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A Lamb for an Ass
“And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.”
Throughout the Mosaic dispensation, every day in the Jewish nation opened and closed with the sacrifice of a lamb. A lamb was offered upon God’s altar at the door of the tabernacle every morning to begin the day; and another lamb was sacrificed every evening to conclude it. The Lord God said, “I will meet you, to speak there unto thee” (Exodus 29:42). The lamb sacrificed was the place of meeting. God came to his people and his people came to him by a sacrificed lamb. There was no other way for the two to come together. If God came to man, it was by a lamb sacrificed. If man came to God, it was by a lamb sacrificed. That lamb sacrificed was given to the children of Israel for a token, a sign, upon the hand that made the sacrifice and in the eyes that beheld it. And this is what the token promised, this is what the Lord God said by the sign, — This is how I will dwell among you and be your God, this is how you “shall be sanctified by my glory” (Exodus 29:38-46).
According to the typical revelation of the law given in Exodus 29, sanctification was by the sacrifice of a lamb; and in verse 43 we are told that it is by God’s glory. Does the Lord God mean for us to understand that all our salvation and all his glory is in that Lamb to whom these typical lambs pointed, the Lamb of God, Christ our Passover, the Lamb of God sacrificed for us? Indeed, he does! All our salvation and all God’s glory is in the Lamb of God slain for sinners.
In the 2nd verse of chapter 13 the Lord God commands, “Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.” But what about the unclean animals? The Lord God gave very specific command, forbidding that any unclean beast be offered to him (Leviticus 27:11). He makes two commandments that seem to contradict one another. If one was fulfilled, it would appear that the other could not have been. He demanded that all the firstborn of man and beast be sanctified unto him. Yet, he also forbade offering anything that was unclean to him. How can such a law be fulfilled? How can all the firstborn be sanctified to the Lord, and no unclean thing be offered to him? The Lord God himself answers that question in Exodus 13:11-13. — The ass was redeemed, made clean and accepted by God, by the sacrifice of a lamb.
There are four things in these verses that I want you to see. Of course, everything here stated is to be understood typically. That which was required by God in the law was typical of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation of our souls by his sacrifice of himself for us (Hebrews 10:9-14).
First, the ass, being an unclean thing, could not be accepted by the holy Lord God. Even so, fallen man, being unclean, cannot be accepted by God. According to the law of God, no animal was considered clean except that which both divided the hoof and chewed the cud. By that standard of the ceremonial law, and certainly by the standard of the moral law, every man is unclean. But the Lord God sacrificed a Lamb, his own dear Son, the Lamb of God, for chosen sinners, and made the unclean altogether clean before him.
This is the great wonder of grace. — Being redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, we are the sheep of God, the lambs of Christ’s flock, made fit to sit far above principalities and powers in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. Lost by sin through the fall, and utterly unclean, God’s super-abounding grace has made us utterly clean, without spot and without blame, through the sin-atoning blood of his own dear Son!
Like the unclean ass, fallen man is incapable of acceptance with God, because “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). We are unclean: unclean at heart, unclean in nature, unclean in thought, and unclean in all our deeds That means that it is impossible for any man to do anything acceptable to God. — “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one” (Job 14:4). We cannot obey God’s law. We cannot do good. We cannot justify ourselves. We cannot make ourselves clean.
Consider the image given in Exodus 13. A man might wash his filthy donkey, and make it smell better; but it would be unclean still. He might separate the filthy thing from others like it, and put his ass in the field with his sheep; but a donkey grazing with sheep is still a donkey. It is still unclean. A man might even, by torturous devices, split the hooves of his ass and make it look like one of those clean animals that divided the hoof; but it was still unclean. There was only one way for the unclean ass to be made clean and acceptable with God, only one way it could be sanctified unto the Lord, a lamb had to die in its place.
So it is with fallen man. You and I cannot, we never can, strive as we may, be made clean and accepted before the thrice holy God, any more than the ass could be acceptable at the altar of God, except by the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God (Job 9:20, 30-31; Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16, 21).
Second, the Lord God would not receive the ass. He refused to accept the ass, because it was unclean. Yet, the Lord God would not relinquish his claim upon it. He said, “It is mine” (v. 2). God claimed all the firstborn of man and beast, clean and unclean; and that claim he refused to relinquish.
Nothing has changed. God still claims his rights as God. You and I are his. The sinner cannot be accepted by God, and cannot serve God. Still, God’s claim is upon us. He still demands that we be sanctified, holy and clean before him (Leviticus 20:7; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
There are many who tell us that God does not require more of a man than he can perform, that man is not responsible for what he cannot do; but that simply is not true. As he commanded Abraham, so he commands you and me. — “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). The gospel does not lower the demand. God’s law demands, redeem the ass or break its neck. And the same gospel that declares “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” declares “the wages of sin is death!” Our inability to pay the debt does not remove the debt. Your inability to obey God’s law does not relieve you of your responsibility to do so.
Can you imagine a man standing before a judge and saying, “Your honor, I cannot help myself. I have such an irresistible tendency to steal that I simply cannot stop robbing people whenever I find the opportunity. Since I am a man without principle, the law has no claim upon me”?
Your inability to keep the law does not free you from the guilt and condemnation of God’s broken law. And the sinner’s inability to trust Christ as his Savior and Lord does not relieve him of his responsibility to do so. Man’s inability is not his misfortune. It is his sin. Therefore, it is written, “He that believeth not shall be damned!” The Lord God says…
“Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.”
“He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” (Proverbs 29:1)
The ass could not be accepted, but still the ass belonged to God. And fallen man cannot be received as is, sinful, guilty, and unclean. But God will not relinquish his claim. He says, “Redeem the ass, sanctify it unto me, or break its neck.” The Lord Jesus declares, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). If you will not be sanctified unto him, he will condemn you. If you refuse to trust Christ, you shall be called to account in the day of judgment and cast into hell.
Redeemed by a Lamb
Third, the Lord God met the difficulty by providing a substitute for the unclean ass. Though the ass must be God’s, it could not be, because it was unclean. The opening line of verse 13 reads, “Every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb.” What a sweet, beautiful picture this is of the glorious gospel of Christ! The Lord God often compares man to an ass. It is written, “God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth…For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt” (Job 11:6, 12).
You and I are all born by nature “like a wild ass’s colt,” foolish, senseless and stubborn, given to lust and debauchery, and wild. As the wild ass will not bear the yoke, so none will ever bow to the yoke of Christ, except the Son of God break him. Man by nature is like “a wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up wind at her pleasure” (Jeremiah 2:24; Job 39:5).
In the movies you see old men and women riding donkeys, and you get the idea that they are nice, gentle, sweet animals, the kind you would like to have for pets, if you just had the room. But that is never the case by nature. It is their nature to be mean. If you try to get one to ride, to carry a load, or to pull a cart until he is broken and tamed, he will buck and kick and bite. If all else fails, he will just sit down.
That is a pretty good picture of man. Made by God and made for his glory, all men ought to gladly give thanks to him, submit to his rule, worship him, and give him his due. But just try to get one to worship God. — Watch him kick! Tell the sweet, religious wild asses of this world the truth about man, about God, about Christ, about redemption and grace. — Watch them buck and bite!
Such wild asses we are by nature, unclean, unfit for God, unfit for service to God, unfit even to be sacrificed to God! Yet, the holy Lord God said, “I will take the wild ass, the unclean thing, make it clean, use it for my service and show my glory in redeeming it with a Substitute, by the blood of the Lamb.” He said, they “shall be sanctified by my glory!” He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up to die in our stead, as the Lamb of God, our Substitute (Romans 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 4:4-6; 5:17-6:2). — And that is his glory!
Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, was offered to God as a Substitute for ungodly, unclean, unacceptable man. Christ died, that we might never die. He was cursed, that we might not be cursed. He was rejected, that we might be forever accepted. He was despised, that we might be approved of. He was forsaken, that we might never be forsaken. He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him!
