The ancient Egypt Book of the Dead is a collection of funerary instructions placed in coffins and sarcophagi in order to prepare the soul of the deceased for the afterlife and judgment. The scenes are dramatically presented in pictures and words. A Swedenborgian view, of how natural things correspond to spiritual matters, suggests that the instructions of ancient Egypt are based on a clear understanding of psychological progression of the soul from the outer, or physical world, to the first experiences in the inner, spiritual world. Each individual has to give an account of his character and is assessed by independent judges seen as various gods.
One papyrus shows 42 deities and the soul has to address each one by name and make a negative confession relating to various wrong-doings.
O Far-strider … I have done no falsehood
O Fire-embracer … I have not robbed.
O Double Lion … I have not destroyed food supplies.
O You whose face is behind … I have not misconducted myself or abused a boy
O You of the darkness … I have not been quarrelsome.
The judgment is made more awesome because behind the petitioner stands a monster, called Ammit, which will swallow the guilty immediately.
Let us consider this ritual of ancient Egypt in detail. If we contemplated our own death, how many of us could truthfully answer 42 separate judges and say, “I have not been loud-mouthed.” nor committed any other contraventions of right conduct? Recent research into Near Death Experiences shows that many have experienced similar evaluation in which they saw a play-back of whole periods of their life and felt they were assessing its quality, wasted opportunities or some meanness. They were not condemned, but clearly, someone was alongside witnessing their reactions.
It is perhaps easy to smile at the monster Ammit since if a person fails the first test and is swallowed up, is that the end of judgment? The human mind is more complicated and exists on different levels and has many talents which can be used for doing good or harm. Each one has to be assessed separately. Let us take as an example a frequent social evil in our society — vandalism. If the mind is challenged by an unbroken window or a fence and needs to smash it, then something is seriously wrong. Perhaps the people of ancient Egypt were more honest during their rituals and put the blame where it belongs as they laid bare the whole mind for assessment, noting which parts of it had been corrupted with its health taken away and harmony destroyed. The mind which can only find its delight in destroying, even in killing, is clearly in a very serious state. It has been devoured by a terrifying monster.
The Christian scripture is just as uncompromising about such assessment which is generally called ‘judgment’. In the words of Christ:
There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. (Luke 12: 2-3)
The focus of the ancient Egypt ceremony was the weighing of the heart. During embalming, the internal organs were removed from the body and preserved separately in jars. The heart was judged by itself on the scales against Maat, the goddess of Righteousness or Truth. She was represented as a female body, but instead of a head often had a white feather. Her small figurine stood on the scales weighing the heart of the deceased, or she was represented by her symbol, the white feather. Feathers, especially wing feathers, enable birds to fly and to have a wider view of the world below. Similarly, truth elevates our thoughts to give us what we already call ‘a birds eye view.’ The goddess of truth represents the desire for truth which gives us the ability of discernment and separation between truth and falsity.
However, the heart itself can be said to have its own specific importance since it had always been seen as the seat of the emotions, and so it corresponds to our affections. Too often we think that our love is merely a temporary feeling. The ancients had greater respect for the ‘heart’. The idea is that in our love lies the primary seat of our personality. Swedenborg put it very forcefully:
A person’s life really is his love, and the nature of his love determines the nature of his life, and in fact the whole person. But it is the dominant or ruling love which makes the person…. It is the characteristic of a dominant love that it is loved above all else. What a person loves above all else is constantly present in his thoughts, because it is in his will, and constitutes the very essence of his life…Everyone’s sense of pleasure, bliss and happiness comes from his dominant love, and is dependent on this. (TCR 399)
This is an fairly new concept. Love is seen as the very dynamic of our life, of our vital energy and heat. When we love we grow warm in our body. There is a correspondence between the two. When we lack any desire, we grow cold and lack vitality. According to Swedenborg what we mainly love is also the key to our judgment and character. Each person needs to act honestly. ‘What is it that I love more than anything? What is it for which I am prepared to pay any price, make any sacrifice?’ Unless we have understood that much, we cannot know what is going on in our mind.
We can only marvel at the high degree of perception about the working of the mind revealed in ancient sacred texts.
Adapted from material by Christopher Hasler first published by the Swedenborg Movement
I preached this sermon on Sunday, January 8, at the Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.
“And all the land of Egypt was famished, and the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all Egypt, Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.” (Genesis 41:55)
There was a famine throughout all the land. Today, and in this part of the world, it may be hard for us now to imagine what a famine is like. Imagine the hungriest you’ve ever been, and then imagine that kind of hunger lasting over weeks, months, years. That’s the kind of famine we can picture taking place in our story, and the famine does not last one season, but seven long years. But hope was not entirely lost – because there was food in the land of Egypt. We can imagine people from all the nations around pouring into Egypt to receive sustenance – just enough food to survive for a little while longer, until the famine passed. There was food in Egypt, but the famine was there too – the famine was unavoidable, but could be survived due to the seven years of plenty that came before.
But before any of that, before even the years of plenty began, Pharaoh had his dreams. He dreamt of seven fat, beautiful cows that came up from the river, and ate grass by the river bank. But after them came up seven skinny, ugly cows, that ate up those seven fat, good cows. And again he dreamed: seven good ears of grain grew on one stalk – but after them came up seven dry, withered husks, and consumed the good ears of grain. Both were disturbing dreams, and Pharaoh wanted to know the interpretation; but none of his counselors was able to tell him. At that moment, Pharaoh’s butler remembered Joseph, who had interpreted his dream in prison; and after the butler had spoken to Pharaoh, Joseph was called up from prison to interpret the dream. Joseph told Pharaoh the dream’s meaning: that there would be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. Beyond this, though, Joseph told Pharaoh what he should do with the knowledge from this dream: appoint someone over the land of Egypt, and appoint governors, to store up the grain during the good years, and then to distribute it during the bad. Pharaoh saw the wisdom in Joseph’s advice, and made Joseph himself that governor over all of Egypt.
Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams of Pharaoh was accurate – but it was a natural interpretation, not a spiritual one. For the Word to be the Word, everything in it must have something to do with God, a deeper meaning about love to the Lord and love to the neighbour. And there is a deeper meaning to the dreams of Pharaoh, and a deeper meaning to the events in the story, even though they really did take place as described. Pharaoh’s dreams at first described a state of plenty, of good things. They foretold seven years of plenty, when the crops yielded abundantly and there was more than enough food for everyone. And this described something that happens in our lives. We have times of plenty. Every one of us experiences states where things go well – where we feel the Lord’s presence, where things come naturally to us, where we look forward to the day every morning.
