Category Archives: Stories in the Bible

A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey: The Divine Purpose for Our Life

By Rev David Millar

And I have said, I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite; to a land flowing with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:17)

By means of His Word the Lord makes known to us what His intentions are toward us. But not only does He make these known He also, by means of it, imparts into us what we need so that we can align our lives more in keeping with His plan for us. Food and drink in the cupboard will not give us what we physically need for the day unless we make the effort to do what’s necessary to see that the food and drink we have stored there gets into our bodies. The Word itself is food designed to satisfy the deepest desires of the human will and drink designed to satisfy the highest aspirations of the human understanding. What this means is that if we really want heavenly desires and thoughts to be a real part of our lives then we have to be taking the Word into our lives. Our spirits cannot grow without our doing this.

The intentions the Lord has for our lives is clearly set out in our reading today. He wants to deliver us from the tyranny that false perspectives and self centered intentions which are what the Egyptians represent here. He wants to raise our thoughts and desires up out of worldly earthly concerns that drag us down in negative emotional states that rob us of the joy of life and set our feet in a new land or in new states of life – a land flowing with milk (root = fat) and honey (sweetness delight) which is a state of life filled with the pleasure and delight that comes from being reconnected with the source of life itself and being able to consciously receive the constant renewal of His love and wisdom as it flows every more fully into our lives.

Yet while the Word teaches us that the Lord’s intention is to have heavenly desires and thoughts ruling within us it also shows us that all is not well with the land. It is occupied by others – people called the Canaanites and the Hittites; the Amorites and the Perizzites; and the Hivites and the Jubusites. These are well established peoples in the land and they think that they are entitled to it. They have been there for generations, for what seems like forever and they are therefore well entrenched.

So who are these peoples or rather our question is what do they represent? If the Egyptians as a people represent concepts or ideas that are found in the natural mind that support the loves of self and the world that oppress the sons of Israel who represent ideas in the natural mind that support loving the Lord and our neighbour then we can see that these various tribes spoken about here as being in the land must also represent things connected with our psychological world. Which is in fact what they do represent. The land is our mind and we see from the Word that all is not well within it, it has foreign elements that have taken up residence there. By foreign I mean that there are things in our mind that it wasn’t originally designed to accommodate or entertain.

The mind is created to be an image and likeness of God who is love and wisdom. It reflects this in its general structure in that the mind is made up of two parts; it has a will or volitional part in which God’s love can be received and it has an understanding part within which God’s wisdom can be received. The will is who we really are it is the seat of our motivations and so is designed to receive the things that make up our desires, particularly those that motivate us to act or do what we do. When we are doing what we love we feel the pleasure of being free to do what we desire – all this is associated with the will part of our minds. In fact this part of our minds is designed to receive into itself love from the Lord and because this is the case we can only ever find a real sense of fulfillment when the things of heaven fill this space within us. The understanding part or our discernment is created for the Lord’s divine wisdom and this wisdom is knowing how to express the Lord’s love in loving others. So the understanding part of the mind is designed to hold thoughts and concepts that instruct us how to live a loving life, or how to express the Lord’s love. Until this space in our minds is filled with true thoughts centered on living a life of love we will struggle to find the delight in life the Lord intends for us. This is why it’s so important that we make the effort to study and apply the Word to our lives.

But a little reflection tells us that something has gone terribly wrong with the design, for rather than heavenly desires focused on loving the Lord and thoughts centered on loving our neigbour, our minds are often taken hold of by feelings and thoughts that put self first and shut heavenly things out. If we say we love the Lord but spend very little time in His Word or thinking about spiritual matters what kind of love is that, and similarly if we say we love our neighbour but don’t make any effort to reflect on our thoughts and motives so that we can identify those things that are opposed to heavenly life, and seek that Lord’s assistance to resist them as sins against Him then how can we possibly love our neighbour as we should. You see if the human mind is not focused on genuine spiritual concerns then we will struggle to invite heavenly angelic influences in to populate its land, and if it isn’t angels that take the leading role in the life of our thoughts and intentions we can be sure that other less benevolent influences will quickly move in and set themselves up as its primary residents. Once these are established they like the hostile tribes in the land become very difficult to remove. These peoples in our story today are our lower natural habitual thoughts and feeling states that alternate with one another in an effort to keep us in the dark as to the reality of our situation from a spiritual perspective.

You will notice that there are six different peoples mentioned who are said to occupy the land, and they are presented to us here as three pairs; 1. The Canaanites and the Hittites; 2. The Amorites and the Perizzites; and 3. The Hivites and the Jubusites. Why has the Lord arranged them in this manner? Well remember we are talking about our minds and this arrangement of three groups of two reflects its structure. The three groups reflect three levels, an inmost level, an inner level and an outer level. These levels can be thought of as three circles one within the other. The Canaanites and the Hittites are mentioned first and they occupy the most inner circle. The Amorites and the Perizzites are what occupies the middle circle between the inmost and the outermost circle. The final pair are the Hivites and the Jubusites and these are found in the outer circle. Now we have already seen that the human mind has a will part and an understanding part and to show that these two faculties, the will and understanding, are found in every part of the mind’s structure, that is on all its levels, we find in each circle two peoples. One to represent the will part of the mind and the other to represent the understanding part of the mind. So the basic idea we need to take from the symbols presented here is that our minds are structured having a will and an understand part on three levels.

The number three also means what is complete. And so we see from this that the occupation of the natural mind by things opposed to the life of heaven is complete from its core to its circumference. This is what Moses teaches us – the Lord revealing to Moses the state of the land in our experience is seeing the truth of the extent of this occupation in our own lives. If we want to have our minds filled with the life of heaven then we have be prepared to follow the Lord in his Word to see that those things that are opposed to what heaven is are ousted from the land of our minds that his people the sons of Israel are established there instead. This happens for us when the affections or desires of His Word becomes our will and the truths that teach a genuine spirituality becomes our understanding when this happens so his people are established in the land that is our mind.

We will know when this is beginning to happen for us because we will see the development of a growing desire for the Lord’s Word. Before we begin to make real efforts to apply spiritual truths to life, that is before these things impact on our lives in a way where we compel ourselves to act on them, what we know is bound up and unable to really do anything for us or bring about any significant changes in our lives. We have a body of knowledge which has lodged in our memory but while our priorities largely remain focused on worldly concerns and aspirations we don’t really see how the stories in the Bible are all that relevant to our worldly pursuits and priorities, and the Heavenly Doctrines will seem to us to be rather abstract and removed from how life really is. But the issue in this state of life is not the lack of relevance of Scripture or the Heavenly Doctrines, it is rather our focus on external over internal things. Internal things have to do with our thoughts and intentions, and these are the things with which heaven and the church are concerned with, and if our focus was at this level of life then what we would find is that the Word becomes incredibly practical and relevant. Because it is this level of life it is designed to address. However, prior to seeing this, spiritual ideas go into our memories with little effect and suffer under the hand of the Egyptians. Simply put a lack of desire for the Word reflects a state of life where worldly things take priority over spiritual things in our lives. But the Word shows us that this state can be turned around, we just have to want to genuinely make the Word a more integral part of our lives.

You see if spiritual things don’t govern our lives and occupy our thoughts and intentions then worldly things will, and these shut out the light and heat of heaven. Our preoccupation with the earthly or natural level of life is described in the symbolic language of Scripture as various peoples hostile to the people of Israel. In telling us of the peoples that occupy the land the Lord gives us a heads up on what lies ahead. If we take time to make real efforts to understand how the principles from the Word need to be applied in our life then a Moses part will develop in our mind that is capable of receiving insight from the Word and instruction as to what it is we are actually committing ourselves to when we purpose within ourselves to live a spiritual life. This communication to Moses teaches us that 1. that there is a land, or if you like, a much higher quality of life available to us than that in which we find ourselves currently and 2. that it is populated by natural thoughts and affections that rob us of our spiritual inheritance; the Lord in making the situation known to Moses corresponds to our own dawning realisation that we are called to a spiritual life and that that life involves taking the things of the Word represented by the sons of Israel, and having them lifted up in our order of priorities that we might begin the journey inward to deal with the things that currently fill our minds that are opposed to and detrimental to the spiritual life.

Listen to this quote from the Heavenly Doctrines.

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott) 6858.

By the nations in the land of Canaan that are listed here as well as in other places, such as Gen. 15:18,19; Exod. 23:23, 28; 33:2; 34:11; Deut. 7:1; 20:17; Josh. 3:10; 24:11; Judg. 3:5, are meant all kinds of evil and falsity. What one should understand by a region occupied by evils that arise from falsities, and also by all the other kinds of evil and falsity, must be stated. Before the Lord’s Coming into the world evil genii and spirits occupied the entire region of heaven to which those who were spiritual were subsequently raised. For before the Lord’s Coming a large part of those kinds of beings were freely prowling about and molesting the good, especially spiritual people who were on the lower earth. But after the Lord’s Coming they were all thrust down into their own hells, and that region was liberated and given as an inheritance to those who belonged to the spiritual Church. I have often noticed that as soon any place is abandoned by good spirits it is occupied by evil ones, but that the evil spirits are driven out of it; and that once they have been driven out it is handed over again to those who are governed by good. The reason for this is that those from hell have a constant burning desire to destroy the things of heaven, in particular those things that are their opposites. Consequently when some place is abandoned, then because it is unprotected it is instantly occupied by the evil. This, as has been stated, is what one should understand specifically by a region occupied by evils and falsities, which is meant by the place inhabited by the nations who were to be driven out. This together with the things mentioned above in 6854 is a deep mystery which cannot be known about without revelation.

