<< MATTHEW II: Spiritual Meaning >>
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
1 The Lord was born there (Bethlehem), and not elsewhere, because He alone was born a spiritual celestial man. All others are born natural, with the faculty, or potency, to become either celestial or spiritual by regeneration from the Lord. The reason why the Lord was born a spiritual celestial man was, that He might make His Humanity Divine, according to order from the lowest degree to the highest, and might thereby bring into order all things in the heavens and in the hells. A. 4594.
1,2. The good of faith, which is signified by the land of the east, is nothing else than what is called in the Word charity toward our neighbour, and charity toward our neighbour is nothing else than a life according to the Lord’s commandments. They who are principled in the knowledges of the good of faith, are called sons of the east. The land of the sons of the east was Aram or Syria, for in Syria were the last remains of the Ancient Church, wherefore in that country the knowledges of good and truth were still remaining. A. 3249.
That the wise men from the east, who came to Jesus at His birth, were of those who were called the sons of the east, may appear from the fact of their having the knowledge that the Lord was about to be born, and that they were acquainted with His coming by a star, which appeared to them in the east.
That those were called magicians, who were in the science of spiritual things, and also thence in revelations, is evident from the magicians who came from the east to Jerusalem, inquiring where the king of the Jews was born, and saying that they had seen his star in the east, and were come to worship him. A. 5223.
1-6. That magicians came to worship the infant Jesus, and that he was born in Bethlehem. D. P., Page 46.
1-12. That wisdom flourished in Arabia, appears from the queen of Sheba’s going to Solomon—i Kings x. 1-14, also from the three wise men, who came to fesus when just born, under the direction of the star.
1, 2, 9. As the angels in the spiritual heaven shine as stars, and as all truth and good belonging to them are from the Lord, therefore the Lord, as He is called an angel, is also called a star. Hence it is manifest from whence it was that the wise men from the east saw a star and followed it, and that it stood where Jesus was born. E.72.
As by the East in the Word the Lord is signified, the star was seen by the wise men in that quarter, and because they were expecting the advent of the Lord from their knowledge of the representatives which remained with them, therefore the star was seen to go before them, first to Jerusalem, by which the church itself as to doctrine and as to the Word was represented, and thence to the place where the infant Lord lay. Star also signifies the knowledges of good and truth, and in the supreme sense, knowledge concerning the Lord. The Orientals, being acquainted, with the knowledges of good and truth, were, on that account called men from the east. E. 422.
The science of correspondences remained among many eastern nations, even until the advent of the Lord, as is evident from the wise men of the east who came to the Lord at His nativity, wherefore a star went before them, and they brought with them gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh. For the star which went before them signified knowledge from heaven ; gold signified celestial good ; frankincense spiritual good, and myrrh natural good; from which three is all worship. S. 23.
The foregoing statement occurs also. T. 205.
1, 2, 11. The smoke of incense in the Ancient Church, and thence in the Israelitic, was prepared from fragrant substances, as from stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, because odour signified perception, and fragrant odour grateful perception. But frankincense specifically signifies the truth of faith. Those who were from the east, and were called sons of the east in the Word, signify those, who were in the knowledges of good and truth. A. 10177.
1, 5, 6. By Bethlehem is signified truth conjoined to good in the natural man, therefore David was also born there, and also anointed king, for David as a king represented the Lord as to truth from good. The Lord was on this account also born in Bethlehem, because He was born a king, and truth conjoined to good was in Him from His nativity.
1, 11. Nothing is more common in the Word than that the good of wisdom or love is signified by gold. In Matthew ii. 11, gold signifies good; frankincense and myrrh, grateful offerings proceeding from love and faith, which are therefore called the praises of Jehovah. A. 113.
The land of Cush, or Ethiopia, abounded with gold, precious stones and spices, which signify goodness, truth, and the things thence derived, which are pleasant, such as the knowledges of love and faith. “This may be evident in Isaiah lx. 6. Psalm lxxii. 15. A. 117.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh signified celestial, spiritual and natural good. A. 1171.
2 The celestial kingdom is what constitutes the priesthood of the Lord in heaven, and the spiritual kingdom what constitutes the kingship of the Lord, hence it is that in the Word the Lord is called a king, and in the evangelists, the king of the Jews. E. 433.
1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The birth of the Lord in Bethlehem was accidental, yet providential; it took place where it was neither intended nor expected, but where prophecy had fixed it. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah v. 2) But the Lord’s birth took place in Bethlehem, not merely to fulfil a divine prediction, but to teach a spiritual truth. In Scripture, place signifies state; for the reason that in the spiritual world place is determined by state; so that heaven is a place of happiness because it is the abode of those who are in a state of happiness. To present this truth representatively upon earth, Canaan was chosen as a type of heaven, and every spot in the holy land became the symbol of some particular state or principle that enters into the general state.
This signification of Bethlehem appears from the first circumstance recorded in connection with it. As Jacob journeyed from Bethel to Mamre, to go to his father Isaac, he passed through Ephratah, where Rachel gave birth to Benjamin. This journey signified progression from a less to a more perfect state, Ephratah representing an intermediate state, through which it is necessary to pass from one to the other. In particular, it signified the progression of the external man, who is Jacob, towards union with the internal man, who is Isaac; and Benjamin, who was born in the way, represented the principle which serves as a uniting medium between them. Bethlehem and Benjamin have, therefore, the same general signification. The representative character of Benjamin was exemplified at a later period in his being the medium through whom Joseph and his brethren were reconciled to each other, or rather, through whom the loving and forgiving Joseph reconciled and united his unmerciful brethren to himself. Bethlehem was also the birth-place of David, of whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, and who was a type of the Lord in his regal character, as the Ruler who was to bring all things into harmonious subordination to himself. David therefore uttered the prediction, “I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood” (Ps. cxxxii. 4-7). The signification, of Bethlehem is further indicated by its situation. It was in the land of Judah, but on the border where it was connected with the land of Benjamin; and as Judah and Benjamin, when they formed the kingdom of Judah, represented the internal and external of the celestial church, and of the celestial man, Bethlehem signified the uniting medium between them. As a uniting medium, Bethlehem represented, in an exalted sense, the written Word, as the medium for uniting God and man. And the Word being the store-house of the bread of heaven, which feeds the soul.
Everything, therefore, conspired to make Bethlehem the appropriate birth-place of the Saviour, with whom all that was historical was also representative. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to represent that he was the Word made flesh, the Mediator between God and man, the true Bread that came down from heaven, to give life unto the world. The human nature which the Divine assumed and glorified in the world is the very form of God, the medium through which he reconciles his rebellious children to himself, the fountain from which he imparts to them of his love, which is life.
