Being Called Out of Egypt
by Rev. Kurt H. Asplundh
As we approach our Christmas celebration we are reminded of the different parts of the Christmas story: the angel appearing to Mary, the shepherds in the field, the quiet wonder at the manger, wise men following the star, the gold, frankincense and myrrh. These stir our minds with a sense of joy about the real meaning of Christmas. They are a record of those good tidings which were to be shared with all people: that Jesus Christ, our Savior, was born on earth.
There is another part of the story that is not so joyful yet equally important to our understanding of the Lord's birth: the escape into Egypt. The wise men had departed, having been warned by God not to return to Herod. Then Joseph was instructed by an angel in a dream that he should take the Child and His mother and flee from Herod into Egypt. There they remained until they were called up again to the land of Israel after Herod's death.
This incident is recorded in Matthew's gospel. As is often the case with Matthew, he connects the incident with' an Old Testament prophecy concerning the Lord. He shows that the event fulfills the prophecy and is evidence of the claim that Jesus is the promised Christ. So it is written that Joseph "took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ĎOut of Egypt I called My son' " (Matt. 2:14f).
The reference is to the prophet Hosea. Hosea wrote 750 years before the Lord's birth. He lived in the final years before the kingdom of Israel fell to Assyrian conquerors. His prophecy looks back to an earlier and brighter day in the history of Israel: "When Israel was a child I loved him," he writes, "and out of Egypt I called My son" (Hosea 11: 1). This is a direct reference to the exodus and the leading of Israel to the promised land.
The Lord's sojourn in Egypt not only fulfilled the prophecy but also paralleled the history of Israel. Israel had gone into Egypt from Canaan, not once but twice. First, Abram journeyed there with Sarai his wife when there was famine in Canaan. And he was greatly enriched there. Generations later the whole house of Jacob came from Canaan to Egypt where Joseph had become ruler with Pharaoh. Once again it was famine that brought Israel to Egypt. And only after 400 years' sojourn and the enslavement by the Egyptians was Israel finally "called up" out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
What is the meaning of this prophecy and of these remarkable historical parallels? The study of the Word shows that these accounts are inwardly one! Their subject is the Lord's state at birth and His development in childhood. Almost nothing is said of this in the gospels. We are told only that "the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him" (Luke 2:40). In testimony of His remarkable mental development, the Lord was found in the temple at age 12, astonishing the rabbis with His understanding and answers.
It must be known that when He was born, the Lord was like other men in His need for instruction. The mind He had put on by birth into the world had to grow in knowledge just as our minds must grow. This is revealed in the Heavenly Doctrine: "He was born as are other men and was instructed as are other men" (AC 1460). Yet He was unlike other men in that His soul was Divine. As a consequence of this He had the power of learning "above every other man," we are told (AC 1464). Again, it is said, "the Lord possessed all truth previous to His instruction" (AC 1469).
How could this be denied? If He was, indeed, the Son of God, and "God with us," would not all wisdom, all knowledge, and all intelligence be with Him from birth? In what sense could God "learn"?
The answer to this shows the very purpose of His advent and birth. The Divine wisdom existing in God from eternity was to be made known to man. It was to be revealed in and by the Lord Himself. Yes, it was within Him from birth. "He possessed all truth...." Now it was to shine forth into the world. This is what was meant by John's words when he said, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory..." (John 1:4, 5, 14).
The glory of God is seen by means of objects. This may be illustrated by the light of the natural sun. Light is invisible to the eye. We see it when it reflects from objects and illumines them. The "glory" of sunlight is in the clouds of a sunset, in the shimmer of reflection from a pond, in the dash of color from a rose blossom. The light brings life and brilliance to the objects.
How much more perfectly this is the case with Divine wisdom. It can be described as a higher form of light that emits from God Himself. It is infinitely brighter and more penetrating than the sun's light, but the same principle applies. We cannot see Divine light any more than the sun's light except as it reflects from objects. What objects?
The objects needed for spiritual sight, for seeing the Lord's wisdom, are objects of thought, objects of the mind, knowledges.
Let us consider for a moment what this means by the illustration of our own mental ability. Human wisdom also pertains to knowledges. When we say that a man is "brilliant" we do not mean that there is a light that shines from him that illuminates natural objects. He doesn't light up the sky or the earth. We see his brilliance in how he deals with things of the mind. We have to observe his brilliance in his use of knowledges. If he is a physician, his wisdom is reflected in his diagnosis or his treatment; if a lawyer, in his marshalling of facts and knowledge of the law to prove the case; if a mechanic or craftsman, by a knowledge and skill that effects production. It is incomplete simply to say these people are good; they are good at something. We see their wisdom and skill only in relation to what they think and do.
Let us return now to the Divine light that the Lord was born on earth to reveal. Where do we see the wisdom of God? Some would say in nature. There is a beauty and order in nature that, reflects the wisdom of the Creator. It is there, but not always seen. Some would say the wisdom of God is seen in intelligent life. There seems to be something "god-like" in man's ability to manipulate ideas; in the creative flashes of the human mind. Yes, all creativity in man is from God, but man has freedom to claim wisdom as his own. Nature and human intelligence are unreliable sources for detecting Divine wisdom. The human mind has obscured and darkened the light. This is why the Lord came on earth, to "shine in the darkness" (John 1:5).