Now I want you to think about what this says in the light of what we have been talking about today.

Before the Lord’s Coming into the world (read your own life into this – before the Lord’s coming into your life in the power of His Word) evil genii and spirits (self centred desires and thoughts) occupied the entire region of heaven (your mind) to which those who were spiritual were subsequently raised. For before the Lord’s Coming a large part of those kinds of beings were freely prowling about (in your mind) and molesting the good, especially spiritual people who were on the lower earth. But after the Lord’s Coming they were all thrust down into their own hells, and that region was liberated and given as an inheritance to those who belonged to the spiritual Church. I have often noticed that as soon any place is abandoned by good spirits it is occupied by evil ones, but that the evil spirits are driven out of it; and that once they have been driven out it is handed over again to those who are governed by good. The reason for this is that those from hell (self centred motives) have a constant burning desire to destroy the things of heaven (genuine spiritual affections), in particular those things that are their opposites. Consequently when some place is abandoned (when your focus shifts away from what is genuinly spiritual), then because it is unprotected it is instantly occupied by the evil (self seeking motives). This, as has been stated, is what one should understand specifically by a region occupied by evils and falsities, which is meant by the place inhabited by the nations who were to be driven out. This together with the things mentioned above in 6854 is a deep mystery which cannot be known about without revelation.


A Sower Went Out To Sow

By Rev. Dr. Reuben Bell

“Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

What does this image do for you? What can it do for us, living as we do in our insular urban culture, detached from sowing, or reaping. We do our “sowing” in our various jobs, far removed from the agrarian setting of the parable we read today, and we “reap” at the supermarket–crops we did not plan, or plant, or gather. Can this image do anything for us modern people? Of course it can, because it is simple, and easily visualized, and because this image is rooted in the reality of life on this planet.

“A sower went out to sow.” In the days of this parable, this would have been a man with a bag of seed (and precious seed at that–not easily replaced), throwing them, broadcast, by hand onto the ground–hoping for the best. No tractor, with disk and harrow to prepare the ground, no seed drill to plant the crop with scientific precision, no fertilizer to assure an abundant crop, and no pesticides to keep it safe. Just a sower and his seed, hoping for the best. Let’s look at this parable, as the Lord reveals Himself in the Word, and see what it can teach us about the Lord (who is the Sower in the spiritual sense), and what it can teach us about ourselves as well.

The scene of this parable is two-fold, and both scenes are important for our complete understanding of the story: The setting of the parable itself (a man walking along, spreading seed), and the setting of the Lord, telling the story, from a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

First the physical setting of the Lord’s telling of the story: There are some fascinating and revealing correspondences here. Verses 1 and 2 say this:

On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

The Lord left a house to meet the multitude. This is important. A house represents the natural mind, and this reminds us that He was leading the people out of their natural states, into spiritual thinking. This is what He did–this was His ministry. [AC 4982] Then He went and sat by the sea. Sitting implies that the Lord wished to be among the people, not above or apart from them [AE 687], and the sea represents the externals of heaven and the church, or knowledges of truth and good, together, for people who are in natural states of mind [AE 514; AR 878]. Where else would He take them, but the sea? Where else would He take us? Finally, the Lord got into a boat, to sit and preach, and the multitude stood on the shore. A boat clearly represents doctrine, from the Word (in this case the real thing–the Word who was made flesh, and dwelt among us) [AE 514], and that the people stood, tells us that they were looking to the Lord, to understand His will [AE 687] (because sight serves the understanding).

Why the correspondences? Because, in order to “see” and understand spiritual truths, we must look to the Lord, in His doctrine–available in abundance in His Word. But first we must leave the “house” of our natural mind, and go to the sea–the church and heaven available to us in this life, if we so desire. And when we have done these things, then we are ready to hear the Word of the Lord.

The setting of this parable is important–there is a wealth of spiritual teaching in the first two verses alone, before we even get to the story. The Lord carefully got the people ready to listen. We must do the same.

Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

The setting of the parable is simple–there is no wealth of detail to draw our mind’s eye away from the action. A sower (a farmer), walking along, sowing seeds apparently without regard to where–“by the wayside.., on stony places.., among thorns..,and finally on good ground as well. Now what kind of farmer is this, who throws his seed in all directions, on places he has not cultivated or prepared? In this question lies the power of the parable, because the people who stood and heard this story were not removed from the land–they knew this was a strange twist to an otherwise familiar image. And they listened all the more. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! This parable will teach us much about the Sower, and much also about ourselves.

This parable, as do all parables, invites us to analyze. It is obviously a doorway into deeper truths, and there are two approaches to this parable, beyond the intentionally puzzling nature of its literal sense. One is a rare opportunity in the Gospels: the explanation of a parable by the Lord Himself; this time to His disciples. The other approach is a New Church treatment of the parable: a look at its internal sense, available to us in the doctrines of the Church of the New Jerusalem–a rare opportunity in its own right, for that matter: truths only recently revealed for this New Christian Era. As we work our way through this parable, we will examine both these doorways, for both have now been opened to us. [AC 1940, 3310; AE 401; Life 90]

The disciples asked the Lord, “Why do you speak to them in parables? Why not give them pithy spiritual truths, and let them be on with their lives, of reformation and regeneration? “Because,” he said , “it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” These were the “multitudes,” who had to be taken out of the “house” of the natural mind, before the Lord could teach them even the external things of heaven and the church, remember? The disciples could hear truths of the kingdom of heaven without profaning them.. but the multitudes? They weren’t there yet. But the Lord was sowing the seeds of His kingdom, nonetheless. Can we also hear these truths? That’s what the New Church is all about. Now it is permitted to enter with the understanding into the mysteries of faith (TCR 508). Here is the Parable of the Sower, unfolded:

And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. This, the Lord told His disciples, was “anyone [who] hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.” These are those who have no affection for truth; those who accept truths only to give them over to infernal spirits, who falsify them and deprive them of life, rendering them useless for any good effect. Who could be this way? Those for whom the love of self and the world is strong enough that it weaves a web of falsities to feed that love; those who “pick and choose” their truths, to make a case for their selfish agenda. Who could be this way? Any of us, at one time or another.

Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. The Lord tells us that “he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word, immediately he stumbles.” These are people who appreciate truth, but not for its own sake. Truth produces a certain external delight from an external affection, but since it has no place in the will, it cannot stand the assault of the hells in temptation. Who is this? There are “dabblers” in spiritual matters, “seekers” for whom seeking is an end unto itself–who seek, but never find, because examining delightful truths as individual gems is the love of their life. But when it comes time to live these truths, they are gone.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. The Lord said, “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the Word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and he becomes unfruitful.” The cares of this world.. We all have them, but they can grow to fill our consciousness until they choke the Lord completely out. What is blocked is His simple admonition, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” The hells whisper to us, “What about tomorrow?” What if things go wrong?” How fruitful can you be, with that in your ear? Thorns.. we all have them. What a job, to keep them cut back, and under control.

But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. And the Lord said, “he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” These are people who love the truths of the Word because they love the Lord, and from this love of truth they strive to do good from it. Love in action. Charity. Uses. Call it what you will, the good ground is you and me, when we do the right thing because it feels good, and it feels good because we know, from doctrine, that it is good.

The good ground is good and truth in perfect conjunction–regeneration–and that’s what a hundred signifies in the Word [AC 2636]; the “hundredfold” in our parable: “Some thirty,” which represents this same conjunction, but only in potential–our remains, or truth joined to good [AC 2276, 5335], “some sixty,” representing truth from good, [AR 610], and “some a hundredfold;” you and me, when we can take truths from the Word, raise them up, and conjoin them to good, by living them, temptations and all. This is the crop our sower has in mind. The outcome is up to us; the joy of the harvest can be ours!

To summarize the wonderful truths in this parable, the passage we read from the Writings today says it best:

“…the truths that are implanted from infancy from the Word or from preaching, when man begins to think from himself, are adulterated and perish by lusts from the love of self. All the life of truth is from spiritual good, and spiritual good has its seat in the higher or interior mind, which is called the spiritual mind. This mind cannot be opened with those who are in the love of self, for in everything they look to self.” [AE 401]

That old love of self.. some things never change. The opposite of the good ground–the opposite of good and truth conjoined in use.

The Lord is not a bad farmer–throwing seed away in all directions–in bad places for seeds to grow. He is the Sower, who throws the seed of His Word on every person, because He knows that as long as we are on this earth, where our natural minds can still be shaped toward good and away from evil–there are no bad places to throw the seed. Because all of us have the freedom, the truths, and the example of the living Lord Jesus Christ to become the good ground.

The hard ground of the roadway, the stones, and the thorns, can all be conquered, a little at a time, if we will only leave the house of our natural mind, go and stand on that shore, look to the Savior in that boat of doctrine, and follow Him to the life of heaven.


