A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn February 20, 1994
“There was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up” (I Kings 21:25).
Ahab was the worst of all the evil kings of Israel, but his wife Jezebel was the driving force behind his murders. Her name is synonymous with shameless depravity. A “Jezebel” is a willful and wicked woman. It has been said that behind every celebrated man there stands a good woman. The account of Ahab’s wicked rule testifies that the converse may be true, for behind that infamous man there stood an evil woman.
Jezebel demonstrated cruel willfulness in the matter of Naboth’s vineyard. The king wanted Naboth’s vineyard. It was near his palace and he wanted to turn it into a garden of herbs for his own pleasure. The king offered Naboth a reasonable substitute for his land. However, because this was inherited land which Naboth had no right to trade, he refused the king’s offer.
The king was disappointed and despondent. Jezebel chided him. Was he not king? Why couldn’t he exercise his authority to get whatever he wanted? Then Jezebel took matters into her own hands. She wrote letters in the king’s name, had Naboth falsely accused and murdered, then told Ahab to go take possession of the property.
This is a frightful picture of injustice and the exercise of unlawful influence. It is but one instance of Jezebel’s influence. Apparently, Ahab’s violence against the prophets of the Lord was largely the result of this woman’s persuasion. “There was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord,” we are told, “because Jezebel his wife stirred him up.” She stirred him up, incited him, and persuaded him to carry out her will. In the end, she perished for her wickedness.
This dark chapter in the history of the kingdom of Israel is included in Scripture to teach a universal principle, not to demean womankind. Clearly, women are not responsible for all evil. They may have an influence on men for evil or for good, motivating them to the one or the other as Jezebel incited Ahab to wickedness, but men as well as women are personally responsible for their own evils.
The account of Jezebel and Ahab is not only a description of the dominion of this woman over her husband. More deeply seen, it is a parable of the relationship between the will and the understanding that exists in each of us. The quality of our life and our actions are the product of this relationship or “marriage.”
Sadly, the marriage of will and understanding often is disorderly, leading to evil results such as those pictured in the account of Ahab and Jezebel. Yet the universal principles of their relationship may be learned from the spiritual sense of the Word. Only as we know this can we develop a new and healthy relationship that will result in something good rather than something evil.
The doctrine of the church teaches that “nothing is more important than to know how the will and understanding make one mind” (TCR 397). Hundreds of passages treat of these two faculties. They describe the relation between them, similar to other relationships in creation such as the relationship between goods and truths, and that between the masculine and feminine forms of mind, and how this relationship is, in fact, like a marriage. Seeing this relationship in parable-like form, as in the account of Ahab and Jezebel, dramatizes it and helps us see how it functions in our life.
Before going to that account, however, let us first review a few basic facts concerning the will and the understanding: “These are distinct from each other,” we are told, “but so created as to be one … ” (TCR 397). ” … the will alone does nothing of itself, but whatever it does it does by the understanding. On the other hand, the understanding alone does nothing of itself, but whatever it does it does from the will” (CL 490). “They make one mind … for there is a marriage between the will and the understanding the same as between good and truth … the will in man [is] the very being of his life, while the understanding is its manifestation therefrom; for good, which belongs to the will, takes form in the understanding, and there presents itself to view” (TCR 397).
In each person, then, two distinct faculties exist, one which receives what is of good or of love, the other which receives what is of truth or of intelligence and wisdom. These faculties do not operate independently, but only in cooperation with each other. They have what biologists would call a “symbiotic” relationship, as where two different organisms work together for mutual advantage. In simpler, more accurate terms, they function in a “marriage.” The relationship of will and understanding is commonly referred to in doctrine as a marriage, like the marriage of good and truth, the marriage of love and wisdom, and the marriage of charity and faith.
In the parable of Ahab and Jezebel, the marriage of the king with his Sidonian princess represents this marriage of will and understanding, albeit in perverted form. As we reflect on the qualities of the pair, we notice that Jezebel embodies the function of will, the king the function of understanding. To elaborate: The woman exercises strength of will, both here and in the earlier accounts of her destruction of the Israelitish prophets. She dominates, even as willfulness often overrules good sense. She stirs up or incites her husband to take action. When Ahab seems helpless in getting the vineyard he wants, she accomplishes the task by letters signed in his name. So it is also with the faculty of will. It is the motivating force of human life. It promotes action from love or from desire, whether good or evil, but depends upon the faculty of understanding to carry it out.
