Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Spiritual and Poetic Symbolism of Scripture

Most who open the Bible do not understand what they are reading - this is because hidden behind the literal sense, there is a spiritual meaning. And once one sees the spiritual meaning, one can immediately apply it. Some may wonder why am I focused on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. It is because for the first time, it was revealed to him in visions the spiritual sense of scripture. Mystical sects of the past and the modern New Age movements have been seeking for this, never able to grasp it. Due to the symbolic imagery involved most churches avoid the Old Testament altogether, and are constantly stuck in the letters of Paul.

One local Bible study I visited at a Protestant church they were trying to interpret Psalm 46. A verse or two they could figure out, but the rest, they got lost in the literalism of the words. They thought that Psalm 46 was speaking of some world cataclysm or earthquake in certain verses, and this is where they got lost. Coincidentally in the blog post Is the Masoretic Text of the Bible the Most Reliable? I had just discovered that the Masoretic text had dropped a line in Psalm 145. The Psalms follow a poetic structure known as parallelism - one line will repeat what the previous line just said. Unfortunately this poetic structure of Hebrew parallelism is completely lost in most Bibles. As I looked at Psalm 46 I was trying to convert it into its poetic structure, but something was not right. A line was missing. So later I brought up theWord software and compared it with the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Peshitta, other ancient translations of the Old Testament. Sure enough, there is a missing line in the Masoretic text that is present in all three of these other translations.  Here is Psalm 46 (based on NASB), with its poetic structure:


(A) God is our refuge and strength,
    A very present help in trouble.
(A) You have been with us always,1
    Therefore we will not fear.
    (B) Though the earth should change
        And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea;
    (B) Though its waters roar2 and foam,
        Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride,
       (C) There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
           The holy dwelling places of the Most High;
       (C) God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved;
           God will help her when morning dawns.
    (B) The nations made an uproar,2 the kingdoms tottered;
        He raised His voice, the earth melted.
(A) The LORD of hosts is with us;
    The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
    (B) Come, behold the works of the LORD,
        Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
        (C) He makes wars to cease3 to the end of the earth;
            (D) He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
                He burns the chariots with fire.
        (C) "Be still4 and know that I am God;
    (B) I will be exalted among the nations,
        I will be exalted in the earth."
(A) The LORD of hosts is with us;
    The God of Jacob is our stronghold.

One can see from the above that in the Hebrew, the lines tend to repeat the previous one. Repeating patterns are marked with the letters A, B, C, D.  Lines A concern God as protector, lines B discuss a conflict and disaster, lines C concern peace within God's church, and lines D sort of repeat lines B but in reference to weapons of war. When laid out as above, the pattern that was now hidden is now explicitly obvious. When I was reading it, I was having a problem with the phrase "Therefore we will not fear" (second line A). Where to put it? There is no matching line. Perhaps combine it with the next? That did not fit either.  Then in the Aramaic Peshitta I saw it, it has the missing line right above it: You have been with us always (note 1). If we look at other lines A, this is in exact parallel to the phrase The LORD of hosts is with us. So what about the Septuagint and Vulgate? They have a similar line, but it is mistranslated, either in the original or the English. They have "which has come heavily upon us" continuing from "trouble" in the previous line. It would be interesting to get a second opinion on this from someone who knows the original Greek Septuagint, and even better the Aramaic from the Peshitta.

Other observations: the word for "roar" and "uproar" (note 2) are the same Hebrew word showing the parallelism, the NASB did a good job of using a similar translation (KJV translated the word "uproar" as "rage"). The word for "cease" (note 3) is the Hebrew word for Sabbath, which corresponds to the word for "be still" (note 4). The latter was mistranslated by the NASB as "cease striving", perhaps to come up with a word for "cease" to match the parallelism.

One other note, showing the cleverness of the author: lines D split the parallelism of the last lines marked as C. In the middle of the split, lines D then state a bow is broken and a spear it cut in two.


Now, when it comes to actually interpreting scripture, this is where the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg come in useful. The first verse is easy enough to interpret, and readily applicable: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. If one were to follow the opposite advice, one would being to trust in oneself: a common saying is people should have "self confidence".  Without an acknowledgement of God, we will have a tendency to trust in ourselves.  When Swedenborg's vision was opened, he saw that our concept of a "selfish ego" was somewhat of an illusion. Every thought that came into the mind, he saw had a spiritual origin, either from good or evil spirits. As for our life, which causes our body to live, there is an influx of the Divine into our soul. Our soul is a recipient of life. There are two aspects that make up the human soul: our will and our thought. We think automatically that our will and our thought are our own: but the more we fight against our selfish ego, the more that allows a Divine influx to flow into our thought and will.

One cannot will something unless one thinks about it first, and thought does not become living until we act upon it. Our will and our thought correspond to Divine Love and Divine Truth. The Divine Love and Divine Truth are two aspects of God, which are united together in human form. In scripture, the word LORD, Jehovah or Yahweh is used for the aspect of Divine Love, and the word God is used for the aspect of Divine Truth. That Divine Love and Divine Truth are united in one Supreme Being is shown by God's name in scripture: "LORD God." In the New Testament, these two aspects of God became known as "Father" and "Son." When the Council of Nicea decided they were distinct persons, in a word, they screwed up. Much of Christianity has been corrupt ever since. The principle of love and truth can be found throughout scripture, and they must always act as one. The Protestant church, although it does well in reading scripture, contains within it the false doctrine of faith (truth) separate from works (love), misinterpreting Paul who was referring to the Jewish rituals. Love without truth becomes perverted, and truth without a life according to it becomes forgotten and dissipated.

So, once one understands the principle of  love and truth, or will and thought, or doing and thinking, the very first verse begins to open up: God is our refuge and strength. The Hebrew word for "refuge" also has the meaning of hope or trust. The word for "refuge" thus corresponds to truth, and the word for "strength" corresponds to love. So on a deeper level, the very love inside of you, and the very truths that you know, originate from Divine influx into your soul. Inasmuch as we follow the selfish ego, this influx is perverted where we think it all originates from our selfish ego. The influx gets blocked, selfishness perverts Divine love into selfish love, and truth is perverted into false thinking which elevates our ego. Every evil must be accompanied by some falsity, for we tend to think of "justifications" to prove to ourselves that our actions are right. Truth is a refuge, for it is truth which defends and fights against what is false. Once one knows the truth and recognizes the falsity, one can fight against it.


If one is stuck in literalism, Psalm 46 means very little beyond the first verse, perhaps referring to some future event.  But if we get literal, things get ridiculous, or we will ignore certain lines thinking it is just poetry. This is not true: every line and word has a spiritual significance. In the literal sense, Psalm 46 describes an earthquake, mountains sliding into the sea, a city with a river, and somehow, God will break someone's bow and snap a spear, and then burn someone's chariot.  Which is problematic: we do not have bows, spears or chariots. Is this just poetic? Is it only applicable to ancient warfare? Or is there symbolism involved?

First, when scripture speaks of "earth", it is not talking about the physical earth, much less our planet earth. By earth it means land, specifically the land of Canaan or the land of Israel. The earth is a symbol of the spiritual church. Those outside the church are known as "Gentiles," here translated as nations. The land of Israel, and the Jewish people, were a symbolic representation of the spiritual Christian church that succeeded them. That earth means the spiritual church one can actually derive from the parallelism of Psalm 46:

I will be exalted among the nations (Gentiles)
I will be exalted among the earth.

Where earth is in reference to one's own land, thus the church. Here God will be elevated, in opposition to the mountains in the parallel lines. So, what do "mountains" signify in scripture? That mountains are not literal mountains, can be seen in this passage:

Let the rivers clap their hands, 
Let the mountains sing together for joy. (Ps. 98:8)

Obviously rivers do not clap their hands, and mountains do not sing. Is it just poetic? No.  Following the principle of love and truth, rivers of water signify spiritual truth, mountains signify love.  The first line speaks of a spiritual love for the truth, the second, a more deeper joy for love towards the Lord. The reason why water corresponds to truth is just as water cleanses, so truth cleanses us from sin. Thus, entrance to the church is signified by baptism by water: for one must first cleanse oneself from sin. That cannot be done unless one first knows the truth. Knowing this, a mountain corresponds to love towards the Lord, or in the opposite sense, selfish love and pride. This can be proven repeatedly from scripture, I will just mention one verse:

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; 
Your judgments are like a great deep. (Ps. 36:6)

"Righteousness" pertains to the will, "judgments" pertain to the truth. Mountains are associated with righteousness, and again, water is associated with knowledge or truth. Most do not notice this as they think it is just poetic, and then pass over the comparison, not noticing the pattern. As a mountain signifies in the highest sense love towards the Lord, in the opposite sense it signifies the love of self, the selfish desire to rule over others. Thus the greatest temptation of Jesus took place on a mountain:
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me."
Then Jesus said to him, "Go, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.'" Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Matt. 4:8-11)
Overcoming the temptation of the love of self is the greatest temptation all face daily. That a mountain can signify selfish pride is shown in Psalm 46 itself:

Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. (Ps. 46:3)

The above translation in the NASB makes the association obvious: the mountains are associated with a Hebrew word that is often used for human pride. So what do earthquakes and a mountain slipping into the sea signify? An earthquake signifies a change in state of the church, where it becomes destroyed from evil within. Thus when the sons of Korah rebelled against Moses, the earth opened up and swallowed them (Num. 16), there was an earthquake in Jerusalem at the time of the resurrection, and in Revelation 11, there was an earthquake in a city after two witnesses were rejected and slain. An earthquake signifies a change in state of the church, where it has become so corrupt it can no longer be said to worship God. A judgment occurs, and one's state sinks toward hell. What causes this? Evil and selfish pride. Thus the mountains are said to quake and slip into the sea - the sea and its depths in this context a symbol of hell, or a lower state.

