We have seen in the sons of Jacob a representative of the varied doctrine and life of the Christian Church ; in their pasturing their flocks at first in the central mountain plain of Shechem, the primitive teaching of the great central principles of love and charity from their Lord risen and present with them ; in their departure to the low plain of Dothan, the departure of the church to the comparatively unimportant issues of doctrinal discussion; and then in their selling Joseph into Egypt, the banishment of the acknowledgment of the Lord as the Life of the church from the primary position in the heart of the church, which is its due, to the domain of memory and knowledge. The multiplication of outward charities, through the Christian centuries down to the Middle Ages, we saw represented in the seven years of plenty in Egypt ; and the dearth of charity and loveliness in the church, since the Reformation decreed that this had no part in salvation, by the years of famine. The return of the church, barren and distressed, to the study of the life of the Lord, we saw imaged in the coming down of Joseph's brethren to Egypt to buy corn for their households and their little ones. And the love and power of understanding truth for the sake of truth, so late in developing, we have seen in Benjamin, Israel's youngest son, who is the means of reconciling Joseph with his brethren, and of enriching them all with the abundance of Egypt. The peaceful sojourn in the land of Goshen, during which the people and their flocks were multiplied, represents the increase of Christian knowledge and life through the study of the life and teachings of the Lord. And this is the outlook for the general Christian Church today.
But this is not all that is in view. Truly there is in the world a knowledge of the immense benefits that mankind has received from the life and teachings of the Lord; there is also a wide recognition of the elevating and spiritualizing influence of. the Bible which contains the history of His life and of all the dealings of God with men. And these will not grow less, but will increase abundantly under the influence of the increasing love for truth for truth's own sake, and the growing power to understand it.
But there also exists and is increasing a king in Egypt that knows not Joseph. Even within the Christian Church the spirit is strong that disbelieves in the Lord as a living presence, and is averse to the practical study of Him and His teachings. It is content with formulas of faith, and in heart is akin to those without the church who deny the existence of God, and anything Divine in the Lord, desiring for themselves no change of love or of life. To all such the increase of a living acknowledgment of the Lord, and of good life from Him, is a sore trial, and they will throw every obstacle in its way.
In the account before us it is said that the Egyptians made the lives of the Hebrews "bitter with hard bondage," and especially in the making of the sun-dried brick of the mud of the Nile, of which the Hebrews built cities, and for which the Egyptians refused them even the straw to hold them together, and compelled them to seek it for themselves.
Now, stones for the building of homes and temples represent solid and trusted truths. But the soft bricks are fictions that have no reality or endurance. Buildings of these as compared with buildings of stone are like fictions in regard to God and heaven and salvation, as compared with the enduring truth fictions framed from the mud of evil living by those who love their evil natural life, and have no wish to be saved from it. And the production of such fictions is urgently stimulated by the presence of those who believe in the Lord and in a good life from Him as salvation and heaven. There are such evil fictions which are held together by fickle straws of truth as that we are saved by faith, and that none is good but God which are misapplied, and may easily be explained away. There are also fictions simply from the love of evil, and taking evil for good, without even appearances of truth to sustain them—to meet which one must cast about to find on what they are founded. That such fictions will be greatly increased, to the distress of all who love the Lord and faithful life from Him, is meant by the hard bondage to which Israel was subjected by the Egyptians.
But it is not the Lord's intention that His church shall be destroyed. He permits it to suffer hardship so that it may turn to Him with greater earnestness, and be willing to undo the wrong it has done in leaving Him, and to endure the labors necessary to come back again to a truly spiritual life with Him. He foretold that in the last days the church would suffer great tribulation, such as had not been from the beginning of the world, and then they should see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Not yet in our story have we come to this full manifestation of Him, which is represented by the great revelation from amid the clouds of Sinai. In preparation for that it was that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses " in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. And he looked, and behold the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." And then the Lord revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, and promised to bring the people out of their hard bondage unto the land which had been promised to their fathers. He revealed also His name Jehovah, or the I Am.
The bush in which the flame appeared bears in the Hebrew the name of " the thorny," and was probably a small kind of acacia. We have seen many times in these lectures that the trees of knowledge and of wisdom of life in the mind answer to the various kinds of trees in the outer world. The noble and comprehensive kinds of wisdom answer to the nobler, finer trees, and the humbler intelligence to the plants of modest growth. A thorny tree of a good kind, which is valuable not for its fruit but for its beauty and as a protection, answers to a beautiful knowledge of the Divine protection. A thorny shrub or bush answers to a little knowledge of the Divine protection, in those who live faithfully the few literal precepts they know, but have little spiritual elevation or development of wisdom.
In the thorny shrub burning with fire, yet not consumed, it seems almost impossible not to see a picture of the protecting power of the Scriptures, alive with the Lord's love of saving, as manifested in these last days.
