IX. Oil and Spices
The Tabernacle of Israel, by George de Charms, 1969
The last group of four materials offered for the tabernacle was somewhat different in nature from those previously mentioned. These materials were not to be used in the actual construction of the building, but instead they were to be of service in the worship for the sake of which the building was erected. Their use is what determines their representation. They include the oil for the lamps and for anointing, the spices for anointing and for incense, the onyx stones for the shoulders of the ephod, and the twelve precious stones for the breastplate of Aaron.
After the building of the tabernacle, everything that was to be used in it for worship was anointed with olive oil mingled with certain spices. Not only the furniture and the various vessels were so anointed, but also the priests and their garments.1 This was a sign of consecration. From very ancient times, altars, pillars, and articles of worship were hallowed and set apart in this way, as the Scriptures amply attest. Anointing also was used for the inauguration into office of kings, priests, and prophets.
The oil without the spices was burned in the lamps which were kept perpetually lighted in the holy place.2 This oil was not to be extracted in the ordinary way by means of the olive press, but was to be beaten out with mortar and pestle.3 In the holy of holies there was no light, but the holy place was constantly lighted by the flames from the seven-branched lampstand, which was tended and cared for every day by the priests. These lights were extinguished only while the tabernacle was being moved; and at the end of each journey they were relighted with fire from the altar of burnt offerings. This fire was preserved at all times, even when the host was on the march.4 According to a specified recipe, spices were mingled with the oil in order to make an incense that was burned every morning and every evening in the holy place before the veil.5 From its burning arose a sweet-smelling and pungent smoke ever associated in the minds of the Israelites with worship. The same spices were not to be used in any similar combination for other purposes, and this was true also of the spices used in the anointing oil.6
Two onyx stones were given to be placed upon the shoulders of the ephod which was worn by the high priest, and on each of these stones were engraved the names of six of the twelve tribes of Israel.7
Finally, twelve precious stones called, "the stones of fillings," were given to be set in the breastplate of Aaron.8 These were the "Urim and Thummim" by means of which answers were received from Jehovah by the flashing of lights from the precious stones.
A full consideration of these four materials, as to their spiritual significance, belongs rather to a study of the worship with its rites and ceremonies as later instituted in the tabernacle, than to our present investigation. Yet they are mentioned here because that to which they correspond must in some sense be provided before the tabernacle is built, that is, during infancy, childhood and youth, before regeneration begins. Yet they cannot come into their real use until after this preparatory process has been completed.
This last group differs in representation from the two previous ones in that it represents neither "remains" nor "habits of thought" induced during the growing years, but rather a living increase of religious faith and love that comes in adult age as a result of actual regeneration. In the accepted Protestant view, religion is thought of as a sort of emotional experience, a sudden awakening to consciousness of man's higher nature. This experience puts him in a category different from other men, and because of it he is said to be "saved." His particular mission, then, is to help others who have not been saved, by stirring in them a similar emotional awakening. It is admitted, of course, that one who has undergone conversion in this sense may "fall from grace." He may forfeit his privilege of election unless he brings forth the fruits of faith. Yet he is supposed to have attained to some special relation to God by virtue of his conversion, and this not because of any "good works" but simply as a result of his confession and open acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as his Savior. In this there is no idea of a process of regeneration that goes forward day by day through successive steps and stages. There is no realization of the truth that men can be saved only by the daily shunning of evils as sins against God. This latter is the doctrine of the New Church and it is taught directly in the Scripture, if the meaning of these last four materials is spiritually understood. From such an understanding we are given to realize that a living religion must be constantly growing. It must advance according to the ever changing states of man's life. It is a process that is never ended, neither in this world nor in the other. By means of it man is continually perfected and drawn nearer and nearer to the Divine. If it does not progress it will die and lose all power to influence man's spiritual life. It will become a formal thing, a thing of the memory only, to which a man returns from time to time as he does to the recollections of childhood. But it will have less and less relation to the things that stir his interest, and that seem to him to be important. This being the fact, no man can be saved at once by an emotional revival. Such a revival is indeed possible and it has its place and its use. But man's character can be permanently changed only by the daily shunning of evils as sins against God. Man must persistently apply the principles of religion to the solution of the practical problems with which he is confronted in every day life.
