7. David's Latter Years
In the view of heaven, the whole history of Israel is seen entirely in a spiritual sense which describes the succession of the states of spiritual life with man; and inmostly in a supreme sense which records the successive states of the glorification of the Lord's Human. So utterly different is the internal sense of the Word from the sense of its letter that the angels perceive no mention of persons or places or natural events; and as their minds are uplifted to see the Divine contents of the Word as it emerges from its letter, natural ideas fall away and with them the thought of the evils and perversions that are so prominent in the literal story.
The Writings reveal that the internal senses one within the other are seen by the angels in a beautiful series, unbroken and orderly, always reflecting the progressive states of angelic uses organized as if in the human form. (AC 1871-1876) This continuity of the internal sense persists even where the literal sense seems to be broken and as it were incoherent, without any discernible order.
The last portion of the Second Book of Samuel describes detached incidents from the life of David after Joab had murdered Amasa his rival, suppressed the rebellion of Sheba, and regained his position as captain over the host of Israel. First is described a famine, then a war with the sons of a Philistine giant, then follows a lengthy song of deliverance known to us also as the eighteenth Psalm. After this is adjoined what is called "The last words of David." Then comes a description of some heroic deeds by the three foremost warriors of David and by two others, with a list of other "mighty men," thirty-seven in all. And finally the book closes with the narrative of how David "numbered the people," an act which brought a pestilence upon the land.
The Writing's give only scanty indications of the continuity of the spiritual sense of these scattered records. But the whole of David's life is a representation of the Lord's states of temptation, by which He overcame the hells. As applied to the states of man's regeneration, the story treats of the opening and furnishing of the spiritual degree of man's mind, and the awakening of the elusive states of spiritual perceptions ; eventually, after many temptations, these come to rule in the mind as truths of doctrine, which are then confirmed by the sense of the letter of the Scripture and seen therein. Thereby the Holy Scripture becomes a tabernacle into which the ark itself is placed and which is thus restored as the medium of conjunction between the Lord and man.
David was a man of war, and his life represents the combats of temptation. His sins and weaknesses, so frankly depicted, represent hidden states of evil which a man's spiritual conscience discovers in himself, as tendencies or even intentions ; states which are forgiven him when he recognizes their nature and turns away from them with aversion. David is occasionally pictured in the Word as an evil-doer, an adulterer and murderer. For it is so that the regenerating man appears to himself when he regards what his proprium actually is in itself. Some of the other evils of David represent what is good. The massacre of his enemies with infants, women, and sometimes the cattle, means a man's condemnation and utter obliteration of certain of his own evils, both lusts and falsities, from his active life. And it is to be noticed that some of these enemies, although utterly destroyed, seemingly turn up a few chapters later as formidable as ever! even like the evils which, man thinks, will no more tempt him. It is also true that some of David's weaknesses, in the spiritual sense, signify virtues. His love of many women is used to symbolize the many affections which are aroused by spiritual truth. His incomprehensible weakness for his wayward son, the rebel Absalom, signifies the Lord's Divine yearning for the preservation of faith in the literal sense of the Word, and the spiritual man's similar reluctance to pit his perception of spiritual truths against natural truths, even when these are wrongly used and advanced from a conceit of self-intelligence which is contemptuous of an interior understanding.
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With this in view that the evils described in the letter are those evils which a spiritual conscience discovers during self-examination we proceed to consider one more dread event.
A three-year famine came upon the land. And by enquiring of Jehovah it was found that it had come "because of Saul and his bloody house" because he had broken faith with the Gibeonites, with whom Joshua had made a solemn compact that they should not be slain but be treated as tributaries, as hewers of wood and drawers of water for the tabernacle. Saul had slain some of them and David now let the Gibeonites fix the penalty. Their decision was a strange and awful one; resting their case on the law of retaliation, they demanded not lands, but claimed the lives of seven of Saul's descendants. The five sons of Michal by her second marriage, and two sons of Rizpah and Saul, men who perhaps had been involved in the massacre were delivered to be hanged. And Rizpah, day and night for the entire summer, sat beneath the gallows to protect the bodies from vultures and beasts. The sordid story is relieved at last by David's ordering the bones of Saul and of Jonathan and of the seven who were hanged to be gathered and buried in the sepulchre of their fathers in Benjamin. And then the drought was broken and the land blessed by rain.
