Abraham and His Sons.
We have seen in Noah a representative of the second Church or Dispensation among men a church that loved spiritual wisdom, and cultivated a knowledge of the representatives and correspondences of spiritual things in natural objects. In the sons of Noah we have seen a representation of the three classes of men of such a church ; namely, those that are intelligent and wise loving a spiritual life according to the lessons of interior spiritual truth—who are called Shem ; those who loved not the spiritual life of charity, but prided themselves in spiritual knowledge only, called Ham ; and those of more simple worship and good life, according to the traditions and instructions they had received, who are meant by Japheth.
That by these three the whole earth was overspread, does not necessarily mean to us that there were no other human beings upon the habitable earth ; but that these three constituted the church of the time; and there may have been others related to them as the heathen or gentiles to the Church of God in all historic time. It is no doubt true, however, that the Semitic races in Palestine and Syria, Arabia and Mesopotamia, were originally of the kind signified by Shem—spiritually intelligent and good ; and that among their descendants, even after their intelligence and spirituality were gone, there was more material to continue the forms of spiritual worship than among others. It is true, also, that the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the early settlers in the Euphrates valley, and perhaps some other of the tribes of Eastern Africa and Western Asia, were depositories of the formulas of wisdom of their day, such as might be expected among the tribes of Ham; and again, I know no reason to doubt that the simpler, ruder tribes of Europe and Northern Asia belong to the families of Japheth.
The descendants of these three, as described in the tenth and especially the eleventh chapters of Genesis, no doubt are tribes that embodied the varied developments of their religious thought and representative worship the later tribes at least bearing the names of their respective ancestral heads.
It is among the descendants of Ham that the name of Babel first Appears, and afterward we have the story of the building of the tower of Babel. We read that " the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass as they journeyed from the East " that is, from the East of the central Holy Land"—that they found a plain in the land of Shinar ; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Come, let us make brick, and burn them to a burning. And they had brick for stone, and bitumen had they for mortar. And they said, Come, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven ; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."
Whatever may be true in regard to the huge pyramids of brick in what we know as ancient Babylon, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is a history of men in their relation to God that we are reading—a history not of cities and towers, but primarily of states of spiritual life and worship. That the whole earth was of one language and of one speech, means that the church worshipped one God as the Father of all; and that all men were brethren. For when love to one another as children of the one Father is the essential thing in all parts of the church, however they may develop various branches of doctrine or forms of worship they see the good in one another, and understand one another; they have one language of love, and one speech to describe the particulars of worship and life from love.
Such was this church at the first; but that they journeyed from the East, and found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there, describes their departure from the essential principles of charity, and their lower state of life. That there they made brick, and of bricks and bitumen built a city, and a tower whose top should reach unto heaven, to make for themselves a name, means that the fictions of men became to them the essentials of religion, and that by them, cemented with the zeal of self-love, they desired to climb to fictitious heights of holiness, and command the veneration and worship of men.
And the consequence was that they understood one another no longer, but, each insisting upon his own peculiar forms of thought as the essentials of religion, they misunderstood and misrepresented one another, both purposely and of necessity. Thus was the unity of the church broken up. Men separated one from another, and each little clan wandered away from its brothers.
This dispersion of the tribes may be regarded as the end of that church of Noah and his immediate descendants which from its intelligent light is known as the Silver Age. But the account of this dispersion is followed immediately by the genealogy of another branch of the family of Eber, namely that descended through Peleg. We read that "unto Eber were born two sons, the name of one was Peleg—for in his days was the earth divided and his brother's name was Joktan." (x. 25.)
The descent through Joktan has been traced to the dispersion at Babel, and now the narrative returns and takes up the descent through Peleg, in which afterward we find the family of Abram, and which appears to have constituted the Hebrew Church, and also to have been known as the Copper Age. The men of this Copper Age, Swedenborg tells us, had from the earliest church their precepts of mutual love and charity, and lived obediently a life of friendliness, of faithfulness in marriage, of hospitality and benevolence. They worshipped the one God, with various names and attributes, using sacrificial forms of worship, which in their best days they knew to be representative of spiritual qualities. In the declining days of the church, where we find the family of Abraham, the worship became idolatrous losing its devotion to one God, and all idea of spirituality. And we find in the life described a loss of singleness in the marriage relation—the single-hearted marriage love being superseded by the love of children.
