Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


Previous: 2. David Against Goliath Up: Saul, David and Solomon Next: 4. David As Outlaw

3. David's Flight

The Heavenly Doctrine reveals that a man cannot enter into interior or spiritual uses until he has been tested by states of temptation and anxiety. There is of course a parallel to this in every human achievement. Nothing of importance is ever accomplished without its cost in hardship, training and labor, and in mental turmoil and moments of despair.

In the Word, this is brought out with special emphasis in the story of David. And in an inmost sense the life of the Lord on earth is therein described, especially as to the temptations which the Lord suffered. These temptations are also the subject of the internal sense of the many psalms in which David pours out the anguish of his heart. But in an applied sense, the story of David inwardly describes the spiritual development of the human mind while it is being regenerated by the Lord and while its spiritual degree is being opened through a desire to perform spiritual uses of charity.

The early life of David was not especially marked by tribulations. From a shepherd boy he was after Samuel had anointed him briefly taken into royal favor as a minstrel at the court. Later he came into prominence as the slayer of Goliath, and lived at court as a bosom friend of Jonathan and an attendant upon king Saul. "Saul set him over the men of war" the royal body-guard. He was accepted in the sight of all the people and all Saul's servants. And when the army again returned victorious under his leadership, new honors were heaped upon him by the women of the towns they passed through. For these met king Saul with music and dance and as they sang they used the refrain, "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands!"

Then Saul's jealousy was aroused; and the next day "the evil spirit from God came upon Saul and he prophesied in the midst of the house." And as David played his harp before him, Saul cast his javelin at him so that it stuck in the wall. David was not harmed. But the more prudently David behaved the more Saul was afraid of him, realizing now that the Lord was with David. So the king used subtlety. He married off his older daughter, Merab, after promising her to David. But he offered David the younger daughter, Michal, if he would kill a hundred Philistines. For Saul thought that surely David would perish in the attempt.

Now Michal had fallen in love with the young hero, and David fulfilled the king's conditions with eagerness. The two were married, and David's popularity rose even higher.

Saul's decision that David should be slain became an obsession. Although Jonathan made his father swear not to order his death, Saul again tried to pierce him to the wall as he was playing. And when David fled to his home, Saul sent messengers to slay him in the morning. Michal found this out and persuaded her husband to flee. She let him down through a window and laid an image presumably an idol ("teraphim") in the bed, and padded it with goat's hair and covered it with a cloth. To the messengers she pretended that he was sick. But Saul commanded that he be brought bed and all; and the ruse was discovered. Michal excused herself to Saul, saying that David had threatened her.

Thus David was plunged into a crucible of temptations which were to test him for more than physical prowess. He was to be tested for loyalty, patience, prudence, and endurance. He was to taste the bitterness of persecution, and of the loss of home, of wife, of friends, and of possessions.

Yet David was protected as by an invisible shield of love. In this we may see something of his spiritual representation, as it applies to man's regeneration. For he represents that spiritual truth which springs from the desire to learn the secrets of genuine charity, the love to see and to serve the real good of the neighbor and of the community. Spiritual truth is more than the mere knowledge of the doctrine of charity. It is the perception which only a love of the doctrine can give. It is based in a profound trust in the Lord.

Saul also represents truth, indeed truth which is vested with Divine authority and is acknowledged as "king" in a way that the truth called "David" is not, in the state of mind here described. The truth called "Saul" is truth such as man sees when the Word is viewed superficially, and recognized by various natural affections as confirming one's faith. In its literal sense, the Scripture contains much that is pleasing to the natural man. The letter seems to say that good works ought to be done that one may have recompense in heaven. It seems to say that the men of the Church are a chosen people, specially favored. It seems to show that God can be angry, can repent, can send evil as if in revenge. It seems to show that God can be swayed by prayers or promises. It seems to show that one must give to any one who asks, without discrimination, and that one must not resist the evil, nor judge anyone. All such teachings find a responsive chord in man's heart if they flatter his self-respect or his opinions, or if they mark out an easy escape from responsibility. He takes them as his authority and justification. Yet in other moods, he might find, in the letter of Scripture, the very opposite teachings: at least, they appear opposite, although actually they are complementary and often explanatory. And because they are not really opposite, and because they are truths in the form of human appearances, the church is warned that "in so far as they are from the literal sense of the Word" such doctrinal things are not to be denied, but explained in the light of doctrine which is formed by a comparison of passages. (AC 3436, 9025, 7233:3) And it is made plain that "the sense of the letter, understood in simplicity, does no harm to any spiritual truth which is in heaven." (AE 914:3)

But the concepts men form from the sense of the letter of the Word can be perverted and misused, if, instead of being understood in simplicity, the literal teachings are made the excuse for evil; and then the appearances of the letter rise up in the mind as if suspicious and jealous of the spiritual perceptions which interpret and seem to nullify the faith in these appearances and suggest that eventually a more interior concept of truth will take their place.

It is important that we recognize that in the course of a man's regeneration there arises in his mind much distress due to an unavoidable rivalry between two concepts of the truth. One is a natural concept, the other is a spiritual concept. Both are derived from Divine revelation. And this rivalry between truth and truth is what makes the very essence of those spiritual temptations which are inevitable before man as he is constituted today can be made spiritual.

It should here be understood that men can be reformed and saved without undergoing that kind of temptation. Those who are in the good of obedience, and those who are reformed by combats against obvious evils and falsities, and confirm something of religious faith without investigation, may gain a place in the entrance-courts of the kingdom of heaven without such spiritual temptations. (AC 8974-8977) But for the establishment within man of a conscience of spiritual truth, a love of seeing and doing the things which the doctrine of charity teaches, there must precede certain apparent conflicts such as are described in the Word by the relations of Saul and David.

There is no effort made in the sacred text to disguise the faults, the narrowness and rankling envy of Saul. Despite these faults of Saul, David invested him with an almost superstitious sanctity, that of "the Lord's anointed." For quite aside from Saul's personal degeneracy, he was still king. Spiritually, he represented "truth Divine defending the church" and particularly the natural truth Divine in the literal sense as this is received within the church. David therefore never threatened the office of Saul, even as spiritual truth never acts against natural truth, but serves to inspire it.

But as was shown, natural truths from a literal view of the Word can be turned into an excuse for evil. (For instance, the description of God as angry and as giving cruel commands can be used as justification for man's cruelties.) This is represented when it is said that "an evil spirit" came upon Saul. Then David was brought to the court and played on his harp, "and Saul was refreshed and was well and the evil spirit departed from him." That harmonious music has a soothing effect even on the evil spirits which attend a man, is indicated repeatedly in the Spiritual Diary (1996ff 2090, 2108, 2231, 2403). But with Saul, it was not the music by itself which had this result, but the fact that David's harp signified "confession of the Divine Human from spiritual truths" (AR 276) or from the spiritual affection of truth, which is charity. (AE 323: 12) The reading of the literal sense in the light of heaven which is invited by such affection, restores the genuine sense and purpose of the text and removes the misapprehensions and falsities which distort it into a confirmation of evil. And it is therefore added that Saul, in the beginning, loved David greatly.

But the evils of man's proprium are not easily removed or softened by the sense of harmony that is aroused when spiritual affections inflow. The evils return with greater force when the understanding of the natural man feels that his opinions and his vanity are slighted. He then impatiently sees the truths about charity and forbearance as obstacles in his path, and is filled with anger at the glaring fact that spiritual progress is impossible unless he views truths as a means of charity and love. He is unwilling to sacrifice the prestige of his former conceptions of duty, and is averse to enter upon a deeper repentance. And so, even as Saul sought to slay David with a javelin, man in desperation seeks to kill his higher and more tender perception the perception that truth must be interpreted from charity.

The state here described is not one of confirmed evil, but of temptation. Not only are there a Saul and a David within our mind, but also a Jonathan and a Michal, who seek to protect their beloved David. Jonathan, whose love for David exceeded that of man for woman, yea, who loved him as his own soul, represents those clear and genuine truths of doctrine which shine out from the literal sense of the Word, and as it were mediate between the letter of the Word and the spiritual sense. And Michal, the younger daughter of Saul, stands for a genuine affection of truth, albeit an affection of natural origin.

It might be surprising that Michal, representing a natural affection, should become married to David who represents spiritual truth. Yet it is told us that this is the manner and mode of the heavenly marriage of good and truth within the mind. The good affection which is born from a sincere acceptance of the commandments of God in their natural sense is open to receive and cherish the spiritual truths that belong to the spiritual sense. This natural affection is in turn exalted and elevated by this conjunction, and is made spiritual. (Cf AC 3952)

Michal becomes the bride of David. And with wifely prudence she conceals his flight letting the living David down through a window while she presents his would-be executioners with his lifeless image!

