A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner
Preached in Rochester, Michigan October 18, 1992

Happiness is an elusive thing. Isn’t it curious how we can sometimes look at our life and see all the elements that are supposed to make for happiness, while the happiness itself is not there?

We’ve all experienced this pattern: It begins when we recognize our need for the Lord, and we make efforts to restructure our lives and establish better priorities. The result is, we discover a new level of joy in spiritual things. We feel humble and appreciative of others. We feel useful; we take delight in serving. We feel distaste for selfish pleasures; something inside dissuades us from indulging them. Interest in securing worldly comforts and possessions has no great pull for us either. Worship, prayer, reading the Word are meaningful to us; we take a certain delight in them. We feel freedom from negative emotions like impatience and anger, lust and anxiety.

But sooner or later we wake up to find these negative emotions slipping back in. We are doing the same things (perhaps) that we were before – the things that ushered in our former peace. But the joy and satisfaction are gone. We sense no spiritual life there. So our life becomes burdensome to us.

If you can appreciate this progression of things, you can begin to appreciate the spiritual meaning behind our story from Judges, where “… the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel … And he … took possession of the City of Palm trees. And the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years” (3:12ff).

Symbolically this incident is about the loss of spiritual joy in living the religious life. It’s about coming under servitude to our natural desires and worldly interests. When these things take charge, the spiritual habits and forms that we have established for ourselves are made to serve a different master, and the Lord appears to depart from us.

The Moabites are an interesting enemy of Israel. Moab and Israel were actually distant brothers. Moab (the father of the nation) was the son of Lot. Lot, in turn, was the nephew of Abraham, who travelled with him to Canaan from Padan-aram. Because of this bond, the Lord had told Moses, as he led the conquering Israelites toward Canaan: “Do not harass Moab, nor contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot …” (Deut. 2:9).

As Israel’s neighbor and distant relative, Moab stands for what the Writings call “natural good” (AC 2468). Natural goodness refers to good feelings and actions in our outer lives. These good feelings and actions can spring either from higher feelings and goals or not. They can exist with us not from any noble conviction or love, nor from any consideration of principle, but merely from our hereditary disposition. We may also have natural goodness from having acquired good habits from our training. And these habits may or may not have unselfish love behind them.

Natural goodness is not bad in itself. On the contrary. This is why Moses was told not to harass Moab, nor take its territory. Natural good is the brother of spiritual good. It has its place. And when in its proper place it is not to be done away with.

On the other hand, neither is natural goodness to be confused with spiritual goodness. For this reason the Israelites were told that Moabites were not to be permitted to settle among them and be part of their congregation (see Deut. 23:3). Natural kinds of goodness are distinctly below the spiritual, and need to be directed by the truths of religion in order to be genuinely good. They may serve but not rule.

In our story Israel falls into bondage to Moab. This pictures that state in which we allow ourselves to begin living the good life for the wrong reasons. That good life then becomes merely natural. A natural goodness remains, but spiritual goodness is blocked out and labors.

Moab’s king is a man named Eglon. The name “Eglon” means “young bull,” a bull that has not been broken in, one that is not accustomed to the yoke. Our natural life is represented by a young bull which needs to be brought under the yoke of spiritual truth. The feelings and instincts of our natural man are strong, and they can serve us well; but they need to be directed and sometimes restrained. This happens only through being worked continually by the hands of considered principle. If our lower passions and instincts are allowed to follow their own course, they grow fat, willful, unmanageable.

Eglon was very fat. “Fat” stands for goodness in the Word. The fat of the sacrificial animals was the choicest part of the offering for this reason. But Eglon’s fat pictures our life when it is glutted with outer goods which do not live from within, from a higher use. It pictures the unmatched, over- indulged self.

When we lead an unexamined life we become especially vulnerable to bondage to “Moab.” When we become busied and bothered by natural concerns, we don’t think about spiritual things. When the hells can get us to be overly concerned with our reputation, our success, our personal comfort and happiness, then they can get us to feel impatient with higher concerns and enjoyments; they can get us to start clamoring for sensual delights and entertainments; they can hold us in a state where natural goodness is all that counts.

Fortunately, the spiritual part of us is not content to live under the dominion of the natural man. If we’ve attained anything of spiritual life, and tasted its superior satisfactions and delights, we chafe under the burden of living for ourselves. We don’t want to regard other people and things as mere means for our own happiness. We feel distressed when the joys and satisfactions of living for truth’s sake, for the sake of others, are gone. We long for a return to them. Without a sense of spiritual purpose, our life is sad and meaningless.

In our story Eglon attacks and occupies the “city of palms,” which is Jericho. Both Jericho and palm trees in the Word stand for spiritual goodness, which comes from loving our neighbor. Looking at it another way, it is the goodness that comes from disciplining our life by truths, by spiritual principles (see AE 458: 10; AR 367e). Palms – living, growing, fruitbearing – stand especially for the joy of spiritual life (see AE 458:7). This is why palm branches were held in the hand and waved during festival times: to show joy of heart from spiritual good, and to testify that one was acting from that good (see AE 458:5).

So Eglon’s possessing the “city of palms” pictures the loss of spiritual joy, of spiritual meaning and delight, that results when selfish and world-centered natural goodness dominates our life.