With such men or, to speak more broadly, in such a state of mankind—a truly spiritual church, knowing the Lord, and conjoined with Him in a life of spiritual love and spiritual truth, was impossible. The most that was attainable was the representation of spiritual states in appropriate natural states and conditions. When we come to the history of Abram, therefore, we do not find, as before, an allegory representing the spiritual love and faith of the men then existing, but we find the actual story of the outward lives of men, so ordered and so narrated as to represent spiritual states entirely unlike their own that were so low and external. We come to the history of actual events, but to events so ordered by the Divine Providence as to represent the spiritual progress of individuals and of the race.
It is in this representative or spiritual meaning that the holiness of the narrative resides. We have in the literal story an account of a shepherd leader, himself an idol-worshipper, who is led by the command of the Lord through various wanderings in lands foreign to him. There is no marked spiritual gain in his character, to make him an example to us, or to justify our regarding the narrative as sacred. It has its holiness from its representing the spiritual progress of men, under the Divine leading, out of natural states into spiritual, through various stages of instruction and temptation.
To the New Church this representation is not obscure but is revealed as a perfectly clear spiritual story, contained in and represented by all the particulars of the natural story. There are many applications of the story; but in general it describes the steps by which man, conscious of having come into a degraded state, begins to ascend again to a heavenly state. Abram was called by the Lord to go to the land of Canaan, which is to us a representative of a heavenly state of life ; but he was not to possess it at once. He was to sojourn in it wandering from place to place, and pasturing his flocks and when his family had grown to a nation, and had suffered great afflictions, then at length they should possess the land. In all this we see represented the spiritual state of men who even in boyhood became aware of the naughtiness of their heart, and, drawn by the goodness of the Lord, love to learn of Him and of heaven, and of the life of heaven upon earth. In the contemplation of these things they have the enjoyment of their life, and nourish thereby innocent affections for all that is good. But they by no means come into possession of all the good states of life that they learn about; nor can they till they have attained the full development of their manly life, and have passed through many trials and labors.
The most full, and indeed the only perfect application of the story is to the life of the Lord Himself when He was in the world. We have seen that from the earliest days of the decline of man from the innocence of Eden under the beguiling of the serpent, it was perceived that there would be no recovery of the heavenly life but by the help of the Divine Itself Who should be born into the world ; and that it was promised at once that He would come of the seed of the woman. Therefore in the Lord Who was born we must look for the steps of the return to the Divine life, and for the perfect fulfilment of the representative story which describes that return.
Doubtless in His infancy there was within Him a fulness of Divine love and life which in a way was analogous to the fulness of life in the early churches; and in His boyhood He came to a recognition of the evil nature into which He was born a nature inheriting the accumulated perversity of all the successive churches, from Adam and Noah and Eber to the latest posterity of the Jews.
To Him there came the summons from within from the saving Love from which He had come into the world—to leave the pursuits and pleasures and affections of that evil inheritance, and to learn of the Divine the possibilities of heaven and of the life of heaven upon earth. The Love itself in His soul opened His eyes to see from the representatives of the Word the order for which the heavens and the earth were created. He read there also how men had turned from that order, and changed the gifts of life and love and truth and reason, which were intended for their eternal blessing, into the burnings of evil, hatreds, and falsities, and curses. He read also of the promise that to the helpless, falling world the Lord God Himself would come as a Saviour; and in the very story before us He read of the summons that had come to Him, to leave the state of His nativity, and to go on by Himself, and learn of the possibilities of happy life to endless thousands in heaven and on earth through the help that He should bring them. From the immense love in His heart He knew that He was to fulfil these things. To Him came the full meaning of the promise: " I will bless thee and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing ; and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." He felt the contrariness between the self-love and perverseness of His outer man, and the free, happy, unselfish love of His inner man. He saw that this spring of life existed in Himself alone, and that but for Him human life was a desert waste; and it came to Him as a hope and a glad promise that He might live from that love with its wisdom, its usefulness, and its happiness, in all the paths of human life, and be a blessing to every human soul. The promise was not that He should bring a blessing, but that He Himself embodying the only good love in His own human heart and mind and life, was to be the blessing, and that in receiving Him all the families of the earth should be blessed.
It was with the nope of bringing this great good to men that He suffered His affections and His thoughts to be led out from the natural state into which He was born, and to be instructed by means of the Word, and of life as He saw it always illumined and interpreted by the love within Him—in all that relates to good life from the Divine in heaven and on earth. The intensity of His desire for such instruction is represented by there being a famine in the land; in consequence of which " Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was grievous in the land."