Understood in reference to the Lord, there is a deep significance in the name of his birth-place being changed from Ephratah to Bethlehem, and in the name of Rachel’s son, born there, being changed from Benoni to Benjamin. Bethlehem (the house of bread) is spiritually distinguished from Ephratah (fruitful) in this, that bread is more expressive of the divine good ,as it is in the Lord’s humanity, adequate to the wants and accommodated to the reception of fallen man. The change of name in the case of Benjamin, as a type of the Lord, is not less significant. The name Benoni (Son of my sorrow), given him by his mother, is expressive of the state of humiliation to the Lord as the son of Mary, for it was in respect to the maternal humanity that he was the man of sorrows; while the name Benjamin (son of my right hand), given him by his father, is expressive of the Lord’s state of exaltation, which belongs to him as the Son of God, or to the divine humanity, which exaltation is expressed in the gospel by the Son sitting at the right hand of the Father.
While Bethlehem represented the Lord’s humanity as the great medium of communion and conjunction between God and man, it signified in a more particular sense that which served as a medium for uniting the divine and the human in the person of the Lord himself. The Lord inherited by birth the principle and power by which that union was effected. In this respect he differed from all other men.
“All men whatsoever are born natural, with the ability to become spiritual or celestial, but the Lord alone was born spiritual-celestial. From his birth he had a propensity to good and a desire for truth, every other man being naturally inclined to evil and falsity.” The reason of this is obvious; every man derives his ruling love from his father, and this in fallen humanity is nothing but evil. But the Lord had not a human but a divine Father; and therefore he had those inclinations in favour of good and truth of which all others are naturally destitute. The Lord alone was thus the true Bethlehemite.
While the Lord was born in the town of Bethlehem, he was born in the days of Herod the king. He who was born King of the Jews was born in the days of one who disputed his claim to that title, and endeavoured by the most diabolical means to prevent his making his way to the throne. How fitting an agent was this cruel and unscrupulous king of the power of hell, whose dominion was threatened by the coming of the Lord! How natural a symbol of the powers of the church and the world, that had made a covenant with death, and with hell were at agreement! (Isa. xxviii. 15.)
The days of the wicked Herod represented the states of the Jews at the time the Lord was born. The Lord had come to restore the government of truth and righteousness in the earth, and it is evident how much the world stood in need of his interference. He had come as a Lamb in the midst of wolves, as innocence in the midst of the foulest corruption, and it is not surprising that his infancy was one of danger and his life one of persecution.
In those days there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. The visit of these Orientals is a very interesting feature in the history of our Lord’s birth into the world. It shows that a knowledge of ancient prophecy respecting the coming of the Messiah had been preserved in regions distant from the land of Israel. We need not suppose that these wise ones among the nations had derived all their knowledge of the Lord’s coming from the Jews, or the Jewish Scriptures. It may, in part, have descended to them from a more, ancient and widely diffused revelation, from which portions of our present Word have been derived, some of the principles and facts of which were embodied in the mythologies of the nations of antiquity, and traces of which are still found in almost every corner of the earth. In the time of that ancient Word, a clearer knowledge of divine truth and of spiritual things prevailed. Men knew the true nature of inspiration, and saw in revelation spiritual truth clothed in natural images as their corresponding and expressive forms. It was some remnant of this knowledge that enabled the wise men to recognize in the newborn star a sign of the birth of the promised Saviour. They knew a star to be a symbol of the knowledge of truth, and eminently of him who is the truth itself. The star, we may infer, was a spiritual object, and their spiritual sight was opened to behold it. It was a star that shone out in the heaven of angels, not in the heaven of men. None on earth, so far as appears from the gospel, beheld it but the magi, whose spiritual discernment enabled them to interpret its meaning.
The wise men among the Gentiles, and the shepherds among the Jews, were the only ones who received any outward intimation of the Saviour’s birth, and were the only ones who came to salute the Lord at his coming. The wise men represented those out of the church who possess spiritual intelligence, the shepherds, those within the church who are principled in spiritual charity. The means by which they were directed to the infant Saviour correspond to their different characters and circumstances. The shepherds were directed by the audible voice of the angels, the wise men by the silent language of the star; the one by hearing the other by sight. Both announcements came to them by night, for the day of the church had closed, and the whole world lay in darkness. There is another difference. The angels directed the shepherds to Bethlehem; the star, if it guided the magi at all, led them to Jerusalem. Those within the church receive direct information respecting the Lord, and can go directly to him; those who are without must first be led into the church, to be initiated into its doctrines, before they can come to the Lord and worship him, not in spirit only, but in truth. The wise men had come from the East, which has a high signification. The East, in the highest sense, is an emblem of the Lord, and of love to him; but, as here, of the Lord in his rising, when religious light first dawns in the heart. And to come from the East to Jerusalem is spiritually to advance from the first general perception of divine truth to its distinct and certain knowledge, thence to proceed to the practical attainment of the greatest and highest of all truths – that the Lord is our Saviour.
Were it not that some higher signification is involved in this circumstance, we can hardly suppose but that the star would have led the magi at first, as it did at last, to Bethlehem. According to all human appearance another advantage would have resulted from their being led directly to the Lord’s birth-place. The jealousy and wrath of Herod would not have been excited, and the innocents of Bethlehem would have been spared. But here again we must acknowledge the hand of an over-ruling providence; and here again we may see revelation proving its own spirituality.
2 Come to Jerusalem, the magi inquired, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? They did not ask if the Saviour was born; of this they were convinced; they only inquired where he was to be found. This is the first time that the Lord is spoken of in the gospels as a king. The Lord, we have seen, is a king as Divine Truth, which is his regal principle; for by this he rules in his kingdom. But the question of the magi Where? is an Important one even to us. What with them was a question of place, with us is a question of state. This is the moral meaning of where in Scripture; When God called to Adam, and said, Where art thou? it was to demand of fallen man where, morally, his disobedience had placed him. More hopeful is the question respecting him who was born to restore the kingdom of righteousness. It is a question that every one has to ask for himself. As the kingdom of God is within us, so is its king, who must be born within us, that the throne of his dominion may be established in our hearts. If our desire to know where the Lord is born be, that we may come and worship him, we may learn where he is to be found. But there are discouraging effects which this inquiry produce; and its object cannot be attained without tribulation. This knowledge we obtain by the doctrines of the Word, as the magi did through the priests in Jerusalem
3 When Herod heard of the coming of the magi, and of their object, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. In this we see the beginning of the hostility of the Jewish nation to the Lord. The jealousy of Herod was excited, and his wrath was provoked by the remote probability, perhaps the bare possibility, of a rival claimant to his throne. Whether we regard Herod as a sample or a symbol of the people he reigned over, his feelings, like his conduct, are highly significant. They exhibit, we cannot say an awakened conscience, but a sense of guilt, and that indescribable fear which often arises from a too certain but yet hidden cause. But we do not need to look back to the events of eighteen centuries ago to study this problem. We have the ground of this fear in our own hearts, and can trace it in our own experience. In the little world within there is, if we are converted, not only a Bethlehem, but a Jerusalem, and not only the magi and the shepherds, but a Herod and a compliant hierarchy. In our own selfhood there are all the evils and falsities that have ever been exhibited by the worst of men; and if they have not come out in our conduct, they slumber in our hearts, though we may be little aware of their existence till they are aroused by something opposed to their ends and inimical to their rule. But it is for our good that they are excited and in this fact we may see the wisdom of Providence in guiding the wise men to Jerusalem, which troubled Herod and all Connected with him. Indeed, we see in this, as in many other instances in the Word, that the mere presence of good arouses evil, as in the world and in the church, so in the human heart. It is expedient that it should. How else could evil be cast out? It is not enough that we receive good; the good must overcome and disinherit the evil, for without this, good itself would be disinherited, or, what is still worse, corrupted. In this trouble of Herod and all Jerusalem, we have therefore a representation of the trouble our own corrupt selfhood experiences when the day star that ushers in the sun of righteousness has risen in our hearts, and we desire to see the fulness of its glory. The disturbance and excitement both of the evils of the will and of the falses of the understanding is here meant; for evil in the will is meant by Herod, and falses in the understanding by Jerusalem, the people of the city being understood.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
4, 5. From the most ancient time, Ephrath signified the spiritual of the celestial, hence afterwards Bethlehem had the same signification. . . . From these prophecies (Micah v. 2) it was known to the Jewish people that the Messiah or Christ would be born in Bethlehem, as is evident from these verses in Matthew. A. 4594.