It is clear that the famine came as a result of an evil as yet undiscovered. That one evil leads to another is not a secret doctrine. But there are hidden evils fretting in our hearts which never come to view in act or word, yet simmer unjudged and spread their dark moods over our spirit until they finally cut off the influx of heaven from our conscious mind and reveal their effects as a spiritual famine a failure of the goods and truths, and especially of the knowledge that we need for the daily nourishment of spiritual life and thought. In this case, the evil, never actually recorded in the sacred record, was committed by Saul, yet its aftermath came in the days of David. Evils which date back to our childhood states when our conscience was based on merely literal understandings of what was right and wrong and before our passions were under intelligent control, can remain brooding, unconsidered and un- judged, in the undercurrents of the mind, until the memory of these sins of our youth begins to come back to haunt us. And when the evil, with its results, is rationally recognized, and seen in its perspective, it is no time for self-accusation. But the responsibility must be traced to "the house of Saul" to the errors of the past.
It might be thought that the reader of the Word might be saved the hideous scene of Rizpah watching beneath the gallows. But the fact is that Rizpah, Saul's concubine and later Abner's (and her name means "a live coal") represents that smouldering ember of natural yearning which survives even after our evils and falsities are judged. And it is that natural affection, mother of many errors, which is permitted to guard lest the memory of natural truths however perverse the use to which they were put should ever perish from our minds.
And indeed, this loyalty was rewarded when David gathered the bones of Saul and Jonathan and those that were hanged, and respectfully placed them in their family sepulchre. Truth is in itself sacred, even if used amiss. Even as a man's body is to be laid reverently aside in the earth whence it came, the bones intact, as a representation of perpetual remembrance ; so truth, even when its essence is fled, persists as knowledge in the memory.
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But David represented a living truth, a leading state in the mind. And therefore the next segment of his story is about a final war with the Philistines in which he again encountered one of "the sons of the giant," and, waxing faint, was nearly killed. He was rescued by Abishai; and they made him swear to go into battle no more, "that thou quench not the lamp of Israel!" In all, four sons of the giant of Gath were slain by David's men in that war.
David was the lamp of Israel. His uses recognized by his people were superior to that of fighting men. And as if to emphasize this the sacred text at this point includes one of his psalms substantially the same as the eighteenth, which is therefore found twice in the Word. That it was David who was mainly responsible for the embellishment of the ritual of the tabernacle with songs, antiphonals and even sacred dances as well as with orchestral music, seems clear, not only from the account of his life but from the headings of many of his psalms, which show that he prepared them to be sung with instrumental accompaniments. (AR 279, AE 323, 326: 2, 13) And these various instruments have a correspondence to the delights of the distinct celestial or spiritual affections which predominate in the internal sense of the psalm. (AC 8337e)
The eighteenth Psalm is David's song of deliverance from his enemies and from Saul. (Note that he never calls Saul his enemy.) The internal sense describes the Lord's temptations while in the world, the power by which Jehovah delivered Him, the justice of Jehovah who enlightened Him and gave Him strength for victory. But David thought that he was writing the song about himself, for as the Arcana states he "was in the love of himself and his descendants." (AC 2842:4, SD 2621) Even considered in the natural sense, his poetry was highly symbolic, in the style of the ancients:
"Jehovah is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer . . . my shield, the horn of my salvation, my high tower . . . The cords of hell encompassed me, the snares of death prevented me ... In my distress I called upon Jehovah . . . Then the earth shook and trembled . . . There went smoke out of His nostrils . . . He bowed the heavens and came down . . . He rode upon a cherub . . . He sent out arrows and scattered them . . . He drew me out of great waters. Jehovah rewarded me according to my justice; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me . . . For I have kept the ways of the Lord ... I have kept myself from mine iniquity . . ." "With the pure Thou art pure, but with the perverse Thou contendest."
