Who’s to Blame?

Who’s to Blame?

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 15, 2007

“So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes; and as he passed by on the wall, the people looked, and there underneath he had sackcloth on his body. (2KI 6:29,30)

  1. Is it possible for us to imagine conditions so horrible that we could kill and eat our own children? And yet the Lord, in the Word, asks us to consider how we would respond – to ask ourselves if there are times in our own lives where we might feel so distant from the Lord that such a thing might be conceivable. Let us turn to the story as it is presented in the letter of the Word to see if we can draw meaning from it.
  2. The literal sense
    1. Famine in the Northern kingdom of Israel, specifically in Samaria, the capital.
      1. Samaria in general represents the church, and more specifically a person of the church. The famine is a representative of some kind of spiritual crisis in the life of that person.
        1. We know that this is a crisis of faith, because the story takes place in the northern kingdom. Judah, the southern kingdom, relates to issues of charity.
      2. The famine starts with a drought, the lack of water which represents truth standing for the crisis of faith, so that the crops fail.
      3. The lack of truth leads to indecision which leads to an inability to act. This is represented by the lack of food, food representing good.
      4. Hunger = the desire for good and truth, and the story is designed to show us the extreme degree of this hunger.
    2. Being under siege by Syria
      1. Syria represents knowledges of Good and Truth because there was with them a remnant of the Ancient Church.
        1. Abram came from Syria.
        2. The Wise Men came from Syria.
      2. As mentioned before, the city of Samaria represents either the church as a whole in a state of crisis, or an individual member of the church who is in a state of crisis.
        1. Inside there is famine and disease
        2. Outside there is good and truth
        3. But the inner man resists change from without
          1. We don’t like to be told how we feel, or what we must do to fix things.
          2. We want to do everything in freedom
        4. So there is a battle between truths and falsities, goods and evils
        5. But as long as the doors remain shut keeping the good and truth represented by the Syrian Army out, the famine must deepen – until….
      3. Cannibalism
        1. To eat = to appropriate or make one’s own
        2. Infant = innocence
        3. A graphic picture of what happens when we try to save ourselves from our own power.
          1. The Angels have no power whatever from themselves; but all the power they have is from the LORD; and they are powers in proportion as they acknowledge this. Whoever of them believes that he has power from himself, instantly becomes so weak, that he cannot resist one evil spirit. (HH 230)
        4. In trying to make ourselves innocent (saved), we destroy all innocence (willingness to be led by the Lord).
      4. Tearing Clothes
        1. Garments everywhere in the Word represent truth, so when a character in the literal sense tears his clothes, it is a representative of his noticing or acknowledging that he does not have the truth he should have and needs.
      5. Wearing Sackcloth
        1. AR 492 Sackcloth = mourning and grief that there is no truth with them. Garments represent truth, but sackcloth is not a garment. (Cf. AE 637:5)
    3. The most astonishing thing about all this is that the King blames Elisha for all these troubles because Elisha was the one who carried the message from the LORD that they would be punished for their evils.
  3. The moral sense
    1. Something in us makes us feel guilty for things that we are not responsible for. I sometimes feel guilty if my wife or children are unhappy, thinking that it’s because of something I did, or said, or because of something I forgot to do, or was unable to do. Sometimes that’s the case and I can fix it by changing my own behaviour. But most of the time their states of unhappiness have nothing to do with me, my words, or actions.
    2. Something in all of us makes us blame others for the things that we did do.
      1. We do something dumb, and it’s our spouse’s fault. After all,
        1. I never leave the lights on
        2. I never leave the door unlocked
        3. I always hear everything exactly as it was said
        4. I always remember everything perfectly.
    3. The truth of the matter is that we are all inclined to look for the causes of all our problems in other people instead of taking the responsibility for our own desires, lusts, and affections or even reflecting for a moment where our delights really do come from.
    4. DP 320 If man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth originate from the Lord, and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and account it meritorious, nor would he appropriate evil to himself and account himself responsible for it.
    5. It is the influence of hell (hell, inflowing) that is the cause of our problems
      1. That makes us think that everything in our life revolves around us
        1. It’s the influence of hell that encourages us to take credit for the good things that happen and feel hurt when we don’t get credit from others.
        2. It’s the influence of hell that makes us feel guilty for the bad things even if we had nothing to do with the problem.
  4. What does it mean in the internal sense when the king blames Elisha for the famine?
    1. Denial that we need to change, to grow spiritually.
    2. Denial that we have sin.
    3. Denial of the LORD.
    4. And then, when we find ourselves utterly alone
      1. Without any sense of innocence or even sense that the Lord is near so that He can be followed.
      2. Without the truth we need – the king tears his clothing.
      3. Sorry for ourselves – wearing sackcloth
  5. Okay, this is pretty bad. Probably we’ve all recognized something that we do. The question then is what does the Word tell us to do to resolve/avoid this problem?
    1. First, there’s some very practical advice from those who fight addictive behaviours and have found successful strategies for recovery in the Word.
      1. Recognition that we are powerless before hell/drugs/alcohol etc. Therefore, we need to turn to the Lord and permit Him to enter our lives
        1. Behold, I stand at the door…..
        2. He that has an ear, let him hear…
        3. Whatever you shall ask in prayer, believing….
    2. Next, we need to think about the miraculous end of the Famine.
      1. There were lepers in the gate of the city.
        1. Lepers represent profanation. They are symbols of a person who has descended about as far as they can into their own personal hell. They are those who, in the parlance of Alcoholics Anonymous have “hit bottom.”
        2. They know that to remain in the city is death. They believe that to enter the camp of the enemy is death too – but there’s the chance that they might find some charity there.
        3. So they take a chance, and they break out of that wall, the wall that has been built up by a lifetime of selfish thinking.
        4. They put their fate in the hands of the LORD where it has, of course, been all along. What was important that they finally acknowledged the truth of the matter, and opened themselves up to the truth.
        5. They walk into the camp of the Syrians and find there was nothing to fear at all, the enemy had run away leaving their supplies behind! Rather than death there was instead an abundance of life!
    3. We have to take an objective look at our lives, look for those walls that we have built.
      1. Are they for our own protection, or to keep others out? To keep God out?
      1. We need to ask ourselves if we are, like the king of Israel, blaming Elisha for the misfortunes that have come about because of our own choices – or if we are improperly taking responsibility for things that we had no part in.
      2. We need to carefully examine the course of our spiritual lives to see that we only take responsibility for those things that we ourselves have chosen to do.
      3. Are we going to be lepers in the gates and spend our lives under siege in a prison of our own making? Or are we going to risk entering the camp, to break out of our old ways of thinking and open ourselves up to wonders that the Lord stands ready to provide? The choice is ours.

