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The Love of Obedience
In the Church it is indeed known that man must be born again, or be regenerated, to enter the kingdom of God. But what it is to be born again is known only to few, because few know what good and evil are, and this because they do not know what charity toward the neighbor is. If they knew this, they would also know what good is, and from good what evil is; for everything is good which comes from genuine charity toward the neighbor. But no one can be in this good from himself, because it is the celestial itself which flows in from the Lord. This celestial flows in continually, but evils and falsities stand in the way of its being received; and therefore for its reception it is necessary for man to remove evils, and as far as he is able falsities also, and thus dispose himself to receive the influx. When evils have been removed the man receives the influx; he at the same time receives a new will and a new understanding; and from the new will he feels delight in doing good to the neighbor from no selfish end, and from the new understanding he perceives delight in learning what is good and true for its own sake, and for the sake of the life. But the regeneration through which come the new understanding and the new will is not accomplished in a moment, but goes on from earliest infancy even to the close of life, and afterward in the other life to eternity, and thus by Divine means, innumerable and unspeakable; for man of himself is nothing but evil, which continually exhales from a furnace, and continually endeavors to extinguish the nascent good. The removal of such evil, and the inrooting of good in its place, cannot be effected short of the whole course of life, and through Divine means numberless and unspeakable. Of these means scarcely any are known at the present day, for the reason that man does not suffer himself to be regenerated, nor does he believe regeneration to be anything, because he does not believe in a life after death. The process of regeneration, which includes unspeakable things, makes up the main part of angelic wisdom, and is of such a nature that it cannot be fully exhausted by any angel to eternity. (Arcana Coelestia #5354)
The four books of Moses which follow help to understand the processes of reformation in a measure. They set forth the giving of the law and the elaboration of it. Throughout this period the understanding comes first and the will second. All five books of the law relate to the education of the mind first. They provide the vision of the angels ascending the heavenly ladder—the Son of man—the vision of the possibilities of life. "A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?" (R. Browning). The succeeding books of the prophets from Joshua to Malachi complete the vision of the angels descending on the terraced pathway—the Son of man (John 1: 51). They describe the processes of regeneration, the application of the law to life. Good then comes first, and truth second, the new will and the new understanding in their true order. Again, we catch a glimpse of the great lesson of the Book of Life to keep the heart right, or keep our feelings right, that we may see right and do it. In this way, and this alone, the lost Paradise is regained. Reformation is said to precede regeneration. But this does not mean that reformation begins, continues and ends in one period, and then regeneration takes up the thread and continues indefinitely till all evil is overcome. Life is in time only for the body, but without time for the soul. Reformation and regeneration are somewhat like resolution and action. At times the resolution and action are consentaneous, at times not. The two are phases of many, if not of most of our experiences, and it may be very difficult to distinguish just where we are most of the time. Fortunately, it is not necessary. Each day brings its own set of experiences with our reactions to them. It is enough that we work while it is day with each experience as it comes to hand, and leave the rest with God.
Life Begins at Twenty
Humanity has now reached the fullness of its growth. The child born today in its minority goes through the stages of race development covering thousands of years. At majority man is fully equipped for the spiritual life. He has attained his full stature—a full grown youth—and lives to grow younger in spirit, if he chooses the path of life. The business of making a living has great attractions. The world is a good place to live in. Youth is eager to get into harness. The pursuit of wealth is quite legitimate, and life’s pleasures give zest to work.
