Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


Previous: The Exodus Up: Lectures on Genesis And Exodus Next: Lectures on Genesis And Exodus

The Tabernacle and Sacrificial Worship.

IN the account of the giving of the law from Sinai, we read that the Ten Commandments were spoken in the ears of all the assembly of Israel. And the people came near unto Moses, and said :

"Behold, Jehovah our God hath showed us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God doth talk with man and he liveth. Now, therefore, why should we die ? for this great fire will consume us. If hear the voice of Jehovah our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived ? Go thou near, and hear all that Jehovah our God shall say ; and speak thou unto us all that Jehovah our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it." (Deut. v.)

And then Moses drew near to the thick darkness, and many more particulars of the law were given unto him. Afterward there was shown to him the model of the Tabernacle that he was to make, and all its furniture, and he was instructed in regard to the details of the building and the consecration of it, the consecration of the priests, and the forms of worship.

The Ten Commandments contain and represent, as has already been said, the essential truths that every one must have to save him from an evil life. The description of the Tabernacle, and of the worship in it, contains and represents a knowledge of the spiritual nature of man as a temple of God, and also of the Lord's church in heaven and on earth, and of the manner in which the Lord Himself is conjoined with it. The form of the Tabernacle was not showed to the people, nor to any but Moses, who was taken up into the mountain, near to God, that it might be showed to him, and that he might show it to the people. And so neither can the knowledge of man's spiritual nature, and of heaven, and the Lord in heaven be revealed except to one who is taken up into heaven by the Lord, and instructed, that he may instruct others. It is not of the earth, and cannot be received and understood by one whose ideas are of the earth and bounded by the earth. It is necessary that one should be lifted out of these material ideas, and in heaven itself be introduced into heavenly ideas, in order that he may know the heavenly possibilities of man's nature and reveal them to men. And such the New Church believes to have been the office of Emanuel Swedenborg. His own declaration upon the subject, which the New Church holds to be the truth, is as follows :

"Since the Lord cannot manifest Himself in person, and nevertheless has foretold that He will come and found a New Church, which is the New Jerusalem, it follows that He will do this by means of a man who can not only receive the doctrines of this church with the understanding, but can also publish them by the press. That the Lord manifested Himself before me His servant, and sent me to this office, and that He afterward opened the eyes of my spirit, and so has admitted me into the spiritual world, and has granted me to see the heavens and the hells, also to converse with angels and spirits, and this now uninterruptedly for many years, I testify in truth ; likewise that from the first day of that call I have not received anything that pertains to the doctrine of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone, while I read the Word." (T. C. R. 779.)

If men had the love of the Lord Jesus in their hearts, and knew that He had sent them a message, would they not be eager to receive it ? And if they did not know, but heard that it was from Him Whose love they knew, would they not listen to see whether or not it agreed with His love ? And if they found that the message told of heaven and hell, and of the Lord's just and loving rule in them both ; of the spiritual nature of man, and of the Lord's conjunction with man in Christian life; and of the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures which explains the inner states of the Lord's life in the world, and His saving work in men would not this be just what they should expect in a message from the Lord out of heaven ?

But the minds of men are so full of the world and the outside work of the world that they are reluctant to dwell upon such things. They say that such knowledge is not essential to salvation ; and even if it be true they prefer to attend to what seems to them the necessary work of this life, and leave the knowledge of the other until they enter upon it. But if they do not love it now, why should they expect to love it then ? Their going to the other world will not change its nature or theirs. And again, we do not as regards other knowledge care only for that directly concerning our practical work. We think that the life is ennobled by noble thinking which lifts the minds of men above the mere work of their hands, and by broad sympathy which is concerned with the highest interests of mankind.

And surely the knowledge that includes the relation of man to heaven and the Lord, that embraces that part of the human race now living in the spiritual world, as well as the much smaller part now upon the earth which shows how these are combined into one, and constitute together the Lord's kingdom, and also how the Lord lives and rules in that kingdom surely such knowledge, if it be true, is capable of broadening and deepening the lives of men as no other knowledge can.

