It is stated in the Writings in connection with the affairs of nations, that "in heaven there is a spiritual justice to a cause and in the world a natural justice, and that these two are conjoined by means of a connection between things past and things future, which are known to the Lord alone." (DP 252) It therefore happens that the just cause is not always victorious in the world. Yet what happens occurs from the spiritual necessities of the case, for the ultimate best and the eternal good of all. In the Word many wars are described. The natural causes of these wars were rooted in spiritual causes in intricate spiritual conditions in the world of spirits, where other, spiritual, issues were being fought out. The states of the minds of the people on earth, and the spiritual associations which they had with spirits of different kinds, caused them also to represent certain spiritual causes.
This is the case even now, among the various kingdoms and nations in Christendom. It is not known and it would not profit us to know for sure what particular nations now have the same representation as did the Philistines or Moabites or Syrians or Chaldeans with which Israel fought at one time or another. "Yet there are those that do answer to them." (DP 251) "What the quality of the Church is on earth and what the evils are into which it falls and for which it is punished by wars, cannot at all be seen in the natural world." It is now revealed, however, what the nations mentioned in the Word represented. And it is also revealed that "when the sons of Israel, who represented the Church, departed from their commandments and statutes," they were attacked or oppressed by some nation which represented the particular evil into which they had fallen.
For this reason it is well for us to recognize the various evils and persuasions to which Israel was vulnerable. For they are the same ills that infest our spiritual life. And the circumstances under which we are liable to such infestations are clearly described in the story of Israel in human terms such as the revealed doctrine itself cannot employ except when seen refracted against the background of the literal sense of the story.
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One nation which comes to the fore as Israel's main enemy in the time of Saul, Israel's first king, is Philistia. When the twelve tribes, after the initial victories under Joshua, settled in the land, they could only hold the strategic highlands. Under the Judges, the main roads from Egypt along the sea towards Syria were usually patrolled by Philistine mercenaries in Egyptian pay, troops often equipped with horses and chariots and weapons of iron. But in the hill country there were only occasional garrisons of Philistines with which the Hebrews could more easily cope.
In a spiritual sense, the Philistines who were mainly seafarers and fishermen but also cattle men whose herds grazed on the fertile plains along the sea, down to the borders of Egypt represent "the science of cognitions." This expression means the organized science of religious knowledge, which in itself is a necessary function in any living church. It is not enough to read the Word and know its teachings about faith and charity, but the church must organize these knowledges in systematic form, contrasting the truths of the church with the falsities of other beliefs.
Since the Philistines represent such a study of human knowledge about Divine things, it is mentioned in the Word that both Abraham and Isaac sojourned in the land of Philistia when their own pasture lands dried up. (AC 2726, 3365, 3463) It is even stated that the Ancient Church at one time extended to this land which then was occupied by a different people and then signified the science of the interior things of faith. (AC 9340) But gradually the religion of Philistia became perverted.* And we find that they adopted the worship of Daeon, whose image was represented as half man, half fish. (SS 23, AE 700: 22, 817: 10)
In a decadent church, the study of faith is readily turned into an intellectual curiosity and a detached interest in other religions, with a patronizing and outwardly sympathetic view of their possible utility. The Philistines had considerable respect for the God of Israel and for the ark which they captured in battle and prudently returned when its powers became embarrassing; an attitude reminiscent of that of Quakers and of modern university professors who give extensive courses on the history of religions without committing themselves to any definite faith in any. Yet it is also possible that the study of the doctrine of faith will be used as a means of evading the obligations of charity and that pride in one's own religion may breed contempt for others who are less equipped with the means of spiritual progress.
And this latter attitude of spiritual conceit the reliance on faith alone with little thought of charity and tolerance is exemplified in our story when the Philistines came up into the valley of Elah and sent their champion to challenge the forces of Israel whom Saul had gathered to oppose the invasion. This champion was a giant of more than six cubits perhaps about ten feet tall. He was armored like a Greek, with helmet of brass, coat of mail, and shield, and with brazen greaves on his legs. He carried a spear of the size of a weaver's beam, with iron tip. And when he cried out his words of defiance, Saul and all Israel were dismayed. They felt that the Lord was no longer with them.
And in a sense this was true. The prophet Samuel had made it clear that "the Lord had repented that He had made Saul king over Israel." For Saul had not completely or literally followed the Lord's commands. He was still king. But it was made plain that his sons would never inherit the throne.
Although he was a shy and modest youth when chosen, the power of kingship had gone to Saul's head. He was given to headstrong decisions, impulsive actions. Yet he was a true representative of his people. He was the kind of man they could accept tall, handsome, impressive, a real king in appearance.