Assuming Life’s Responsibilities
Chapter 1. Youth plunges into life with expectation of gaining success in the highest degree. But closer contact with the world opens serious questions in the mind. Conscience calls attention to a few glaring irregularities, excesses, or positive wrongs, that demand restraint, or correction. The children of Israel are a menace to the Egyptians. A king that knew not Joseph is on the throne, and puts Israel in bondage. The world resents correction. Or, it may be youth has discovered that it is a slave to a bad habit which stoutly resists interference. Thereupon the struggle for emancipation begins in earnest. Suppose the habit is dishonesty. It has a long history. It goes back to the days of the nursery when the child took toys of another child, and resented forcibly any other child taking toys from it. The habit led to the adoption of stealthy methods of procuring special privileges or pleasures that may or may not have been definitely forbidden. There was always an excuse at hand. Occasionally when the mind was busy justifying the selfish habits, conscience would take exception. Then followed the effort to destroy these live reasons, the dictate of conscience. The King of Egypt sought to destroy the Israelitish boys as soon as they were born. But the mothers of these babes were lively, and the sons of Israel multiplied rapidly. The appeal of conscience could not be silenced, though not yet strong enough to overcome the opposition to abandon the bad habit. The call is for a Savior, and a Savior is at hand.
Applying the Law to Life
2. Two Levites had a son. The Levites were the priestly tribe and represent the connection between God and man—the love of God and man. Youth conceives the meaning of the law of the Lord when pained and distressed by his failure to change his habits. Worldly interests again come into the foreground and benumb conscience. When next the habit appears—a temper, or a form of greed, or impurity, or guile—the growing spirit of worldliness casts a glamour over the evil, to shame youth’s sensitiveness to wrong. Conscience—the law—is still alive, but encased in many fanciful and false ideas. The babe was in the ark of bulrushes daubed with bitumen and pitch by the river’s brim. The youth still cherishes the law, and knows that he is doing wrong when he gives way to his bad habit. He may have tried many times to be master, he may even have taken a vow to conquer, and be rid of the habit, and clear his conscience then and forever. Can anything be more touching on the next defeat than the humiliation over the impotence of the law for lack of knowledge how to operate it? Pharaoh’s daughter was touched with compassion at the sight of the tear on the babe’s cheek on opening the ark. That humiliation is the salvation of the youth’s love of the law. The experience leads to the study of the law, and how to apply it to life. Moses lived in the court of Pharaoh forty years. After close and painful study youth gains assurance in settling disputes in which the letter of the law and its spirit are in conflict. When it is a question of hatred, or theft, or adultery, or lying, the issue is clear, and must be settled summarily without compromise. But when the issue is between hating an enemy and loving an enemy, or the question of whether loving our enemy requires us to heap coals of fire on his head, or oppose him for the protection of others, youth cannot determine offhand with assurance what is right and what is wrong. The same difficulty faces youth when it first meets the perplexing problems of marriage, or business honesty, or worship, or intolerance, or excesses of various kinds. Youth dare not form a hasty judgment without being called in question, or facing condemnation. Moses killed the Egyptian in conflict with one of his own people. But when he attempted to settle a dispute between two of his own people, they questioned his right to kill either of them, as he had killed the Egyptian. Therefore Moses fled from Egypt to Midian to escape punishment. In Midian Moses came to a well where he watered the sheep of Jethro’s daughters, after driving away the shepherds who interfered with them. It is another picture of further study of God’s Word, this time to gain a deeper knowledge of the law, the spirit of the Word. Life’s trials open new and old questions of right and wrong, and youth gains confidence in approaching them with a little more insight into the causes of human suffering and sorrow. It takes courage to get rid of old interpretations of the Word (the meddlesome shepherds) to get the new interpretation. The Lord gave his disciples quite a new interpretation of the law relating to Sabbath observance, which scared away the old interpreters. Youth must procure this deeper knowledge of the law to meet life’s trials, and rescue the world from bondage to evil.