David escapes. He was actually beyond the power of Saul to hurt. For the inner essence of truth the spirit of the truth, with its implication of charity and wise patience escapes the comprehension of the natural man, and survives even the misinterpretations and falsities which man's evil moods marshal against it.

David escapes, offering no opposition. The perception of interior or spiritual truth does not oppose the literal truth. It does not urge to be received. It has unending patience, it awaits its time. It can do nothing unless freely accepted in the mind. Indeed, it must mature and develop its strength in secret, in the inner depths of the mind, and he formed at last into a spiritual conscience, a spiritual degree within the rational mind, before it can assert its rule over the natural man and supercede the more external conscience represented by the house of Saul.

In a sense this is true of the spiritual truths of the Word revealed as doctrine for the New Church. Such spiritual truths cannot at once supercede the natural concepts of the Christian world concepts derived from a literal understanding of Scripture, concepts often turned as hostile arguments against the spiritual teachings of the Writings. The dragon of "faith alone," with its chilling breath, waits to devour the Heavenly Doctrine, which is therefore caught up to God in heaven, while the church is forced to flee to a secret place in the wilderness, where it will remain among a few, for a time and times and half a time. (Rev. 12)

The concepts of spiritual charity cannot come into their own except by slow degrees and after many temptations. They will apparently retire withdraw before the pressures of worldly states. They must mature in patience, and in this patience, wisdom is born.

And as with the church as a whole, so with the individual who is being regenerated. But in order to see the story of David in its application to the regenerating man, it is necessary first to review some of the teachings about the degrees of the human mind.

* * *

The Writings reveal that man's mind contains many levels like the stories of a house, each with its hidden corners, its secret chambers and unconscious furnishings. First we have the Memory, the lowest degree, which we continually use in our conscious thinking, but which also contains a wealth of "forgotten" things. Then there is the Imagination, wherein we re-combine our remembered knowledge into a living imagery which pleases our shifting affections and interests, and which serves as the workshop of our arts and skills. And above this there is the Rational, the proper realm of reflective thought which working by laws beyond our scrutiny is occupied in analyzing and sifting our experience and our mental states and in freely choosing and formulating the abstract principles which shall rule over our lives and determine our dominant character.

Even in the light of natural experience and introspection, men can come to acknowledge these three levels of the mind the Memory, the Imagination, and the Rational. For they belong to the natural mind which we consciously use in this world. But the Writings reveal that there are certain more interior levels or degrees within the mind which the world knows nothing of. They are described as degrees within or above the Rational.

It is in the Rational that a man's spiritual character is determined, and his rational therefore takes on new qualities when he is being reformed and regenerated. In it is formed, first of all, a conscience of what is just and right, based on the truths he accepts from the literal sense of the Word, from the general teachings of the church, and from the moral truths of society around him. From this conscience the quality of obedience to truths is gradually imposed on man's natural rational, and it becomes a plane into which the good spirits of the lowest or natural heaven can inflow with various delights.

The interiors of the Rational are, however, not opened except through the spiritual truths of the internal sense of the Word, and by the new love of uses which the Writings variously describe as "love to the neighbor from love to the Lord," or "charity," or "spiritual love," or as the "spiritual affection of truth." Spiritual truths can of course be known to any one, in the form of revealed statements in the Writings. But a conscience of spiritual truth is built up only when there is forgetfulness of self It is built up within the Rational as it were in secret, as a new will, a new motivation on which man scarcely reflects. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the spirit." (John 3:8) The kingdom of God the spiritual degree of the mind is like seed which springs up, "man knoweth not how." (Mark 4:27)

We are therefore told that a regenerating man is not conscious, not aware, of the opening of the spiritual mind, the spiritual rational, within him. (DLW 252) And we are also instructed that when the evils and falsities of the natural mind muster up natural conceptions of truth into their service, and the state of the natural rational is shaken by evil spheres, then "the spiritual mind contracts itself" draws back "as a fibril of the body does at the touch of a sharp point." (AE 739:3)

* * *

It is this retreat of the tender and sensitive perceptions of spiritual charity before the aggressions of a disorderly world, that is described by David's flight from Saul. Such perceptions withdraw into the depths of the mind beyond thought and reflection, into the realm of other "remains" of more infantile or childish good which in a sphere of innocence are also preserved, as it were awaiting a future opportunity when the mind has fought out its more external issues and has returned into a less callous state, when love and enlightenment can perhaps come into their own.