And still Martha is not rejected on account of her devotion to her practical service ; but she who sits at the Lord's feet and learns of Him, has also a part which is good and which shall not be taken away from her.

We have learned from the story of Israel in Egypt that a state of life remote from the Lord and heaven is not the normal condition of man, and is not to endure forever. And if we consider that the return to the heavenly land is a return to a full knowledge of the Lord and of conscious life from Him, we may perhaps be willing to confess that the knowledge that explains His relation to the souls of men is necessary to the end, and in itself of the highest interest.

In the light of this message from the Lord there is no part of the Word that does not contain instruction in regard to life with Him and from Him. And we shall find if we consider it attentively that the sacrificial worship established among the people of Israel is a representative of the truly Christian worship that keeps the hearts of men spiritually alive with the love and the truth of the Lord.

It is probable that the forms of this representative worship were not new, but were familiar to Israelites and Egyptians and other nations of the time. We read that " Noah builded an altar unto Jehovah, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings upon the altar." And very much earlier, "Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto Jehovah. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof."

We may see in these, merely representatives of the states of worship of the earliest churches ; but they show that the symbols were employed even then as means of description, even if not actually used in the celebration of worship. And in the more external literal generations that led down to Abraham such altars and sacrifices were themselves the sacred things of worship. Abraham we find ready even to sacrifice his son believing such a deed to be an acceptable act of worship. It may well be that there was no part of the Tabernacle or of its furniture, and no detail of the sacrificial rites, which was not known and in use before ; for there had been ages of such representative worship, and a great development of the forms of it. But such forms were now associated with idolatry, and with every kind of sensual indulgence. A new language of worship was not revealed, and could not have been accepted if revealed. But the old language was purged of its abuses, and its terms were so selected and arranged that they could represent a true spiritual church, and the living relations of such a church to the Lord Who was to come.

All of its forms and terms had been so understood by the wise ancients with whom they originated. If they had lived when the pattern of the Tabernacle was shown to Moses and the worship in it was instituted, they would have seen in it a representative of their own most holy states of conjunction with God, made far more full and holy by His glorified Human Presence. They would scarcely have attended at all to the outward forms, any more than we attend to the forms of letters as we read ; but they would have read from them the beautiful meaning relating to the holy life from God that they lived, and their minds would have been full of holy delight.

If they had lived we say! But if there is a life after the death of the body, surely they did live; and the good and spiritually intelligent had been gathered into heaven, where they loved the spiritual wisdom that relates to God and heaven and the spirits of men, not less, but more and more. And if the pattern of the sacred things was showed to Moses out of heaven, we may believe that they were not ignorant of the giving of the forms familiar to them, and not uninterested in the representative use which was to be made of them.

In the New Church we are taught that all this was really so that the patterns were shown to Moses in the mount by the spirit of the Lord operating through these very angels who so loved what they meant; and that in all the worship that was based upon them they were present as mediums of a holiness that otherwise it could not have had, through their holy love for the relations with the Lord which were represented. We are taught that the pillar of cloud and of fire which led and guarded the Israelites for forty years, and from which the Lord spake unto Moses, was not from the immediate presence of God, but from His presence with the company of these wise angels, whose duty it was to watch over the holy representatives which were at that time the only means of communication between heaven and fallen men. It was the presence of the Lord, truly, but His presence through them.

The holiness of that presence was to those who felt it a very real thing. When the Tabernacle was reared up, " a cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle."

Especially was the sacred influence felt about the ark in which were the Tables of the Covenant. When the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the water of the Jordan, the waters that came down from above stood upon a heap far away, and those that went down to the sea were cut off, and the presence of the Lord filled all the bed of the river. And when the ark was carried about the walls of Jericho, the walls fell down flat.