    And when these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them; then they came back and entered another tent, and carried some from there also, and went and hid it.

    Then they said to one another, “We are not doing what is right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” (2KI 7:8,9)


    [These are bad times in Samaria. There is a desperate famine and an invading army. The king blames Elisha because it was Elisha who announced God’s warning and orders him killed. But Elisha predicts that the famine will soon be over and food will be cheap and plentiful. The prophecy is fulfilled the next day when God frightens the invaders and the people in the city get the supplies the army leaves behind.]

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

    First Lesson: 2KI 6:24-7:9

    And it happened after this that Ben-Hadad king of Syria gathered all his army, and went up and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria; and indeed they besieged it until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one-fourth of a kab of dove droppings for five shekels of silver. Then, as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” And he said, “If the LORD does not help you, where can I find help for you? From the threshing floor or from the winepress?” Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ “So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes; and as he passed by on the wall, the people looked, and there underneath he had sackcloth on his body. Then he said, “God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on him today.” But Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. And the king sent a man ahead of him, but before the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, “Do you see how this son of a murderer has sent someone to take away my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?” And while he was still talking with them, there was the messenger, coming down to him; and then he said, “Surely this calamity is from the LORD; why should I wait for the LORD any longer?” Then Elisha said, “Hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the LORD: ‘Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’ ” So an officer on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God and said, “Look, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” And he said, “In fact, you shall see it with your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” Now there were four leprous men at the entrance of the gate; and they said to one another, “Why are we sitting here until we die? “If we say, ‘We will enter the city,’ the famine is in the city, and we shall die there. And if we sit here, we die also. Now therefore, come, let us surrender to the army of the Syrians. If they keep us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.” And they rose at twilight to go to the camp of the Syrians; and when they had come to the outskirts of the Syrian camp, to their surprise no one was there. For the LORD had caused the army of the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and the noise of horses – the noise of a great army; so they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of the Egyptians to attack us!” Therefore they arose and fled at twilight, and left the camp intact – their tents, their horses, and their donkeys – and they fled for their lives. And when these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them; then they came back and entered another tent, and carried some from there also, and went and hid it. Then they said to one another, “We are not doing what is right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” Amen.

    Second Lesson: AC 2576, AR 492

    AC 2576:16 Formerly also they rent their garments … by which was signified zeal for doctrine and truth, which was thus torn to pieces; and also humiliation, because there was nothing appertaining to them that is signified by the adornment of garments.

    AR 492 By “clothed in sackcloth” is signified mourning on account of the devastation of truth in the church; for “garments” signify truths; therefore “to be clothed in sackcloth,” which is not a garment, signifies mourning because there is no truth, and where there is no truth there is no church.

    The sons of Israel represented mourning by various things, which, from correspondences, were significative, as by putting ashes on the head, by rolling themselves in the dust, by sitting a long time silent upon the earth, by shaving themselves, by lamentation and howling, by rending the garments, and also by “putting on sackcloth,” besides other particulars; and each of these signified some evil of the church among them, for which they were punished; and when they were punished, they represented repentance by such things, and on account of the representation of repentance, and, then at the same time, of humiliation, they were heard. Amen.

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

Those Who Are With Us

Sermon: Those Who Are With Us

I preached this sermon on Sunday, March 13, 2011 at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.


Readings: 2 Kings 6:8-23Mark 9:36-41Arcana Coelestia 5036

“So [Elisha] answered, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16).

All of us go through times when we feel alone.  Maybe we feel alone when we reflect on the tiny size of the New Church compared to all the other religions in the world.  Maybe you feel alone when you try to express yourself and no one seems to get what you’re saying.  There are times when we feel alone even when we’re surrounded by friends or family.  The truth is, all of us feel alone in some context, in some situation.  No matter how integrated into a group we seem to be, there are times when we feel that we’re on our own.

We can especially feel alone at the times when we most need help – at the times when we are faced with obstacles and challenges.  Most of us know the feeling of having to take on a struggle in our life, with a sense that we’re going into battle by ourselves.  We know something of the feeling that Elisha’s servant must have had as he looked outside his master’s house and saw the entire city of Dothan surrounded by Syrian warriors.