3. Here is a vision and a commission for life. The vision is simple and compelling: the angel of the Lord appears in a thorny bush aflame, but not consumed. And the commission! To deliver my people out of the house of bondage. The connection between the two for youth is found only in the spirit. The thorny bush! Nemo me impune lacessit. Yes, but the angel in the thorny bush represents a growing sense of the Lord’s mercy in protecting us from ourselves. Without Him we must sink in iniquity. Without Him we cannot be saved. If we are not as bad as many others are, we cannot take any credit to ourselves. We are unaware of the tendencies within that would ruin character and society if allowed free play. They appear on the surface in part in time of war, or any serious emergency in life. We stand on holy ground unshod and contact basic reality when our eyes are opened to the fallibility and untrustworthiness of human nature. The love that guards us from recidivism is untiring despite habitual lapses. The fire in the thorn bush is unquenchable. The more we reflect on this the more impelling the voice from within. A like compassion for others in suffering admonishes us to give aid. Moses must accept the commission. The Lord sees the affliction of his people. He knows their sorrows, and is come down to set them free, and bring them to a land abounding in milk and honey. Moses is the chosen instrument to effect the deliverance, and accepts the commission, but pleads incompetence.
4. We argue that it is futile to attempt to change human nature or selfish habits indulged since early childhood. The answer is: with God all things are possible. Yes, of course, but Moses is doubtful. The incredulity, the obduracy, the materialism of human nature present an insurmountable barrier! God’s children must then consider the consequences of repudiating the law, which Moses represents. The power of that law is unlimited. But that power is dependent upon the spirit, as appears from the use of Moses’ rod later. "The flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Separate the letter from the spirit, and everything is judged according to the appearance. The rod cast from Moses’ hand to the earth becomes a serpent. And what gross fallacies have been drawn from the literal sense of the Word, when interpreted only according to the appearance: salvation by faith alone, the resurrection of the dead body at the end of the world, predestination, and so forth! Indeed a conviction based upon sense impressions will not stop short of denying God, and revelation, and life eternal. Russia is not the only country where atheism flourishes. The fallacies of a judgment by appearances are not rectified until enlightened reason from the Lord shows the reality behind the shadow, life out of death. In the second place the power to do good according to the spirit of the law is desecrated when anyone takes credit to self for it. Moses’ hand represents charity in fulfillment of the spirit of the law. It is profanation to do good in our own name. When Moses put his hand into his bosom it came out leprous. Deeds are lifeless until done without thought of anything in return. From God is all the power to do whatsoever good we can in this world: to Him alone belong the honor and the glory, which is much more than what the mere words express. In the third place, conformity to the best traditions of society becomes a fetish when divorced from religion. The river of Egypt, of unknown origin, is like the stream of traditional knowledge by which the people regulate their daily life. When we recognize only one standard of morality, one system of ethics, one way of doing things, one mode of preparing food, one style of dressing, one form of behavior, the nation is moribund, and does violence to the truth. The water Moses took out of the river and poured on the dry land became blood.
Who may not see that the sequel to the rejection of the authority of the law of the Lord— Moses—means the enthronement of the senses, enlightened selfishness in conduct, and one’s own standard of living as final for everyone. History furnishes many illustrations in the decline and fall of nations and empires, ending in despotism and materialism. Who can fail to see the significance of the facts, and fail to accord due submission to the authority of the law? "You cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13). Yes! But Moses expostulates that he is no speaker. Possibly the greatest difficulty every reformer or apostle confronts is to get his message across. He feels so utterly inadequate to express his thought in simple and convincing language. His vision is clear, but it seems impossible to clothe it in language apprehensible to the uneducated, or to the contentious. Moses’ difficulty, however, was surmounted by the appointment of Aaron as his mouthpiece. Moses then represents the inner law, and Aaron its meaning in the vernacular, or to the point. The difficulty of presenting a living interpretation of the Scriptures, or a convincing application of the law to life, disappears in the measure that we are possessed by the right spirit. So far as we gain the spirit of the Lord it gives us "a mouth and wisdom, which all our adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist." This applies particularly in meeting the enemy within. But under the influence of the same Spirit surely a public speaker will more readily disarm opposition, if his hearers are open to conviction.
The Terms of the Vow
When Moses left Sinai he returned to Midian for his wife and children, and started out for Egypt. On the way God sought to kill him, but Zipporah circumcised her son, and averted the death of her husband. The "son of the covenant" is the vow made at confirmation. Unless that vow is followed by actual purification of the life, the love of the law must die. We must make the sacrifice, must take up our cross daily, and follow where the Lord leads. We must see the vow through to execution, or the law perishes.