What about the rest of the Psalm? A city with a river, the dwelling place of God, is a symbol of the true church which lives by true doctrine (the river). That a city represents the doctrines and teachings of the church, is shown in several passages where the city of Jerusalem (teachings of true doctrine) is mentioned alongside Mount Zion (love towards the Lord). The New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation, which is again a city with a river in it, represents the New Church which will succeed the Protestant and Catholic churches. This is because it has a strong foundation in doctrine, and in interpreting scripture.

So what about the symbolism of the bow, the spear, and the chariot?  Weapons of war represent truth fighting against falsity, or falsity fighting against the truth. There are several passages of scripture which prove this, I will just mention a few:

They bend their tongue like their bow; 
Lies and not truth prevail in the land. (Jer. 9:3)

Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows 
And their tongue a sharp sword. (Ps. 57:4)

Behold, they belch forth with their mouth; 
Swords are in their lips, For, they say, "Who hears?" (Ps 59:7)

And, the Word itself if often described as a sharp two edged sword. Because the Word is Divine truth, which fights against what is false. You can take this symbolism to the smallest of details: a bow is the doctrine of truth or falsity, its arrows the truths or falsities derived from doctrine; a spear is the power of truth or falsity as it is held by the arm (power), a chariot, one's understanding, based on the reasoning (horses) which lead it. The chariot is burned, as one's spiritual understanding becomes destroyed by hatred towards others in favor of the love of self. Every evil contains within it its own punishment.

So how to summarize this Psalm? There will be protection of those in the lowest good when judgment upon the evil comes. For in the church, towards the end when it becomes corrupt, there will be good people who still follow the truth in its most literal base form (represented by Jacob), and these will be separated from those within the church who have used religion for their own selfish pride, and have fallen into false doctrines. Eventually, their own selfish pride causes them to sink towards the more unhappy state of hell. The ones in the church of true doctrine will be unaffected during the judgment. Those outside the church will seek to infest the church with their falsity, but will be unable to do so as the truth will fight against them.

Another point: There are three levels of worship: the first or lowest level is merely obedience to God's commandments. The second level of worship is based on love towards the neighbor based on the spiritual truths we have learned. The third, and highest level of worship, is love towards the Lord. In his spiritual visions, Swedenborg saw that these three degrees of love formed three degrees of heaven. If one looks closely at this Psalm, one can see these three levels or states in the lines marked A, B and C respectively. And what is amazing, in the spiritual world one's internal psychological state becomes reflected in the spiritual world around them. Thus angels who are in love towards the Lord appear to dwell on high mountains. Those who are in true doctrine tend to dwell in cities. Before the spiritual judgments take place, hell begins to creep upward into the lower levels of heaven: this occurs because many who were outwardly good, are inwardly evil. When their interior evil of selfish pride is exposed in a spiritual judgment, the area in which they dwelled begins to quake, and they actually sink towards hell. They will fight against it with their own falsity, thus weapons will appear during this conflict. This is the most deepest spiritual level of the Psalm, but one would never know unless one was familiar with the spiritual world.

So that is the hidden symbolism of this particular Psalm. I have not done justice to it, Swedenborg is much better at the symbolism which he explains in detail in Heavenly Arcana. For his exploration of the spiritual world, how it corresponds to our internal spiritual states, see Heaven and Hell.  I put them together in one work, The Divine Revelation of the New Jerusalem, and there are other online resources. Knowing how to interpret scripture, seeing the spiritual symbolism, one can immediately apply it. Should I trust my self, or put trust in God? What mountains of selfish pride lurk within our heart? How has our selfishness changed our previous state, ruining a relationship, where we are now in an unhappy state? Should I be concerned when I see churches following false doctrines, or knowing the truth, fight against it? What false ideas do we hold onto that we should question and fight against? What is that river that can make us internally happy - perhaps we can find a reflection of the truth, when we open scripture and apply it? Rarely do visions occur any more, but few people know what is readily available if they just happen to open scripture and read it with an open heart.

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