These things wrote David about himself, not knowing that it was a prophetic picture of the Messiah to come. That he, nonetheless, was seized by the spirit of prophecy and wrote only what God inspired, is clear from the next chapter, which begins: "And these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet singer of Israel, said: The Spirit of Jehovah spake by me, and His word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me . .."
The inspired message then follows. It contrasted the qualities of a true king with those who are lawless and worthless. "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God, and be as the light of the morning at sunrise, a morning without clouds; as the tender grass out of the earth sparkling after rain ..." But those "of Belial" would be as thorns which cannot be touched except by iron tools and must be burned with fire.
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Then follows a list of the "thirty-seven" mighty men of David. (2 Sam. 23:8) The deeds of Adino, Eleazar, and Shammah are recounted, as well as those of the next mightiest, Abishai and Benaiah; and thirty-one others are named, making thirty-six. But Joab is conspicuous by his absence from the list; neither is Abner mentioned. For both these men although chiefs over armies failed to live up to the measure of a hero. One was a murderer, another a rebel. The "mighty men" in David's list represented the "truths from good" which fight for the establishment of a spiritual conscience, and this cannot be done from a natural love, but by convictions that spring from spiritual charity. The truths which can fight evil and falsity are truths also which have acquired strength and skill in the arena of man's conscious thought.
Such truths the real heroes of Israel find their training ground and their battlefield in the natural mind. The Writings plainly show as has been pointed out in preceding chapters that the spiritual mind is furnished or "formed" from those things from the Word which are in man's memory. But in order to enter the spiritual mind, such truths are "elevated" and purified and take on a spiritual form no longer bound to ideas of space and person and time; and such thoughts as man thinks in the spiritual mind are inexpressible, so that he is not really aware of them while on earth except as a vague affection and a new motivation and a delight in uses for others. David represents, particularly, such imperceptible truths which are being stored in the spiritual mind. (AE 625, DLW 252)
Yet the battles of life are fought out on earth, and spiritual issues are constantly involved in the practical problems which occupy so much of our natural thoughts. And therefore David needed an army of chosen mighty men, inspired by unswerving loyalty to him. For these would represent "the things which are in the natural mind from the spiritual," the things by which the spiritual mind, once established within, can form the natural mind in its image, so as to correspond to it and serve it.*
* This doctrine is elaborated in AE 790.
What are these agents of the spiritual mind by which it can enforce its rule, except truths rational truths, moral truths, and natural or civil truths? They are the mighty men of David: truths which "come under the view and into the perception of man," and which enter into his responsible thinking and willing. For, for every thought there is an answering affection and longing, a good of use.
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The kingdom of David now seemed secured for his lifetime and for his descendants after him, according to the Lord's promise. Yet Israel, it appears, had not yet fully atoned for her many sins. We read that the Lord's anger was kindled against her and that He moved David to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah!"
It is part of human nature to feel insecure unless one can rely on external strength and physical power. It is not enough man feels to be right, one must also be strong to defend the right. The Lord alluded to this prudence with seeming approval when He said, "What king, going to war against another king, sitteth not down first and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else . . . sendeth an embassy and desireth conditions of peace." One must count the cost beforehand. But, the Lord made clear, the cost of discipleship was to forsake all that one has. (Luke 14: 31-33) Here we seem to meet up with a spiritual paradox. We are to number our spiritual resources, yet forsake all that we have.
This same paradox appears in David's numbering of the people. For apparently even Joab remonstrates with David that it was an unwise thing to do. And when it was done and when Joab had gone through the land from Dan and Tyre in the north to Beersheba in the south and it had been found that there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword and in Judah five hundred thousand, David's heart smote him and he confessed that he had sinned.
The story, in its literal sense, does not make clear wherein his iniquity lay. For there were provisions in the Mosaic law for taking such a census. Perhaps it was the spirit in which David undertook the numbering that was wrong ? Perhaps he wanted to test whether he could raise armies large enough to conquer further territories which had not been included in the land which Jehovah had promised to Abram's seed ? Perhaps it was to bolster his own pride that he wanted to know the potential strength of his domain, so as to compare his empire with those of Egypt and Assyria ?
