– Journey Week 3

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? {12} “Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.” (EXO 14:11-12)

  1. We need to take a moment to remind ourselves where we are in the story of the children of Israel’s journey from their slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
    1. Originally welcomed as guests when there were just 70 of them, over 400 years they have multiplied to such an extent that the Egyptians fear that if invaded, the Hebrews might take the side of the enemy and Egypt would be destroyed. Their way of dealing with this problem is to enslave the children of Israel.
    2. Moses, uniquely prepared by the Lord by being educated as a Prince of Egypt, and then spending 40 years in the deserts of Midian, was sent back to Egypt to lead the people out of the slavery to a new, Promised Land.
    3. Pharaoh does not want to let his slaves go – he has much work yet for them to do. Jehovah, for His part, wants to make an example of Pharaoh, to demonstrate His power to the Egyptians and Hebrews alike.
      1. This is not really a story about contest to see who’s stronger between Pharaoh and Jehovah, but a parable about the struggles we face in our adult life as we try to decide for ourselves if we are to be led by our love of the pleasures of the world, or if we are going to walk away from the immediate pleasures of life in the world for the sake of a promise of eternal life in heaven.
        1. Who will be our king – Pharaoh or Jehovah? And, as we shall see, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
      2. The children of Israel (who represent us in this parable) watched passively and from a distance as Moses arrived and started stirring up trouble with Pharaoh.
        1. They were inclined to ask him to stop, because Pharaoh’s anger just made things worse for them, but as the miracles became more and more powerful and destructive on the Egyptians perhaps they began to feel that this might actually work!
        2. Then there was the exhilaration of the spoiling.
          1. They went into the houses of the people who’d been bossing them around all their lives and took anything of value that they wanted!
          2. Then they packed up their things and walked away.
            1. It must have been, at least temporarily, a very exciting moment for them.
          3. But they are pursued, and they seem to be trapped between Pharaoh’s army (and their chariots) and the sea.
          4. Again, they witness a miracle as the Lord interposes Himself between them and their enemies.
            1. But it’s a stand-off. They are still stuck between the rock and the hard place. Something has to happen, or they are going to starve there.
          5. It’s not enough to escape from Egypt – leave behind the states of childhood and young adulthood – you have to get into the wilderness.
            1. This tells us why the Lord chose to appear to the children of Israel during their escape from Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night: He wished to use the imagery of a pillar to show His relationship to His people.
              1. first as a boundary marker that said “these are My people” to all who saw it, and especially to reassure the terrified Hebrews themselves.
              2. And also as a constantly visible sign of His covenant with them that if they would only obey Him, He would take care of them and protect them in all ways.
                1. We need to remember how timid and fearful those people must have been after their lifetime of slavery, their whole lives spent depending on others to make their decisions for them – and now they were suddenly being forced to go forth on their own into the unknown. It must have been unnerving.
                2. Perhaps they would have been reassured if they could have seen Moses and Aaron, but there were far too many of them for that, so instead, the Lord provided a tangible sign of His presence with them that was simply too big for anyone to miss. Everyone in the mob that left Egypt could lift their eyes up above the dust and see the miracle of the pillar that was leading them home.
                3. This image of the Lord’s presence with the children of Israel must also give us comfort, especially if we remember it when we are frightened and unsure of what the future will bring. The Lord has made a covenant with all people, that He will be with us and protect us from the spiritual dangers of life if we will only do our part, if we will only do our best to obey His commandments and to flee from evils. The sign of His presence was huge and obvious to the children of Israel. It is more subtle for us, but it is still there, as the internal sense of the Word reveals.
                4. In our lesson we read how when the Egyptians were chasing the children of Israel, the cloud interposed itself between them and their enemies, and when it did so it brought darkness upon the Egyptians, but brought light to the children of Israel. Further, we learned that when Jehovah looked forth from it to the Egyptians, they were then drowned in the sea.
                  1. The pillar stands for the Lord’s presence with men, as we have seen. The fact that in this passage the pillar stands between the Egyptians and the camp of Israel tells us that the Lord is present with those in evil and falsity as well as with those who are in good and truth (see AC 7989:2).
                  2. However, it also tells us that the Lord’s presence is different with the evil and the good, for the pillar brought darkness to the Egyptians and gave light to the Israelites, and this is because the pillar was heavenly light itself. Heavenly light is a thousand times brighter than the noonday light of the world, but the same light becomes thick darkness with the evil, even when they are in that light itself, and it becomes thicker darkness with them in proportion as the falsity of evil is denser with them. In other words, the Lord appears to everyone in a form consistent with that person’s own spiritual quality (see AC 8197).
                5. The essential point of this story exists in the following 20 words that represent the view, the current state of the children of Israel at this point: For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness. (EXO 14:12).
                  1. To put it another way, we could say that people in this state prefer the slavery to the things of the world to the promise of eternal life because the old ways are easy and familiar and the new ways require effort for an unseen and unverified benefit. When in this state, we are being asked to take a leap of faith.
                  2. Another way to say it is that they are caught in the tension between what they want on the one hand, and what would be good for them on the other.
                    1. The child who wants chocolate cake instead of an apple for a snack.
                    2. The children of Israel who wanted to go up into the Canaanite high places to get drunk and watch the pretty girls dance instead of sacrificing their best ram to Jehovah.
                    3. King David who found it easier to exercise his power to order Bathsheba into his house than to exercise restraint and self control.
                    4. When we come to church we’d rather hear nice stories about people who experienced miracles in their lives than be reminded that we are far from perfect and we need to be given the tools we need to get to work on improving our spiritual lives.
                      1. …and a thousand other examples from the Word and our own lives where we are being asked to choose between what we want and what we need; what’s good (fun), or what’s good for us
                    5. It’s easy for us to see this and have the right idea about it when we put ourselves in the role of Jehovah – the parent.
                      1. Of course our children should eat healthy food.
                      2. Of course the Canaanites needed to be utterly destroyed and removed from the land.
                      3. Of course David needed to be punished for his sins.
                      4. Of course it’s the priest’s job is to instruct, lead, and warn but not to entertain and pander.
                    6. The real challenge is to continue to see it clearly when our states change from being the parent to being the child, when we ourselves are in the states of the children of Israel and we are being told that we have to leave the safety of our habitual way of thinking and venture forth into something new and dangerous.
                      1. We just don’t have the perspective to see that the danger of staying where we are is far more threatening to our spiritual life (the iron chariots of Pharaoh) than following the Lord into the unknown and putting one foot in front of the other and walking toward the sea.
                    7. So – what are we supposed to do? What’s the Lord telling us to do when we are stuck in that place between what we want to do and what we know we ought to do, between surrendering to Pharaoh to return to the safety of slavery in Egypt, or pushing off into a difficult and dangerous unknown simply on trust?
                    8. First, stand still: And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace. (EXO 14:13-14)
                      1. What does it mean to “stand still”? To be quiet in your life and mind. You can’t hear what the Lord has to say to you if you’re still talking. That’s why we often start our services of worship with the passage from Habakkuk: The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. (HAB 2:20)
                      2. Then, once you have quieted all that murmuring and crying about what we want, we can for the first time hear what it is that the Lord needs us to do to save our own lives.
                    9. Once we are quiet, the Lord speaks again, this time to Moses: And the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. (EXO 14:16-16)
                      1. The obvious next question is “go forward to where”? But that’s a subject for another time, it comes later in the series. It’s enough for now to be quiet in our minds, hear the trusted voice of Jehovah through Moses (the Word), and come to the conviction that He has a plan for us, and He needs us to move forward because until we start moving, He can’t part the waters and show us that His way isn’t nearly as hard as we thought.

