by Rev. Kurt H. Asplundh
“And He led him forth abroad, and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, So shall your descendants be” (Gen. 15: 5).
There are few sights more awe-inspiring than a clear view of the sky at night with its canopy of stars. How much more was this so in ancient times when there was no artificial light or smoky pall to obscure the sky. This is what Abram saw when the Lord led him forth from his tent, away from his campfire, perhaps into a plain where his view of the starry heavens stretched unbroken from horizon to horizon. Here the Lord told him to count the stars if he could.
Hundreds of years later, another man who had often viewed the stars while guarding his flocks in the watches of the night gave voice to the deep feelings evoked by contemplation of the stars. David wrote in his psalm: ‘When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the Son of Man that You visit him?” (Ps. 8:3-4) The power of this experience is evident from the account of Abram’s response.
Abram went forth that night a distraught and discouraged man. It was not because he had failed or had been defeated. Abram was a great patriarch. The Lord had chosen him and called him to leave country and kindred to establish a new nation in Canaan whose worship would be dedicated to the one God, Jehovah. Abram had prospered, had been victorious in the battle of the four kings against five, and had been royally treated by the priest-king of Salem, Melchizedek. Abram was at a peak of his power, yet he felt an emptiness. He had no son.
What would become of all his substance and his household? “Lord God,” he lamented, “what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ (Gen. 15:2). Was all that he had accomplished to go for naught? Then it was that the Lord led him forth onto the plain at night: “‘Look now toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be” (Gen. 15:5). Abram believed the Lord. He saw and believed. Abram was rescued from despair and hopelessness through his ability to see. And so are we.
Sight is a most remarkable gift. The Lord has given us the ability to see. Have we ever considered why?
The sense of sight is mentioned often in the Word. Remember Isaac first seeing the beauty of Rebekah, his bride, as she approached upon her camel; Moses looking across the Jordan into the promised land; Peter, James, and John seeing the Lord transformed on the mount, His face shining as the sun. What an effect was brought on by seeing in these and a hundred other instances.
And then there is the blindness – the man born blind, blind Bartimaeus, and the Lord’s miraculous ability to restore their sight.
It is soon apparent as we study the Word that the Lord is teaching us about two kinds of vision – the natural sight of the eye and the insight of the mind.
It was not the observation of planets and constellations that satisfied Abram, stunning as this sight was. It was the inner vision of the Lord’s infinite power and providence, prompted by his observation, that brought him hope.
The Lord distinguishes two kinds of sight in speaking of His parables. Many failed to understand His parables and the clear images He described. They thought only naturally. They had no insight into the meaning of His words. “…seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand… But blessed are your eyes,” He told His disciples, “for they see, and your ears for they hear” (Matt. 13:13,16).
We have the gift of sight. We must strive for vision. The Proverb declares: ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (29:18).
Abram was led forth abroad by the Lord to see the truth, to witness the hope for a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise. The Lord gave him a vision of hope so that his efforts would not perish in discouragement. We too need a vision of the Lord’s promise for us.
The Heavenly Doctrine explains the remarkable potential of sight: “Whenever a man sees anything with his eyes, and sees the things that he looks upon as if he saw them not, but from them sees or thinks of the things which are of the church or of heaven, then his interior sight, or that of his spirit or soul, is ‘led forth abroad.’ The eye itself is properly nothing but the sight of his spirit led forth abroad, and this especially to the end that he may see internal things from external; that is, that he may, from the objects in the world, reflect continually upon those which are in the other life; for this is the life for the sake of which he lives in the world. Such was the sight in the Most Ancient Church; such is the sight of the angels who are with man; and such was the Lord’s sight” (AC 1805, emphasis added).
This is what took place with Abram that night in the fields near Hebron. He saw the stars yet saw them not, for his mind was led to deeper contemplation and a powerful vision of the Divine end.
Stars are especially objects to lead our thought to spiritual or internal things. This is the secret reason for man’s never-ending fascination with astronomy. While we are awed by the immensity and order of the universe, and intrigued by thoughts of worlds and civilizations beyond our own, a deeper call stirs us. As we look at the stars, our minds can be led to think of the Lord’s kingdom, “for there is nothing beautiful and delightful in the skies or on the earth,” we are told, “which is not in some way representative of the Lord’s kingdom…” (AC 1807:2).
We are told that man’s sight is “especially to the end that he may see internal things from external, … that he may, from the objects in the world, reflect continually upon those which are in the other life…” (AC 1806).
Today we have all but forgotten this most important reason for sight. Our interest in what we see has become narrowed to purely material or worldly ends. In this is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah which says, “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull” (Matt. 13:14-15; Isa. 6:9,10).
Though we have powerful telescopes to extend our sight, and microscopes to reveal minute wonders of creation, even cameras and screens to project images of the world before our eyes as never before, we are more blind than ever to the internal things which these objects are intended to show.
Ancient men had the wisdom to see internal things from external signs. Such wisdom continued with some even to the time of the Lord’s advent. So we read, “…among some in the East there remained from ancient times the knowledge and wisdom of the men of old, which consisted in understanding and seeing heavenly and Divine things in those which are in the world and upon the earth…” (AC 9293). Among these were the wise men of old who searched the heavens for a special star, long foretold, which they knew when it appeared to be the sign of the Lord’s birth.
