Being Apt to Teach and Holding the Mystery of the Faith, by Witness Lee


In the Old Testament we can see a picture of man’s fellowship with God. This picture is the picture of man going to the altar to draw near to God. In the Old Testament time the altar of God was where God was. If a man wanted to come to God, he had to come to the altar of God. Hence, only those who went to the altar were able to meet God.

The Bible often uses prophecies and types to speak about God’s salvation. The altar is a type of the cross that removes the barrier between man and God so that man may draw near to God. The Pentateuch, written by Moses, contains many descriptions of the altar that describe how a person should approach God. However, the records in the Pentateuch mainly emphasize the facts and not so much the feeling and taste concerning the altar. Most pleasant things taste sweet, and this sweet taste is closely related to man’s emotions. In the Psalms some of the experienced ones expressed the sweet taste of their experiences of the altar. For example, Psalm 43:4a says, “And I will go to the altar of God, / To God my exceeding joy.” When man comes to the altar, he comes to the God of exceeding joy. In Psalm 84 the sons of Korah also described their feeling about the altar, saying, “At Your two altars even the sparrow has found a home; / And the swallow, a nest for herself, / Where she may lay her young, / O Jehovah of hosts, my King and my God” (v. 3).

In the book of Numbers, Korah and his followers rebelled against God and received a very severe judgment. Because they rebelled to the uttermost, the judgment they received was the most severe the human race had seen (Num. 16). This group of people had been displeasing to God, yet when their descendants wrote psalms, they were able to fellowship with God with a heart devoid of fear, and they became those who longed after God. This was possible because of the altar, which removes the barrier and the distance between man and God. The description of the psalmist’s feeling about the altar in Psalm 84:3-4 is the most beautiful, the fullest, and the highest in the entire Bible. While considering the habitation of God, the psalmist thought of the altar and expressed his feeling concerning it with poetic expressions. As a descendant of a rebel, he had been far off from God, yet now he could draw near to God because of the altar. Therefore, because he was unable to express his inner feeling with ordinary words, he used the sparrow and the swallow as illustrations.

Psalm 102:7 says, “I watch, and I am like / A lone sparrow on a housetop.” Here it says that the sparrow is lonely and in affliction, yet it is watchful before God. This shows us that in the Psalms the sparrow refers to a person who lives in the presence of God. The sparrows mentioned in Matthew 10:29 and 31 show us that although a sparrow is worthless in itself, it is precious in the sight of God. Therefore, the sparrows in Matthew 10 also refer to those who live in the presence of God.

Jeremiah 8:6-7 says, “I have listened carefully and heard; / They have not spoken rightly; / There is no one who repents of his wickedness, / Saying, What have I done? / Everyone turns to his own course, / Like a horse rushing headlong into battle. / Even the stork in the sky / Knows its appointed times, / And the turtledove and the swallow and the crane / Keep the time of their coming; / But my people do not know the ordinance of Jehovah.” The people of God turn to their own course instead of to God. The stork in the sky knows its appointed times, and the turtledove and the swallow keep the time of their coming, but God’s people do not know the ordinance of God. The swallow here also signifies the people of God. Therefore, like the sparrow and the swallow, the people of God should know the ordinance of God, the time of God, and should live in His presence.


The sparrow and the swallow, being small, are very weak. This indicates that the psalmist felt his own frailty and insignificance. Everyone who has truly met God feels very small. All those who come to God through the cross also feel very small. Whoever feels that he is great has no way to come to the cross, and the altar is useless to him.

(Being Apt to Teach and Holding the Mystery of the Faith, Chapter 7, by Witness Lee)