In the old times Egypt was the chief repository of the representatives and correspondences in which spiritual wisdom was contained, as well as of all the science of the ancients. Their hieroglyphic writing, their emblems, their statues, their pictures, especially the oldest of them, are full of such representations ; and because this was characteristic of the country, Egypt itself represents instruction in natural things, and especially in such things as are representative. Therefore, applying the story to the Lord's life, that Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there, because the famine was grievous in the land, represents the Lord's coming into a state to be instructed, especially in the representatives of the Scriptures, because of His eager desire to know heavenly things.
An incident occurred in Abram's going down into Egypt which seems so wholly of the earth, and of heartless calculation, that one would think it could not represent any step in spiritual life, much less in the Lord's life; and yet when we look at it thoughtfully it may appear otherwise, and the lesson taught to us as its spiritual sense may be seen to be true, and to be really represented in the literal story. We read that " it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon ; therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife ; and they will kill me, but will save thee alive. Say, I pray, thou art my sister ; that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee."
In every man there is a marriage between his love for some object or end, and his affection for the truth which is the means of bringing the end to pass. And from the union of the two is the usefulness which is the fruit of the marriage. Now, in the story before us, Abram represents the Lord's desire for the salvation of men ; and therefore his wife represents the affection for knowing the truth in regard to the means of salvation which unites itself with the love in the work of salvation. But when one is engaged in the study of interesting truth, the end of usefulness may be temporarily lost sight of in the pleasure of learning; and then if it should be insisted that the learning is of no account itself, but only for the sake of the useful purpose, that purpose itself might be rejected and denied for the pleasure in learning for its own sake. Therefore in every child, and in older people under various circumstances, the pleasure in learning is permitted to separate itself for the time from the love of use, and to stand as an independent affection, free to unite itself with knowledge only.
This is so in all men, and it was so in the Lord in His boyhood; and, as representing this universal experience, it was permitted that Sarai, who represents such affection for truth, should separate herself from her husband, who stood for the true purpose of all truth, and in the independent position of a sister, should seem free to be taken to Pharaoh's house. But in the Lord, as in every earnest mind, when this was in danger of going too far, and the affection for truth seemed to lose its real purpose of use, there came a loss of pleasure and a sense of deadness and unhappiness in the learning, which was represented by the house of Pharaoh being plagued with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife; and then reflection restored the affection for truth to its proper relation to the love of His Divine purpose, and all the acquisitions of truth were applied to this purpose.
Interesting chapters follow in the Bible relating to the separation of Lot from Abram ; the wars of Kedorlaomer and his allies with the five cities of the Plain, and the pursuit by Abram; and the prophetic vision given to Abram. The same principles of interpretation applied to them bring out the spiritual experiences of every one's regenerate life, as well as in their full sense the order of the Lord's life. And when the experiences of regeneration become familiar, these will be recognized in the sacred history as readily as the portraiture of the foibles of men in simple fables is recognized now. Indeed the art of telling fables has come down from these old representative days, in which all their wisdom was thus embodied in stories and histories. The Divine Spirit only made use of the genius of the time to embody for us, and for the days to come, the wisdom of perfect human life. For this purpose it provided that such representative events should occur, and the knowledge of them be preserved by tradition ; and in later times it caused the traditions to be moulded by various writers under the influence of the same Spirit into the Divine history.
The period of Bible formation was a long and peculiar period differing from the ages which preceded and from those which are yet to come in not having any perception of interior spiritual things, and also in having an influx of holiness from heaven into the outward forms that represented heavenly things, even though the living men had no knowledge at all of such representation. Much will be said of this hereafter; at present I wish only to say that the sanctity with which these incidents in Abram's life have so long been invested which made them so sacredly important even to himself and his immediate descendants as to cause them to be carefully preserved, and told over and over—was from the perception of their significance by the heavenly hosts, and the love that they had for the spiritual truth revealed. They saw in the events provided a representative of human regeneration, and especially of the redeeming life of the Lord Who was to come. Him they worshipped; for Him they looked; and every particular in regard to Him they treasured as sacred, and made sacred to men.
Our story continues with an account of the birth of sons to Abram of Ishmael from Hagar the Egyptian, and Isaac from Sarah.
We have seen in Abram, thus far, a representative of the Divine love in the Lord for bringing heaven to men ; and in Sarai a representative of affection for the truth helpful to this purpose. As regards men they represent respectively the boyhood's love for the possibilities of a nobler life than that which is natural, and affection for all that can be learned about it.