Imagine what that would have been like for Elisha’s servant, who was only a boy or a young man.  We read that he “arose early in the morning and went out.”  Imagine stepping out of your door early in the morning and seeing a hostile army completely surrounding your neighbourhood.  Now, where we live now, that seems almost absurd; but in other places in the world, this is still a real possibility.  Imagine the fear of seeing that enemy army – and imagine how much greater the fear would be if you knew that the army had one goal in mind – to get to the house that you are in and destroy you and the people you are living with.  We can understand why the servant boy cried out to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do!”

We’ll probably never experience this literally, but all of us have at some at some time feel like we are alone against an impossibly large force.  We may feel it when we think about our tiny church trying to change the entire world.  Or on a personal level, when we struggle to change habits that have the weight of years and decades behind them.  When we see our own evils, we can feel overwhelmed – when we see how deeply ingrained our selfishness really is it can seem to be a great army arrayed against ourselves alone.

The servant boy felt almost completely alone, but he did have his master with him.  Elisha represents the Lord’s Word, and the Lord himself as the Word.  We have the Lord’s word with us; we know that the Lord is present with us always, and never leaves us.  We are never alone.  But sometimes even that intellectual knowledge does not comfort us.  The servant boy knew the immense power that Elisha had wielded, the miracles he had done – but he still feared for his life.  Sometimes when we’re faced with seemingly impossible odds, the Word doesn’t seem like enough, and it’s hard to feel the Lord’s presence.  But even then, we can turn to the Lord in prayer; and we can still follow and serve the Word, just as Elisha’s servant followed him and cried out to him.

The boy was afraid and cried out to Elisha.  But Elisha told the boy, “Do not fear; for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  Those who are on our side are more than those who are against us.  Our allies are more numerous and more powerful than the allies of our enemies.  The Word teaches this – but it is not always easy to see.  It was certainly not easy for the servant boy to see – perhaps Elisha did have great power, but how could he possibly say that those who were with them were more than those against them?  Weren’t they only two against an army?

And so Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Jehovah, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.”  And the Lord opened the boy’s eyes, and he saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire.

The Writings for the New Church reveal that this story actually happened as described, and that the servant’s eyes really were opened.  His spiritual eyes were opened, and he was seeing into heaven.  He was actually seeing an angelic army, an army that really was present there.  In the lower heavens, angels appear to ride horses in chariots when they are representing truth.  They are arrayed for battle against the forces of evil and falsity.

There’s a passage from the book Arcana Coelestia that describes the internal sense of this story.  It says that the king of Syria represents falsity, and his army represents falsities of doctrine – but the mountains full of horses and chariots of fire represent the good and true things of doctrine from the Word (AC 4720).  The good and true things of doctrine from the Word might sound abstract, and it certainly sounds different from seeing angels.  But the reality is that one of the best ways to picture good and truth is to picture the angels who embody those different forms of good and truth (see, e.g., AC 4096:52015).  Because the reality is that every good intention we have, and every true thought that enters into our mind, flows in from the Lord through a society of heaven.  The angels themselves acknowledge that none of the good and truth is from them – but it does come to us through them, as well as directly from the Lord.

This is a powerful way to think of the Lord’s army that is on our side.  Think of all the different perspectives that your different friends offer when you go to them for help.  All of them offer something unique, something different – and the more perspectives that we’re offered, the more clearly we start to see.  And now think of the vastness of heaven.  Angels from throughout the universe, from the beginning of human life, all offering a different perspective, a different good, a different truth.  When we read the Word, we are connected to all these different forces.  Many of them act in us even when we are unaware of it – the passage we read earlier says that the angels fight for a person, even though that person is unaware of it.

When we feel alone, we can go to the Lord’s Word and actually bring about the presence of His angels, who convey His love and wisdom to us in a thousand different ways, the way a prism reflects all the colours of light.  Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  We never face a struggle alone – we have an army on our side.  And this can be especially helpful when we’re feeling despondent about being able to make a difference in the world, or even in one person’s life.  It’s true, on our own we may be able to have little effect.  But we can choose to lend our aid to one side or the other.  We can stand with the Lord’s army, or we can stand with the army of hell.

Those who are with us are more than those who are against us.  When we align ourselves with the Lord’s Word, we have the power of the societies of heaven on our side.  But there is more than this.  When we look around at the church, we may feel small – there are not many members of the organization.  But the Lord’s church exists in a universal form as well as a specific form.  And the Lord’s church exists wherever people are worshipping God and living in charity.  There is a brotherhood and sisterhood of those who are striving for good.  We are not alone in this world.  We see it when there is a natural disaster and hundreds of thousands of people say, “What can I do to help?”  There are hundreds, thousands, millions of people who are taking a stand against cruelty, against injustice, against hatred.  There are millions of people who quietly face their own demons every day: husbands and wives who fight against their tendencies to dominate their spouses; business people who fight to be honest even to their own disadvantage; lawyers and judges and politicians who fight in themselves to put justice ahead of personal gain.  These are our brothers and sisters.  When the disciples came to the Lord complaining that someone else was casting out demons in the Lord’s name, He said to them, “Forbid him not; for there is no one who shall do a mighty work in My name, and can readily speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us.”  All those who do the Lord’s will are on the side of good.

