Falsely accused


by Rev. John Odhner

“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’

But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.”

(Genesis 39: 6-12)

This is the second time Joseph’s garment was torn from him; it is a very symbolic act. Clothing is a symbol of the outward thoughts and feelings that both veil and reveal our deeper desires. Jesus’ clothing was torn from Him at the crucifixion (John 19:23), and earlier in our story Joseph was stripped of his colorful tunic, and now Potiphar’s wife uses Joseph’s garment as evidence against him. How often in arguments do we invalidate, judge or try to control the thoughts and feelings of our companions?

Like Potiphar’s wife we may be eager to experience love as pleasure rather than as service, so we take hold not of love itself but of the trappings of love, the appearance of love, while true love entirely eludes our grasp. Like Potiphar’s wife, we feel affronted. We go from desire to rage, from confidently enjoying our own pleasure, to being the plaintive victim. When people show signs of love, we turn those very signs against them. “You say you love me, so you should make me happy. If you loved me, you would give me what I want.” When love does not go the way we want it to, we are often tempted to use people’s own words against them. “But you said…” is a common piece of our arguments.

False accusations led to Joseph’s imprisonment, and we may find that lies people tell about us put us in an emotional prison. Sometimes these lies are from others, but far more often they come from within us. It’s as if there is part of us that just wants to be honest and faithful and do the best we can, while another part of us is saying, “You are worthless! You are hopeless! You are not compassionate, wise or helpful. You’re just pretending.” As we reach more advanced spiritual states and we may realize that such voices with which we so frequently accuse ourselves are not truly our own, but are borrowed from chance criticisms and comments of past friends and enemies, and kept alive by the influence of demons from hell who always stand ready to muddy our minds with shame, resentment and contempt.

We cannot always defend ourselves against such lies, so we struggle with temptation, doubt and despair. Yet if we act with integrity like Joseph, the time will come when trials will be past and we become the kind of person the Lord sees we can be. Just as Joseph was given new clothes when he got out of prison, the time will come when we will say, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Psalm 30:11).

The Rev. John Odhner is an Assistant to the Pastor at the Bryn Athyn Church. For more information, visit www.brynathynchurch.org.


Full issue


“All who become angels carry their own heaven deep within themselves, because their love is the love that constitutes their heaven.”

True Christian Religion 739



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.



A Thanksgiving Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn November 26, 1995

“… let them gather all the food of those good years …. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine … that the land may not perish during the famine” (Gen. 41:35, 36).

At this season of the year we think of the harvests of the earth. We think of the Lord’s goodness and of His providence. One of the greatest harvests we read about in the Word took place in the land of Egypt in the days of Joseph. It was not one harvest, but seven years of great plenty. We know well that these years were followed by a famine in the land. Joseph had foretold this, and the king of Egypt put him in charge of the tasks of storing grain during the good years and of its allotment in the famine years. Through his foresight and provision, Joseph was able to save not only the Egyptians but his own family in Canaan.

In its inner sense, the account of Joseph’s administration in Egypt is about the Lord, whom Joseph represents, and His foresight and provision in our lives. By the seven years of abundance and the seven years of famine are described in the internal sense the states of man’s reformation and regeneration (see AC 5275). The cycle of plenty and famine in Egypt pictures the secret cycle of human spiritual development. The Lord oversees this development in our lives just as Joseph oversaw it in Egypt.

Joseph counseled Pharaoh to collect a fifth of all the harvest in the good years and store it up in their cities as a reserve supply for the years of famine. Recognizing his insight and wisdom, Pharaoh appointed Joseph himself to carry out this plan, putting him in charge of all the affairs of Egypt. Pharaoh retained only his right as a figurehead; “only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you,” he told Joseph (Gen. 41:40). The Lord is surely in charge of our lives, yet He leaves us the freedom of final decision in our throne of free choice.

The interpretation of Pharaoh’s double dream was about food. The interpretation also has an interpretation, for there are two kinds of food. While the body needs food and nourishment, so does the soul. The Lord said, “Man shall not live by bread alone …” (Matt. 4:4). We need food for the soul. Therefore He taught, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life …” (John 6:27).

In the interpretation of this account, the grain of Egypt signifies a kind of “spiritual food” which “properly signifies the things that nourish the soul …” (AC 5293). Remarkably, we need spiritual food even while living in the body, for “material food does not penetrate to the mind …” (AC 5293).

To better understand the inner meaning of these 14 years in Egypt, we need to explain what it is that feeds the mind or soul. The Lord hinted at the answer when He declared that those are blessed who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6); also, when He said to His disciples, “I have food to eat of which you do not know … My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me …” (John 4:32,34). The Heavenly Doctrine plainly describes spiritual food as “… know[ing] what is good and true … and … will[ing] and do[ing] what is good and true…. These are the things that nourish the angels,” we are told, “and are therefore called spiritual and heavenly food”. (AC 5293).