4-6. The Mighty One of Jacob is the Lord as to the Divine Humanity, Ephrata, where he was to be found, is Bethlehem, where He was born. See Psalm cxxxii. 2, 4-7. A. 9594.
6 That there is such an internal sense in the Word throughout, treating solely of the Lord, of His kingdom in the heavens, of His Church on earth, and with every individual in particular, treating therefore of the goods of love, and the truths of faith, may appear to everyone from the passages of the Old Testament which are cited by the evangelists, as in Matthew xxii. 44. Compare Psalm cx. i. A. 2135. See Matthew ii. 4, 5. A. 4594.
Treating of the Lord, Ephrata is Bethlehem, where the Lord was born. A. 9485.
Herod complied with the wish of the wise men. He gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, and demanded of them where Christ should be born. God makes the wrath of man to praise him. Evil men for selfish ends can perform good uses; of which Herod is an example.
The natural man for natural ends employs sacred agencies and means to compass his evil ends. The chief priests and scribes of the people are the interpreters of the Word, and abstractly the interpretation itself, by which its doctrines are known, especially those relating to the Lord, which the righteous use to promote his glory, and the wicked to advance their own. The wise men call Jesus the King of the Jews, but Herod calls him Christ. This name, “Anointed,” is expressive of the Lord as the Truth anointed with the “holy oil” of the Divine love; but when used by the evil, as by Herod, it expresses in their minds the Lord’s truth separate from his love, and thus opposed to it.
5 In answer to Herod’s demand where Christ should be born, the priests say unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea. We have already seen the meaning of Bethlehem in reference to the Lord himself, who was born there; but it is symbolical of the Lord’s birth-place as respects the regenerate. Whether we speak of the birth within us of Jesus, as the object of faith, or the birth of the faith of which Jesus is the object, it amounts to the same; for the Lord dwells in us by faith; nay, in the very truths which we believe, for these are from himself. Bethlehem within us is faith derived from charity, or, what is the same, truth derived from good. The faith which is not of charity, the truth which is not of good, is not yet actual and living. Faith is new born when it first begins to live from charity. This is Bethlehem, where Jesus is born within us as the Saviour of our souls. The Lord has a still more interior habitation within us, to which the star, if it has risen in our hearts, will finally conduct us.
6 The priests cited the prophet, by whom the Lord’s birth had been foretold. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shalt come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. The explanation of this verse has been anticipated, and need not be repeated. But there is a difference between the prediction as it occurs in the prophet and as given by the evangelist, which, as one of several similar divarications, it may not be without interest or instruction to notice. It may be presumed that the difference in such cases is that which exists between a truth in its first reception, and in its complete development. In the present case, in the prophet Bethlehem is said to be little among the thousands of Judah; here it is said to be not the least among its princes. Commentators have remarked that there is no real discrepancy in these two statements, since a place may be little and yet not the least. But it is a poor compliment to an inspired book to be able to say that two different statements are not contradictory: we should be able to see that the difference is instructive, and this, we think, may be seen to be the case in the present instance.
(1.) In the prophet the place of the Lord’s birth is called Bethlehem-Ephratah; in the gospel it is called Bethlehem in the land of Juda. Bethlehem and Ephratah are two different names of the same place; they therefore signify the same principle: but Ephratah, as already remarked, signifies the principle in an earlier and less perfect state. In the gospel Ephratah is left out; and instead of Bethlehem-Ephratah we have Bethlehem in Juda. Bethlehem, instead of being joined to a less, is joined to a more perfect name, and therefore describes a more perfect and elevated state. (2.) In the prophet, Bethlehem is said to be one among the thousands of Judah; in the gospel it is said to be one among the princes (or rulers) of Juda. Rulers present the idea of superior principles that govern; thousands, that of inferior principles that are governed. Here again we have a more exalted idea in the gospel than in the prophet. (3.) In the prophet, Bethlehem is called little; in the gospel it is said to be not the least. Little expresses the positive idea of what is small; not the least expresses the comparative idea of what is greater than some others. Altogether, then, the gospel version of the passage seems to exalt the sense of that given in the prophet, as if to express the fact that Jesus had magnified the prophets as well as the law. The prophet adds, that as governor the Lord should rule his people Israel. To rule means also, here as elsewhere, to feed. The Lord’s government, of the faithful at least, who are his people Israel, is not only over them but in them. His love and truth rule in their affections and thoughts, which they also feed. He rules as a shepherd, who at once pastures and protects his flock.
7 When Herod had ascertained where Christ should be born, he privily called the wise men, and inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. Place and time both signify state; but place signifies state in relation to good, and time, state in relation to truth. The inquiry of Herod, whose secret object – meant by his privily calling the wise men – was the destruction of the infant Saviour, implies that the ungodly desire the extinction both of the Lord’s goodness and truth. Although as regards the Lord himself this is beyond their power, though not beyond their desires, they seek to destroy these principles in themselves and others. And the better to effect this, they endeavour to trace the knowledge of divine things to its beginning, as Herod wished to know when the star first appeared.
8 When the king sent the magi to Bethlehem, he said, Go, and search diligently for the young child, and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and Worship him also. He desired to learn from them where in Bethlehem the infant king was to be found. Particulars which illustrate general truths are communicable only to the good: they are hid from the worldly wise and prudent, who, if they possessed them, would use them to destroy everything good and true, root and branch. By Divine Providence, that which Herod above all things desired to know was hid from him. The magi were led to the spot where the Saviour was, without any of that diligent search which Herod had so earnestly enjoined.