Many other wonderful things are related of the power of this holy influence, but among them all there is none more wonderful than the living miracle of which we are witness that after more than three thousand years the holiness of the Lord still fills the sacred record of these particulars, and touches with a sense of holiness the hearts of all who do not explain it away and thus close their minds to it.

If it were not from some such cause how is it possible that the details of the worship of an obscure shepherd tribe should have been so preserved to us through these many centuries ? And whence should there be any sense of holiness at all in the record of such forms of worship as if repeated to-day would seem low and degrading ?

In the New Church we are taught that it is because in the days when no spiritual thought was possible to men, the Lord provided that in such forms of worship as were possible Divine and heavenly things should be represented that in their deepest meaning they should represent the sanctifying and glorifying of the human nature which He should take to Himself, and in applications less exalted the regeneration of individual men and of mankind. We are taught that while the Lord's church remained with Israel the worship itself was instructive to angels wise in spiritual wisdom; and that since the kingdom was taken from Israel, and the Scripture record of these things was completed, as often as that record is reverently read among men, these holy meanings come ever new to the angels for their continual instruction ; that a holy delight from the Lord with the angels made the worship holy, has preserved the record of it to our day, fills it still and touches the hearts of those who read it reverently, and will make delightful to coming generations the truth of the Lord and of heaven which the record contains.

If we are able to think these things, and to conceive of such an origin for that sense of holiness which is still a very real thing, at least among children and the simple-hearted in Christendom, we may be able to think further that if the Lord desired and saw fit to open the spiritual meanings of these things to men who loved the Lord and spiritual wisdom, it might easily be done by bringing them into association with the wise angels, so that in the light of their heaven the spiritual meaning might be read from the sacred history. And this is just what we understand to have been done to Swedenborg. First by various experiences his heart was led to know the Lord, and the Lord filled to him even the letter of the Word with a sense of the Divine fire of His saving love. And then his eyes were opened to see the things of heaven, and his mind to read the Word in the light in which angels read it. He was not taught its meanings by them, but he with them was taught by the Lord alone; and through him the meanings are revealed for those hereafter who may love to have the holiness of the Word interpreted to them, and to return to clear light of spiritual thought, and to renewed life with the Lord.

The sacred Tabernacle, which was the temple of the desert journey and of the first occupation of the land of Canaan, had walls of shittim, or acacia, wood overlaid with gold ; an inner covering of fine linen and blue and purple and scarlet wrought with cherubim; and over this a tent of goat's hair, and coverings of skins. It was divided into two rooms by a vail of blue and purple and scarlet and fine linen, embroidered with cherubim, hung upon pillars of shittim wood overlaid with gold; and the hangings for the door were of the same. There was a court about it surrounded by hangings of fine linen, supported upon pillars of brass.

The door of the Tabernacle was open to the east. In the innermost room, within the vail, was placed the Ark of the Covenant, made of shittim wood overlaid with gold, containing the two tables of stone, upon which the Commandments were written. Upon the ark was the golden cover, called the mercy-seat, from the golden substance of which rose the two cherubim. In the room without the vail, separated by the vail from the ark, stood the altar of incense. Upon the south side was the golden candlestick, with its seven lamps, and upon the north the table of bread.

Both the table and the altar were of shittim wood overlaid with gold. In the court of the Tabernacle, in front of the door, stood the altar of burnt-offering, and between it and the door stood the laver of brass, with water for washing.

The most holy place no one entered except upon most solemn occasions; but from between the cherubim there came to Moses, or to the priest standing by the altar of incense, the voice from heaven which answered his questions, and taught what should be done. Without the vail, through every night, burned the seven lamps supplied with pure olive oil; and upon the table stood twelve loaves of bread in two piles, renewed each Sabbath day. The fire burned always upon the altar at the door, and from that fire coals were placed in a golden censer with fragrant incense, which was carried into the Tabernacle, and laid upon the altar of incense. Every morning and every evening upon the altar of burnt-offering a lamb was burnt, with fine flour and oil and wine. And to it also were brought, according to their respective rites, all burnt-offerings and bread-offerings, peace-offerings, and sin-offerings, offerings for defilement and for trespasses.

