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The Captivity; Failure to Heed Conscience
Chapter 1. "Then Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab." Distrust in God appears in another form. Moab, son of Lot, represents those who are naturally good, but "despise the interior things of worship, because they are in the love of self" (Arcana Coelestia #2468). "Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and was sick." To see faults in others, and look down upon them with contempt, debases character, and sickens the soul. Instead of going directly to the Lord in his Word for counsel and relief, we rely upon the common practice of killing the conscience, and consigning all unpleasant feelings to oblivion. We choose death rather than life. The effort to take the life of the prophet drew fire from heaven to consume the soldiers sent to apprehend him. We sometimes resent, or despise, the claims of religion to solve our troubles. Only a hard experience will teach us that to despise others and the teaching of the Word is spiritual death.
2. The teaching of the Word! That is what Elijah—"my God is jah"—represents—the truth that enlightens, directs, corrects and condemns. Elisha—"to whom God is salvation"—also represents the teaching of the Word—the truth that displays the tender mercies of the Lord over all his works, continually bringing good out of evil. The two go together all the way from the first perception of the truth, purposive and abstract (Gilgal), to the recognition of its practical value (Bethel), and finally applied to definite thoughts and feelings in each of us individually (Jericho). At each step in bringing the truth down to the point of contact with our personal needs, we meet the objection that it is becoming altogether too personal. Great determination is needed to stand by the truth until we see just where it hits us personally, see the wrong we must renounce to do the right thing. When ready to face the worst, the word of life (Elijah’s mantle) opens the way to the scene of our renunciation. As soon as the Spirit of the Lord has effected the change within, with our consent, the truth appears in a new light. Elisha witnessed the translation of Elijah in the chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire. The "genuine doctrine" drawn from the letter of the Word by an enlightened understanding is all aflame with the love of God. The vision is inspiring and overwhelming. It confers a double portion of the spirit of prophecy. "The scribes and Pharisees say and do not" (Matthew 23:3). "Jesus taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:29). The efficacy of the spoken word is doubled when it comes from experience. The power of the Word then is illimitable to restore and to increase the abundant life in the spirit. "If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it" (John 14:14). Elisha healed the waters of Jericho, that the barren soil might become fruitful again. Nor dare we call the power of the Word in question, or treat it lightly, even in ignorance. The children suffered death for making fun of Elisha’s bald pate. Ignorantia legis neminem excusat. Thousands suffer death annually through unwittingly violating the law. The consequences are more grievous in childishly ignoring the law of the spirit. The Lord requires us to forgive seventy times seven, for example. Apply this to a specific case on hand (Elisha going up from Jericho to Bethel). Does it produce an incredulous smile? If so, that smile rudely destroys a childlike trust in God.
Our Inherited Good Nature
3. Moab again is the cause of trouble in Israel, representing, in the context, the natural good in us that has been paying tribute to the spiritual man. As professing Christians we take comfort and satisfaction in whatever good we have inherited or acquired. Moab paid the king of Israel thousands of lambs and rams with the wool. Our satisfaction with all that we are able to do for others is reasonable. But when satisfaction turns to self-satisfaction, and we thank God that we are not as other men are, we must prepare for war. Three kings joined to subdue Moab. The heart (Jehoshaphat) is sound, but the head (Jehoram) is not clear either about the method of attack, or the hope of success. The word of the Lord (Elisha) furnishes an ample supply of practical knowledge and instruction as to how to meet the enemy, all of which appears as a violation of human rights to them. (To the Moabites the water appeared as blood). The conflict is severe, breaking down the defenses of our self-sufficiency, cutting off all thoughts of self-merit, and destroying the ground on which we base our claim to personal righteousness. The sacrifice of the first born ended the war. In this lies concealed the painful confession that all that we have or are is the Lord’s. "Without Him we can do nothing" (John 15:5).
4. Here follow three incidents having a direct connection with the foregoing experience. Having realized the bankruptcy of character, we are conscious of an indebtedness to the Lord which seems impossible to repay. We desire to learn anew how to make better use of our two faculties of loving God and understanding his will. There is very little good that we have done from a pure unselfish motive. Immediately there comes to mind the Lord’s instruction, "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils; freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). We must look for opportunities to be kind, helpful and sympathetic. Borrow empty vessels, fill them with oil, sell the oil, pay your debt, and live on the rest.