9 When they heard the king they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. The re-appearance of the star at the moment when its encouragement and direction were needed shows that it was not a natural but a supernatural object, sent to conduct them to the very spot where the infant Saviour was.
This star in the heavens symbolizes knowledge respecting the Lord. Its second appearance in an instructive circumstance, considered in relation to its first. The first knowledge is general, the second is particular. Particular, illustrates general knowledge, and guides to the object which we desire and are in search of. The star, when it first appeared, indicated the birth of the Saviour; at its second appearing it conducted them to where the young child was. When the day star first arises in our hearts, its presence is a kind of general dictate; but when it appears to us after instruction, it is an open vision and manifest revelation.
10 No wonder that the magi when they saw the star, rejoiced with exceeding great joy. The internal perception of truth – especially the greatest of all truths that, which relates to the Lord as their Saviour – is a source of the highest and purest joy to the hearts of those who have earnestly desired life, and are eager to pursue the path which leads to it.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
11 All sacrifices in general, of whatsoever kind, were called presents or gifts. That presents were given to kings and priests, on going to them, appears from several passages in the Word (i Samuel ix. 7,8:1 Samuel x. 27: i Kings x. 2.) As the ritual was holy, signifying initiation, therefore also the wise men from the east, who came to Jesus at His birth, brought presents, gold, frankincense and myrrh, gold signifying celestial love, frankincense spiritual love and myrrh those loves in the natural. A. 4262.
In respect to presents the will is viewed by the Lord, hence it is that by presents to Jehovah, that is, by things offered to the Lord, such things are signified as are of the will or of the heart, the will of man is called the heart in the Word. From these considerations it is evident how it is to be understood, that everyone is judged in the other life according to his actions or his works, namely, according to those things which are of the heart, and thence of the life. Hence it is evident that presents brought to the Lord were proofs of such things as are offered by the heart, which are the things of faith and charity. By gold, frankincense, and myrrh are signified all things which are of the good of love, and of faith to the Lord. Gold the things of the good of love, frankincense those of the good of faith, and myrrh the things of each which appear in externals. The reason why the wise men from the east offered those things, was, because from ancient time with some of the Orientals remained the science and wisdom of the ancients. It consisted in understanding and seeing celestial and Divine things in those which are in the world and on earth. It was known to the ancients, that all things corresponded and represented, and hence were significative. This also is evident from the most ancient books and monuments of the Gentiles. It was thence that they knew that gold, frankincense, and myrrh signified the goods which were to be offered to God. A star also signifies the knowledges of internal good and truth which are from the Lord. A. 9293.
As spices signify interior truths, thus such as are grateful, therefore incense was made of spices. A. 10199.
Gold signifies good, frankincense interior truth, and myrrh external truth, each derived from good. The reason why gold is mentioned in the first place is, because it signified good, which is inmost, frankincense in the second place, because it signifies internal truth derived from good, and myrrh in the third place, because it signifies external truth derived from good. A. 10252.
The wise men who came from the east to the place where Christ was born, offered gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They offered those things because they signified goods and truths, interior and exterior, which are gifts grateful to God. E. 242.
By the wise men from the east are signified those who are in the knowledges of truth and good. Their worship from celestial good, spiritual good, and natural good, is signified by their offering gold, frankincense, and myrrh ; for by gold is signified celestial good, by frankincense spiritual good, and by myrrh natural good. That such things were thereby signified, was also still known to many in the east, whence also they were called the sons of the east, by whom in the Word are understood those who are in the knowledges of truth and good, for the science of correspondences as yet remained with them. Therefore, that they might testify the joy of their heart, they offered such things as signified every good from first to last. E. 324.
The gold here mentioned signifies celestial good, frankincense spiritual good, and myrrh natural good thence derived ; thus the three goods of the three heavens. E. 491.
As gifts captivate the mind and consociate, therefore in ancient times it was customary to give gifts to the
priest, and to the prophet, also to a prince and king when they approached them. Because external gifts signified internal or spiritual gifts, namely, such as proceed from the heart, and consequently are of the affection and faith. As by these conjunction is effected, therefore by gifts, in the spiritual sense, is signified conjunction, when predicated of God; and consociation, when predicated of men. E. 661.
The magicians worshipped Him, and gave Him presents. D. P. Page 46.
12 Worship from spiritual good is signified by incense. By frankincense the same is signified as by incense, because frankincense was the principal aromatic used in making incense. The reason why the wise men offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh was because gold signified celestial good, frankincense spiritual good, and myrrh natural good, and from these three all worship is derived. R. 277.
Gold signifies the good of love. R. 913.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother. In speaking (v. 5) of Bethlehem as spiritually meaning the faith of charity, we mentioned that the Lord had a still more interior habitation than that in the regenerate mind. That more interior habitation is charity itself, which is within faith as its soul or vital principle. The faith which is from charity being signified by Bethlehem, the charity which is in faith is signified by the house. Faith is as a city, and charity is as a house within it. The Lord dwells with us in our faith, but our charity is his habitation. It is over here where the star of heavenly knowledge stands, and tells us to enter. Nor is this part of the narrative without an instructive lesson to us. We too must come into the house. The journey of the wise men is a history of our spiritual progress, and the last step not less significant than the rest. We must not only advance from knowledge to faith, but from faith to charity; and we must enter into and be in charity itself, before we can be in the actual presence of the Lord, and worship him as our King and Saviour. Let us see in what his true worship consists.
When the wise men had entered into the house, and saw the young child, they fell down and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Before we explain, let us pause to contemplate those pious heathens, from whose conduct we may learn wisdom.
Out of the church, which possessed the oracles of God, and with nothing but the dim light of tradition to guide them, they had yet a sufficient knowledge of, and a strong enough faith in, the promise of the Lord’s coming, to give them a perfect reliance on its accomplishment, and to enable them to look forward to it as an event in which they had a deep and personal interest. Their knowledge of the correspondence between natural and spiritual things enabled them at once to recognize in the celestial messenger an announcement of the event for which they were eagerly looking. When the joyful tidings came, with what readiness did they set out in their long and arduous journey, carrying with them the most costly gifts as an offering to the infant King ! And when they found him, not in a splendid palace, surrounded with regal pomp, but in an obscure dwelling, cradled in his mother’s arms, they had no misgivings or repugnances, but prostrated themselves in profound homage before him, and presented him their precious gifts, the symbols of a far more precious adoration. How much may we learn from their example! Do they not teach us to love the Lord for his own sake, independent of external considerations? May their conduct not justly lead us to inquire how far our devotion to the Saviour is influenced by the popularity of his cause, the pomp of his service, the dignity and wealth that his name confers? Nations now own his sway, and kings bow down before him. How deserving of honour how worthy of imitation, those who worshipped him when he had neither name nor power! True, our eye is not attracted by a star, nor our ear by a choir of angels; but we have the constant testimony of still more eminent witnesses in the written Word of God, and only require to look and listen, to find ourselves in the presence of messengers proclaiming the same glad tidings, and inviting us to render the same homage to our King and Saviour.