Where, then, do we see the wisdom of God? The New Church teaches that God is seen in the Word. In saying this the Heavenly Doctrine does not simply mean that the testimony of Scripture presents Divine wisdom.
Many who read Scripture fail to see light in it. The Lord Himself called the most learned doctors of Israel "blind Pharisees," "blind guides" (Matt. 23:24, 26). Their darkness, however, does not extinguish the light. Others have declared: "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path!" (Psalm 119:105). The Word provides the objects of thought by which the glory of God may be seen.
Divine wisdom can be seen reflected in knowledges from the Word. These are said to be so many "mirrors" of God (TCR 6:2, 11:3).
Knowledges "open the way." In fact, they are essential, we are told. We cannot receive anything into the mind that will elevate our thought above the natural world and its pleasures and make us something more than animal-like unless we furnish our mind with knowledges from the Word. These, like mirrors or recipient vessels, catch the Divine light and open our spiritual sight.
Since the Lord was born to reveal Divine wisdom, He first brought that wisdom into His own mind by means of knowledges, that He might then share it with us. So it is said that "in His childhood the Lord did not will to imbue Himself with any other knowledges than those of the Word, which was open to Him... from Jehovah Himself" (AC 1461).
The remarkable thing is that this process and its necessity is pictured in the prophecy of Hosea which Matthew cites: "Out of Egypt I called My Son," and in the actual sojourn of the Lord in Egypt in His childhood.
Why Egypt? Here was the land of the Pharaohs and their incredible wealth. An ancient land, its tombs housed the secrets of antiquity and the mysteries of hieroglyphics, the sacred symbol writing. Not only was Egypt a storehouse of grain for the ancient world; it was the repository of the knowledges of an ancient church which had widespread existence in the ancient world. The science of sciences in this Ancient Church had been the knowledge of correspondential symbolism. Initially these symbols had inspired a way of life, and provided truths to guide them spiritually. Not so in Egypt now. Here the interest was in forms not substance, in knowledge for its own sake rather than for the sake of life. The secrets of religion were studied and treasured by a learned priesthood. In time they turned these things into a kind of magic which looked only to their own advancement and power. Like the land itself the religious life of Egypt became barren and dry. However, its religious knowledges remained preserved. Like the fabulous treasures stored in kings' tombs, resting in hushed attendance to lifeless monarchs, these knowledges were the real treasures of the land, overshadowing even the splendor of a Pharaoh's gold.
Because Egypt was a storehouse, it symbolizes religious knowledge, especially the knowledge of things in the Word. The Lord's stay in Egypt signifies His instruction as a child in knowledges. This, does not mean the Lord studied ancient religions in Egypt, but that His stay there shows that He had to acquire knowledges from the Word as a part of His advancement to Divinity. Even as Abram came out of Egypt "rich in cattle, in silver and in gold," and even as Israel later came out of Egypt enriched with jewels of silver and jewels of gold, which they later used to build a tabernacle of worship, so the Lord was enriched in childhood with those knowledges which could be fashioned in His mind into a spiritual tabernacle.
Having seen what is signed by "Egypt" and the reason the Lord was taken to that land, let us return to our consideration of the text from Hosea's prophecy and from Matthew. Notice that it reads: "Out of Egypt I called My Son" (Matt. 2:15). It does not say "I have sent My Son to Egypt," or "brought Him to Egypt." It says, "I have called Him out of Egypt."
We cannot remain in knowledges alone. Knowledges are essential for providing the objects of wisdom; they are not wisdom itself. Remaining in knowledge only, or allowing the mind to rest satisfied in the mere knowledge of spiritual things, results in a spiritual slavery such as is pictured by the slavery of Israel in Egypt. It was said of Israel after their sojourn in Egypt that they were to be delivered "out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."
So the Lord too was called out of Egypt. The knowledges He acquired were a means, not an end. Is not this a message for our application? We should - nay, must - learn from the Word. We should go down to that "Egypt" for the knowledges of truth such as they are given in revelation. But why? For the sake of life. We should store up and treasure these objects of thought because they are open to the Lord Himself and are the objects on which the light of heaven may shine. We learn not simply to become intelligent, but to become spiritually wise, to become forms of charity.
When a love of knowledges themselves, even knowledges of the Word, becomes a passion with us, we are then, like Egyptian priests, turning to the worship of what is purely natural and seeking, by the supposed magic of our own intellect, to create a heaven on earth. We must come out of this Egyptian state, be called by the Lord to raise our minds above what is natural to see instead the wisdom and eternal uses concealed within.
The Lord Himself has given the example which we are to follow.
Why, after all, has the Lord given us the ability to learn? It is for the sake of acquiring spiritual life.
This, then, is the fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy. It is more than what Matthew realized it to be. That the Lord was taken to Egypt by Joseph and Mary, and returned to Israel after the death of Herod, was a literal fulfillment, and a testimony to the truth of Matthew's claim that the Lord was the Christ. Beyond this, the calling of the Lord out of Egypt is positive proof to every New Churchman that the Lord has come indeed, and has opened the spiritual sense of the Word. By this there has been an opening of the way for the conjunction of His Divine and His Human. By this His Human has been made Divine. By this it has been provided that every man can see Him, know Him, and adore Him. For "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
-New Church Life 1988;108:515-520