The images in the dreams – the good cows and the good ears of grain – specifically represent things we learn and know. The cows represent a deeper sort of knowledge, the things we know but might have a hard time putting into words; the ears of grain represent the more external knowledges, but still knowledges that contain goodness and love within them, just as an ear of corn contains the kernels of corn within it (see Arcana Coelestia 5198, 5212). The cows are said to be beautiful and fat. All true beauty, the Writings say, comes from an affection for truth, a love for truth. And the fatness of the cows represents love to the neighbour, or charity. These images are all images of true ideas that we learn with eagerness and affection, because they have to do with love.
And so these seven years, the seven cows, the seven ears of grain, represent times in our lives when we are seeing truth from an affection for it. We learn about the ideals of marriage, and we love that picture, and we see how it could be possible. We learn about what it means to be a good parent, by reading the Word and by seeing the example of people we admire. We learn all the things it takes to follow the Lord: to follow the Ten Commandments, and to acknowledge that it is only with His help that we’re able to do this. The state described by these seven years of plenty is a state where it’s not uncommon for us to say, “Yeah, I get it!” or “Hey, I just realized this,” or, “Listen to what I just read, isn’t it incredible?”
We all have these states, where we’re learning truth with affection. Think of a time even when you were a child, when you were learning about something that touches your heart even now: that your parents loved you, that God loved you, that you were being taken care of, that there is a hope for true marriage love, that there is a heaven. When children learn these things, they’re not just abstract concepts, and it’s not a struggle for them to accept them: of course a person can get married and live happily ever after, of course I’ll go to heaven, of course the Lord loves me.
Even in adulthood, we do have states where things come more easily than at other times. And Joseph gives Pharaoh advice about these times: if you’re in a state of plenty, appoint someone to store those good things up. In this story, Joseph represents something deeper in ourselves, and in the highest sense He represents something of the Lord with us. And the truth is that anytime we’re learning truth with affection, the Lord is storing those truths up within our minds. But we can also try to make sure we are open to that. A truth is stored up within us when we see how it can apply to life and when we want to apply it to life. And so in those good states, we can do several things to ensure that the Lord stores up those good things in us. We can make an effort to immediately take what we know and see how it leads to greater love for the neighbour. We can make an effort to learn as much as we can from the Lord. And we can remind ourselves to thank the Lord for the good things He is blessing us with. And the Lord does store up every single good and true feeling and thought that we have – we never lose those.
There are seven years of plenty. But immediately following those seven years of plenty, the famine comes. Remember, this is not merely talking about a time of hunger – this is talking about a time of complete desolation, of starvation and need. And as much as we would like to avoid it – and it’s true that we do not want to seek it out – there will be times in our spiritual lives when we experience spiritual famine, spiritual desolation. The Lord Himself experienced it, many times; He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) – and He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). The Lord’s despair and thirst came from an inability, in that moment, to see how His goal could possibly be accomplished, to see the truth that the human race could be redeemed. And just as there are times when we learn the truth and see it clearly, there are times in our lives when we feel blind and hungry.
Remember, those good cows and those good ears of grain represent things we know, things that come into our minds with affection. But they are not the only things that we take in with our minds. Even as we learn truth and rejoice in it, we have voices from hell pouring in thoughts and ideas that are harmful and destructive – those seven skinny cows, those seven parched ears of grain. These are the ideas that say, “Look around you – what makes you think there’s anything other than the physical world? We have a physical explanation for everything.” We look around and see all the failed relationships, all the broken marriages, and we think that there’s no such thing as true, lasting love. And those ideas start to eat up the good and true ideas we had earlier. We lose our ability to see things that were so clear before. We thought we knew what it meant to be a good parent, but now we find ourselves at a loss. We thought we knew what it meant to love other people, but now we find that as much as we want to, we don’t know how. We experience these times of desolation, when we want so, so much to follow the Lord – and yet the truth seems to be lacking.
These are times when there’s a disconnect between all those ideals we had before, and the way we experience our everyday natural lives. The truth is, all those good things and true ideas we had before have not gone away. They’ve been stored up more deeply inside of us, and at times we catch glimpses of them still. But they can seem so foreign, so distant from where we are now, that they might as well not be there at all. And often, we can’t even catch glimpses. The Writings say that those true ideas tied to affections for goodness are drawn up within us for a reason. There’s a reason for desolation – even though the Lord never wants us to have to experience desolation, He allows it so that good can come of it. One primary reason that the Lord allows this to take place is that without experiencing times of famine, we do not really appreciate the times of plenty. By contrast, we’re able to be grateful when we do have those times of plenty. Also, by times of desolation – which the Word also refers to as times of temptation – we learn that there is nothing good or true that comes from ourselves. Before experiencing those times, we can think that we know the things we do because we’re good people, or wise from ourselves. But when those certainties are taken away – when everything is brought into doubt – then we realize that we are not in control of those things. They don’t belong to us. We don’t earn salvation – the Lord grants it to us, by giving us the ability to love Him and follow His truth. By going through times of desolation, we come to a state where we can acknowledge that everything we have, we have because of the Lord’s mercy. And when they return to us, they are softer, more gentle – we do not hold them with pride, but with gratitude and humility.
But what do we do when we are in those times of famine? Even if we have some idea of why the Lord allows them, we still feel the pangs of starvation. We still have that desire to love, but lack the knowledge of how to do so. And those goods and truths that are stored up within us, again, seem remote – the storehouses of Egypt are far away. What can we do for those true ideas to come back down to the natural level of our levels, into our everyday reality, rather than just being a fading memory?
The people of Egypt did not have immediate access to the food that had been stored up. Pharaoh told them how they would receive it. He said to them, “Go to Joseph, and what he says to you, do.” The way for them to receive as much food as was useful for them was to go to Joseph and then act in obedience to him. Now remember, Joseph in this story represents something deeper within us, specifically a love for the Lord within the spiritual level of our mind. And for us to receive food in times of famine, we need to submit the lower levels of our minds, and the natural level of our lives, to something higher. The book Arcana Coelestia describes it this way:
It is the internal man that should command, and the external that should obey, and that does obey when the man does not have the world as the end, but heaven, and does not have self as the end, but the neighbor, consequently when he regards bodily and worldly things as means and not as the end. (Arcana Coelestia 5368)
The way to submit our external lives to what is higher is to act based on principles of love toward our neighbour.
