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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)

Israel Among the Nations


The story of the twelve tribes is one of progress towards a natural and spiritual unity, which culminates in the days of David and Solomon; and then one of sudden disruption, followed by captivity and eventual dispersion. Hidden within the words of the sacred text there is also a story of constant progress which snatches victory and redemption out of apparent defeat and degradation. Each tribe, and each historical figure, has a good representation, even if its picture has been drawn in blackest hues. For inmostly the Word treats of Divine things and is prophetic of the Lord, Who is beyond the realm of evil.

Israel was an evil race from the first, sensual, self-willed, stubbornly insisting on representing a spiritual church although unwilling to become one. Externally, this people could humble itself, but internally its pride was unbroken. And when this internal resistance came out into overt disobedience to its ritual law, the people could openly only represent a church which is being consummated by evils and falsities.

A striking example of such a decadence is given in the tribe of Ephraim. Ephraim, in a spiritual sense, originally stood for the new regenerate understanding, in which the hope of human salvation lies. There was sacred Shiloh, with the ark of the covenant. But the men of Ephraim - descendants of Joseph and kinsmen of Joshua - were conscious of their aristocracy and sensitive to slights, real or imaginary. They did not profit by the lesson taught them by Jephthah, the outcast, with whom they sought a quarrel and by whom they were slaughtered at the ford of "Shibboleth". They lost, thereafter, the ark of God in a battle with the Philistines. They supported Saul in his jealous persecution of David. They felt themselves to be the leaders of Israel, and long rebelled against David whom God had anointed. When Solomon died they seceded from his son, Rehoboam; and Jeroboam, of Ephraimite stock, led all the northern tribes of Israel into an idolatrous worship. The rulers of the seceding ‘Israel’ - as the northern tribes called themselves - were all evil according to Jewish standards, and although some were able monarchs and two were victorious conquerors, there was constant rivalry and disruption. Conquests - such as those under Jeroboam II brought luxury and "ease" into Samaria. Contact with Syria and Phoenicia brought traffic with foreigners and the introduction of hideous religious cults. In vain did Israel's prophets - counteracting the influence of the kings - cry out against ‘the pride of the drunkards of Ephraim’. The kingdom degenerated, adopting, in clumsy imitation, all the worst features of the powerful civilizations from which Israel was to have been a people apart. Making alliances with the rival powers, she was drawn into the whirlpool of international politics, and much of her people was finally carried captive into Assyria, in 722 BC.

The destructive element in the kingdom of Israel was the love of the world, which easily captivates a church in a state of self-intelligence, or the pride of understanding. Such

spiritual sophistication made Israel represent a faith divorced from charity, or the heresy of Faith Alone, such as rules in the modern world of Protestant Christendom. Israel's secession from Judah is parallel to the schism in the Christian Church, by which the reformed nations withdrew from the papal dominion. The ‘golden calves’ which Israel set up to worship, signify the seductive delights of the world and the flesh.

Judah, also, went into decadence. Even Solomon, for all his wisdom, multiplied wives and indulged in the grandeur of oriental court life. His despotic power was maintained by a standing army, with horses and chariots. His public works meant tribute from conquered peoples and heavy taxes from his own. Although he built the Temple of Jehovah, the One God, he also built shrines for the gods of nations whose princesses he had received as wives. His wealth was procured by the profits which accrued from controlling the trade routes (between Africa and Asia) which his army straddled.

Israel's secession from Rehoboam the son of Solomon, was in effect a protest against tyranny or against the love of dominion, which perennially is opposed by the love of the world and the conceit of self-intelligence. The two Hebrew kingdoms thus came to represent the two "kingdoms" of hell - the diabolical kingdom and the satanic. In Providence, there is a certain balance maintained between these two evil forces, so that each might check the other. The kingdom of Israel also represented falsity and the evils of falsity, while Judah came to signify evil and the falsities of evil.