The king, on the other hand, is less passionate. In his quest for the vineyard, he approaches Naboth with a fair offer of another property. His reason accepts Naboth’s refusal because it is in accordance with the law. The refusal leaves him disappointed but powerless. So with the human understanding. It has light, not heat. Without the motivation of will power it accomplishes nothing.
These differences between will and understanding are described in the doctrine as follows: “The understanding is subject to the will … , ” we are told (SS 115f). ” … the will leads the understanding and makes it act as a one with itself, so that if there is anything in the understanding that is not in accord with the will … he then either casts out the truth that is in the understanding, or else by falsifying it forces it into oneness” (D. Life 15).
This principle is shown in Jezebel’s use of the king’s name in getting her way. Ahab was led by Jezebel and allowed her will to rule unchecked by forfeiting any appeal to truth or justice which he knew to be right.
This was not of order. In the account of Ahab and Jezebel we see the “unholy” marriage of an evil will influencing and dominating a compliant understanding. “It is the will that by influx takes the understanding into partnership with itself, and not the reverse” (DLW 244). The will leads the understanding and, we are told, “since the will is the doer in every act, the whole man would plunge headlong into hell if it were not that the Lord has mercy on him” (AC 35).
The human will is corrupted and depraved, accurately pictured by the willfulness and wickedness of Jezebel. What then is the mercy of the Lord to prevent us all from plunging headlong into hell? It is, in fact, the gift of human understanding, the will’s partner.
Judging from the case of Ahab, who represents the understanding, there appears to be little hope for reform. Still, the understanding is the key to hope for our salvation.
As we have seen, the will leads the understanding; however, the understanding is intended to instruct the will. A number of teachings testify to this: ” … the understanding teaches what ought to be done and how it ought to be done. Apart from the understanding, love does not know this,” we are told (DLW 409:11).
Again, “Love becomes spiritual and celestial by a life according to the truths of wisdom which the understanding teaches and requires … Love cannot elevate itself unless it knows truths,” the doctrine says, “and these it can learn only by means of an elevated and enlightened understanding … When, therefore, love puts in practice the truths of light which it understands and speaks, it is elevated” (DLW 422:18).
This is the hope. By a life lived according to truths from the Word, a new will is given by the Lord. The doctrine is that “… a person’s understanding can be uplifted into the light of heaven, which is truth, and can see from it … ” This is of crucial importance. “It is by means of this capacity of the understanding to be uplifted into heaven when as yet the will is not so uplifted that it is possible for a man to be reformed and to become spiritual … ” This is called the “superior endowment of the understanding over the will” (Life 15).
Whereas the will is superior to the understanding in its power, the understanding is superior to the will in its capacity for elevation. By raising a person’s mind into a superior light and objectivity the understanding enables that person, of whatever character, even if evil, “to be able to think and therefore to speak rationally … ” (Life 15).
In the account of Ahab, who represents the understanding, this superior endowment is forfeited. The knowledge of the truth and of right and wrong does not guarantee reform. A clear understanding may be clouded and truths twisted into false reasoning to support an evil will. So we are warned: “The understanding is … blinded by the lusts of evil. As long as the will is in these it moves the understanding to confirm them … ” (DP 144). Reform involves the shunning of evil as well as the understanding of truth. There must be a partnership, a marriage, between an understanding of truth and a will to live it.
“Man is born natural,” we are told, “but in the measure in which his understanding is raised into the light of heaven, and his love conjointly is raised into the heat of heaven, he becomes spiritual and celestial; he then becomes like a garden of Eden, which is at once in spring-like light and spring-like heat” (DLW 422:18).
The doctrine of the marriage of will and understanding has broad application. It has immediate application to our personal life and reformation. It applies to the conjugial relationship. It applies to the life of charity and faith in the church. It applies to all our human relationships. Let us look briefly at some of these applications.
As to our personal life, we are born with an inclination to evils of all kinds with the heart of a Jezebel. Although this is hereditary, we have the ability to change. Let us not forfeit our capacity, as Ahab did, to stand up against and instruct our will. We can read the Word, know the truth, and be instructed in it. Remember ” … love cannot elevate itself unless it knows truths, and these it can learn only by means of an elevated and enlightened understanding … ” The Lord has given us the ability to form a conscience of spiritual truth that stands apart from our self-will. He has given us the freedom to live according to conscience instead of under the dominion of our perverted will. Here we are not seeking compatibility with Jezebel, an unholy marriage in which selfish loves override our sense of truth and justice. “It is quite different with those who are in the good of life,” we are taught. “Such … think from what is good, and love the truth that is in the understanding because it is in accord” (Life 44). Here we seek a partnership between our spiritual understanding and new good loves from the Lord.
