It is in the nature of man to err, to sin; and the Lord, from Divine mercy, continually forgives. Yet sin has its consequences which even the Lord cannot annul. He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind. Sin leaves its marks upon the sinner even after repentance; and in its train lies ruin for others also. Each sin hatches a brood of other evils seemingly unconnected yet interiorly bound up into a chain of events which follow the inescapable logic of retribution.
The latter half of David's reign illustrates this law. For David falls into the grievous sins of adultery and murder. The reverent reader of the Scripture to whom David had stood as a model of charity and piety and nobility, is shocked to find that his hero has feet of common clay. The New Church man, although knowing that the faults in David's personal character do not prevent his representing the spiritual conscience of man and, in the prophetic sense, even the Lord Himself in the flesh, may still be at a loss to understand how the heinous crimes and cruelties of David and his family could find a place in this lofty representation.
For we cannot belittle David's sins, which are related in the Hebrew record with characteristic candor.
At the time of year when kings go forth to battle, King David sent Joab and his army to finish the war against Ammon; but he himself stayed behind in Jerusalem. And one evening as he was walking on the roof of his palace, he saw a beautiful woman bathing in a nearby garden. And finding that it was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite who was away in the wars, he had her brought to the house. And later the woman sent word to him that she was with child. David, hoping to cover up his trespass, sent for the husband on a pretext and tried to make him drunk, but Uriah returned to the army without seeing his wife. And David then ordered Joab to place Uriah in the forefront of the battle so that he would be killed.
Uriah, whose self-restraint and high sense of discipline and duty were thus rewarded with death, was a Hittite. The Hittites were among the better of the inhabitants of Canaan, a "well disposed nation." (AC 2913)
After Bathsheba had completed her mourning for her husband, she became David's wife. "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord."
And the Lord sent Nathan the prophet unto David. And Nathan told the well-remembered parable of the rich man who had abundant flocks, but who, when entertaining a traveller, took the ewe-lamb of a poor man and killed it and dressed it for his guest; although the ewe-lamb was the poor man's only possession, which grew up as his children's pet and was unto him as a daughter. On hearing this, the king's official sense of justice was kindled, and he cried out, "As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this shall surely die, and restore the lamb fourfold . . . because he had no pity!" And Nathan said, "Thou art the man!"
The Lord "put away" David's sin. But the child that was born to David and Bathsheba would die; and the sword would never depart from his house. The Lord would raise up evil against David out of his own house, and his wives would be dishonored before all Israel.
David confessed that he had sinned. And when the child became sick he lay fasting on the earth for seven days, praying to avert the death of the child. His agony of penitence is pictured in the fifty-first psalm, where he pleads with the Lord to create in him a clean heart and to renew a firmer spirit within him.
The child died. In time Bathsheba gave him another son. who was named Solomon and also Jedidiah ("beloved of Jehovah").
But David's heart was not cleansed. For when at last Joab had captured the city of Rabbah in Ammon, David was not satisfied with the golden crown and the other spoil of Ammon, but put the inhabitants to death with unmentionable tortures.
It was a peculiar quality of the Israelites that they could abase themselves utterly before the Lord with deep confession of their sins and be in a holy external during their worship, yet cherish within the lusts of enmity and revenge, avarice and contempt for others. The psalms of David, if read only as to their literal implications, show not only these contradictory features, but also the self-righteousness of David who again and again avers that he has kept all the precepts. It is also evident that there could be no love truly conjugial where the love was divided among many wives and concubines, and no concept of the eternity of marriage existed. Yet there was a powerful love of tribe and family, and of offspring, especially of the sons who were to perpetuate and defend the tribe.
David had many sons. And it was one of his weaknesses that he could not bear to disappoint them or inflict pain on them, even when they should have been corrected and punished. He loved them, not according to their virtues, but because they were of his own flesh. This, as well as the fact that they had different mothers, became the cause of dissension and domestic tragedy.
Thus it came about that his son Absalom treacherously slew Amnon, a half-brother, for violating Tamar, Absalom's sister, and then brutally casting her off. King David became heartbroken at an incorrect report that Absalom had slain all his brethren. Absalom then fled to his mother's father, the king of Geshur, in Syria. But David longed to have him back willing to pardon. And after three years Joab, seeing David's longing for his son, secured permission to bring him back. Indeed Joab copied Nathan's method, of using a parable, getting a wise woman to ask the king's counsel about how to save her son who had slain his brother. So Absalom came back to Jerusalem, but was not permitted to see David's face. Then after two years Absalom set Joab's field afire, and so forced Joab to secure him an audience and full reconciliation.
All now seemed well. But Absalom was ambitious, and harbored a hidden contempt for his father. He began to use flattery and intrigue, sitting at the gate of the palace and showing interest in the cause of any one from the provinces who came to the king's court with a petition, asking them where they came from and insinuating that it was too bad that the king was so busy; if he were judge he would have time for seeing that they received justice. He behaved most democratically, shaking people's hands and kissing them, in the manner of a clever politician. And so he "stole the hearts of the men of Israel."
Absalom was a charming man, none so praised for his beauty. "From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him." His hair was long and heavy, and when he polled his hair at the year's end it weighed two hundred shekels!
Forty years had passed since David was anointed. Absalom, on a pretext, gained royal permission to go to Hebron in fulfilment of a vow. He took with him two hundred men who were quite innocent of his real purpose. But now he sent his agents all over Israel and gathered his conspirators together, and sounded the trumpet for a rebellion.
The conspiracy was so strong that the king had to flee with his loyalists and six hundred of his household troops from Jerusalem, leaving only his ten concubines to keep his palace. Amidst the lamentations of the populace they passed over the brook Kidron, headed for the wilderness. The priests Zadok and Abiathar and the Levites took with them the ark of God. But David ordered them to go back with the ark, and await his further orders. And Hushai, David's friend, was ordered to get into Absalom's confidence in order to subvert his schemes.
And as David went up Mount Olivet, barefoot and weeping, with covered head, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth, Jonathan's lame son, passed him to go up to Jerusalem, and added to David's sorrow by falsely pretending that Mephibosheth was now plotting to be restored to Saul's throne! Shimei, a man of Saul's family, went along by the wayside, cursing David, pelting him with stones and mud; but David told his soldiers to let the man alone; it was as nothing to one whose own son wished to kill him; it was only another affliction sent by the Lord.
When Absalom came to Jerusalem, he invaded David's harem and set out to disgrace his father in every way. And if Hushai had not defeated better counsel, David's little army would have been wiped out before it crossed Jordan into Gilead. But in Mahanaim in Gilead, David was given supplies for his people and began to organize an army under Joab, Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite. His men convinced him that he must not go out with his army. And when finally the decisive battle was near, he asked his captains, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom!"
Yet when the battle was joined it was a scattered combat in the oak forest of Gilead, in which "the wood devoured more people than the sword". Absalom was riding on a mule, and his head with its beautiful hair was caught in the gnarled branches of an oak and he was left hanging "between heaven and earth"! Joab, told of this, took three darts and thrust them through the rebel leader's heart. Then Joab blew the trumpet to hold back his people from pursuing the fleeing Israelites; and Absalom was buried in a pit under a pile of stones.
The news of victory came to David. But his only question was, "Is the young man Absalom safe?" And the answer was, "May all the enemies of my lord the king ... be as that young man is!" Inconsolable, and weeping, David sought his chamber, moaning, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
The people walked about shamefaced, despite the victory. It was only when Joab had upbraided the king with loving his enemies and hating his friends, that he arose to sit in the gate.
And now there came a strange reversal in the feelings of the nation. There was much strife and discussion, but there was growing realization of David's greatness. The tribes of Israel the northern tribes were first to bring his restoration about, but later Judah came to conduct him in triumph over Jordan. The king not only declared a general amnesty and reconciliation, but he deposed Joab and as an act of confidence chose Amasa, Absalom's captain, as chief of his army. He forgave Shimei, who had cursed him on his flight. He restored half the property of Mephibosheth who had been falsely accused.
