted a verse having nothing to do with parents in between verses which speak respectively of smiting one’s parents and of cursing one’s parents. To be sure, the arrangement here serves a definite divine purpose.
We believe that every word of the Bible is God-breathed. If we would appreciate Exodus 21 through 23 adequately, we must touch the depth of these chapters to sense the spirit in which they were written. As we shall see, the spirit here is wonderful. No man-made laws of any nation or society have been written with the spirit found here. How sweet is the spirit in which God’s ordinances were composed!
We have seen that the first six verses of chapter twenty-one, the first of the many ordinances concerning man’s relationship with others, are related to slavery. The composition of these verses is not classical. Furthermore, according to the human concept, these verses are not altogether logical in their arrangement. But the spirit that pervades them is very sweet. We have pointed out that when given the opportunity to be free, a slave could say, “I love my master, my wife, and my children. I do not want to go out free.” What a sweet spirit! In His Word God does not care for a classical style of writing. Instead, He cares for sweetness of spirit.
In 21:1-6 we can see the spirit of a slave, the love of a slave, the obedience of a slave, and also the life of a slave. How sweet is this ordinance concerning slavery! I do not believe that we could sense any sweetness in any man-made law we might read. However, if we consider carefully all the ordinances in chapters twenty-one through twenty-three, we shall realize that every ordinance is sweet. For example, 23:4 says, “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.” Instead of wanting to return an animal belonging to an enemy, we may be tempted to praise the Lord for exercising His judgment on our enemy and for vindicating us. But according to this ordinance, an Israelite was to return a lost ox or ass to his enemy. Furthermore, according to 23:5, if an Israelite saw a heavily laden donkey belonging to a person who hated him, the Israelite was to stop what he was doing and relieve the animal of its burden. He could not excuse himself by saying that he was too busy. He had to lay aside his own burden to release from its burden an ass belonging to a person who hated him.
The New Testament teaches us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). But this commandment is not as sweet in spirit as the ordinances in 23:4 and 5. According to these ordinances, on the one hand an Israelite had to return an ox or ass belonging to his enemy; on the other hand, he had to work with the very one who hated him to release that one’s donkey from its heavy burden. In these matters an Israelite had to face his enemy personally. I know of brothers who have given financial help to those who hated them, but they did not visit those persons. However, according to the ordinances here, an Israelite had to personally return the lost animal to his enemy. The more we consider these ordinances, the more we realize the sweetness of the spirit in which they were written. Who would ever think that the laws of any nation would be composed in such a spirit? God’s laws were not written according to man’s wisdom. On the contrary, they were dictated by God in His wisdom.
As we have indicated, the ordinances in chapters twenty-one through twenty-three, as well as the ordinance concerning worship at the end of chapter twenty, all provide details to the Ten Commandments. Certain details are added to each of the commandments. We have already pointed out that the ordinance concerning the worship of God in chapter twenty adds details to the second and third commandments. Furthermore, some of the ordinances are a supplement to the commandments. Let us now consider the sundry ordinances of the law in 21:7—23:19.
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