But let us note that the law in Israel was that its rulers should not take the sum of the children of Israel after their number unless at the same time every man who was counted, be he rich or poor, gave a ransom for his soul a half shekel as an atonement for his soul to be used for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; and this, lest there be a plague among the people. (Exodus 30: 11-16)
Properly conducted, a census was useful and permissible. It is of need at times to take stock not only of our man power, but of the material wealth on which the uses assigned to us in the providence of the Lord, ultimately depend. Even the uses of heaven are perfected by the constant addition of new angels. And new spirits are welcomed joyfully if they are prepared and anxious to contribute to the work and enlightenment of a society. Similarly it is proper for men to rejoice in the growth of the church, so far as this numerical increase can make possible new ways of extending its usefulness, propagating its faith, and perfecting its life.
Uses are from the Lord alone. He provides the means and He points out the end. He instructs us in the Word as to their relative importance, inspires a love for them and gives men the power to carry them out. To Him alone is the glory. But they are performed by men, as if of themselves; and a man feels that they depend on him. In fact, he is loath to ascribe all the merit to the Lord. Has he not suffered and toiled, and freely labored to gain skill and judgment? (Matt. 20:12) His spiritual conscience does indeed urge him to acknowledge that all good is from the Lord. But his natural man feels that it is his own doing! And he reflects on his available wealth and marshalled man power with pride and concern. In his pride, he concludes that there must after all be some superior quality in him and his. He begins to judge the states of others, their abilities and conditions. If he cannot find fuel for his pride in greater accomplishments, he can at least boast about his greater handicaps.
What the natural man fails to see is that what he can achieve as of his own power and choice, is not the real use! It is so even with the uses of the Church. Men can establish societies and institutions, publish books, solicit new adherents, maintain a priesthood which provides for teaching and leading. But the real and only use of the Church is a Divine use performed solely by the Lord who opens men's hearts to the Divine Word and awakens the life of charity. (DP 172:6) This is not done by men, but by the Holy Spirit which passes through the heavens and the Church and through men to men; and when and how this use is effected, no man knows for certain. (Canons HS iv) No man can number the souls that are saved, or count the states of good or truth which the Lord arouses through human hands or human voices.
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It is this acknowledgment, this feeling, that is meant by the small half-shekel which poor and rich could equally afford as a gift to the Lord's work a gift which saved them from the plague which a "numbering of the people" would otherwise surely bring. It is in this spirit that every regenerating man is at times "moved" by the Lord to give thought to his state, to examine himself to see what evils must be combated and what uses he is able to undertake. We ask the Lord "so to teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." (Ps. 90:12) To "number our days" means to order and dispose the states of our life. (AC 10217)
But even with the wisest man there are limits to his knowledge of the states of his own mind. His field of responsibility and cooperation with the Lord is staked out by the things which his natural thought can perceive. For man has an external of thought of which he is fully aware and in which he exercises his choice. But of his internal of thought, the thought of his spirit, he knows nothing. Yet the law is given that so far as man explores and shuns evils in the external of his thought because such evils are sins against God, so far the Lord will remove the lusts of evil from the internals of his thought and open his spiritual mind and store it with heavenly treasures and give him a heart of wisdom. (DP 120, DLW 252)
In order to enable man to cleanse and govern the external of his thought, it is provided that man should be able to elevate his thought above his selfish desires so as to perceive and recognize spiritual truths. From his inborn rational faculty even an unregenerate man can come to know and acknowledge truths about heaven and the Lord and be able to teach them and as it were have a love for them from a natural affection of learning or of fame. The rational, when so elevated, may appear as a spiritual or a celestial rational! Yet when man's own self-love, his proprium, becomes active, he ascribes such truths to himself and reflects on how clever he is to know them.