And where, then, should David flee, if not to Samuel, his spiritual father, who dwelt in Ramah with a company of prophets. For Samuel had himself withdrawn from the political life of the kingdom, although still exercising a deep religious influence. It may have occurred to David that he also would do well to give up the cares and perils of a public career which he had never really sought, and "devote himself with his musical and poetical gifts to the prophetical office."*

* Cited from A. P. Stanley, The Jewish Church, New York 1871, vol. 2, page 65.

But Saul gave him no choice. He sent his agents up to take David. Yet now there intervened one of those strange happenings which could only take place in an oriental or primitive society. The messengers of Saul, when they saw the company of prophets prophesying, Samuel at their head, were themselves seized with prophetic rapture. This happened with three successive groups of Saul's guards. And when, in anger, Saul himself arrived, the Spirit of God came upon him also, and he stripped himself and lay down naked for a day and a night!

Perhaps we shall never understand exactly what was meant by this kind of "prophesying" to which Saul was especially prone. Undoubtedly it was a form of bodily obsession by spirits who compelled their subjects to act out in a symbolic drama a prediction of the future or a representation of some spiritual state. In Saul's case, he was compelled to strip off his royal garments, to signify that his royal powers, to which he was clinging jealously long after his usefulness had passed, were to be taken from him. His humiliation was complete and the proverb ran the rounds in Israel, "Is Saul also among the prophets ?"

But in his spiritual representation as truth from the literal sense of the Word, Saul could not refuse to testify of the spiritual truth Divine which is its inner message, and strip off those garments of appearances which seem at times to oppose the Spirit which compelled its writing.

David, who represented the truth which man acquires from a spiritual affection by the opening of the spiritual degree of his conscience, was truly inviolate. For such truth finds sanctuary in the holy places of the mind where evil cannot penetrate. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of Omnipotence," wrote David in his psalter. "In time of trouble shall he hide me in His pavilion, in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me." Of those that fear the Lord he wrote: "Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man. Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." (Ps. 91:1, 27:5, 31:20) The conscious thought of man, with the clamor of worldly states such as affect the natural rational, cannot invade the interiors of the rational mind the lodging place of remains, the spiritual degree of the mind. Neither can man measure the discretely interior good and truth, the spiritual love and wisdom, which are stored up in his spiritual mind. All this is hidden "from the pride of man."

* * *

But it was not intended that the remains of good and truth, and the truths of spiritual conscience, should have no influx into the natural mind. And we therefore read that David secretly sought out Jonathan, as an intermediary, to determine Saul's intentions. For strange to say, the king in his heart had a love and respect for David which his obsessive jealousy and violent spells of madness at times drowned out. Like many oriental despots, he expected obedience even from those whom he had openly marked for death. And we find that for the. feast of the new moon, Saul reserved a place at his table for David, beside Jonathan and Abner. Knowing no doubt that Jonathan had seen David, he marked with displeasure that David's place was empty two days in succession although he was in the neighborhood. When Jonathan makes excuses for David, Saul accuses his son: "I know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion ... As long as he lives . . . thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom . . ." And when Jonathan refuses to betray David, the king casts a javelin at him.

Then Jonathan, by the strange, symbolic method of shooting an arrow beyond the lad who attended to his weapons, signals David that the king has decided on his death. It is because of Jonathan's representation as the genuine truth of doctrine, that he is so often associated with the mention of a bow and arrows. (Cf. 2 Sam. 1 : 22) Jonathan and David then say a tearful farewell, Jonathan having made a covenant of friendship with the house of David, whom he recognized as Saul's successor.

And so David starts upon his life as a hunted outlaw to hide in the mountains. His adventures describe the further temptations by which the regenerating man must gain in strength and wisdom. For at length David must conquer Saul by a power mightier than the sword overcome the very heart of the soul-sick king by the power of loyalty, of forgiveness, of generous and self-effacing charity.

Previous: 2. David Against Goliath Up: Saul, David and Solomon Next: 4. David As Outlaw


Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com