Is the heart a living power?
Self-entwined its strength sinks low;
It can only live in loving,
And by serving love will grow.
– E. Charles
As love grows we seek further enlightenment to love wisely, and not unwisely. In the upper chamber on the wall in Shunem the prophet found a comfortable retreat. By meditation in the Word we learn how to rest in the Lord, restore our courage, judge justly, and see the heavenward path ahead step by step. Such is the significance of the bed, the table, the throne (not stool), and the candlestick in that upper chamber. The overflowing heart and clearing mind brings about the birth of a new concept of life within, and an increasing joy in the home. But in the heat of life’s struggle, self-interest takes even that joy from us. The child died. The mother love in desperation sought the prophet’s help, and the child’s life was restored through prayer and touch in the upper room of the home. We "raise the dead" as required by the Lord, when we revive the faith we live by through contact with his Spirit in his Word. In considering the various views upon the solution of these problems the Word always helps to "amend the mass," (Arcana Coelestia #3316) and learn how to unite the best there is in others for the commonweal (Arcana Coelestia #3316). With meal, finely ground grain, Elisha healed the deadly pottage. And the bread of the first fruits was multiplied in the hands of the servitor, with more to spare after all had been fed. The more we share all we have with others, the more we have to give, with many unrealized desires left over from day to day. Said Juliet to Romeo: "My bounty is as boundless as the sea; my love as deep: the more I give to thee, the more I have; for both are infinite."
Deceit within Good Nature
5. The Word of God is The Book of Life—a living thing. Hence its power to heal. The cause of leprosy is deceit and hypocrisy. Gehazi’s skin became leprous, or dead, because he appeared outwardly sound before Elisha, while inwardly corrupt in the sight of God. In his case the disease in the flesh corresponded to the disease in the spirit. Naaman’s cure, however, represents the method by which that disease in the soul may be cured. There were lepers in Israel uncured: they knew not their need of a Savior (Luke 4:27). The Syrian represents the Gentile mind, free from religious prejudices, open to conviction, and eager to be set right with God’s help. Elisha’s recipe was simple and practicable. Wash you, make you clean: put away deceitful thoughts, and be sincere at all times in God’s sight. That is what the water of Jordan, in which John baptized the people confessing their sins, represents. Abana and Pharpar represent popular faith cures that treat the effect, but not the cause. Elisha’s prescription goes to the root of the trouble. Sincerity in the race will eliminate leprosy in the race in the long run. The effect must surely vanish when the cause has been removed.
6, 7. The healing of Naaman directs the thought to the growth of the church among the Gentiles, the simple-minded, through the plain teachings of Christianity. The sons of the prophets sought to build by the river Jordan, on the border of the land. The axe used to hew the beams represents the use of a keen intellect in shaping character to serve in a growing church, or communal life. "And one said, Be content, and go with thy servants." The servants of the ministry or missionary are science, art, literature, experience, etc. To go with them is to make use of them to bring out the life lessons from the Word according to the capacity of the hearers. Often, however, the thought is separated from the purpose. The thought is lost in the depths. The purpose is the display of one’s learning. We do not possess our faculties for imparting knowledge for self-glorification, but to give the child or adult something to think over, and to build a Christian character. The axe is borrowed, and not our own. We require to give frequent attention to the question, "Are we getting our message across?" to draw our intellect out of the depths for new and better service. Elisha provided a new handle for the axe. The next incident may doubtless be applied to other experiences, but has also vital relationship with the last thought. The teacher never likes to be reminded that he is speaking over the heads of his listeners. He argues that they need to be uplifted, or shown truth far beyond their reach, or that he is giving them revelation, or that he cannot make his message any plainer. Syria (self-justification) was at war with Israel. Elisha knew the secret thoughts of the king of Syria. The king must therefore get rid of Elisha. But Elisha was guarded from above, and prayed that his servant might see it. There is no excuse for teaching abstract doctrine to those who do not want theology, but the word of life. "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?" Bread! The people hunger for the doctrine of life afire with the love of God. The teacher who cannot see this is blind to his incompetence and unfitness for the highly responsible work entrusted to him. He may resent correction, but acts sanely when he treats his critics as his friends. So the king of Israel fed the Syrians (Gentiles), and they "came no more into the land of Israel." The next verse contradicts this last statement in the letter. The meaning, however, is that the indisposition to accept correction is a settled point, and the teacher turns to the more difficult question of drawing the lesson of life from the Word that meets the needs of the people, and strengthens them for life’s labors. There was a great famine in Canaan. The city was invested by the Syrians. The king and Elisha were within. The people were reduced to the point of starvation, eating their own children to survive. But Elisha promised plenty the next day, and his prophecy was fulfilled in a most unexpected manner. The Syrians heard the noise of the chariots and horses of a great host, and fled in terror. Here is a picture of God’s people in desperate need of the bread of life, their suffering for the lack of it, the sound of a mighty message drawn from the Word, dispersing every argument opposed to it, and the restitution of freedom and normal living. Four lepers were the first to verify Elisha’s prophecy, and impart the knowledge to the starving inhabitants of the city. We are all plagued with hypocrisy, more or less. We die if we go to those who are in as bad a plight as we ourselves. We die if we do nothing about it. Under guidance from within we learn what the Lord has done to scatter the enemy. We take the lesson to heart, and share the experience with others. Only the unbeliever brings condemnation upon his own head.
Judgment Ripens with Experience
8. Sometimes—yes, "sometimes"—for the soul’s experiences pictured in God’s Word do not belong to the world of space and time, each following the other in chronological order. Each soul’s experience has many sides to it, which may appear separately, or together, and on different occasions, but never exactly alike, for the context varies, and enriches them with advancing years. Thus, sometimes our faith is sorely tried. We are uncertain of our ground—where we stand, or ought to stand. "The Lord hath called for a famine." We hunger for righteousness, or to know what is right in an old or new situation. We take to the study of the Word. The Shunammite and her household sojourned in Philistia till the famine was over, and then returned to get back her home and land and all the fruits it had yielded during that period. We always stand to gain when we see the open Word in the light of past experiences. Our gains, however, increase our responsibility in life. We discover evils that we justified by false reasoning. We know it, and must rectify it. Benhadad, king of Syria, shall perish at the hand of Hazael. And Hazael shall punish Israel, preparatory to the captivity, as prophesied by Elisha. Israel and Judah are on the decline. Both Joram and Ahaziah married daughters of Ahab. We are seeing more of the evil thoughts that come from the heart, because we are able to bear the sight of them, and maintain the steady labor of getting them out of our system, like the continuous cleansing of the blood from impurities to maintain health. Sometimes we get a glimpse of old time selfish habits, and do a little to temper or modify them. Joram smote the Edomites. "Yet Edom revolted under the hand of Judah unto this day."
9. Ahab was slain in the attempt to recapture Ramoth-Gilead from the Syrians. His son, Joram, was wounded in battle with Hazael before Ramoth-Gilead. Ramoth-Gilead—"the heights of Gilead"—in Gad, represents the dignity of labor, or good work. We believe in it, and do what we can to raise the standard. But mammon worship has a greater hold over us than we realize, and we deviate from the path of duty, or become party to a questionable deal, and try to excuse ourselves. Or, it is possible to have passed through situations of that order, and met the temptation with firm resistance. If so, then the representation of the anointing of Jehu in Ramoth-Gilead to clear out the house of Ahab has been fulfilled within. "Him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay." Jehu represents the ruling principle of honor in business at work in exposing and cleaning up all fraud, sharp practice, or double dealing. Jehu is swift and uncompromising in carrying out sweeping reforms in fulfillment of prophecy— the truth foreseen in essence by gift from God before the crisis is reached. The sword of Jehu cut down Joram, king of Israel, Ahaziah, king of Judah, and Jezebel, who slew all the servants of the Lord.
10. Then Jehu accomplished the death of Ahab’s seventy sons, and all his great men, and his kinsfolk, and his priests, and all the worshippers of Baal. Nevertheless, Jehu followed in the footsteps of Jeroboam. "He took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart." Hazael smote the people on the other side of the Jordan, and Jehu those on this side of Jordan. We carry on very much as we did before, but there is a difference. Some positive gain has been achieved, without the risk of a decline. It is written in the books. The kings die, and are buried in the land. "The Lord admits man (individually and collectively) interiorly into the truths of wisdom and at the same time into the goods of love only so far as he can be kept in them to the end of his life" (Divine Providence #232).
