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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)

Joseph and Benjamin


The territories of Issachar and Zebulon, in their good sense, represent regenerate states of mutual love and of the spiritual marriage. Still, they signify such states in the natural mind. The spiritual marriage (so often referred to in the Writings) is not a conjunction of natural good and natural truth, but is that state in which natural good is purified and lifted up by a love of spiritual truth, and the study of natural truth is entered into from a spiritual love, or from the good of charity (AC 3952). Such a conjunction is one which looks to what is eternal, and is indeed the only source from which truly conjugial love can spring, - that love which is the chief adornment of human life and the very shrine of the Christian religion; which brings the sphere of the inmost heaven down into the very ultimates of man’s nature; and which inspires the essential uses on which the preservation of the race and the growth of the heavens depend - the uses of marriage and of the home.

But to the south of the two tribes of Issachar and Zebulon, there rises the central plateau country of Canaan - which, in general, represents the spiritual degree itself of the mind. This country was given to the descendants of Joseph - the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim - and was commonly referred to as "Mount Ephraim", later as Israel, and still later, as Samaria. Moses said of this inheritance, "Blessed of the Lord shall be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that croucheth beneath; and for the precious fruits brought forth the sun and for the precious things put forth by the moo and for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the treasures of the lasting hills, and for the precious thin of the earth and the fullness thereof ..."

The district has rugged, irregular ridges, originally to large extent wooded; with many small plains for rich pasture and grain. The glens and river beds are deeply cleft. From the central heights of two or three thousand feet elevation, the land goes down by bulging terraces into the lovely coastal plain of Sharon; one, long range - towards the northwest - jutting its finger out into the sea to form Mount Carmel. Towards the east the narrow valleys dip steeply into the tropical deep - which "croucheth beneath" and hides the Jordan river.

This well-watered land - which later became barren, ruined, and desolate, with much of its rich soil swept down by the rains into the valleys - was given to Ephraim and Manasseh, the honored descendants of Joseph.

Manasseh signifies the new will which is formed in the understanding of the regenerating man. His name means ‘forgetfulness’, for when love begins to lead his life, man forgets all the labor and arduous effort toward self-compulsion. What man does from his will - his re-born will - appears spontaneous and easy. Forgotten also, or removed, are the evils, both hereditary and actual, which once used to tempt him. Much evil has yet to be overcome; but when a love of spiritual good has been formed, those evils which he has conquered are held in aversion (AC 5353).

Ephraim signifies the new understanding, which, although in reality prompted by the new will, is, with the spiritual, the predominant element in his regenerate progress. The new will cannot be formed except within the understanding, and in mutual conjunction the two act together as a conscience which discerns good and truth. All spiritual growth and conquest and strength come through the new understanding - the understanding that enlightens by charity. The name Ephraim indeed means ‘double fruitfulness’, ‘fertility’, ‘potency’.

The biblical events which befell within this district testify to its representation as the will and the new understanding of the spiritual man. It was at Bethel on the border of Ephraim that Jacob visioned the ladder of truth which reached into heaven. Here he made his covenant with God. And when the tribes of Israel began to occupy their promised land, it was on Mount Ephraim that they enshrined the bones of Joseph. This district - Joshua’s own tribe - became the earliest seat of Israel’s worship and a national rallying place. The tabernacle was put up at Shiloh, the first center of their orthodoxy. On Mount Ebal, of hoary sanctity, they set up great stones with plaster surfaces on which the law of God was inscribed for all to see. In a natural amphitheatre between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerezim the tribes in their most solemn convocation heard read the curses and the blessings which would determine their national fate. Deborah the prophetess judged Israel under a palm tree near Bethel, and there she planned with Barak the defeat of Sisera. It was in Ophrah, in Ephraim, that Gideon cut down the altar of Baal and blew the trumpet to rally Israel against the Midianite hosts. From Mount Gerizim, Jotham spoke his bold parable against the usurper Abimelech who ruled in Shechem. The surviving Benjamites (Judges 21) went up to Shiloh to lie in wait in the vineyards and capture themselves wives to propagate their tribe. And

Samuel, the prophet-priest and reluctant king-maker, was a man of Ephraim.

Nor must we forget Mount Carmel - the garden and parkland, the fruitful hill. The ‘excellency of Carmel and of Sharon’ were besung by the prophets as symbols of gladness of heart. This mountain, with its vineyards, the first of Israel's hills to taste the eagerly awaited rains, signifies the spiritual church with all its truths. It was fitting that Elijah, the fiery prophet, should select this place in Manasseh to challenge a vacillating people to choose between God and Baal, and to light his sacrifice with fire out of heaven; a fire which consumed both bullock and altar - in prophecy of Him Who should glorify His Human even unto ultimates.

And when the Lord had come on earth, to save those the spiritual genius who had wandered far astray, He did not (as did the Jews) avoid the way through despised Samaria. But He came to sit patiently by the ancient well of Jacob near Shechem, and drew living water out of the well of His infinite wisdom to save and solace a fallen Samaritan woman.

The understanding of the spiritual church leads the way in states of progress. But the spiritual church, which depends on the understanding (signified by Ephraim), cannot prosper unless it receives influx from the celestial things of love to the Lord which are signified by the tribe of Judah Without the governing spheres of the celestial heavens, the spiritual church becomes perverted into an abode of pride and self-intelligence. The defection of Israel from Judah, after Solomon's death, therefore depicts the decadence of the spiritual church.


The two sons which Rachel, the only-beloved wife of Jacob, bore, were Joseph and Benjamin. They represent the highest fruitions of regenerate life, states which are formed in man after many struggles of temptation and as a result of repentance, self-discipline and spiritual growth. Rachel, their mother, signifies the interior affection of truth, which is willing to renounce its own life for the sake of the spiritual truth that it perceives. Benjamin signifies this newborn truth; and at his birth Rachel died, near Ephrath on the way to Bethlehem.

To understand the significance of the last born son of Jacob, we should reflect on the fact that the life of Jacob represents one of the most arduous stages of man’s regeneration. Jacob, moved by a persistent ambition, had supplanted his older twin brother Esau. Esau, with his irresponsible charm, signifies the inborn good and the native talents on which a man is wont to rely. But Jacob represented a new order in the mind, by which doctrine is visualized as the ladder by which one can attain the blessings of heaven after the natural man has been disciplined in a life of fruitful labor. For the acquisition of religious knowledge man goes to the spiritual "Syria". And as he begins his labor he is inspired by the vision of the love of truth and also by the prospect of reward. He is sustained by "mediate goods" or external delights which add their relish to the study of doctrine and to the life of the church. These lower motives are represented in the story by Laban from whom Jacob and his family of twelve children must finally flee.

The love of truth for its own sake is represented by the beautiful Rachel whom Jacob met so romantically at the well. But while man believes that he has such an interior and pure love of truth devoid of all external bias, he finds that his first fruitfulness comes rather from a more external and mixed affection of truth which is less perceptive; even as Jacob woke up to find that he had been married to Leah who was "weak of eyes", instead of to the perfect Rachel. Rachel was barren for many years. Her firstborn was Joseph. But Benjamin was not born until Jacob had completed his service under Laban and fled from Padan-Aram, had wrestled with his angel, and had been reconciled with Esau. By his "wrestling" is meant temptation; and victory in the soul's struggles changes a man's quality, even as Jacob's name was changed to Israel, which signifies "the good truth".

Benjamin, born soon thereafter, signifies "new truth". This originates from spiritual good which is formed in the course of natural life by the arduous labors of study and of shunning evils and combating falsities. And it is state that this new truth is "the only truth of the church" (A 5806). That this is so may easily be seen. For man is such as he is in the present. The truth which he once knew and no longer acknowledges is of no use to him. What rests in the memory is not a living part of him; but the truth which he perceives anew every moment is what vitalizes his thought and grants him enlightenment. Unless, in the Church, there be constant renewals of perception, and indeed an ever more interior perception of the truths of faith, by which the truths of our fathers and founders are elaborated and strike us with new force and fresh light, there is no living truth in the Church, and thus no progress. Let us not imagine that the "new" truth, which Benjamin signified, is some doctrinal novelty, or some revolutionary theory which discards the general truths acknowledged in the past. It is but a more interior perception which discloses new ways and new means by which the ends of Providence may be fulfilled in our lives.

Because of this practical aspect of his significance, the tribe of Benjamin was allotted a territory which included not only the high mountain fastness in the central watershed of Canaan, but also the steep descents on both sides, with the valley of Jericho and a part of the Jordan valley: for valleys represent the natural man, and Benjamin, in this connection, signifies the means, or medium, by which the good of the spiritual man (the regenerate good of charity) inflows into the natural and conjoins itself with it; which is done by new truth, perceived as man seeks instruction from the Word itself.

When the sons of Jacob desired to buy food from Joseph in Egypt, their brother refused unless they brought Benjamin along. The ten sons here represented the effort to perpetuate the truths of the failing church by means of scientifics. The internal man (signified by Joseph) knew that this could not be done, unless ‘new truth’ - a new, constantly clearer and keener perception of truth from spiritual good - be provided (AC 5411, 5822, 5920). Thus ‘Benjamin’ is called a medium between the spiritual and the natural, and is said to signify the conjunction of good and truth in the natural degree of man, or in the natural heaven, and as such is the last or ultimate of the Church and of heaven: the final effect of regeneration. For the natural degree is the last to be regenerated even as the Natural Heaven - the heaven of Christians, the "New Heaven" - was the last to be organized.

But natural effects have internal causes. The things that come to pass in the natural man owe their existence to developments of spiritual life in the internal man. While man's natural is being regenerated, his spiritual degree is being formed interiorly in the natural, and this spiritual reaches its height in a submission and response to Divine truth from the Lord Himself - a submissive trust in the Divine Human of the Lord and an understanding love of the supreme truth concerning His glorification. This apex of the Spiritual is called the "celestial of the spiritual" and is signified by ‘Joseph’. ‘Benjamin’ is a plane which is formed in conformity with this ‘Joseph’ plane; a plane of truths which conforms with the love of the doctrine concerning the Divine Human; a plane which is distinguished as "the spiritual of that celestial".

The Arcana humbles us with the warning that only those who are enlightened from heaven can perceive the living meaning of these states (AC 4592). For they are most interior. In heaven, they correspond to the connections between the second and third heavens; in, man, to those between the spiritual degree and the celestial degree. It might be pointed out that ‘Joseph’, the "celestial of the spiritual", is called the ‘external’ of the celestial heaven, of which Judah signifies the internal; and this heaven is said to be founded in the rational degree; for it is the celestial remains of love which enable man to become rational. The spiritual degree or heaven, which is represented by ‘Israel’ in general, is founded in the interior of the natural; for it depends not so nearly on rational intuition as on knowledge and experience (AC 4585).

Without our pretending to understand all the implications of these profound teachings, it is at least clear from them that ‘Benjamin’ represents a medium or an intermediate between the celestial and the spiritual, deriving something of its quality from both. And this may well account for the geographical situation of Benjamin, between Judah and Israel. We can also realize that the tribe of Benjamin must represent that truth which comes of good, or the conviction and perception which spring afresh from a love of the Lord as He appears to us in His Divine Human.

And therefore, when the Lord descended into the world that He might manifest Himself as the Word made flesh, or as Divine truth; yea, when He came as new Divine truth, by which His Divine love could have power to overcome the hells at the cost of death; He chose to be born in Bethlehem of Judah, close to Ephrath of Benjamin where Rachel gave up her life at the birth of her son ‘Benjamin’ (‘the son of my right hand’, ‘the son of power’). Like Benjamin, Bethlehem signifies "the spiritual of the celestial." The further explanation is given, that the Lord was born in a place of this significance because He - unlike any other man - comprised in Himself both the spiritual and the celestial (AC 45923, 4594). He was born "spiritual-celestial". In His infinite Soul, good and truth were united from eternity. Man is born natural, with the power that he might become either celestial or spiritual. Man is born of a specific genius, either celestial or spiritual. And by regeneration he may become fitted for a life in the second or the third degree of one of these kingdoms. But man cannot be in both. The Lord's Soul, His ‘ruling love’, was without such human limitations. His love was a love of the salvation of the whole human race, and His wisdom was omniscience. And in His life on earth, He was the Divine truth proceeding from Divine good. The truth Divine entered more and more fully into the borrowed human which He had assumed from Mary; and there - after struggles of temptation - it became united with the Divine good, so that the Spiritual and the Celestial in Him were united in the Natural. This enabled the Lord to become visible before man's natural mind and adorable as Divine-Natural Man, and, in the fullness of time, to establish His New Heaven in the Natural degree of His - eternal kingdom. ‘Benjamin’, as was pointed out, signifies a medium for the conjunction of good and truth in the natural. But the Lord in His Divine Natural is supremely the Mediator of all conjunctions.


The land of Benjamin, at the time of the conquest, was a desirable land. Because of its strategic value it was the first to be attacked. Jericho - guarding its approaches - was besieged and burnt; and then, by a surprise march up the precipitous gorges, Ai was taken by a ruse. Gibeon and other Hivite cities in the neighborhood entered into an alliance with Israel. Established here, Israel controlled the situation, and chased her enemies down the western passes of Beth-horon. Later Ehud swooped eastward down on the Moabites from these heights. Jonathan's remarkable exploit at Michmash, when he and his armor bearer climbed up a precipice to scatter a whole host of Philistines, shows the terrain of the country. It properly belonged to a fighting clan who "dwelt in safety" "between its shoulders" of rock. Saul, a head taller than all the rest - became Israel's first king, though his was the least among the tribes. At the death of Saul and Jonathan, David dirged the ancient song of "The Bow" - "How are the mighty fallen!" Benjamin was known for its archers and its left-handed swordsmen.

A ‘bow’ signifies doctrine. The essence of all doctrine is the conjunction of good and truth, or of charity and faith. Not only was Benjamin the home of Samuel, the founder of Israel’s prophetic schools. But within this tribe's territory was Jebus, the Hivite city on Mount Zion which later, as Jerusalem, became the center of Israelitish worship and instruction, and whose name became the symbol of the Heavenly Doctrine which shall ‘make all things new’. David erected the Tabernacle on Mount Moriah, on the boundary between Judah and Benjamin, and there Solomon built the Temple. These two tribes joined thereafter into the kingdom of Judah.

But before this, in the days of the Judges, the tribe of Benjamin had passed through a period of wild license. The worst cruelty and the most shocking immorality recorded in the Word occurred within this tribe who lived amidst the Hivite population. Israel, in abhorrence, decided to exterminate the sinful tribe, and at a tremendous cost, nearly did so. Six hundred warriors alone remained of Benjamin, in an impregnable stronghold on the Rock Rimmon. At last the fathers of Israel in grief relented, lest a tribe - unique in bravery - perish from Israel.

Truly, Benjamin is a region of tragic memories, as if Rachel was still mourning for her children. The land is one of ruins, of desolated vineyards, eroded soil, dried-up streams, and cut-down groves. Back and forth across its rocky trails passed the armies of Judah and Israel in their age-long internecine strife.

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