These evil representations applied to the two kingdoms whenever their real character came out so openly as to prevent their performing the external acts prescribed for them in the Divine law. Always, however, they kept on representing the specific Church, wherein the Word is and the Lord is known: they remained the "chosen people", and especially in their relations to the peoples and nations round about them.

And because it was their actions which were used by the Spirit of Prophecy to represent a church, many things with the Jewish race could symbolize what was good, even if in themselves such actions proceeded from the lusts of self. An instance of this is Solomon’s polygamy - his taking seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. This grievous abuse - condemned even in the letter of the Word - is stripped of the appearance of evil when its Divine sense ascends before the angels. In the supreme sense, Solomon’s realm is converted to mean the universal kingdom of the Lord; and his wives and concubines represent the varieties of religious faith and worship in the whole world - for within all religions there are remnants who have a place in the Lord’s universal church (DP 245).

In a good sense, Israel stands for the spiritual church, Judah for the celestial. In such a sense, the division of Solomon's kingdom means simply the separate establishment of the spiritual kingdom of heaven at the time of the Lord's Advent, and its relative independence thereafter; for before the Advent, the spiritual heavens had been attached, as an external, to the celestial kingdom. This was the meaning of the prophecy that "the scepter shall not be removed from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come" (Genesis 49:8-12, AC 6371-6373).

In order to maintain in the Word, and in the chosen people, a basis for the positive sense in which we see a steady progress without retrogression, it was provided that as both kings and priests and people grew worse, there should be raised up a succession of prophets who should point to the ideal Israel and vision what the aim and end of Providence really was. They spoke indeed of repentance and foretold dire judgments. But they also pictured the ideal surviving Israel as a loyal remnant, persecuted and suffering, personified as a Servant bearing the sins of others, a Servant which somehow was to become the Savior of the world (Isaiah 52, 53). And sometimes this picture of Israel is changed into one of a great king to come - a Messiah, a redeemer, of the seed of David (Daniel 7, 9).

Thus the evils of the Israelitish church were overshadowed by a larger prophecy and the representation of the people was interiorly transferred upon the Messiah to come; so that this representation could be preserved whatever befell Israel as a people, and could survive the judgments and captivities which were imminent. The people itself could soon visibly represent only a church in process of decay and dissolution. Yet from the beginning its supreme office had been to represent the Lord at His Advent and the Redemption which He then wrought.


Israel was first to fall into captivity. In BC. 722, the city of Samaria, after a three years’ siege, yielded to the armies of Sargon II, the usurper of Assyria, who had extended his empire over all Syria and Canaan. Only Tyre and Jerusalem resisted his demands for submission. Multitudes of Israelites were carried away into Assyria, and a mixed population of Orientals was placed in the cities of Samaria in their stead.

All this was significant of the state of the northern kingdom. Israel, in its spiritual self-sufficiency, simply pictured a church which from a negative attitude reasons against the truths and goods of the Church; and Assyria represented the very fantasies, false principles, and lines of argument which had captivated them. The internal weakness of Israel actually came from the infiltration or open acceptance of heathen worship of baalim and ashteroth. A corresponding spiritual decadence may be observed in the Protestant churches from the 17th century on, in the growth of "Rationalism" and the tendency to rely on "natural theology", which - by placing faith on a "scientific" basis - opened the gates to a denial of the holiness of the Word and of the Divinity of the Lord. Science proved a weak reed to lean upon; even as Israel, trusting in support from Egypt, found itself overcome by Assyria (AC 1188, 1189, DP 251:3).

In the place of the deported population of Israel, the Assyrians transplanted settlers from other subject peoples to rebuild the ravaged districts. These gradually mingled with the Israelites who had been left behind or who had drifted back, and became known as Samaritans. They adopted the religion of the land and became loyal to their version of the Pentateuch, but rejected the rest of Scripture. The Jews came to despise them as heretics and as worse than pagans, offended them by refusing their offers of help, and thus made them their enemies. The Samaritans signify those who are in falsities; yet the Lord's dealings with them and His parable about the Good Samaritan suggest that they were of a gentile disposition and as such they represent an affection of truth and the good of charity.