The Israelites served the Moabites for eighteen years. This stands for the period in which we are given to examine ourself, to discover our folly, and to see and resist the enemy. (18 = 6 x 3. “Six” stands for a period of effort in regeneration leading up to rest, the “seventh.” “Three” stands for a complete period, a complete process.)

So how do we find deliverance when we fall into states like these? Let’s look at how it happened in our story. Deliverance comes by the hand of a man named Ehud, who is raised up by the Lord.

Ehud’s first task is to approach and assassinate Moab’s wicked king. This step pictures addressing the problem of our ruling motives – what’s reigning in us. It pictures self- examination and rejection of that reigning motive as evil. We must approach it with a clear understanding (carefully recognizing our vulnerability to it) and condemn it to hell.

When Ehud approached and met with Eglon it was in an upper room. This location pictures an elevated state of thought, one removed from low-level concerns and self-serving considerations.

Not only was this room elevated; it was also cool. (In the hot climate of the near east, they knew how to build rooms that were sheltered from the sun, and which were ventilated so as to take advantage of the cooler prevailing breezes.) The fact that the room was cool suggests a state in which our natural passions and concerns are not active.

When Ehud announced that he bore a message from God, Eglon commanded “Silence” and all his attendants left the room. Again this pictures a quieting and removal of all the active reasonings and excuses that ordinarily defend our evils and prevent us from seeing them “alone,” as they really are.

The scene that follows is graphic and crude, but it carries important spiritual meaning. It pictures the effect that truth has upon our evils when we apply those truths from love for spiritual life. The dagger of truth is drawn from the right thigh, which is the symbol of heavenly love. The evil in question is met directly. The filthy things that lie within goodness that’s merely natural are exposed. When we grapple with evil and see it “up close,” thoroughly, we do not soon find ourselves attracted to it again. The horror of it stays with us, and strengthens us in what is good. We flee from it. (To “flee” is the meaning of the word often translated “shun.”)

The assassination of Eglon alone does not liberate Israel. Ehud sounds the trumpet in Mount Ephraim and descends with his army to the fords of the Jordan which lead to Moab. There he intercepts all the Moabites who are trying to escape to their own country.

After we have faced the chief enemy in ourself (our selfish outlook and motive), our job is to recognize its many effects that still linger in our actual life. These need to be addressed as well. Ehud seizes the fords of the Jordan. The Jordan, of course, brings baptism to mind. We’re talking here of the simple truths of repentance honestly applied.

Through this effort our spiritual values and concerns again gain the upper hand. Spiritual goodness rules; natural goodness takes its proper place under it. Our outer person is brought again into fuller harmony with our inner person; the two are joined together. In fact, the name of our deliverer in the story, “Ehud,” means “joining together.” His tribe, the tribe of Benjamin, stands for the joining together of the spiritual and the natural – when spiritual good from the Lord flows into our outer life and makes the good there living and genuine (see AE 449:13).

Through this joining together we enjoy a new sense of peace, clarity, renewed purpose. The “city of palms” is restored to us – that is, a sense of delight in what is spiritual.

“So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years” (v. 30).

May we recognize our bondage, and turn to the Lord with prayer and repentance, to find rest from this enemy of our spiritual life. Amen.

Lessons: Judges 3:12-30; Matt. 23:1-7, 23-28, 37-39; AC 5032:2-4

Arcana Coelestia 5032:2-4

Good that is natural not spiritual is easily persuaded, insomuch that falsity appears to it altogether as truth … It is one thing to do good from nature, and quite another to do it from religion. These two cannot be distinguished by a person in the world, for a person is not acquainted with the interiors, but in the other life they are plainly discerned; for in that life the interiors lie open, the thoughts, intentions, and ends manifesting themselves and being open to view as in clear day.

In consequence of this it has been given me to know the quality of those who are in a good that is not spiritual, and the quality of those who are in a spiritual good. Those who are in a good that is natural not spiritual allow themselves to be persuaded by everyone, and easily by the evil. For evil spirits and genii are in their life, or the delight of their life, when they can enter into the evil affections of anyone. And when they have entered into them, they entice him to every kind of evil, for they then persuade him that falsity is truth. This they do easily with those who are in a good that is natural not spiritual, but they cannot do so with those who are in a spiritual good, for these know from within what is evil and false. The reason is that when those in a spiritual good lived in the world they received principles from doctrine, and they impressed the internal person with these. The result of this is that heaven can operate into their internal person. Whereas when those who are in a good that is natural not spiritual lived in the world, they did not receive any principles from doctrine which they impressed on the internal person, and therefore with them there is no plane into which heaven can operate; but whatever flows in with them out of heaven flows through, and when it comes into the natural person, it is not received, because the evil or diabolical crew instantly take it away, either by suffocating, by reflecting, or by perverting it.

Therefore those who are in a natural good only, in the other life suffer hard things, and sometimes complain much that they are among infernals, when yet, as they believe, they had done what is good equally as well as others. But they were told that they had done what is good no otherwise than as gentle animals devoid of reason, and had not cared for any good or truth of the church; and since for this reason they do not have any receptacle for good and truth in the internal person, therefore they cannot be defended by the angels. And they are told also that they had done many evils under an appearance of good.