Now, in times of famine, it is not always easy to see how we can do that. That is where the hunger is. But even if we can’t see the specifics of what we should do in a given situation, we can at least act in obedience to this general rule: we ought to submit our own desires for pleasure and worldly things to a higher desire that we act in love toward our neighbour. This does not mean we have to do away with everything we find enjoyable – but it does mean that we have to look as our own enjoyment – our relaxation, our fun, our pleasure – as only a means so that we can better serve others.
The thing, is, though, that when we do this it does not usually feel very connected to those higher ideals. It takes compelling ourselves to shun evils as sins, and when we compel ourselves, it mostly feels like hard work, and it contains almost nothing of that inspirational, higher delight that we had in those times of plenty. The reason for this is that when we seemingly compel ourselves, it is really something deeper within ourselves compelling us, our true selves – but we are mostly conscious on the level of our external selves in those times of famine, and so we feel like we’re being pushed around. And being fed in times of famine is not the same as being fed in times of plenty. We do not suddenly end the famine, we do not suddenly force truth to start coming easily again. But when we compel ourselves to shun selfishness, to shun harsh thoughts and actions even toward people we don’t like, when we force ourselves not to give into the things we’ve always given into before – then we can be fed. Slowly but surely, we start to see that those deeper things, the things we thought might never have been real, start to take root even in our everyday, normal interactions.
All this takes place, though, only if we acknowledge that these things do not come from ourselves. It takes place only if we rely completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, praying to Him and acknowledging that He is the source of everything good. Even that self-compulsion, which feels so much like it comes from us, is actually from the the Lord and all His angels stirring those good things in us, causing us to desire them. We can’t determine when or how we will once again start to see the Lord around us, or to feel His presence; in fact, the Writings say that the Lord does not answer prayers for a temptation to end, because He knows that if it were ended early, it would do more harm than good for a person. But we can trust that He will give us as much wisdom and as much love as we need for every day – our daily bread. And we can trust that, even though it may take seven long years of famine, years of scraping through, the times of plenty will come again.
Joseph himself experienced these cycles again and again. From being his father’s favourite son, he found himself a slave in Egypt; from being the head of Potiphar’s household, he found himself in Pharaoh’s dungeon. He experienced times of plenty, followed by times of hardship. And yet, he trusted that even in the times of hardship, the Lord was doing what was best for him. Because of the famine, his brothers came from the land of Canaan to seek food – and Joseph was able to save them, to forgive them, and to be reconciled to them. And in their reconciliation, Joseph expressed the great truth about times of desolation: although the Lord does not cause it, and the evil spirits who bring it about do so for evil causes, yet the Lord uses it for good. When Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives because of the evil they had done to him, Joseph said to them, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
A Sermon by Rev. David C. Roth Preached in Chicago, Illinois July 21, 1991
“I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved nor angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life …. You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 45:4,5; 50:20).
How would you feel if your family and friends thought you were so worthless that they threw you into a pit to die? We might safely assume that this would never happen to any one of us, but it is true that sometimes the people we love do harm us. As was true in the case of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob and the first of Rachel, this can happen.
This sermon is about Joseph. It is about his character and about how he reacted to the life which befell him. To examine the life of Joseph is to learn many things about how the Lord leads each one of our lives and about human relationships. A few questions to ask ourselves while examining the life of Joseph are: Why do people harm other people when it seems so contrary to a life of charity? Why does the Lord let evil things happen to us, or anybody for that matter? And how would and should we react if somebody did hurt us? These questions will be examined as we follow the life of Joseph.
Joseph was born to Rachel and Jacob while Jacob was still under the hand of his father-in-law Laban. As soon as Joseph was born, Jacob asked Laban to send himself and his family away. It was almost as if this demand was a direct result of Joseph’s birth. “And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away that I may go to my own place, and to my country'” (Gen. 30:25). It seems that the Lord was already guiding the steps of Joseph so that he could be near to Egypt in order to preserve his people. The truth is that the Lord in His providence guides us from our birth continually up to the end of our lives (see DP 333). He is forever working to provide for our eternal life.
From Joseph’s birth in chapter 30, we don’t hear of him again until chapter 37, wherein he and his family have left Laban and are living in the land of Canaan. He is now seventeen years old and spends some of his time feeding the flocks with his older brothers. It was on these occasions with his brothers that Joseph fell into trouble. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because he was fruit born of Jacob’s deep love for Rachel. In order to show his deep love for Joseph, Jacob gave him a tunic of many colors, which caused his brothers to hate Joseph. They hated him so much that they could not speak peaceably to him. Then Joseph began to have dreams which he shared with his brothers. They were dreams showing representations of Joseph’s brothers and parents bowing down to him and being subservient to him. These dreams served only to add to the hatred and envy which the brothers had already felt toward Joseph.
How many of us can relate to the feelings which Joseph’s older brothers had toward him? – feelings of jealousy, hatred, envy, and contempt – feelings which spring up when we sense that we are not being treated fairly or justly, Or when we are not getting the recognition we think we deserve. To illustrate, imagine the business person who works like mad to get a promotion, only to have his associate receive it instead. Even if he is able to swallow his pride and congratulate his colleague, still within he may be fighting a fierce battle against contempt and hatred. In his eyes now his colleague starts to look unworthy and lazy, or underhanded in some way. Or picture the friend of a young man who is now attracting the attention of the girl whom the young man had been trying to go out with for some time. Suddenly that friend looks conniving and deceitful, and the young man may even begin to look at the girl in the same way, turning his former love into hatred.
These are just two examples of the many ways that the hells can turn our closest friends into our most hated enemies, and this with even the smallest dose of envy or loss of pride. We are vulnerable, even as Joseph’s brothers were vulnerable. Nevertheless, we are in freedom to respond with good or evil. It was not Joseph’s fault that he was the object of his father’s love and the dreamer of unusual dreams. Instead of trying to stifle others’ talents we should be supportive of them, unless they purposely show them off to make us feel cheapened or less of a person.
Free to forgive or seek vengeance, the brothers let their anger take control and they responded with evil; they desired to kill Joseph. But the Lord did not will that Joseph should die. The Lord never wills that any evil should befall anyone. However, because more than anything the Lord wants us to be happy, thus in freedom, He permits evil to happen for the sake of a good end. As is taught, “To leave man from his own liberty to do evil is permission” (NJHD 170). And, “The permission of evil is for the sake of the end, namely, salvation” (DP 281).