For a time there was light in the world, for He was the Light of the world. It did not last. The world has fallen again into utter blindness and darkness. We have eyes but we do not see. Yet the Lord is merciful. Consider how He healed the blind. Will He not touch our eyes? The Lord answered the blind who called out to Him on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem: “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, ‘Lord, that our eyes may be opened.’ So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight and they followed Him. (Matt. 20: 29-34).
Just as the Lord made His advent into the world to become God visible, so He has come again to be visible in the spiritual sense of the Word now revealed for the New Church.
Philip asked the Lord to show them the Father. The Lord answered: ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).
We are capable of spiritual vision if we ask it of the Lord. As we look out upon the world we can see Divine things. A beautiful teaching in the Writings states that “the universe, with all its constellations, atmospheres, and three kingdoms, is nothing else than a kind of theater representative of the Lord’s glory…” (AC 3000).
We are surrounded by the Lord’s glory, born into this theater of life where our mind can be awakened through sensation. We furnish our mind with the sensations of what we see, hear and touch, capturing what we can of that universe of constellations, atmospheres and kingdoms. We furnish our mind with these sensations and order them into patterns of meaning. These are the basis of our thought and reflection.
But this world-wide theater, so captivating and exciting to the senses, is intended to represent an inner world of glory. When we realize that there is something of spiritual significance hidden within every natural sensation, the eye suddenly sees with new insight. When this realization dawns on the still-awakening mind, as the Lord intends that it shall, the mind experiences a rebirth.
The former world of our natural understanding becomes a shadow before the advancing light of new truth, a gray winter’s landscape giving way to the brightness and color of a new springtime. Through the opening of the spiritual sense of the Word and the doctrine of correspondences, the Lord’s glory has been revealed again to an unseeing world. This second coming of the Lord has opened a world of Divine ideas for all to see.
For those who see, the saying of the Lord to His disciples is true: “Blessed are your eyes … for … many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see and did not see it” (Matt. 13:16f).
In explanation, the Heavenly Doctrine declares: “They who are in Divine ideas never come to a stand in the objects of the external sight, but from them and in them constantly see internal things…” And, especially important to us, it is added: “It is the same with the Word of the Lord; he who is in Divine things never regards the Lord’s Word from the letter, but regards the letter and the literal sense as being representative and significative of the celestial and spiritual things of the church and of the Lord’s kingdom. To him the literal sense is merely an instrumental means for thinking of these” (AC 1807:4).
Spiritual things are to be seen in the Word when the Scriptural accounts, the literal statements and stories, are viewed in the light of the internal sense of the Word now revealed for the New Church. Our worship and instruction from the Word throughout the year are intended to lead the mind to a new vision of its spiritual meaning.
A motto of the New Church is the phrase taken from the Apocalypse where the Lord says, ‘Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). As we enter into a deeper vision of the Word, our understanding and life are made new. We gain a new idea of the Lord, of His Word, and of heavenly life. And this brings new hope.
Abram felt despair because he had no son. It seemed that his steward, Eliezer of Damascus, would succeed him. The deeper meaning of this circumstance is revealed in the Writings. There we are shown that to be childless signifies the state in which there is no internal life. Eliezer, as a steward of the household, signifies what is external in the church; for example, the administration of rituals, and of many things that pertain to the place of worship. But “The externals of the church without the internals are things of naught,” we are told.
And so it is with us. “The things which are of the heart make the person, not those which are of the mouth and gestures . . . ” (AC 1795). Abram’s childless life, then, means a state in us in which there is no internal of the church, but only an external. This was the cause of Abram’s despair, and perhaps our discouragement.
In times of temptation, we may feel “childless.” We may feel a sense that our life is superficial, external only. Like Abram, who, despite his past efforts and victories, felt an emptiness in his life, we too may experience doubts that the work of the church or our own life will have any lasting meaning. We may feel that we are simply going through the motions of worship and repentance, that we have no living love of the church or the Lord in our hearts.
The truth is that the Lord can give us new life – that there are spiritual children yet unborn, as numerous as the stars of heaven, to be heirs to the kingdom. Lift up your eyes. “‘Look now toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to number them… So shall your descendants be.” (Gen. 15:5). Amen.
Lessons: Gen. 14:18-15:6; Mark 10:35-52; AC 4404, 4405
Presented in Bryn Athyn September 11, 1988
Arcana Coelestia 4404, 4405
The external senses, which are five, namely, touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight, have each of them a correspondence with the internal senses. But at this day correspondences are known to scarcely any one because it is not known that there are any correspondences, and still less that there is a correspondence of spiritual things with natural, or what is the same, of the things of the internal man with those of the external. As regards the correspondence of the senses, speaking generally the sense of touch corresponds to the affection of good, the sense of taste to the affection of knowing, the sense of smell to the affection of perceiving, the sense of hearing to the affection of learning, and also to obedience, and the sense of sight to the affection of understanding and of being wise.
The reason why the sense of sight corresponds to the affection of understanding and being wise is that the sight of the body corresponds precisely to the sight of its spirit, thus to the understanding. For there are two lights, one which is of the world from the sun, the other which is of heaven from the Lord. In the light of the world there is no intelligence, but there is intelligence in the light of heaven. Hence insofar as those things with man which are of the light of the world are illumined by those which are of the light of heaven, thus insofar as these two classes of things correspond to each other, so far the man understands and is wise.