And all those people who are striving to follow the Lord really do stand with us, even if they’re on the other side of the world.  We all right now inhabit the spiritual world as well as the natural world, and when we share the same loves as another person in this world, our spirits are joined together, no matter how many miles there are in between.  It is not only angels and spirits of people who have passed on that lend us aid by allowing the Lord to flow through them – it is the spirits of others still living who are in similar love and wisdom (see AC 1277).  Those who are with us are more than those who are against us.

Those who are with us are more than those who are against us.  But this is true only if we are putting ourselves on the Lord’s side.  There are times when we realize we have lent our aid to the other side.        There are times when we give into the voices telling us to cut someone else down, to control someone else, to steal or lie – and we take the side of hell.  But realizing that we sometimes take this side can give us compassion for those who seem to be in the enemy’s army.  Because this story does not end with the angelic army destroying the Syrian army.

We have all seen people taking the side of the enemy – from the large scale to the small.  We’ve seen husbands yelling at their wives; we’ve seen parents mistreating their children; we’ve seen people cheat and lie and steal – and then rationalize everything they’ve done.  When these people are doing these things, they are taking the side of the enemy.  And in those situations, we can find ourselves thinking of those people as our enemies – and going even further, to wish harm on them.  We may not realize that in doing this, we’re throwing in our lot with the army of falsity and evil.  People are not the enemy – evil and falsity are.

The Syrian army in particular represents people who are in false doctrine.  There are plenty of examples of this – the doctrine that God is angry and punishing, the false doctrine that it doesn’t matter how we live so long as we believe.  And falsities like this do affect the way people live.  A person who believes that God is angry is more likely to act angry himself – the idea of God changes the way we act.  And falsities like hurt the truth in the Lord’s Word.  The Syrian army seeks to destroy Elisha, the representative of Lord’s Word.

At this point we might expect a great battle between the Lord’s army and the Syrian army.  But that is not what happens here.  Elisha prays that the Lord blind the army of the Syrians.  His prayer reflects a spiritual reality.  People who go to the Word and follow the Lord in truth can see evil for what it is, and see goodness for what it is – just as Elisha’s servants eyes were opened.  The light of heaven allows them to see things for what they really are.  But those who are in falsity and evil are blind.  They do not understand what it is to be good, and they are even blind to the evil that they are in.  The Syrian army is blinded not as punishment, but as a result of the falsity that they represent.

With the Syrian army blinded, Elisha had a chance for revenge.  But he did not take it.  Instead, he led the blind army to the city of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.  And there, their eyes were opened.  The Syrians found themselves at the mercy of the king of Israel – but they could see again.  The Writings tell us that their journey into Samaria represents instruction from the Word.  They change.  They learn.  Their eyes are opened.

When he saw his enemy at his mercy, the king of Israel asked Elisha whether he should kill them.  But Elisha says no – they were to be given food and water, and even great provisions! They were to be treated as friends.  They returned to Syria, and that troop of Syrians did not again attack the people of Israel.

And here we see the full meaning of Elisha’s words to his servant – that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  It is not only that the Lord’s army is fighting on their side – but even those who are now against them have the ability to change and join their side.  What mercy the Lord has!  And this is the final piece of hope for us.  Those who seem to be opposed to what is good and true can change.  They may be misguided now – but this does not mean they cannot learn.  And when they do learn, we are strengthened by their addition to the forces of good.  And when we find ourselves, to our own shame, fighting on the side of the Syrians, we can have confidence that we can join the other side.

The king gave a feast for the Syrians who have arrived in Samaria.  This attitude – rejoicing over a conversion from blindness to sight – reflects the Lord’s teaching that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance.  And there is joy when people come into heaven.  There is joy when people put themselves on the side of the Lord.

Everyone who enters heaven makes heaven stronger.  Everyone who enters the church makes the church stronger.  The angels rejoice when newcomers enter heaven – a passage from Heaven and Hell says,

Moreover, every society of heaven increases in number daily, and as it increases it becomes more perfect. Thus not only the society becomes more perfect, but also heaven in general, because it is made up of societies…. Therefore, the angels desire nothing so much as to have new angel guests come to them. (HH 71)

Every addition to the Lord’s kingdom – to heaven and the church – allows for the Lord to more fully act through heaven into people’s hearts and minds.

We are not alone.  We have an opportunity and a choice.  The Lord has invited us to join His heavenly army, not an army of vengeance or hatred, but an army of love and mercy, an army of truth and justice – the heavenly host.  If we join ourselves to the Lord, He will be present with us, and give us aid through His angels.  We are not alone.  We pray that the Lord open our eyes, so that we may see this truth: no matter how many overwhelming the forces of falsity and evil may seem, “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

Naaman’s Leprosy

Sermon: Naaman’s Leprosy

I preached this sermon on August 14, 2011, at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.


“My father, if the prophet had spoken unto you of a great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Bathe and be​ ​clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13)

What should we do to be cleaned?  How can we be cured of our spiritual diseases?  The answer is simple: wash, and be cleaned.  Cease to do evil, learn to do good.  But that simple answer is often unsatisfying.  Sometimes we want something much bigger, something immediate and powerful that heals us in an instant.  In those times, we are like Naaman, who we read about this morning.

Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Syria – “a great man.”  He was a hero of his people – but he suffered from leprosy.  In those times, there was no known cure for leprosy.  It would have disfigured Naaman, and made his skin hard and white.  Besides this, when a person has leprosy they lose sensitivity, and they can easily hurt their bodies because they don’t feel pain.