There is no noble knowledge of spiritual truth generally received in the Christian Church. There is only the literal story of the Scriptures, thorny with its warnings against evil. And yet to those who suffer from temptations, those thorny branches in their protecting power burn with the saving love of the Lord in our day, I believe, more sensibly than ever before.
It is as yet little, very little, that men know of God and heaven—nothing but what is contained in the literal story of the Scriptures; and yet those who are experiencing the love of the Lord for saving through the precepts of the Scriptures, see in these the presence of the love of God accommodated to sinful men, and bringing them the help they need. The bush is not destroyed by the recognition of the Divine Love in it; for there is the further recognition that it furnishes just the means necessary for the Divine Love to work for men and to manifest itself to them.
If they now will turn aside to see this great sight, and will listen to the voice that teaches them, they must first put off their natural worldly ideas, which are unworthy and of no life, and think from their living spiritual experiences, with the sense that they are in the presence of the Lord, and with the desire to learn of Him. And then the Lord will teach them that that saving Love which they are feeling in their hearts is the Infinite Love of God that it is Jehovah Himself, the Creator and the Redeemer, the only Life; that this Divine Love of saving men, Itself lived that perfect human life in the world, that It might be with men to save them ; that the Infinite God is an Infinitely loving Man, and that whoever sees truly the Divine Human life in which He manifested Himself sees the living Father; and finally, that because this is so, the church should come back to Him, concentrating its love, its thought, and its worship upon Him; and He will lead it back to the inmost states of innocent, heavenly life from which the race has long departed.
To Moses was entrusted the duty of leading the people out of Egypt ; and Moses now represents the new teaching from the Lord, from the practical revelation of Him as the very fire of human life the Divine Human Being. But Moses was afraid that the people would not believe him nor listen to him, and therefore the Lord gave him three signs which he was to show to them, that they might believe him. He was to cast his rod before them, and it would become a serpent; and he was to put his hand into his bosom, and it would be made leprous white as snow. And if they did not believe these two signs, he was to take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land, and it should become blood upon the dry land.
His shepherd's rod represents the power of teaching and now the power of the teaching of the new light from the Lord. The casting the rod before the people represents the effect of the light in the church in case they do not believe in the Divine Human Presence of the Lord, namely that it would show that without Him they are of the seed of the serpent, wholly led by sense and self.
The leprosy consisted in a whiteness and deadness of the skin. And it represented as regards the Christian Church, a sense of deadness in the externals of its life and worship. If there be in the church a sense that men are holding to the Gospel story and its teachings, to the sacraments and other ceremonies of worship, as matters of custom and form, and not of sensitive life to them, there is such a sense of leprosy as is here represented ; and it will only grow stronger as the light of the Lord's Human Presence grows brighter, and they refuse to acknowledge it and to be led and vivified by it. And if even the warning of this sign fails, the third sign will follow: that the living water, which should teach them the ways of goodness, will lose for them its application to life, and become rather the water of death. For if they so far reject the Lord, they will hate the life of self-denying usefulness that He teaches, and will love the reasonings that absolve men from the duty of keeping the commandments and doing good, and leave them free to pursue a self-indulgent life instead.
That when Moses put forth his hand and took the serpent it became again a rod in his hand, was a sign that the acknowledgment of the Divine Human Presence of the Lord has entire control over the sensual nature of men. And that he again put his hand into his bosom, and plucked it out, and it was turned again as his other flesh, was a sign that such acknowledgment of the Lord brings the sensitive life of His Presence into all the forms of religion.
The Hebrews believed Moses and bowed their heads and worshipped, as all who really love the life of heaven will do when they learn the truth about the Lord as the Divine Source of good human life.
The Egyptians refused to acknowledge the God of the Hebrews and to let the people go; and therefore there came upon them, in slow succession, the ten dreadful plagues of waters turned to blood, of frogs and lice and flies, of murrain and of boils, of hail and locusts and darkness, and the death of all their firstborn. A very similar series of plagues is related in the Apocalypse as following the pouring out of the vials of the wrath of God by the seven angels. And by both series is represented the destruction of all that is good and happy in one's own life, and the development of all that is miserable and unhappy, by the wilful rejection of the Lord and the good life that He offers.
In the judgment that comes to every one after the death of the body, these are the things that take place in those who through love for evil life hate the Lord and the life of heaven.
The turning the waters into blood means here as before that they pervert the pure truth that should make life fresh and clean, and desire only the justification of evil. The frogs in all the recesses of their homes represent the continual croaking against spiritual things, even in their secret thoughts, till they themselves are weary, yet cannot stop. The lice are the burning itching to do evil. The flies are the love of filth, and the continual imputing of filth to everybody. The murrain, of which their innocent animals died, is the destruction of kindly helpful affections. The boils involving more than the leprosy, even the painful destruction of the skin are the destroying of all the professions of religious life, with pain at every mention of it, and the breaking out of blasphemies and hatreds. The hail is the condemnation and destruction of all wisdom and fruitfulness. The locusts, devouring every green thing, are the giving up of all pleasant thoughts and intelligence in truth. The darkness is spiritual darkness, in which evil is taken for good, and good for evil; truth for falsity, and falsity for truth. And then because every pretence of faith is useless, they cast away their professions of it their own firstborn are dead.
All these things, Swedenborg tells us, occur to the life in men of this character after death, when they come into the light from heaven which teaches that the Heavenly Father is Man, and that Himself is present in Divine Human form in our risen Lord. In this world they work themselves out more slowly and obscurely. Yet, as the light of the coming day grows brighter, and the truth about the Lord is more clearly seen, and is more loved by those who serve Him, the hatred of it on the part of all who love evil of life no matter what their professions may be will be more and more plainly manifested.
At the very time that the firstborn were dying in the houses of the Egyptians, the Hebrews were celebrating the first Passover feast. Every family in Israel chose a lamb for the feast, sprinkled the blood upon the door-posts and the lintel of the house, and partook of the roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. For, to all who love good life from the Lord, the fuller knowledge of Him as our Heavenly Father brings new life and safety. The lamb is the representative of their innocent love from Him. The blood upon the door-posts and the lintel of the house is the living truth about Him in their lives and in their thoughts, which is their protection from evil. The unleavened bread with which they were to eat it, represents the strengthening of their hearts to do useful and unselfish work for the neighbor. And the bitter herbs are the knowledge of temptation and purification. With their loins girded, and their shoes on their feet, and their staff in their hand, they were to eat it; for those who receive of the Lord's love must be instantly ready to follow their Lord in any labor that He may put upon them.
It was afterward at the Feast of the Passover that the Lord instituted the Holy Supper, changing the Jewish feast into the Christian, with the same signification ; for the Lord's Supper is a representative and an occasion of the reception into the life of innocent love and truth from the Lord Himself the bread, which He says is His flesh, representing His love; and the wine, which He calls His blood, the truth of His heart. It is a festival of deliverance from evil, and of introduction into the good of heaven. We prepare for it by repentance, which means the thorough exposure and condemnation of the evil of the natural life, and by looking to the Lord as the only good. And we gain from it a sense of the presence of the Lord in life, which gives protection from evil and willing strength to do good.
In the strength of the Passover feast they began their journey. "And the Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud to lead them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, to go by day and night. He took not away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people."
We are thinking of the church as turned again to the Lord, with desire for spiritual instruction, and for a return to interior conjunction with Him. She knows little of the end of her journey, and little about the way thither. The Lord is present with her in the Scriptures, and guides her by them. The way of good and right will always be plainly taught, though the Divine reasons for it be wrapped in the obscurity of a cloud. And even in the times of greatest darkness, the sense of the saving and protecting love of the Lord need never be lost.
The long journey in the wilderness plainly represents the labor of learning to live a spiritual life, to those who have heretofore known little but a natural life. The natural motives of selfish advantages and pleasures are denied them, and they cannot but sometimes have aching hearts as they look back. But in their need they are fed with food from heaven, which they have not known neither have their fathers known, which is represented by the manna.
I am not unaware of the common belief that the manna was simply the gum of shrubs supposed to have been abundant then in the desert; but, not to dwell unnecessarily upon it, there is no such gum that answers the description that can be ground and made into cakes, and boiled or baked. It is simpler to believe that " man did eat angels' food," as the Psalmist says, given by the same power that fed the five thousand with five loaves, and the four thousand with seven.
Of the manna we read that when the morning " dew was gone up, behold upon the face of the wilderness a small round thing, small as the hoar frost upon the ground. . . . And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat." We remember that the rain of heaven represents the truth of right and wrong from the Lord that keeps the mind clean and fresh and fruitful. The dew that is condensed in the quiet night, under a clear sky, is a perfect correspondent of the quiet thoughts that come in the evening and the morning, as one reflects upon the day that is past or the day to come, with reading from the Word and quiet prayer, and with the desire to see truly what is right from the Lord. " The truth of peace," Swedenborg calls it; and we all know how sweet and refreshing it may be.
But it is more than simply refreshing ; there comes with it a strengthening, and a renewed desire to live rightly and to do good. And this is the heavenly manna. It cannot be provided for one's self ; it must be accepted from the Lord. It gives strength for the work of the day it cannot be stored up ; and through all the long journey under the guidance of the pillar of cloud, it furnishes the daily supply of the bread of heaven.
Back to Horeb, the mount of God, where the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush, Moses led the people. And there from the midst of clouds and darkness, and a great burning unto the heart of heaven, the Ten Commandments were spoken to all the people. Afterward for forty days and again another forty days Moses tarried with God in the mountain, and was taught the form of the Tabernacle, and many laws of life and worship for the establishment of a new representative church. Some of the details of this instruction will be explained in the next lecture. It will suffice now to point out the meaning of a few of the most important events and circumstances.
And first it will be noticed that all the people heard the voice which spake the Ten Commandments ; but they feared the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and they removed and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, " Speak thou with us, and we will hear, but let not God speak with us, lest we die." The Ten Commandments represent, for they contain, the whole law of life for angels and men. That they were heard by all the people from amid the clouds and darkness, means that to all who look to the Lord the necessary truth of life will be plain in the letter of the Word, even though purely spiritual things be heavily veiled to them.
The withdrawal of the people because of the terrors of the mountain means that the revelation of pure truth from heaven is impossible to those who are immersed in the cares and the thoughts of the world, without first dispersing these, which would seem to them like taking away their life, and therefore it must be explained and accommodated to them. And that Moses alone went up to the top of the mountain, and received the words of the Lord, means that only to one prepared of the Lord and elevated by Him into heaven, could the truth of heaven be revealed.
We read again that when He had made an end of talking with him, the Lord gave to Moses two tables of stone containing the Ten Commandments; " and the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables." With these Moses turned and came down from the mount. But when he found, at the foot of the mount, that Aaron had made for the people a golden calf, and that they were worshipping and revelling about it, he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount. And afterward, by the Lord's command, he hewed out two other tables at the foot of the mount, and carried them up, and upon them were written the same words that were in the first tables that were broken.
As the Commandments themselves represent the truth of life for heaven and earth, the tables of stone upon which they were written stand for the literal story in which that truth is contained. And the incidents of the history before us teach that a new revelation of the truth of life for the revival of the church is not given in a new Word out of heaven, and would not be received by men if it were.
But when the old Word with which we are familiar the expressions and stories of which are taken from the natural world, and from the history of men is carried up into the mountain to God, or, in other words, is taken up into the inmosts of the spirit, and applied to the Divine Human life of the Lord, the truth of the Divine life is seen written of God within it. The very thoughts of the Lord are there, full of His love of saving. Above the clouds of the letter the Son of Man appears in power and great glory.
We in the New Church believe that such an opening of the spiritual sense of the Word to the Lord is given in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and that it contains that inner truth of life by which the spirit may be brought again into the order of heaven, and conjoined with the Lord. And it is not difficult to learn the truth that leads to the heavenly land; but it takes long to be trained to live it. Many enemies must first be met. Habits of evil indulged by the race even from ancient days must be conquered. The spies whom Moses sent to explore the land found it full of enemies, strong and fierce, among whom those that inspired the greatest dread were the descendants of the giants, the sons of Anak. We remember that the giants of the old time were those who in the fulness of their evil life believed themselves to be God, and that they had life of themselves; and we see with sadness that the sense that we live of ourselves has a firm hold upon us, and that it may be long before we feel in our hearts, as well as know in our thoughts, that One alone has life, and that we live from Him.
The Israelites turned away from the borders of the land, and wandered forty years in the wilderness. Even after they again set out on their journey, the way was long, and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. The people spake against God, and declared that their soul loathed the light bread that He gave them. And then there came among them poisonous serpents which bit the people, and many of them died. But at the command of the Lord, Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole; " and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass he lived." Though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak, as the Lord said ; and even after prolonged discipline the flesh in its weariness and discouragement will long for its own indulgences.
The very beginning of the decline from the innocent wisdom of the Golden Age was by the counsels of the serpent ; and we ought not to be surprised to meet in the last stages of the return heavenward the fiercest resistance from the serpent race. But even here the Lord has provided the means of safety. The brazen serpent that Moses made, the Lord declared was a representative of Himself: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but have eternal life."
By the lifting up of the Son of Man like the serpent of brass, He meant that in Him the power of the serpent to beguile was destroyed, and that the love of pleasure of sense had no place but to give warning of evil, and to admit what will minister to spiritual life. And men who are bitten and feel their spiritual life benumbed by the desires of sense, if they sincerely look to Him will live. In His human life He acquired power over the perversions of humanity, and in His own human nature undid them all, and made it absolutely innocent to the inmost—the innocent Lamb of God. And as we follow Him as He now reveals Himself, He will lead us back over the return path, undoing for us the perversities of the ages, until He brings us to the holy mountains where the Lord alone is God. And there by the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, we shall eat once more of the fruits of the Tree of Life ; but, warned by the experience of the race, we shall have no ears for the beguiling of the serpent, knowing that the fatal fruits of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil are the cause of all the ills from which mankind can suffer.