From Eden to Noah
We have seen that by man, or Adam, is not meant the first created human being, but the first church upon the earth, in its fully developed heavenly state open to heaven, knowing God, full of love from God, and from the love itself perceiving wisdom from God. Also that by Eve is meant the love of living as of one's self in that church, which is the counterpart of the love of living from God ; and that in the days of their united perfection they were the love of living as of one's self, and with all one's powers, from God. And so neither are individual persons meant by their immediate descendants, but branches or developments of the church.
We have seen that by the trees of the Garden of Eden are meant the varied intelligence and wisdom of life of the church; and so now by Cain, who was a tiller of the ground, is meant a branch of the church in which the knowledge or wisdom of the church was cultivated exclusively, and regarded as the whole ; and by Abel, who was a keeper of sheep, is meant the cultivation of kindly love and charity in the church which the pride of knowledge despised. The worship of the Lord from charity and love was acceptable to Him, and brought conjunction with Him; but the worship from mere knowledge or wisdom brought no conjunction with Him, and no sense of blessing from Him ; and where there is no conjunction with the Lord and no blessing from Him, there evil is multiplied and love is destroyed. That this was the case as the church of the Golden Age declined, we are told in the story of the death of Abel at the hands of Cain his brother; and nevertheless, we are told, Cain himself was protected by God that he should not be destroyed, because the truth thus preserved may be the means of leading men back to good in after times.
The love of that innocent church was the love of God's love which was to them a sensible inspiration of life; and the wisdom of the church was the perception of the quality and methods of that love, as seen in all the works of its creating, understood from the love or purpose that was in them. And when men ceased to love the love of God in them and to look to Him alone for life, they still took pride in their knowledge of the spiritual quality and meaning of all natural things; and such knowledge, with the lessons of Divine order that went with it, was a storehouse of the truth of heaven to after ages. This it is that Cain represents.
In the family of Cain, the genealogy of the decline is traced to Lamech who said to his wives : "I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt: if Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold" which may be regarded as describing the extinction of the church in that line. But then to the man and his wife was born a son whose name was Sheth, of whom it was said: "God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew." By which is meant, we are taught, that there still remained in a branch of the church those who, though with diminished sense of life from God, loved a good life according to the Divine order ; and in them the wisdom preserved to them bore the fruits of mutual love and good works.
In the long line of descendants from Sheth, we find Enoch, of whom we read: "And Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him"; which means, as we are taught in the New Church, that, as the communication with heaven, and the perception of the wisdom of heaven declined, there were those who collected and formulated the knowledge of the age concerning representative and significant objects and usages, and preserved it by tradition, or upon tablets of wood and stone, for future ages, and especially for that future church which has its name from Noah. The line of descent finally closes in Noah, by whom is meant the small remnant with whom an entirely new and altogether different state of the church would begin.
So narrow is our view of humanity, so satisfied are we with ourselves as the types of humanity, or at least of all that is best and most intelligent in humanity, that our minds open reluctantly to admit the idea of very different and in some respects nobler men than we. But have we never seen or heard of sweet, innocent children from dirty, quarrelsome, drunken parents, and wondered how a form of humanity so utterly different could have such an origin ? And if by a sad possibility the innocent child should grow up into a likeness of its parents, would it not be an equal wonder that so perverse a creature could have grown from one so innocent ? It is hardly more of a wonder that the turbulent, struggling, greedy, and yet on the whole well-meaning and intelligent race of the present day should have sprung from an innocent race, open to God and heaven, full of the sense of love from God, and wise with angels' wisdom. The characteristic of the earliest church on earth, we are taught, was a fulness of innocent love from God utterly unlike any thing known since among men; and from the agreement or disagreement of all things with that love came their wisdom of heavenly life. Their very breathing was different from that of our day—depending upon their thinking, and so making one with their thought from heaven. As men declined from their innocence all this was changed, and at length it came to pass, we read:
" When men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all which they chose. . . . There were giants in the earth in those days. . . . And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually ; and it repented Jehovah that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart."
By the sons of God are meant nearly the same as by the primitive man, namely, the knowledge and sense of life from God; and as by Eve was meant the love of living as of one's self in the good sense as of one's self from God, and in the perverse as of one's self following the allurements of sense so here the daughters of men signify the developments of this perverse wilfulness in the pursuit of evil pleasure; and when the sense of life from God joined itself with unrestrained loves for evil pleasure, there was born from them the persuasion that God was in them and they were God; that there was no other God than they, and no other law of good than their will; and the intensity of this perverse persuasion corresponded with the intensity of their life from God; and therefore it is said that there were giants in the earth in those days giants of evil.
And then came the end. Immersed entirely in this persuasion, their thinking and their breathing with heaven ceased ; they destroyed their own life, which was one with heaven, in a flood of wilful perversity of their own making. We understand that there was no other flood than that, and that except with a small remnant the primeval church did thus come to its end.