The Writings go on to show that these same things are what really feed a person inwardly “even while he lives in the body.” “Be it known,” the Writings teach, “that truths and goods and the knowledges thereof make the spiritual life of those who are in heaven, for these are the celestial and spiritual foods with which they are nourished. These foods are given them daily by the Lord …”

The account of Joseph’s management of the grain in Egypt during the years of abundance and dearth is interiorly a parable of the Lord’s marvelous providence in our lives. For each one of us it is the story of how He gives us daily bread, storing up the food we will need for our spiritual growth and development. The Heavenly Doctrine tells us there is a secret in this that few know at this day. The secret is that there are times when we learn spiritual truths and goods with innocence and delight. These are the years of plenty with us. And there are times of desolation and confusion regarding truths. The Lord stores a portion of the plentiful harvest deeply within our spirit; “… unless such things were stored up in man by the Lord,” we are told, “there would be nothing to uplift him in a state of temptation and vastation, consequently nothing through which he could be regenerated …” (AC 5291).

The harvests of goods and truths in this storehouse are called “remains,” a term familiar to people of the church but unknown in the world. Remains are, we are told, “all things of innocence, all things of charity, all things of mercy, and all things of the truth of faith, which from his infancy a person has had from the Lord, and has learned” (AC 661:2). These gifts from the Lord are given to us and stored up in the interiors of our mind where they will remain and serve to moderate our life. “Each and all of these things are treasured up,” we are told, “and if a person had them not, there could be nothing of innocence, of charity, and of mercy, and therefore nothing of good and truth in his thought and actions, so that he would be worse than the savage wild beasts” (AC 661:2). It is from remains or by remains that a human being is human (see AC 1738). “Remains are like some heavenly star,” we are told “… the smaller it is, the less light it gives, and the larger, the more light” (AC 530).

Joseph commanded that a “fifth” part of the plentiful harvest be laid up in the cities from the fields around them. This signifies that truths conjoined with good are to be stored up in the interiors of the natural mind; and when these truths and goods have been stored up there, they are called “remains.” In them, we are told, “the veriest spiritual life of a person consists, and from [them] that person is spiritually nourished in every case of need and want, that is, in every spiritual famine” (AC 5297e), “for in remains alone is there spiritual and celestial life” (AC 560).

In this season of Thanksgiving, we must especially be thankful for the spiritual harvest of remains that the Lord has provided. This gift from the Lord is so important. Without remains we would have no defense against the assaults of hell, no hope of salvation. “The remains in a man are for the angels that are with him,” the doctrine explains, “… wherewith they defend the man against the evil spirits who excite the falsities in him, and thus assail him” (AC 737) “… [D]uring man’s regeneration … he is ruled by means of angels from the Lord by being kept in the truths which he has impressed upon himself to be truths, and by means of these truths in the affection with which they have been conjoined …” (AC 5893).

The Lord foresees our need for a spiritual storehouse – just as Joseph had foretold the needs of Egypt. Without that special harvest of remains stored up during the good years we would have no basis for a spiritual life, or even for being human. Without remains we would have no platform or plane of life on which the angels could stand in our defense.

Seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. What is our part in them? Can we increase this spiritual harvest even as the prudent farmer increases his crops? The secret is this, we are told: “from earliest infancy even to the first of childhood, an infant is being introduced by the Lord into heaven, and indeed among celestial angels, by whom he is kept in a state of innocence … When the age of childhood begins, the child gradually puts off the state of innocence, though he is still kept in a state of charity by means of the affection of mutual charity toward those like himself, which state with many continues up to youth, and meanwhile he is among spiritual angels” (AC 5243).

These are precious times, especially in our infancy and childhood, when the good ground of our mind is open to receive gladly the seeds which the Lord sows. These are times of tender innocence when angels are near, sharing their delight with us in the good things of charity and mutual love. These are times of abundant harvest. Storing up the spiritual things for our heavenly development is important, for our life will not always be tender, our loves not always selfless.

Let us add another idea: The spiritual work is not done when the storehouses are filled. We must survive the famine. The years of famine signify human states of life not so tender, not so open, not so full of mutual love. These are years of the awakening of our hereditary self-life. “Then, because a person begins to think from himself and to act accordingly, he can no longer be kept in charity as before,” we are told, “for he then calls forth inherited evils, by which he suffers himself to be led. When this state comes, the goods of charity and innocence that he had previously received … are withdrawn by the Lord toward the interiors and there stored up …” (AC 5342).

Survival in the seven years of famine signifies a stage of spiritual development as important as the multiplication of goods and truths signified by the seven years of plenty. It is not enough that the Lord provides us with remains. Yes, these are absolutely essential for the preservation of our spiritual life, but we must also make something of them. Remember the Lord’s parable of the rich man whose fields brought forth plentifully so that he had filled his barns. When he said he would take his ease, “eat, drink and be merry” because he had so many goods laid up, God called him foolish because he had laid up treasure for himself alone, and was not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).

We need to bring out and use the things the Lord has stored up in our soul. The famine gives us the opportunity to experience our desperate need for the Lord’s gifts. We must go to Him in repentance and humility to be fed. This is pictured in the Word by Joseph’s brothers coming to Egypt during the famine to buy food. They did not recognize him, yet felt deep remorse for having sinned against him.

