Then came the Word of Jehovah unto Jeremiah, in Tahpanhes, saying, Take great stones in thy hand, and hide them in the mortar in the brickwork, which is at the entry of Pharaoh’s house, in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah; and say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, My servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them.-JEREMIAH xliii. 8-10.
THE fallacies and falsities of the natural senses
cannot protect the unregenerate mind against the evils of the selfish heart.
THE LITERAL STORY.
When the king of Babylon took Jerusalem, and carried away most of the people, he left some of the poor to till the land, and to gather the fruits, etc. And he set Gedaliah over these, as a deputy-governor, under the king of Babylon. But, after a time, Ishmael, a Jew, and his followers, killed Gedaliah; and then, for safety, took away a number of the Jews, to the country of the Ammonites, lest the king of Babylon should seek revenge for the killing of Gedaliah. But Johanan pursued Ishmael’s party, and re-took the Jews, and scattered Ishmael’s forces. But Johanan and his men feared to return to Jerusalem. And they planned to go to Egypt, for safety. But, from policy, they consulted Jeremiah, the prophet of Jehovah, as to what they should do. And Jerermiah warned them not to go to Egypt, but to return to Jerusalem ; and that, in case they should go to Egypt, the same enemy whom they feared to meet at Jerusalem, would reach them in Egypt; and that they would die in Egypt. But these men, having set their hearts upon going to Egypt, turned against Jeremiah, and accused him of being a false prophet. And they went to Egypt, and compelled Jeremiah to go with them.
In these circumstances our text was spoken, at Tahpanhes.Tahpanhes was a great city in Egypt, on the southern boundary of Palestine, on the southern limit of Goshen. It was the city called at different times, Beth-Shemesh, or On, or Heliopolis; and it was a centre of Egyptian learning and worship. It contained a great temple, or house of the sun.
The text, as quoted above, is from the American Revised Version of the Bible, because the translation of this text is generally acknowledged to be much better than that given in the common version of the King james Bible, which reads thus, ” Take great stones in thy hand, and hide them in the clay, in the brickkiln.” Besides being symbolic and also prophetic, our text records actual historical facts. It is supposed that, in front of the palace, or residence of the local Pharaoh, or Governor, men were laying a pavement of bricks, and that Jeremiah hid the great stones in the mortar, beneath the brick pavement, And, in that warm climate, a governor would be very likely to spread his pavilion out of doors, on the brick pavement, over the stones hidden by Jeremiah. And, if the king of Babylon should come and conquer the city of Tahpanhes, he would be equally likely to occupy the same pavement,
These doings of Jeremiah might well have suggested to the Jews, many thoughts as to their past and their future. This scene of the text was in Egypt, where, long before, for centuries, their nation had been- held in bondage. The bricks might have suggested the chief labor of their long Egyptian bondage, where they had to make, every day, a large number of bricks, and, at times without the straw necessary to good work. And the great fact of their former deliverance might have made them hope for another deliverance, by Jehovah, In the future.
But the same past history might well have made them hesitate to take up their abode in Egypt; for, in the days of Jacob and Joseph, they went to Egypt voluntarily, but they had to remain there, in cruel bondage, for centuries before they finally escaped, at the Exodus, under Moses, led by Jehovah. And now, by this prophecy of Jeremiah, their dreaded enemy, the king of Babylon, was to erect his throne even on the boundary between Egypt and Palestine.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
Palestine, or the land of Canaan, where the church was planted for Israel, represents the spiritual man, or the spiritual mind in man. And Egypt represents the natural man or the natural mind in man. The unregenerate natural mind is in the darkness of the natural senses, and without the light of spiritual truth. And to go down into Egypt, spiritually, is to think on the plane of the natural senses, separated from spiritual truth. And this condition is not a home for the regenerating man, but only a sojourning-place, in the earlier stages of his mental progress in the journey of life. But, when a man regards the laws of the Lord as too exacting, and too hard to follow, he begins to think according to the appearances of things before his natural senses; and he increases his inclination to disregard the Divine teachings. This was the condition in the fall of man, figuratively represented by heeding the voice of the serpent, which represents the life of man’s natural senses, the low, crawling life, which will not heed the voice of God. And so, naturally, in Egypt, the serpent was highly esteemed, and even worshipped.
We have all been placed in the spiritual position of the ancient Jew, when we have weighed and compared the evidence of our natural senses, against the revealed Word of our Lord.
Those who would not accept Jeremiah’s prophecy are called “proud men,” that is, men who trusted in themselves, and not in the Lord. And the same pride of self derived intelligence would work similar spiritual results, to-day, in any of us. For, if the laws of God seem too hard for us, and if we retreat to the evidence of our senses, to avoid the Lord’s rules, we shall find that we shall not escape such evils as we feared, but that those evils will reach us, and take possession of us, wherever we may go; because we carry within us the inclination to those evils. And, in fact, spiritually, they are never far from us.
These things are meant by the king of Babylon taking the Jews, even in Egypt. Babylon represents the natural mind, as to the will, or heart. In this case, Babylon represents the evil natural heart, which destroys the church. The king of Babylon is the ruling false principle, which dominates the unregenerate natural will. And Egypt represents the natural mind, especially as to the understanding, or intellect, which thinks in the fallacies of the natural senses. Thus, Babylon taking possession of Egypt, represents a condition of man’s mind when his natural love of evil takes possession of the mind, by means of the fallacies and falsities of the senses, because these agree with evil desires; and they oppose the good and true principles of the Lord. And if, in these conditions, the spiritual mind is held closed by the falsities of the senses, then, representatively, Israel is in captivity in Egypt; and then Babylon, in conquering Egypt, will conquer, also, Israel In Egypt.
