GOD OF THE VALLEYS
A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith
Cataloged May 4, 1997
“And there came a man of God, and spoke to the King of Israel, and said, Thus says the Lord: Because the Syrians have said, 77ie Lord is God of the mountains, but He is not God of the valleys, therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (I Kings 20:28).
The Syrians’ insolent claim that the Lord was God of the mountains but not God of the valleys represents a false persuasion that the hells often inject into our minds. This persuasion is the feeling that we cannot reform our external life. Either we don’t see how the Writings apply to actual life, and religion seems to be something only for Sunday thoughts and good intentions, or when we do see the application, we don’t seem to have willpower to live up to it. We go right on making the same mistakes, slipping back into the same selfish habits. Then the hells can insert the thought that externals aren’t very important anyway as long as we mean well and our heart is in the right place. So we acknowledge that the Lord is God of the mountains, with authority over the higher parts of our minds, but we do not acknowledge Him to be God of the valleys, with the power to reform our lower, day-to-day thoughts, feelings and habits.
By the New Church doctrine of life, the Lord leads us to cut down and destroy the influence of these falsities, represented by the Syrian armies. The Writings show that we have to fight them first in the internal man, spiritually “in the mountains,” and then in the external man, meant by the “valleys and plains.”
To see the difference between the internal and the external man or mind, we are taught to think of the private thoughts we have when alone, as compared with the more superficial thought that guides what we say and do in public. In the private thought of the internal man, we form our philosophy of life and our intentions. Here is where we can see what we really think about things we’ve done and said, and why we did them, apart from any public pressure. In our private thoughts we can see ourselves as we really are.
Some people never look into their private thoughts, either because they are simple people or because they are afraid and unused to taking a good look at themselves. The Writings say that for such people it is enough for them just to think, when an evil inclination comes along, “I shouldn’t do that because it is against the Divine commandment,” and then not do it (HH 533, TCR 535-7). But most of us are able to explore ourselves and more fully cooperate with the Lord in our regeneration.
Our private thoughts are the mountains and hills of our mind’s geography. The true function of this part of our mind is to see how the spiritual things of heaven ought to govern the natural things of the world in our lives, while the lower part of our mind manages the day-to-day things themselves. The internal man is like a master, and the external man his faithful servant, who runs the household according to his master’s directions. The internal man is where the Lord forms a conscience in us, by which He leads us, according to our knowledge of the Word. So the Psalm says, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains, from whence comes my help” (1 2 1: 1).
The first step in regeneration is an act of the understanding. It is the reformation of the internal man. This is to see and acknowledge for ourselves that evil is evil, and good is good, and to think that good ought to be chosen over evil (see TCR 587). Our natural will from birth is inclined to evils of all kinds, loving ourselves and the world more than the Lord and the neighbor. But the Lord enables us to raise our understanding into the light of heaven, so that we can see what we ought to will and do to be happy and content in this world, and to be blessed to eternity. From parents and teachers, sermons, books and conversations, and especially from our own reading and reflections on the Word, we learn how to be civil, moral, and spiritual. The first step is to come to understand what good and evil are, and to make up our minds to shun evil and do good. This determination forms a conscience in the internal man, the beginning of a new will (see TCR 588).
So the first battle is fought in the mountains. Although the Lord is not merely a God of the mountains, and in the spiritual sense the war cannot end there, still our intentions have to be reformed first, and then by means of them our external lives can be reformed too. If we avoid an evil simply to look good in the eyes of the world, without ever taking an honest look at it ourselves and recognizing that it is evil in the Lord’s eyes and shunning it as a sin, we are merely hiding it from other people. It is still there in our intentions, and it comes out openly after death, when the social and civil pressure is off. The Lord cannot remove the love of the evil from us when we never reject it, or admit that it’s wrong. We become like an egg that is rotten on the inside but encased in a fine, white shell. Or we are like the Israelites farming the plains and valleys as a conquered, subservient nation, while the Syrians held the capital city and demanded tribute. This is why it is important at the times when we are examining ourselves, such as before the Holy Supper, to take an honest look at our intentions as well as what we’ve actually done, and try to imagine what we would do if no one would ever find out (see TCR 591-5).
The young princes of the provinces led the army of the Israelites into the first battle. Princes in the Word represent the primary truths that govern our lives, which can bring comfort in temptation. Such truths give strength to our affections for the truth and for doing what is right (see AC 5044). For example, we know that the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Writings are the Lord’s Word, the Divine doctrine of life. We know that we have to look to the Lord and shun the evils listed in the Ten Commandments as sins against Him. We know that we ought to do our daily work at home or on the job sincerely, justly and faithfully, for the good of others. If we keep hold of these basic laws of life, we will usually be able to fight through the clouds of confusion and see our way. “So these young princes of the provinces came out of the city with the army which followed them. And each one killed his man; so the Syrians fled; and Israel pursued them; and Benhadad, the King of Syria, escaped on a horse with the cavalry” (I Kings 20:19,20).
So the army of Israel was victorious; but the prophet warned that with the return of the year, the king of Syria would come up against Israel again. The return of the year signifies the return of a similar state, for evils are not conquered all at once but over a lifetime. The second battle was in the plains or valleys. The reformation of the lower mind is harder and takes longer than the reformation of the inner or higher mind (see AC 3469, NJHD 186:7). It’s one thing to face up to the truth that, from religion, we ought to change the way we think and act, and another to actually change, “For what is nearer to the world and to the body,” we read, “cannot easily be compelled to yield obedience to the internal man, except over a considerable length of time, and through many new states into which a man must be introduced. These states are states of self-acknowledgment, and of the acknowledgment of the Lord, namely of one’s own misery, and of the Lord’s mercy, thus of humiliation by temptation combat” (AC 3469).