It is notable that even Joab recognized the folly in David's fixed desire to number the people. For Joab represents a state of understanding from merely natural loves of preeminence and fame. Even a hypocrite can know from plain doctrine that it is wrong to claim to know the interior states of the Church, or to discern what truths in his internal of thought are conjoined with goods. Spiritual truth is not conjoined with good until man has paid his half-shekel as an acknowledgment that all truth from good must be attributed to the Lord alone. When truth is thus conjoined with good it is lifted out of the sphere of man's natural mind and beyond his power of calculation. Wherefore we are told that man cannot judge of the state of his internal: "he is unable to know whether he has charity," and if he has it, he "does not reflect upon it." (SD min. 4547)
Our uses in this life would be impossible if we were constantly aware of our own spiritual states or imagined that we could judge as to the interior motives of others. Nor can the internal quality of the Lord's Church on earth be seen by any man as long as he lives in the world. (LJ 41, CL 523) The consummation of the former Christian Church will therefore "not be at all recognized on earth, though fully recognized in the heavens." (5 Mem. 15) It had to be disclosed by a Divine revelation.
For the needs of human society, it is sufficient to make civil, moral, and rational judgments. The Lord alone can know, and thus order and dispose the truths and goods of faith and love in the internal of man's thought, or within the spiritual mind. Therefore the law about numbering Israel is strangely inserted immediately following the command to make an altar on which incense was to be burned when Aaron lighted the lamps in the holy place of the tabernacle: for the holy place signified the spiritual degree of the mind. (Exod. 30)
To think of spiritual states of truth from good as the product of his own efforts, is to invite a spiritual pestilence. When David's heart smote him, and he recognized his sin, the prophet Gad, David's seer, offered him the choice of three punishments, a seven year famine, a defeat in war, or a three day pestilence. And David said, "I am in a great strait. Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; and let us not fall into the hand of man."
David's words point to the law that as soon as man "acknowledges and believes [in his heart] that goods flow in from the Lord and not from himself, and that evils are from hell, then goods affect him and evils do not adhere to him." But, in Israel, the pestilence could not be averted and seventy thousand perished a scourge that signified the vastation and consumption of goods and truths received from infancy. (AC 10219)
It is important that we know in our efforts to obtain a heart of wisdom that this is the retribution awaiting us if we count our virtues and claim merit for spiritual truths and goods which we imagine we have. The story of David tells what the regenerating man sees as his penalty, if he claims such merit. But it also tells how the avenging angel of the Lord was commanded by the Lord to stay his hand when the pestilence neared Jerusalem, and how Gad told David to rear an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, who seemingly had ruled Jerusalem before David had conquered it.
The Jebusites were long tolerated in their ancient city of Jebus or Jerusalem because they signified a form of idolatry in which there was something of truth. (AC 6860) And in every man's mind there is a threshing floor where he may break up the husks of fallacy to procure the truth of good the kernel of charity that truth is meant to produce.
But here we find now a contest of virtues. For David wished to buy the threshing-floor, to rear the altar. But Araunah offered not only the place but oxen for the sacrifice and the precious threshing flails and the yokes of the oxen for wood. "All these Araunah, a king, gave unto the king, saying, 'Jehovah thy God accept thee.' "
In this act of generosity the spiritual meaning shines through. For the things in the mind that are worthy to be rendered up to the Lord in worship are not to be thought of as great sacrifices, or as procured through our labors or to be valued by human standards. David failed to see the graciousness in Araunah's offer. He insisted on paying and set the price at fifty shekels. He would not offer burnt offerings unto Jehovah his God of that which cost him nothing!
And though we might more easily see the inner truth in Araunah's royal gesture, David's purchase signified an appropriation and confirmation of the same truth. For his sacrifice of the oxen meant the acknowledgment that natural good the good of use which man consciously performs when obedient to his spiritual duties is really not his, but comes from the Lord. If, in the external of our thought, we shun our evils and cooperate with the Lord, dedicating to Him the skill and labor which appear as a product and purchase of our own, the Lord will care for the spiritual states which He can alone multiply and number and dispose in the secret courts of our spirit.