We don’t know how long Naaman had been a leper, or whether he had tried anything to find a cure, but the story reveals that he was desperate– since he brought with him an incredible sum of money that he was willing to give to Elisha if the prophet was able to cure him.  In fact, the disease may have been life-threatening, since when the king of Israel was asked to find a cure, he cried out, “Am I God, to put to death and make to live?” – implying that Naaman was asking for his very life.

Elisha might have been Naaman’s last hope.  But Naaman would not have even known of Elisha if it were not for a young Israelite girl who had heard of his plight.  She had been captured by the Syrians in one of their frequent raids against Israel, and brought to the house of Naaman – but she did not seem to have borne any ill will against her captors.  On the contrary, she expressed a sincere desire for Naaman to be healed – she said to her mistress, Naaman’s wife, “Oh that my lord were before the prophet that is in Samaria – then would he recover him of his leprosy!”

And so, after the king of Syria had sent a letter to the king of Israel, and Elisha had promised that Naaman could be healed, Naaman came to Israel.  He came with his horse and chariot, and he went to the entrance of the house of Elisha the prophet.  No doubt he expected a great welcome fitting for a man of his greatness.  Imagine his surprise when instead a servant came out with a message: Elisha said to bathe seven times in the Jordan, and his flesh would be returned to him, and he would be clean.  That was it – Elisha did not even come out to see him.

Naaman was furious.  He had travelled over a hundred miles, he had crossed several rivers – including the Jordan, miles before – and the great prophet would not even speak to him in person.  He had expected a great ceremony; he had thought, “He will come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of Jehovah his God, and wave his hand over the place, and recover the leper!”  But this – a message, to simply bathe in the Jordan – was insulting!  The Jordan was not even a very great river – the rivers of Damascus, Naaman’s home city, were much more renowned.  If he had to bathe in a river to be cleaned, couldn’t he as well or better bathe in the great rivers of his home?  So he turned away in a rage to begin the journey back to Syria.

But his servants stopped him.  They said, “If the prophet had spoken unto you of a great thing, would you not have done it?   How much more when he says to you, bathe and be clean?”  That gave Naaman pause.  Imagine the struggle that this might have started in him.  On the one hand, he had been told to do something so simple and childish that it was almost insulting.  On the other hand, though, he still had his leprosy, and he had no one to turn to but Elisha.  And so, he swallowed his pride.  He went to the Jordan river; he dipped in it seven times – and his flesh was healed, and became soft like the skin of a young boy – and he was clean.

Naaman’s attitude in the story is one we may recognize in ourselves.  It is easy to fantasize about doing something great and wonderful in the service of mankind.  It’s more difficult to do the everyday things – to work thanklessly to clean the house, to put food on the table, to be nice to the cashier who messed up our order, to forgive the driver who cut us off.  We would rather do something grand than mundane.

That’s the overall sense of this story – it’s about the importance of having enough humility to do something simple and straightforward rather than large and noticeable.  With that general overview in mind, we can look deeper into the story, and see its particular application in terms of our regeneration, since everything in the Word has to do in the internal sense with the way we are reformed and made ready for heaven.

We begin the story with Naaman, the commander of the army of Syria.  He’s a successful commander, the “saviour of his people” – and yet, he has leprosy, a damaging disease.  Naaman comes from Syria, and it was known even in Old Testament times that there was religious knowledge and wisdom in Syria.  The fortune-teller Balaam came from Syria, and he knew God by His name, Jehovah.  The Writings for the New Church reveal that the Syrians had this knowledge because the ancient church, the true church before the founding of the Jewish religion, had existed with them.  But over time that church had become corrupt.  They falsified the truth that they knew, and the church left them.

Because of all this, Syria represents knowledge of truth from the Lord’s Word – and in a negative sense, a knowledge that has been falsified.  Leprosy, too, represents a falsification of truth, and the profaning of it.  And so Naaman stands for a person, or the part of us, that knows things from the Lord’s Word; but it knows them in a false way, a twisted way.  For example, Naaman might be the voice in us that says, “All power is from the Lord, and I have no power of my own” – which is true –  “so there’s nothing I can do for my spiritual life except wait and hope for God to flow in.”  Or Naaman might be the voice in us that says, “The Bible says sinners go to hell” – which is true – “and I’m a sinner – there’s no way I’ll ever be good enough for heaven, so I might as well give up.”  Or Naaman might be the voice that says, “God will put me where I’m going to be the happiest I can be” – which is true – “so there’s no point in trying to change.” As you can see, all of those have grains of truth in them – but the truth is falsified.

Those falsities in particular – that there is no point in trying to change, in putting effort toward our spiritual life – are falsities that keep us from goodness.  They are falsities that numb us, in the way that leprosy dulls the senses of someone suffering from it.  They’re falsities that make us feel dead, and that there’s nothing we can do to change where we are.  When we’re in a state like Naaman, we’re in a state where life feels dull and meaningless, and where we feel like nothing is ever going to change.  Naaman’s leprosy seemed incurable.

But into the scene comes that young Israelite girl.  As a little child, she represents innocence.  She knows of a cure for Naaman.  And catching sight of innocence – in ourselves or in someone else – can prompt us to believe that there is something more in life, a deeper kind of joy than we have now.  Many of us give up on the ideas of ever being innocent ourselves – we’ve seen too much, we’ve done too much – but a reminder that innocence does exist can prompt us to look for something more, to look for a cure for our spiritual leprosy.