5. "Nothing is more necessary to man than to know whether heaven be in him, or hell. To know this he must know what is good, and what evil, for good makes heaven, and evil makes hell. The doctrine of charity teaches about both" (Arcana Coelestia #7181).
"The first of charity is to look to the Lord and shun evils because they are sins against Him, which is effected through repentance. And the second of charity is to do goods because they are uses" (The Doctrine of Charity #1, 12).
The Difficulty of Accepting Them
We all acquire some bad habits during early life, and become so accustomed to them that we cease to question them, or even take any notice of them. They are there to be ignored. They are part of the household, and cannot be disturbed. Let anyone call them in question, and we are immediately up in arms to defend and protect them. The day may come when the still small voice of God convicts us of sin. We try to escape condemnation, and prove that wrong is right. We even use Scripture to strengthen our fictitious excuses (bricks). We are at last aware that we are slaves to habits that are worldly and selfish. Moses and Aaron made God’s children stink in the eyes of Pharaoh. The law and our new understanding of it are the source of all our trouble. We are most unhappy, even driven to despair, because we are unwilling to disturb old habits that have become a part of ourselves. The truth is there to set us free, but we are not prepared to pay the price. We listen to the gospel of hope. We are not altogether insensitive to the appeal of religion for faith, for charity, and for a reconsideration of our duty to the Lord and our neighbor. Salvation is near, if only we stand by the law. The meaning of the law then unfolds the consequences of self-worship and mammon worship, which everyone knows terminates in spiritual death. To make pleasure, or riches, or prestige, our main objective in life leads to degeneracy, and a total breakdown of character. The picture in Exodus presents the successive stages in the decline that leaves the open-minded no alternative. They must follow where the law leads.
6. The demand is for freedom to worship God by giving up the evil ways that are second nature to us. We demur. Then see plainly what happens!
The Consequences of Rejecting Them
7. In the first place it is a matter of common knowledge that when the letter of the law is divorced from the spirit we may prove any course of action to be right or wrong. The worldly recognize this as well as the unworldly. The magicians of Egypt turned their rods into serpents as well as Moses. But though the man who seeks to do right may doubt the truth, or may see opposing views of his problem, and not know which is true, he finally emerges with the truth as God gives him to see it. Aaron’s rod— not Moses’ rod—swallowed the magicians’ rods. Yet again, the early teaching in the home— the traditions of ethics, and culture, and religion—receive wholly false values when forced into the service of the world and self. Anyone who lives solely for what he can get out of the world for himself will invariably violate the truth in upholding false traditions. False propagandism is of this order. The river of Egypt was turned into blood.
8. The croaking frog is an incarnation of pessimism. Wherever we turn we may find cause for complaint. We complain about the lawlessness of children and young people, the conditions of our living, the management of our cities, and so forth. We see difficulties in every opportunity to better conditions. We grumble at our lot in life. Harsh discordant notes are often heard in public and private life, and even in our secret thoughts. Frogs infested the homes and even the bedchambers of the Egyptians.
Worse still is the evil of slander or backbiting. Sarcasm, cynicism, ridicule cut to the quick. They wound one’s feelings, and inflame passion. They are hateful and unclean when there is poison in them. The plague of lice hurt man and beast.
From malevolence spring pestiferous thoughts without number. Who has not been pestered with unpleasant thoughts when their enemies put in an appearance in person or in recollection? Noisome flies filled the houses of the Egyptians, and spread all over the land.
9. The spiritual life is still further injured by the unchecked growth of selfish habits. All interest in the study of religion, or of moral issues, or of general knowledge for world-betterment or self-betterment passes out of the life. The cattle of the Egyptians—horses, asses, camels, herds and flocks—all died from the murrain.
Yet, further, the man who demands the right to think and to do whatever he pleases regardless of consequences to himself or others is maddened by correction, or advice. Boils and blains broke out in man and beast when Moses sprinkled ashes from the furnace toward heaven in Pharaoh’s sight.
