<< THE ASSYRIAN A CEDAR IN LEBANON. >>
Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of a high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs. The waters made him great; the deep set him up on high, with her rivers running round about his plants; and sent out her little rivers unto all the trees of the field. Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long, because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth.
All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs; and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young: and under his shadow dwelt all great nations. Thus was he fair in his greatness, in the length of his branches: for his root was by great waters. The cedars in the garden of God could not hide him, The fir-trees were not like his boughs, and the chestnut-trees were not like his branches: not any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty. I have made him fair by the multitude of his branches; so that all the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of God, envied him.
Therefore, thus saith the Lord Jehovih: because thou hast lifted up thyself in height, and he hath shot up his top among the thick boughs, and his heart is lifted up in his height: I have therefore delivered him into the hand of the mighty one of the heathen: he shall surely deal with him: I have driven him out, for his wickedness. And strangers, the terrible of the nations, have cut him off, and have left him: upon the mountains, and in all the valleys, his branches are fallen; and his boughs are broken by all the rivers of the land; and all the people of the earth are gone down from his shadow, and have left him.-EZEKIEL xxxi. 3-12 .
INTELLIGENCE, without spirituality, induces pride of intellect, and ends in evil. A man who knows much, and who learns easily, is not necessarily made better by his learning. Goodness results from the humble practice of known truths, in the daily life. Truth known, but not loved and lived, is truth alone, without good, and, therefore, without spiritual life.
THE LITERAL SENSE.
Literally, the text refers to the downfall of Assyria, which is cited as a warning to Egypt, enforcing a prophecy of her downfall.
The Assyrians were a fierce, warlike people, intelligent, but treacherous, proud, and lawless, and regarding other nations as inferior.
THE REPRESENTATIVE MEANING.
As a representative, Ashur, or Assyria, denotes the rational faculty, the reasoning power, the thinking principle, by which men become intelligent. And the representative holds good in regard to churches, as well as individuals. For, in regarding spiritual things, we look to principles, rather than to persons. And principles are the same, whether in an individual of in a mass of men. Every individual member of the church, is a church in the least form; and the general church is but the aggregate of the individual persons, as churches.
The text is not merely historical and prophetical, as to past churches, but it applies to all men, in all times, and in all places, who are in the states of mind and life described in the text. The same evils of heart and of life, which induced the spiritual downfall of the ancient Assyrians, threaten our destruction, to-day, both nationally and individually. The same kind of intelligence is open to us; and the same peril of pride of intelligence confronts us. And especially is this the case in the nominal New Church, in which there is abundance of true doctrine, and great opportunity for knowledge. But, with that knowledge, comes increased responsibility, lest we forget the one Source of all truth.
THE SPIRITUAL SENSE-TREES.
The Assyrian was a “cedar in Lebanon.” Mount Lebanon, with its forests of noble cedar-trees, represents the spiritual man, or the spiritual mind of man, with its grand knowledges of spiritual truth. Trees represent man’s perceptions of truth, growing in his mind, and bearing fruit in his life. Cedar-trees represent rational perceptions. Cedars of Lebanon represent the perceptions of spiritual truth, and the knowledges of truth, branching out, and growing with the growth of the mind.
The text declares that the Assyrian, as a cedar of Lebanon, was made great by growing beside the water; i.e., by being well supplied with natural truths, truths from the letter of the Lord’s Word, which contribute to intelligence. Knowledges from the letter of the Word develop our spiritual intelligence. And thus, spiritual intelligence is high and far-reaching, “above all the trees of the field;” i.e., beyond the knowledges of natural truth. “The fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs;” i.e., thoughts of all kinds grow in the intelligent mind, and multiply there, bringing forth new thoughts. For the rational faculty of the mind is the medium between the natural and the spiritual parts of the mind. And, by means of the rational faculty, or thinking ability, natural thoughts bring forth after their kind, in abundance, and furnish the material for spiritual thoughts. For spiritual thought is not merely thought about spiritual things, but it is thinking about all things in a spiritual way, from a spiritual standpoint, and in spiritual light. The natural man thinks about spiritual things, but he regards them from a natural standpoint; and, hence, he does not think spiritually, but naturally.
Under the cedar the beasts, also, brought forth their young; i.e., the affections increased and multiplied, by means of the perceptions of spiritual truth. Thus the cedar was fair, or beautiful in his greatness; i.e., the mind becomes beautiful by rational intelligence. The other trees could not hide the tall Assyrian cedar; i.e., spiritual intelligence reaches far beyond natural intelligence. The other trees envied, or, rather, emulated him; tried to follow his far-reaching example. So, in our minds, if we are spiritually intelligent, that intelligence elevates and dignifies our intelligence of other kinds. All kinds of intelligence aspire to be like spiritual intelligence, to know good and evil.