Crumbs From The Master’s Table

By Rev. Grant H. Odhner

How does it strike you, when you hear the story about Jesus and the Gentile woman from Canaan, when He ignores her. Isn’t it disconcerting? It seems all wrong! At first glance it seems to do violence to our picture of a loving and reasonable God. How could He turn His back and walk on ignoring her, when she is crying out so pitifully for mercy?

The Lord’s stated reason for doing this is also puzzling. It seems out of keeping with His attitude on other occasions. “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15.24). Didn’t Jesus come to save all people?

Here is where it helps to know that the Word was written not only in a language of words, but at the same time in a language of symbols or “correspondences.” These symbols help us see a more universal and spiritual meaning or sense that relates to our lives today and will relate to people’s lives a million years from now.

What did the Lord mean by “lost sheep of the house of Israel?” Literally, He was speaking of the “Jews.” But in the deeper sense of the Word the “Jews” don’t mean those of Jewish heritage; they stand for people of the church. More universally they stand for the spiritual element in every human being. This is the part of us that’s “favored” by the Lord, that’s “chosen” for blessing. It’s the spiritual part of us that’s able to have a direct relationship with Him, for it alone is capable of receiving His unselfish love and wisdom and responding from them. The “Israelite” in us is the part of us that know and can keep covenant with our God.

By contrast, “Gentiles” in the Word stand for the natural element in us. The outer, worldly part of us is not able to have direct relationship with the Lord, except so far as it comes into line with the spiritual element in us. It must be a servant to the spiritual part. Our outer life can indeed receive the Lord’s blessing, but only through our inner life — just as the “Nations of the world” would be blessed only “in Abraham’s seed,” by grabbing hold of a Jew’s robe and following him (Gen. 12.3, 22.18; Zech 8.23; cf. Is 2.2-4, 45.14).

This incident, like nearly all of the incidents recorded in the Word, aims for something deeper than what’s on the surface. It appears that this is a simple story about great faith. It is; but it’s much more! On the surface the Lord seems to be favoring one class of people over another. He seems to be saying that one is better. Actually, He is making a distinction between two different levels of every person’s life. Let’s look more closely at our story.

It begins with the “woman of Canaan” crying out to the Lord as He walked by. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!” Her daughter was severely demon-possessed. But the Lord “answered her not a word.”

Again, this seems cruel and uncharacteristic of a loving God. If His aim is to make us happy, and it’s in His power to help us, why wouldn’t He help? But wait! Does the Lord in fact answer our every desire? Does He answer them at once? Would He be loving and wise, if He did? Would answering all our desires bring us lasting happiness?

There is a part of us that has a very shortsighted idea of what blessing is. Our “natural person” is like this. This part of us wants physical comfort and pleasure, it wants worldly security, it wants ego-strokes, it wants satisfaction from everything that it meets and from everything that it does. None of these things is bad. On the contrary. The problem is that our “natural person” wants these things only for natural reasons. It is not concerned with being right with others (except so far as it sees this as affecting its own well-being); it has no real regard for other people as independent human beings; it has no concept of eternal life; it has no concept of the Lord (other than perhaps as Someone who can give it what it wants).

Our “natural person” tends to affect all our hopes and longings. If we wish for spiritual companionship, our “natural person” says, “Yes, please give it to me now.” If we are longing to be free of some pain, it says, “Yes, quick, heal my symptoms!” It gives no thought to addressing the causes; it has no wish to gain something more long-term.

When our “spiritual person” is “master” it too looks for relief from pain, but it sees the natural element that’s present in its desire for relief. And it subordinates that natural desire for relief to its spiritual desire to be right with the Lord, to be right with its neighbor, to right in the long-term. It doesn’t let the natural desire become its main source of motivating energy. If this happens, the natural desire inevitably meets with failure (we don’t find quick relief); then it generates negative feelings like anger, resentment, jealousy.

From this we can see why the Lord didn’t respond to the Gentile woman’s cries. She stands for the desires of the “outer person.” She stands for the part of us that wants relief (or blessing) for purely natural reasons.

Note that the Lord first interacts with the woman through the disciples. They came closer and urged Him, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” And He responds to them, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The “disciples” (“learners”) stand for truths, and for the understanding-part of us (which learns and retains truths). In other words, they stand for the perspective that we have from truth. The Lord instructs our natural desires (the gentile woman) through our understanding (disciples). Our “natural person,” when it is unregenerate, can’t receive the Lord; but our understanding can. And through our understanding our “natural person” can change.

The Lord’s literal message was, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” His spiritual message was that His saving life can be given only to the unselfish affections of our “spiritual person.” These unselfish affections are the “sheep of the house of Israel.” He explains that it’s these inner affections that He has come to restore.

So the woman heard His message, addressed to the disciples, and made another attempt. She “came and worshiped Him, saying `Lord, help me!'” Symbolically “coming nearer” to the Lord means changing our life and attitude and becoming more receptive of Him. This is how we come closer to Him. “Worshiping” or “prostrating” ourselves means to bring our life into line with what is above, with what should rule in us. It’s only when the woman does this that the Lord responds directly to her.

Surprisingly, the Lord likens the woman who has humbled herself before Him to a dog, begging for the children’s food. He says to the woman: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

There’s an interesting connection between the word “worship” and “dog.” The Greek word used here for “worship” (proskuneo) comes from the words “dog” (kuon) and “towards” (pros). The root image is of a dog moving to its master’s feet and showing subservience and loyal affection. Spiritually, the image fits well with the deeper meaning of our story. The Jews commonly referred to the Gentiles as “dogs.” The attitude of contempt implied here was unfortunate. But the Gentiles, like dogs, did represent the natural level of awareness and functioning, which must find its place in subordination to the spiritual level. Specifically “dogs” stand for natural desires and appetites ( good ones when tame and obedient, bad ones when not tame.

Note that the woman responded to the Lord in the same terms as He used to address her. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Think of the implications here! First by her worship, then by her words, she acknowledged that she was a “dog” “eating crumbs from the masters’ table.” She acknowledged her subordination to Him and, by implication, her subordination to the “children of Israel,” the “masters” from whose “table” her help came down. In this we see, on a deeper level, our natural desire placing itself in proper relation to the Divine will and in proper relation to the spiritual level of desiring. When this subordination has taken place, then the Lord can say to our “natural person,” “Let it be to you as you desire.” Then healing and blessing can come even to the natural level of our lives.

The true feast that the Lord invites us to, that He prepares for us, is a spiritual one. It is a table set for the “masters” and not for the “servants,” for the “children” and not for the “dogs.”

Note well: it is not that the Lord withholds His blessing from our natural person. It only seems that way to us. In reality our natural desires simply aren’t able to receive His genuine blessing by themselves; they aren’t sensitive to it; they are not looking for the right thing. What the Lord gives to our “spiritual person” is not a physical enjoyment and worldly prosperity (( the only kinds of thing our natural person can appreciate). Rather, what He gives is an inner sense of well-being, trust, satisfaction. These inner feelings have little to do with our outer success and good fortune, and everything to do with having our priorities straight, with loving the Lord’s order above our own present desires, with wishing well toward our fellow human beings.

“Crumbs” do “fall from the upper table” and bring nourishment to our natural lives. Indeed, the outer blessings that the Lord brings to us are not called “crumbs” for their insufficiency but for their insignificance relative to the blessings that our “spiritual person” can receive. In fact, these “crumbs” are like the “fragments” which the disciples collected after the “feeding of the 4000”: they took up seven baskets full ( more than the original seven loaves which the Lord broke! The Lord multiplies the blessings and enjoyments of our natural lives beyond measure, whenever it’s possible and in harmony with our long-term good.

So let us remember what it is in us, and in our lives, that the Lord comes to establish “relationship” with. Let us remember what He longs to touch and to bless most in us. And let us seek to strengthen that element in our lives. That is the true treasure!

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you.. John 6.27

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Mt 6.19-21



By Rev. David C. Roth

“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.”


Naaman the Leper (A message about Baptism)

By Rev. Chris Skinner

The story of Naaman in the Word illustrates for us, in the form of correspondences, a very detailed account of the way in which baptism is a sign of a life of regeneration that leads to Heaven.

As we all know Naaman was a leper, obviously not an extreme case because he was able to perform his duties as an captain in the Syrian Army, but never-the-less, a leper. Leprosy affects that outer most part of the body namely the skin and in extreme cases, it eats away at the body.

In a very external way, we can see that it can be likened to the distortion or profanation of truth which is the literal sense of the Word Leprosy disfigures the body and falsifying the Word disfigures our ability to keep a wholesome spiritual mind. If we abuse our knowledge of the Word, then our life will be disfigured just as the externals of our body are disfigured.

We will be aware from the story, that Naaman wanted to be healed of his affliction and if we wish to reach heaven, then we have to be motivated to amend our ways. If this desire to change is not there, then we will remain spiritual lepers.

The first step that Naaman took was to go to the King of Syria asking him to heal him. It is important to realize that Naaman was a gentile and therefore the washing that would take is introduction into the church. When he refused, Naaman got angry. If we think about it, we often try to change using our own strength but this does not achieve the desired result. The King of Syria sent Naaman to Elisha, a prophet. A prophet in the Word always represents the Lord and it is to Him that we must look for healing. It is the Word or Divine Truth that heals and therefore Naaman was required to seek out the prophet.