Conscience is not quite dead. Kindly thoughts from heaven still drop into the mind, but there meet with such a cold reception that they do more harm than good. Many helpful thoughts and ways acquired in early life are abandoned. They are not in accord with the unfeeling ways of the world. Hail smote man, and beast, and herb and tree.
10. The wheat and spelt escaped, but locusts arrived later to devour them, together with every green thing that was left. The Egyptians then had nothing to live upon. The predominance of worldly and selfish ambitions ends in severing all connection with the spiritual life. Man ceases to be able to see the truth. Black is black, and white is black too. What is false appears as the truth, and the truth as falsity. Darkness that could be felt covered the land for three days. The end is in sight—the death of the first-born. Faith in God and in man expire with the last spark of the love of God in man. Abandon hope, when the love of self or the world rules supreme.
The Way Out
11, 12. Good and evil cannot live together in the same person. To attain satisfaction in life man must get rid of the one or the other. Attention has been centered mainly upon the effect of the plagues on the evil until the light in them is darkness, and self and the world reign unchallenged within. This is the terminal of "the broad and easy way that leads to destruction," and is a serious warning to the careless, or unthinking. But its positive side defines the trials ahead for those who desire to do right, and how they may secure deliverance from evil that stands in the way. The technique of religion requires that we see first where we are at fault, or in the wrong. Second, we must feel for others who suffer by reason of our waywardness. Third, we must passionately look to the Lord for help and direction. Fourth, we must have definitely in mind the wrong in act or thought from which we crave deliverance. The general confession that "we have done the things we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done, and there is no health in us," is valueless, unless specific. The blood of the lamb eaten in each home must be put upon the lintel and door posts of that house. "The Lord keep our going out and our coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore" (Psalm 121:8). With this prayer on our lips we may celebrate the Lord’s Passover. We place ourselves unreservedly in His hands, prepared to give up our selfish ways one by one as He presents the opportunity to part with them from day to day. "All that ever you ask in prayer you shall have, if you believe" (Matthew 21:22).
The Sacrament, a Festival
13. The Passover is not confined to the first of its kind. It may coincide with our celebration of the sacrament of the Holy Supper. If not, that sacrament ought to strengthen the spirit of repentance by which we come at any time into closer relationship with the Lord, and share his love and wisdom. "The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Lord by means of the Holy Supper, according to repentance before receiving it" (The Canons of the New Church IV:9). While we are in the course of analyzing our thoughts, separating the good from the evil, the Lord’s saving grace is still only a memory to us, or an expectation. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. The journey is circuitous because the crowd is neither organized nor trained to meet the enemy in the land. The Lord will not subject us to an attack from foes within, until we are fully prepared to meet it.
Emancipation from Worldliness
14. No bad habit is changed in a first attempt. There is much hidden within that keeps it alive and immovable. The Egyptians pursue the Israelites. We reluctantly follow where the law leads. The situation, however, seems to be hopeless. The Lord assures relief, but we must register a protest. We pray for deliverance, but stand still expecting the Lord to act. We must, however, move forward trustfully and then the Lord will open the way, even where we seem to be facing a deadlock. The pillar of cloud separated the two camps, and the sea parted, allowing Israel to cross on dry ground in safety. When an honest effort is made to obey even an obscure understanding of the law, we pass through hell unscathed, and thoughts that were a temptation to us before cease to have any influence over us any more. The waters returned and enveloped Pharaoh and his host, so that there remained not so much as one of them when the morning appeared.
15. The song of Moses and the people rings with the glad spirit of freedom. But the end of one experience is only the introduction to new trials. We have much to learn. The truth is bitter, but sweetened by a growing perception that "in the keeping of the judgments of the Lord, there is great reward" (Psalm 19: 11).