To preserve freedom and for the sake of a good end, the Lord permitted evil to befall Joseph. Yet in His providence the Lord moderated the evil intention of Joseph’s brothers. In the story itself we see the Lord’s providence acting to lead Joseph’s brothers’ evil to break out to a lesser intensity than they would have wished. We see Reuben suggest that they throw Joseph into an empty pit or cistern to perish rather than spill his blood themselves, Reuben himself planning to later remove him secretly. They did this, but then saw Ishmaelite traders coming and planned to sell him to them to make some money. Unbeknownst to the brothers, some Midianite traders got to Joseph first and drew him up from the well and sold him to the Ishmaelites, who then took Joseph and sold him into servitude in Egypt. Upon returning to the pit, Reuben discovered that Joseph had disappeared. Reuben tore his clothes in anguish. They didn’t know the fate of their brother Joseph and assumed the worst. They told their father a lie to conceal their own act of hatred toward Joseph. They took his tunic, tore it and dipped it in blood so that their tale of Joseph’s being destroyed by a wild beast would be believed by their father Jacob. In this account we can see the contagious quality of evil, as covetousness causes the brothers to attempt murder, which then turns them to bear false witness to mask their deed.
Why was this evil allowed to happen? The Heavenly Doctrines tell us why evil things are permitted to happen. One reason, already mentioned, is for the sake of the end which the Lord desires and provides for all who are willing, which is for the sake of salvation. “[The Divine Providence] continually grants permission for the sake of the end, and permits such things as pertain to the end and no others; and the evils that proceed by permission it continually keeps under view, separates and purifies, sending away and removing by unknown ways whatever is not consistent with the end” (DP 296).
Another reason evil is permitted is so that evil may be exposed and then shunned. If we cannot see the evil in ourselves it cannot be dealt with, and we cannot be led out of it toward what is good. We read, “Evil cannot be taken away from anyone unless it appears, is seen, and is acknowledged; it is like a wound which is not healed unless it is opened” (DP 183). We are also taught that with many people evil has to appear in actual act in order to be seen. These teachings explain why so many evil deeds are wrought by people. Unless a person sees his own hellish condition he cannot take steps to correct it. “For man from birth is like a little hell, between which and heaven there is perpetual discord. No man can be withdrawn from his hell by the Lord unless he sees that he is in hell and wishes to be led out; and this cannot be done without permissions, the causes of which are laws of the Divine Providence” (DP 251:2).
It is comforting to know that even when evil is upon us, the Lord is still intimately involved, leading to good. In hindsight we can see why Joseph’s brothers were permitted to harm him. One reason was so that their own evil could be seen and thence dealt with. Another was because good was able to come from it, as we will see.
After Joseph’s arrival in Egypt he was sold to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard. In Potiphar’s house Joseph was a very successful man. He rose to the highest position in Potiphar’s house. The Lord was with Joseph and made all that Joseph did prosper in his hands. Yet, even amidst success, Joseph was to again unjustly be the target for the outbreak of more evil. Joseph was a handsome man, and Potiphar’s wife recognized this and wanted him to lie with her. After many proposals met with aversion by Joseph, one day Potiphar’s wife grabbed Joseph’s garment and again said, “Lie with me.” Joseph fled from the house and left his garment in the hands of Potiphar’s wife, who used it as evidence to bear false witness against Joseph, accusing him of attempting to forcibly lie with her. Potiphar believed her and Joseph was cast into prison. Again we see in Potiphar’s wife love turned to hate when she did not get her way.
In this evil desire and act of Potiphar’s wife we see an outcome for good. In the Lord’s providence, working through permission, Joseph was cast into prison wherein he interpreted dreams for the baker and butler of Pharaoh, who were also incarcerated.
As interpreted, the baker was hanged and the butler was restored to his position as butler in Pharaoh’s house. After the lapse of two years the Pharaoh had two dreams of his own which no one could interpret. Upon hearing Pharaoh recount his dreams, seeking their interpretation, the butler finally remembered that Joseph had from the Lord the gift of interpreting dreams. So Pharaoh sent for Joseph from prison to interpret his dreams.
When asked to interpret the dreams Joseph replied, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Joseph first gave Jehovah the glory and then proceeded to unfold the identical meanings of Pharaoh’s two dreams. In his relationship with the Lord, Joseph made clear where all power is from, and in his relationship with Pharaoh he showed no illusions as to his own dependence upon the Lord.
In light of the interpretation which the Lord gave Joseph about the seven years of plenty followed by seven of famine, Joseph then gave Pharaoh some suggestions about how to manage the situation. The advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and he thought there could be no better man to manage the storage and eventual distribution of grain than Joseph. Within hours Joseph had risen from an imprisoned slave to ruler over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself Surely the Lord meant the evil of Joseph’s brothers and of Potiphar’s wife for good. Thirteen years had passed since he had been rejected by his brothers and sold into Egypt. He was now thirty years old. Pharaoh gave Joseph Asenath, daughter of Poti-Pherah, priest of On, as wife and changed his name to Zaphnath-Paaneah. She bore him two sons; the first-born he called Manasseh, saying “for God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” Manasseh literally means “making forgetful.” Their second son he called Ephraim, literally meaning “fruitfulness,” “for God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” The names of his two sons sum up the life of Joseph. Even though evil befell him and he was made to suffer and toil for many years, the Lord had caused him to forget all the pain, and gave him great honor and fruitfulness.
We cannot leave the story of Joseph without examining the tender story of Joseph and his reunion with his brothers, especially Benjamin. It brings into fruition the foreseen use for which the Lord permitted evil to happen to Joseph. Without a wise and just man to rule over the storehouses of Egypt, the family of Israel could not have survived the famine. So the Lord sent Joseph before his family into Egypt to keep them alive, so that he could raise up an entire nation. In doing this the Lord’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be fulfilled: the promise that their descendants would inherit the land of Canaan and be numbered as the stars.
There are many details in the account of the sons of Jacob going into Egypt to buy grain. The first time they went down they bought grain from Joseph, who recognized his brothers. Remembering the dreams he had of his family, he accused them of being spies, and spoke harshly to them. He did this to get them to go back and bring down his brother Benjamin. They agreed to bring him next time, and left Simeon bound in prison as collateral. As a result they realized the gravity of their crime against Joseph, and made themselves guilty and discerned that this must be a rightful form of punishment.