And so Naaman comes to Israel, to Elisha the prophet.  In the same way, when we have that hope that we can be cured, that something in us really can change, we can come to the church – represented by the land of Israel – and to the Word – represented by the prophet Elisha, since as a prophet he spoke the word of the Lord.  We decide to see what the church has to say, what the Word has to say, and whether it can really do anything for us.

Sometimes we do this with an attitude of humility.  But there are other times when we do it with something of that attitude of Naaman.  We want immediate, drastic, visible change in our lives, and we won’t be satisfied with anything less.

We can come with those expectations or desires.  That’s certainly what Naaman came with.  But Elisha did not come out and perform some great, powerful ritual.  Instead he sent a simple message: if you want to be cured, go dip in the Jordan river seven times, and you will be clean.  Nothing dramatic, nothing immediate – just go back and bathe in the Jordan.

It’s clear to anyone reading this that there must be some deeper significance to the Jordan river, and to washing seven times.  As a river, the Jordan represents truth.  Truth quenches our thirst for understanding in the same way that water quenches our natural thirst.  Truth washes away falsity the same way that water washes away dirt and grime from our bodies.  And the river Jordan, because it was at the entrance to the land of Israel, represents the first, basic truths we learn from the Word.  That’s why John the Baptist baptized people in the Jordan: because baptism marks an entrance into the Lord’s church and a first introduction to the basic truths of the church.  These basic truths are the ones that are found right in the literal sense of the Word: that there is a God, that He wants us to love Him and love each other, that we must not murder, or steal, or bear false witness, or commit adultery.

The Jordan represents those basic truths, and washing in the Jordan means living by them.  It especially means repenting from the evils listed in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere in the literal sense of the Word.  That’s why John preached a baptism of “repentance, for the remission of sins.”

But to return to the story of Naaman.  Just as Naaman went to Israel and listened to Elisha, we have gone to the church and listened to the Word.  But our lives were not miraculously changed in an instant.  We did not immediately learn some great answer that solved all our problems.  Instead, we are told to bathe in the river Jordan seven times – that is, to live by the most basic teachings of the Lord’s Word.

It can be disappointing.  How in the world is that going to make any difference?  These are obvious things.  Everyone knows you’re not supposed to lie.  Everyone knows you’re not supposed to commit adultery.  Everyone knows it’s bad to murder.  These are so simple – they’re too simple.

And it really can be hard to believe that these will make any difference, because often we feel like we’re basically doing them anyway.  “Sure, maybe I lie sometimes, but I don’t most of the time, and I don’t see how cutting out those times when I do lie will make that big an impact on my life.”  “Sure, I look at other women and fantasize a bit, but I love my wife, and it doesn’t seem to do any harm.”  “Yes, I’ll occasionally fudge the numbers with my job, but it’s not really hurting anyone, and stopping it wouldn’t make some huge drastic change in my life.  Maybe ideally I’d do it, but that’s not really the issue.  That can’t be the issue – it’s much bigger than those little things I’m doing.”

But the answer to those objections is simple: if those things aren’t that big a deal, than why not stop doing them?  Why not start addressing those simple, everyday ways that you break the commandments.  Maybe they aren’t the biggest issue – but if you’d be willing to do something big and grand and life-changing – why not start with the little things and see what happens?

Naaman’s servants use the same line of reasoning with him.  If you’d be willing to do something great, why not do this small thing?  And so Naaman – perhaps still not entirely believing it will work – bathes in the Jordan seven times.  Throughout the Word, the number seven represents completeness.  Bathing in the Jordan seven times means completely deciding to follow those basic commandments.  It means whole-heartedly shunning evils as sins against the Lord – not just because they’re a bad idea, or might get us in trouble, but because they are blocking the Lord’s love for us, and making our lives hellish.  Again, it’s hard to believe that those everyday things are so important – but unless we shun even these evils because they are sins against God, nothing is really going to change.

And Naaman does notice a change.  His skin becomes like that of a young boy, and he is cleaned.  That image of a young boy again calls to mind that first impulse that made us want to change – a vision of innocence.  And we can find that there is hope that even we can become innocent again, with a new kind of innocence – not an innocence of ignorance, but an innocence of wisdom.

Now the change did not take place after dipping once in the Jordan, or twice, or three times.  You can imagine what Naaman may have been thinking as he went into the Jordan again and again and saw nothing being washed away.  Is this really going to work?  And the same thing can happen if we make a commitment to shunning some everyday evil in our lives – it can seem at first like it really makes no difference at all.  A person who is fighting an addiction to pornography, for example, might force himself to stop, and to shun that as a sin against God – but still at first not notice any difference in the way he relates to his wife or his girlfriend or people of the opposite sex in general.  But if he keeps at it and continues to shun it, after months or even years, if he looks back to where he was before, he will notice that his life has changed.

Now, if a person takes credit for the change, they end up right where they were before.  But Naaman knows that it is not due to his own greatness that he was cleaned.  At the end of the story, he goes back to Elisha and offers him great riches; and when Elisha turns those down, Naaman asks only for some dirt from the land of Israel to take back with him and worship on.  Think of the change that has happened in him: from the arrogant pride when he arrive; to the humility he displays here, valuing the dirt of Israel above his own wealth and reputation.