Man's regeneration is effected therefore by continual temptations and continual victories, even as was said of the Lord when He was in the world.9 Every time a man resists and conquers in any temptation from a principle of religion an actual change takes place in the structure of his mind. Something new is built into it which receives influx from the Divine and by which he is actually withdrawn in some degree from the influence of evil spirits. By the gradual development of such vessels in the mind for the reception of influx from the Lord out of heaven, man is said to be "born again." In no other way can he be "regenerated" and thus prepared for life in heaven. By no other means can he be drawn away from the love of self and the world into which he has been born, and gifted with love to the Lord, and charity toward the neighbor. These new loves, received as the guerdon of victory in temptation are what is represented by the last four gifts offered for the tabernacle. They are impossible of attainment in any other way and therefore cannot be given in infancy and childhood. Yet something can be given without which they would be impossible of reception in later life, and this is specifically what these materials represent in this place, where they are spoken of as an offering made prior to the building of the tabernacle. Children cannot know spiritual temptation. They cannot undergo this process of regeneration. Yet they can be taught, as of themselves, to resist evil. There can be formed with them a conscience which, although it is natural in essence, can lay a foundation for a later spiritual conscience. What is here meant is not those things which children do by direct command or under external compulsion from others, but those things rather which they do, as it were, in freedom, from ideas and beliefs inculcated through instruction and education. When children act in this way as if from themselves, they appear to do exactly as an adult does in making a decision or in resisting temptation. The fact is that they are acting from others, that is, from the things which they believe because they have been taught, and not because they interiorly see or understand them for themselves. Thus they act in the sphere of others, and their action is natural and not spiritual in quality. Yet by taking such action during their growing years they are prepared to make decisions and to resist temptation later. For this reason this oil and these spices, as well as the stones, must be offered before the tabernacle is built, although their quality then is quite different from that which it will be afterward. For when they were offered, these things were not yet holy. They derived their holiness and their peculiar use from the tabernacle, and from the priesthood. This was true even of the oil, which apparently was the means of sanctifying the tabernacle itself. What was really represented by anointing with the oil of sanctification was the acknowledgment of a holiness that is inherent in the Lord and from Him is present in all things of worship. It is by means of such a living acknowledgment that man acquires the ability to see spiritual truth and to perceive the things of heaven. Thus it is the basis of enlightenment, a basis which must be continually renewed, even as the oil was replenished and kept burning day by day in the lamps. In no other way can a man be gifted as to his inner mind with spiritual light. For as soon as resistance to evil ceases, the oil fails and the light goes out. The Lord is still inflowing with His love and wisdom, but man is unable to receive it because his mind is not prepared. It is closed to the Divine influence because his active love and interest is then centered in self and the world. This is what is involved in the parable of the five foolish virgins who provided lamps but no oil, and were shut out from the marriage feast.10
In such there is a profession of religious faith but no active life of religion, and therefore no renewal of life from within. This life of repentance must be established in potency, as a habit of thought and action, during infancy and childhood through natural temptations and the solution of childish problems. This is what prepares for a life of repentance with reference to spiritual things in adult age.
Our innermost ends of life lie so deeply hidden that they are not realized even by ourselves. It is impossible for us to analyse with assurance our deepest motives. But when by determined effort we resist evils in our external life, then does the Lord remove the love of these evils from our internal mind. To this the Lord referred when He said, "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, and he is clean every whit."11 As the Lord removes evil from within, in that region which is above our conscious thought we are given the ability to perceive heavenly truth. This perception grows continually. It becomes ever more discriminating, and opens to view particulars of truth not before realized. In such new discoveries man feels delight, and a sense of accomplishment. Such a perception of new truth is represented by the odor of the spices which were mingled, not with the oil of the lamp, but with the oil of anointing. No resistance to evil for any external motive avails. Man can be saved only by thinking and acting from love to the Lord and charity, and by turning away from the evils of the love of self and the world. Such a shunning of evil is a practical dedication of our life to the Lord, a consecration to His will, accompanied by an inmost prayer that He may guide and direct our way, and thus that His will may be done on earth as it is done in heaven. This is what opens the mind to the perception of truth, not from ourselves but from the Lord. Only that which is thus learned from within is genuine truth, and this alone is called holy, for it is the Lord with us. This consecration of the mind to the Lord was represented by the anointing oil mingled with spices of a delightful odor. And because this must accompany the beginning of regeneration, anointing with perfumed oil was made the means of inaugurating the tabernacle to its use. In the minds of the Jewish people only that which was anointed became holy, and was set apart for the worship of Jehovah. Of course the oil in itself did not consecrate, but because it corresponds to love to the Lord it represented spiritual consecration, especially by the life of religion. No one who has not been enured, by custom and habit to the expression of love to the Lord during childhood, by observing from conscience the forms of worship, will be disposed to devote himself, in adult age, to the life of regeneration.
