Three Honourable Men

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, 27 Nov. 2005

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (MAR 8:36)

Prince Shechem (GEN 34)

During Jacob’s travels through the land of Canaan, he encountered the men of the town of Shechem. The people in this town were a remnant of the Ancient Church. However, their standards of behaviour between men and women were more relaxed than those of Jacob’s tribe. The king’s son, whose name is also Shechem, saw Dinah when she came to visit with the young women of the town. Being strongly attracted to her, and being a prince, he took her and lay with her. Jacob and his sons regarded this as a terrible insult to their family, but Shechem asked his father Hamor to speak to Jacob so that he could have Dinah as his wife. The text tells us that she then moved into Shechem’s house.

While the circumstances of their meeting were not the best, we do see in Shechem the desire to make things right, to go to the woman’s father and ask for her as a wife. Jacob makes it a condition of the marriage that the entire town must convert to his religion, that is, all the men must be circumcised – and they agree! Again, a sign of Shechem’s honour and wish to do the right thing, even if the personal cost is high. But the text tells us that Simeon and Levi “spoke deceitfully” to Shechem. It was not their intention to welcome him into their family and religion at all, but a trap they were setting for him.

Three days later, at night while the men of the city were in bed recovering from the procedure, Simeon and Levi entered the city and murdered them all. They said they acted to restore their sister’s honour. But Jacob knew that Simeon and Levi had lied to Shechem to punish him. Jacob was more worried that they had broken their word to the people of Shechem than that his two sons had committed mass murder.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that it was permitted because the people of Shechem were of a more interior spiritual quality, and it was better that they die then and there than suffer the spiritual consequences of being associated with Jacob and his sons who were completely exterior and natural.

Abner (2SA 3)

Abner was a warrior, an able leader of men, and he faithfully served king Saul. When Saul and Jonathan died in battle against the Philistines, Abner followed his duty as he saw it and supported one of Saul’s weaker (but surviving) sons, Ishbosheth, as the hereditary king of Israel. He was probably not aware that David had already been anointed and selected as the next king.

Just as Abner led Israel’s armies for the king, so Joab led the armies of Judah for David – usually against each other. In one of the battles Joab’s younger brother – an inexperienced youth – decided that he would gain honour by killing Abner, sought him out, and pursued him in particular. Abner saw him coming, recognized him, and pleaded with him to turn aside to fight someone of his own ability. When Asahel continued to press his attack in spite of the warnings, Abner tried to push him away with the butt end of his spear, but he came so fast that the spear went through him, and he died.

Joab found his brother dead by Abner’s spear, and because he had tried to push him away with the butt end, the spear was positioned in the body the wrong way. To Joab, it appeared that his little brother had been stabbed in the back by Abner.

David knew that he could never reunite Israel and Judah without Abner’s support. Several months after the battle in Gibeon, David met with Abner and promised to protect the lineage of Saul if Abner would help him unify the kingdom. Abner agreed. Just as there can only be one king, there can only be one favourite assistant. Joab saw Abner as a threat to his position and so murdered him in cold blood, using the excuse that Abner had earlier murdered his brother. David held a huge state funeral for Abner, and dramatically wept for him. But he did nothing to punish Joab, because he was a ruthless murderer that David kept around because he was useful in the political process.

Uriah the Hittite (2SA 11)

Uriah the Hittite was a respected leader of the army, off at battle when David committed adultery with his wife. Called back from the field, he refused to return to the comforts of home while his men were in tents. His honourable behaviour prevented David from covering up his sin, so Uriah had to die so that Bathsheba would be free to marry David. This would not be the first time that David killed a man and then married his widow (Nabal’s wife Abigail).

There is an extra dimension to literal sense of this story in that Uriah was a Hittite, a foreigner. David’s behaviour appears even worse to the Hebrew reader when seen in contrast to the honourable behaviour of a foreigner.

Uriah carried the message ordering his own death to Joab. Do we also see David’s cruelty in contrast to Uriah’s honour when David made Uriah deliver the letter to Joab that contains his own death sentence? Did Uriah know what the message was? He didn’t get to be a leader of the army by being unaware of palace politics. Did Uriah go willingly, sacrificing his own life for the sake of the nation? Abandoned by his own men in the heat of battle, Uriah died defending the king who betrayed him.

Three honourable men.

(There are other examples as well: Joseph, who survived the attempted murder by his brothers and a term in prison; and Daniel who survived imprisonment in Babylon and a night in the lion’s den). Each one in a position of authority or power where they might have done much good for their people. Each one coldly murdered by someone known to them, who had promised to protect them. What can we learn from this?