But let us attend to the purely spiritual wisdom which the, incidents teach us. We spiritually fall down before Jesus when we abase our self-hood: we worship him when we exalt his love and truth in our hearts: we open our treasures when we open our hearts in which we have received and in which we have treasured up the riches of the Divine mercy and grace; and we present unto our Saviour gifts when, in humble and grateful acknowledgment, we return to him, as their Donor, the blessings which in his bounty he has bestowed upon us. The gifts offered by the magi were gold, frankincense, and myrrh the offerings of love, faith, and obedience. These are the spiritual treasures which the truly wise in all lands seek after and prize, and which they offer to the Lord in worship – not only in the worship of their lips or in the service of the temple, but in the love of their hearts, and the service of their lives. The man who employs the talents which Divine Providence has bestowed upon him, to promote the glory of God in the happiness of men, offers gifts more precious in the Divine estimation than the incense of oral praise.
12 The wise men no doubt intended to return and give Herod information respecting the young child; but being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. God frequently revealed his will to men in dreams: no doubt for one reason, that in sleep they were more passively recipient of heavenly monitions Hence dreams signify revelations given in an obscure state. The magi were warned not to return to Herod, This would have represented the immersing of what is holy in what is profane, which would have been the destruction of innocence, as it would have enabled Herod to destroy Jesus, The magi therefore departed into their own country another way. This returning by another way is mentioned in another part of the Word. The prophet sent to denounce the altar which had been idolatrously erected by Jeroboam. in Bethel, was commanded not to return by the same way that he came (1 Ki. xiii. 9). This teaches us an interesting and important lesson relating to the regenerate life.
In Scripture a way is the symbol of truth and faith; for truth leads, to good and faith to charity. Now, there is a truth that leads to good and a truth that is derived from good – a faith which leads to charity and a faith which is derived from charity; but the one is essentially different from the other. We have first of all to learn the truth; and the truth teaches us what good is, and how to attain it. This truth, therefore, looks and leads to good as something out of and above itself! But when we have acquired the good which truth had taught us to esteem and strive after, the good enters into the truth, and acts out its beneficent and useful purposes by means of it. Truth is first the pioneer, and then the minister of goodness; so is faith of charity. The way by which we return is another way than that by which we go up. We go up by the way of instruction, and sorrow, and conflict; we return by the way of intelligence, and joy, and triumph. We have seen the king in his beauty; we have worshipped at his footstool, we have presented our gifts; and we depart to our own country by a new way which the Lord himself has commanded.
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
13, 14. That the scientific was the first plane with the Lord when He made His Humanity Divine truth, or the Divine law, is signified by the Lord, when an infant, being taken into Egypt. See Hosea xi, i. A. 6750.
13-15. The case is the same with regard to Israel as in Matthew, see Hosea xi. i. That Israel here means the Lord is manifest. A. 3305.
By Israel, in the supreme sense, the Lord is understood. Therefore the Lord Himself, when He was an infant, was carried down into Egypt. Hereby was also signified the first instruction of the Lord, for the Lord was instructed like another man, but by virtue of His Divinity He imbibed all things more intelligently and wisely than all others do ; but this departure into Egypt only represented instruction. E. 654.
13-15, 19-21. The migration of Jacob and of his sons into Egypt represented nothing else in the inmost sense,
13 but the Lord’s first instructions in knowledges from the Word, see Hosea xi. i. Hence it appears that by the child Israel is meant the Lord, and that His instruction when a child is signified by the words, Out of Egypt have I called my Son. A. 1462.
13 The warning of the wise men in a dream not to return to Herod, was not the only means Divine Providence employed to prevent the evil which the wicked king meditated. When they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph, in a dream saying, A rise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt. The flight into Egypt is one of the many memorable incidents in the Lord’s life which have fixed themselves in the imagination as well as in the heart of Christendom, amid the ideal of which Christian poetry and art have done their utmost to embody in images of tenderness and forms of beauty. It is, moreover, an incident which possesses internal evidence of some higher purpose than that which it bears on its front. For why this flight into Egypt to save the holy child from the wrath of an earthly potentate? He who in manhood could have procured for his protection more than twelve legions of angels, which is nothing less than omnipotence, could have been surrounded with such a sphere of protection that the power neither of earth nor of hell could injure him. The flight into Egypt has a spiritual meaning, and one of great interest and importance. The historical event, so prominently set before us in the Old Testament, of Israel going down into Egypt and sojourning there affords the key-note to the meaning of the Lord’s flight into that land of Israel’s nurture as well as of his deliverance. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt is generally admitted to have been typical of the Christian’s deliverance from the bondage of sin but seldom is his journey thither thought of as having any reference to Christian experience. Yet the one is as significant is the other. According to that great system of correspondence which mapped out the ancient world, so far as it found a place in sacred history, of which Canaan was the centre and the surrounding countries the circumference, Egypt represented, as it cultivated, science, – not only natural, but spiritual science, – understanding by it the knowledge which comes from without, especially such as is suited to the faculties of a child, or to the mind in the early states of the religious life. Our Lord was carried down to Egypt when a child, to represent his initiation into external knowledge, not merely the knowledge of external things. As the Lord came into the world to save man by first perfecting man’s nature in himself, he assumed human nature as it is in other men, that he might pass through all human experience. Like every other man, he was born in ignorance, and had to acquire knowledge in the ordinary way.
It may seem that if the Lord was God manifest in the flesh, he could have no need of human instruction, but must have had all knowledge and wisdom directly imparted to him by the Divinity that dwelt within. We know from the gospel history that this was not the case. The fact, as it was, is consistent with the nature, and was necessary for the purpose, of the Incarnation. The divine was in the human, in the person of Christ, as the soul is in the body in the person of man. The soul does not inspire the body – or rather the external man which includes the body – with knowledge, but only gives him the faculty of acquiring it. Nor does the soul manifest its powers in and through the body, till the body, or rather the external man, is prepared, by growth “in wisdom and in stature,” to become a suitable instrument for its use. Reason and liberty are faculties of the soul; but without knowledge, rationality would not be able to judge nor liberty to choose. Knowledge is the body of which reason is the soul; and reason can no more act without knowledge than the soul can act without the body – a natural body in the natural world, a spiritual body in the spiritual. As in all respects the Lord was truly man, so was he in all that may be called learning.