Trust in God Undergoes a Crucial Test
11. But again we face a serious crisis. "Athaliah destroyed all the seed royal." The infant Joash was secretly saved and cared for in the temple, and proclaimed king while still a child. On this slender thread—this weakest link in the chain— the hopes and fears of the throne of David depended. What a picture! In life’s great crises self-will and God’s will are brought into conflict. Job cursed the day he was born. "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." How often we deny the existence of a merciful God. And there are not lacking men and women a plenty who seriously contemplate suicide as a means of escape from their trials. The love of God is out of sight. The Lord preserves it "in his holy temple." "He will not suffer his holy one to see corruption." Joash was six years in hiding. In the seventh year, on the Sabbath day, the high priest brought him forth again to the light, but under guard, and requiring the death of Athaliah and the destruction of the house of Baal. "And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king, and the people, that they should be the Lord’s people." And they brought Joash from the temple to the king’s house. "And he sat on the throne of the kings."
12. The love of God is again on the ascendancy, but it is still far from being pure. "The high places were not taken away." The recovery, however, stimulated reconstruction, "to repair the breeches in the house." "The hole in the lid" represents the opening, or opportunity, to contribute in secret. The left hand may not know what the right hand doeth in giving to the Lord. "Moreover, they reckoned not with the men into whose hand they delivered the money to be bestowed on workmen: for they dealt faithfully." These are the only terms on which the new life or new civilization can be built bit by bit. But we cannot always live up where the sun shines. Our troubles come to the fore again with threatening self-justifications. Hazael was set on taking Jerusalem. Joash bribed him with treasures taken from the temple. It takes a bit of self-love out of us when we deplore the loss of character in using our religious education surreptitiously in the service of mammon. Joash was the victim of a conspiracy, and buried "with his fathers in the city of David: and Amaziah his son reigned in his stead."
Still Further Humiliation
13. The abuse of what the church taught us focuses our attention upon our thoughts. Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, reigned in Samaria. The people there were in the hands of Hazael. We recall again the words of the Lord to Elijah: "Him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay, and him that escapeth the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay." Hazael’s part in the drama is about complete, as also Jehu’s part. The sword of reason and the sword of truth are always available, but now become merged in the word of the prophet—the sword of Elisha—which no enemy can withstand. "I have slain them by the words of my mouth," saith Hosea. And this applies especially to the word of the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18; John 6:14). Given a sound reason for ending a feud between self and a former friend, the king of Israel represents the principle of the brotherhood of man; the purpose to be neighborly to the former friend is represented by the bow, and the reason by the arrow. Power from above is back of that purpose and reason. Elisha’s hands were placed on the king’s hands. Now look toward the rising sun—the Lord—and shoot. That shot registers deliverance from false reasoning. But to what extent? Our condemnation, or hatred, of evil is whole-hearted to start with, but cools down as we are confronted by more insidious evils. The king should have smitten the ground with the arrows five or six times. Our emancipation from the vicious habit of self-justification is not complete for the present. Yet the power of prophecy unto salvation is unimpaired. The voice of conscience may weaken, but whenever we notice the appearance of thoughts derisive of the voice of conscience— the band of Moabites invading the land at the coming in of the year—the forgotten word of the prophet is there to raise the dead. "When the corpse touched the bones of Elisha, the man revived, and stood up on his feet." Such experiences with the living word are humiliating. The touch of repentance that accompanies them helps to recapture some of our better resolutions that had been lost in life’s strain.
14. The reaction of the heart to these experiences leads to the disproval of the reasoning and false evidence which perverted our judgment in the immediate past. Amaziah slew the servants who assassinated his father, Joash. Reason and knowledge are the servants of the king, the lawgiver. At the same time the heart is strengthened. Human nature is enriched and common sense sharpened. Amaziah smote Edom and took Sela, the rock city, and named it Joktheel—"subdued by God," or "God’s reward of victory." This gain, however, is tinged with false pride, which makes us somewhat arrogant at times, and must be put down. Joash, king of Israel, rightly took exception to being dominated by Amaziah. War followed. Judah was smitten, the wall of Jerusalem broken down, and the temple pillaged. All this seems to reflect a decided lapse in the life of religion. From the whole context, however, it implies greater strength in right thinking and right feeling through the humiliation of self-conceit. How Joash fought against Amaziah is written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel. Judah also brought the body of Amaziah, who was slain in Lachish, on horses to Jerusalem, and buried it in the city of David. Azariah, Amaziah’s son, restored Elath to Judah. And Jeroboam, the son of Joash, restored Damascus and Hamath to Israel.
15. The story now approaches the end of the northern kingdom. The southern kingdom is crippled. Azariah was a good king, tolerating only the old practice of worship in high places. But he was "a leper, and dwelt in a several house." This describes the state of the heart in our later trials. We love the Lord above all others, but we also love ourselves overmuch. We only appear outwardly sound Christians: inwardly we know that the appearance is not sound and healthy, and we feel terribly isolated and lonesome through self-consciousness. When the heart is faint, the head is sick too. In the northern kingdom Zachariah reigned only six months, when he was succeeded by his assassin, Shallum. Within a month’s time Menahem ended the reign of Shallum. A few years later Pekah murdered Pekahiah, Shallum’s successor; and then came the first deportation of the tribes cast of the Jordan and in Galilee to Assyria. This is descriptive of the terrible vacillation of the mind in being governed by principles that are in part right, but sadly at variance with each other. We are not consistent in our thinking. Worldly interests alter our point of view in public and private affairs sometimes slowly and gently, and sometimes with speed and violence. This is the normal concomitant of progress. But so far as mammon worship warps our judgment, and we justify bad policy or conduct, we not only retard progress, but hasten inevitable frustration, or downfall. Practically everyone sooner or later becomes a slave to habits of thought excusatory of selfish ways of living, and no argument or appeal to the consideration of others makes the slightest impression. We know it too, yet excuse ourselves again on the ground that the problem is too big for us, or too hard for us. The Assyrian took the children of Israel in the confines of the land into exile. Fortunately, the heart feels that all is not as it should be. We are very unhappy about it. "In those days the Lord began to send against Judah Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah."
16. Worship in Jerusalem descended to a lower level. Rezin and Pekah besieged the city without avail. Ahaz secured the help of Tiglath-pileser, who took Damascus, and killed Rezin. The drama represents what is taking place behind the scenery in the worship and love of self. The Lord permits us to see how at times the love of the world influences us to promote self-interests, and how strongly we justify thoughts and actions that would do untold harm to ourselves and others if given full sway. The statue of the goddess of Reason on the altar of Notre Dame in Paris at the time of the Revolution not only represented but corresponded to the fallen state of the people, and of the world too, at the close of the eighteenth century. They did not realize the significance of their acts. The soul in process of regeneration, however, can see from the Word the import of his thoughts and feelings, how he is enchained by them, and the way out. Fortunately, in the situation set before us in the text, the love of God is strong enough to hold our feelings in check sufficiently to prevent a complete downfall. But the reasons for entertaining the dream of wealth or prestige (the altar in Damascus) are so captivating that we are unable to resist them in toto, to the desecration of our worship and love of God, and the weakening of the life of repentance and self-sacrifice (the debasement of the laver and the altar in the outer court of the temple). Ahaz’s death and burial means that we have seen this in ourselves, and been immeasurably shocked by the experience.
Justification of Inbred Evil
17. Such a degradation of the love of God in the heart gives free play to worldly ambitions that are incorrigible, at least for the present. Thus, after three years’ siege the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried away Israel into captivity, leaving only Judah in the land. We know that as young people we were very sure of ourselves, and considered ourselves above correction. This was all on the surface. A little later when we started in the world’s work we discovered that it did not pay to expose our weakness. We then learned to conceal it, with the false impression that we were then free from the spirit of self-conceit. It was there all the same, growing in the dark. Israel sinned, and "built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchman to the fenced city." Self-defense became a fixed habit of life. We were always right. Other people were responsible for all our sorrows and reverses, not we! The hardened criminal feels quite justified in robbing and killing. He is just getting even with the state! Our record bears no comparison with his! We firmly believe it. Yet, so far as we justify the evils in our hearts and lives, we are held captive to them, and have so far exiled ourselves from God. "The land" wholly occupied by Assyrians unable to adjust themselves to their environment implies unrestrained self-justification. The placing of a priest representing the worship of Israel marks the hand of Providence in ameliorating the situation for us. In the acknowledgment that we are not altogether blameless for world conditions, and our own sufferings in particular, lies our only hope of ultimate salvation, as will appear later. The message of the "Latter Prophets," which is to follow, is necessary to prepare us for the reception of the Lord, the "Son of David," and the fulfillment of his mission. "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24).