But despite these gestures of friendship to Israel, they were jealous because the tribe of Judah had first brought the king back to Jerusalem. Sheba, a Benjamite, raised Israel into revolt. Amasa, the new general, assembled the men of Judah, but was tardy, and so Abishai, Joab's brother, was first to take the field. Joab caught up with Amasa and treacherously murdered him. And then the two brothers pursued after Sheba, and besieged him in a town in Naphtali. Joab was about to destroy the town, when a wise woman found out that what the attackers really wanted was Sheba. Then the town's people threw Sheba's head over the wall, and Joab now again the head of Israel's hosts returned to the king at Jerusalem.
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Why are such evils given prominence in the Word of the Lord, which is the most precious inheritance of mankind, and the window through which heaven is to shine? Why must even David, the beloved, the hero and the poet, interpreter of some of the heart's deepest emotions and most sublime hopes, be portrayed as besmirched with the grossest vice and shown up as weak and sinful ?
The answer lies in the doctrine that "in the internal sense of the Word the Lord's whole life is described such as it was in the world, even as to the perceptions and the thoughts . . . and how by successive steps He put off the human and put on the Divine." (AC 2523) And the story of David, from the time of his first trespass to the time when he returned from exile, abased in his own sight, acquainted with the grief that was born of irreparable sin, is but a segment of the story of how the Lord put off His mortal inheritance.
It is against the background of his experience of human frailty and suffering, that we must see David, if in him we shall recognize the prophetic type and representative of the Christ that was to come! of the Lord in His assumed human, born as the Son of God but also as the son of David, and hailed in scorn as "king of the Jews!" of the Lord, born of woman, carrying the iniquities of us all in the inheritance of borrowed flesh!
Who accuseth Him of sin this "Lamb of God" which carried the sins of the world only that He might take them away? Although His assumed flesh was charged with the propensities of all the hells and the inclinations of all the kings of Judah, not the least of such perversity entered the will of the Lord in His Human, or into His own purpose. But to subjugate and order the hells, the Lord had to become increasingly aware of the nature of His maternal heredity, and in the course of the growth of His own proper mind, He unceasingly studied the consequences which would result if the connate lusts of man should but for a moment rule.
The Lord, different from all men, had a perfect "perceptive sensation and knowledge" of all things that were taking place in the world of spirits and in the heavens. (AC 1791, 1786) He could therefore scrutinize the tendencies of fallen man and measure the forces of evil and probe their origins and their paths of influx from the spiritual world, observing how they approached man in enticing disguises and gradually unfolded their destructive nature. And this Divine study cannot be conceived as an abstract process. For it plunged the Lord's human consciousness into the very midst of the hells, making the Lord's external mind the burning focal point and arena wherein the evils of all past generations were reenacted in grimmest realism, as their inner challenge and their deepest potentialities were revealed. It cast the Lord's mind into a state of temptation and suffering, keen beyond compare.
The power of the hells does not consist in evil alone or in the inborn lusts of the flesh; but in their seizing upon the ideas which man regards as true and perverting these truths to excuse and thus to confirm evil. In the Jewish Church, the truths thus perverted were from the Hebrew Word itself, Divinely inspired holy truths containing the very laws of heaven but mostly veiled in the symbolism of correspondential language. But even those truths of the letter of Scripture which were least veiled such as the ten commandments had in the Jewish Church been distorted and abused.
The profane conjunction of evil with simple, external truth is in reality a form of spiritual adultery, which brings with it internal perversions, spiritual violence, spiritual death, spiritual rebellion. And it was the propensity of the human inherited from Mary the mother to such evils, that the Lord, from His Divine insight, discovered as a tendency innate in His assumed flesh. He saw that so far as any truths entered His mind the inherited human from Mary would seize upon them to pervert them. And this danger, Divinely foreseen, was pictured before His mind as the internal meaning within the sacred narrative concerning David's weakness and fall. For David at this point represents the Lord in His assumed human, and thus as to the maternal heredity. Therefore David, in the fifty-first psalm, cries out in his despair, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother warm me."