He was therefore carried down into Egypt, that his outward history might represent the progress of his inward life. The conduct of this sacred journey was confided to the faithful Joseph, who was again instructed, in a dream, to arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt. Arising spiritually, is elevation of mind – rising above the things of time and sense; and fleeing is the eager pursuit of the object that is set before us. In this instance it is also fleeing from danger, which the Omniscient saw and his wisdom provided against. The child and his mother are the Lord and the church, whose security is to be provided for. But, in the particular sense the young child is the Lord as essential innocence, and Mary his mother, who is also his nurse, is the affection by which that innocence is nourished, and from which science or knowledge is acquired. When they were sent down to Egypt, they were to remain there till the angel brought Joseph word. For as this instruction in the scientifics of the Church was of divine appointment, so it was to be continued till the Divine Wisdom saw its completion. In fine, this ruling by the angel of all the particulars connected with the journey was designed to instruct us that the process itself, from beginning to end, was wholly under the Divine direction and guidance. A reason is given for the flight, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. To bruise the serpent’s head, he required to have the wisdom of the serpent as well as the harmlessness of the dove, and the strength of the lion as well as the innocence of the lamb. As, then, the Lord when a child was carried down into Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, so he was initiated into the science of heavenly things as a defence against all his diabolical enemies. Innocence is not a sufficient protection against ingenious wickedness; cunning must be met by wisdom, and wisdom must begin from knowledge.
14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,
14, 15. That it is the Lord who is meant by Israel in Hosea xi. i, is manifest from these words in Matthew. A. 6425.
Because Egypt signified the natural man as to the affection of truth, and thence science and intelligence, therefore Joseph, the husband of Mary, being warned of an angel, departed into Egypt with the Lord, who was then an infant, according to the prediction in Hosea xi. i. Psalm Ixxx. 8, 9. R. 503.
The establishment of the church in the earths by the Lord is understood by Israel also came into Egypt. By Israel is signified the church, for the establishment of the church by the Lord was represented by the children of Israel coming into Egypt, likewise by the Lord’s being carried down into Egypt when He was an infant. E. 448.
15 Hence then it appears, that the sojourning of Abram in Egypt, represents and signifies nothing else but the Lord, and in fact, His instruction in childhood. This is also confirmed in Hosea xi. i. A. 1502.
The historical facts can by no means form the Word, because in them, separate from the internal sense, there is no more of the Divine than in any other history, but the internal sense alone is what makes the narrative Divine. That the internal sense is the Word itself, appears from many things which have been revealed, as where it is written, Out of Egypt have I called my Son. The Lord Himself also, after His resurrection, taught the disciples what had been written concerning Him in Moses and the Prophets, and thus that there is nothing written in the Word which does not regard Him, His Kingdom, and the church. A. 1540.
They who abide in the literal sense of these words (Jeremiah xxxi. 15 and Matthew ii. 18) cannot by any means conceive from them what is their internal sense, when nevertheless it appears from the evangelist that they have such an internal sense. Also in the same evangelist, Out of Egypt have I called my Son. A. 2135.
That the Lord was conceived of Jehovah, is well known from the Word of the Lord, hence He is called the Son of the Highest, the Son of God, and the only-begotten of the Father. A. 2798.
Egypt was among those countries and kingdoms where the Ancient Church was, but as scientifics principally were there taught and treated of, therefore Egypt signifies scientifics in general. On this account also in the prophetic Word Egypt is so often treated of, and there specifically means scientifics. The very magic of the Egyptians had its origin thence, for they were acquainted with the correspondences of the natural world with the spiritual. . . . Now since the Egyptians were acquainted with such scientifics, which taught correspondences, and also representations and significations, and as these things were serviceable to the doctrinals of the church . . . hence it is, that was made to go down to Egypt signifies the scientifics of the church. The Lord when He glorified His internal man, that is, made it Divine, first imbibed the scientifics of the church, and from and by them advanced to things more and more interior, and at length even to Divine things. A. 4964.
l5- See Chapter II., 13, 14. A. 6750.
Joseph, in obedience to the heavenly vision, arose, and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. This was done by night, to represent both the spiritual night of the church and the mental darkness from which Jesus commenced the journey of his momentous life, that he might advance by degrees from the innocence of ignorance to the innocence of wisdom.
15 And was there until the death of Herod. The death is here mentioned by anticipation. The death of Herod represents, not simply the end of the representation which that king sustained, but the death or removal of the particular evil of which Herod was the type. The prophecy which was fulfilled by the Lord’s return from Egypt is also mentioned by anticipation; but as it is not repeated, we may here consider it. Like several other prophetic declarations relating to the Lord, this had had a previous fulfilment. It was fulfilled in the deliverance of Israel. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt” (Hos. xi. 1). But Israel and his deliverance were typical, and therefore prophetical; for types are the shadows of coming events. In the supreme or inmost sense of the Holy Word, all historical persons and events were representative of the Lord and of his glorification. Both in his going down into Egypt and in his coming up, Israel represented the Lord and his redeeming work. As the Israelites came up out of Egypt enriched with all its spoils, Jesus enriched his mind with all the wealth of knowledge; and as the Israelites gave their gold and silver to furnish and adorn the tabernacle, the Lord sanctified all knowledge of goodness and truth, by using it to enrich and adorn the temple of his humanity, as the habitation of his eternal Divinity.
But while the young child was in Egypt, concealed and secure from the wrath of Herod, a scene was enacted by that remorseless tyrant which has for ever coupled his name with one of the most atrocious deeds that darken the page of history. This was the massacre at Bethlehem. But this inhuman act, though historical, is also representative. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men was exceeding wrath. The evil are never so gratified as when they can make wisdom or goodness subservient to their own diabolical ends, and are never so wrath as when they elude their grasp, and disappoint them of their prey. Wrath in Scripture is expressive of the greatest contrariety of state, and, in relation to the wicked, of the deepest malignity against those whom they believe to mock them. So of Herod. He sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and all the coasts thereof. Infants are the emblems of innocence; but those mentioned here were infant boys, and represented spiritual truths in which there was innocence. The slaughter of the innocents by Herod was a sign that when the Lord came into the world there was not any spiritual truth remaining. Bethlehem, we have seen, signified the Word, and to slay all the children in it and in its coasts, is to destroy all the truths of the Word both internal and external, so far as the knowledge and power of the evil extend; but that knowledge can only be acquired by them from others who are in a state of good, is intimated by its being said, according to the time which he had diligently inquired, of the wise men. The children slain being from two years old and under, means, in the language of inspiration, all the truths of the Word which were in any conjunction with good, of which union the number two is a symbol. Thus in the Jewish church every pure truth was destroyed, and nothing remained to it but the dead, because perverted, letter.
18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.
21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
18 See Chapter II., 15. A. 2135.
Cried with a loud voice, grief of heart. R. 326.
That these words relate to the infant children who were slain in Bethlehem by command of Herod is evident, but what was thereby signified is not yet known. The signification is, that when the Lord came into the world, there was not any spiritual truth remaining.
By Rachel was represented the internal spiritual church, and by Leah the external natural church, by Bethlehem the spiritual, and by the boys who were slain, truth from spiritual origin. That there was not any spiritual truth remaining, is signified by Rachel weeping for her sons, and refusing to be comforted for her sons, because there was not any. E. 695.
