A Sermon by Rev. David Millar
And the Angel of Jehovah appeared to him in a flame of fire from the middle of a thorn bush. And he looked, and behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, and the thorn bush was not burned up!
And Moses said, I will turn aside now and see this great sight, why the thorn bush is not burned up.
And Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, and Elohim called to him from the midst of the thorn bush, and said, Moses! Moses! And he said, Behold me.
And He said, Do not come near here. Pull off your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. (Exodus 3:2-5)
We spoke last time about the appearance of the angel of the Lord in the bush that burned but was not consumed. The important point here was the principle that as we build our spiritual knowledge so it becomes a bush that grows within our minds that is able to give us insight into things related to the spiritual life. The desire from which this insight, which is spiritual light, arises is like a fire. And all this is captured in the symbolic language of Scripture in a bush that burns but is not consumed. Another way of seeing this is in a person’s relationship to the Word. If we have a passion for seeing how the Lord’s Word can be applied in the service of others and their spiritual welfare then this is like a fire that burns in our heart.
When we come to the Word and begin to study it in order to get an understanding of how we can serve others more appropriately from a spiritual perspective, then we have the basis for knowledge to grow in our minds, and as this knowledge grows from its seed it becomes something that can capture and express this deep passion or fire for the spiritual life. The ideas we have gathered from the Word and the Heavenly Doctrines form a body of knowledge which directs us in how to live. It is the ability of ideas to serve as messengers for love is what is meant by angels in the Word. So its the very truths we find in the Word and in the spiritual teachings for the Church that are the real angels that deliver the Lord’s message of love to us and to others. So the angel of the Lord is nothing less than the Word itself.
Spiritual knowledge if genuine always points to love. So this is why in verse 4 we read that “When Jehovah saw that he (speaking of Moses) turned aside to see, Elohim called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said Moses, Moses. And he said Behold me.”
To be in a dialogue is to be in a state of communication with someone; so here when read of God speaking to Moses we are reading a description of the Divine’s connection with something in us, in this case that something is described as Moses, and we have seen that the Divine can only connect with and be received by what is of Himself within us – in this case Moses represents our understanding of the Lord’s Word. It is by means of the Word rightly understood that the Lord is able to speak with us. When we are reading the Word and find ourselves drawn to something in it that offers us some new insight this is Moses “turning aside” to discern or see what it means.
It’s important that we see that it’s our understanding of doctrine that enables us to see the Lord in His Word. Doctrine is simply the ideas that make up the spiritual teachings for the Church. As far as this Church is concerned these ideas are found in the works of Emanuel Swedenborg. Books like Heaven and Hell, Divine Love and Wisdom, Divine Providence, True Christian Religion the Arcana Cealestia are all able to provide us with true spiritual ideas which, when in our minds, enables us to be able to receive communication from the Lord when we read that meditate on His Word.
These ideas teach us about the nature of God and the spiritual life. When we bring these ideas to the Word so they enable it to come alive for us and so we are able to receive insight directly from the Word as to how to live the spiritual life. Without genuine spiritual ideas the Word remains closed, a book with little meaning for us, but if we are prepared to work with these spiritual ideas as a guide for our life, then we open up the possibility of coming to see and experience their truths for ourselves. That’s the thing with spiritual concepts – you can read them, you can be told that they are true, but you can only know if they are actually true by applying them and testing them in your own life. No one else can do it for you. It’s a responsibility the Lord has given us and…if we want to know the reality of the spiritual life we have to do the work required – there are no short cuts.
It is those spiritual ideas tested in life that become the vessels in the human mind for receiving further insight from the Lord. As they become a part of a person’s mental structure so they take on a human form. When you really think about it they have to, otherwise how can they become part of us? – They enable a person to see what is good and true and what is evil and false and they empower them to act on this insight in ways that promote goodness and weaken our attachments to evils. Such actions foster qualities of mercy, compassion, love and goodness within our life and this is what is meant here by these ideas taking a human form. And because divine ideas are what the human mind is designed to reflect as the image and likeness of God, so in the symbolic language of scripture we see that people are used to represent these ideas and give them a concrete form so that we can grasp the general spiritual principles represented. One such person is the central character found in the Exodus stories, that of Moses. Moses and all the other characters we find in the Bible represent a particular set or quality of ideas that are able to find their embodiment within the human mind.