Another application of the marriage of will and understanding is in marriage itself. The Heavenly Doctrine describes a special relationship between married partners. Two married partners who are in love truly conjugial are, we are told, “actually forms of the marriage of good and truth or love and wisdom” (CL 66). “The male was created to be the understanding of truth … while the female was created to be the will of good” (CL 100). It is said again that “the male is born to become understanding, and the female to become a will loving the understanding of the male” (CL 159). The true marriage relationship is where the two, being essentially different and distinct, yet become one by conjunction, each loving to think and to will as the other. This relationship is perfected as the husband grows wise from loving to learn and understand, especially the spiritual principles of life revealed by the Lord, and as the wife, at the same time, loves her husband’s wisdom and promotes its good. In this relationship, as it grows, the understanding of the husband seems to give the lead, while the will or love of the wife, which is truly the driving force, operates prudently, almost secretly, as the husband receives that love.
In another application of the marriage of will and understanding, we think of the life of charity and faith that should exist in the church. What are true principles that should apply in our life in the church? There will be many loves, many uses that different people wish to express and do. Will these vie for prominence? How will competing uses be coordinated and be given appropriate attention in the life of the church? A variety of issues will surface as church uses are developed. How will issues be resolved? How will we act in true charity? The answer is, through an understanding of truth.
How fortunate we are in the church to have a standard of truth in the Heavenly Doctrine, a common measure for all ideas and loves. We go to the Word to find truth and direction. In patience, with humility, forbearance, and good will, we should look for Divine guidance in the affairs of the church. We must beware of compulsion, love of dominion, and self-interest. Watch out for the desire to bend the Lord’s teachings to fit what we want them to say. Let us not be satisfied with innovations or traditions, but only with solid, carefully studied doctrine. There should be trust in Providence instead of impatience, the light of truth rather than the heat of emotion.
And finally, in all of our relationships, both within and outside of the church, let there be a recognition of the need for rational balance. The world is taken with extremes and hysteria. The truly rational person will not be caught up with fears and excesses. That person will have the perspective to see that worldly fashions come and go, that fortunes rise and fall, and that our own attitudes and states change from time to time.
The truth is that the Lord’s mercy is great. He seeks our salvation and our eternal happiness. He invites us to the heavenly marriage feast. He invites us to fashion in ourselves a true marriage of will and understanding, even as He Himself united His Divine and His Human. Therefore, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready … Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:7,8) Amen.
Lessons: I Kings 21:1-10, 15-25; Matt. 22 1-10; DLW 422
Divine Love and Wisdom 422.
(18) Love, when purified by wisdom in the understanding, becomes spiritual and celestial. Man is born natural, but in the measure in which his understanding is raised into the light of heaven, and his love conjointly is raised into the heat of heaven, he becomes spiritual and celestial; he then becomes like a garden of Eden, which is at once in vernal light and vernal heat. It is not the understanding that becomes spiritual and celestial but the love; and when the love has so become, it makes its consort, the understanding, spiritual and celestial. Love becomes spiritual and celestial by a life according to the truths of wisdom which the understanding teaches and requires. Love imbibes these truths by means of its understanding, and not from itself; for love cannot elevate itself unless it knows truths, and these it can learn only by means of an elevated and enlightened understanding; and then so far as it loves truths in the practice of them so far it is elevated; for to understand is one thing and to will is another; or to say is one thing and to do is another. There are those who understand and talk about the truths of wisdom, yet neither will nor practice them. When, therefore, love puts into practice the truths of light which it understands and speaks, it is elevated. This one can see from reason alone; for what kind of a man is he who understands the truths of wisdom and talks about them while he lives contrary to them, that is, while his will and conduct are opposed to them? Love purified by wisdom becomes spiritual and celestial for the reason that man has three degrees of life, called natural, spiritual, and celestial, and he is capable of elevation from one degree into another. Yet he is not elevated by wisdom alone, but by a life according to wisdom, for a man’s life is his love. Consequently, so far as his life is according to wisdom, so far he loves wisdom; and his life is so far according to wisdom as he purifies himself from uncleannesses, which are sins; and so far as he does this does he love wisdom.