The first development from this zeal for better things is the youthful desire to understand the relations of things, and to put them in order according to their true relations, or in other words to reason about them. The quality of this first youthful reason is described by the son born to Abram of Hagar. By Hagar the Egyptian woman is meant much the same as by Sarai separated from Abram in Egypt, and that is the natural affection for learning. By means of this affection the desire of the Lord to do the will of the Divine Love produced a love of comparing, understanding, and reasoning. And the desire of every boy to become a good man, and to do the work of a good man, begets from his affection for knowing a similar desire to understand. This first rationality is represented by Ishmael, and of this it is said : " He shall be a wild-ass man, his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him." For there are then in the boy no other standards of comparison than the things he has been taught as a child. He holds these literally and tenaciously—denouncing sharply and uncompromisingly whatever does not agree with them. This narrow, hard, combative, youthful reason, every one is familiar with ; and not by this, or anything partaking of the quality of this, could the Lord's redeeming work, or can the regenerating work in man, be done; and therefore not with Ishmael could the covenant of God be established, but with the son of Sarah, Abraham's wife.
In Egypt, separated from her husband, and taken to Pharaoh's house, Sarai represents affection for natural instruction ; but united with her husband, who represents the Divine love of saving men in the Lord, she has a nobler meaning, namely, the affection for knowing the nature of that love, with the perception of its desires and tendencies. In man the correlative is the affection for knowing the good that he has received from the Lord, or the noblest spiritual good with which his heart has been touched, and which he desires to make his life. It is an affection that springs into existence as soon as there is a sensible reception of the Lord's merciful goodness that saves from evil, and brings something of love from heaven. It is an affection that perceives and knows the quality of this goodness from the Lord. And from this affection, under the influence of the love of receiving that goodness and bringing it into all the life, is born the faculty of comparing the quality of that goodness with every other good, of seeing all things in the light of it, and arranging all things in their true relation to it in other words, there is born a spiritual reason.
This spiritual reason is as unlike as possible to the Ishmaelitish reason. It exists as a consequence of the presence of the Divine goodness, and from a love of conforming all things to the nature of that goodness. It is gentle and peaceable, disposed to kindly interpretations and charitable judgment. It understands quickly the order of heavenly life, for it has the very essence of that life always in view. It knows the reality of God and heaven, for it feels the presence of God which is heaven. There is no spiritual truth which it may not see, for there is none which is not derived from the goodness of God, and which does not partake of its nature. With this reason modest, gentle, and charitable, willing to be led and to be chastened the covenant of God can be established ; for by this reason the Lord Himself taught of the Divine Love, and judged in the light of it all things in His own maternal nature and in the world around Him ; and by this He taught of the life of heaven, and ordered His own life and the life of the church according to it. And by the same reason does man know the Lord, and do his part in conforming his life and nature to the Lord's teachings.
With the promise of the birth of Isaac there was given a change of name to Abram and to Sarai:
The letter "h," which is added to both names, is the sign of breathing and of life, and is the essential of the name Jehovah. And whatever other effect upon the meaning of the names the addition may have produced, it indicates that the Lord Whom they represent now began to have the life and power of the Divine in His human work. And we have seen that the spiritual reason represented by Isaac was the means of doing the Divine human work.
There follows in the story the sweet tale of the appearance of the three men to Abraham as he sat in his tent door, and the feast that he prepared for them, succeeded by their looking toward Sodom, and the tender intercession of Abraham for the inhabitants of the city.
By the three men is meant the fulness of the Trine now first beginning to exist in the Human of the Lord, namely, the Divine Love from which He came forth, the Divine Human now forming, and the Holy Spirit from it. The feast prepared means much the same as the Holy Supper, namely, the reception of affections from the Divine in the Lord's Human nature, or from the Lord in man. The exploration of Sodom represents the Lord's sorrowful inspection of the evil and adulterous generation in which He found Himself—a generation that knew not the things that belong unto peace, and could hardly escape the damnation of hell. And the intercession of Abraham represents the tender yearning of the Lord over them, that if possible they might be saved. He had come not to condemn the world, but to save it; and the first exercise of the budding spiritual reason was to look for every variety of humanity that could receive the blessing He had for men.
And the answer came to Him that there were some represented by the fifty righteous who might become wise in heavenly things and receive much of heavenly love, and some who would lack a little of this fulness. That there were some represented by the forty who would be able to endure much temptation, and still hold fast to what is good and true, and some who would be able to bear less. That there were some who would be faithful to what is right, provided they were not severely tempted, and some who could be taken from the earth before their childhood's innocence had passed away, and could be trained for good life in heaven. To all these He could bring something of the love which was life to Him ; and for their sakes He entered upon His redeeming work, and pursued it unto the end.