Return of Evils Revives Interests in Religion
16. The people hanker after the flesh pots of Egypt, and the Lord sends bread from heaven. Manna! "What is it?" The bread of astonishment! The new understanding of God’s Word is a continual surprise. It is daily bread, just enough for each day, and no more. The help we receive "to live more nearly as we pray." We need strength to meet the day’s trials, and it never fails, if we meet them honestly according to our best judgment at the time. There is no gathering on the day of rest. The Lord gives us periodically a taste of his peace—a little bit of heaven—to recuperate. While free from temptation we are sustained by that which we gathered before.
17. The hunger for more love is succeeded by a thirst for more truth. The way is hard. Our complaint borders on the denial of the Lord’s Providence. This ugly spirit will come up for judgment later. Meanwhile the Lord supplies our spiritual needs. Water is drawn from the rock. Lessons of life—"truths of faith"—are drawn from the facts of experience, from biography, from history, from the letter of the Word. All knowledge that has a direct or remote bearing upon present experiences satisfies an instinctive craving that sometimes gives us much discomfort, without knowing why.
Opposition to the Habit of Reading the Word
The war with the Amalekites, who attacked in the rear when Israel was tired out, depicts the chief conflict attending the whole process of reformation. The enemy contested the defile that led to the foot of Sinai where Israel received the commandments. We are liable to neglect the study of God’s Word. We fail to attend church regularly, or read the Word daily, and meditate upon its message to us. We have lost the habit, or possibly have never acquired it. We find excuses for our neglect. We are tired, we get no good from it, we do not understand it, and so forth. It takes a fight to establish the habit of reading the Word, and of meditating day and night in the law of the Lord for direction and strength. We overcome all the subtle insinuations of the enemy that try to break it down, when we resolutely uphold the authority of the law over us. And how? Moses’ hand with the rod of God in it is the symbol of the power and authority of the letter and the spirit of the law. Israel prevailed over the Amalekites when Moses held up his hands. But Israel was beaten when the tired hands dropped. Therefore Aaron and Hur sustained the upraised arms, and victory followed. Here Joshua first appears as Israel’s leader. To the Lord Jesus belongs the credit for the victory. Joshua bears the same name as Jesus, the Savior, whom he represents. This incident, therefore, marks the preparation for a deeper understanding of the law in the light of the Lord’s life, and the pledge of loyalty to Him in keeping the law. "Moses built an altar and called it ‘Under the Lord’s Banner.’"
A Judicial Tribunal for the Soul
18. This experience teaches us that good comes first and truth second. We see that natural good—the good we inherit—is not stable, not really our own. It has not stood the test of trial. We might succumb under pressure from without and debase it, as has happened so often before. Our objective now must be to know good by reasons drawn from revelation, and supported by moral, civil and scientific truth. Good from God is in harmony with the truth of things on every plane of life. Acting upon the advice of Jethro, Moses organized a judiciary for the people. The spiritual life, or the life of religion, is essentially a rational life.
Humiliation Precedes Reception
19. This leads naturally to the preparation to receive the laws of life, and assume a larger responsibility for understanding and obeying them. Every Jewish boy became "a son of the covenant" when he had passed his thirteenth birthday. The Lord was twelve years of age when he discussed the law and the prophets with the teachers in the temple, "both hearing them and asking questions." As soon as we undertake to do "our Father’s business" in the world (Luke 2:46), we fully believe in the two great commandments and in immortality, and approach the Lord’s Word in reverence. Our idea of the spiritual life is naturally very obscure. We are painfully conscious of our limitations, and dare not claim any merit for the little good we may do. In this state of honest humility we tremble at the thought of the responsibility placed upon us. The voice of God proceeded from the top of Sinai, covered with a dense cloud, as "the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud." The voice of the Spirit of truth "convicts the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8). Sin in the shade, and righteousness in the light, demands judgment. It is the voice of love, however, that condemns to save. We are convinced, and accept the responsibility with fear and trembling.
20. Israel was called out of Egypt to worship the Lord, and to regain their lost inheritance. We may not worship self, or the world, or knowledge. We are responsible if we do not measure up to our standard of righteousness in the Lord. And we must return thanks to Him for every little bit of heaven we experience with its rest and peace. Hatred, impurity, dishonesty, insincerity, covetousness and willfulness must be eschewed. These are the primary rules of life. We recoil at the thought of our responsibility, but are encouraged by the assurance of the Lord’s presence in the life of self-sacrifice that is to follow.
The Content of "the Ten Words"
21–24. Moses proceeds to elaborate the ten words in relation to the life of the people in the wilderness and in the promised land. He then wrote all the words of the law in the book of the covenant, and read them in the audience of the people, who solemnly pledged their lives to fulfill them. The sprinkling of the blood on the people which followed is reminiscent of "the blood of the new covenant shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). The glory of the Lord then appeared on the summit of Sinai, "and the cloud covered it for six days." In mercy the Lord tempers the vision to our powers of endurance. Even at that, the open Word with a growing consciousness of the meaning of the law in relation to our lives, is overwhelmingly impressive.
The Lord Dwells in His Own in Man
25–31. Now follows the vision of the pattern on the mount. We see life’s model in "the tabernacle of God with men" (Revelation 21:3). Each member must willingly offer the best he has to give to build the temple in which God may dwell with men, and they with Him. We note only the general features of God’s dwelling place. The ark in the Holy of Holies comes first. This represents man’s ruling love. "Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Psalm 119:11). The Holy place is the inner sanctuary of the soul, our private life. The unleavened bread placed on the table before the face of the Lord is the pure Word of God. "Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). The lampstand is the light that comes from meditation on the Word. "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105). And the altar of incense is the prayer for fulfillment of the message. "Let my prayer ascend before thee as incense" (Psalm 141:2). The outer court represents the plane of our public life. Here the injunction is, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes" (Isaiah 1:16) (the laver). And "the life of religion is to do good" from God. "Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord" (Psalm 4: 5).
The Will to Do God’s Will
The staves must not be taken from the ark. The effort to carry the law into the daily life must never be withdrawn. The incense evening and morning was lighted with the coal from the altar of burnt sacrifice. The inextinguishable desire to do God’s will on earth as in heaven gives fervor to the prayer for more light and strength to meet life’s trials. The regular offering of a lamb with the morning and evening prayers, and the dressing of the lamps, implies the surrender of self-will to God’s will as it appears to us at the beginning and close of each day, or each experience.
The Garments of Salvation
The Lord dwells in us as we get rid of evil, and do good in His name. Worship in the tabernacle was kept in constant operation by Aaron and his sons, who represent "all the Lord’s work of salvation" (Arcana Coelestia #9928). Special significance, therefore, attaches to the garments of Aaron. They represent the power vested in him who endeavors to live up to his God-given ideal. The saving power of the Lord passes down through the heavens in their order to the most commonplace issues of life in keeping the commandments. Thus Aaron was clothed with a tunic, or inner garment, a robe, and the ephod, or outer garment having the breastplate with the twelve precious stones and the Urim and Thummim in it. The coverings of the tabernacle, the inmost of fine twined linen, the inner of goats hair, the outer of the skins of red rams, and the outmost of badger’s skins, protected the furniture, and especially the ark of the covenant, within. These represent the senses of the Word of God, from the outmost, or literal sense, to the inmost sense which concerns the glorification of the Lord. The outmost garment of Aaron was not of badger’s skins like the outmost covering of the tabernacle. Aaron’s outmost garment was like the inmost covering of the tabernacle, of blue and crimson, and scarlet double dyed. Aaron’s outmost garment also had gold in it. Why this inversion of these coverings? To represent the fact that the letter of God’s Word (the badger’s skin) conceals the more beautiful and finer senses within, whereas the outward Christian life reveals the inner significance of the Word, and exemplifies the law of love (the gold in the ephod and breastplate), which is the universal law of heaven. The inner meaning of the law appears in the light as man progresses in the regenerate life, and shines forth in the life successively with the purification from evil and falsity in opposition to it. Aaron bore the breastplate of "judgment upon his heart before the Lord continually."
Every detail in the construction of the tabernacle, or in the worship there, is full of enlightenment for the heavenly pilgrim. The objective of it all is rest from labor, and joy in work done in harmony with the laws of life. So the Lord "gave Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God."
Life as it Might Have Been
32. The tables Moses received from God contained the perfect law as seen in the mount. When brought into touch with the life on the plain beneath, the hideousness of the spectacle was beyond description. The people "forgot God their Savior, which had done great things in Egypt." In exalted states, when humbled, we see what life ought to be. The vision, however, does not change our nature: it only brings the old habits into the limelight, as an unmitigated infringement of the law. Moses shattered the tables of stone at the foot of the mountain. The worship of the golden calf was a reversion to the type of worship acquired in Egypt, expressive of the worship of the world, which knows no law but the law of self-interest. The consequences are fatal. There is no escape from them. "In thy sight shall no man living be justified. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me, my heart within me is desolate."
Life as It Is
33. It appeared as if the Lord had renounced his people. In reality the people were rebels: they had a fit of sullen obstinacy. We know that we cannot serve God and mammon. It is not enough to see this to be true theoretically, or from history. We must see it in self, see self from the inside. The picture is in the worship of the golden calf, and the punishment that followed, the breaking of the tables of the law. What is to become of us? We have alienated ourselves from the Lord. Our worship is profane when used to promote worldly success. Self is on the inside, and worship on the outside. Moses erects a tent—not the tabernacle, but a tent—outside the camp. The people see him disappear within it, and the cloud at the entrance take his place. We fail to see the real significance of the Scriptures, and have only a dense understanding of them when unduly influenced by the world. We must see this in ourselves in the light of the Word. What then is to be done about it? Surely the Lord will not forsake us! We acknowledge our unworthiness, we realize our responsibility, and proceed on our way again under His guidance, prepared to profit by our failures. We take comfort from the evidence of God’s mercies in past trials. We see the Divine Providence in the back, and not in the face.
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
Life to Be
34. Now follows the new order of things accepting life as it is. Life as God would have it is impossible. The tables made by God are smashed in pieces. The Lord, however, will take us as we are. Moses hewed out two tables of stone in imitation of the former two. We must fashion our lives in approximation to the perfect life—Moses’ vision of the tabernacle when he received the two perfect tables. The same law— the ten words—God will write in our feeble efforts to imitate the Christ life, or be Christian to one another. Through further temptation, and humiliation, from time to time we rise to heights above, and see what life might be. We get a vision of the law to be written on these new tables of stone. Moses spent another forty days with the Lord, fasting, on the top of Sinai. When he at last returned to the camp with the tables of the Testimony in his hand, his face shone with a new light. The people were afraid, but first Aaron and the rulers, and later the people, summoned courage to approach Moses and hear what the Lord commanded in the mount. Then Moses put a veil on his face which was only withdrawn when he went in before the Lord to speak with Him. The sight of ourselves in the light of the law is at times agonizing. We must know, however, where we fall short in our principles and in our ordinary thoughts and actions. The naked truth may be too much for us. A reversion to worldliness veils it temporarily. Then again we face the light whenever we turn in humility to the Word for it. Then the inner law is engraved on a life slowly being fashioned after the pattern on the mount.
35–40. This is the beginning of the actual construction, or reconstruction, of character in accordance with the will of God. Therefore, we have a "summary of all kinds of good and of truth which are in the Church and in heaven, and from which is the worship of the Lord" (Arcana Coelestia #10725). These are signified by the things the sons of Israel brought willingly to make the Tabernacle, and the garments of Aaron and his sons. Religion has its beginnings in newness of life within and without. During the wilderness period a cloud covered the tent, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. When the cloud rose the people journeyed, and wherever it rested they camped. Our guide is our understanding of the law. This is always obscure in times of trial. We advance to a clearer understanding of it as we are prepared to consider the interests of others more than our own, or learn to love more and hate less at all times. "Love is the fulfilling of the law."
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