(Mat 11:28-30) “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Amen.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: Mat 11:20-30

Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: {21} “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. {22} “But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. {23} “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. {24} “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” {25} At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. {26} “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. {27} “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. {28} “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Second Lesson: AC 7989

This was the night when Jehovah was keeping watch means the Lord’s presence with those governed by truth and good and with those ruled by evil and consequently by utter falsity. This is clear from the meaning of ‘night’ as a state of damnation, … and from the meaning of Jehovah’s keeping watch as the Lord’s presence and consequent protection. For through the Lord’s presence those governed by good and therefore guided by truth are given light, and those ruled by evil and consequently by falsity are made blind. Also through the Lord’s presence those who are to be raised into heaven are brought out of damnation, for they are held back from evil and maintained in good by the Lord, and with great force. And through the Lord’s presence too those who are to be cast down into hell are brought to damnation, for as the Lord presents Himself to them more completely, so they descend into evil…. This then is why that state and that time are called the night when Jehovah was keeping watch. Further on, the Lord’s presence is described by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, present there to lead them (See Exod.13:21). And His presence both with those guided by goodness and truth and with those steeped in evil and falsity is described when it says that the pillar positioned itself between the camp of Israel and the camp of the Egyptians, and that when Jehovah looked from it towards the camp of the Egyptians, the Egyptians were drowned in the Sea Suph (Exod. 14:19, 20, 24-27).