It’s easy to hear again and again in church about repentance, and to sigh, “Yes, I’ve heard that before!”  It’s pretty mundane.  It’s not that impressive.  And because it’s so familiar, we can think it’s not going to make any difference.  But challenge yourself.  Today, after you’ve gone home from church, look at an everyday, small evil in your life, and resolve to shun it as a sin against the Lord.  Pray to the Lord for help. And you will notice the beginnings of a change.  It willopen you up to new realizations about where you are spiritually, and where the Lord can take you.  And if you keep learning truth from the Lord’s Word, and living by it, you will be made clean.  “Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh shall return to you, and you shall be clean.”


Lessons: Matthew 3:1-17; 2 Kings 5:1-19; Divine Providence 329

DP 329. What is the Decalogue at the present day but like a little closed book or religious primer, opened only in the hands of infants and children? Say to anyone of mature age, Do not do this because it is contrary to the Decalogue, and who pays any attention? But if you say, Do not do this because it is contrary to the Divine laws, he may give this his attention; and yet the commandments of the Decalogue are the Divine laws themselves. An experiment was made with several spirits in the spiritual world, and when the Decalogue or Catechism was mentioned they rejected it with contempt. The reason for this is that the Decalogue in its second table, which is man’s table, teaches that evils are to be shunned; and he who does not shun them, whether from impiety or from the religious belief that works avail nothing, but only faith, hears with some contempt the Decalogue or Catechism being mentioned as though he heard mention made of a book for children, n which is no longer of any use to him.

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister



A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois
April 10, 1988

“Be strong and of good courage: do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Being alone, truly alone, is a terrifying experience. When there is no one we can rely on, no one whom we can call and even talk to, we feel cut off – as if we don’t belong anywhere. And when we feel that we are without friends or family, we know fear. We know fear because we feel helpless – as if no one cares, as if the hurdles we face are insurmountable.

The Children of Israel knew this loneliness. They had journeyed for forty years in the wilderness. Everything had been provided for them – the strong leadership of Moses, manna for food, and the Lord going before them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

But now their routine was coming to an end. They had reached the Jordan River, entrance to the land of Canaan. The Lord would no longer lead them openly as before. The manna would cease. And Moses, their patriarch, had just died. They felt terrified of what lay ahead, and all alone in the face of difficult struggles. Could they leave the old ways behind? Could they overcome their enemies? Would the Lord help them as before?

The Lord then called upon Joshua, and after renewing His assurance that they would inherit the promised land, charged him saying, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

They did not have to be worried. They did not have to feel desolate. They did not have to feel alone. For whatever happened, the Lord would be with them wherever they went. Or as the Psalmist wrote, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (139:7-10).

The Lord’s presence can bring comfort and courage. It can remove the sense of loneliness; for whatever may happen, the Lord will always be there. His love is so all encompassing that it will never be taken from us. It will never cease to be with us. And the Lord’s presence can strengthen our spirits, renewing our youth like the eagle’s. It lifts us up that we may have the power to do what is right, to speak what in true. We can be strong and have courage, be unafraid and hopeful with the assurance that we are never alone, for the Lord is with us wherever we go.

But how is the Lord with us? Where can we find Him? How can we sense His presence? Sometimes it is easy to feel His presence. Worship can do this for us (see AC 904). As we sing familiar hymns, say the Lord’s Prayer (and others), or sit quietly in church and reflect upon what is being said about the Lord, He can seem to be right next to us. It is as if by closing our eyes we can reach out and touch Him. And this is powerfully so when we are affected by the innocence of a child at his or her baptism, the love between a couple at their wedding, or the serenity of a holy supper service.

We can also feel the Lord’s presence in the Word (see AC 8652, 9378). As we read it, perhaps we are affected by the mercy of the Lord in the New Testament, the strong moral commands of the Old Testament, or the wonderfully reasonable explanations of the truth found in the Writings. We see and feel the Lord as we allow those ideas to flow into our minds, creating a magnificent picture of the Lord’s purpose for us – a heaven from the human race.

We might also sense the nearness of the Lord when we are at peace or feeling heavenly joy (see AC 9546). Perhaps after some frantic activity we sit outside on our porch, enjoying the solitude and beauties of nature. We are moved by what the Lord has created; it is marvelous in our eyes. We feel that He is there.

And the Lord’s presence is especially felt in all that is good (see AC 904, 2915). He is good itself, and resides in everything happy, productive, and positive. Our delight in justice – a good day’s work receiving a fair wage – is a delight in the Lord’s good. Our affection for our family, the time spent in the give and take at a meal, indicates the closeness of the Lord. And the joy we experience when we know something we have done has helped another reveals the Lord’s presence.

These are some of the ways in which we can feel the Lord is with us wherever we may go. But there are also many less obvious ways in which the Lord is constantly present with us. He is invisibly within, the source of all life (see AC 2706). He is the Vine; we are the branches. If He withdrew from us for even a brief moment, we would have no life at all.

His providence is also like a silent current, gently guiding us through the sea of life (see AE 25e). He foresees and is prepared for every least possibility. He leads us a step at a time that we may freely reject what is from hell, and receive what is from heaven. He knows how hard we need to be pushed, and how much mercy we require that our tender lives may flourish and grow.

And He sends His angels over us, to keep us in all our ways (see Psalm 91:11). Unbeknownst to us, His love directs them to be with us at all times (see AC 5992). They inspire a confirming certainty in the truths we know, and a desire to act charitably. They moderate our affections, attempting to turn us away from evil and to what is good. When evils confront us, they call forth our heavenly affections and our true ideas, setting them in array that we may fight against hellish influences.

