<< Matthew II: the Visit of the Wise Men >>
IN the days when the Lord was born people knew almost nothing about heaven and the Heavenly Father. But there was a country far to the east of Palestine, where wise men lived who had some knowledge of heavenly things, which had been handed down from very long ago. They knew that the Lord was to come into the world, and when a bright star was sent them from heaven they knew it meant that the Lord was born. The land of Palestine would be His home, for from very ancient days, long before the Time of Abraham, it had been known as the Holy Land. They prepared presents for the Lord and made ready for their journey that they might go and worship Him. No doubt they travelled with their camels, as people do in that, country, especially when they must pass through the desert.
If we had been standing near the gate of Jerusalem some months later we should have seen a train of stately camels swinging steadily along on their journey, handsomely harnessed with bright straps and tassels. They carried their heads high, and perhaps from the halters of some of them hung little sweet-toned bells. Some were loaded with provisions and comforts for the journey; on others the wise men and their servants rode. They came to the city gate and asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”
King Herod lived near by in his great fortress palace on Mount Zion. He was not the king that the wise men were looking for. The Romans had made Herod king of the country. He was not a Jew, and the people hated him and were afraid of him. He was now an old man and sick, but he was all the more cruel and suspicious, and fearful that some one would take away his kingdom. Imagine the feelings of Herod when he learned that wise men from the East were asking for one who was born King of the Jews; and imagine the feelings of the people in the city who hated Herod and were afraid what he might do.
Herod could not answer the wise men’s question. But there were the priests and scribes in the temple, who spent their time in studying the sacred books of the law and of the prophets. They would know what had been promised coming of the King. Herod hid his real motives, and tried lo learn who the new King was, that he might kill Him. But the Lord was protected from his power.
This is the story.
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, 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. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
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.
Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 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. When 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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 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. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
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. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 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. 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 enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
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.
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 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. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 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: 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.—Matthew II.
Author: William L. Worcester 1904
Wise Men from the East >> Remnants of spiritual knowledge [of Correspondences] from the Ancient Church
Wise Men’s three gifts >> Love to the Lord in three degrees, from highest to lowest
Gold >> Holiest Love
Frankincense >> Gratitude for all heavenly blessings
Myrrh >> Gratitude for natural good things
King Herod >> The power of falsity and evil
Lord, King of the Jews >> The power of Divine Truth and Love
Egypt >> Natural State
The Lord taken as a child into Egypt >> The Mind being stored through the senses with natural knowledge
The Lord coming out of Egypt to the home in Nazareth >> The Development of the spiritual understanding from natural knowledge
In Bethlehem, the House of Bread, the Lord was born, because He was the living Bread by which heavenly spirits are nourished. In the land of Judah it was, because this represents the plane of the mind in which the love of God should be known. ” In the days of Herod the king,” means when the pride of self-intelligence ruled in the church. For Herod was an Edomite, and in the evil sense Edom means” pride in one’s own intelligence, and falsity from it, destroying the church.”(AE 410.)
The wise men of the east were a remnant of ancient churches, having the remains of ancient wisdom ; and they represent the surviving wisdom of childhood’s innocence and trustfulness. This recognizes the Lord as King of the church, and offers the acknowledgment that His human presence in the heart is itself life from the love of God, the delight of spiritual intelligence, and the healing and protection of natural truth represented by the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh, presented by the wise men.
It is interesting to note that the young life was carried to Egypt, and there protected by Joseph as once before, under the Divine Providence, a Joseph went down into Egypt to save life, and to lay the foundation of a new nation and a new church. To two different periods the two Josephs belong the one to the period of childhood’s love of knowing, and the other to the maturer love of understanding. “The celestial of the spiritual” is the technical formula by which Swedenborg describes the quality represented by Joseph. And by this he means the love which is the root of faith in the Lord, and is capable of being instructed in Divine things.
The Joseph of the early days represents the child’s love for the Divine in the Word and in the story of the Lord’s life, which places the knowledge of this above all other knowledge. The Joseph of the later days represents the young healing and protection of natural truth represented by the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh, presented by the wise men.
And besides these there was another Joseph, high in the councils of the Jews, who, when the Lord was crucified by the urgent insistence of the Jews, courageously begged for the body, and with all possible honor laid it in his own new tomb. And he stands for the love for the Lord which when the pride of spiritual intelligence and of holiness, or elation in the possession of spiritual truth, rejects the Divine life of love and service, courageously defies it, and asks for itself no hope of heaven but in that love from the Lord alone.
The Egypt to which the young child was carried, was at that time the land of learning. There were the great libraries of the world and the schools of learning. It was the depository of the knowledge of representative worship of all the old world. Into this atmosphere of study and learning the Lord was taken, probably at the time when His own love of knowing began to be awakened ; and we are not going beyond the evident meaning if we think of His mind as stored there with representative forms of every kind, and having some intuition of what they meant. Just at what age this took place is not clear. Herod slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, from two years old and under or, as some understand, from the second year according to the time that he had diligently inquired of the wise men. We may infer that He was not over two years old. Even this is young for the love of knowledge to awaken ; but we know that His states did progress much more rapidly than those of other men.
The significance of this as regards the second coming of the Lord, is that after the first recognition of the Divine in the spiritual sense of the Word, must follow a state of instruction in the representatives by which the Word is written.
Herod’s slaying all the boys in Bethlehem from two years old and under, represents the extinction of all genuine truth of the Divine presence with men, by the pride of intelligence the two years meaning the sense of the love of the Lord in the truth. Rachel is affection for genuine spiritual truth from the Word, which mourns when the truth is lost.
In Nazareth, which seems to mean Seclusion, the next long period of the Lord’s life was passed. It was the period in which He was learning to live the Divine life according to the truth of the Word. He did not come forth until the natural self had so far given place to the Divine, that whatever He did and said was from the love of the Father for saving men, and was a revelation of that love. And this represents the long period of instruction in spiritual truth, which is necessary to introduce the spiritual life. (Author: John Worchester, 1898. Matthew’s Gospel.)
Pictures: James Tissot —-Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum