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A Vision Born of the Captivity
The situation: The ten tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Many years later Nebuchadnezzar took the flower of the nobility, the best craftsmen, Jehoiachin the king and Ezekiel the priest, into captivity in Babylonia.
Its meaning: We have made progress in life. We have acknowledged a few defects in our habits of living, and have changed or modified them for the better. We have recognized certain evils in our thoughts and feelings, and have repudiated them, and made a sustained effort to get rid of them. That effort has not been in vain. That spirit of the Lord has found a place in our lives, and has led us, after a most trying humiliation, to the impasse presented to us in the picture. We are now facing evil within which we have justified so long and so completely that nothing can be said or done that will convince us of sin. We are positive that we are right; we know it, and no one dare question it. The spirit of the Lord, however, has gained an entrance into our hearts, and dares to open the subject even in our extremity, in answer to prayer accordant with the closing words of Lamentations. Ezekiel was ordained to go with the exiles, and instruct them how to meet the situation. And the spirit of his prophecy touches the tender spot within for our enlightenment and salvation.
The Plan: A Heaven from the Human Race
Chapter 1. The Lord has a plan for our lives. To "see all, nor be afraid," strengthens our effort to submit our will to the Divine will for the good of all. The name Ezekiel has the double meaning, "God will strengthen" and "God will prevail." And the vision discloses the plan which is further developed throughout the prophecy. As soon as we have settled down to tackle in ourselves the cause of all trouble in the world—rank individualism—the word of God finds a new and more highly prized place in our lives. We see the meaning of the Word, the spirit of its message, so obscurely understood in relation to our earlier experiences in Christian living. That is the equivalent of "the spirit of the storm out of the north," a great glowing cloud, out of the midst of which came four living creatures like a man, with great wheels at their sides, which moved forward and upward. Above these was a firmament, and above that a throne with the appearance of a man upon it. And so the feeble effort to follow the gleam in earlier life opens the Scriptures, and reveals the will of the Lord in the light of heaven. We are somehow conscious that heaven is close by, and that we have nothing to fear. The cherubim—the living creatures—are our guardian angels. But the plan of life unfolds as we are to apply the teaching of the Scripture to our inner lives from day to day. The wheels touched the earth, and they moved as directed by the cherubim. The Word as applied to our lives is dynamic. There is power in the doctrine of life drawn from it. There were hands beneath the wings of the cherubim. Above and within all are the heavens (the firmament), and the Lord who directs the plan (the throne and Him who sitteth thereon). The plan is "to create or form a new understanding in which is a new will, which is the very heaven of the spiritual man, wherein the Lord dwells with man" (Arcana Coelestia #9596). "Those who suffer themselves to be regenerated are continually carried upwards, thus always into more and more interior societies. The extension of the sphere into those societies is given to those who are being regenerated especially by temptations" (Arcana Coelestia #6611). It is a marvelous vision. It is prostrating. "And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke."
Man Lives by God’s Word to Him
2. "And he said unto me, Son of Man, stand upon thy feet and I will speak unto thee." "The Lord is called ‘the Son of man,’ where the subject treated of is his passion, judgment, or Advent, and in general, redemption, reformation and regeneration" (Doctrine of the Lord #21). This prophecy, therefore, is not meant to tell us how wicked the Jews were just before and after the fall of Jerusalem. The Jews were doubtless just as ignorant of the enormity of their offenses then as we are now. The prophet defines the content of the evil that destroys religion as God saw it, and as the Lord as the Son of man saw it. It is there in the Divine Word as God gave it through the prophet for our enlightenment, and judgment. It is also for the most part concealed in the language of parable and in the symbolic actions of the prophet that we may see no more at a time than we are capable of bearing. As the Word opens to us and we see the frightful content of simple infractions of the law, and shun the evil with God’s help, we lighten the burden for future generations. As we forgive, so are we forgiven. "Stand upon thy feet, and I will speak with thee. Hear the message prepared to put it into execution." "Eat that which I give thee." Take the words to heart, and live as God gives you to see what life ought to be. "And when I looked, behold a hand was put forth unto me; and lo, a roll of a book was spread therein; and he spread it before me: and it was written within and without; and there were written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe."
3. The prophet ate the roll, and it was in his mouth as honey for sweetness. No words can be sweeter than the Scriptures with their promise of salvation and life eternal. Sweet to the taste! But that is not enough. "Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee." We are intended to take the words, whether they agree with us or not. "Speak to them of the captivity, Thus saith the Lord God, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. So I went in bitterness, in the hot anger of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me," to assume my responsibility as "a watchman unto the house of Israel." And so we may not flinch when conscience convicts us of sin. We have not discharged our responsibility to God by reading and understanding the Word, but by taking it home to ourselves, meeting the rebellious spirit in the heart with mute and unyielding resistance, until the Lord effects a change in our spirit, and opens our lips to speak the word in sincerity in his name. "Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads." Match a stubborn rejection of the truth by an equally determined repulse of the invader, and the battle is won, though the war is not ended. Unflagging zeal is necessary to win, for the children of Israel "are a rebellious house."
The Life of Religion Imperiled
4. The fall of Jerusalem was imminent, because its defenders lost their virility through evilness. The prophet dramatized the point for the exiles. For us the point finds an illustration in many a church division. The common cause of every religion is to better life for all as God would have it. Frequently, however, fictitious arguments are introduced into a heated discussion over a change of policy, or creed, or ritual in one or in several of the churches. These fictitious arguments for building the church in the world are represented by the prophet’s tile with the picture of Jerusalem under siege upon it. The state of the contestants is described by the prophet lying bound on each of his sides for a specified period. In the shoulder, arm and limb are all man’s power for action from affection and from intelligence. That power to resist evil lies prostrate in bands when hatred rules the heart. The sustenance of the prophet meanwhile was cereal and dung, the symbol of good polluted with evil in the misrepresentations and misunderstandings in the bitter charges and countercharges which support the besieged in fighting to a finish, like propaganda for home consumption in war time. The lesson was for those in exile—those who know that they are often controlled by their feelings to evil purposes. The church is doomed, civilization too, when the cause of religion is forced to give way to personal interests.
5. Another lesson for the exiles follows. We learn from it the effect of obstinacy on our understanding of the Word. The prophet represents the teachings of the Word for our direction. The head is the seat of wisdom. The hair on it and the beard therefore represent the outmost expression of wisdom, the letter of God’s Word, which, like the hair, serves as a protection and adornment of the precious content within. To deprive the letter of the Scriptures of any authority over us destroys it, in part through burning lusts under condemnation, in part through perverting the meaning to suit ourselves, and in part through its rejection as meaningless. This is the practical significance of burning a third of the prophet’s hair, cutting another third with a sword, and scattering the rest to the wind. This is a natural sequence of living contrary to the teaching of the Word. The Church was instituted to be a light-bearer in the world. Disregard of our responsibility brings shadows into many another home than our own. Our evils destroy truths, and our false thoughts consume our best intentions. The fathers eat the sons, and the sons their fathers. And the fond memories of innocence in childhood that return to us are brusquely set aside as childish. We no longer live: we simply exist to gratify the whims of an unstable temperament, that can never yield lasting satisfaction to anyone. The soul that "labors for the meat that perisheth" loses a taste for "that meat which endureth unto everlasting life," and succumbs to the famine.
Dangers Within and Without
6. The word of the Lord came again to the prophet, saying, "Son of man, set thy face toward the mountains of Israel, prophesy unto them, and say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord. . . . Behold. . . . I will destroy your high places, and your altars shall be desolate, . . . and ye shall know that I am the Lord, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, and on all the tops of the mountains." The prophet would have the exiles remember "how that I have been broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me, and with their eyes, which play the harlot after their idols; and they shall loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations." It is an appeal to those of us who have discovered how strong is our propensity for having our own way, to be constantly on the qui vive to note and quickly dispose of these idols in high places that are most demoralizing; as, self-worship, self-honor, self-exaltation, presumptuousness, arrogance, and many others of that ilk.
7. Next comes the land. "Thus saith the Lord unto the land of Israel; An end: the end is come upon the four corners of the land. . . . Thy morning is come unto thee, O thou that dwellest in the land . . . . He that is in the field shall die with the sword . . . . For the land is full of bloody crimes. . . . And the hands of the people of the land shall be troubled." The judgment of the mountains concerns the idols of the heart; the judgment of the land falls upon the ways of living. "I will judge thee according to thy ways; and I will bring upon thee all thine abominations. . . . All hands shall be feeble, and all knees shall be weak as water." The outward life requires the same close attention as the inward life to set it right. The two go together. New light on the inside gives added light on the lower plane of living—for judgment.
The Thoughts of the Heart
8. The elders of Judah came to Ezekiel as he sat in his house. He was in the spirit, saw the cherubim of his first vision, and was then transported to Jerusalem. He witnessed the idolatries practiced in the precincts of the temple, "the seat of the image of jealousy." Passing through the wall he beheld still greater abominations within, "idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about, . . . women weeping for Tammuz," and sun worshippers. And the Lord said unto him, "Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, the Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the land." Self-deception! A preposterous illusion! It is somewhat disconcerting, however, to contemplate our entrance into the spiritual world, well knowing that everything that goes on in the dark in our minds here is in the open there—filthy pleasures, hatreds, cruelties, adulteries, hypocrisies. The veil of the flesh is rent, and it is impossible to hide anything from anyone. The attempt to keep it in the dark sounds the death knell of religion. There can be no mistaking the meaning of sun worship. "At the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar (see Luke 11:51), were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east." Self-love at the center of things takes the place of the Lord. Nothing can avert the consequences.
9. The vision continues with the slaughter of the idolaters, or the separation of evil from good in ourselves, which bears some resemblance to the perpetual processes of assimilation and elimination, or purification of the blood in the body. The separation is effected in the vision by a man clothed with linen, with a writer’s inkhorn by his side—the scribe, who represents the Scriptures. "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." The last day, any day, is the day when the bad shows up in the light, and calls for a judgment. Few of us, for example, are entirely free from decorating "the chambers of imagery" with pictures of our own greatness, or with sinister plans for gratifying secret lusts. These may seem to be perfectly innocent at first, because they get no further than our thoughts. And who knows about them? It is a well known fact, however, that an unchallenged grudge against anyone, repeated again and again, will break loose in time beyond our control. The sooner we discover the evil in "every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts" in the dark, with aversion and sorrow, the better. Good thoughts are then salvable, and the evil mixed up with them must be completely renounced, even to the apparently harmless beginnings of it. "Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth the little ones (of the daughter of Babylon) against the stones" (Psalm 137:9). "Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity." And the man "who had the inkhorn by his side, reported the matter, saying, I have done as thou hast commanded me."
10. The vision now returns to the four living creatures and wheels seen in the opening chapter. From that vision the prophet received his inspiration and commission to teach the exiles. The growing understanding of the living Word, particularly in application to life, needs special guidance in relation to the root of our troubles: the determination to have our own way in preference to God’s way. The prophet now knows that the living creatures are cherubim. This stresses the question of the Divine Providence in the abuse of freedom. The Scribe—the man with the inkhorn—is instructed from the throne to fill his hands with coals of fire from under the cherub, and scatter them over the city. The Scriptures in the literal sense declare that the Lord was responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 34:2). Here also the letter sustains the same conclusion. The scribe, however, did not in this instance scatter the fire. The chapters that follow show that the church is destroyed by turning God’s love into a burning and consuming fire destructive of all religion. The Living Word throughout makes that clear. That Living Word also operates perpetually on every plane of life, from the highest to the very lowest, to reveal this to man for his salvation, but the Lord provides that no man shall see himself in that light beyond his power of endurance. As is the love of God, so is the light of life, which is distinct from light on, or about, life. "The sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of God Almighty when he speaketh." And the body, back, hands, wings and wheels of the cherubim were full of eyes round about. The Lord is omniscient, and has something to say to everyone through his Word to meet every human need on every plane of life.
Unyielding Perverseness Destroys Religion
11. The Spirit took Ezekiel to the temple at Jerusalem. Before him was a group of leaders who felt secure in the city against the enemy, and had killed all dissenters. They, however would perish outside the city, and those in exile, whom they despised, would return to occupy the land, with a new spirit within them. The Spirit then brought the prophet back to Chaldea to rehearse the vision to the exiles. It is enlightening and encouraging to those in the grip of the spirit of being first in everything. "The first shall be last, and the last first." It is hard to give up, hard to give in, hard to submit to the change of a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. There is comfort for those in exile, those breaking in obdurate wills, but it is cold comfort.
The Pervert Finds It Hard to Admit It
12. The exiles heard the message of the prophet. They could see what he was driving at, but were unwilling to admit that it was anything more than an expression of good will. The will to believe, however, is of prime importance in the regenerate life, even "faith as a grain of mustard seed." Therefore, the prophet by a dramatic action before the eyes of the incredulous exiles endeavored to prove that the Word of God, even in the letter, is sure. He bore his stuff from one place to another in daylight, but took it blindfold through a wall by night, that he should not see the earth. We are at odds with someone. We have all the teaching of religion about brotherly love with us, but have no use for it, when most needed. Pig-headed, we carry it right through a well constructed argument in defense of our position, and fail to see the unbrotherly feelings in the heart that blind us to the falsities that demoralize our character, and break down civilization. War is just the excrescence of millions of smaller units flinging scorn, anger and defiance at each other. And everyone claims to be in the right! And so the war goes on. The sword, famine and pestilence plague the earth. The church languishes. The promise of the day when men shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks is like an empty dream. Those in exile, however, should take heart. For "thus saith the Lord God; There shall none of my words be deferred anymore, but the word which I shall speak shall be performed." The Word of Life is ever living, the only thing that is living. And the peace of heaven is only the accretion of little bits of heaven won through the exercise of the will to peace.
Whitewashing Is Self-Deception
13. "Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!" "The Lord flows in, and reveals the mysteries of the Word to those who are led by Him, whether they teach them or not. By prophets who prophesy out of their own heart, and follow their own spirit, are understood all who are not led by the Lord, but by themselves" (Apocalypse Explained #624). We, therefore, possess the ability to recognize in our train of thinking whether it is from self, or from God; whether it rings true or false. We often attempt to confirm what is false in self-defense. That is the equivalent of building walls, and daubing them with untempered mortar, or whitewash. Self-justification of our false judgments of other people, or of living conditions, past, present, or future, cannot stand. The attempt to give what is false the appearance of truth in the interests of peace, or whitewash character, is futile. It is like the house built on the sand, that falls when wind and storm assail it. We ought to know it, and quit. But then we have to deal with our feelings as well as our thoughts. The prophetesses—women who "hunt the souls of my people, and save souls alive . . . by your lying to my people that hearken unto lies . . . I will deliver my people out of your hand." Strong feelings in man or woman make self-deception more subtle, but not beyond exposure.
Self-Exaltation Degrades Spiritual Living
14. We sometimes compare our own work with that of others to their disadvantage. The comparison may or may not be just. But beneath there often lurks self-worship—an idol of our hearts. A certain self-satisfaction sweeps through our system, with an uplift that is very pleasing. That is the stumbling block of iniquity before our face. It appears in the open, if our supposed superiority is called in question. It is there then for judgment. The thrill of self-exaltation is at the cost of the spiritual life. It deprives us of "the bread of God that cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world" (famine), it excites ugly lusts (evil beasts), it creates cutting criticism (the sword), and it finally destroys faith in God (the pestilence). Whatever good may have been gained through trial (Noah, Daniel and job), is unproductive. History testifies that no one seems to learn anything from history. And yet, no evil is permitted without serving some good end. "A remnant shall be carried forth unto you . . . and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in Jerusalem, saith the Lord God."
15. The wood of the vine tree is worthless. It is too weak even to make a peg of it. A half burnt branch is even more worthless. Even so is Jerusalem half charred by the first captivity. The end is near, a devouring fire will desolate the land. "Infernal fire is from no other source than the change of the Divine Love into evil loves, and into direful lusts of injuring, and of doing evil," which destroy the church in man. Who does not know this from experience?
16. A historical allegory! The past in a new light! The three universal loves—the love of heaven, the love of the world, and the love of self—"are in every man from creation, and thence by nativity" (True Christian Religion #395). These are here represented by Jerusalem, Samaria and Sodom. The church, richly endowed by the Lord, has made an illicit use of knowledge, reason and worldly power (Egypt, Assyria and Chaldea) to her utter humiliation and ruin. She is "the wife that commiteth adultery! that taketh strangers instead of her husband!" The corruption of the spiritual life is more degrading than mere sensuality. "Thou (Jerusalem) wast more corrupt than they (Samaria and Sodom) in all thy ways." "It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee." Nevertheless, our lost condition is far from hopeless. "I will turn again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom, and the captivity of Samaria, . . . and I will establish unto thee an everlasting (marital) covenant. Then shalt thou remember thy ways and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thine elder sister Samaria, and thy younger sister Sodom, and I will give them unto thee for daughters. . . . when I have forgiven thee all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God." When "the love of heaven is inwardly in the love of the world, and by this in the love of self, man performs uses in each from the God of heaven" (True Christian Religion #395). Properly subordinated and purified from the first to the last, they perfect man.
17. The "parable" in this chapter is explained in the letter. The eagle is Babylon; the top of the cedar is Jehoiachin; the vine is Zedekiah; the second eagle is Egypt, to whom Zedekiah turned for help; and the withered vine is the end of the kingdom in Jerusalem. But the "riddle" is to define its meaning for us today, and apply it to life. In the abstract, an exalted view of life shows the logical necessity of practicing the Christian principle of giving up our lives for others in the world’s mart to save the world. The church that puts doctrine first and life second, in practice, though not in theory, is doomed. Zedekiah was the last to sit upon the throne of David in Jerusalem. His eyes were put out by Nebuchadnezzar, and he suffered death in Babylon for attempting to escape from his captor. His name does not appear in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus. But this chapter gives the promise of the advent of One who would subordinate his will to the will of the Father in the world as we know it. "Thus saith the Lord God: I will take of the lofty top of the cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I will plant it upon a high and lofty mountain; and it shall be a goodly cedar; and under it shall dwell all birds of every wing." If the church is to survive and grow, the thoughts drawn from the life of the Lord throughout the Scriptures must be put to work in "a land of traffic, in a city of merchants" to salvage the unemployed, and to give to every last man the fullest opportunity to do his utmost for the good of his fellow men, in the pursuit of happiness—their happiness.
Each Is Responsible Solely for His Own Sins
18. Our individual responsibility for our sins is inescapable. It has often been felt, however, that "if the fathers are evil, their offspring also are evil." "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge." Not so, sayeth the prophet. "If a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live." His righteousness shall not save a wicked son. Neither shall that son’s wickedness condemn a repentant child. "The soul that sinneth it shall die." It is a momentary state of life, which is made permanent by our own continual choice in complete freedom. The Lord’s way is just: "for I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah: wherefore turn yourselves, and live."
19. "A lamentation for the princes of Israel!" The most likely historical references in the parable are to Hamutal and her sons Shallum and Zedekiah—the lioness and her two whelps—and to Zedekiah as the branch that brought destruction to the vine (see 2 Kings 23:29–34, and Jeremiah 22:10–12). The dirge expresses the sorrow attending the discovery of the power of evil over us, and our apparent inability to cooperate openly and wholeheartedly with those who stand in our way. We make the best of resolutions, but rebellious thoughts get on the rampage again and again. Our pride in the little we know is overbearing! Our convictions, or beliefs, are infallible! And the spirit of non-cooperation with real or supposed dissentients burns within, to the ruination of the church, or religion. The captivity in Babylon begins to have a meaning for us now.
20. The older we grow, the more we turn to our early experiences in life. Retrospect in relation to our experience with God is not altogether gratifying. We do recollect with what fervor we pledged fealty to the Lord. The prospect of deliverance from enslavement to the world, and leading a heavenly life, had a touch of ecstasy in it. But we soon faced facts bearing evidence to a stronger attachment to the world than we had imagined. The commandments then took on a practical meaning for us. Our effort to keep them advanced us on the heavenward path. But then revelation proved to us that our worship of God was mostly of the lips. The heart went after idols common to our generation that were lowering to character. The recollection of experiences which brought this to light was humiliating. A ripening judgment showed retrogression and progress in close association with each other. Three times the Lord’s words occur: "I said, I would pour out my wrath" upon the idolaters, "but I wrought for my name’s sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, among which they were." We see worse, yet do better. "Ye remember your ways, and all your doings, and ye loathe yourselves in your own sight for all the evils that ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have dealt with you for my name’s sake."
The last five verses form an introduction to the chapters on the indictment of Jerusalem (21– 24), and the prophecies against the nations (25– 32). In the light of past instruction and experience, a fire is kindled in the heart with the successive emergence of hidden evils that demand judgment.
The Condemnation of the Church
21. The campaign opens with a declaration of war, and war to the finish. "All flesh shall know that I, the Lord, have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath; it shall not return anymore." It strikes the heart with terror, because it enters strictly forbidden territory, questioning many false ideas that spring from cherished evils. When the Lord searches our hearts and tries our thoughts in answer to prayer, we do not like it. "Every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord." Again a sword sharp and furbished, keen and glittering, stabs still deeper forms of self-deception to our consternation. "I have set the point of the sword against all their gates, that their heart may faint, and their ruins be multiplied." Then follows "the sword of the king of Babylon." Two ways of approach present themselves, one to attack the falsifications of the truth in our thinking—the way "to Rabbah of Ammon"—the other to attack the heart of the evil—"Judah in Jerusalem the fortified." Conscience pricks the root of the trouble—self-worship. "Therefore, thus saith the Lord God: Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are uncovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear; because that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand." "Transgression signifies evil against truth, which is less, and sin evil against good which is more grievous" (Arcana Coelestia #6563). The judgment of Ammon follows later.
22. "And thou, son of man, wilt thou judge the bloody city? Then cause her to know all her abominations." Guilty in shedding blood, making idols, "setting light by father and mother," profaning the Sabbath, slandering the neighbor, committing adultery, taking bribes, "and has forgotten me, saith the Lord God." Whoever knows his heart may detect the root of these evils there. To forget God in the heart, though not with the mouth, however, touches the vital spot, self-confidence. Babylon is on the way to the gates of the city. The contents of the mind are likened to dross of silver—the scum, or refuse. And the heart is compared to "a land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon, in the day of indignation." Prophets, priests, princes and people are corrupt, even to the last man. There was no man to defend the land that it be not destroyed. Therefore, "their own way have I brought upon their heads, saith the Lord God." This enables us to account for the torment—"the fire of my wrath"—in the latter years of life due to the maturation of an unchecked self-will that should have been taken in hand years ago.
23. This historical allegory is not pleasant reading. Aholah means "her tent." Aholibah means "my tent in her." The tent was the home of the ancients. Aholah—Samaria—represents God’s dwelling place in man’s understanding. Aholibah—Jerusalem—represents God’s home in the will—my tent in her" (i.e., Aholah)—because as is the will, so is the understanding. God’s love in man’s understanding keeps him right, but self-will, in place of God’s will, leads the understanding astray. As self-will becomes hardened the mind falls for the worship of knowledge (Egypt), for the justification of selfish ways (Assyria), and finally for atheism, or nihilism (Chaldea). "Evil loves falsity and desires it to be one with itself, and they also unite; just as good loves truth and desires it to be one with itself, and these unite. As then the spiritual origin of marriage is the marriage of good and truth, so the spiritual origin of adultery is the mating of evil and falsity. Hence this mating is signified in the spiritual sense of the Word by adulteries, whoredoms and harlotry" (Marital Love #428). Reading between the lines now with all this in mind it becomes plain how character degenerates and "the home" is broken up until the understanding cannot see when self is wrong, and the will refuses to submit to the Divine will. "Because thou hast forgotten me, and cast me behind thy back, therefore bear thou also thy lewdness and thy whoredoms."
24. The day on which the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem has arrived. The boiling caldron discloses the meaning of the situation. Israel has always had the power to apply the teaching of the Church regarding the life of charity to their daily life. This is signified by the shoulder and the thigh of the sheep in the pot. Each received of it not according to lot, but according to his need. The violence done to these teachings is all in the open. There is nothing now left in the pot but scum. "Her scum goeth not forth by fire. In thy filthiness is lewdness: because I have cleansed thee and thou wast not cleansed, thou shalt not be cleansed from thy filthiness anymore, till I have caused my wrath toward thee to rest." The burning of the empty pot with the scum in it represents the burning of the city (A. V. "scum"; R. V. "rust." The content or the container? Which? It matters not: both are rotten.) That evening Ezekiel’s wife died, without any mourning on her account. She represents Jerusalem, the church, "the desire of his (Ezekiel’s) eyes . . . the joy of their (the people’s) glory, the desire of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their heart, their sons and their daughters." The worst that can befall any man is to lose his God, and his religion, without regret. Nevertheless, the gates of the city are never closed to anyone who surrenders his will to the Lord, and is prepared to undergo the trials incident to the captivity. "In that day he that escapeth shall come to thee (Ezekiel), to cause thee to hear it (his confession) with thine ears. In that day shall thy mouth be opened to him that is escaped, and thou shalt speak, and be no more dumb: so shalt thou be a sign unto them; and they shall know that I am the Lord."
Judgment of the Nations in Another Setting
25. The judgment of the nations follows to prepare the way for the restoration of Israel. (See Chapter 28:24–26.) The children of Ammon and Moab! It is one thing to deplore the impuissance of the Church in the face of war, or many other tragedies in life. It is another to contemn the Church on that account. The spiritual life is man’s only hope as an adequate means to world recovery. Edom showed a most unbrotherly spirit at the fall of Jerusalem. It hardly seems credible that he should have contemned his brother especially in a time of calamity, even though Israel was largely to blame for it. The greater the misfortune, the greater the need of sympathy and understanding. "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47). Philistia is said to "have taken vengeance with despite of soul to destroy with perpetual enmity." This is the spirit of pride in our knowledge of the spiritual life, taken as a substitute for the practice of it, an ever present enemy against which we need to be on constant guard.
26–28. Tyre and Sidon! Tyre means "a rock." The city was built on an island rock about half a mile from the mainland. It formed a little kingdom by itself. Hiram, its king, furnished valuable materials for the temple in Jerusalem. Tyre therefore fittingly represented that wealth of knowledges necessary for the building of the spiritual life. After the fall of Jerusalem Nebuchadnezzar approached this "gate of the peoples" to destroy her walls, break down her towers, and make her a bare rock. "Thou shalt be a place for the spreading of nets; thou shalt be built no more." She is likened to a ship "perfect in beauty," equipment, and management, trading in all parts of the world, but falling "into the heart of the sea" with all her mariners, and merchandise, in the day of her ruin. And so, of her prince and king whose hearts were lifted up, because of her riches, it is said, "Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till unrighteousness was found in thee; . . . thou art become a terror, and thou shalt nevermore have any being." The judgment of Sidon is bound up in that of Tyre, the two representing exterior and interior knowledge respectively. When the Church is wrecked by the love of rule everything else suffers correspondingly. "The knowledges of good and truth from the Word are signified by a ship, because ships cross the sea, and bring back the necessaries which supply the natural man for every use, and these same knowledges are the necessaries which supply the spiritual man for its uses, for from them is the doctrine of the Church, and according to this is life. Ships signify these knowledges, because they are containers" (Apocalypse Revealed #406). From knowledges are wisdom and intelligence. "But when knowledges are for the sake of self, for the gaining of eminence, and of reputation, or wealth, those who acquire them have no life, and become altogether deprived of them. They are deprived of them in the life of the body by embracing falsities as truths, and evils for goods, and in the other life, they are wholly deprived of these things" (Arcana Coelestia #2967). It is rather distressing to contemplate the vast increase of knowledge today and the inane abuse of it universally. Yet, again, "a new church will come into existence, when the former has been condemned." Then I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the nations, then shall they dwell in their own land which I gave to my servant Jacob." New constructive work in this direction is going on all the time. It comes to light as a new and better order takes the place of the old.
29–32. Egypt. The judgment of Egypt is also the condemnation and rectification of the abuse of knowledge. It is difficult to make the distinction here quite clear, because the English language has only one word for "knowledge," the Greek and Latin languages have two, eidenai and ginosskein, scire and cognoscere. (Compare Greek phileo and agapao, English, to love; and Greek hieros and naos, English temple.) In all instances the former word refers to an external, and the latter word to an internal knowledge, love and temple. So, for instance, when we look at anyone we see an outside with the eyes of the body, and an inside with the eyes of the spirit. The general appearance makes a permanent impression on our exterior memory. At the same time every impression that character makes upon us is indelibly recorded in our interior memory. Thus our reaction to everything we learn from day to day makes two impressions upon us which are preserved separately in body and soul. The knowledges stored in the outer memory are represented by Egypt, and the abuse of them in any way is the subject of judgment in the chapters before us. The abuse of science in war, or of culture in hateful criticism, has a content that these chapters help to unfold. Here again, Babylon lurks in the background. Nebuchadnezzar was given the land of Egypt as his wages for the reduction of the city of Tyre. "By Pharaoh (in chapter 29) is signified the same as by Egypt, the natural man, and what pertains to knowledge in him. He is called a great dragon which means knowledge in general. He shall be drawn out of the river, and all the fish shall adhere to his scales means that all intelligence would perish, and that the knowledge which is substituted in its place would be in the sensual man without life" (Apocalypse Explained #513). Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Egypt, Pharaoh’s arm, or power, was broken. The fall of the great cedar— "the Assyrian"—shows the loss of reason through the abuse of knowledges, which is succeeded by a lamentation for Pharaoh and for Egypt as a sequel of the judgment. Closer study, however, is needed to tell when the knowledges that have been put to a bad use are exterior or interior, and see the force of these judgments against Egypt and Tyre in the prophets.
Prophecy Now Has a Place in Our Lives
33. This chapter opens the third and last section of Ezekiel’s prophecy. Individual responsibility is the keynote. The prophet himself felt it keenly when he accepted his commission (3:17–21). He impressed it upon his incredulous hearers when be predicted the certain fall of Jerusalem (18:5– 29). And he reasserted it when his mouth was opened again after he had escaped from Jerusalem, reached the exiles in Babylon, and reported, "The city is smitten" (24:26, 27). The watchman is faithful to his duty. He blew the trumpet, he warned the exiles that if they did not turn from their evil ways, they should die in their iniquity, and he would be guiltless. As for those left in the waste places of the land after the destruction of their beloved city, they shall die by the sword and the pestilence. There is no hope for anyone so long as he places self at the center, and God at the circumference, or nowhere. The self-centered exiles were overwhelmed by the judgment that had overtaken the nation for its sins. They realized at long last that the nation would perish unless they changed their attitude toward the Lord’s prophet. They, therefore, gave ear to his words, though their hearts still went "after their gain." We are certainly facing in the right direction when we know that we are utterly selfish, and turn to God’s Word for light and help. "When this cometh to pass (behold, it cometh), then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them."
Evil Shepherds; The Good Shepherd
34. The evil shepherds are "the teachers who regard their own good only, and not the good of the Church." They feed on the best, and neglect the sheep, especially the sick, the brokenhearted, and the lost sheep. They rule with force and rigor; they live to condemn, and not to save. As is their dereliction, so is their punishment. Conversely, the Good Shepherd comes to seek the lost, restore them to the fold, feed them "in fat pastures upon the mountains of Israel, . . . and strengthen that which is sick." As for the flock, there are some in it that spoil with the feet what is left of the pasture for others, and the water after they themselves have had their fill. The food and water that nourish the spirit of charity, or love, in the members of the Church are in the Scriptures. It is very unfortunate that so many by their ways of living make the teaching of the Gospel most unpalatable for others. It is said that they push the diseased with their horns until they have scattered them abroad. This is the unkindest cut of all from the self-righteous. They have a profound contempt for sinners. David, the shepherd-king, is a representative of the Good Shepherd, who forgave the woman taken in adultery, and healed everyone who came to Him, even the leprous, the outcasts of society. "And ye are my sheep, and I am your God, saith the Lord God."
Only as We Forgive Are We Forgiven
35. Esau never forgave his brother Jacob for robbing him of his birthright. "Thou hast had a perpetual enmity, and hast given over the children of Israel to the power of the sword in the time of their calamity. . . . Since thou hast not hated blood, therefore blood shall pursue thee. . . . Thou hast said, These two nations (Israel and Judah) and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess it. . . . As thou didst rejoice over the inheritance of the house of Israel, because it was desolate, so will I do unto you. Thou shalt be desolate, O Mount Seir, and all Edom, even all of it; and they shall know that I am the Lord." There is no more despicable spirit in man than that of rejoicing over the misfortunes of an enemy to exalt self. That effectually excludes self from the kingdom. We shall not have learned that the Lord is God until we forgive from the heart without limit.
36. And this is no dream! To forgive without reservation! There are many routings offered as shortcuts to heaven. "The enemy hath said against the mountains of Israel. . . . The ancient high places are ours in possession." The line of least resistance has special attractions for the timorous and fearful, who seek an escape from everything that is disagreeable, or apparently impossible. There are no heights to which character may rise, however, except through humiliation and trial. And the promise of a successful issue in these trials is made plain here in the prophecy of the return of the tribes to take possession of the mountains in the promised land. "And I will multiply upon them (these mountains) man and beast; and will do better unto you than at your beginnings: and ye shall know that I am the Lord." There is no escape from the trials that change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh save through a breakdown followed by a reconciliation with a Father—whose love has long been spurned by a recalcitrant heart. "Then shall ye remember your evil ways, and your doings that were not good; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations." In the day that we are cleansed from our iniquities through repentance the increasing purpose of the Lord is made plain. "As for the flock for sacrifice, as the flock of Jerusalem in her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of men; and they shall know that I am the Lord."
Revival and Reunion in the Church
37. The dry bones in the valley shall hear the Word of the Lord and live again. "Dry bones denote the intellectual proprium, which is inanimate before it received the life of good from the Lord, but is thereby animated, or made alive. The flesh, which the Lord caused to come upon the bones, is the voluntary proprium, and thus signifies good. Breath is the Lord’s life, which when it flows into that good of the man which he seems to himself to will and to do, vivifies that good, and from good truth, and out of the dry bones there is made a man" (Arcana Coelestia #3812). "The Lord’s proprium alone is life, and from His proprium He saves man, and vivifies man’s proprium, which in itself is dead" (Arcana Coelestia #149). By the breath of the Spirit the bones are reunited, clothed with flesh, and stand upon their feet, an exceeding great army ready for action. The heart and the head shall no more be at variance, but shall form one kingdom under the rule of the law of love. "My servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in mine ordinances, and observe my statutes, and do them. . . . And the nation shall know that I am the Lord that sanctifieth Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them forevermore." The two rods become one in the hand of the prophet. The potency in making character homogeneous is in a conscience formed by a new understanding of the Word.
38, 39. While progressing toward that consummation an old weakness comes to the fore in a stronger light than ever—our worship of the Lord is formal. In other words, we are facing the practical significance of the vision of the valley of dry bones. We are more interested in the intellectual aspect of religion than in the life of religion. We have a good deal to say about the life of religion. We believe heartily that that life is to do good. We like practical sermons, and the discussion of the practical problems of the day. But the practical theory is for others to practice, and not for ourselves. Religion means for us, for the most part, dogma, and worship, and possibly some service to the Church and to the social welfare. Our religion does not radically change our nature, or rid us of ancient bad habits. To face the serious charge that we are no better for our religion, rather worse for it perhaps, meets the mandate to the prophet to set his face against Gog, the land of Magog, and Gog’s allies, invading the land for spoil and devastation. Gog means "a roof," and Magog "a floor." These are externals of considerable value. But the life in the home within is of paramount value. That life must be bettered. We know it, and are deeply concerned about it. That is well. The Lord protects us from the enemy, to their own destruction.
The New Temple
40–48. Now follows the vision of the Temple, its gates, its courts and porches, its chambers, its furnishings, and its worship. Ordinances and laws are laid down for the Levites and priests; land is allotted to them, and to the prince, and for the Holy City; and various regulations are added for the observance of the festivals and daily offerings. An outstanding feature of the vision is the measurement of everything that is measurable. The significance of it is summed up in the words, "Thou, son of man, show the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, make known unto them the form of the house, and the egresses, the ordinances, and all the laws thereof, and write it in their sight; that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them . . . . This is the law of the house." The law of character building is plainly a process of measurement, or of testing our lives by the Divine pattern in the Lord’s life. The more we find in that life from both Testaments, the more clearly we recognize His greatness and our smallness, His perfection and our imperfection, His all-sufficiency and our nothingness. Line upon line, here a little and there a little, from day to day, character takes form with the indefatigable rejection of the pernicious elements in human nature, and the reception of the good which the Lord implanted in our hearts in childhood, or the good that we see in Him by reason of the good He gave us in the early impressionable years of our lives. This is the significance of the fact that almost all the measurements of the new temple, the new city and the new land are multiples of five and ten, which numbers are associated in the Scriptures with the measure of heaven each of us receives in infancy, childhood and youth, with its illimitable content for use in futurity (Arcana Coelestia #5291).
The sanctuary in the midst of "the oblation" represents the internal worship of the Lord as the central source of all life and power. From the eastern door of this temple proceeded a life-giving stream of waters, which signifies "the Divine truth that reforms and regenerates man" (Apocalypse Explained #513). How deep can we "enter understandingly into the mysteries of faith"? A thousand cubits brought the waters up to the prophet’s ankles; another thousand to his knees; still another thousand to his loins; and yet another thousand beyond his depth, "a river that could not be passed through." For some it is enough that they explore and enter into the sensuous, or natural, states of life that were heaven to them in youth. Others again go deeper into the understanding of "spiritual natural" states of life in childhood. And there be those who reach the understanding of the "spiritual" content of the "remains" stored up in them in infancy (Apocalypse Explained #629). Beyond that are depths of God’s love to man that no one can fathom. This stream of intelligence and wisdom from the fountain of youth vivifies every thought, and gives nourishment to the spiritual life, with perpetual restoration.
The prophet saw a new division of the land among the twelve tribes. The existence of heaven in the individual, or in the race, at length becomes apparent. There are definite signs that the world is growing better, and not worse. But these signs are not altogether clear at present: there is so much evil mixed up with them. The allocation of the tribes in the land starts with Dan in the north. But the gates are always open for going forth with new light and life to preach, to teach, to heal, to reconstruct society, from inmost to outmost. "And the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there."
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