After dealing in such a harsh way with his brothers, and secretly listening to them shamefully confess their guilt, Joseph turned himself away from them and wept. From this we can see a picture of what a good person might feel if he has to deal harshly or even punish someone. It’s like a loving parent punishing his child and saying, “This is going to hurt me more than it does you.” This can be a true statement. Here we see Joseph mercifully correcting his brothers, but it grieves him to do it. We read, “And he turned himself away from them and wept.” To weep in this instance, and the others in this story, signifies the effect of mercy, or love grieving for the object of its love.
Again we see the merciful nature of Joseph when the brothers returned to him to buy grain for the second time and Benjamin was with them. When Joseph learned who Benjamin was, we read, “His heart yearned for his brother, so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there.” His mercy is again seen after his brothers leave for Canaan. They do not return home, but are brought back before Joseph after Joseph’s guards plant and then find his stolen silver cup in Benjamin’s sack. When Joseph hears Judah explain how their one brother is dead and that their father Jacob will die if Benjamin is not returned home safely, and sees their protectiveness for their brother Benjamin, he can no longer restrain himself, but weeps aloud to his brothers: “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved nor angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life …. You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
In Joseph’s words we can see the deep trust that he had in the Lord, and the tender forgiveness he held toward his brothers. Joseph’s life is full of so many things which we can learn from, especially in his dealings with his brothers. He did not seek revenge against them in any way, but looked only to their good. In our own lives do we find it difficult to forgive others when they have wronged us? When bad things happen to us do we trust the Lord as Joseph did, and not lose heart, trusting that He is forever leading us to some good end? Civilly and morally we might have to correct someone’s actions when he has done evil. But still, in our hearts we can forgive the person and trust that the Lord is leading to good for all involved, whatever may be the appearance of the means. The example of Joseph’s steadfastness and forgiveness is one we should all contemplate and attempt to follow.
In closing, we can almost hear Joseph reassuring us with the words of the thirty-seventh Psalm. “Do not fret because of evil-doers, nor be envious of workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him …. And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Those who wait on the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” Amen.
Lessons: Genesis 37, DP 296 (portions)
Divine Providence 296
In order, therefore, that the Divine Providence with the wicked may be clearly seen and thus understood, the propositions stated above now fall to be explained in the order in which they were presented. First: There are innumerable things in every evil. In man’s sight every evil appears as one single thing. This is the case with hatred and revenge, theft and fraud, adultery and whoredom, arrogance and high-mindedness, and with every other evil; and it is not known that in every evil there are innumerable things, exceeding in number the fibres and vessels in a man’s body. For a wicked man is a hell in its least form; and hell consists of myriads of myriads of spirits, and everyone there is in form like a man, although a monstrous one, in which all the fibres and vessels are inverted. The spirit himself is an evil which appears to himself as a “one”; but there are innumerable things in it, as many as the lusts of that evil, for every man is his own evil or his own good, from the head to the sole of his foot. Since then a wicked man is such, it is evident that he is one evil composed of innumerable different evils each of which is a distinct evil, and they are called lusts of evil. Hence it follows that all these in their order must be restored and changed by the Lord in order that the man may be reformed; and this cannot be effected unless by the Divine Providence of the Lord, step by step from the earliest period of man’s life to the last.
The Divine Providence with the wicked is a continual permission of evil, to the end that there may be a continual withdrawal from it. The Divine Providence with wicked men is a continual permission because nothing but evil can proceed from their life; for man, whether he is in good or in evil, cannot be in both at the same time, nor in each alternately unless he is lukewarm; and evil of life is not introduced into the will and through it into the thought by the Lord but by man; and this is called permission.
Now since everything that a wicked man wills and thinks is of permission the question arises, What then is the Divine Providence here, which is said to be in the most individual things with every man, both wicked and good? It consists in this, that it continually grants permission for the sake of the end, and permits such things as pertain to the end and no others; and the evils that proceed by permission it continually keeps under view, separates and purifies, sending away and removing by unknown ways whatever is not consistent with the end. These things are effected principally in man’s interior will, and from this in his interior thought. The Divine Providence is also unceasing in providing that what must be sent away and removed is not received again by the will, since all things that are received by the will are appropriated to the man; but those which are received by the thought and not by the will are separated and removed. This is the Lord’s continual Providence with the wicked and is, as has been stated, a continual permission of evil to the end that there may be an unceasing withdrawal from it.
NEBUCHADNEZZAR AND DREAMS IN THE WORD
A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose
Preached in Bryn Athyn February 19, 1995
“I have dreamed a dream” (Daniel 2:3).
These were the words of Nebuchadnezzar. He knew there was something of great importance in his dream, something to do with his destiny. Yes, a king awakens from a dream and senses that it has an important bearing on his life. That seems to be a recurrent theme of Scripture. We will return to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, but first let us consider other dreams of Scripture.
The first example is in Genesis 20, and it is very dramatic. Abimelech the king of Gerar had taken the wife of Abraham. And God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said, “You are a dead man … she is a man’s wife.” And Abimelech said, “Did he not say to me, `She is my sister’?” “And God said to him in a dream, `Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.’ So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very afraid” (verses 3-8).
“And he will pray for you” (Gen. 20:7). This is the first mention of prayer in the Word, and it is here that the Writings give the well known statement about prayer being speech with God to which there answers an influx into the thought of the mind and an opening of the interiors toward God, sometimes a feeling of hope, comfort and inward joy (see AC 2535).
But note especially here that the king was told he was made aware that his actions had been influenced in a way not conscious to him. God said, “I withheld you from sinning … I did not let you touch her.” In this first dream example we note that a king’s actions were being controlled beyond his knowing. And much more than we know, our actions are led. How is this possible? There are angels with us who influence our affections. This is not just a poetic thought, but a constant reality. Indeed, if there were not angels present with us, we would plunge into evil (see AC 5850). By influencing our affections and feelings they influence our actions but never violate our freedom. They “inspire good affections so far as people will receive them in freedom; and by means of these they also control the deeds or works by removing as far as possible evil intentions” (HH 391).
So, in the first scriptural example of a dream there is a lesson about life. Without the Lord we can do nothing, and the Lord is constantly influencing us through angels. And in the second example the subject of angels comes to us in a most memorable way. This is in Genesis 28. Jacob dreamed that he saw the angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder or stairway at the top of which was God. The angelic influence did not take away his freedom or his own initiative. On the contrary it created the setting for him to make choices to make a resolve. If God would be with him in the way he was going, He would worship Him and would give one tenth of all that he had.