It was the famine that brought Joseph and his brothers together again. A spiritual famine can reunite us with the Lord. A full spiritual life is more than a hidden store of truths and goods from the Lord. Remains are to be drawn out from our interiors and applied. We need to pursue a life in which we have conjoined truths with goods in a kind of marriage. Only then are we productive. Our thoughts and actions are to be strengthened by nourishments from spiritual things. Good affections and true thoughts sustain us in this world and in the life to come. This is the new birth called regeneration but it takes place only as we set aside what is from ourselves to receive what is from the Lord. All of this is signified by the seven years of famine.

The Writings teach that “during his reformation a man first learns truths from the Word or from doctrine, and stores them up in the memory…” But this is only the beginning. “The truths he has acquired must be initiated and conjoined with good” (AC 5270).

“… [T]he truths that are insinuated into a person, in the beginning, are indeed in themselves truths,” we are told, “but they are not truths in that person until good is joined to them … Good is the essential, and truths are its forms …. When the sphere of falsity is near, as is the case in the beginning … then truths seem to be banished; but they are laid by for a while in the interior where they are filled with good, and from thence are let back in succession” (AC 5207).

The Writings teach that “truth is conjoined with good when a man feels delight in doing good to the neighbor for the sake of what is true and good, and not for the sake of self or the world. When a man is in this affection, the truths he hears or reads or thinks are conjoined with good” (AC 5340).

That which makes possible our change of heart, our regeneration, are states of despair and desolation that come upon us in the world. Like a famine that causes natural anxiety and distress, these spiritual states of desolation awaken us to a sense of our spiritual inadequacy. The long continuation of the famine in Egypt is said to signify desolation “even to despair.” While no one seeks out despair, despair can have a positive effect on us. Listen to this teaching from the Heavenly Doctrine: “Despair causes those who feel it to acknowledge in an effectual and feeling manner that there is nothing of truth and good from themselves, and that from themselves they are condemned, but that they are delivered from condemnation by the Lord, and that salvation flows in by means of truth and good” (AC 6144). Coming to this humbling acknowledgment softens the hard heart and opens the closed mind. The Writings go further. “Despair,” we are told, “also causes people to feel the happiness of life which is from the Lord; for when they come out of that state, they are like those who have been condemned to death and are set free from prison” (AC 6144).

Let me summarize the spiritual meaning of the harvests of Egypt with this brief final teaching from the Heavenly Doctrine: “The man who is born within the church, from earliest childhood learns from the Word and from the doctrinal things of the church what the truth of faith is, and also what the good of charity is. But when he grows up to manhood he begins either to confirm or to deny in himself the truths of faith that he has learned; for he then looks at these truths with his own sight, and thereby causes them either to be made his own or else to be rejected; for nothing can become one’s own that is not acknowledged of one’s own insight, that is, which the man does not know to be so from himself and not from somebody else; and therefore the truths learned from childhood enter no further into the man’s life than the first entrance, from which they can either be admitted more interiorly or else be cast out.

“With those who are being regenerated, that is, who the Lord foresees will suffer themselves to be regenerated, these truths are greatly multiplied, for these persons are in the affection of knowing truths; but when they come nearer to the very act of regeneration, they are as it were deprived of these truths, for these are drawn inward, and then the man appears to be in desolation; nevertheless, as regeneration goes on, these truths are successively let back into the natural, and are there conjoined with good” (AC 5376). Therefore, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). Amen.



Lessons: Genesis 41:25-40; Luke 12:22-31; AC 5576:2-4

Arcana Coelestia 5576:2-4

Hunger in the spiritual world or in heaven is not hunger for food, because the angels do not feed upon material food, which is for the body that man carries about in the world, but it is hunger for such food as nourishes their minds. This food, which is called spiritual food, is to understand truth and be wise in good; and wonderful to say, the angels are nourished by this food, which has been made evident to me from the fact that after little children who die have been instructed in heaven in the truths of intelligence and the goods of wisdom, they no longer appear as little children but as adults, and this according to their increase in good and truth; and also from the fact that the angels continually long for the things of intelligence and wisdom, and that when they are in the evening, that is, in a state in which these things fail, they are so far in what is relatively not happiness, and they then hunger and long for nothing more than that the morning may dawn for them afresh, and that they may return into their life of happiness, which is of intelligence and wisdom.

That to understand truth and to will good is spiritual food may also appear to everyone who reflects that when anyone is enjoying material food for the nourishment of the body, his food is more nourishing if he is at the same time in cheerful spirits and conversing on agreeable topics, which is a sign that there is a correspondence between spiritual food for the soul and material food for the body. And the same is further evident from the fact that when one who longs to imbue his mind with the things of knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom is kept from them, he begins to be saddened and distressed, and like one who is famished, longs to return to his spiritual food, and thereby to the nourishment of his soul.

That there is spiritual food which nourishes the soul as material food nourishes the body may also be seen from the Word, as in Moses: “Man doth not live by bread only, but by every utterance of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).