That small remnant was of a nature differently developed. The primeval church in its innocence had been wide open to love from God, and from that love they had perception of all things that agreed or disagreed with it, and thus came readily into wisdom of life like that of the heavens; but the men of the next age, called the Silver Age, had no such fulness of love from God, and consequently no such perception of wisdom. The intellect with them had the leading part, and was developed slowly by instruction in spiritual truth, by means of which they were led into a good life, blessed by some degree of happy love. The study of spiritual truth was their delight, and especially the study of the representatives of spiritual things in natural. Therefore to them the traditions from the Golden Age came as a revelation from heaven of just such things as they loved to know, and were to them as a Word from God, and became the nucleus of a fuller Word afterward.
But not all at once was such a state of spiritual intelligence developed. The flood which destroyed the primitive church caused temptation and struggle to the remnant that were saved. The intense persuasion of the giants who believed themselves God could not but threaten the safety of the few who were beginning to think more coolly, and to become intelligent in spiritual truth ; and as afterward a state of spiritual worship of God was represented by the tabernacle, and then by the temple, and a state of life with God by a golden city, so here the state of protection of these ancient men by God, and the separate state which He provided for them, was represented by the ark by which Noah and his family and all the beasts of the earth were preserved from the flood. "Mansions" there were in it, representing the separateness of the thinking of the new age from the love or will a separateness which was essential to salvation. A window there was about it of a cubit from the top, for there was spiritual illumination from heaven. There was a door in the side, representing the life of obedience by which they entered in. It was built in "lower, second, and third stories," for there are three degrees of the intellectual mind in which abide respectively the knowledge that is learned, the rational understanding, and the spiritual intelligence. The gathering in of all the beasts of the earth, clean and unclean, represents the preservation of all human affections, good and evil, that make the life of man full and varied, under the new conditions. And that all living things died upon the earth as the waters prevailed, represents the removal from the earth of those who were in the deadly persuasions of the former state ; and then the gradual subsiding of the waters until the ark rested upon the mountains, represents the gradual freeing and enlightening of the minds of those who were to constitute the church of spiritual intelligence upon the earth. The obscurity of their first thought is described as a raven which " went forth to and fro until the waters were dried up from off the earth." There was as yet no resting-place for the dove, which, like the dove that rested upon the Lord after His baptism, represented the thoughts of heavenly love and charity that fill the mind emerging from the waters of temptation and of purification. In another seven days the dove returned with an olive-leaf plucked off in her mouth a representative of the remains of the wisdom of love from former days which was now beginning to be enjoyed ; and after yet another seven days, the clove went forth and returned no more, because a free state of spiritual thought and life was established.
I am quite aware how fanciful these interpretations of the dove and the raven and the olive leaf will appear to many, and especially the significance ascribed to the details of the ark; and yet such symbolism prevails everywhere in the Bible. The Lord said " destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it again," but He spake of the temple of His body, of which the temple at Jerusalem was a symbol. The Church acknowledging the Lord, and living from His presence, was called the Tabernacle of God with men. And can it be supposed that the dimensions and the structure of the temple were so minutely prescribed without any regard to the representation in detail as well as in general ? In a future lecture I hope to illustrate the particulars of this representation of the tabernacle and of the ceremonial worship performed in it; and will only add now that the same principle of interpretation applies universally throughout the Scriptures, and everywhere reveals descriptions of Divine and heavenly things which seem to us of the utmost spiritual value—constituting in fact the living soul of the Scriptures.
The study of such representations, and of the lessons of heavenly life which God the Creator has spread before us in all Nature in the glorious sun which in its all-pervading beneficent rule is a symbol of Himself, in moon and stars, in shadowing clouds and fertilizing showers, in all the living affectionate animals of the earth, and in the growth of the varied plants even in the rocks which gave to the Lord His emblem for the foundation of His church—the study of these and of the lessons of life which they teach, was, as we arc taught, the very life of the ancient people whom we know as Noah and his sons. Emblems of all Divine and heavenly virtues and powers they made for themselves, finding abundant means in the kingdoms of nature; and these emblems they placed in their temples and their homes not to be worshipped, but to remind them of heavenly things. They composed fabulous histories, also, sometimes personifying the heavenly bodies by no means limiting their thought to natural movements and phenomena, but seeing in these a real correspondence of spiritual relations, which they thus described.
The whole ancient world as we look back upon it through its remains of art and literature, is full of such symbolic representations. It is very true that 'the remains nearest to our own time present a picture of the grossest idolatry and ignorance of spiritual things; but the further back we go the more spiritual intelligence we find. In Greece, in Egypt, in Assyria, in India, and in China, we find everywhere the superior wisdom and spiritual character of their remote ancestors revered by the degraded posterity. And in the study of their remains, some intelligent students find as they go back the idolatry and the polytheism disappearing, and one God worshipped, Who is the Creator of the universe and Whose various attributes and manifestations are variously personified.
The character of the religious life of the Church of Noah is pictured to us in the rainbow which was taken as the emblem of it. Of course it is not true that then first the rays of the sun were reflected from the drops in rainbow colors. Something more than this is meant. It is called a token of a covenant between God and men ; and a covenant means a mutual relation in which something is done on both sides by virtue of which there is conjunction. Such a covenant was established afterward by means of the Ten Commandments which were called the Covenant, and the ark that contained them the Ark of the Covenant, and which taught what men must do in order that they might receive life and blessing from God.
Something similar must be meant by the covenant with Noah ; and the rainbow to be a fit token of it must truly represent it. The rainbow, as we know, is caused by the reflection and bending of the rays of light from the sun by the drops from a cloud. The rays that are bent least come to us as red; and other colors follow in order through yellow to green and blue, deepening to violet. And these colors affect our feelings variously: the red with a warm glow; the yellow, which is the color of gold and grains and fruits, with stimulating encouragement; the blue as what is clear and cool; the violet with modest trustfulness.
If the rainbow is really a representative of a spiritual relation to the Lord, all these details have their significance; and in this view the rain of heaven is the Lord's teaching of good life, by which the natural life is kept clean and fruitful. The sunshine upon it is the illumination from the Lord with those who love spiritual light and warmth ; and the beautiful colors are the varied states of spiritual affection and illumination from the Lord with those who thus receive Him. The cloud in which the rainbow is said to be set is the obscurity of natural ideas and appearances as contrasted with spiritual. When, therefore, we think of a people who loved natural things only for the sake of the spiritual lessons they yielded, and loved these for the sake of the good life they taught, and know that the Lord blessed them with spiritual light in every variety of good affection, we see an image of this enlightening presence of the Lord in their natural truth, in the bow that is set in the cloud. And we see further that though the natural rainbow is no sign that there will come no more a natural flood, such a spiritual bow is a sign that to those who thus live the truth and are illumined by the Lord, a flood of evil thinking will no more take them away.
The bow was especially the token of the covenant between the Lord and this wisdom-loving church of the ancient time ; but it is a token of the similar covenant between the Lord and all who love similar wisdom for the sake of spiritual life. It may have a fulfilment even with us, while we, from love for heavenly wisdom and charity, see the clouds of this ancient story illumined by spiritual light, revealing from the Lord beautiful possibilities of love and wisdom in a life from Him.
It has already been said that the first instruction of this church was from the traditions of the revelation to the earliest church. These traditions or collections were afterward increased under the Divine inspiration, and perfected into a Divine Word. From that Word, Swedenborg tells us, was taken this very story of which we are treating, as well as the earlier chapters of Genesis, and also the prophetic quotations from the Book of the Wars of Jehovah, and the Book of Jasher, and the Book of "those that speak in Proverbs." These books treated at length of the rise and decline of the ancient churches, and also of the saving work, the conflicts, the redemption of the Lord Who was to come into the world. Him they worshipped and looked for constantly living as if their lives must be always ready for Him. But the representatives which were clear and beautiful to them were not such as could be understood or loved by the more worldly men that followed. Therefore similar truth was afterward embodied in the form of the stories of our Word, which can at least be understood and read in the letter, and thus preserve a Divine revelation among men until they shall once more love to know of God and heaven, and love the life of heaven.
To Noah were born three eons; for it was inevitable that there should be varieties in the development of the church; not all would become intelligent and wise in the deeper things of spiritual wisdom. Some became so, and some were content with being taught how to live good lives, and with holy forms of worship ; and others again, like Cain in the earlier days, cared only for the knowledge of holy things, and not for the life of varied love to the Lord and the neighbor. These last are meant by Ham ; the spiritually intelligent and loving by Shem; and the more simple good and obedient by Japheth.
The incident with which the story closes illustrates the character of these, and especially the spirit of charity which was the very means of life and of conjunction with the Lord in the church.
" These are the three sons of Noah," we read, "and of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and was drunken ; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness."
The cultivation of the ground means here as In fore the cultivation of various kinds of knowledge and intelligence which naturally began to prevail in the church. That Noah planted a vineyard means that they cultivated the wisdom of spiritual life which makes the church. From this the church is often called the Lord's vineyard; and because all true wisdom of spiritual life is from the Lord Himself, therefore He called Himself the true Vine. The wine of the Holy Supper also means such wisdom of good life, which because it constitutes the thoughts of His heart He calls His blood.
Nut that Noah drank of the wine, and was drunken, means that in that church were those that sought such wisdom not from the Lord but from themselves, and were intoxicated with pride in the fruits of their own sagacity and intelligence. It is inevitable that when men do so, they should fall into many errors of thought and evils of life.
Every boastful man does so to-day, and then displays unclothed his natural perversity; and so it was in the days of Noah. And then they who cared only for the knowledge of spiritual things, and not for a life of love and charity, were quick to see the errors and evils, and loved to expose them and to dwell upon them. May we not justly draw the converse lesson to-day, that every one who loves to see and to impute evil, if he calls himself a disciple of the Lord, is so only by virtue of a knowledge of Christian teachings, and not at all by his Christian life ? But fortunately such did not prevail in the church at its best it was the character of Ham, but not of Shem and Japheth.
These by their modest act represent the charity which was the life of the church of old, and is the life of every church which loves not to impute evil, but to remove it, and to veil and excuse it as far as this can justly be done which would help every one appear at his best, and lends the raiment of its own best thoughts to assist him to appear so and to become so, rejoicing when he is worthy of its own cordial love and honor.