Naaman sought Elisha as requested but was annoyed when he reached the place where Elisha was residing to find that he did not see Elisha face to face, but only received a message from him to go and wash in the Jordan seven times.

Naaman expected, that because of his status and position as an army officer, that he would meet the prophet personally. The fact that this did not happen also teaches us a lesson. Our path to Heaven is not about who and what we know, it is about living a life according to the commandments that we have learnt.

The events that led up to the washing of Naaman, provide a perfect example of the nature and purpose of baptism which is to be purified spiritually. This act cannot be seen in isolation to a life of love to the Lord and obedience to His commandments.

The command by Elisha to wash in the Jordan is very significant. It should be noted that Naaman could not see the importance of Jordan as compared to the rivers of Damascus namely those of Abana and Pharpar in Syria We also should note the difference between the two. If we are washing in the waters of Abana and Pharpar, we are washing in worldly ideas rather than the true washing in the Jordan.

We should not underestimate the significance of the River Jordan in this story. The Jordan is mentioned many times in the Word and of course, John baptized in the Jordan and he baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Wherever Jordan is mentioned in the Word, it is representing a link between earth and Heaven. The Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land of Canaan. The Jordan is an introduction into the truths of the church (Arcana Caelestia. paragraph 475). It is the first boundary to Canaan or initiation into Heaven or the Church. It can be likened to a new earth, new will or Holy Land of the Lord’s Church (Arcana Caelestia. paragraph 2576).

The washing is a sign of purification of false ideas. The fact that Naaman was required to wash 7 times in the Jordan, emphasized the need to be fully cleansed or purified.

Baptism, signified by washing, which provides purification from evil is a sign. Baptism and the Holy Supper provide a conjunction between Heaven and the human race.

As previously mentioned, baptism is an initiation into the church and those things of the church and a sign of the commencement of regeneration or spiritual growth. It is a sign of the marshalling of heavenly forces to assist us in our path to heaven. By means of the truths of the Word, man is reformed and regenerated. It is important to stress that it is the Lord who provides that regeneration and not ourselves. By being washed in the Jordan, we are introduced to new knowledges of His Word so that we can grow, having been cleansed of our old impurities of life.

It should also be stressed however, that the washing of baptism is also a sign of temptation (Arcana Caelestia. paragraph 10239). Our spiritual growth will still be a hard road because part of that growth involves testing times and as we know, it is often the testing times that provide us with the most helpful lessons for life and aid our development more than the smooth and peaceful times. It enables us to reflect on where we have been and where we are headed.

Following the washing in the Jordan, it will be re-called that Naaman offered a reward to Elisha and this was refused. Remember that Elisha represents the Lord. The Lord is not seeking repayment because he gives life to us freely. He gives us Baptism as a sign that he is always there waiting for us to acknowledge His presence in our life. He says “Freely you have received, freely give”.

The holy act of Baptism signifies spiritual washing. A sign or introduction to the Lord and Heaven by washing in water and for Naaman washing in the Jordan River. It is a sign of regeneration. We should also recognize that in our story, Naaman was an adult who was able to recognize his spiritual state and made a conscious effort to reform and be healed. His baptism was a commitment, a sign of his willingness to re-form and regenerate and baptism was the sign of the start of that process.

In the case of a baby, whilst the sign of baptism is an introduction into Heaven and conjunction with the angels, the growth process or regeneration is much less evident and relies initially on remains given to the child by the parents. The emphasis and responsibility must focus on the parents to assist the child in those formative years.

The washing of Naaman in the Jordan precedes the essential washing of people in the Jordan by John. He says, “I baptize you with water, being truth but one will come who baptises you with the Holy Spirit and Fire”.

If our baptism, whether as an adult or a child is to mean something for each one of us, we must acknowlege the presence of the Lord within our life, moment by moment and His love and goodness to warm and motivate us. External baptism without internal cleansing contributes little.

The baptism with water cleanses but the recognition of the Holy Spirit and Fire being the Lords Love & Wisdom enables us to reach our ultimate goal of a life of use in Heaven.

May we heed the command given to Naaman “Go wash in the Jordan seven times”. May our baptism whether as a baby or an adult represent that cleansing of our spirit in preparation for a life according to the commandments and the whole Word of the Lord.


Nebuchadnezzar and Dreams In the Word

By Rev. Donald L. Rose

“I have dreamed a dream” (Daniel 2:3).

These were the words of Nebuchadnezzar. He knew there was something of great importance in his dream, something to do with his destiny. Yes, a king awakens from a dream and senses that it has an important bearing on his life. That seems to be a recurrent theme of Scripture. We will return to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, but first let us consider other dreams of Scripture.

The first example is in Genesis 20, and it is very dramatic. Abimelech the king of Gerar had taken the wife of Abraham. And God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said, “You are a dead man … she is a man’s wife.” And Abimelech said, “Did he not say to me, `She is my sister’?” “And God said to him in a dream, `Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.’ So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very afraid” (verses 3-8).

“And he will pray for you” (Gen. 20:7). This is the first mention of prayer in the Word, and it is here that the Writings give the well known statement about prayer being speech with God to which there answers an influx into the thought of the mind and an opening of the interiors toward God, sometimes a feeling of hope, comfort and inward joy (see AC 2535).

But note especially here that the king was told he was made aware that his actions had been influenced in a way not conscious to him. God said, “I withheld you from sinning … I did not let you touch her.” In this first dream example we note that a king’s actions were being controlled beyond his knowing. And much more than we know, our actions are led. How is this possible? There are angels with us who influence our affections. This is not just a poetic thought, but a constant reality. Indeed, if there were not angels present with us, we would plunge into evil (see AC 5850). By influencing our affections and feelings they influence our actions but never violate our freedom. They “inspire good affections so far as people will receive them in freedom; and by means of these they also control the deeds or works by removing as far as possible evil intentions” (HH 391).

So, in the first scriptural example of a dream there is a lesson about life. Without the Lord we can do nothing, and the Lord is constantly influencing us through angels. And in the second example the subject of angels comes to us in a most memorable way. This is in Genesis 28. Jacob dreamed that he saw the angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder or stairway at the top of which was God. The angelic influence did not take away his freedom or his own initiative. On the contrary it created the setting for him to make choices to make a resolve. If God would be with him in the way he was going, He would worship Him and would give one tenth of all that he had.

When Jacob awoke from that dream he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” He had a new sense about life in this world. “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (verses 16,17). The dream gives a different sense of what life really is. We may be making choices and making resolves about short-term goals in our daily lives, but the dream is a reminder of a much greater reality. We will mention this again in connection with the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.

With Jacob’s son Joseph, dreams become especially prominent, and we notice that these dreams predict the future not only Joseph’s own dreams of the sheaves of wheat and the sun, moon and stars, but also the dreams of others which he interpreted, the dreams of the butler and the baker in prison, and the great dream of Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. Several times the Writings mention that the meaning of a dream is a foretelling of the future (see AC 3698, 5091, 5104, 5110, 5195, 5252). Let us be clear that we are not intended to know the future. In fact we should not even want to know the future, for knowing it would take away our very humanity. This is the well known teaching of Divine Providence 179, where it is said that it is quite common to have a longing to know the future, but this can be taken away from us and in its place can be given “a trust that the Lord is directing our lot” (DP 179).

Yes, in the case of Joseph and for those whose dreams he interpreted, a general idea was granted of what would happen. This is not so for us. The message for us, one might say, is that there is a future. It is something known by the Lord. A dream signifies His Divine foresight and providence. Well, isn’t it obvious that there is a future? In a way, yes. It is an obvious fact that we are going to die. But this can be so unreal to us. In fact it can require effort to get it into our heads. The Writings invite and urge us to think about it. Now they do not ask us to think about the fact that we are going to die, but that we are going to live. “Let him who wishes to be eternally happy know and believe that he will live after death. Let him think of this and keep it in mind, for it is the truth” (AC 8939).

Sometimes we are so influenced by worldly spirits that our thoughts are fixed hypnotically on this world, and we are told that in order to be delivered we need to think about eternal life (see AC 6201e).

The dream that Pharaoh had and which Joseph interpreted was about seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. And hearing that dream made him choose to turn the power of his kingdom over to a stranger. He removed the ring from his finger and placed it on the finger of a young man he had only just met and said, in effect, “Since you know this, you shall be ruler in my kingdom.”

It is almost beyond believing that a king in full power would turn over that power to another man. As it is said in the Writings, “Pharaoh deprived himself of his own authority, and put all Egypt under Joseph” (AC 5316). Each one of us has a sense that we are doing something. We have in our waking conscious life a sense of our own freedom and strength, our authority and our own prudence. We are king in our own realm. But God is doing something too. What Pharaoh saw (and what he had not seen before) was that what God was doing had a vital application to what he was doing and what he ought to do. He ought to choose out a man. The Writings say to think above the idea of choosing some individual, but to think about “realities” (AC 5287).

When we speak of the operation of the Divine Providence, we mean what God is doing. That operation or working begins at birth and continues thereafter. It goes on first in the simple, unknowing years of infancy and childhood. And even as it continues in our more mature years, we are no more aware of this Divine Providence than one is aware of a forgotten dream.

That private kingdom of our own life’s history is only partly recalled. Some more than others enjoy flashes of tender childhood memories. And those childhood states are realities. The Lord is speaking of our kingdom when He says, “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how” (Matt. 4:27).

When we consciously acknowledge the Lord, trust Him and submit our lives to Him, we are like a king, remaining on the throne yes, but acknowledging the sovereignty of the Lord. This is not something that happens only once in our lives. We awaken repeatedly into new realizations, and like Jacob we say, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.”

“I have dreamed a dream.” King Nebuchadnezzar knew in the privacy of his mind that he had a dream and that the dream was of great importance. He knew. Many other things he might not be sure of. In fact, things he had trusted he was beginning to distrust that day. Astrologers, sorcerers and wise men had enjoyed his trust, patronage and protection. But now he was awaking to a realization of their inadequacy. If in the past they had been able to say or show things of some value, in the light of that day it was not enough.

Was he right or wrong? Was he a most unreasonable man as his astrologers were protesting? Was he only a superstitious fool? On the contrary, he was less a fool that day than perhaps on many other days. For that day he was not like the man whom Jesus postulated as saying, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry. But God said unto him, `You fool, this night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'” (Luke 12:19,20). A fool is one who relies upon the fallacies of the sense, or who thinks this world is everything. One who is wise from himself alone, that one is a fool.

Nebuchadnezzar listened with wonder as Daniel told him the meaning of his dream, and he knew that it was his dream and that it had to do with his past life and his destiny. Daniel told him that the dream was given “that you may know the thoughts of your heart” (Dan. 2:30). Some of our thoughts we do not know, because they do not arise in explicit consciousness.

There are people who have much more belief in life after death than they know. The simple “believe they will live after death, in which simple faith, unknown to them, there is hidden the belief that they will live there as men, will see angels, will speak with them, and will enjoy happiness” (AC 6053).

How often the Lord told stories, and if we were wise we would see that He is telling our story, and we would see meaning in the way He recounts it. The dream of Nebuchadnezzar was a vivid sequence. He had seen an image. At the beginning he saw first its head made of gold, and descending from the head the substances changed from gold to silver to bronze to iron, and finally to iron mixed with clay.

What is going on in our lives right now? What is the story? What is the sequence? If asked at a given moment, we might reply that we have time only to say that we are facing certain present obligations and dealing with present needs. But our life is a story that could be told from a distance, or told from the distant perspective of a dream. It could be told in angel conversations taking form in correspondential images in the world of the spirit.

In the dream of Nebuchadnezzar we may see in the first golden state our early infancy, but it passes away. The strength, or iron, is then mixed with clay, and in later years we sense an impending end. Daniel said that the iron was strength and the clay was brittle, but then came a stone cut out without hands which grew into a mountain and lasted forever.

The gold was beautiful, and the iron was strong, but it was followed by what is brittle. How brittle and vulnerable we sometimes feel. Our very senses tell us that we are growing older and more fragile. And it is not just our bodies. We also come into a sense of our inner inadequacy and the limitations of our self-intelligence. Our memories are not as acute, and even the strength we have built up in our lives is mingled with what is perishable.

And all this can enable us to look with absolute wonder to Him who is the rock in whom we trust and in whom we may live forever and ever.

Remember the gift the Lord gives of trust that He is directing our lot (see DP 179). This comes to us like the interpretation of a dream. Our life is in His hands. Skeptical voices may tell us something else, but they are like unreliable astrologers. The voices may come from our own thoughts, arrogance, or self-intelligence. The fallacies of the senses put a wrong construction and a false interpretation on our lives. And even if they make some sense of the present, when it comes to the future they have no answer but are like mute magicians, soothsayers, standing there with nothing to say. But the reality of the Lord’s presence and Providence is like a rock growing to a mountain from which comes all our help. And His voice tells us, “Without Me You can do nothing.” “He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness.” “He that comes to me shall never hunger.” “Great is your reward in heaven.” “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

Particulars of our future we do not know. Our passing states day by day are directed to ends of which we are unaware (see AC 2796). Unaware we may be, but every night that we sleep we are associated with angels sent to us by the Lord, whose Divine knowledge takes form in fragments of dreams which we cannot interpret. And He is saying that He is with us and will not leave us.

Our destiny is in the hands of Him who has all power and strength,

“For wisdom and might are His … He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him” (Dan. 2:20,22).


Peter Sinks As He Tries To Walk On Water

By Rev. Ian Arnold

When temptation is at its severest people invariably think despairingly. It is the final phase of a temptation. At that time they are on a slope, so to speak, or slipping down to hell. Yet thinking in that way at such times does not harm, and the angels take no notice of it; for each persons power is limited, and when temptation stretches him to the absolute limit of his power he cannot stand up to anything further and starts to slip.

At that point however that is, when he is on the slope and starts to slip he is raised by the Lord and thereby delivered from despair. More often than not he is then brought into a bright state of hope and the comfort this brings, and also into a state of bliss. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 8165)

PETER SINKS as he, too, like Jesus, tries to walk on water.

From the gospel through Matthew, friends, chapter 14, Im reading these verses, from 28 to 32:

“And Peter answered Jesus and said, Lord, if it is You, then command me to come to You on the water. So Jesus said, Come. And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, Lord, save me! And immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt? And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”

Friends, it speaks volumes of this incident that I just read again, or part thereof; it speaks volumes of the way He touches people, or has touched people in the past. It speaks volumes of the way He has captured peoples attention and imagination, that one of the greatest artists of all times, the great Dutch artist Rembrandt, did a number of sketches, one of which was on the back of the cover of your order of service. A number of sketches: obviously Rembrandt was fascinated by this incident. And although you may not see it as clearly as the picture on the front, you can see the Lord there bending down to Peter who got out of the boat; that’s only one of the drawings or sketches that Rembrandt is known to have done.

When it comes, friends, to incidents such as these, it’s sometimes very difficult for us to say why it is we resonate with them, or how it is we respond to them, in the way that we do. Obviously, Rembrandt was deeply touched by it all. We don’t know why. The very sketches have come down to us, but we don’t know why, we don’t know in what way, it spoke to him: but it obviously did. We can imagine having pieces of paper scattered around him every now and again, this incident on his mind, turning to those pieces of paper and almost doodling the sketches as he turned it over: it’s significance, it’s meaning, the way it touched him and moved him. As I said, we do not know, and cannot know; either way it did touch him.

Was it, I ask myself, was it that he saw in it the big picture? Because there is a big picture here about the human race. If you start to think about it, and reflect on it, it is not difficult to see that you have here, in these dozen or so verses, the most amazing summary of the Lord’s work on earth. The disciples in the boat are clearly the human race: unable to go forward, not sure what to do, no longer able to help themselves and being buffeted around by forces that were bigger than they could control or manage. So here’s a picture, as I say, of the human race as a whole at the time the Lord came on earth: buffeted like I say by seas and influences which had been whipped up and over which, as I also have just said, they no longer felt they had any control over.

The Lord came to the disciples, but not being recognised by them, is a picture of the way the Lord Himself came on earth but was not recognised by people in general at that time. Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests, the doctors of the Law: “Who are you?” Even the disciples, scratching their heads and wondering, “Who is this man?” The disciples in the boat looked at this person coming across the waters and said, “It is a ghost!” They didn’t recognise Him any more than the human race, as a whole, recognised the Lord.

And when the Lord came into the world, what did He do? He vanquished, and He overcame, and He settled down those forces and influences which were buffeting the human race, which had risen up from hell, which were threatening to overwhelm and drain humanity.

Well, was that in Rembrandt’s mind? We don’t know: for all that it fascinated him and for all that he doodled these drawings about this amazing incident.

But what it’s personal application, which it obviously carries for you and me, what its personal application is, this incident of the Lord walking to the disciples, who are being tossed around by seas and winds that are being whipped up beyond anything they can manage and which was scaring and worrying the daylights out of them: what does that tell us of ourselves?

Well friends, much as we might wish it to be, and yearn for it to be, the truth is: life is never a calm sea. Not constantly, not unendingly, not consistently. As I said, we might yearn that it be that way, we might wish that it be that way, but it never is. It never is an unending calm sea. The truth is, of course we are all at times beset by disappointments and resentments, worries and anxieties. There are times when we feel put down by others. There are times when we also feel put upon by others. And life becomes tumultuous and tempestuous, as we try to handle what at times seems beyond our handling and managing. This incident speaks to each and every one of us at that level about life and those occasions when things seem to be beyond us to manage. And when we feel as if were being sat down and overwhelmed by them. At such times, of course, it seems to us as if the Lord is remote, looking on perhaps from a distance; and even that we doubt, we question, we’re not sure that He is mindful of us in those predicaments and situations that arise in our lives.

But He comes to us. He comes to us and settles things down for us. We are open, willing, prayerful, and aware of our need for Him.

Life has it’s tempestuous and tumultuous times, and were living in a fools paradise of denial if we don’t think it does.