At the time of the fall of Samaria, and for a century thereafter, Judah remained outwardly obedient. Indeed, external dangers had brought Judah into several attempts towards reformation and renewed loyalty to Jehovah. Under the upright king Hezekiah (who was under the influence of Isaiah the prophet), Jerusalem actually resisted the Assyrian hosts of Sennacherib, the mysterious disaster of whose army is explained only in the Biblical account. Judah, as the celestial church, could resist the perverted reasonings which attack faith. But Judah was vulnerable to other temptations. Hers was the office of administering the things of worship and piety. And with the separation from Israel, her worship became more and more formal, magical, and meaningless. Her irresponsible priests neglected the law and mercy. Her kings used the power of religion as a means to dominion only. And in the course of time, when Babylonia had displaced Assyria as the master of the Orient, Judah, whose internal corruption was manifested in open crime and idolatry, became its legitimate prey (AE 1029:16). For Babylonia represents the love of dominion by means of holy things. There was no more industrious worshipper than Nebuchadnezzar: he brought to Babylon the gods of all nations, for their political value.

The falsities represented by Babylon were more the fantasies and delusions of the imagination than the errors of reason. The Arcana calls them the ‘falsities of cupidity’ or of lust; such as are formed to fit in with daydreams of power or of self-esteem; or such as man seizes upon to captivate the minds of others and lead them by explaining or perverting doctrinal things in favor of his self-love (AC 1295). In the Christian Church, such persuasions were built up into dogmas by the Roman Catholics, until the Word became no more the arbiter of doctrine, and mysterious ceremonials became the all of the church and the idolatry of saints and images rivaled the worship of God.

Nebuchadnezzar’s wholesale transfer of Judea’s population has not been equaled until similar events occurred during the second World War. His destruction of Solomon’s temple was the crucifixion of the Jewish nation, and recalls the Lord’s own passion on the cross, when He cried out, ‘It is finished’, and the veil of the holy place rent asunder. The seventy years of Babylonish Captivity was the burial of the Jewish nation. It represents the vastation of a consummated church. But it has also a good significance. For, in Babylonia the remnants of loyal Jews - including such heroes as Daniel - were held under a Divine protection; as good spirits under the influence of a perverted church are gathered into a "lower earth" where they are concealed until the judgment releases them for their heavenward journey.

In a merely formal sense, remnants of the Jewish nation were raised from the grave of Babylonia, and - outwardly purged - re-established themselves in Canaan. Their orthodoxy, their meticulous observance of the ritual law, their nationalistic fervor and pride, made them retain their representation of a church (AC 53768). But their independence had gone forever, except for a span of about a century of self-rule. They studied their Scriptures and rekindled the ancient prophecies. Yet when the Redeemer came, they spurned Him, and profaned their land by spilling His blood in violence. Their land was never again "the Holy Land". Presently, about forty years after the Lord's crucifixion, the Roman eagles gathered around Jerusalem. The temple was destroyed, and the role of the Jews as a representative of a church was over; their sacrificial worship ceased and they were scattered among the nations of the earth.


Time and circumstances alter representations. In the view of heaven, every nation - not Israel only - is representative. Every nation has its soul, its societies in the world of spirits. And according to the natural affections which are dominant within those societies, and according to the way in which the process of judgment goes on among the spirits there, the nation on earth plays a definite role which is hidden from men and which is not to be measured by its material might or its cultural importance.

The Lord governs the world, and He provides for every nation its place, according to its representation, or according to the manner that it can fulfill its representative functions. Israel, although one of the worst nations, was protected as long as it was faithful to its office. Wars between nations are thus governed, on both sides, "correspondentially" to the conflicts between states of the church in the other world, states which are represented by the nations on earth. There is a spiritual issue - unseen by men - involved in every war, as in all other human relations. This issue brings all nations into a new orientation, according to the representation which they have freely, but in a manner unconsciously, assumed. And men cannot be certain, from merely rational reasonings, what this spiritual issue is. For man "does not know that in heaven there is a spiritual justice to a cause and in the world a natural justice . . . and that these are conjoined by means of a connection between things past and things future that are known to the Lord alone" (DP 251, 252). But man may be certain of this, that his duty is to discern the natural justice, "to defend his country and his fellow citizens against invading enemies . . ." and to leave the future of the world in the Lord’s hands. For He knows our needs. And man also can be assured that the strength that gains the victory is given from the spiritual world, where are marshaled the moral forces which move men and give them courage and endurance.