18. The heart is still right with God. It even beats more strongly whilst the head is busiest endeavoring to justify worldly ways. Hezekiah removed the high places, and refused to pay tribute to the king of Assyria during the siege of Samaria. Through humility and sympathy we feel that we are not altogether right, but know not what to do about it. After the crisis is past the heart weakens again in letting well enough alone. Meanwhile we lose ground. Seven years after the fall of Samaria Sennacherib took the fenced cities of Judah, and Hezekiah became his servant. Our self-justifications have invaded the heart, and threaten to break down our trust in the Lord altogether. "If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us; then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 124).
19. The heart is in sore straits. "Hezekiah rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord." What has the Word of the Lord to say to us? Isaiah counsels that bluff retreats at the presence of courage. Sennacherib had withdrawn, but reawakened Hezekiah’s fears worse than ever by a blasphemous letter sent to him. Isaiah declared that this reproach and blasphemy against the Lord was contemptible in the eyes of the church. Sennacherib shall not enter the city, or even attack it, for the Lord will defend it for his own sake, and for his servant David’s sake. So long as we will to do the Lord’s will, "a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked" (Psalm 91:7, 8). "That night the angel of the Lord smote the camp of the Assyrians." Our guardian angel delivers us out of the hand of our enemies.
20. Yes, but the strain of the trial is overmuch for ordinary human beings. "In those days Hezekiah was sick unto death." Conscience demurred that our house was not in order, and we were not ready to die. The Lord grants recovery to the penitent, and prolonged life. The "light of life" will shine for us so long as there is work to be done, and the will to do it. Hezekiah suffered from a boil, the remedy for which was a lump of figs. The sore spot in our system is our unwillingness to take life’s trials, the permissions of Providence, with grace. It is surprising how quickly irritation and ill will disappear with a kind feeling toward someone in need—or a kind deed. We resent discipline. That resentment is the spirit of Babylon, which now makes its first open contact with Judah. Self will versus God’s will. This is the inmost cause of all our trouble in the world. We have known it before in theory. We are now about to become personally acquainted with this evil, feel the force of it as far as we are able to bear it. The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem as a friend. Hezekiah showed him all the treasures in the temple. Isaiah said that one day everything would be carried into Babylon, and nothing left. We cannot take aught with us until we have learned that it is the Lord’s, not ours, to be used wholly for the good of others. To know what this means we must see wherein we are presently claiming it as our own, and only sharing it with others so far as that promotes our own interests. The "peace and truth" we enjoy in our study of the Word is given to strengthen us to "see all, nor be afraid." We cannot be too grateful either for the freer supply of practical knowledge of life in general which is ours today—Hezekiah’s pool and conduit for refreshment and cleanliness in the city of David.