The stiffened resistance of the will of the natural man, once it comes down to making an actual change, seems to be represented by the Syrians’ taking the ineffectual kings away, and replacing them with military captains, commanders. The war begins again in earnest. We can picture how much more effective the vast numbers of Syrian horses, chariots and infantry would be down on the lowland plains and broad valleys instead of up among the hills. Horses and chariots in the negative sense represent the arguments and reasonings of a false understanding of the Word – excuses and justifications of evils. Our natural minds are full of so-called facts, full of the illusions of the senses. These facts can seem very real and compelling. Any fact or reasoning that favors the appetites of our love of self and our world we are inclined to call true (see AC 3321).
So the Syrians came up, “… and the sons of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of kids; but the Syrians filled the countryside” (I Kings 20:27). The Writings teach that the evils which we are allowed to see in ourselves are like the tip of an iceberg, being connected with myriads of other lusts. It is not possible to change one thing in our character without affecting countless other things at the same time. The Lord seldom lets us glimpse the overwhelming odds against us, except to some extent in temptations. He then lets us see the real picture so that we may know from the heart that only the Lord can save us. The Lord sends word: “I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (text).
All that the Lord asks us to do in the fighting is to pick out one or two problems and work on them. The two flocks of kids represent innocence in the external man, such as when we compel ourselves not to do or meditate evils because the Lord has asked us not to. If we compel ourselves to remove some of the few evils that we see in our conscious life, the Lord can drive out the huge host of evils in the internal man, mostly unseen. Then at the same time, the Lord removes the desires and delights of evils from our conscious life. But He can do it only with our cooperation, when we fight against evils that we are aware of as if of ourselves, because otherwise we defend and protect them and don’t want the Lord to remove them (see DP 100- 128, the second law). Our good intentions have to conquer our natural inclinations, and descend into actual life, or they die, like a bird flying over a vast poisonous swamp, finding no safe place to come down and rest (see TCR 600).
The Syrians, like many other peoples in the ancient world, did not acknowledge one omnipotent God who ruled all things Himself, but thought of the many gods of the nations as local deities, whose power was limited to a certain area. We should not let ourselves slip into a similar feeling about the Lord, that He has power to help us and authority to direct our ways only in “the religious part of our lives.” Our whole lives can be and should be led by the Lord, by the ideals we see from His Word.
The process of reformation and regeneration alternates between the internal and the external man. We get a sight of how we can improve our lives, and then we work to live up to it; and as we do, the Lord lets us see something more of the ideal. We don’t need to have a complete understanding before we start, nor a spotless life. The important thing is to be willing to face up to those few things we see clearly, and to be willing to look for a few things more. So when the Israelites bravely went out … they killed a hundred thousand foot soldiers of the Syrians in one day,” because the Lord was fighting with them. When we look the evils with us in the face, and make the effort to resist them, the Lord always gives us victory and peace in the end. He gives us control of our external habits and thoughts, as well as of our intentions. The Lord becomes for us God of the valleys and God of the mountains. Amen.
Lessons: I Kings 20:1-30, John 13:1-17, TCR 587, 591 (headings only), 596
True Christian Religion 596
WHEN THIS TAKES PLACE A CONFLICT ARISES BETWEEN THE INTERNAL AND THE EXTERNAL MAN, AND THEN THE ONE THAT CONQUERS RULES OVER THE OTHER.
A conflict then arises because the internal man is reformed by means of truths; and from truths he sees what is evil and false, which evil and falsity are still in the external or natural man; consequently disagreement first springs up between the new will, which is above, and the old will, which is below; and as the disagreement is between the two wills, it is also between their delights; for the flesh, it is well known, is opposed to the spirit and the spirit to the flesh, and the flesh with its lusts must be subdued before the spirit can act and man become new. After this disagreement of the two wills a conflict arises; and this is called spiritual temptation. This temptation or conflict does not take place between goods and evils, but between the truths of good and the falsities of evil. For good cannot fight from itself but fights by means of truths; nor can evil fight from itself but by means of its falsities, just as the will cannot fight from itself but by means of the understanding where its truths reside.
Man is not sensible of that conflict except as in himself, and as remorse of conscience; and yet it is the Lord and the devil (that is, hell) that are fighting in man, and they are fighting for dominion over him, or to determine who shall possess him. The devil or hell attacks man and calls out his evils, while the Lord protects him and calls out his goods. Although that conflict takes place in the spiritual world, still it takes place in man between the truths of good and the falsities of evil that are in him; therefore man must fight wholly as if of himself, for he has the freedom of choice to act for the Lord, and also to act for the devil; he is for the Lord if he abides in truths from good, and for the devil if he abides in falsities from evil. From this it follows that whichever conquers, the internal man or the external, that one rules over the other, precisely like two hostile powers contending as to which shall be master of the other’s kingdom – the conqueror takes possession of the kingdom, and places all in it under obedience to himself. In this case, therefore, if the internal man conquers, he obtains dominion and subjugates all the evils of the external man, and regeneration then goes on; but if the external man conquers, he obtains the dominion, and dissipates all the goods of the internal man, and regeneration perishes.