If you would understand the Word of God, you must begin here and end here — Substitution. The Book of God is all about Substitution. As Charles Spurgeon put it, “The heart of the gospel is redemption, and the essence of redemption is the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.” That is the only hope of the sinner, and the only joy of the true believer. That great, indescribably great transaction that took place at Calvary two thousand years ago, the great substitutionary work of Christ, the mighty transfer of sin from the sinner to the sinner’s Surety, the punishment of the Surety in the sinner’s place, the pouring out of the vials of divine wrath, which were due to us upon the head of our Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ, is all our hope, all our joy, and all our salvation!
This is the greatest transaction that ever took place upon the earth, the most marvelous sight that men ever saw, and the most stupendous wonder that heaven ever executed. Jesus Christ was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Jesus Christ, the spotless Son of God, was made sin! That Jesus Christ was punished in our stead; that the wrath which was due to his people was endured by him; that he drained the cup of bitterness we ought to have drunk; that he has put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself; that he has suffered all the fury of God’s holy wrath that we should have suffered, and so fully and completely satisfied divine justice by his death that our God now declares to his redeemed “fury is not in me;” that he who knew no sin was made sin for us, he who was altogether clean was made unclean for us, that we might be clean before God and forever “accepted in the Beloved,” is the grandest of all truths, a gospel so sublime that if every child of God in the world were to be burned in one dreadful holocaust, the price would be but little to maintain this precious revelation of grace in its integrity upon the earth.
Christ Jesus came into the world to take our sins upon himself and to be punished for them. If Christ was punished for our sins, we cannot be punished for them. Justice will not allow it. Christ’s being punished in our stead was the full discharge of our debt, the debt we owed to divine justice. If Christ died as a Substitute for me, if the Lamb of God was sacrificed to redeem this wild ass of a man, though I am nothing but an unclean ass in myself, I can no more be damned than Christ himself can be damned. Hell cannot have me! Either the ass or the lamb must be slain, but never both! If both were slain, where is the justice of God? Where is the honor of God? Where is his glory? What difference does the sacrifice make?
Perhaps you think, “How may I know that Christ died for me?” Do you trust him? Will you trust him now? If you do, that is the evidence that you have been redeemed by the Lamb of God. Christ took your place upon the cursed tree. You are without sin, altogether clean and righteous before God. — God says so! You shall never die!
Let all who know what it is to be redeemed with the precious blood of God’s dear Lamb, tell it out everywhere to everybody. Tell the sick, tell the dying, tell the young, tell the old, tell sinners of every degree and in every place, that salvation is not by what they do, nor by what they feel, but in what the Lamb of God has done!
“Nothing, either great or small,
Nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.
When He from His lofty throne
Stooped to do and die,
Everything was fully done:
Hearken to His cry: -
‘It is finished!’ Yes, indeed,
Finished every jot:
Sinner, this is all you need,
Tell me, is it not?
Weary, working, plodding one,
Why toil you so?
Cease your doing: all was done
Long, long ago.
Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
Doing is a deadly thing,
Doing ends in death.
Cast your deadly doing down,
Down at Jesus’ feet,
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Bless God for the good news of those words, “Every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb!” But there is a fourth thing that I must tell you. The law declares, — “And if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck.” There is no alternative. Every firstling of an ass must either be redeemed by a lamb, or it must be slain at God’s altar. You must have Christ as your Substitute, or justice demands that you must be slain as the unclean ass you are. Calvary or hell! Christ or damnation! Forever clean or forever unclean! Turn or burn! Believe or be damned!
If now you believe on the Son of God, you have everlasting life; you have been redeemed by the sacrifice of God’s Lamb. Oh, God help you to believe on his Son! Come, bathe your soul in this Fountain, and be clean (Romans 8:1-4). If you will not believe on the Son of God, your neck shall be broken forever in hell, under the wrath of God.
“How they deserve the deepest hell,
Who hate the Son of God!
What chains of vengeance must they feel,
Who trample on His blood!”
Christ, the Clean, was made unclean, that he might make the unclean clean forever! Blessed Lamb of God! Blessed, blessed Savior, adored be your matchless name forever! That’s the Gospel! God help you to believe it, for Christ’s sake.