Every worshipper of himself and of nature confirms himself against the Divine Providence when he sees in the world so many wicked people, and so many of their impieties in which some of them even glory, and yet no punishment of such by God. He confirms himself still more against the Divine Providence when he sees that wicked designs, cunning devices and deceit are successful even against the pious, the righteous and the sincere.

The Word is not about life in this world except insofar as it is about preparation for a life of use in the spiritual world.

DP 46. THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE OF THE LORD, IN EVERYTHING THAT IT DOES, REGARDS THE INFINITE AND THE ETERNAL.

These stories clearly illustrate several of the more difficult laws of the Divine Providence. We are so involved in the world of nature and the life of the body that we need constant reminders that this world is only a staging area, a temporary stop on the way to our real, spiritual life. The Word tells us stories of evil men rising to the top on the bodies of honourable men to make us stop and ask the question, “what’s the reality and what’s the appearance?”

The only way we can understand how this can happen if God is really “in charge” of the universe is by being constantly reminded that

…The Divine Providence regards eternal things, and not temporal things except so far as they make one with eternal things.

We think that the worst thing that can happen is for someone to die, but when the angels, who are in the spiritual sense of the Word, hear that a character in the letter of the Word has died (even if they are fouly murdered or die in battle), they do not mourn but rather they rejoice! From their point of view a celebration is in order because the death of the body means that another person is “heaven born.”

What we need to do is adjust our own thinking about the three men mentioned above so that we see the situation not from our own limited, sensual point of view but instead from the point of view of the angels of heaven. From their point of view, there is not tragedy. These three men lived their lives, made choices consistent with their conscience and the teaching of the Word, and when their natural life came to an end, they rose into eternal life in heaven! As the Lord says in Matthew:

Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.

Our own lives are filled with temptation and tests. None of us like them or look forward to them, but yet it is by meeting and overcoming the enemies of our spiritual life that we grow and become angels of heaven. No one looks forward to the various trials and tribulations that we meet in life, but we all enjoy looking back on the tests that have been past. It is only through trial and temptation that we can experience the death of the old will, and the birth of a new, heavenly will. It is only through the sacrifice of the natural delights, as pleasant as they are, that we can achieve the goal of eternal spiritual life. It was only through the death of the Human on the cross that the glorification could be accomplished.

These stories are all in the Word as important reminders that we are not to spend all our time on earth focused on earthly things. Instead, we are to see them as means to spiritual things, as opportunities to develop our character so that it is ready for eternal life.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

Death is not the end of life, but a beginning. Those who strive to live an honourable life in this world, even though they may not find their reward, or even great happiness here, can yet be confident that the Lord is watching over them. For the Lord’s all powerful and all knowing government of the world directs all things for the sake of our eternal welfare.

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Amen.


First Lesson: 2 Sam 3:17-21

Now Abner had communicated with the elders of Israel, saying, “In time past you were seeking for David to be king over you. {18} “Now then, do it! For the LORD has spoken of David, saying, ‘By the hand of My servant David, I will save My people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and the hand of all their enemies.’” {19} And Abner also spoke in the hearing of Benjamin. Then Abner also went to speak in the hearing of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel and the whole house of Benjamin. {20} So Abner and twenty men with him came to David at Hebron. And David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him. {21} Then Abner said to David, “I will arise and go, and gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace. Amen.

Second Lesson: Luke 12:27-32

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. {28} “If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? {29} “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. {30} “For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. {31} “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. {32} “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Amen.

Third Lesson: DP 237

Every worshipper of himself and of nature confirms himself against the Divine Providence.

1. When he sees in the world so many wicked people, and so many of their impieties in which some of them even glory, and yet no punishment of such by God. He confirms himself still more against the Divine Providence when he sees that wicked designs, cunning devices and deceit are successful even against the pious, the righteous and the sincere; and that injustice triumphs over justice in the courts and in business.

2. Especially does he confirm himself when he sees the impious advanced to honours and become great in the state and leaders in the Church, and that they abound in riches and live in luxury and magnificence; while, on the other hand, he sees the worshippers of God living in contempt and poverty.

3. He also confirms himself against the Divine Providence when he reflects that wars are permitted, and in them the slaughter of so many men and the plundering of so many cities, nations and families.

4. Moreover, that victories are on the side of prudence and sometimes not on the side of justice, and that it makes no difference whether the general is an upright man or not.

He sees besides other things like these; and yet they are all permissions according to the laws of the Divine Providence. Amen.


Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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