The spiritual state which is here described is one in which the man of the church has come to mistrust tradition and has turned in something of impatience to the authority of the Word in its literal teachings as the source of strength and leadership, hoping that it will confirm his views; and hoping also for a definite end to mental confusion and what he senses as a spiritual stagnation. And this results in some initial victories. Saul when true to his office evidently represents the Divine truth in the literal sense of the Word; not as it is in itself, but as man sees such truth in that state. And in that state man is concerned with truth largely with a view to his intellectual satisfaction. What appeals to him is the beauty and logic of the truth. He may read about repentance, about charity and worship, about heaven and hell; but his inclination is to apply this new authoritative information in an argumentative, combative way applying the yardstick of truth to measure others, rather than himself. He sees only the surface of the truth. The Divine truth is ever perfect infinite in its scope, all powerful to redeem. But man often sees it shrouded in conflicting appearances, and defends his own misconceptions, thinking that he is doing God service. Even when he reads expositions of its spiritual sense in the Writings, the real spirit of heavenly affections, the message of charity and love, may not deeply touch him.
In such a state man has no weapons with which to fight the Philistine to resist the temptation of sinking into a reliance on "faith alone." Too late, he recognizes how vulnerable he is, how his self-confidence has left him powerless.
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Now we must retrace our steps, in telling the story. For there are still elements of hope in Israel. Not indeed in the camp of Saul. But Samuel still obedient to the Lord is preparing for the future. He goes down to Bethlehem with a horn of sacred oil. The little town of Jesse is frightened, for Samuel is known to be out of favor at the court. He is asked, "Comest thou peaceably?" And he answers that he has come to do a sacrifice. He did not come to foment rebellion or disturb the allegiance of the Bethlehemites. But secretly he takes Jesse apart and asks him to have his seven sons pass before him. Eliab, the eldest, impressed him. But the Lord told him, "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." Finally, when none was chosen, the youngest, David, was called in from the field where he kept the sheep. He was beautiful in countenance, ruddy, and strong. And at the Lord's bidding, Samuel anointed him amidst his brethren. "And the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward."
The anointing was a sign before the heavens, a rite which invited the influx of the heavens and testified to a gradual transfer of representation from Saul to David. It was not a rebellious act, but an act of succession. David, in all respects, remained, like his family, loyally subject to Saul, never lifting up his hand against the Lord's anointed. But it is interesting to note, that while Saul had been anointed when he, bewildered, was looking for his father's straying asses, David was anointed as he came in from watching his father's sheep.
David's usefulness to Saul was soon evidenced. For an evil spirit began to trouble Saul, and his servants had heard that David was a cunning player of the harp. So David was sent for and became Saul's armor-bearer, and when Saul turned morose and moody, David played before him until the evil spirit departed from him.
Apparently David returned to his sheep, and Saul forgot all about him. We may well think of David, watching his flocks, with his harp and shepherd staff beside him, on the very hill slopes where, a thousand years later, other shepherds heard an angelic choir announce the birth of the Savior; think of him meditating, seeping in the simple beauty of the everlasting mountains laden with their legends; noting the hart timidly approaching the water brooks, seeing the sun going forth rejoicing as a bridegroom from the chamber of the clouds; think of him sometimes cowering, hearing Jehovah's voice in the thunderstorm and feeling forsaken and lonely. We may also think of him defending his sheep against bear or mountain lion. For David, all was translated into music and poesy and inspired words which flowed from a heart unspoiled into cadences which untold generations have treasured as a precious heritage, unsurpassed.
Three elder sons of Jesse, in the meantime, had followed Saul to battle. And after some weeks Jesse sent David to the camp with fresh provisions for them including ten cheeses for their captain and to see how they fared. And the father charged he was to be sure to bring back a receipt! So David arrived at the battle lines where Goliath, for forty successive days, had hurled his challenge morning and night. "If any one be able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I . . . kill him, then ye shall be our servants. . . ." David left his provisions with the supply keeper and looked up his brethren. To his brethren's annoyance, he hung around listening to the camp gossip. Saul, it appeared, had promised tax-free wealth and his own daughter in marriage to the man that killed Goliath.
And David, having seen the giant, went around the camp saving, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God !" This finally came to Saul's ears, and David having been sent for offered to fight the Philistine. He explained that he had already, with the Lord's help, killed a lion and a bear single handed, and why not this Philistine? (AE 781:12) Something about the young man's spirit impressed Saul. And Saul armed David with his own armor and helmet and sword. But David put them off for he was not used to heavy, unwieldy weapons. Instead he chose five smooth stones out of the brook, put them in his shepherd's bag, took his sling in hand and approached the cursing Philistine. "Thou comest against me with a sword and shield," David cried, "but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied!" And with this David slung a stone straight at Goliath, so that it sank into his forehead and the champion fell dead upon his face'.