If we are to understand this story and why Moses was required to remove his shoes we first must see Moses not as a man but as a representative symbol. He’s a representative symbol of those spiritual ideas in our mind that we have worked with and tested and know for ourselves to be true. It is these ideas and these ideas alone that are sensitive to spiritual inflow from the divine. Not only that, but they give us the ability to be responsive to what is required of us if we are to come into a fuller expression of the spiritual life. This responsiveness of a person is described in the language of spiritual symbol as Moses turning aside to discern what he was seeing.
To turn aside is to change our orientation, or our position in relation to something. From a spiritual perspective it describes a change in our focus – and in the case of Moses it has to do with trying to get some understanding of what he was seeing. I have already said Moses represents spiritual ideas we have made a real part of our life. When we use these ideas as the basis for understanding spiritual phenomena, represented by the burning bush, which of course is not really a bush but another spiritual symbol that corresponds to the literal stories of the Word, God speaks into our life.
The ideas represented by Moses are the ideas we have about what it really means to love the Lord and our neighbour. When we make the effort to have these two great commandments at the center of our lives and bring them to bear on our reading of the Bible then we will find that they have the truly remarkable effect of transforming our understanding of the literal stories of the Bible into something very real and meaningful for understanding ourselves, God and others.
On the surface the stories are simple tales, but within they offer profound insights into the nature of life, in this world and the one to come. The essence of spiritual life is love. This governs all things and when love senses we are responsive to it in our own actions so it moves to increase our capacity to love more fully and in more appropriate ways. This movement of love in a person’s life is described in the story today as “Jehovah seeing Moses turn aside to see…” When our thoughts turn aside to better understand the Word, represented by the burning bush, in a way that supports us loving what is good and true in others, there is a recognition of this by the divine love itself, represented in the use of the name Jehovah, who is constantly looking for any opportunity to bring more of the transforming power of His love into our lives.
But if we are to receive anything of this love in a conscious way it has to be communicated to us in a form in which we can receive it and this form must be suited to vessels designed for that purpose. So we can ask ourselves, what holds and communicates love? If we want to be more loving and understanding, more compassionate and sincere in our relationships with others – if we want to act from a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of others more often and less often from the ground of self-centeredness then we first of all need some idea of what this involves. We get this idea from spiritual teachings we have worked into our life – teachings represented by the Moses symbol – the specific ideas represented by Moses have to do with how to live a genuine spiritual life, it is this Moses in us that receives communication from God. Notice that while it is Jehovah who sees Moses turn aside, it is Elohim that speaks. Jehovah and Elohim are two Hebrew names for God used in the Bible. It is said that Elohim speaks because Elohim is the name of God that emphasizes the truth aspect of the divine while Jehovah is the name of God that emphasizes the love aspect.
Our engagement with truth or ideas from the Word is the focus here. Moses represents ideas or our developing understanding of truth as it relates to loving others from a spiritual perspective. We need to view these ideas as dynamic and inseparable from our actual thinking processes, rather than something static like in a book or our memory. These ideas are living ideas that make up the very activity of our minds, not static facts in memory.
Having followed the development of our spiritual understanding through the book of Exodus we now come to a point consisting of a major shift in consciousness illustrated through the character of Moses. The understanding of spiritual things that has carried us this far is about to undergo a new degree of divine activity within itself and it comes as a command for Moses to remove his sandals because he is on holy ground.
In the world of spiritual ideas within the human mind “holy ground” is the ground from which we are able to be supported in our contact with the divine. It’s what our relationship with the divine is founded on or stands on. It is what stands under, or our understanding, if you will. This contact is grounded in nothing other than the Word. Yet we easily forget that the Word is in fact the Lord’s presence with us. That it is the Word in its literal sense that is holy ground is clear from the fact that the stories found there contain all things to do with what is spiritual and celestial and that these things are found not in understanding the Word literally but in understanding it spiritually. Yet the literal stories are how these deeper more spiritual ideas are communicated to us and so form the ground from which we can come to see and appreciate its deeper aspects.
But we must learn to see beyond the historical and earthly aspects and see these as merely containers pointing to spiritual processes and principles captured within the symbolical aspects of the various things and different people mentioned in the story.
Moses is told not to draw near but to remove his sandals. This is about drawing nearer to the divine in our life and, needless to say it has nothing to do with our literal footwear. What it has to do with is the quality of the ideas we have concerning God – remember Moses is a representative symbol of our ideas about spiritual life and if we are to draw nearer to the divine the next phase in the development of our spiritual understanding requires us to remove something from our ideas represented here by the symbol of sandals.