A Decadent Temple
21. Two of the most wicked kings of Judah, Manasseh and Amon, followed Hezekiah. They seduced Israel "to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel." Therefore, "thus saith the Lord, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, and turneth it upside down." The Chinese say that "an inverted bowl receiveth no light." The perverted soul is empty and dark. "I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies." The sins of Manasseh are altogether foreign to our ordinary modes of existence today. In the letter—but not in the spirit! It would require time and effort to trace the counterpart in the spirit of the different ways in which he desecrated and profaned the worship of God in his time. Enough that we see in the world and in ourselves such a violation of the Christian life as is known to everyone in Christendom that we seriously wonder if the end of civilization is not already in sight. Manasseh and Amon were "buried in the garden of Uzza" (meaning "strength"); that is, the garden of the king’s house. Strength of character grows as we take courage and face the facts about ourselves. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
Temporary Repair of it
22, 23. So far as we know it, and "shun evils as diabolical and as obstacles to the Lord’s entrance, we are more and more nearly conjoined with Him" (Divine Providence #33). And so Josiah followed, and proceeded to repair the temple, discovered the long lost book of the law, gathered the people together in the temple courts, recited the law in their hearing, renewed their covenant with the Lord, and celebrated the Passover festival. "Surely there was not held such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of king Josiah, wherein this Passover was held to the Lord in Jerusalem." The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper includes in its spirit the spirit of all the burnt offerings and sacrifices in the Israelitish Church. "To those who worthily come to the Holy Supper, the Lord is present and opens heaven." But "the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Lord through the Sacrament of the Holy Supper according to repentance before it" (The Canons of the New Church IV. 8, 9). Josiah did much also to destroy idolatry in the land, even going as far as Bethel, and removing all traces there of the disorderly worship of the golden calf. "Notwithstanding, the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath" because of Manasseh’s provocations. "And the Lord said, I will remove Judah out of my sight, as I have removed Israel." We know that there are evils within that we cling to and even justify. And we are quite unwilling that our unwarranted justifications should be brought into the light for condemnation. Josiah will not have Pharaoh-necho fight with Assyria. We know that we are wrong in attempting to conceal the skeleton in the closet from God’s sight under the delusion that He knows nothing about it. The king of Egypt killed Josiah "when he had seen him" at Megiddo. Megiddo or Armageddon both signify "the love of honor, of command, and of supereminence" (Apocalypse Explained #1010). The people placed Jehoahaz on his father’s throne, but Pharaoh bound him at Riblah, and took him to Egypt, where he died. Necho made Jehoiakim king, and placed Judah in bondage to him. All of this means that we would rather suffer any other indignity than have the worst in us brought into the light, or made known to anyone, which state of mind logically leads to a complete enslavement to self-will. We will not give in, we will not surrender.
Its Final Destruction
24, 25. Practically everyone has some kink in his nature or disposition that makes life unpleasant for himself, and others too. It makes its appearance in childhood. It becomes more pronounced with the years. And when we have passed middle age it has gotten such a hold of us that we cannot, and will not, alter it, or let anyone touch it. There is evil in it, and more evil back of it. Throughout the story of the kingdom of Judah the worship in high places persists. And throughout the story of the kingdom of Israel the worship of the golden calf is there from start to finish. During regeneration self-conceit and worldliness lie concealed in the background of every variety of evil in the heart or mind that comes to the surface for judgment. We are not able, or ready, to uproot it. We justify it (the Assyrian captivity), and are set against conviction (the Babylonish captivity).
The last three kings of Judah were evil kings. The first of them, Jehoiakim, rebelled against the king of Babylon. Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites and Ammonites, all vassals of Babylon, were sent to punish Judah. They took some of the best into captivity, among whom was Daniel. The second king, Jehoiachin, capitulated, and was taken to Babylon with many others, and much gold from the temple. The third king, Zedekiah, rebelled. His sons were slain, his eyes put out, and he himself bound with fetters and taken to Babylon, with all the brass in the temple. The city and temple were destroyed. Everything that is in us is seriously affected by our unwillingness to give up the cherished evil in the heart that has become an inseparable part of ourselves. The only gleam of light in the encircling gloom appears in the advice to the remnant in Judea by Gedaliah, their governor, that if they served the king of Babylon all would be well with them. Some rebelled and fled to Egypt. But Jehoiachin, who from the first gave in, was released from prison. And the king of Babylon "spoke kindly to him, and set his throne above the throne of the kings that were with him in Babylon, and changed his prison garments; and he did eat bread continually before him all the days of his life." This points the way out. Deny the fact that you are in the grip of evil, and all is lost. Admit it frankly, place your faith implicitly in the Lord and Savior, and the bread of affliction will in time become the bread of life. "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31).
On our failure to heed conscience—the captivity of Israel and Judah—the Lord opens the way for perception to take the lead in unmasking the most insidious enemies of the soul, namely, the love of dominion for the sake of self and the love of gain, its ally. The significance of the message of the Latter Prophets, Major and Minor, unseals "the way of salvation."
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