Then the Philistines, dismayed, broke rank and fled before a victorious Israel. David took Goliath's sword, cut off his head and took his armor. And Saul, astounded, asked David whose son he was. And David replied, "The son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite."
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Many have no doubt noticed that the story of David seems like the original of many a nursery tale in which the lonely shepherd boy cuts off the head of the giant, reaps great riches, marries the princess and inherits the kingdom. But the story of David bears all the marks of history, and is told with a detail of local color which only archeologists can appreciate to the full. It even retains some of those apparent inconsistencies which a fictional account characteristically avoids.*
* Compare 1 Samuel 16:21f, 17:58.
Yet David's story is more than history it is part of the Divine Word. It is, in all its details, pregnant with an internal meaning, meant for the illustration of men now and in the unending future. When examined in the light of the Writings, we find it to be a Divine drama of the development of the church and of the opening of the human mind. It reveals the secret of all spiritual victories.
The outstanding fact in the literal story is that Saul, although king in name and a warrior of repute, could win no victory over the Philistines until David entered upon the battle scene. For this we find a historical parallel in the Christian Church. For the Writings point out that when nearing its decline and consummation, the Christian Church, unfaithful to its charge, was turned into a spiritual "Philistia." (AE 1029:18, 817:8, F 49) By this is meant that the Protestant world, where the Word was still being read, turned to the falsity of "faith alone"--the attitude in which doctrine may be studied much but life little, and the religious motive is separated from practical life and it is held that there is no need to shun evils except for ethical reasons of self-respect, but that man is saved by faith alone.
Against this false doctrine, the simple good among Christians had no defense. The Word, understood as it was only in its literal form, was full of obscurities and contradictions. The learned Philistine occupied the pulpit and the professor's chair and allowed no spiritual smiths to forge any weapons to be used in revolt. The church indeed acknowledged as its king the authority of the Bible literally understood. But because genuine doctrine was no longer available in Christendom, only a few general truths could be marshalled to oppose the tenets of "faith alone." The Divine truth of the natural sense of the Word was indeed, like Saul, king in Israel, but its power could not be exerted.
This was the reason why the spiritual freedom of the church could not be restored except through the revelation by the Lord of the spiritual sense of the Word and the giving of the doctrine of genuine truth; thus by a new revelation of spiritual truth by the Lord in His second advent. The Writings of Swedenborg in our historical parallel stand as a David which restores the saving power of the literal sense of the Scripture by slaying the Goliath of "faith alone."
But it is also true that every man of the New Church is, spiritually speaking, a subject of King Saul before he can receive the interior doctrines of the Writings. Whether he is brought up as a Christian in ignorance of the Writings, or whether he as a child was educated within the New Church, it is of order that he should first come into the sphere of the literal sense of Scripture; and it is inevitable that he should be confused and retarded by its obscurities. Yet the Divine truth in its veiled form, as legend, history, commandment, prophecy and biography, must first be accepted as the anointed king, as the Saul who must lead in our battles.
David the internal truth finds its place of leadership in our lives by slow degrees. And its first mission is to restore the power to the literal sense of the Word. This is done by the humbling of that state of intellectual pride of spiritual self-satisfaction which is portrayed by Goliath, the giant of Gath.
Let us note that David, when he steps into the scene, did not seem to be weighed down by the problems which disheartened Saul. He came with a fresh viewpoint, a new, naive perspective. He was not concerned with the strength of the enemy, with armaments and numbers. And it is generally true not only in mathematics but in life that our dilemmas can usually not be solved until we transpose our problems into different terms. David had seen the hand of Omnipotence in wind and flood before which the giants of earth were puny and weak. He had seen a tiny spark kindle into a vast wildfire. He had seen tiny raindrops wearing away the hills. He had caught a lion by the beard and rescued his lamb out of its jaws. He knew that the battle was the Lord's. And were not the people of Israel like the sheep he loved in need of a defender ?
David, in the Word, represents the Lord as to Divine truth. This representation adhered to him from the time of his being anointed. But in particular, he represents spiritual Divine truth, or the truth of the spiritual sense of the Word, the inner spirit of Divine revelation which teaches truth from good, as a shepherd feeds his flock.
The words of the Lord "are spirit and they are life." They have a power to lead men to truth and to the good of life whenever men are willing to see the spirit in which they are spoken. And even in simple states, men can see the life of charity as the real intent of their teachings, even if this is opposed by all the creeds of Christendom and even if the dogma stressing faith alone looms before them as a giant with a spear like a weaver's beam! A giant equipped, from the arsenals of a consummated church, with truths subtly perverted by intricate reasonings, with sharpened phrases of Scripture and with shields of tradition; and even if behind it stand the ordered cohorts of clever confirmations, row by row.