For there cannot be any growth of the spiritual mind, or any freedom for it, as long as the unregenerate natural will is dominating the whole mind.
At times, there seems to be war between Egypt and Babylon, although they represent mental conditions which inwardly co-operate in the human character.
THEORY AND PRACTICE.
But there is often an apparent warfare between the things which practically work towards the same final outcome; but such opposition is merely superficial and ignorant, at least on one side. For instance, a man sees the things of life from the standpoint of his natural senses, and in ignorance of spiritual truth; and, theoretically, he opposes the evil feelings which come up In his heart, because, from common opinion, such things are regarded as wrong. And we are all quite prompt to condemn these things in the conduct of other persons, especially if exercised towards ourselves. And yet, when we think we have provocation, we are inclined to feel, and to act, as the other person acted, when we condemned his action as wrong, and as against right principles, which we theoretically adopted. And, if we have not, in our hearts, any fixed spiritual principles of life, which are heartily opposed to evil, our superficial theories will some be scattered by our own evil desires.
Again, suppose a man to have been brought up to attend church, as a duty, and to have acquired a superficial piety, which he regards as proper and genuine. Now, he may be very pious, externally, and very zealous in the church, and yet, secretly, he may be relying upon “Salvation by faith alone,” and without regard to goodness or evil in the practical life. And it may be that he does not carry his Sunday religion into his week-day work. And when a wrong feeling comes up in his mind, he may oppose it, at first, and superficially. But, if he has not, in his heart, a fixed purpose to give up all things which the Lord calls evil, his natural and selfish desire will finally conquer all his superficial ideas, and will control his practical conduct. And even if, mentally, he goes down into Egypt, and thinks over the matter in the light of his natural senses, his evil inclinations will reach him even there, and will dominate his mind.
And so you find some pious men, prominent in the churches, and apparently. good men, who cannot bear the strain of a sudden or great temptation, because they have no inward basis of fixed love for the Lord, and for His Divine principles, and for integrity and honor in men. As long as good policy seemed to deter them from doing wrong, they hid their real character. But when the strain reached their breaking-point, there was nothing within them which could protect them. They were like the Jews in Egypt, finally reached by the king of Babylon.
And we are all in similar danger, as long as we trust to anything else than the goodness and truth of our Lord, built into our own daily life. The fallacies of the natural senses, and the falsities of natural thought, and of self-derived intelligence, all fail, at the critical point, when the strain of our self-will bends us.
THE STONES AND THE BRICK.
“Take great stones in thy hand, and hide them in the mortar in the brickwork, which is at the entry of Pharaoh’s house.”
In a general way, the three kingdoms of nature, the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral, which are three different degrees of life, different in kind, or quality, represent the three discrete, or different, degrees of life, in man : the celestial degree, which is characterized by inmost love to the Lord, which is the love of goodness; and the spiritual degree, dominated by a love of the neighbor, which is the love of truth; and the natural degree, known by the love of law, and of obedience to the law.
Common stones, belonging to the mineral kingdom, represent natural truths, not merely truths about natural things, but all truths, about all things, as seen by a mind open to the natural degree, only. And so the ancient men often set up stones, or stone pillars, or piles of stones, to commemorate important events; or to witness agreements between parties; or as landmarks to land property. But, when a stone is used for a bad purpose, or to represent a bad thing, it changes its representative meaning, and represents a falsity, a truth when perverted into falsity, by wrong application. The form of the statement may remain the same, but a changed purpose and a changed application, change the practical effect of the statement, and pervert a truth into a falsity, in the mind and life of the person so abusing it. A great truth, buried in man’s natural senses, loses its spiritual quality.
Jeremiah took great stones, which, in their natural place, would have represented natural truths. But, when he hid them in the mortar, under the pavement, for the use of a heathen king, they represented natural truths, such as the literal truths of the Scriptures, hidden and buried in the hot lusts of the natural mind ; and perverted to the bad use of our self-love and our self derived intelligence. The mortar, not a natural material, but a man-made product, is hot from the lime in it, and damp from the water in it. And so it represents, here, the fire of self-love, joined with the water of falsity. Brick, as an artificial stone, here represents false ideas, built into the mind, as substitutes for the Lord’s truths. And the king of Babylon, setting his throne on the brick pavement, and over the hidden stones, represents the dominant false principle which is joined with evil loves, ruling in the mind, by means of all the false notions which may be made to appear to be founded on the letter of the Scriptures, interpreted by the thoughts of the senses. It is a common saying that a man can prove anything from the Bible; i. e., he can so pervert the literal sense of the Bible, as to make it seem to uphold almost any false notion.
All the things which it is said that Nebuchadnezzar would do to the Egyptians, represent the bad mental conditions into which the natural mind is brought, when, in its Egyptian darkness, the sensuous love of evil takes possession of the mind, and destroys all that exists in the mind, even of natural goodness and truth, which might have been used in the work of regeneration. ” Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek Jehovah. . . . The Egyptians are men, and not God: and their horses are flesh, and not spirit: and when Jehovah shall stretch out His hand, both he that helpeth shall stumble, and he that is helped shall fall, and they shall all be consumed together.” (Isaiah xxxi. I, 3.)-
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1903