17, 18. The evangelist declares this slaughter to have been a fulfilment of what was written in Jeremiah (xxxi. 15). This reference of the event to that particular passage is very instructive. It shows that even the historical parts of the Old Testament are prophetical, or what is the same thing, typical. The passage in the prophet relates to the carrying away of the children of Judah and Benjamin into Babylon; and Rachel, the mother of Benjamin, is represented as bewailing her sons, when carried away captive. Ramah, too, was a city of Benjamin, being one of those originally given to the Benjamites (Josh. xviii. 25) when the land was divided among the tribes. It was to this place also that Jeremiah was “taken, being bound in chains among all that were carried away captive of Jerusalem and Judah into Babylon” (Jer. xl. 1). It is exceedingly appropriate and affecting historically, to make Rachel weep for the fate of her unhappy descendants and to make the voice of her lamentation come from Ramah. But if the narrative is beautiful historically, much more so is it spiritually. Of the two wives of Jacob, Rachel represented the spiritual, and Leah the natural affection of truth; and Ramah a city of Benjamin represented spiritual truth from a celestial origin. The captivity of Babylon, with the destruction of the temple, and of Jerusalem (2 Kings xxv. 9, 10), typified the consummation of the Jewish church, which took place at the time our Lord came into the world. It is on this account that Matthew applies circumstances connected with the captivity to an event connected with the Lord’s incarnation. Well, therefore, might Rachel weep; for the spiritual affection of truth was indeed bereaved of her children: for the offspring of that affection are the truths of innocence, which the infants slain in Bethlehem represented. In whatever mind any remains of such an affection survived, there would be lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning.
But amidst that destruction a seed was preserved, from which there should spring a higher and more enduring race. He whose death was intended, escaped the hand of the destroyer. Several instances occur in the Word of one escaping from what was intended as a complete slaughter, as in Judges ix , 2 Kings xi. In all such instances, and especially in the case of our Lord, a consolatory truth is contained. In all human destruction the Divine Providence conceals and preserves a remnant for salvation. The infant Saviour was preserved as the seed and the beginning of all perfection. In him was the comforting exhortation and promise addressed to Rachel to be realized: “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for they shall come again from the land of the enemy.”
19, 20. The king did not long survive the massacre of the infants, But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel; for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. Herod’s death represented the end of the particular state, or of the predominance of the particular principle which he represented. Not that it was altogether extinguished; for, as we shall see, the same evil rises up in another form. But the particular state, with the activity of the principle he represented, was ended; and with it therefore came a change of state in Jesus himself, implied by his going up to the land of Israel.
This land, as distinguished from the Land of Egypt, was a type of the church itself, instruction in its truths being represented by the Lord’s going up and residing there. The reason for this removal was, because they are dead which sought the young child’s life. Herod’s desire to destroy the infant Messiah must have been instigated by, as it represented, an effort of the lowest hell, which is diametrically opposed to innocences, and by which the Lord was infested and tempted in his childhood; and as, even then, no temptation could prevail against him, but ended in the defeat of the tempting power, this was indicated by the death of Herod; and the Lord’s progress in glorification, as a result of this conquest, was represented by Joseph again arising, and going with him into the land of Israel
22 When Joseph went up out of Egypt into the land of Israel, it was his intention to proceed at once to Judea. But here a second Herod awaited and deterred him. When he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither. He was relieved by divine aid from a state of doubt and perplexity. Being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee. In this turning aside into Galilee, which, naturally considered, owes its origin to a natural cause, there is an important spiritual sense. At this period the “land of Israel” was divided into three regions- Judea, Samaria, and Galilee – which represented the celestial, the spiritual, and the natural principles of the church. It is easy to see in this a similarity to the temple. The temple consisted of the inmost, or holy of holies, the middle, or holy place, and the court. The inmost of the temple was analogous to Judea, the middle to Samaria, and the court to Galilee. There is a still further similarity. The court of the temple was divided into two, called the inner and outer court, the outer being also called the court of the Gentiles. So was Galilee divided into two, called Upper and Lower Galilee, Upper Galilee being called Galilee of the Gentiles. These divisions are not without a meaning in reference to New Testament history. We find, for instance, that the Lord was born in Bethlehem of Judea, and that, in returning from Egypt, he passed through Samaria to Nazareth, in Lower Galilee, where he abode till the time of his baptism after which he came and dwelt in Capernaum, in Upper Galilee (iv. 13); his change of place thus representing change of state, from the inmost of the celestial to the outermost of the natural. He abode during his public ministry in Upper or Gentile Galilee, also to represent that he was about to raise up his church among the gentiles. But the land of Israel, and the temple also, represented heaven as well as the church, and the regenerate mind as the epitome of both. The whole heaven consists of three lesser heavens, the highest, or celestial, the middle, or spiritual, and the lowest, or natural; as the lowest heaven is the ultimate of the two others, it consists of angels of two distinct characters, called celestial-natural and spiritual-natural. While the universal heaven is distinguished into three heavens, it is also distinguished into two kingdoms. The celestial angels of the highest heaven, with the celestial-natural in the lowest heaven, form the celestial kingdom; and the spiritual angels of the middle heaven, with the spiritual-natural angels of the lowest heaven, form the spiritual kingdom. This two-fold distinction of heaven did not exist actually until the time of the incarnation. The distinction of heaven into two kingdoms had been typified by the division of the kingdom of Israel, commenced with Saul, into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, in the reign of Rehoboam; and this division of the kingdom of Israel into two kingdoms originated the division of the land of Canaan, as we find it spoken of in the New Testament. Both these changes, therefore, were providential. The kingdom, originally one, was rent into two; and the land, originally one, was divided into three; and even the lowest of these into two, to make them in this, as in all other respects, the patterns of things in the heavens. The reason why the Saviour, on his return from Egypt, was carried, not into Judea, but “into the parts of Galilee,” will now be evident. Even he, in the progress of his glorification, had to pass through a lower state before be could enter into a higher, and lastly into the highest. The Lord did everything according to order. Though he advanced in every kind of human progress more rapidly than any other man, yet he advanced in the same order as another man – so inconceivable was his love, so great his condescension! Willing, for our sakes, to be instructed in the goods and truths of the church, as revealed in the Word, he despised not to begin at the lowest. Well may we learn from his example to be willing to take the lowest place, that we may ascend through every orderly stage to the highest of whichever degree we can attain to.