These have to be removed if we are to enter into a clearer idea of divine love and wisdom and our relationship to it. That Moses is commanded to remove his shoes before he can approach or draw nearer to the divine suggests that what the shoes represent is something that obstructs us from drawing closer to the divine ideal for our lives. Now if the Word is the Lord’s presence with us and we draw near to him to the degree that we understand it in terms of how to love more effectively, then the shoes must be something that rather than assisting us to understand or draw nearer to what it is to be truly human actually prevents this from happening.
And this is what in fact they are. If Moses represents our ideas about spiritual life then his shoes must have some relationship to the world of ideas that Moses represents. Every part of the body spiritually corresponds to an aspect of the mind, so the hands correspond to the minds ability to grasp or handle things. Similarly the feet are the lowest part of the body and because of this correspond to the lowest aspects of our thought. Shoes because they cover the feet are lower still and these being the product of human manufacture represent ideas we have cobbled together about God and spiritual things based on earthly and worldly ideas rather than genuine spiritual ideas.
They are ideas that keep a person locked into a literal understanding of the Word and prevents them from entering into the spiritual sense to which the symbolic language of Scripture points. So, for example, a person reads the story of Moses and their thought remains focused on the historical aspects of the story. Moses is seen as a historical figure in the history of Israel’s deliverance and little more than this. To remove our shoes is to see that he represents something within each of us and that these stories, if grasped as to their symbolic meaning, are able to lead us into a deeper understanding of spiritual life. So if we are to draw near we must make an effort to remove our shoes – to remove our sense based ideas about the divine and spiritual life and so enter into understanding the Word in terms of its spiritual meaning.
To do this we must first learn what the spiritual ideas contained in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg are, be prepared to test them in our life that we might come to see if they are indeed true and confirm their truth by means of the Word. If we would do this we would remove the shoes from our feet and know in the depths of our being that the ground we stand on is indeed holy.
Arcana Coelestia (Elliott) 6844.
Take off your shoes from upon your feet’ means that the powers of the senses, which form the external levels of the natural, should be removed. This is clear from the meaning of ‘shoes’ as the powers of the senses forming the external levels of the natural, dealt with in 1748; and from the meaning of ‘feet’ as the natural, dealt with in 2162, 3147, 3761, 3986, 4280, 4938-4952. ‘Taking off’ plainly means removing since one is talking about the powers of the senses. Particular expressions have to be used in application to the actual matter to which they refer; thus ‘being taken off’ is applied to shoes, and ‘being removed’ to the powers of the senses. The implications of all this need to be stated. Anyone can see that here ‘shoes’ represent something that does not accord with Him who is holy and Divine, so that ‘taking off one’s shoes’ was representative of the removal of things like that. Without this representation what would it matter to the Divine whether a person drew near in shoes or in bare feet, provided that inwardly he is the kind of person who can draw near the Divine in faith and love? Therefore the powers of the senses are meant by ‘shoes’, and those powers, which form the external levels of the natural, are by nature such that they cannot remain when one thinks with reverence about the Divine. Consequently because it was a time when representatives had to be observed, Moses was not allowed to draw near with his shoes on.
 The reason why the powers of the senses that form the external levels of the natural are by nature such that they cannot receive the Divine is that they are steeped in ideas of worldly, bodily, and also earthly things because they are the first to receive them. Therefore sensory impressions contained in the memory as a result of the activity of the senses draw their nature from the light and heat of the world, and hardly at all from the light and heat of heaven. As a consequence they are the last things that can be regenerated, that is, receive something of the light of heaven. This explains why, when a person is ruled by his senses and sensory impressions control his thinking, he inevitably thinks of the Divine as he does of earthly things. If also he is ruled by evil those impressions make him think in ways altogether contrary to the Divine. When therefore a person thinks about the kinds of things that have to do with faith and love to God he is raised, if he is governed by good, from the powers of the senses which form the external levels of the natural to more internal levels, consequently from earthly and worldly things nearer to celestial and spiritual ones.
 This is something people do not know about, the reason being that they do not know that internal levels distinct and separate from external ones are present within them, or that thought exists on increasingly internal levels as well as on more external ones. And unaware of these things a person cannot reflect on them.