When Jacob awoke from that dream he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” He had a new sense about life in this world. “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (verses 16,17). The dream gives a different sense of what life really is. We may be making choices and making resolves about short-term goals in our daily lives, but the dream is a reminder of a much greater reality. We will mention this again in connection with the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.
With Jacob’s son Joseph, dreams become especially prominent, and we notice that these dreams predict the future not only Joseph’s own dreams of the sheaves of wheat and the sun, moon and stars, but also the dreams of others which he interpreted, the dreams of the butler and the baker in prison, and the great dream of Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. Several times the Writings mention that the meaning of a dream is a foretelling of the future (see AC 3698, 5091, 5104, 5110, 5195, 5252). Let us be clear that we are not intended to know the future. In fact we should not even want to know the future, for knowing it would take away our very humanity. This is the well known teaching of Divine Providence 179, where it is said that it is quite common to have a longing to know the future, but this can be taken away from us and in its place can be given “a trust that the Lord is directing our lot” (DP 179).
Yes, in the case of Joseph and for those whose dreams he interpreted, a general idea was granted of what would happen. This is not so for us. The message for us, one might say, is that there is a future. It is something known by the Lord. A dream signifies His Divine foresight and providence. Well, isn’t it obvious that there is a future? In a way, yes. It is an obvious fact that we are going to die. But this can be so unreal to us. In fact it can require effort to get it into our heads. The Writings invite and urge us to think about it. Now they do not ask us to think about the fact that we are going to die, but that we are going to live. “Let him who wishes to be eternally happy know and believe that he will live after death. Let him think of this and keep it in mind, for it is the truth” (AC 8939).
Sometimes we are so influenced by worldly spirits that our thoughts are fixed hypnotically on this world, and we are told that in order to be delivered we need to think about eternal life (see AC 6201e).
The dream that Pharaoh had and which Joseph interpreted was about seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. And hearing that dream made him choose to turn the power of his kingdom over to a stranger. He removed the ring from his finger and placed it on the finger of a young man he had only just met and said, in effect, “Since you know this, you shall be ruler in my kingdom.”
It is almost beyond believing that a king in full power would turn over that power to another man. As it is said in the Writings, “Pharaoh deprived himself of his own authority, and put all Egypt under Joseph” (AC 5316). Each one of us has a sense that we are doing something. We have in our waking conscious life a sense of our own freedom and strength, our authority and our own prudence. We are king in our own realm. But God is doing something too. What Pharaoh saw (and what he had not seen before) was that what God was doing had a vital application to what he was doing and what he ought to do. He ought to choose out a man. The Writings say to think above the idea of choosing some individual, but to think about “realities” (AC 5287).
When we speak of the operation of the Divine Providence, we mean what God is doing. That operation or working begins at birth and continues thereafter. It goes on first in the simple, unknowing years of infancy and childhood. And even as it continues in our more mature years, we are no more aware of this Divine Providence than one is aware of a forgotten dream.
That private kingdom of our own life’s history is only partly recalled. Some more than others enjoy flashes of tender childhood memories. And those childhood states are realities. The Lord is speaking of our kingdom when He says, “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how” (Matt. 4:27).
When we consciously acknowledge the Lord, trust Him and submit our lives to Him, we are like a king, remaining on the throne yes, but acknowledging the sovereignty of the Lord. This is not something that happens only once in our lives. We awaken repeatedly into new realizations, and like Jacob we say, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.”
“I have dreamed a dream.” King Nebuchadnezzar knew in the privacy of his mind that he had a dream and that the dream was of great importance. He knew. Many other things he might not be sure of. In fact, things he had trusted he was beginning to distrust that day. Astrologers, sorcerers and wise men had enjoyed his trust, patronage and protection. But now he was awaking to a realization of their inadequacy. If in the past they had been able to say or show things of some value, in the light of that day it was not enough.
Was he right or wrong? Was he a most unreasonable man as his astrologers were protesting? Was he only a superstitious fool? On the contrary, he was less a fool that day than perhaps on many other days. For that day he was not like the man whom Jesus postulated as saying, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry. But God said unto him, `You fool, this night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'” (Luke 12:19,20). A fool is one who relies upon the fallacies of the sense, or who thinks this world is everything. One who is wise from himself alone, that one is a fool.
Nebuchadnezzar listened with wonder as Daniel told him the meaning of his dream, and he knew that it was his dream and that it had to do with his past life and his destiny. Daniel told him that the dream was given “that you may know the thoughts of your heart” (Dan. 2:30). Some of our thoughts we do not know, because they do not arise in explicit consciousness.
There are people who have much more belief in life after death than they know. The simple “believe they will live after death, in which simple faith, unknown to them, there is hidden the belief that they will live there as men, will see angels, will speak with them, and will enjoy happiness” (AC 6053).
How often the Lord told stories, and if we were wise we would see that He is telling our story, and we would see meaning in the way He recounts it. The dream of Nebuchadnezzar was a vivid sequence. He had seen an image. At the beginning he saw first its head made of gold, and descending from the head the substances changed from gold to silver to bronze to iron, and finally to iron mixed with clay.
What is going on in our lives right now? What is the story? What is the sequence? If asked at a given moment, we might reply that we have time only to say that we are facing certain present obligations and dealing with present needs. But our life is a story that could be told from a distance, or told from the distant perspective of a dream. It could be told in angel conversations taking form in correspondential images in the world of the spirit.
In the dream of Nebuchadnezzar we may see in the first golden state our early infancy, but it passes away. The strength, or iron, is then mixed with clay, and in later years we sense an impending end. Daniel said that the iron was strength and the clay was brittle, but then came a stone cut out without hands which grew into a mountain and lasted forever.
The gold was beautiful, and the iron was strong, but it was followed by what is brittle. How brittle and vulnerable we sometimes feel. Our very senses tell us that we are growing older and more fragile. And it is not just our bodies. We also come into a sense of our inner inadequacy and the limitations of our self-intelligence. Our memories are not as acute, and even the strength we have built up in our lives is mingled with what is perishable.
And all this can enable us to look with absolute wonder to Him who is the rock in whom we trust and in whom we may live forever and ever.
