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The Divine Allegory
by Hugo Lj. Odhner

The story of the peoples and lands of scripute and their spiritual significance as revealed in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1954)

The Patriarchal Period



This Canaan, and its peoples, became from now on the center of every Biblical event. The covenant of God with Abram focused on the promise that his seed would inherit this land. The new religion could find its fulfillment there and nowhere else. It was to rededicate the sacred groves and pillars and high places of that region to the worship of that God who had called Abram out of Syria. It was to reclaim that country to the One God, whom Abram knew only as God Shaddai, but whom Moses later found to be that ancient Jehovah which the Hebrew Church had once confessed.

Despite the fact that Abram was promised this land of Canaan for his seed, it was made clear that this goal could not be attained until in the fourth generation - or after four hundred years. "For the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full" (Genesis 15:16). There were still, in the land, small remnants, not only from the Hebrew Church, but from the Ancient Church, yea, from the Most Ancient Church (AC 4516, 4517). And as long as these remained in some worship which was not idolatrous but contained something genuine, the Church of Israel could not be instituted in the land.

The reason for this was that the Israelitish Church was totally different from any former church. It was, indeed, not a church, but a representative of a church. For the seed of Abram was a corporeal race, with whom worldly loves and the lusts of self had stamped out the possibility of entering upon the real functions of a church, which are those of regenerate life. The only saving feature of that race was their capacity for external humiliation and for an awe before that which they regarded as holy; and thence for rendering actual obedience to Divine commands.

In the Ancient Church, those called 'Shem' had been in internal worship, from charity and faith; those called 'Japheth' had been mostly in externals, yet from a genuine internal; those called 'Ham' had been in an internal worship which had become corrupt; and those called 'Canaan' had been in perverted externals. But the seed of Abram, which was now to become "representative of a church", was, as a race, in none of these states, having known nothing of the internal things of worship or of doctrine; and yet it was capable of adopting - from the customs of the Hebrew Church - certain externals which might typify and symbolize internal things.

This was the reason why the church with Abram's seed was to be established in the land of Canaan. The spiritual functions of Israel could not be performed without that land in which - already - there had been carried on the worship and life of all the previous churches. It was a land steeped in sacred memories. And the strange, miraculous function of Israel, was to evoke these memories anew, as a service to the heavens which had been formed from the churches of the past; and thus to renew - albeit in an artificial way - the conjunction of the heavens with the human race.


It is to be admitted that the whole of nature is representative of uses and of Divine ends. Mountains everywhere correspond to celestial love, valleys to lowly natural states, rivers to the truths of the understanding. But the groves of Greece bring to mind the glories of pagan art and philosophy rather than the religious perceptions of the celestial heavens. The hills of Valley Forge and Gettysburg arouse our remembrance, not of the life of the spiritual church, but of the

struggles of mankind for the basic freedoms of civil life. The water-brooks and flood-plains of Canaan did not in themselves have any different correspondence than similar features elsewhere. But because "the church had been in that land from most ancient times", all the places in it and around it "had become representative of celestial and spiritual things" (AC 10559). All things in it had become representative as to situation, distance, boundaries, quarters ; and even provinces, cities, and names were significative of all the states of the church which had there been given expression. It is of course readily recognized by men that associations of ideas modify the meaning of names and places. But how fundamental the laws are by which such associations are produced, is shown only in the Writings, where it is also made clear that "the Word could not have been written anywhere but in Canaan" (AC 10559).

The law is that conjunction takes place by means of ultimates. Contacts between the minds of living men are established by gestures, tones, and actions, and by the use of objects that help to convey our meanings and to create our moods. Words and written symbols are employed to transfer our thoughts. But the Doctrine extends this law also to the relations of spirits and angels with men, and to the conjunction of the Lord - through heaven - with the church, by means of ultimate correspondences. Such is the conjunction initiated and confirmed by the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Supper.

Our entire lives consist only of chains of rituals by which we invite the presence of the heavens and the hells. There is something in the human race which is as essential to the life of departed spirits, as their influx is essential to us. And the reason is, that when the departed enter into spiritual life, their memories of earthly objects, things, and languages, are closed up; and they live only in the spiritual associations, or in the interior thoughts and affections, which had become attached to the material ideas formed from their earthly environment. Freed from the narrow sphere of their own very limited scope of material ideas, their lives then become less bound and their delights more complete, and they are able to enter more fully into the contents of the interior states of which they had felt only a foretaste here on earth.

Yet without at least an indirect touch with material ideas, there could be no order and no progressions among the interior states which make the conscious life of spirits and angels. Therefore it is provided, that although a spirit "no longer subsists on his own [individual] basis", he does find "a common basis which is the human race" on earth (LJ 9). His mental life inflows into such ultimate or material ideas with men as correspond to his own affections; i.e., such as can carry a sphere of associated ideas and affections similar to his own. Into such objective ideas of place and time and person, the celestial and spiritual things of the mind of the spirit inflow, to find a delightful orderly sequence and development. In and by these ultimate ideas with men, the thought of the spirit begins to evolve into ever greater fullness. I think there are indications that the ultimate ideas thus gathered from the minds of many men, furnish the elements by which the states of the spirits themselves are portrayed about them in the spiritual world as an actual environment of visual and tangible creations which serves them as a reactive spiritual ultimate, and which is stable and lasting so far as their states are permanent.

The use of furnishing such "ultimates" was performed for the angels of the ancient and most ancient churches by the seed of Abram when they entered into the land of Canaan. So long as there was a living spiritual church on earth, then angels could find an abundance of such ultimates in the minds of men, because heavenly states then attached them selves continually to new objects and ideas. But with the fall of the entire ancient world into polytheism and gross idolatry there was urgent need for some means by which the heavens could be present with mankind in an orderly way. And the means chosen was the Church of Israel, which might - though without understanding - renew a devotion to the ancient sanctities in the land of Canaan. This, then explains why we find Abram, as soon as he came into that land, seeking out its holy places, its ancient altar-sites and sacred oak groves, and submitting in all things to the tutelage of his God who was to purge this region from disorderly cults and make it serve as a holy land of prophecy and a means for renewed conjunction with Himself.

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