Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Meaning of Violent and Odd Sayings of the Bible (Psalms 137)

The Bible contains many odd sayings and violent laws and customs, and many who examine it closely then wonder and ask, how could such a book be Divinely inspired? How could this be the Word of God? I was posting some items in an online forum, and then someone out of the blue decided to quote this passage to me on one of my posts:
O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed,Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock! (Psalms 137:8-9)
So how does one take that?  (its explained below) If anyone reads this in the literal sense, it cannot be a commandment from God that we should kill the children of our enemies.  For such would be an enormous crime against humanity. Modern Christian churches will simply ignore this by saying, the entire Old Testament has been abrogated.  But the truth of the matter is different - even in these sayings, and those odd stories that don't make any sense, there are hidden levels of spiritual meaning. There is a hidden spiritual meaning behind the Hebrew words beyond the literal meaning.  The Jews knew there was something hidden behind the Hebrew scripture, but they only got so far as the Kabbalah from the 12th century which I regard as a failure. Before that we had Philo of Alexandria of the 1st century, but he did not get that far either. In the 18th century, Swedenborg's internal spiritual vision was opened, and was revealed the spiritual sense of scripture in full waking state over a period of 27 years.

So why is the Bible written in the way it is? First, the Jews of the time were not ready to receive internal spiritual truths, but only external laws and rituals:
"Because the human rational is such, the mode of speaking in the Word is according to man's comprehension, and also according to his genius. Therefore it is that the internal sense of the Word, is very different from its literal sense; which is very evident in the Word of the Old Testament, where most things were written according to the apprehension and genius of the people who then lived. On this account almost nothing is said concerning the life after death, salvation, and the internal man. For the Jewish and Israelitish people, with whom the church then was, were such that if these things had been disclosed, they would not only not have understood them, but would also have derided them. So, too, if it had been disclosed to them that the Messiah or Christ was to come to save their souls to eternity, they would have rejected this as nothing, as may also be evident from the same nation at this day; for if the internal or the spiritual is mentioned in their presence even now, and it is said that the Messiah will not be the greatest King on the earth, they deride it." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2580.5)
So, with the Jews, Jesus spoke in parables: an external superficial meaning was given to the public audience, but the internal spiritual meaning was explained only to the disciples. God is such, that the truth is adapted to the people receiving it:
"The simple in heart may be instructed from the appearances with man, for they scarcely go beyond knowledges from things of sense, and therefore the language of the Word is adapted to their apprehension" (Heavenly Arcana, n. 926)
Thus, in this adaptation of the Divine truth to our understanding, things appear in the literal sense that are just appearances of truth, even what is false:
"...things which are of the literal sense of the Word, and are representatives of truth and significatives of truth... are not in themselves truths; some of them, even, are falsities, which still can serve as vessels and recipients. But in the Lord there are none but essential truths, and therefore a parallelism and correspondence is not given; but they may still be so adapted as to serve as vessels for the celestial things which are of love and charity. These are what constitute the cloud of the intellectual part, spoken of before, into which the Lord insinuates charity, and so makes conscience.
"For example: with those who remain in the sense of the letter of the Word, and think that it is the Lord who leads into temptation and who then troubles man's conscience, and who think that because He permits evil He is the cause of evil, and that He casts the evil down into hell, with other similar things — these are apparent truths, but are not truths; and because they are not truths in themselves, there is not a parallelism and correspondence. Still the Lord leaves them intact in man, and miraculously adapts them by charity so that they can serve celestial things for vessels. So, too, with the worship, the religious teachings and morals, and even with the idols, of the well-disposed Gentiles: these likewise the Lord leaves intact, and still adapts them by charity so that they also serve as vessels. The case was the same in regard to the very many rites in the Ancient Church, and afterwards in the Jewish Church; which in themselves were nothing but rituals in which there was not truth, but which were tolerated and permitted, and indeed commanded, because they were held as sacred by parents, and so were implanted in the minds of children, and impressed upon them from infancy as truths." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 1832.2-3) 
The plain truth and nothing but the truth will just get you plain killed in certain situations. So we have appearances to bend us to what is good, in order to not harm the good - for a complete revelation of truth in its naked form could lead to outright rejection. We should recognize that each person has a different level of understanding of truth, and they can accept certain things due to their mindset, but no more.

So break you mindset. Question what you know to be true, and look deeper.


So, given the above, what exactly is the meaning of Psalms 137? Should we treat it as a violent wish of vengeance upon one's enemies? As it turns out I translated the Psalms from the Hebrew, fixing the mistranslations found in the King James Version and other modern translations. Many sayings just do not make sense, and this is one of them, so I have been adding some comments from Swedenborg to the Psalms. So the quote from Psalm 137 I view as a synchronous event. Here is the spiritual meaning, which I posted as an answer:
Happy is he who shall seize and shatter thy babes against the cliff (Ps. cxxxvii. 9).
"Babes" mean here not babes but falsities springing up; for Babylon is here treated of, which signifies the falsities of evil destroying the truths of good of the church; the destruction of these is signified by "shattering them against the cliff;" "cliff" meaning the ruling falsity of evil, and "to shatter" meaning to destroy. He who abides in the mere sense of the letter of the Word and does not think beyond it, can easily be led to believe that he is called "happy" who does this with the babes of his enemies, when yet that would be an enormous crime; but he is called "happy" who disperses the falsities of evil springing up in the church, which are here signified by "the babes of Babylon." (Apocalypse Explained, n. 411.27)
This spiritual meaning is not randomly chosen - rather, it is based on a system of symbolic spiritual correspondences as found in the Bible.  To prove this, Swedenborg spent much of his time writing many volumes for those who desire to know.  Babylon is not just a symbol of falsity of evil destroying the church, but also those who destroyed the Christian church by adding their own doctrines for the sake of self-rule. Thus Babylon appears in the book of Revelation, and it has nothing to do with modern Iraq, but in the spiritual sense it deals with the Roman Catholic Church. A babe here is not a literal child, but a falsity which if allowed to grow can cause further damage. Thus to dash it on the rock means to destroy the falsity with the truth, before it causes more harm.


There are some very violent forms of death penalties in the Old Testament, but these kinds of laws were the only ones which could be received by the Jews as the time.  Even today, not much has changed when one observes how the State of Israel treats Palestinians (which many Orthodox Jews have protested.)  And some of these practices continue to this today in other countries of the east. These external laws are meant for those who are stuck in the literal sense, and who are evil in themselves to such a point they cannot receive higher truths. Nevertheless, in these external laws there are also hidden spiritual truths:
"As to the signification of stoning, it is to be noted that there were two punishments of death with the Israelites and Jews, with whom the representative of a church had been instituted, of which the one was by stoning, the other was by hanging upon wood. Stoning was for any one who wished to destroy the truths of worship which were commanded, and hanging for any one who wished to destroy the good of life. That those were stoned who wished to destroy the truths of worship, was because a stone signified truth, and in the opposite sense falsity (n. 643, 1298, 3720, 6426); and that those were hanged upon wood who wished to destroy the good of life, was because wood signified good, and in the opposite sense the evil of lusts (n. 643, 2784, 2812, 3720).
"That the punishment of stoning was inflicted if any one destroyed the truths which are of worship, is plain from the following passages: And they shall bring up an assembly against thee, and they shall stone thee with stones, and thrust thee through with their swords (Ezek. xvi. 40). This is spoken of Jerusalem perverted, and of the destruction of the truth of faith by falsities; hence it is said that they shall stone with stones, and also thrust through with swords; for the sword signifies truth fighting and destroying falsity, and in the opposite sense falsity fighting and destroying truth (n. 2799, 4499, 6353, 7102)." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 7453.2-3)
When Jesus came and revealed Himself as the Word, these laws were abrogated. This is shown where he stopped the Jews from stoning an adulteress - for stones in the spiritual sense signify removing falsehoods by truth, thus He simply tells her, "Sin no more." The very word that Jesus spoke is the stone that was cast to remove the sin.


When the spiritual meanings of these odd literal sayings are disclosed, one can immediately apply them to life. Thus when it is said:
If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also (Matt. 5:40)
 - it has nothing to do with giving clothing, for clothing in the spiritual world signifies spiritual truth, if someone seeks to take away the truth with a falsehood (as with this quote of Psalm 137), still yet teach them more to correct the falsehood. When this is said:
What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? (Matt. 12:11)
- there is a literal meaning for the simple, but there is a spiritual meaning as well.  For a "pit" in scripture symbolizes those who are caught and trapped in their own falsehood, and cannot see further, a "sheep" is one who lives by faith; to take it out on the Sabbath means one should remove falsehoods to those who have truth of faith by instruction. For one of the things that Jesus did, was change the external ritual of the Sabbath from a day of no work, to a day of instruction. That this is the spiritual meaning, can be seen from other passages, for which I will quote another:
And if a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls in it,  the owner of the pit shall make it good; he shall give money to their owner, but the dead animal shall be his. (Ex. 21:33-34)
How many of us have rescued an ox or a donkey from a pit?  Not many, and this would seem that of all the saying the Divine could give to Moses on Mt. Sinai, God would not be talking about animals falling into pits.  But it again has a spiritual meaning, this time concerning those who spread falsehoods to cause harm to the good:
"And when a man shall have opened a pit" signifies if any one shall have received falsity from another; "or when a man shall have dug a pit" signifies or if he himself have devised falsity; "and an ox or an ass shall have fallen into it" signifies which perverts good or truth in the natural; "the owner of the pit shall make it good" signifies that he to whom the falsity appertains shall make amends; "he shall give silver unto the owner of them" signifies by truth appertaining to him whose good or truth in the natural is perverted; "and the dead [beast] shall be his" signifies that the evil or the falsity shall remain to him. (Heavenly Arcana, n. 9064)
Unfortunately, these days, there are many who have fallen into their own falsehoods which they have devised for themselves. Thus Jesus said:
They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a pit (Matt. 15:14)
Meaning, those who teach and spread falsehoods will fall into the trap of their own falsehood. Its not just a figure of speech; each word in scripture has a spiritual meaning behind it....


And yes, this is the Second Coming as prophesied in the Bible, of which many are unaware. It will begin small among the few. Whereas before the Divine truth descended and became incarnate in a human being, in these days the Divine truth has descended again and revealed itself in scripture. The "clouds of heaven" is the literal sense of the Word, and the "Son of Man" appearing in glory is the internal Divine truth that remained hidden in scripture. For now the spiritual meaning of the entire Bible has been disclosed, using a system of symbols as revealed in visions. But for this to become known among more people, the older forms of religion must die out first. There is no room for literalists or fundamentalists here. And this fall and collapse of the older systems of religion is what is known as the "end of the age", or "end of the world":

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