The Tabernacle, like the temple, was a representative of the Lord's humanity, and in a lower sense of the church of God in the heavens and 0n the earth ; but in a particular sense it represented the spiritual nature of an individual man. In this last sense we will follow some of the details that have been mentioned.

The inmost, most holy place where the Ark of the Covenant dwells, and the golden cherubim, and the voice of the Lordis in an individual his inmost consciousness, where if he were in the order of heaven the law of God would be written in his heart. There would be the springs of his life from the Lord, rising in the golden forms of love to the Lord and love to the neighbor; and from thence would be heard the voice of conscience, or better, of perception of agreement or disagreement with the love of the Lord in the heart, by which the spiritual life might be instructed and guided.

The region of the mind without the vail, distinct from this inmost chamber, is the domain of thought, reason, and determination. The golden lamps here, burning always with the warm light of pure oil of olives, are in an orderly mind the light of love in which the mind looks upon human life seeing its possibilities of good, putting a kindly interpretation upon its weaknesses and failures, but seeing clearly and separating every evil. The table of show-bread, or Presence-bread, as it is called meaning the bread of the Lord's Presence is the good-will and determination to do good which comes from a sense of the Lord's love in the heart. And the altar burning with sweet incense is the prayer and praise that ascend from the heart and mind to the Giver of heavenly life.

The court of this spiritual tabernacle is the domain of practical life. The altar of burnt-offering there is the desire for the love of the Lord in the life ; and the laver is purification from worldly thoughts and feelings.

The animals from which offerings were brought, represent the good affections of human hearts. "My sheep" and " my lambs," the Lord calls His followers, because of the good love in them that is like sheep, and the innocent trustfulness that is like lambs. Kids of the goats—more inquiring and independent represent innocent trust in the wisdom of the Lord, as the lambs are trust in His goodness. Bullocks represent the will and the power of natural helpfulness ; and so, in general, the love for what seems naturally good. And doves which are so like sheep in character, but fly in the air—are loves for innocent thinking. Doves were sometimes accepted instead of a lamb where the lamb could not be afforded ; for where innocent states of life are not yet attained, the love of innocent thought about it is still acceptable. These were all the animals used in the worship, and they represent the varieties of love to the Lord and the neighbor which constitute Christian life.

In addition to these, there were offerings of wheat and oil and wine, and of sweet incense. And by the wheat was meant the useful works of daily duty, the satisfaction in which constitutes the daily bread ; by the oil, the kindness of mutual love from the sense of the Lord's great goodness to us; and by the wine, the wisdom of good life from the True Vine, and such as we may think from Him. The sweet incense is grateful prayer and praise.

The offering of these represents the bringing of good things of Christian life to the Lord for purification, and the enkindling of them all with the Divine fire of His love.

The morning and evening offering of a lamb upon the altar represents the Christian duty to come to the Lord with innocent trustfulness at the beginning and the close of every day, and of every state of life. The fine flour and oil and wine offered with the lamb upon the altar, are the thought of usefulness, the friendly love, and the truth which are acknowledged to be from the Lord, and are brought for His blessing. The fire upon the altar is the love and life from Him; and the burning of the offering is the vivifying by the spiritual fire of His love of all that is offered to Him. "An odor of rest " it is called, because it is sweet to Him to give innocent love to men ; and from His enjoyment in it comes inmost peace to them.

At the time of the offering, the priest took of the coals of the altar in the censer, laid incense thereon, and went in to the altar of incense as from the heart touched with the fire of the Lord's love ascends the humble prayer, or song of praise.

The fire was never suffered to go out upon the altar, for that would have meant the departure of the Lord from the church. In all other nations that observed even corrupt forms of sacrificial worship, there was the same solicitude that the sacred fire should not be lost.

Upon the Sabbath day two lambs were to be offered in the morning, and two in the evening, with their bread-offerings, because by the Sabbath is meant increased fulness of conjunction with the Lord, and peace from Him, after labors and temptations are over.

And besides the daily offerings, there were voluntary offerings, representing blessing from the Lord in every state of innocent love for what is good or true. There were also offerings of fine flour and bread in various forms, representing the prayer for a blessing upon the useful work of the day of every kind. There were sacrifices of peace-offerings, as they were called, which were consecrated feasts, partaken of by the family and the friends of him who sacrificed. They represented feasts or social communions of charity and mutual love among those who love the Lord.

In them the fat was burned upon the altar and the blood sprinkled upon it, to represent the sense that the good love and the true thought are from the Lord. The breast and the right shoulder were given to the priest representing the acknowledgment that in our friendly communion the charity and the power of good are of the Lord's saving Presence with us ; and the remainder was eaten as a feast—a representative of enjoyment together in the Lord's love and truth.

And there were offerings representative of repentance before the Lord, for sins done through a wrong ideal of good, or through mistaken principles or applications of principle ; for defilement of feeling or thought from without; for neglect of duty to the Lord; and for trespass against the neighbor. They image, according to their several rites the giving up of evil feelings and erroneous thoughts of every kind; the listening to the voice of the Lord in the heart; the adoption of His teaching as the truth to be lived j the renewed sense of happy life from Him, and grateful thanks to Him for His mercy. The Lord knows that we shall sin and err, and He keeps the way always open for repentance. The laws before us are spiritually His own laws of repentance, forgiveness, and blessing.

And as men grow in love for Him and in desire for spiritual life from Him, and for the knowledge by which this life can be perfected, the inner meaning of these laws will become precious to them, and will be their constant guide in attaining and renewing heavenly states. But the only use of a knowledge of their representation is as a means of interpreting that living Presence of the Lord that is felt in shunning evil as sin in obedience to His commandments. If there be no such shunning of evil, and consequently no such sense of His Presence, these laws and their spiritual meanings are of no interest and no importance. But if the commandments of the Lord are loved, and the Lord is with us, these teachings may be the means of continual development of the life with Him.

In the humble acacia bush first appeared the flame of holy fire. And when from noble trees of the same kind were made the planks of the tabernacle, and the substantial forms of all its furniture, the holy fire burned upon its altar, consumed its burnt-offerings, and caused the sweet incense to ascend. And so to those whose hearts have felt the fire of the Lord's saving love in the protecting power of the simple precepts of His Word, when the knowledge of that power has grown to include the whole spiritual nature of man in all its relations to the Lord, the fire of the Lord's saving love will consecrate the affections and bless the labors of every day, will bring peace in repentance, and will cause grateful praise to ascend from the heart continually. In the Holy City there will be no temple with representative offerings and sacrifices ; " for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it " ; but there will be daily, hourly communion with Him according to the precepts of His Word. In the generations to come and indeed already at hand I believe that these experiences of spiritual life will be prized above all things else, and the representation of them in the story of Genesis will be loved as a description of the steps of the regeneration which God has provided for His children, and which lead through many delightful as well as laborious paths into His very Presence.

It remains to speak of the parallel that there really is between the creation of a heavenly spirit in man and the creation of the natural world. In truth there must be a perfect correspondence between the two, for the one Creator forms them both, and He has not one purpose in view in forming the world and another in forming the heavenly man, but the same purpose, which is a heaven in His own image and likeness. Neither has He one order of development in the one work, and a different order in the other, but the same order applied in the one case to the materials of the earth, and in the other to the human mind in the one case leading up to the perfect human.

Previous: The Exodus Up: Lectures on Genesis And Exodus Next: Lectures on Genesis And Exodus


Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com