The supreme contents of the narrative describing David's sin thus involves what the Lord saw within the maternal inheritance which He bore; and it involves a stage in the glorification of His Human through temptations, the temptations to which truth Divine was subjected. All the hells concentrated to induce the idea that the Lord was Himself identical with His assumed Human and responsible for its potential evils and the falsities these evils could engender; or, obversely, that the Divine was responsible for the evils of mankind permitted by virtue of man's freedom. The hells sought to immerse the Lord's human mind into the despair that because such was the heredity of man, there could be no redemption, no salvation for our race.
And from Divine truth, if separated, the race stood indeed condemned. Yet from the union of Divine truth with Divine good, there came consolation, forgiveness after repentance, and thus a restoration through mercy. And this is pictured in the sense of the letter when it is shown how David, though repentant, had to bear the consequences of his grievous sins and see the degeneracy and rebellion of his offspring and the secession of his people, yet, mellowed by sufferings, was forgiven of God and restored to his kingdom. By the searching light of Divine truth the evil gnawing at the heart of the world could be exposed and clearly seen as evil. Its disguises torn away, it would be pressed to work for its own defeat. Then the Divine truth could show the way to the Divine love. And by the union of Divine truth and Divine love, the Human of the Lord would be glorified and revealed as the Divine Human.
* * *
The Divine foresight involved in the story of David extends also to show the means and stages by which the Lord can open the spiritual degree of a regenerating man's mind, by the affection of truth for its own sake. In the first stage of such spiritual rebirth, man's state resembles that of David, innocent and fearless, who could not rest until the ark of God was restored in its tent on Mount Zion, and who danced for joy as it was brought into Jerusalem. But it is told in the Writings, that "the good of truth cannot for long remain pure" with the man of the spiritual church. For it is modified and in the natural mind sullied by enjoyments which spring from the desires of the proprium. (AC 8487)
These impure delights rise up into the rational, and defile and confuse its perception, so that man's conscience is covered over by what is spurious from the natural man. The David of spiritual good no longer rules in such states. But another David, subject to the alluring desires of the senses, takes its place; a David who no longer leads his people in the war against evil.
All evil is some form or consequence of spiritual adultery. Even as natural adultery means any trespass done from a loathing for the true state of marriage, so spiritual adultery springs from an aversion to the marriage of good with truth, and seeks to avoid the consistent life of religious duty. It is a disorder within the relations of one's affections and perceptions. It allows self-indulgence and lust to take the place of conscience; it secretly permits the simple truth to be killed off, and turns the affection for such truth into a harlot: even as David caused Uriah, the simple, loyal soldier, to be slain, and his wife seduced.
Spiritual adultery, when described in abstract terms, does not appear as abhorrent as natural adultery. The reason is that it is present in the proprium of every man. Indeed it is told that man is born into the love of spiritual adultery. (AE 984:3) Yet it is discovered only when man's spiritual conscience has become awakened as if by a prophet's voice, the voice of Nathan, when David, repenting, is restored and granted a new heart and a firm spirit. It is then seen as to its true nature; for it leads inevitably to spiritual murder, to self-deception and shame, to the death of the spiritual children of the mind, to unspeakable mental cruelties, to profane, unlawful relations among a man's thoughts and affections. And eventually its consequences are seen to result in a spiritual rebellion, in which the spirit of the Word of God is reviled and the rule of the conscience of spiritual truth is overthrown.
Some such chain of spiritual disasters comes from every unholy connection between evil affections and false ideas. From such spiritual adultery the evils with man become actual and thus also handed on to posterity as hereditary inclinations. The prevalence of such spiritual adultery is the cause why there is no longer much internal resistance to natural adultery in the Christian world.
There is something final and irrevocable about natural adultery. It closes heaven to man. But spiritual adultery, which is within the mind, can, in many of its forms, be amended. (De Conj. 93) The trespass of David, callously committed, seems unforgivable. Yet in the Biblical account David is said to have been forgiven by the Lord; the reason being that in the spiritual sense, his sin represented a spiritual adultery, or a perversion of an affection of simple truth through the seduction of a strong and prevalent concupiscence. It signified a state which repentance could cure. There are many perversions in the mind which man has not discovered, and so cannot shun. And there are children of our brain born out of due time which of mercy die, despite our misguided entreaties.
And Bathsheba was reclaimed from adultery into honorable marriage, to become the mother of Solomon the wise.
* * *
Where a spiritual adultery has possessed the mind, and the vigilance of conscience is relaxed, a brood of evils follows. The incest of Amnon signifies a state where there is an acknowledgment of charity without any shunning of the evils of life.
Even a merely moral standard is outraged by such spiritual hypocrisy. It is condemned by purely ethical standards, such as are now so prevalent in the world. Many ethical movements exalt the moral precepts in the Bible, both the second table of the Decalogue and the moral teachings of Christ. But they voice utter contempt for the idea that the Word is holy because it has an internal sense inspired from God.
Thus Absalom killed Amnon, even as modern ethics contemptuously condemn the hypocritical phases of religious life. But Absalom goes further, plotting to obtain the kingdom.
Sneaking spiritually, we see all around us this rebellion of Absalom. The effort is being made to create a religion for this world alone a religion which takes the literal sense of the Bible not as inspired of God but as the beautiful literary record of man's increasing intuitions a history of moral perceptions, a literary masterpiece. which, when stripped of its superstitious trappings, its talk of miracles and an after-life, can be of value to our more enlightened age in constructing a more pleasant though less permanent paradise than God could ever invent!
This new Absalom is but another, more subtle form of treating the Word as a letter having no spiritual sense within it. but only moral implications. Taken thus bv itself "the letter is rebellious as was Absalom the son of David." (SD 2658)
The merely ethical interpretation of Scripture becomes a seductive system of thought. Like Absalom, it has a sensual beauty and a persuasive appeal. In effect, it presents before us a revised form of Bible, which in the eyes of modern man "has no blemish" from the sole of the foot even to the crown of its head; for every thing repulsive to the delicate ear or liable to offend our prejudices or strain our scientifically trained faith, is simply eliminated as antiquated and of no value.
And how the crowds, partly "from simplicity," are drawn to such a faith! It promises a panacea justice for all without disturbing the spiritual inertia of the unregenerate. It does not tax our minds with self-examination. It flatters the natural good in every man who seeks a superficial success founded on self-respect.
Rut it disrupts all spiritual progress, destroys all eternal values. It flauntingly unleashes sinister evils in the name of a new freedom. The standards by which it judges are frankly worldly and ostensibly supported by statistical evidence. Many of the leaders of Israel flocked to Absalom's standard.
The remarkable thing in the history of the rebellion was that David fled at once to the wilderness and to Gilead. And when, reluctantly, he prepared his own hosts to do battle, he charged his captains, "Deal gently with the young man Absalom for my sake."
For David, mourning for Absalom, represented the spiritual sense of the Word, the Doctrine which is fearful lest all faith in the literal truths of the Word should perish among men. Even false principles, when from the Word, can be bent by the Lord into truths; "wherefore the sense of the letter ought not to be broken." For in the literal sense the Divine truth dwells in the beauty of holiness. (SD 2694f)
The three darts which are thrust through Absalom's heart "while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak," shall not come from the legitimate source of the New Church. The modern rationalists that have caught the fancy of the churches are headed towards a destruction of all faith in the Bible. It is their own untamed reasonings that run away with them, like Absalom's mule in the wood; and they are left hanging "between heaven and earth," their beautiful perceptions entangled in the sensual appearances of the Bible and the contradictions of the "higher critics;" as Absalom was caught with his elegant locks ensnared in the gnarled oak branches. But the death blows were given by Joab.
Every worthy cause has its Joabs who defend it merely for the brutal joy of battle and are untouched by its spirit; servants who are permitted to fight error with callous guile and do evil in the cause of good, until they finally overreach the limits of their authority. (AC 9014:5, 9828:7) And at this time David was in Joab's hands, unable even to rebuke his captain for what was deliberate disobedience. But all he could do was to cover his face and mourn, "O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!"