Thus the text displays the beauty and spirituality of the intelligence of the spiritual man, the man whose mind is open in the spiritual degree of thought. His mind is like a noble cedar of Lebanon, lofty, ever green with life, reaching high up into the sunlight of heaven. The truths of the Lord’s Word, even in its literal sense, supply him spiritual nourishment, as the waters nourish the roots of the noble cedar. For, in the letter of the Word, he sees the indwelling spiritual meaning, and applies its teachings to spiritual things. “He shall be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season: his leaf, also, shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff, which the wind driveth away.” (Psalm i. 3, 4·)
But the Assyrian changed his character, and thus fell from his high condition. Spiritually, conditions always depend upon character. Progress in goodness of character makes spiritual growth, and degeneration in character produces decay. However intelligent a man may become, his intelligence, being given for the purpose of growth in character, can remain with him only while he uses it for spiritual growth. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree : he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of Jehovah shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age.”
But this condition can remain so long, only, as the man acknowledges his intelligence to be the continued gift of the Lord. The moment the man begins to regard his intelligence as his own, he separates it from its source, and destroys its spiritual quality. For, intelligence, like life, continuously and momentarily flows into a man, from the Lord, as heat and light flow in continuously into a plant, from the sun. As the sun gives and the plant receives, so the Lord gives and man receives.
The Lord does, not create men in such a manner that they can take intelligence, and use it, and retain it, apart from the Lord. A plan has only the capacity to receive intelligence, as it flows into him, from the Lord. Intelligence is a condition; and that condition is maintained, not by the man, but by the Lord, according to the man’s willingness to open himself to the Lord. Therefore, by degeneration in character, a man degenerates in spiritual intelligence, because he diminishes his capacity to receive intelligence from the Lord. He closes himself against the Lord. And there is nothing in the man, of himself, to sustain intelligence. Although a man understands a truth as a fact, or as a doctrine, it may have no immediate connection with his actual life. It may not make him any better as a man. If he regards the truth as the Lord’s truth, revealed to men, he sees it in connection with the Lord, and he obeys it as the Lord’s truth; and he is then made better by it. He keeps himself open to the stream of the Divine life, which flows into his mind.
But, if the man, intellectually receiving a truth, regards it as his own truth, discovered by his own intelligence, he falls into the pride of his own intelligence. He claims intelligence as his own, and forgets that both the truth and the intelligence are gifts from the Lord, momentarily given to men. By the pride of his own intellect, the man exalts himself, and despises others, whom he regards as less intelligent. And, in doing this, he closes his interior mind against the Lord, and destroys the spirituality of his intelligence. He keeps the outward form of knowledge, but loses its inward spirit. And then, instead of being made better by his knowledge and intelligence, he is made worse by them, because he refers them to himself, and cultivates the infernal pride of intellect; a form of evil into which many very intellectual men have fallen. But, all through the Scriptures, the Lord warns men against intellectual pride.
Moses, in reciting the goodness of God, warned men against taking to themselves the credit of their prosperity. “Thou shalt remember Jehovah thy God; for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” (Deuteronomy viii. 18.) And, in the New Testament, Jesus has recorded His warnings against self-exaltation and intellectual pride. And, in our text and the context, the self-exaltation and intellectual pride of Assyria are described, and their evil results demonstrated.
The constant tendency of the natural mind is to feel its own importance, and to exaggerate that importance. And, as a man develops the pride of his own intelligence, he diminishes his regard for the Divine intelligence. As he imagines himself greater, he feels less and less need of any intelligence beyond his own. He glories in his own supposed intelligence: and such glorying develops the spirit of self-love. And it brings the man into closer association with the evil spirits and devils in the hells; for they all exalt themselves, and proclaim their own importance. They have the greatest confidence in their own intelligence, even when, in the light of heaven, they are seen to be utterly insane in spiritual things.
THE SPIRITUAL FALL.
Thus, as a man falls into the pride of his own intelligence, he departs from the spiritual company of angels; and, in character, in motives, and in plans, he associates with evil spirits. He turns away from the Lord of life, and loves himself above all others. He gives himself up to evil feelings and false thoughts, which soon confirm themselves in evils of life. Although, in his former intelligence, he was like a noble cedar of Lebanon, now he resembles that tree, broken down and destroyed, lying in ruins, and serving as a resting-place for the birds of night, and the ravenous beasts of prey, the falses and evils of his own unregenerate nature. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! . . . For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: . . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isaiah, xiv. 12-15.)
Such is the fate of him who falls into the pride of his own intellect, and who glories in self-intelligence. Intellectually, he may mount to the stars, while his heart is still in evil, and his life in sin. In his mind, all the truths that he knows are defiled by the lust of pride. However spiritual he may have been, if he has suffered the pride of his own intelligence to govern his mind, he has been reduced to a low and sensuous state, as to his actual life.
As the context says, “This is Pharaoh and all his multitude:” this is the natural man, given up to the sensuous life of selfishness, even amid all his learning, his science, and his supposed intelligence. This is Egypt, trusting in its horses and chariots, instead of trusting in the providence of the Lord; it is the natural man, trusting in his own understanding, and his knowledge of doctrine, instead of looking to the Lord for guidance, and to the Lord’s Word for true doctrine. Truly, “The pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away.” (Zechariah x. 11.)
Those who are in self-derived intelligence, mix the truths that they know with their own pride of intelligence and their lust of ambition ; and, in these, all truths are defiled. Jesus warned His disciples, “Take heed how ye hear.” It makes a great difference how a man understands and regards a truth, and from what principle he acknowledges it to be true. The humble man, however intelligent, regards his intelligence as a gift from the Lord, and a means of being useful, in serving the Lord and his fellow-men, He is in an affirmative principle: he loves the truth, and loves to believe it, as the Lord’s truth. And the truth makes him wise, useful, and happy.
But the man who is in the pride of his own intelligence, regards his intelligence as his own, and as a means of exalting himself, and of cultivating his self-love. He separates faith from charity, and does not use his knowledge for doing good to others. Inwardly, he reasons from his natural mind, and confirms himself in actual false principles of daily life. Even while meditating and talking about the truth, he falsifies and perverts the spirit of truth, and destroys its life, in his own mind. Figuratively, in his heart, Cain kills Abel; a false faith murders charity.
It would naturally seem that men of strongly marked intellectuality would be peculiarly liable to the evil of intellectual pride. Men who are unusually intelligent are generally aware of that fact, and their natural hereditary inclinations to evil would incline them to feel a sense of superiority above others. They can scarcely avoid seeing their intellectual superiority. But the same grasp of intellect which enables a man to see his apparent superiority, enables him, at the same time, to see that every man is, of himself, only evil and false; and that all good, truth, and life are of and from the Lord, alone ; and that all men are intelligent” from the Lord, and in the degree, and of the quality, of their character.
Thus, the more intelligent the man is, the more clearly he ought to see that no man has anything to boast about, from himself. Thus, the more intelligent a man is, the more humble-minded he should be. If we imagine that the intellectual man is in more danger than ordinary men, we forget the operations of the Divine Providence. The Lord, in His merciful providence, so nicely adjusts every man’s spiritual and natural surroundings to his spiritual needs, that, at all times, he is left in spiritual freedom. Evil inclinations tend in one direction, and evil spirits arouse these inclinations to activity But, on the other side, the angels act with equal power, to protect and to warn men, so that no man shall be forced into evil. The greater the man’s natural hereditary tendency to any evil, the greater will be the angelic protection afforded him, against that evil. “He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”
In fact, it is often said that a strong character has a great advantage over weak men, in the fact that he is strong, and can resist influences which would overwhelm a weak man ; and that weak characters, like weathercocks, are carried about by every shifting wind. But here, again, men forget to estimate the operation of the Divine Providence. The weaker the man’s hereditary disposition, the less will evil influences be permitted to assault him. The weaker man has weaker resolution, and weaker will; but, on the other hand, his temptations are weaker. The Lord’s ways are equal with all men. He keeps every man in spiritual balance between good and evil influences, with the liberty, and the ability, to choose for himself between good and evil. And on his liberty and ability depend his responsibility.
If it were not so, a weak man could not be censured for yielding in ‘temptation; and a strong man would show no virtue in resisting evil. But, the stronger the man, the stronger his temptations, and, at the same time, the stronger his, protection. There is evil enough in any and every man, to destroy him, if, for one moment, the Lord should withhold angelic protection. And, on the other hand, there is protection enough to save every man, if he wills to be saved from evils. True, a strong man has to bear temptations which would tear asunder a weak man. But the weak man is never called upon to bear so much pressure. No man is called upon to bear. any more than is good for him, if he will do his duty in the case, as he is able to do it, with the Lord’s help.
” Every back is fitted to its burden,” because, providentially, the burden is fitted to the back that bears it. When the crisis comes, the Lord supplies to the man strength to bear it. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” (Deuteronomy xxxiii. 25.) “Jehovah is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? Jehovah is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
. . . Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. . . . Wait on Jehovah, and be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart.” (Psalm xxvii. 1, 3, 14.)
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903