Note that spices were an essential constituent of the anointing oil. This is because spices represent "interior truth" and the delight of perceiving it.12 A new perception of truth opens the way to the performance of a use. Use is the "good" for the sake of which truth exists. It is the "way" in which some service to the Lord or to the neighbor may be performed. It is the opposite of that "way" which leads to the achievement of some purely selfish ambition. As perceptions of truth multiply, therefore, one learns to distinguish more perfectly between good and evil. Until truth is seen, deep-seated tendencies to evil remain hidden, but in the measure that truth is perceived it brings them to light. It is of providence that this should be so, for if one should suddenly realize all the evil tendencies to which he is prone, he would shrink from conflict with them, even as the sons of Israel shrank from combat against the inhabitants of the land of Canaan when the spies, sent to explore the land, returned to report that they had seen great giants before whom they appeared as grasshoppers. Evils are revealed, therefore, only as we are given light to see them and strength to resist them. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."13
Victory over temptation brings a sense of peace, and consolation; but this is followed almost at once by another state of temptation because our eyes have been opened by the truth revealed to evils which we had not before realized, and which, if we are to remain true to our faith, we must now resist and conquer. The new truths, represented by the odor of the spices in the oil of anointing, represent an interior perception which results from the rejection of evil from the internal man. This takes place subtly, in ways of which we are scarcely conscious, as is represented by the fact that the odor of the sacred spices was invisible. Our perception of truth is often so deep that we cannot express it in words, or formulate it into an idea. Truth is felt before it is seen.
From the incense, however, arises a visible cloud of smoke which represents, not the truth itself, but rather the falsities made manifest by the truth. These we must resist interiorly, that is, from a spiritual love; but we must do so in outward act and deed if we are to conquer. This resistance is what is represented by the burning of the incense. It was burned with fire taken from the altar in the outer court of the tabernacle. Love burns perpetually. It is the life force in all living organisms that causes metabolism, breaking down old forms and building up new ones. This process is continually taking place throughout the human body. It is essential to physical growth, and a corresponding process accompanies all spiritual development. Spiritual life demands a continual burning of love. By this, things that obstruct and oppose are broken down, and new things are built in their place. This breaking down and building up is an actual organic process in the mind as in the body. In the Apocalypse the smoke of incense is associated with "the prayers of the saints," and from ancient times the smokeboth from incense and from sacrificeshas been regarded as a symbol of prayers ascending to God from the hearts of men.14 This is its true representation, for prayers are seen objectively in the spiritual world as the smoke of incense. The reason for this becomes evident if we know what is meant by incense, namely, the sphere of love which results from the actual shunning of evils.
All life produces a sphere, an effluvium, which surrounds an organism and extends its influence round about. This sphere is such as is the life which produces it. In man the sphere of his life is according to his love, and by it the quality of the love can be known by angels. The love that produces this sphere is a desire, a longing, and an active effort of mind and heart. When love to the Lord is thus active, it causes a sphere to go forth which is gratefully received in heaven, and is there perceived as sweet incense. This is the only living prayer. Such a prayer is always answered by the revelation of new truth that makes known the Lord's will in reference to the circumstances of our life. Such a prayer was meant by the Lord when He said, "All things whatsover ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."15 To ask in prayer, believing, is to ask in heart that the Lord's will be done. It is to ask that His love for our salvation should freely operate in us, and that all things of our own will should be put aside, believing that He will lead us in the way of everlasting life. Unless children are taught to pray in simple faith; unless they learn that prayer must be not of the lips alone, but of the heart and the life, they cannot be prepared for regeneration. For this reason it was commanded that the oil for the lamp and for anointing, and the spices for anointing and for the incense, must be brought as an offering for the building of the tabernacle.1&
16 See Appendix I.