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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 Northern Tribes


Of the sons of Jacob, the four which were first born of Leah - Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah - represent the four successive states through which the regenerating man must ascend from a state of truth to a state of good. From an external faith - a first sight or recognition of truth - man enters into a state of obedience in which his faith becomes a matter of the will. This paves the way for a spiritual charity - a love of truth; and through this man comes into a love of the Lord, which is then to rule his mind.

But the next four of Jacob's sons - Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher, all born of the concubines of Jacob - represent, not states in the process of regeneration, but rather the media, modes, and intermediate agencies through which regeneration becomes effective, and through which the natural man is prepared for a conjunction with the spiritual man.

Without such mediating states no man can be "born again". Even if there were, inmostly in the mind, a love to the Lord, this could accomplish no real change in man's life unless the externals of the mind could be so purified, subdued and tempered as to respond to the influx of this love.

The first of the means by which this is done is to put the mind into an affirmative attitude, or into a state of acknowledgment; which is signified by Dan, whose mother was the handmaid of Rachel. What one needs to acknowledge is not only the truths of abstract faith but especially the need of repentance and regeneration, and thus the need for all the truths in the very letter of the Word and in the letter of revealed Doctrine which can introduce man into the life of regeneration.

This acknowledgment is indeed prompted by an interior love of truth such as is signified by ‘Rachel’. Yet it is reinforced by many natural impulses and external affections which long to become active and are zealous to serve to produce a ‘judgment’ upon the evil and false states which embarrass and confuse one's mind. The name `Dan' means ‘a judge’ (AC 3923).

The tribe of Dan established itself in the small region allotted to it west of Judah - in the hill country, next to Philistia; but within it were several strong, walled cities and populous valleys which the tribe - although it had been one of the most numerous - could not retain. The outstanding figure among the Danites was Samson - whose story is both heroic and pathetic. He was a man of brawn rather than brain, good natured, optimistic, and affirmative, and imbued with loyalty to Israel; but easily duped, and terrible in his anger. We are told that his unshaven locks were the secret of his great strength, and that he represented that power which lodges in the literal sense of the Word. He also represented ‘judgment’ - but a judging by externals, a judgment often warped by natural affections such as caused him to intermarry with the daughters of the "uncircumcised Philistines".

But in later times, as the Philistines grew stronger, the Danites resolved, with six hundred men-at-arms, to hew out an inheritance for themselves at the extreme north of Canaan. On their march they encountered on Mount Ephraim an inn kept by a man named Micah. Micah had for a priest an itinerant Levite who had consented to preside over his house of idols. The Danites stole these idols, a molten image and various teraphim, and compelled the priest to come along with them bringing his sacred ephod. Eventually they reached the southern slopes of Mount Hermon and - after destroying the isolated frontier settlement of Laish - named the place ‘Dan’. It was a time of confusion. "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes". And it was here, in Dan, that the rebel king of Israel, Jeroboam, later established a center for the worship of a golden calf.

The tribe of Dan thus represents both the virtues and the weaknesses of those who are in a general affirmation of truth and good, but go no further; who judge - and often wrongly - of truths, and from truths judge of good; who remain only in a literal understanding of the Word and in sensuous thought; who put their faith and allegiance in phrases only, and are therefore apt to be carried off into fallacious reasonings and into heretical fantasies which emulate what is celestial (AE 355:31).

Yet, although ‘Dan’ was so unstable and vulnerable, his tribal office was important in the early stages of Israel’s history. For he possessed himself of the northern gateway into the land, and guarded the pass between Lebanon and Mount Hermon. In a spiritual sense, it is in the affirmative attitude that all the progress of the church commences; and this attitude is the chief spring and stimulus from which all doctrinal knowledge comes. Actually, therefore, Dan was situated at the head-waters of the Jordan; which river - in a good sense - represents the common truths from the letter of the Word (AC 6396).


Lovely Mount Hermon is the original source of the Jordan. It is by some thought to be the "mountain apart" where the three leading disciples saw their Lord transfigured. However this may be, it is referred to in the Word in language which makes it the symbol of Divine Revelation: "... as the dew of Hermon descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded blessing, even life forevermore" (Psalm 133:3). The summit of the crest rises above nine thousand feet; snowy in winter, it is often shrouded in clouds. Copious dew and rain and melting snow makes it twinkle with untold cascading brooks which by turns lose themselves in dark ravines and then, through oak glades and thickets of oleander, hawthorn and cane, slide down into the valleys, and - at the south - into the little plains of a rich farming district and into an opening trough of tropical vegetation, which in turn runs into an impenetrable swamp filled with canes and papyrus reeds.

And the chief source of the Jordan is at the site of the city of Dan, in a spring head which travellers like to call the largest fountain in the world.

Like the dews of Hermon, the Divine truth descends through the heavens and enters pure into man's acknowledgment - the thankful affirmation that the Word is Divine. And the truths from the Word - like the Jordan - descend from state to state, healing and purifying, reaching even into the lowest and most corrupt conditions. The Jordan reaches sea level already at the Waters of Merom, where it rests awhile, in a setting of beauty and peace, as if to be clarified. Then it rushes down by successive rapids into a gorge along the hills of Naphtali and, between banks of oleander, to the Sea of Galilee, which lies 682 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. We cannot now follow the river farther as it passes into its deep trench and, muddied by its tributaries, reaches the Dead Sea basin at 1300 feet below sea level! But without doubt, it is the most striking feature of the land of Canaan. Always it was regarded as the gateway to Canaan. It had to be crossed by Abram the pioneer, by the homecoming Jacob, by the tribes bent on conquest. By its side the people had to be circumcised. In its waters Naaman the leper regained health, and John administered the washing of sins. Its fords marked many a battle: there were slain the Ephraimites who could not pronounce their ‘Shibboleth’. It is the river of Repentance, which leads into the church and into heaven; it is the river of introductory truths. But it has also its evil aspects - as when Canaan is dominated by evil tribes. Then it rises in its pride as a barrier - a muddy torrent of falsities, swelling with a conceit of knowledge from the letter of the Word turned by the elated natural man to defend heresy; a torrent which must be disciplined by Divine Doctrine, as when it was turned aside by the priests who carried the sacred Ark of the Covenant, and by Elisha who flayed it with the prophetic mantle of Elijah!


Dan represented acknowledgment as a first medium by which the Church enters into man, or man into the Church. Naphtali, whose name means 'wrestlings', signifies the second of the four media. Naphtali stands for Temptation, such as is caused by the resistance offered by the natural man to the order which conscience would impose upon it (AC 3928).

The tribe of Dan is not mentioned among the twelve from whom were chosen one hundred and forty-four thousand to be sealed in their foreheads and become inhabitants of the New Jerusalem (Revelations 7). For "even the worst of men are able to know truths and goods and also to affirm them" (AC 3923). But those are sealed who have conquered in temptation. By victory in temptation the external man is reduced into agreement with the internal.

The lot of Naphtali was principally a mountainous country - the wilder highlands of northern Palestine. Its northern border was the deep river ravine which separates the lofty Lebanon range from Canaan. The country here is a 'broad, undulating table land, adorned with clumps of evergreen oak and beautiful forests, and dotted with little fertile plains. But on the east the land breaks down into gray cliffs and wooded slopes which bear into the rich plains and valleys of the upper Jordan. And finally, to the south, there are the luxuriant ravines and shore plains of the Sea of Galilee, which was the garden spot of all Palestine, where choicest fruit grew abundantly amid eternal spring or summer. The Sea of Galilee itself was full of fish - exported in later times for the tables of the Romans.

The tribe of Naphtali was not aggressive. It is compared to "a hind let loose, giving goodly words" - a hind, curious but also timid, modest, and hesitant. Yet Naphtali - as do all free nations - treasured its freedom; and it could fight bravely against an oppressor, like a stag when brought to bay (TCR 815). Thus Barak, the Naphtalite hero, had to be encouraged by Deborah before he would fight his uneven battle against Sisera and the Canaanites. And the goodly words of Deborah's paean of victory also bore proofs of Naphtali's eloquence (Judges 5).

Northern Naphtali, with its mountains and dark passes, may give the picture of temptation. Many a battle was fought near the Waters of Meram. But southern Naphtali pictures the state after temptations when doubts have given way to some extent, and a place has been prepared in the natural mind for the message of Redemption which the Lord comes to proclaim. Therefore it was principally in Naphtali that the Lord while on earth preached and healed. And it is notable that after His baptism in the Jordan and after spending forty days in the Judean wilderness being tempted of the devil, He departed into Galilee and, leaving Nazareth, came and dwelt in Capernaum which is upon the coast of the sea of Galilee, in the borders of Zebulon and

Naphtali: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, ‘The land of Zebulon and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up’ (Matthew 4).

Here it was that He called the fishermen for His apostles, and also Matthew, the publican. Here, on the stormy lake, He stilled the waves of doubt, and walked on the water to manifest His power to control the laws of nature and use even natural truths for His eternal ends. For the Lord is most present to man in states of temptation; and none become His disciples unless they can follow Him out of the doubts that beset their spirits and the natural preoccupations and worries which befog the vision of their spiritual goals.


The natural man is ordered by the acknowledgment of truth (Dan), and is disciplined and chastened by temptation (Naphtali). But the ultimate means by which it can be conjoined with the spiritual mind is good works. For nothing is man’s own unless it is confirmed in actual life. Such external goods of use are represented by the tribe of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh on the other side of Jordan. But since we have already spoken of these tribes, we wish only to recall that external uses by themselves give no lasting satisfaction to the spiritual man; for they perish with the world, and die with the flesh. Good works do not "merit" salvation, and give no eternal security.

But by Asher, whose lot adjoined Naphtali on the west, is signified real ‘blessedness’, the happiness of being "content in God" (AC 3938). It is the hope of eternal life, which becomes perceptible when temptations subside and uses have been accomplished from a charity which looks beyond the grave and which cannot conceive of eternal bliss apart from uses to others.

To Asher was assigned the whole westward slope of the highlands of Galilee, including one side of the jutting headlands of forested Mount Carmel and some harbors in the gulf to the north of it. Tyre and Sidon were probably not included; and although Asher held a strip of coast for a time, they were soon crowded back into the mountains, where "a wilderness of rocks alternates with upland meadows, deep valleys, and wooded hills ..." (Olmstead, History of Palestine and Syria, p. 209.) Wheat and olives were the products of the soil. "Asher's food is fat; he gives dainties to kings" (Genesis 49:20). The land now has a scarcity of water, and perhaps it is difficult to see its correspondence to ‘the hope of eternal blessedness’ unless we note how this hope is accompanied with a realization of earthly lacks and spiritual weaknesses. From his hill slopes, the man of Asher could cast his longing eyes over the enchanting blue expanse of the Mediterranean - in semblance of one's wistful yearning for that eternal world which one can hardly visualize from within the barriers of space and time.


The delight at the prospect of eternal uses and heavenly blessedness is only tasted to a slight degree by mortal man. Asher takes out his portion mostly in hope; yet this hope colors the all of life, and consecrates the natural man to the service of the spiritual.

For this reason, Asher was followed by Issachar, whose name literally means ‘hire’. ‘Issachar’, said his father Jacob, ‘is a bony ass lying down between the burdens. And he shall see rest that it is good, and the land that it is pleasant; and he shall bow his shoulder to bear and become a servant to tribute’. But this describes the service which the natural man offers, before regeneration: service which only looks to recompense, and counts whatever sacrifice it makes as very meritorious. Those who are such "do not dispense the good that is communicated to them, except to those who can recompense; passing by the rest who are in the greatest need; and if they do good to these latter, it is with a view to recompense from the Lord" (AC 6389). Life to such a one is a burden - full of self-pity and envy; for the love of the neighbor and its buoyant delight cannot lift him up. He is under tribute to the changing conditions of natural life, and is a prey to the powers of this world. Spirits of such a character cannot dwell among angels, although those of the lowest heaven do partake of something of this idea of merit.

But when regeneration has progressed, and - after many battles - the loves of self and of the world have been overcome and the fantasies of self have been dispersed, the natural man feels a new delight in performing uses for others. And a new "Issachar" comes into being, which is service from affection, or Mutual Love. For mutual love brings heaven down upon earth, into the actual lives of men, into the uses of community and home; and thus conjoins the natural mind with the spiritual.

Issachar therefore lies on the border of Manasseh; it is spread over the irregular plain of Esdraelon or Jezreel or Megiddo. This plain - which joins the sea coast with the Jordan valley - is a marvelous farming belt, now seemingly "an ocean of grain", although during Turkish rule it was sparsely cultivated. It separates the mountains of Galilee from the mountains of Samaria. Mount Tabor, "Little Mount Hermon", and Mount Gilboa, stand isolated upon it and, between, many streams gather to form the important brook Kishon.

One western corner of this plain and the mountains north of it, were the inheritance of Zebulon - the tribe which signifies ‘the conjugial’, or the heavenly marriage. Together Issachar and Zebulon conjoin Galilee, which represents the natural degree of the mind, with the highlands later called Samaria, which represent the spiritual. These two tribe therefore represent the inmost of the Natural with man. An( this inmost is that in the Natural wherein the Spiritual cart abide.

The Writings speak much of the Interior Natural. It is the highest conscious realm of man’s life while he is on earth. It is a part of the rational mind - wherein man thinks abstractedly and draws up his principles of life and where his doctrinal perceptions become formed and clearly articulated. Let us note, however, that the merely natural Rational must be represented as outside of the borders of Canaan - in fact, may be depicted in the lofty range of proud Lebanon to the north, Lebanon with its mighty cedars. The Interior Natural here meant is indeed formed by means of the Rational, but is concerned with spiritual things, and is the resting point of man's conscience in the natural mind.

It is in the inmost realm of the natural mind, in the plane of his inmost reasonings, that - in utter freedom of choice - man decides his spiritual destinies. Here the forces of good continually meet the forces of evil. Here also lies the Nazareth of the mind, where the virgin state of the affection of Divine Truth, like Mary the betrothed of Joseph, may become miraculously pregnant with the secret message of salvation.

Here, in the interiors of the Natural, each man anew celebrates in spirit the wedding of Cana where the Lord turns the water of natural truth into the wine of spiritual perception - the first perceptible miracle of regeneration. For here the conjugial of good and truth, of charity and faith, is confirmed by a rational consent. On one of the mountains in this spreading valley it was that the Lord, in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, taught the multitudes how to live together.

Through the plain of Esdraelon, however, passed the great arteries of the Orient. The main road from Egypt to Tyre bends inland over Mount Carmel, and the highway to Damascus and Babylonia runs through the plain across the Jordan into Bashan. Here - Egypt-bound, and laden with spicery and balm and myrrh from Gilead - had traveled the caravan of Ishmaelites to whom Joseph was sold by his brethren. Here a row of forts were maintained (despite Israel’s efforts to dislodge them) - maintained in turns by Egyptians or Philistines, or by Assyria or Babylon, or Persia, Greece, or Rome. Here the world and the church met - in the common tasks of life, with its reasoned compromises and its flaring rivalries.

And on the plains of Esdraelon were decided the fates of empires and tribes and nations. There - in the days before the Exodus - Thotmes tore Palestine from the control of the Hittite empire. It was there that Barak of Naphtali fought Sisera's host and lured their three hundred iron chariots into disaster, the while even "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera". There the brave Gideon and his three hundred confounded the nomad hosts of the desert with trumpets and torches; and there fell king Saul on his own sword. The good king Josiah was mortally wounded on this battleground by the archers of Pharaoh-Necho; and there it was that Jehu the avenger slew king Ahaziah. Many great battles were here fought - between Jews and gentiles, between Moslems and crusaders. Napoleon marched his army through this plain. Allenby's cavalry here routed the fleeing Turks. And even within recent memory the "Free French" and their British allies marshaled here their tanks and guns for a bid for the control of the Middle East. And the end is not yet.

For in the last times, the day of the Sixth Plague, the see of Patmos foretells, the demons of hell, "doing signs", will go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole; world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty" "into a place called in the Hebrew Armageddon’ " which is none other than this plain of Megiddo (Apoc. 16:14, 16).

This battle was to represent the final assault upon the church by those who are in faith alone; whereby the hells sought to "compass the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city" (Apoc. 20:9). It was said to be fought out on the plain of Megiddo, because in the consummation of the church that place represents the love of honor, dominion, and supereminence, which is the perversion of the mutual love which in all things supports the spiritual uses of the church for their own sakes (AE 1010). It is such a love of supereminence which devastates the church and adulterates its goods and its truths and breaks up the marriage bonds of charity and faith.

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