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.


The Journey Through Life Week 1 (265)

  1. In common speech, life in the natural world is seen as a “journey.”
    1. Cradle to grave, etc.
      1. The process of progressively changing states that we can see in the physical body that parallel developments in the person’s emotional life.
      2. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch to see that this extends into our spiritual life as well.
    2. In the Scriptures, there are many different parables that speak about the path of life.
      1. A series of steps set out for us by the Lord that, if followed, will lead from our present states to eternal life in heaven.
      2. The story of the children of Israel’s Journey from their slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan by way of the wilderness is clearly such a parable.
        1. Early life in Egypt, learning things.
        2. Entirely appropriate when you are young – like the years you spend in school.
        3. Eventually you need to begin your own life, to strike out on your own.
        4. But leaving the comfort and safety of home does not immediately lead to the peace and happiness of the “Promised Land.”
        5. In between the slavery of childhood and the rest of the Promised Land there are 40 years of “wilderness” states that have to be dealt with and endured.
          1. The bad news is they are a lot of work.
          2. The good news is that when the children of Israel emerged from the wilderness they were competent and confident, ready to enter the land of Canaan. The spiritual states represented by fearful slaves had been left behind.
        6. Our purpose for the next 8 weeks is to divide the story of this journey into smaller sections, see what the Word has to say about each step, and then discuss how these teachings apply to our lives in small group sessions during the week.
      3. One of the tools that we will be using in taking the Scriptural story and applying it to our current spiritual states will be the Science of Correspondences. There are a number of key elements that, once we know what they represent in our own lives, will help us understand the story in the natural sense, and help us open it up to see the spiritual sense within.
        1. The children of Israel – literally the linear descendants of Abraham’s grandson Jacob whom the Lord had given the name “Israel.” Jacob had twelve sons. They, and their wives and children, made up the original 70 individuals who entered Egypt at the invitation of Joseph and Pharaoh.
          1. us, people who are natural and who want to become spiritual.
          2. Their failings are our failings, their fears our fears. But the promises of help and support given to them by Jehovah are also given to us.
        2. The sons of Jacob multiplied rapidly in the fertile and peaceful land of Goshen. So rapidly that the Egyptians, already suspicious of foreigners, especially those who herded sheep, put more and more restrictions on the Hebrews until, after 400 years, they were the slaves that built the Egyptian cities – and continued to multiply at an alarming rate. Pharaoh, faced with this growing problem, eventually declared that all the male infants among the Hebrews were to be killed at birth. This is the depth of the misery experienced by the Hebrews at the point where we pick up the story once again.
          1. Their slavery represents the state of a person in the world. So much of our life in the natural world is affected by our hereditary evils, and delights in natural things that if it were not for revelation, we might not realize that compared to spiritual life, it is comparative slavery. Our job is to wake up to these facts, see the slavery, and begin the work of lifting ourselves out of it, led by the Lord through His Word (represented by Moses).
          2. AC 10409: [Being led by the Lord instead of by self; or from being natural becoming spiritual; or moving from the natural world to the spiritual world are all symbols of being moved from spiritual slavery to spiritual freedom]   But when those words refer to people whose interest lies in external things and not in internal ones they mean being self-led, which does not constitute being raised to heaven but casting themselves down to hell, consequently passing from freedom into For the fact that being self-led is slavery, while being led by the Lord is freedom,
        3. So much can be said about Moses as he is perhaps the most significant character of the Old Testament. For our purposes in this series, we need to focus on his use as the author of the books of the Word that are collectively known as “the Law.” (See AC 6752) He both personifies Jehovah to the children of Israel, and is the means by which they hear God’s voice leading them to the “Promised Land.” His main significance is that of the Lord guiding us through the journey of our life by means of the Word.
        4. The land of Egypt is well known as a wonder of the Ancient world for its libraries and science. It therefore stands the knowledge about the natural world through our personal experience and through our education. It’s a state that we all need to go through, as evidenced by the fact that Abraham journeyed to Egypt, as did Jacob’s family, and the Lord Himself was taken to Egypt by Mary and Joseph. It may be a natural state, but it’s one that we all have to go through. But, perhaps most important, it’s a state that we have to leave, and the process of leaving is what can be scary and painful.