Spiritual truth the truth men come to see in times of spiritual need and in the light of charity, love, and use does not meet confirmation by confirmation or array one set of apparent truths to counter another, one passage of the literal sense against another! For this in such a case is a futile procedure. Our spiritual David instead places the simplicity of the truth against the elaborate complexities of error. He only gathers "five smooth stones from the brook."
Note that these stones were not taken from a desert or from a wall or from a stagnant pool, but from a brook. The selected stones signified truths not of the memory alone, not merely from tradition nor from a persuasive faith; but truths perceived in the Word when this is looked to as a source of living intelligence and inspiration homely truths of common sense rounded out by experience and frequent usage; polished and cleansed by uncounted waves of Divine instruction; truths which belong to the wisdom of a good life, and are collected into the shepherd's bag which we may identify as a personal concept of charity.
Such truth is not mere sentimentality. It is militant, powerful against falsities of evil, penetrating to the very head and principle of falsity; more effective than a whole artillery of theological learning based on a literalistic and pedantic interpretation of the Word. And it cannot be reached by the sword of the Philistine.
And against such truth the enemy cannot stay to fight, but the battle resolves itself into headlong, disorderly flight and pursuit. The ancient practice of battle by chosen champions was derived from a law of the spiritual world where societies in heaven and in hell act through subject spirits into whom each society centers its influx. When an evil subject spirit is judged in the world of spirits and sent back to his associates, the hell which he represented is also punished and for a season deprived of power to act.
It is said that David took Goliath's own sword and cut off the head of the giant, and stripped his armor and put this in his tent for future use. For the armament of falsity is truth taken from the Word, and can therefore be reclaimed for better use. But the head of Goliath had to be cut off for it represented the carefully guarded love of self, with its persuasion of godlike immunity to error.
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One more incident throws light on the representation of David. For it is said that when Saul had talked with David, "the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." So great was Jonathan's devotion to David, who was considerably younger, that the two entered a solemn covenant of friendship. Jonathan took off his robe and garments and gave them to David together with his sword and bow and girdle. The two became inseparable friends while David was kept at the court of Saul. It is easy to see why the young prince should become so fond of David, whom he could well regard as an equal in courage, one worthy of love. Indeed, David, whose name means "Beloved," seems to have inspired both love and hero-worship. Jonathan, in the isolation which his royal station brought with it, was in need of a friend. His father was a moody man with a dangerous temper whose consciousness of weakness made him suspicious and touchy about his dignity, and was not the kind of father to invite confidences. The relations of Jonathan and his father had been strained ever since Saul had nearly put his son to death for inadvertently disobeying one of his thoughtless orders. (I Sam. 14)
But there were deeper reasons why it is said that Jonathan loved David "as his own soul." For David represents the Divine truth of the internal sense of the Word, and this is the very soul of what Jonathan represents. Saul stands for the literal sense of the Word, especially as to the obscurities and veiled truths therein which often confuse the natural mind; but Jonathan, the valiant hero of Israel, stands for that genuine truth which plainly shines out nakedly from the letter as the very essence of the Biblical teaching. Such genuine truths are compared in the Writings to the naked hands and face of a man who is otherwise robed in dark garments. It is these naked truths of salvation seen in the literal sense of the Word which at times can lead even the simple to victory over their spiritual enemies. And the simple good also prevent such open truths from being condemned; even as it was the people who rescued Jonathan from being put to death by his father for unknowingly disobeying his command. (I Sam. 14)
This genuine or naked truth of the letter is indeed the form in which the spiritual sense the essential doctrine of heaven shines through, like the soul of man manifests itself in the face. Therefore David was, in the representative sense, as Jonathan's very soul. And for this reason it is also told that Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him, and his other garments, and gave them to David!
David had refused to wear the armor of Saul; he tested it but put it off, for he could not use it in his kind of battle. But he did not refuse Jonathan's armor. The spiritual sense and its truths of love and charity receive both power and sanctity by assuming the garments which the plain, clear passages of Scripture provide for its expression. When the Writings of the Second Advent were written and the internal sense was disclosed, its doctrine was amply confirmed from genuine truths gathered from the Biblical Word. David assumed the garments and weapons of Jonathan, and was thus prepared to be acknowledged, even by Jonathan himself, as the real heir the future king of the land. (AE 395: 5, 7)
And it is by this mode of exposition, which the Writings exemplify, that each new truth is crowned and confirmed within the church. Each spiritual truth from the revealed doctrine must be arrayed in the robes of Jonathan, confirmed by the open teachings of the literal sense of the Word, lest there be a question as to its right to legitimate succession. By Jonathan's loving consent, and eventually by Saul's own recognition, David was to become king of Israel.