Remember the gift the Lord gives of trust that He is directing our lot (see DP 179). This comes to us like the interpretation of a dream. Our life is in His hands. Skeptical voices may tell us something else, but they are like unreliable astrologers. The voices may come from our own thoughts, arrogance, or self-intelligence. The fallacies of the senses put a wrong construction and a false interpretation on our lives. And even if they make some sense of the present, when it comes to the future they have no answer but are like mute magicians, soothsayers, standing there with nothing to say. But the reality of the Lord’s presence and Providence is like a rock growing to a mountain from which comes all our help. And His voice tells us, “Without Me You can do nothing.” “He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness.” “He that comes to me shall never hunger.” “Great is your reward in heaven.” “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Nothing shall by any means hurt you.”
Particulars of our future we do not know. Our passing states day by day are directed to ends of which we are unaware (see AC 2796). Unaware we may be, but every night that we sleep we are associated with angels sent to us by the Lord, whose Divine knowledge takes form in fragments of dreams which we cannot interpret. And He is saying that He is with us and will not leave us.
Our destiny is in the hands of Him who has all power and strength, “For wisdom and might are His … He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him” (Dan. 2:20,22). Amen.
Lessons: Daniel 2 and AC 1975, 1980
1975. As regards dreams, it is known that the Lord revealed the arcana of heaven to the prophets, not only by visions but also by dreams, and that the dreams were as fully representative and significative as the visions, being almost of the same class; and that to others also as well as the prophets things to come were disclosed by dreams, as by the dreams of Joseph, and of those who were in prison with him, and by those of Pharaoh, of Nebuchadnezzar, and others, from which it may be seen that dreams of this kind, equally with visions, flow in from heaven; with this difference, that dreams occur when the corporeal is asleep, and visions when it is not asleep. How prophetic dreams, and such as are found in the Word, flow in, nay, descend from heaven, has been shown me to the life …
1980. It is worthy of mention that when after waking I related what I had seen in a dream, and this in a long series, certain angelic spirits (not those spoken of above) then said that what I related wholly coincided and was identical with the subjects they had been conversing about, and that there was absolutely no difference; but still that they were not the very things they had discoursed about, but were representatives of the same things, into which their ideas were thus turned and changed in the world of spirits; for in the world of spirits the ideas of the angels are turned into representatives; and therefore each and all things they had conversed about were so represented in the dream. They said further that the same discourse could be turned into other representatives, nay, into both similar and dissimilar ones, with unlimited variety. The reason they were turned into such as have been described was that it took place in accordance with the state of the spirits around me, and thus in accordance with my own state at the time. In a word, very many dissimilar dreams might come down and be presented from the same discourse, and thus from one origin; because, as has been said, the things that are in a man’s memory and affection are recipient vessels in which ideas are varied and received representatively in accordance with their variations of form and changes of state.
ISAIAH NAKED AND BAREFOOT
A Sermon by Rev. Martin PrykePreached in Bryn Athyn on May 3, 1987
“At the same time spake the Lord by Isaiah the son of Amos, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot” (Isaiah 20:2).
The prophet Isaiah served in the kingdom of Judah in the eighth century B.C — a time when the northern kingdom, Israel, had been taken captive by the Assyrians to be settled among the people in the north. This left Judah alone, directly on the path between the two great powers: Assyria in the north and Egypt in the south. Their position was an impossible one, for they were not themselves powerful enough to face either of these nations and yet stood between them as each sought to attack the other. Their only hope was to play off Egypt against Assyria and Assyria against Egypt. At the time of the prophecy of our text, the greatest danger was from Assyria in the north, and it was Judah’s great hope that Egypt would protect them, if only for their own sake.
Assyria sent a force to attack the Philistinian city of Ashdod, stretching themselves along the coastal route toward Egypt. This was close indeed to Judah, and they dreaded the consequences, looking desperately to Egypt and Ethiopia to come to their aid. It was Isaiah’s lot to show them that this hope was not to be fulfilled, that Assyria would, in this instance, conquer. “The king of Assyria [shall] lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt” (Isaiah 20:4).
It is interesting to note that in this case, as in other cases, Isaiah was commanded not only to speak words of prophecy but also to enact them — to declare them before the people in a dramatic form. It was not enough for him to say that the king of Assyria would take the Egyptians and Ethiopians away captive, naked and barefoot, but he was to demonstrate the prophecy by himself loosing the sackcloth from his loins and putting off the shoes from his feet, to go naked and barefoot for three years. This form of instruction by dramatic presentations was used on occasion by other prophets. These were a living revelation to the people who beheld them, and they must have been a powerful means of instruction to those who recognized that they were not the peculiarities of eccentric individuals, but were deliberate acts of revelation, messages from God.
We are shown in the Writings that the Lord, while in the world, who called Himself a prophet and was indeed the greatest of all prophets, similarly taught by act or example. We know that He suffered Himself to be abused, even to scourging and crucifixion, so that He might teach the people, for then and for all times. In these things was represented the treatment of the Word by the Jews (see Lord 15) and in them was portrayed the attack of all evil against the Divine Truth of the Word and against the Divine Himself. We wonder why it was necessary that the Lord undergo such sufferings. The answer is that it was essential that mankind see in the clearest, the most ultimate, the most unanswerable, manner possible the nature of the hells. During His whole life the hells attacked the Lord, seeking to frustrate His work of redemption. This attack was ultimated at the end in the days of the betrayal, trial and crucifixion; and this was done so that there might be no doubt concerning the state of the church which was then at its end, not any doubt concerning the nature of evil which does indeed inmostly seek the destruction of the Lord Himself.
Because of these things it is said that the Lord bore our iniquities, and this is certainly true, for He did suffer at the hands of the evil of mankind, and He was attacked by the hells even to the cruel physical attacks of the passion. He bore out iniquities indeed! But this term has been given a false meaning by those who believed that Christ the Son has atoned for the sin of all believers. To such the reference to the Lord bearing our sins, which we read in our lesson (Isaiah 53), means that He has accepted the punishment for the sins which believers now commit, and that by this vicarious atonement (or indirect satisfaction of the penalty), we are saved from the consequences of our evil loves and need pay no price.
In the same way the words “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) have been given an incorrect interpretation, when the truth meant by this expression is that the Lord has set us free from the power of the hells, having redeemed us by His victories over them. No sin is actually taken away from a man until, truly repenting, he shuns it as a sin against God. Then alone can the Lord remove it and insinuate a new love of good.