23 We have a further evidence of there being a divine purpose in directing Joseph to Galilee, in his being providentially led to the City of Nazareth. He came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a Nazarene. That this prophecy refers to the Nazariteship, is, indeed disallowed by most and by very eminent critics. There are reasons, however, which seem, to sanction, if not to require, that the city Nazareth should have been intended by the evangelist, or the Spirit under which he wrote, to be identified with the institution of the Nazariteship. He tells us that Jesus dwelt there that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. Now, there is no such prediction in the prophets, nor does the name of the city, nor consequently the term expressive of citizenship, occur at all in the Old Testament. It has, indeed, been conjectured, that as the name of the city can be traced to a root signifying “the despised one,” the evangelist had only the intention of alluding generally to the prophecies relating to his humiliation, as “he was despised and rejected of men.” But it seems more reasonable to suppose that the reference is to the parts of the Old Testament which relate to the Nazariteship. These are not, indeed, in the prophets, properly so called; but we know that the name of prophet is not limited to those who wrote the prophetical books. Nor are the passages themselves prophetical, much less have they the specific shape which the prophecy assumes in the gospel. But, as we have had occasion to remark, the historical parts of the Word are prophetical, because representative. It is hardly necessary to allude to the objection that the Lord never assumed any of the characters of a Jewish Nazarite. He did not assume the hairy garment of the prophet, nor the robe of the king nor the ephod of the priest; and yet he was the One who filled all these offices; but he filled them spiritually. Might not he be also the spiritual, who is the true Nazarite, though he assumed nothing of the outward form, which was only typical of the character? The passages to which the inspired evangelist seems to allude are those which relate to Samson and Samuel. When the angel appeared to the wife of Manoah he said to her, “Thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb” (Judg. xiii. 5).
Hannah does not, indeed, vow to call her son a Nazarite; but her vow involves his Nazariteship: “I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head” (I Sam. i. 11). The term Nazarite means separation; and all the days the Nazarite separated himself to the Lord he was to abstain from all the produce of the vine, from the kernel even to the husk; he was to come at no dead body, and not to defile himself even for his father or mother, and should let the locks of the hair of his Lead grow, (Num. vi.) But even supposing that the Lord was to be called a Nazarene, not because he was to be a Nazarite, but because be was to be called after the city of that name, he was yet a Nazarite, and, indeed, the Nazarite of whom all others were types. Therefore, on this ground alone, we may consider what the Nazariteship represented. We cannot suppose that his dwelling there was merely to fulfil a prophecy, or that the prophecy and its fulfilment were for no other purpose than to prove him to be the Messiah. More consistent, surely is it with the dignity and spirituality of the subject to consider these circumstances as designed to teach us something of the history of the Lord’s inner life, as the perfect pattern of our own. Something of this may be learnt from his going to Nazareth, that he might be called a Nazarene. Although this city may have had no historical connection with the Nazariteship, the Lord’s dwelling there, and being called by its name, would seem as if intended to be equivalent to his being a Nazarite. The Lord was a Nazarite from his mother’s womb: he was holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners; he was lent, given, devoted to the Lord. In him was spiritually fulfilled all that was naturally practised by the Nazarite. The Nazarite represented a celestial man, and the Lord as the celestial Man. The celestial man is one who acts from love; and the principle from which the Lord acted in his work of redemption was the love of the human race. It was because the vine was symbolical of the spiritual principle, that the Nazarite was so strictly prohibited from partaking of its fruit. But the Nazarite represented the celestial man while he is undergoing temptation and practising self-denial. He represented the Lord, therefore, in his days of temptation and humiliation. And in this sense, how true and expressive is the prophecy, “He shall be called a Nazarene!” But it was during this time, and by these means, that his redeeming power was manifested in his conflicts with the powers of darkness. “In his love and in his pity he redeemed them.” Yet it was Love by means of Wisdom, or Good by means of Truth, that conquered. And not only so; it was love by means of truth of the lowest order, or in its ultimate form, that overcame. It was not merely the Word, but the Word made flesh, that had the power of redeeming from the dominion of hell. Truth of the lowest degree, such as that contained in the letter of the Word – humanity in its ultimate form, such as that which the Lord assumed, were represented by the hair of Samson in which his great power lay. And that even infinite love and truth could have no power against hell and evil, without that ultimate which it assumed in the world, we are taught representatively in the fact of Samson becoming powerless against his enemies when his locks were shaven. Yet there was a period when the Nazarite was allowed to shave his head, and lay aside all the other ceremonials to the observance of which he was bound by his vow. And this was when the term of his vow was ended, and his Nazariteship ceased. Then be cut off his hair, and burned it in the fire which was under the peace offering, and returned to the ordinary condition of life. And so did our Lord, when he had conquered human redemption, put off the humanity he took from the mother, and put on a humanity from the Father, and returned where be was before. He was a Nazarite from his mother’s womb; but when he was born of God, by the resurrection, from the dead, then his Nazariteship ceased. Yet he did not become as he was before. Although he put off the humanity from the mother, he did not cease to be human, even in the ultimate degree; for although he put off materiality, he glorified his humanity even to that degree which materiality had occupied. Therefore was the Nazarite’s hair, when cut off, not vilely cast away, but burned in the fire of the altar, so that while its grossness was consumed, its virtues, or the virtues acquired by it, were preserved, and consecrated to God, and entered by the refining fire of love into the offering that was the sign of the restoration of peace between man and his God.
While this exalted meaning of the Lord’s being a Nazarite is to be understood, it is not necessary to exclude from it the idea of his humiliation. His Nazariteship was a time of humiliation as well as of power. For the Lord’s state was in this respect like ours, that his weakness was his strength. The more the human was humbled under a sense of its own nothingness, the more the divine was exalted in it and was its power. Therefore our Lord declared, “Of myself I can do nothing: the Father that dwelleth within me he doeth the works.” Could any greater humiliation be expressed, even by a mere man? But he not only expressed himself like a man, but his acknowledgement expressed an immeasurably profounder humiliation than any mere man ever felt. He was in very deed, in his own sight, “a worm and no man.” His humility was humility itself; ours, comparatively, is but the shadow and the name. In this, as in all other things, he was our Exemplar. His humiliation was as much lower than ours as his exaltation is higher. He was the true Nazarene as well as the true Nazarite. We speak now of a Nazarene as he was estimated in the days of our Lord, when the best things had acquired the worst character. Then, even the Lord himself, the pattern of all excellence, was despised. The long years during which the Saviour lived in retirement, unknown to the world, and of which no record exists, with the single exception of that which tells us be went up when twelve years old, and sat in the midst of the doctors in Jerusalem, these were the years of his Nazariteship separated from the world unto God, We are not, indeed, to suppose that these years were lost, or were spent in activity having no immediate bearing on the great work be came to perform. When we know that his work was essentially of so spiritual and sublime a nature as to be beyond the sight of human eye – that his life was essentially an inward life, and his works essentially inward works – temptations and victories, changes of state that angels could but dimly perceive – we may well conceive that Nazareth was the scene of some of those stupendous operations that were but faintly shadowed by those of the Nazarite whom the Lord raised up as a deliverer of Israel.
AUTHOR: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (COMPILED BY ROBERT S. FISCHER AND LOUIS G. HOECK 1906)
COMMENTARY AUTHOR: WILLIAM BRUCE (1866)
PICTURES: JAMES TISSOT Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum