Moses and Aaron

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exo 32:1)

  1. Children of Israel in the wilderness travel to Mt. Sinai where Moses receives the Ten Commandments from Jehovah.
    1. Moses comes down the mountain to instruct the people while there are ominous thunderings and lightnings on the mountain behind him.
      1. The Ten Commandments are accompanied with lengthy illustration and applications, also from the mouth of the Lord.
    2. Moses is then called back up the mountain to hear more rules, specifically the instructions for constructing the Tabernacle. Accompanied by Joshua (who waits somewhere below), he is gone a long time, and the people become impatient.
      1. The people approach Aaron and ask him to makes gods for them to take the places of Moses and Jehovah, who have apparently abandoned them.
      2. Aaron collected the jewelry from them (the same jewelry that they had “borrowed” from the Egyptians?) and molded and engraved a statue of a calf.
        1. The people then identified the calf as the god that brought them out of Egypt!
        2. When Aaron sees how the people respond to the calf, he built an altar before it and proclaimed the next day as a feast to Jehovah – present with them as the golden calf.
          1. Apparently a mixing together of the things they had admired in Egypt with this new God Jehovah, first introduced to them by Moses when he returned to Egypt after his time in Midian.
          2. It seems that it was Aaron’s judgment that these new externals were appropriate forms for worshipping Jehovah.
    3. Warned by Jehovah that the people are out of order, Moses rushes down the mountain. Joshua, who has been patiently waiting for him on a lower part of the mountain, meets him, expressing concern that there has been shouting from the camp, but it doesn’t sound like a battle.
      1. When Moses actually sees the people worshipping the calf, he throws the tables down, breaking them.
        1. An important visual symbol: The people were breaking the first commandment, and in so doing, they were breaking them all.…
      2. He destroys the calf by grinding it into a powder, putting it in the water, and requiring the congregation to drink it.
      3. When Aaron is challenged on his part in this, he tries to make sound like he was powerless, the people made him do it, and the calf miraculously formed itself from the molten gold as it cooled.
    4. Aaron, by himself, had been unable to restrain the passions of the people, and the people had brought shame upon themselves as a result.
  2. Egypt and the Ancient Church
    1. the Egyptians, more than all others who constituted the representative Church after the time of the Flood, possessed a knowledge of the religious observances of the Church (AC 7779:4)
    2. They … began to think, as one finds at the present day, that the Church consisted entirely in knowing the kinds of things that have to do with the Church, and no longer in a charitable life. Thus they turned the whole order of the Church upside down; and once this had been turned upside down truths which are called the truths of faith were inevitably falsified. (AC 7779:4)
  3. Let the calf-worship among Egyptians serve to illustrate this.
    1. They knew what a calf represented, namely the good of charity. As long as they knew this and had this in mind, then when they saw calves, or when they prepared calves at charitable feasts, such as the ancients held, or later on when calves were used in sacrifices, they thought in a way that was sane and at the same time in company with the angels in heaven since a calf is for them the good of charity. But when they began to make calves of gold, place them in their temples, and worship them, they thought in an insane manner and at the same time in company with the hells. In that way they turned a true representative into a false one. (AC 7779:5)
    2. The reason why the children of Israel made the golden calf for themselves and worshipped it in place of Jehovah, was that Egyptian idolatry persisted in their heart even though they professed belief in Jehovah with their lips. (AC 9391:7)
      1. This illustrates the importance of having Moses and Aaron together; of having the internal present in the external forms. The people were associated with Jehovah and very grateful to Him on an external level, but they had not yet come to any kind of internal worship – so when the internal tried to express itself Jehovah became, to them, a golden calf. The external form was twisted so that it could carry something of the true internal.
        1. This revealed that their true internal was still stuck in the ways of the past, in Egypt.
        2. This also explains why, in the letter, they kept telling Moses that they wanted to go back.
        3. This show what can happen to our external forms, even when they are orderly, if the internal life is not in accord with them.
    3. If we are wondering why the external worship that they selected had to do with a golden calf, rather than one of the many other symbols that were available to them from the Egyptian culture, the Heavenly Doctrines provide the following insight:
      1. Visible images symbolizing this good and that truth which the natural man possesses took the form in that land of calves and heifers made of gold. (AC 9391:7)
      2. Calves’ are accordingly that kind of good which is not in itself good, only delight such as exists with the natural man separated from the spiritual man. This delight, which is in itself idolatrous, is what the children of Jacob indulged in, as they were allowed to reveal and prove in their adoration of the calf. (AC 9391:10)
    4. When Moses and Aaron are together, worship/life are genuine because the spiritual is within the natural. The idolatrous dancing is an illustration of a merely external worship/life – amusing for the moment, but leads to unhappiness and punishment.
  4. Moses and Aaron.
    1. For by Moses is represented the Lord as to the Divine truth which proceeds immediately from the Lord; … By Aaron, the Divine truth which proceeds mediately from the Lord, and which is the doctrine of good and truth. … The truth which Aaron represents is truth which can be both heard and perceived by man; hence Aaron is called the “mouth,” (AC 6998)
    2. Moses = the Lord as to law, Aaron = the Lord as to doctrine. (AC 7104:)
    3. Moses = the interior of the Spiritual Church, Aaron = the exterior. (AC 7231e)
    4. Moses = inward law, truth accommodated to angels; Aaron = outward law, truth accommodated to men in the world. (AC 7381:2)
    5. Moses = truth Divine proceeding immediately from the Lord; Aaron = truth Divine proceeding mediately. (AC 8404)
    6. Aaron = the external of the Word, of the church, and of worship, separate from the internal. (AC 10397)
  5. Using the letter without the spirit to justify actions that arise out of the proprium.
    1. Moses = inward law, truth accommodated to angels; Aaron = outward law, truth accommodated to men in the world. AC 7381:2
    2. When we look only for what is practical, what seems to work in the short term, we get Aaron’s solution.
    3. We have to keep the team together – look for things that work, things that are practical in the world of work, but at the same time are expressions of higher laws and eternal goals.
      1. The way for us to avoid the problems of the children of Israel is to examine our motives to see whether Moses or Aaron is leading our thought.
        1. If one thinks of the thing they want to do first, and then seeks to justify doing it from the Word, the possibility exists that the internal and the external will not match, leading to spiritual confusion and conflict.
        2. If one thinks about the principles and reasons for doing something first, and then looks for ways to bring those into being, then Moses and Aaron are acting together, even though there may be an infinite number of ways of expressing that principle or eternal goal.
    4. To live only for the externals, to live for sensual delights, to look to the things of the world for guidance in all aspects of your life, to disregard the teaching of the Word because they seem remote and difficult to read, are all ways that we, today, can get caught up in the same things that led the children of Israel to worship the golden calf.
    5. On the other hand, to be patient while waiting at the foot of the mountain, to look to the Lord for guidance in your life, to think about the eternal consequences to yourself and those around you, are the ways that we can embody the ideal form of worship.
      1. Moses and Aaron together, leading the congregation of Israel on their way to the promised land of Milk and Honey.

And God spoke all these words, saying: {2} “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. {3} “You shall have no other gods before Me. {4} “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; {5} you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, {6} but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exo 20:1-6) Amen.


1st Lesson: Exo 32:1-20

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” {2} And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” {3} “So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. {4} And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” {5} So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” {6} Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. {7} And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. {8} “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” {9} And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! {10} “Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” {11} Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? {12} “Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’ ?Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. {13} “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” {14} So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people. {15} And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. {16} Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. {17} And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” {18} But he said: “It is not the noise of the shout of victory, Nor the noise of the cry of defeat, But the sound of singing I hear.” {19} So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. {20} Then he took the calf which they had made, burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder; and he scattered it on the water and made the children of Israel drink it. Amen.

2nd Lesson: AC 10397

And the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron. That this signifies that they turned themselves to the externals of the Word, of the church, and of worship, separate from what is internal, is evident from the signification of “gathering themselves together,” as being to turn themselves; and from the representation of Aaron, as here being the external of the Word, of the church, and of worship, separate from the internal. This is here represented by Aaron, because during the absence of Moses, he was the head of that nation, and by Moses, who was absent, is represented the Word (from which the church and worship are derived) in both the internal and the external sense (see the places cited in n. 9372). That such is the representation of Aaron is plain also from each and all things related of Aaron in what follows; namely, that it was he who made the calf and proclaimed a feast and made the people lax, all of which coincides with the external of the Word, of the church, and of worship, separate from the internal. He who separates the internal of the Word, of the church, and of worship from the external, separates from it the holy Divine. For the internal of these is their spirit; but the external is the body of this spirit, and the body without the spirit is dead; and accordingly to worship what is dead is to worship an idol, in this case to worship the golden calf and to proclaim a feast to it, and so to make the people lax. From all this it can be seen what is signified by “Aaron” in this chapter. Amen.


The Academy Position

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, Oct. 17, 2004


This weekend, many of us are celebrating Charter Day, the anniversary of the date that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave the Academy of the New Church a charter to operate a library and a theological school, and to publish books.

For the past hundred years, individual and societies throughout the world have put a great deal of time, effort, and money into creating and improving the various schools that make up the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA, and the various other “academies” such as the British Academy Summer School and the Midwest Academy. And yet, ironically, the Academy was not at first a school, but rather it was a doctrinal position within the General Convention, the original Swedenborgian church in the United States. The seeds that would later become the Academy of the New Church were planted with discontent over quality of Theological Instruction within the General Convention, questions about the nature of Swedenborg’s inspiration and the related questions about the authority of the Writings.

The ministers and laymen with the General Convention who believed in the Divinity of Swedenborg’s inspiration, the authority of the Writings, and the related doctrinal and governmental issues began to gather around Rev. William H. Benade for support and leadership. The began to refer to their point of view as the “Academy Position.” The history of how this informal gathering of people of like minds became the General Church of the New Jerusalem is quite interesting, but is both too lengthy and too much involved with non-doctrinal issues to go into here. Let’s just say that after going through several earthly dispensations, the Academy movement found its home in the General Church of the New Jerusalem under the leadership of its first executive bishop, W. F. Pendleton, in 1897.

In 1899, at the 3rd General Assembly of the General Church, W.F. Pendleton gave an address where, for the first time, all the principles of the Academy movement were gathered into one document. In 1958 Bishop deCharms said that they still reflected the doctrinal position of the General Church. They are not a dogmatic statement of faith, they are not binding on the conscience of the church, but rather a statement of the doctrinal opinion generally held at the time, but open to modification as the church matures.

The Twelve Principles

The Writings are the Second Coming of the Lord.

The Divine Human appears in the Writings. The Writings are the Divine Human appearing to the New Church

The reason a judgment on the former Christian Church was required was the falsity and ignorance both in the natural world and in the world of spirits. Swedenborg was not only one chosen to record and report these events, but was the instrument that caused the judgment by revealing the truths given to him by the Lord in both the natural world and the world of spirits.

This view sets the Academy apart from all other churches, and justifies its independence, its existence as a separate dispensation rather than as a movement within the Christian Church.

The former Christian Church is consummated and dead, with no hope of resurrection.

There cannot be a genuine church except with those who separate from it and join the New Church.

The New Church is to be distinct from the Old because they are distinct and separate in the world of spirits. The New Church in the heavens and in the world must act as one. The New Church in the world cannot be fully united to the New Church in the heavens until it casts out the falsities of the Old Church, the Old Church spirit, the Old Church life.

The priesthood is the appointed means for establishing the church

It is an appearance for the sake of freedom that priests are appointed and chosen by men. We may speak and act according to the appearance.

Essential truth is that they are appointed by the Lord, and chosen, taught, and prepared by Him for the use of the office.

Therefore, the priesthood is not to be placed under external bonds. In other words, lay councils and priestly councils, and any church official (such as an executive bishop) cannot force a priest to act apart from his conscience and enlightenment received while reading the Word except in the case of disorder or disturbance

Baptism is the door of introduction to the New Church, and conjoins with heaven.

By baptism a man becomes a member of the New Church in both worlds.

Only those who are baptized should be eligible for membership in the church in general.

Holy Supper is the most holy act of worship

And it is a purely representative act (no miracle of conversion into flesh and blood)

Holy Supper wine is to be pure, fermented juice of the grape.

Apparently there was an issue about wine in the late 19th Century. The Academy position is that fermented wine was used in the events reported in Scripture, that history confirms this view, and that such a practice is confirmed by reason and common sense. Also, from time to time a paper is presented in the Council of the Clergy which gives many deep and detailed reasons as to the importance of fermentation because it symbolizes man’s regeneration.

Conjugial love is between those of one mind, one faith, one religion.

Conjugial life is the home life. If conjugial love is not in the home, it is not anywhere. The conjugial in the home is the pillar upon which the church rests and by which it is supported; take away this pillar and the edifice is in ruins

The conjugial in the home consists in the husband and wife thinking together in the things of religion, and from this in other things. If they do not so think together they are not together in the spiritual world, and their spirits do not dwell together in the same society, and they are internally in collision and conflict.

Interference with the law of offspring is an abomination.

Marriage is the seminary of the human race

The end of creation is a heaven from the human race, which is fulfilled in marriage.

God provided marriage so that heaven would be provided with angels.

Opposing creation is a sin against God, heaven, and earthly society

The laws in the latter part of CL are given for the preservation of the conjugial.

Specifically numbers 444 to 476 (Fornication and Concubinage)

Again, we must realize that this was an active issue in the church at the time, with quite a few people claiming to be shocked at what they considered to be “obscenities” contained within CL.

There were many who said that the book should be edited, that the forgiveness for moderate fornication and orderly concubinage were “mistakes” and should not be included in the Word.

Since the work was under attack, and since the attack was really a judgment at the question of the Divine authorship of the Writings, the Academy people responded it to it far more strongly that we would expect from our perspective.

The doctrine of the NC is revealed from God out of the inmost heaven.

Again, a response to an attack from others within the New Church community, specifically those who were guilty of “false celestialism,” as when Benade claimed that the Academy was an internal church for those who were regenerated, and that his enlightenment was superior because of its “celestial” source.

Therefore the NC is a celestial church, but accommodated to every state. There is no perception of truth outside of doctrine.

Doubt gives reason for delay; there should be “essential unanimity.”

In heaven, there is government by unanimous consent. This principle is impossible to achieve in this world, but it must be sought and protected where found.

Doubt is an indication of Providence that the time is not yet right. There is need for further though and reflection to make a rational judgment.

Delay is not just to substitute unanimity for majority, but a protection of the internal

Make a habit of thinking together from common affection

A ruling principle of the choirs of heaven.

Laws should reflect present needs and uses; laws other than this are hurtful.

We cannot legislate concerning Divine revelation

Nor can we reason about it.

Nor can we legislate for things contingent or remote.

Therefore, we should limit ourselves those things we can see: present needs and uses.

The future belongs to the Lord alone.

Man’s work lies in that which is immediately before him.

The most fruitful field of Evangelization is with the children of NC parents.

Writings teach that few from the Old Church will receive the New.

200 years of experience confirm these teachings.

Not profitable to hold to the belief that there will be a mass conversion from the former Christian churches

Where NC bodies have neglected their children, few have become adult members (i.e. Convention in the US.)

It is reasonable to hope that children will become adult members if we cooperate.

If the Lord is acknowledged in His Second Coming

If the distinctiveness of the Church is seen and protected

If the laws of order in marriage are preserved and followed

If the sphere of the church is in the home

If there are New Church day schools

In order to conduct this work, there must be New Church Schools

The Academy decided to occupy this new field of Evangelization hoping that it would provide the main source of new adult members.

This is the most fruitful field in which to seek new members

It is the field that is nearest: in our very homes

The Academy will provide for growth in quality as well as numbers

The resolve of the Academy was to provide for the future of the church in both the quality of understanding of the doctrines, and the numbers to support and perform the uses of the Lord’s Church on earth.

In essence, the Academy position is receiving the Writings as the Word

Sincere application of the teachings according to the light of the time. I think it can be seen that these twelve principles cover all aspects of the church.

The nature of the Lord and the Word

The connection between Regeneration and Conjugial Love in marriage

Principles to govern how larger groups interact and govern themselves

Real world applications and the creation of New Church Schools

These principles do not prescribe how one must believe to be a member of the General Church today, but rather describe what the generally held view was in our historic past.

Some of these principles we would willingly embrace today. Others we would find difficult to embrace wholeheartedly. But certainly, on the anniversary of the external embodiment of the Academy movement, it would be useful for all of us to reflect on our doctrinal heritage, and turn to the Word for ourselves to establish the principles on which we will base our life’s decisions. Amen.

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