The incident as a whole, friends, is about temptation. I talked about life’s tempestuous and tumultuous times, when we go through disappointment and anxiety and worry, when we feel put down, misunderstood or put upon, when there are feelings that arise within us of resentment, of being neglected or overlooked, all that sort of thing, which come sweeping in us like wild storms which threaten to carry us away we are in times of temptation.

What I want to do with you now, friends, is just to highlight two or three things which are said and highlighted here about temptation.

The first is that the Lord made the disciples get into the boat. In actual fact, the Greek says He compelled them; He forced the issue. They didn’t want to, but He said, “Get in, and get away!” He pushed them away from Him, even though He would have known what awaited them a few hours later. And what this highlights is this: that we cannot friends, we cannot forever live our lives, so to speak, in the presence, in the awareness of the Lord. The Lord compels us to get out there. He pushes us away. He compels us to get in a boat and go out onto the sea of Life, and to deal with the challenges which it holds for us. He doesn’t want us clinging to Him. That’s the first thing that I’m asking you to note, in regard to what is highlighted here in connection with temptation. The Lord made the disciples, He compelled the disciples, He forced the issue: that they should push off in that boat and get away onto whatever the future held for them.

The second thing I want you to note friends, is that although the disciples, as I said to the children, were out on the lake, the Lord remained ever mindful of them. He stayed, it says, on a mountain and He looked out over the sea and sees whats going on. And as I tried to say to the children, even in life’s most tempestuous and tumultuous times, when it seems to us that the Lord is nowhere to be seen, nowhere to be found, He is mindful of what is going on, monitoring what is going on, and aware of all the nuances and subtleties and developments of the situation thats unfolding. The Lord is forever watching and aware of the predicaments and situations that may from time to time almost threaten to overwhelm us.

And the third thing I want you to note is that the Lord came to the disciples in a boat in the fourth watch of the night. The nights in those times were divided into four watches of three hours: from six til nine, from nine til twelve, from twelve to three, and from three to six in the morning. The fourth watch of the night, the beginning of the fourth watch of the night, three AM onwards is the darkest part of the night; and yet it is the time at which the dawn breaks. In your darkest times friends, always remember that it is at the darkest of times that dawn is about to break. Its so useful to remember that in yourself personally, that it is also something you can share with others and encourage others with: that at the darkest point, when they feel as if they can no longer hold on to the situation, that they are drowning in the situation that has arisen for them, tell them: “This may seem like the darkest part of your experience, but always remember that the darkest part of the night is the point at which the dawn breaks.” And that’s exactly what we’re being taught here by the Lord coming to the disciples in the fourth watch of the night, as dawn was about to break in on the situation. The Lord came to people at their darkest, most difficult, most challenging, most despairing point; that’s when the Lord comes to us.

Why didn’t He come sooner? Why doesn’t He come sooner? Because He knows that we need to go through the experience and come to the point where we have seen for ourselves that a power greater than our own is needed for us to be able to respond to and manage whatever the predicament is that has arisen.

It’s like the alcoholic. They won’t even be received onto an AA program until he or she has come to the point at which they acknowledge that they are helpless, and that their situation is hopeless; and at that point they can begin to be helped. And so it is spiritually in our relationship with the Lord.

Friends, a sea of course is the boundary of continents and islands. And I want you for a moment to hang on to this word “boundary” or “boundaries”, and think of this in terms of your life: what are the boundaries of your life? What are the outermost things in your life? What occurred to me: a shopping list on the fridge door, or three appointments in your diary for a Tuesday afternoon after you pick the children up. The boundaries of your life are that you get a telephone call when someones in dire need of your assistance in one way or another. These are the outermost things of your life. That’s where the storms and the tumults arise. How can I cope? What shall I do? Will I get there in time? This is where it all happens: at the boundaries. And that’s where the Lord can come to us. The shopping lists on the fridge door, the appointments in your diary, the telephone call that comes out of the blue. Pressured though you may feel as a consequence of all this, stressed; that’s where the Lord will come along side of you and help you deal with and respond to what it is that is arising for you.

And the Lord calls us, as He did Peter, to come to Him over the sea. He’s quite happy for us, because He wants us to be able, so to speak, to walk across the shopping list on the fridge door, the appointments in our calendar, the telephone call that comes out of the blue; He doesn’t want us to be sucked down by them and overwhelmed by them, to feel as if we are being drowned by them. So He said, when Peter said, “Shall I come?” “Yes, you come Peter because that’s what I want you to do; I want you to have a confidence to be able to walk across the sea of everyday life and affairs!” But we soon find, don’t we, that we can’t do it ourselves. We need a greater power than what we possess to enable us to do so. The Lord helps us come through, and to the other side, where there’s peace and stillness. And as the gospel says, a lovely renewal of healing, of the healing of what has been malfunctioning in our lives.

And just to take it back then folks, to those words with which I started:

“And Peter answered Jesus and said, Lord, if it is You, then command me to come to You on the water. So Jesus said, Come. And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, Lord, save me! And immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand [isn’t that a wonderful picture: the Lord stretches out his hand to us] and caught him, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt? And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”


Revelation: A Parable of Leading

By Rev. David A Moffat

“And the seven lampstands which you have seen are the seven Churches” (Revelation 1:20) signifies the new Church on earth, which is the new Jerusalem coming down from the Lord out of the new Heaven. (Apocalypse Revealed 66)

In our Bible study group, we have begun reading through the book of Revelation. Reading through the first chapter as we did recently led me to an important insight which I particularly wanted to share, and it is contained within Swedenborg’s exposition quoted above.

It is a curious thing that the lampstands represent the “new Church” – the new understanding of the Lord and a revitalised relationship with him which is to replace the old, dead one. It is curious because the next two chapters go on to describe the “seven Churches” of the literal sense, and the report is far from glowing. How can these be the new Church?

The answer is that they are not, not yet anyway. They reflect the various perspectives, the “states of reception”, the relationship humanity has with our God. This is shown by their unique relationship to one aspect of the description of the Lord given in the first chapter. Each one treasures and explores one unique aspect of the Divine in their practice of Christianity. However, in the second and third chapters of Revelation they exist in a very degenerate and backwards state. It is fortunate that each has its own promise of renewal, “He who overcomes…”

Although these are NOT the new Church, they are the raw materials the Lord has to work with in creating that new relationship with Him. They all have their place, in an innovative, living expression of what it is to be a Church. So, it was a sense of the Lord’s leading which was so freshly impressed upon me – the miracle of a complete transformation, not only in the spiritual life of mankind, but in my own life.

Again, at Bible study, we reflected upon the difficult task of reaching a truly spiritual understanding of the book of Revelation. That is, of discovering the pattern of our regeneration (as led by the Lord) in these chapters. We are so used to hearing an interpretation which tells us about the time when our Lord revealed himself anew to humanity, that we forget all about its application to an individual’s life journey. This is a real pity, because it is that understanding of relevance which makes Swedenborg’s writing so unique. I have several books on my shelves in which authors of various traditions point the finger at other religious institutions, claiming to be “the true way”, and it is so easy for us to get caught up in all of that. We do so like to prove that we’re right, and Revelation lends itself so beautifully to the intellectual pursuit of self righteousness.

No, the real message of the book for me is that from the ashes of my misplaced religious expressions, the Lord can raise something beautiful, pure and good, which is truly connected to Him and vibrant with the pulse of His Love and Wisdom. The question is, how does he acheive that transformation? Well, he leads us. Gently.

A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. (Isaiah 42:3, also Matthew 12:20)

This was said of the Lord; and “the smoking flax,” that He will not extinguish signifies the small amount of truth from good with any one. (Apocalypse Explained, paragraph 951.6; also paragraph 627.7)

… the Lord never forces anyone, for nothing to which anyone is forced appears as his own; and what does not appear to be his own cannot be his love’s, and so be appropriated to him as his own. Therefore man is led by the Lord continualy in freedom, and is also reformed and regenerated in freedom. (Divine Providence, paragraph 43.2)

Now Revelation doesn’t look gentle by any stretch of the imagination. But remember that it is not the Lord who brings these calamities about. It certainly appears as though He is to blame, but the reality of the situation is that my own faults and weaknesses subject me to the experiences related in this book. All the while, the Lord is moderating and softening the catastrohpic consequences of my disease and providing the life and energy which will enable me to hang on until I reach the glories of chapters 21 & 22. The process is only traumatic because I cling so tenaciously to the attitudes which cause me such distress.

Now, understanding my own need of gentle leading, I also understand that same need in others. Why do we believe that placing a book on the table of a neighbour or friend, or “giving them a good talking to” is going to help them accept the church’s teachings? There are certainly those who will recognise the truth and rejoice, so we shouldn’t give up. But we do have to see that the process by which we come to a true, living relationship with the Lord is just that – a process. It would be very harmful to be surprised or summarily dismissive just because someone doesn’t accept the veracity of what our church teaches. We cooperate with, or hinder, our Lord’s leading by our grasp on that. Paul exemplifies this understanding when he writes: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)

As we look through the gospels we see this same attitude in our Lord’s daily teaching and interactions. In Luke 15 we read three related parables, prefaced by the religious indignation of those who frowned upon Jesus’ associations. Yet He rebuked their self righteousness, and summarised His work:

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4-7)

In Matthew’s account of the same parable we find these words added, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” (Matthew 18:11) I remember being very young, and thinking childishly how I would like to be that sinner who causes so much joy. But then what if I were to help bring such a person back into the fold? Surely that would also be a cuase of great celebration! I recently received a book entitled Reinventing Evangelism, by Donald Posterski. It’s first chapter isa entitled “Leaving our safety zones.” When Jesus spoke of “going after the one which is lost” (Luke 15:4) spoke of His work in the world. Nothing less is required of us if we are to exert a positive effect upon the spiritual lives of our fellows.