The prophecy of this part of Isaiah foretells not simply the worldly devastation of Judah and the conflicts of the surrounding nations, but also the vastation of the church, showing the states through which all churches go at the time of their decline. The spiritual sense given in the Writings is especially applied to the closing states of the Christian Church, but these states are likewise individual, and so they are the states of all men in whom the church dies.
In the twentieth chapter, with which we are now concerned, the matter dealt with is the state of truth at such a time, and it treats of those who make a false religion for themselves by perverting the teaching of the Word. This is evident in the fact that Isaiah himself enacted the prophecy — for a prophet represents the doctrine of the church. He is the Lord’s teacher of men, and so signifies all teaching or doctrine. That the prophet was to go naked for three years represented that in this state of spiritual decline there is an absence of any genuine truth, for there is no longer any love of good, which is the very life of truth. By this we mean that truths are meaningless and are ineffective with us unless we love good — for it is the love of good which makes it possible really to see truth and to put it to use. Without this love of good we are, in effect, stripped of genuine truth.
Garments signify truths — as garments clothe the body, so truths clothe good. Nakedness is, then, an absence of such truth, which reveals the filthy loves of the degenerate man. Here it is not the innocent nakedness of the celestial whose minds are centered in good rather than truth. We can understand this nature of the nakedness of fallen man when we think about how the perverse reasonings, the self-justifications and twistings of the Word which an evil man uses reflect and show the nature of his evil loves. These do not usually appear to the world, for he hides them to protect his reputation and his worldly welfare; but within his own heart and in the secret places of his own meditation these things are clear, and are recognizable to the man if he is willing to see them.
These false reasonings are indeed our downfall, for as long as a man recognizes and does not justify his evils, there is hope of his redemption; but once he denies their nature and confirms them as being allowable, his way is set toward hell, and repentance becomes increasingly difficult. Such false reasonings are represented by Assyria, the enemy of Judah which is the church.
Assyria is the perverted rational which favors the delights of the natural loves by denying God and attributing all things to nature. The natural loves of man favor such an idea because an acknowledgment of God carries with it human responsibilities which involve the subjugation of the natural man to spiritual principles. But “the fool hath said in his heart, There is no god,” (Psalm 14:1) and by ascribing all things to nature, he relieves himself of the responsibility of conforming to a law higher than himself and so he sets himself free to follow a life which is directed only by his own intelligence, and to himself and his own loves.
Such false reasoning holds all other thought captive, just as the king of Assyria led “away the Egyptians as prisoners and the Ethiopians as captives, young and old, naked and barefoot.” The Egyptians are the scientifics which a man receives through his bodily senses. They are the facts of sensual experience, and include, let it be noted, the scientifics of the Word, which are the superficial knowledges of it stored in man’s memory. The Ethiopians, on the other hand, are the fallacies of the senses (see AE 240:3), which are the appearances of truth into which we are first introduced. These two — scientifics and fallacies of the senses become completely subservient to a perverted rational, which twists them and turns them to its own ends.
False reasonings will destroy those things represented by Egypt and Ethiopia. Their state in such captivity is indeed a state of nakedness, for no genuine truth is left with them. That this was to happen to the young and the old (or boys and old men) signifies that all innocence and wisdom perish as a consequence (see AE 532:3), and consideration will show how this is the case. The innocence of childhood is provided in order that it may remain with a man (even if deeply hidden) as states of affection for what is good and true, and so serve as a basis for regeneration, but if a man deliberately falsifies all that is good and true, these states of innocence will perish in him. Equally the wisdom of old age into which all regenerate men will come (a state of union between good and truth, love and wisdom) cannot be entered into. The young and old will go naked and barefoot.
That we remain clothed in truth should be our constant prayer and endeavor, for by it we are protected from the cruelty of a winter world about us. Yet we will not have such protective clothing unless we seek it in the Word, but, more than that, unless once received, it is preserved in its integrity. No truth must be twisted and distorted for the sake of our own selfish ends. It is not to be tampered with or treated lightly. It is a precious gift to be kept as the unhewn rock of God against which we fear to raise up our graving tool lest what is from us shall destroy what is from the Lord. Amen.
Lessons: Isaiah 20:1-6, 53:1-9, Doctrine of the Lord 15 and 17 (parts)
Doctrine of the Lord
15. (parts) Some persons within the church believe that by the passion of the cross the Lord took away sins and made satisfaction to the Father, and so effected redemption; and some, that He transferred to Himself, bore, and cast into the depths of the sea (that is, into hell) the sins of those who have faith in Him. They confirm themselves in these notions by the words of John concerning Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29); and by the Lord’s words in Isaiah: “He hath borne our diseases and carried our sorrows: He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and by His wound has health been given us…” Both these passages speak of the Lord’s temptations and passion; and by His taking away sins and diseases, and by the iniquities of all being made to fall on Him, is meant the like as by His bearing sorrows and iniquities.
Therefore it shall first be stated what is meant by bearing iniquities, and afterwards what by taking them away. To bear iniquities means to endure grievous temptations; and also to suffer the Jews to treat Him as they had treated the Word, which they did because He was the Word. For the church as it then existed among the Jews was utterly devastated, and it was devastated by their having perverted all things of the Word so that there was not any truth remaining; and therefore they did not acknowledge the Lord. This was meant and signified by all things of the Lord’s passion. The prophets were treated in a similar way because they represented the Lord in respect to the Word, and derivatively in respect to the church, and the Lord was the Prophet.
17. Something shall now be said of what is meant by taking away sins. To take away sins means the same as to redeem man and to save him; for the Lord came into the world to render salvation possible to man. Without His advent no mortal could have been reformed and regenerated, and so saved. But this became possible after the Lord had deprived the devil (that is, hell) of all his power and had glorified His Human, – that is, had united it to the Divine of His Father. If these things had not been done, no man would have been capable of permanently receiving any Divine truth, still less any Divine good; for the devil, whose power was previously the stronger, would have plucked it out of his heart.
From what has been said it is evident that the Lord did not take away sins by the passion of the cross, but that He takes them away, that is, removes them, in those who believe in Him by living according to His commandments, as He also teaches in Matthew: “Think not that I am come to loosen the law and the prophets. Whosoever shall loosen the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens” (5:17, 19).
Who cannot see from reason alone, provided he is in some enlightenment, that sins cannot be taken away from a man except by actual repentance, which consists in his seeing his sins, imploring the Lord’s help, and desisting from them? To see, believe and teach otherwise is not from the Word nor from sound reason, but from cupidity and a depraved will, which are proper to man, and from this comes the debasement of his intelligence.