In these, and numerous other obvious and hidden ways, the Lord’s presence is with us. We are never alone. We are never abandoned. We are never without Someone who loves us and takes care of us.

This was powerfully shown in the story of Elisha and the Syrians. The Syrians were attempting to invade Israel and entrap their army- Elisha perceived their military plans and revealed them to the Israelites. The Syrian king assumed that one of his inner circle was betraying him. Upon being told it was the prophet Elisha who was providing the information, he sent his soldiers to capture or kill him. They surrounded the city of Dothan, and Elisha’s servant was terrified to discover their hopeless situation. They were defenseless. They would die.

But was Elisha worried? Not at all. He said, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” – an amazing statement. The servant could plainly see they were badly outnumbered. Then Elisha allowed him to see ‘the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around [him].” And when the Syrian army came down they were struck with blindness and easily led into capture.

Why did the servant not see the army protecting Elisha? He lacked strength and courage. He was afraid. He did not believe that the Lord was with him wherever he went. But Elisha knew that “nothing at all could harm people whom the Lord is protecting, not even if the whole of hell were surrounding them, both from without and from within’ (AC 968). The Lord’s presence affords Divine protection that stands against all, that defends against any problem.

Such protection is ours as we receive good into our lives (see AC 9049:6; HH 550; AE 556:8). To the extent that we are attempting to become better people, the Lord is nearer, giving us more and more protection against the hells. For ‘love to the Lord and charity to the neighbor has this effect, because they who are in this love are more closely conjoined with the Lord, and are in the Lord, because they are in the Divine which proceeds from Him; hence nothing of evil can reach them’ (AC 6370). Nothing of evil can reach them – the good protects them.

This is why the Lord said we are to turn the other cheek, for protection is ours if we do not respond with anger or hatred. It is only when we leave the Lord’s protective arms by being selfish and concentrating too much on worldly things that we open ourselves up to evil.

What this means is that we have nothing to fear! As we strive to do what is right, there is nothing at all that can harm us! Nothing in this world or the next can take away what is truly important or vital to our life or the life of loved ones. As the Lord is with us, we are immune to evil.

But does this mean that life will be easy? Of course not. Consider the Lord. Certainly the Divine was always with Him, but He suffered more than anyone else and eventually was crucified. Was this a tragedy? No. In spite of what happened to Him, He was protected from all harm. His life was victory, not defeat.

Think also of Joseph. The Lord was with Him. Yet he was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, and unjustly cast into prison. He could have felt alone and given up. But by his following the Lord in the face of misery, the Lord was able to save the Hebrew people and lay the groundwork for the establishment of the Israelitish Church in the land of Canaan. The Lord’s presence and protection was then seen in hindsight, for it was always there.

And in our own spiritual growth, although the Lord is always with us, His presence will not prevent attacks from hell (AC 5036:2, 8227). In fact, the anger of the hells will be unleashed because they sense that the Divine is with us. They will inspire doubts. They will lead us to think we love evil. They will create natural and spiritual difficulties that may appear overwhelming.

Will the Lord’s presence and protection prevent this? No, but it will lead us through the problems that we may not be defeated. As the Psalmist said, “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with His hand” (37:23, 24).

We can pray to have our eyes opened to all that the Lord’s presence is doing for us, even as the servant’s eyes were opened to see the horses and chariots of fire protecting Elisha, so that we feel “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Although we may experience problems, the Lord is ever caring for us and guiding our footsteps. If we fall, we will not be utterly cast down. For nothing can harm those who trust in the Lord.

So let us be strong and of good courage. Let us not be aftaid nor dismayed. For the Lord our God is with us wherever we go. Amen.

Lessons: Joshua 1: 1- 19; H Kings 6:8-23; AC 5992

Arcana Coelestia 5992

The angels, through whom the Lord leads and also protects a man, are near his head. It is their office to inspire charity and faith, and to observe in what direction the man’s delights turn, and insofar as they can without interfering with the man’s freedom, moderate them and bend them to good. They are forbidden to act with violence and thus break the man’s cupidities and principles, but are, enjoined to act gently. It is also their office to rule the evil spirits who are from hell, which is done in innumerable ways, of which the following only may be mentioned. When the evil spirits pour in evils and falsities, the angels insinuate truths and goods, which, if not received, are nevertheless the means of tempering. Infernal spirits continually attack and the angels protect; such is the order.

The angels especially regulate the affections, for these make the man’s life and also his freedom. The angels also observe whether any hells are open that were not open before, and from which there is influx with the man, which takes place when the man brings himself into any new evil. These hells the angels close so far as the man allows, and remove any spirits who attempt to emerge therefrom. They also disperse strange and new influxes that produce evil effects.

Especially do the angels call forth the goods and truths that are with a man, and set them in opposition to the evils gnd falsities which the evil spirits excite. Thus the man is in the midst. and does not perceive either thc evil or the good, and being in the midst, he is in freedom to turn himself either to the one or to the other. By such means do angels from the Lord lead and protect a man, and this every moment, and every moment of a moment; for if the angels were to intermit their care for a single moment, the man would be precipitated into evil from which he could never afterward be brought out. These things the angels do from the love they have from the Lord, for they perceive nothing more delightful and happy than to remove evils from a man and lead him to heaven. That this is a joy to them, see Luke 15:7. Scarcely any man believes that the Lord takes such care of a man, and this continually from the first thread of his life to the last of it, and afterward to eternity.