Outreach, like education, is not an exercise in immunisation (Paulo Freire once noted our systems of teaching can sometimes assume that once you’ve “had” a subject you won’t “get” it again). You cannot give someone a single shot of the truth which will vacinate them against spiritual disease. Of course church membership can’t do that either. So again, I note another Swedenborgian insight into the soul – there is no such thing as preaching to the converted. The process is an ongoing one, which continues beyond even the boundary of death. Every one of us is still on that journey to becoming a church in its smallest form. Every one of us ought to understand that my road may not be the best one for others to follow.


Salt and Baldness

By Rev. David Moffat

Elijah, the great prophet, has ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha, his servant as prophet in his place. These two miracles (found in 2 Kings 2:19-25) immediately after that dramatic exit. In these stories we find two very different attitudes and approaches to the Word which Elisha (as God’s messenger) represents. I want to deal with the second instance first.

On his way to Mount Carmel, Elisha runs into a group of youths – quite a large group too. Seemingly unprovoked, they begin to taunt him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” (2 Kings 2:23) To us, this seems to be a typical bit of youthful arrogance and disrespect – but does it deserve a mauling!? And what does it mean?

The key is in the word, “baldness”. You may recall the story of Samson, who was known for his great strength (Judges chapters 13-16). Samson was finally captured and humiliated by the Philistines when he let it slip that his strength lay in his hair. Once shaved (Judges 16:19), he could be defeated as any other man. Even without considering this story, we can see that baldness suggests old age and an accompanying loss of strength. So these youths taunt God’s messenger as powerless. It is typical of those whose first reaction to the Word is to dismiss it as powerless, useless and irrelevant. The suggestion is that it is “pie in the sky”, “head in the clouds” stuff, having no real connection to my real life concerns. Nice stories perhaps, but that’s as far as it goes.

Here is an attitude that you really can’t talk to. It does not listen to reasoned argument, and is only interested in confirming its own ideas on any given subject. The “mauling” by the two female bears represents this rationalising, which is effective only in bringing about the spiritual death of all those who succumb to such an intellectual position.

It is the first of the two encounters which I’m particularly interested in here – because these are people with an entirely different attitude, whose lives can be changed by the power of the Word.

When Elisha is greeted by the people of Jerico, what they have to say seems quite odd: “Please notice, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the ground barren.” (2 Kings 2:19) To my way of thinking it is contradictory to describe a place as both “pleasant” and “barren” at the same time. But Elisha’s solution is equally strange – to take a new vessel filled with salt and scatter it on the city’s water source. Australia is no stranger to water and soil salinity. Even in Biblical times, they understood the devastating effects of excess salt on the landscape. There is a story in the book of Judges (9:45), in which a captured city , razed to the ground, is also “sown with salt” to complete its destruction. To the people of Jerico, Elisha’s “healing” may well have appeared like distressing madness.

We need to consider the use of salt here. Salt adds flavour, but it also stimulates thirst. Too much salt is not good, but not enough is just as bad. Swedenborg writes that salt represents truth’s desire [to be joined to] good (Arcana Caelestia. paragraphs 9207.5 & 9325.9). This is what the people of Jerico lack. Jesus’ teachings confirm that it is not good to lack this thirst: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its taste, how shall it be seasoned? It is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” (Matthew 5:13)

Just like salt, we can have too much thirst, but we can have too little, and the people of Jerico have lost their thirst for life. How does this happen? Probably quite slowly. We coast along, enjoying a life which is “good-enough” but never really satisfying or challenging, until we settle into this rut which doesn’t seem too offensive or painful, but doesn’t really sit right with us either – we sense a “barrenness”, a pointlessness to life, which we just can’t put our finger on.

One of the main reasons for this is that we often try to satisfy our deepest longings with things that were never intended to be all that fulfilling – we substitute what appears “good” and “pleasant” for true, spiritual goodness. in his book, I don’t want to talk about it, Terrance Real talks about the tendency we have to “medicate” feelings of depression. That is, sensing feelings of despair, someone may fall into drug or alcohol addiction – gaining a temporary high or sense of well-being as a substitute for true happiness. And of course, each successive high requires ever greater quantities of chemical stimulant.

Real also talks about other ways of reaching this artificial sense of happiness. He mentions workaholism as one which is particularly difficult to challenge because it is valued and encouraged in modern Western society. But he also says that anything can be turned into an addiction, when it assumes an inflated position of importance in our lives, or becomes and inappropriate source for our sense of well being and wholeness. Worldly success cannot do provide true satisfaction. Wealth cannot do it. Even the search for happiness itself cannot make us happy.

Here’s another example. Do you ever feel embarrassed? Reflect upon one such experience for a moment. What caused that embarrassment? Were you doing anything actually wrong? And what stimulated your embarrassment? Was it that God was watching or that other people were watching? When we are caught doing something we should not be, embarrassment is a useful tool – it pulls us up short and asks us to reassess our values and priorities. But embarrassment can also stop us doing this which we really ought to do. If I take myself as an example, I might get embarrassed about talking to someone about the Lord or spiritual matters. What is happening? I am placing my sense of value and happiness in another person’s hands, looking at myself through another person’s eyes. This is something I should not really do – it is not fair on myself or the others to whom I look. They cannot fulfil this desire in me. This is one way in which we mistakenly look to others to fulfil the desires only God can truly satisfy.

The reality of our lives is that we are created with deep spiritual desires and yearnings – for connection with God, for connection with others, for a life of useful purpose. When we seek to satisfy these appetites with lower, natural pleasures, we deaden our ability to truly experience a thirst for life. ‘This is as good as it gets,’ we reason. When we live like this for long enough, we learn to deaden our thirst for such satisfaction, believing it can never be filled.

Elisha’s miracle shows us what the Church should be doing. I have a colleague who routinely describes his ministry as ‘rubbing salt into the wound.’ It is only in rediscovering the disease that healing can be sought.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

My children have been blessed with a thirst for music. They can sit at our piano, and work through John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course with no need for me to cajole or coerce them. It is because of that thirst that they will develop the love and skill of music.

When we talks about ‘teaching’, we do well to remember that our primary task in not the dissemination of knowledge, but the awakening of thirst for knowledge and its application. The good things which remain with us from our earliest experiences of church are “states of affection for goodness and truth” (Arcana Caelestia 1906). If all we do is spend our time reciting volumes of knowledge, there is a great danger that we merely overfill people – with the wrong things! The result? They will forget or ignore what we say, escape at the first opportunity and never bother to find out more.

So, consider: do you hunger and thirst? And, what is the real satisfaction you seek? Here are Jesus’ words:

…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)

I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Let us pray for the rediscovery of our deepest longings and then turn to the Lord for the true satisfaction he brings.


Here are some other passages you might like to consider.

… all miracles hold within them the kinds of things that happen within the Lord’s kingdom, that is, within the Church. … ‘Elisha’ represents the Lord in respect of the Word. ‘Water’ means truths of faith, and therefore ‘bad water’, means truths devoid of good, while ‘barren land’ means the Church’s good which as a consequence is not alive. ‘A new dish’ or new vessel means factual knowledge and cognitions of goodness and truth. ‘Salt’ means truth’s desire for good. ‘The source of water’ means the human natural which receives the cognitions or knowledge of truth and good and is improved by truth’s desire for good. From all this we can see the miracle’s meaning, namely the improvement of the Church and its life by the Lord’s Word and by truth’s desire for good there. The improvement is brought about when the human natural receives truths from the Word as a result of such a desire. (Arcana Caelestia 9325.9 & 10)

“And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (Leviticus 2:13)

‘Salt in every offering’ was a sign that truth’s desire for good and good’s desire for truth should be present in all worship. (Arcana Caelestia 9207.5)


Temptation: Walking On The Sea

By Rev. Grant R. Schnarr

“Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27)

Immediately after the Lord had fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, He told His disciples to get into a boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He prayed on the mountaintop. Even though it was late, darkness was beginning to fall, they did what they were told and boarded the boat and headed off into the sea to reach the other side.

Now while they were out there, we know what happened. There arose a storm. The wind picked up very much and it was against them so they couldn’t get to the other side. And we know they were rowing for a long, long time, fighting this wind, because they went out at the beginning of the evening and they were still trying to get to the other side at the 4th watch, which is just before morning. So they were rowing all night trying to get there. And we can imagine as the wind increased the waves must have tossed that boat around and around.

Of course the disciples were afraid. They were afraid that they might possibly sink. And then, beyond all this, while they were out there clinging to that boat in fear, all of a sudden they saw someone walking on the water toward them. They thought that it was a ghost, and they shrieked out in terror to see this man walking to them. They probably thought that this was a ghost coming to get them, to take them away, that they were all going to die out there in the sea.