          1. AC 1462. ‘Egypt’ means, in reference to the Lord, knowledge comprised of cognitions, but in reference to all others, knowledge in general. … Indeed the Ancient Church existed in Egypt, as it did in many other places and while the Church was in that region all kinds of knowledge flourished there more than anything else; and this explains why ‘Egypt’ came to mean knowledge. But after those people desired to penetrate the mysteries of faith by means of all this knowledge, and so to inquire into the truth of Divine arcana from their own power, Egypt became a place of magic, and so came to mean factual knowledge which perverts, and which gives rise to falsities and derivative evils, as is clear in Isaiah 19:11. [2] …‘Egypt’ means all kinds of knowledge that serve a use, thus at this point knowledge comprised of cognitions which is able to serve as vessels for celestial and spiritual things….
        5. Pharaoh, as the king of that country is the personification of Egypt. His cruelty in enslaving the children of Israel represents the kind of thing that can happen when natural truths are allowed to lead without spiritual truths to guide them.
          1. AC 6015: ‘Egypt’ means the Church’s factual knowledge, and therefore the king of that land means such knowledge in general,
        6. The “Wilderness” is basically our adult life. This is where the real spiritual work goes on. Freed from the leadership and supervision of our parents, we begin to act truly from ourselves as we strike out find jobs, spouses, and build families. There are financial and personal crises that must be dealt with. There are dangers, drought, and warfare. And if you do it right, if you follow Moses, all the non-heavenly things will fall away, one by one, and you will reach the end of your journey strong and ready to enter the Promised Land.
          1. AC 8098: ‘And God led the people around by the way of the wilderness’ means that under Divine guidance they were led by means of temptations to a firm acceptance of the truths and forms of the good of faith. This is clear from the meaning of ‘God led’ as providence, as above in 8093, or what amounts to the same thing, as Divine guidance; and from the meaning of ‘by the way of the wilderness’ as a way that leads people to undergo temptations and so to reach a firm acceptance of the truths and forms of the good of faith since temptations are the means by which they become firmly accepted. ‘The wilderness’ means a place which is uninhabited and uncultivated, dealt with in 2708, in the spiritual sense a situation in which there is no good or truth, and also a situation in which truth has not yet been bonded to good. That being so, ‘the wilderness’ means the state of those with whom the two are to be bonded together; but since the bonding is not accomplished except by means of temptations, these also are meant.
  • As we embark together on this Journey, we don’t assume that everyone is in the same state, that you are all in spiritual bondage to the same degree, or at the same point of spiritual development.
    1. Such states are known to the Lord alone.
    2. However, it is safe to assume that whether you are new to these adult states or you have been on the path for decades, there’s still spiritual work to be done, things in our spiritual life that are holding us back. Identifying and making a plan to remove those things is the slavery or bondage that we should be reflecting on this week.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: Exodus 2:11-12, 15

Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. … When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.

Second Lesson: PSA 137

By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion. {2} We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it. {3} For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” {4} How shall we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land? {5} If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill! {6} If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy. {7} Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom The day of Jerusalem, Who said, “Raze it, raze it, To its very foundation!” {8} O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! {9} Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock!

Third Lesson: NJHD 142.

Doing evil by free choice looks like freedom, but it is slavery, because that freedom comes of self-love and love of the world, and these loves are from hell. Such freedom is after death actually turned into slavery, for a person who indulged in such freedom then becomes in hell a lowly slave. But doing good by free choice is real freedom, because it comes of love to the Lord and love towards the neighbour, and these loves are from heaven. This freedom also lasts after death, and then becomes true freedom; for a person who enjoys such freedom becomes in heaven as it were a son of the house. This the Lord teaches in these words:
Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the house for ever; the son remains for ever. If the son makes you free, you will be truly free. John 8:34-36.
Now because all good is from the Lord, and all evil is from hell, it follows that freedom is being led by the Lord and slavery is being led by hell.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.