But the Lord said, “Be of good cheer. It is I. Do not be afraid.” And then Peter, the one who always seemed to act as a spokesman for the disciples said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” So the Lord said, “Come.” And Peter actually got out of the boat, and began to walk on the water to the Lord. But then, we are told, he looked up and saw the wind and how it was whipping the water around and he began to doubt. He became afraid and he started to sink. And so he called out, “Lord, save me!” And we are told, immediately the Lord grabbed hold of him, took him up. He was saved. Then, as soon as they got into the boat, the winds ceased and there was a still calm over everything. And we can imagine too, right then, the rays of the morning sun beginning to shine on the horizon. And then all the disciples who were in that boat knelt down before the Lord because they knew that truly He was the Son of God.

Now this story of the disciples journey, their encounter with wind and wave and the Lord coming to them on the water represents something in our lives. We are all commanded to go forth on a spiritual voyage toward the life of heaven, and on the way we encounter storms, spiritual storms which can shake our very foundation. The particulars of this story explain what we encounter in our lives as we set out to do the Lord’s will, what will happen to us and what the Lord expects of us.

It is important to recognize that the disciples did not take this journey on their own. The Lord commanded them to enter this boat and make their way to the other side of the sea. In the same way the Lord commands us to take that spiritual journey towards His kingdom, to begin living better lives.

The disciples do as He commands and enter the boat. A “boat,” in the Word, represents doctrine. And if we pause to reflect on this we can understand why. Doctrines are vessels which contain the truth. They are ideas, notions that we have formed about life, from experience and from the Word. We fashion them by our own hands and use them to help us move forward in life. When we set forth on our spiritual voyage, these doctrines serve as our foundation. We rely on certain doctrines or beliefs to hold us up, to get us through each day, to sail through the uncharted seas of our lives.

Now, the Lord commanded the disciples to enter the boat. In the same way, we are commanded to take what we know and use it in our life to begin to go towards heaven. But what so often happens when we set off to do the Lord’s will? We start off so well, clear sailing, all is calm. But then, out of no-where, a storm arises and we are caught right in the middle of it. All of a sudden the wind is against us. It’s not so easy to get to the other side, to do the Lord’s will. We find ourselves right in the middle of a temptation and it shakes the very foundation of our thoughts.

We are told that the wind was boisterous and it must have tossed the disciples boat all over the sea. And if we compare this to our lives, this is exactly what happens to us as we endure our spiritual storms. We can feel as if we are being tossed to and from spiritually. When we first set sail we felt as if we were on firm foundation, that our doctrine was strong, would keep us afloat. But in time of temptation, the foundation, as it were, drops out from under us. We don’t know what to believe any more. We can feel like we are being tossed back and forth by our emotions, by our doubts, by our natural inclinations to do evil. It can be very distressing to us. We cling to the boat, or our notions of what is right and wrong, very much afraid that we just might sink.

In this story there is much emphasis on the wind. The wind is boisterous. Peter sees the wind. The Writings say that wind here, represents false reasonings, falsity that whirls around in our spiritual minds, that whistles in our ears. Those false reasonings begin to whip up in us, to tell us lies. They can blow us all over the place as we encounter the storm of temptation. They fight against us so that we cannot reach our spiritual destination.

Now what would these things be? What are false reasonings? They may sound abstract. But they are not. They are thoughts induced by the hells which are contrary to the Lord’s Word. If we are in an argument with someone and we feel we’ve been offended, we can come into temptation. We can want to hurt the person who has offended us. Now remember the Lord said we should forgive, we should love our neighbor. But the false reasonings begin to whip up within us and say, “Don’t just stand there. That person will run all over you if you don’t say something nasty back to them.” That is false reasoning. Or if we find that we are caught up in a storm of disillusion, when we feel as if we are getting nowhere spiritually, the winds of false reasoning whisper in our ear that we are exactly correct. We are worthless. We can’t change into a better person. We might as well give up right now before we get any more depressed. That also, is false reasoning. This is true with all temptations. In any temptation that we are going through, we should ask ourselves, “What are the false reasonings that whip around in our minds trying to sink our boat, trying to stop us from reaching the other side?”

The disciples were afraid when they saw this wind, and they clung onto the boat, just as we can be afraid in times of temptation. But things are not as hopeless as they appear. The Lord was coming to them, walking on the water. And the Lord comes to us in temptation. In fact the Writings tell us that everyone must go through temptations if they want to progress, if they want the Lord to come in to their lives. Don’t feel sorry for yourself if you’re going through temptations. The Lord is coming to you. The Lord says, “Be of good cheer. It is I,” signifying His presence. We may not feel Him all the time, but He is there. He’s coming to us. And if we hold on, if we try to do His will, He will come to us.

But first of all, when the disciples saw the Lord coming to them, what happened? Well they didn’t recognize Him. They saw Him as a ghost coming to them, something cold and lifeless. And they cried out for fear. Imagine that! These grown men cried out for fear.

What does this represent in our lives? It represents us in temptation, seeing the Lord and His teachings as being something cold and lifeless that can’t help us, something scary. So, in fact, if we want to get our neighbor back in the middle of a quarrel, when we look at those teachings about forgiveness, they look cold to us. They scare us. “I don’t want to forgive,” we can say. If we are tempted, for example, to think or act lasciviously, the teachings about conjugial love, chastity, purity, can seem so dry, so cold, so lifeless. In the midst of marital turmoil the teachings about keeping the marriage together, to work toward conjugial love, can seem dead to us, even frightening to think about.

In all temptations that we have, the truth that we need the most often looks the most frightening. It looks like a ghost, like something that is going to hurt us, not help us. But we’ve got to pay heed to that teaching if we want to make it through the temptation. It is the Lord speaking to us. Not an apparition. The Lord calls out, “Be of good cheer, it is I,” to show that if we follow, the Lord will save us. He came to save us; He didn’t come to hurt us. The teachings are given to us, not to scare us, but to help us through the storm.

And then Peter gets out of the boat. Peter represents faith. Peter represents the faith in us which wants to follow the Lord, which wants to understand. So that faith within us calls out, “If it is You, command me to come to You.” That Peter within us wants to let go of the boat, to let go of our preconceived notions of what is right and wrong, to face the storm in temptation and follow those teachings. That faith wants to walk toward to the Lord even though the Lord is not yet recognized to be the loving God He is. That faith within us wants to reach out, and do what is right.

And we can all feel that in temptation when the wind is howling, and we are being tossed around. At one time or another we recognize that the Lord’s truth has power. And we can follow it. But do we have the courage to follow it? Do we really have the guts to get out of that boat? That is what the Lord is asking right here. That faith within does, and will, if we let it.

The Lord commands Peter to come. Come. Get out of the boat. Come to Me. And so Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk on the water toward the Lord. The miracle is happening. And in our lives when we begin to follow the Lord, we can see the miracle, we can realize that these things are true, that we are actually on top on this temptation, that we are persevering in temptation. But then the Word shows how human we are. Peter, because of the wind, begins to doubt. The Lord recognizes that when we start to do His will, even if we begin to see that it is working, we are so tempted to look up at the wind, at those false reasonings. We’re so tempted to pay attention to them, to try to listen to them one more time, to make sure that they are not right. And as soon as we pay attention to those things, as soon as we begin to doubt the Lord’s Word we begin to sink.

In the literal sense, Peter cries out, “Lord, save Me.” And immediately the Lord catches him and holds him up. In the internal sense of the Word, is in those times when we are full of doubts, when we are sinking, we should cry out to the Lord for help, to recognize that He is the only one who can save us. The temptation is not complete until we have utterly given up. We have to recognize that we can’t do it. But the Lord can. And in desperation we must call to Him. And He will be there, and He will catch us before we sink, and take us into His arms.

We are told that when Jesus and Peter entered the boat, the storm ceased, the winds were calm, the waters were calm. And we know what this represents in our lives. It represents the end of that particular temptation. As soon as we respond to the Lord, as soon as we let the Lord take us into His arms, the storm does cease. It becomes quiet in our own minds, our hearts are quiet, those doubts disappear, those false reasonings are gone. And we can really wonder to ourselves, “How could I have ever doubted?” The truth become clear to us, and there is peace. And so is it any wonder that at that time those disciples who were in that boat, all of them, got down on their knees in front of the Lord and worshiped Him. They knew that, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

And so in life we have all formed our own vessel to carry us, the doctrines to help us on our voyage. And each one of us is called upon to get into that boat and set out on uncharted seas of life, to try to find the right way to heaven. But when we are out there we have to recognize that the storms of temptation will come, and with them, the winds of false reasoning. And in those times of doubt, when we cling to our preconceived notions of what is right out of fear, we must recognize that the Lord is there and coming to us. His teachings may seem frightening to us, but He is within them and they do have power, if only we, like Peter, trust Him enough to face the storm, to step out and follow His teachings. Doubts will come, and with them, even desperation, but in those times of desperation we must call upon the Lord. Like Peter we must say with a sincere heart, “Lord, save me!” And we will be saved. He will immediately pick us up and take us in, and there will be peace. And in the calm, as we kneel before Him in humble recognition of His power, the light of the new day’s sun will begin to glisten on the horizon. “He turns the shadow of death into morning” (Amos 5:8), “Even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:41).