"All wars, however much they may belong to civil affairs, represent in heaven the states of the church. . . . Such were all the wars described in the Word, and such are all wars at this day. . . . When the sons of Israel departed from their commandments and statutes, and fell into the evils signified by some nation, they were punished by that nation. . . . It is not known in this world, what kingdoms in Christendom answer to the Moabites and Ammonites, Syrians and Philistines, or what to the Chaldeans and Assyrians, and others . . . yet there are those that do correspond to them" (DP 251).

At any time, the whole world is a representation of the human mind, with its various states based on faculties. The countries and peoples which are mentioned in the Word - like those at this day - were capable of good representations as well as bad. No nation without a remnant of good could possibly survive, but would suffer the fate of Sodom when Lot forsook it. Babylon and Nineveh and Tyre are now dust. Different races people Israel and Egypt. Yet the prophecy of Isaiah shall yet be fulfilled: "In that day there shall be a highway out of Egypt into Assyria, that Assyria may come into Egypt and Egypt into Assyria, that the Egyptians may serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be a third to Egypt and to Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord shall bless ..." (Isaiah 19:23, 24).

Canaan, in its central position, signifies the Spiritual Mind, in its three degrees. It is the focus of heavenly influx. Assyria stands for the Rational - and neighboring Syria for the abstract cognitions of doctrine. Egypt signifies the scientific, and Philistia the systematized science of cognitions. Babylonia originally represented the Imagination or the Interior Sensual. All these faculties can serve the spiritual mind if properly subordinated and purified (AE 654:10, 340:18).

The good representative functions of some nations of the ancient world, such as the Medes and the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, are not distinctly given in the Writings. But when Israel failed in her representation of a church and was carried away from Canaan, a notable revival took place in the consummated Ancient Church - as if to attempt to bridge the gap left by Israel’s apostasy. New religious movements sprang up contemporaneously but independently in various parts of the world.

In China, two reformers appeared. One was Laotse, who bequeathed to his corrupt people the Tao, a metaphysical mysticism which advocated gentleness, humility, and frugality. The other, Confucius (551-478 BC.), overlaid the prevalent superstitions and the popular worship of local deities with a moral and political philosophy founded on respect.

In India, Gotama "the Buddha" (568-488 BC.), later regarded as an Avatar or incarnation of the god Brahma, began to teach the "eightfold path" of self-renunciation, by which men were to reject their trust in ritual observance and sacrifices to the gods, and find salvation by fleeing the desires of the world and self which brought so much unhappiness. Buddhism was a pantheistic religion which looked for the return of man's soul, after many reincarnations, to the Nirvana of infinity. Yet it was adapted into a popular doctrine, and in the course of centuries it gave rise to a powerful monastic hierarchy with elaborate rites and degrading superstitions.

In Persia, just preceding the Babylonish captivity of the Jews, there had taken place another remarkable reform. Zoroaster (born ca. 660 BC.) had established the faith in Ahura Mazda or Ormuzd as the supreme god, who was absolutely good but divided his power with Ahriman, the spirit of evil and darkness. The religion had a ritual, sacrificial ceremonies, sacred scriptures, hymns, a concept of creation, and a prophetic office, which remind one of Judaism. It had also a well developed teaching about a race of archangels, angels, and demons, which seems to have left a deep impress on later Jewish thought. It even extended the hope of a Divine Redeemer to come; and was rather free of idolatry.

It is of interest, therefore, that it was Cyrus, the Persian, who after his conquest of Babylon gave the Jews permission to return to their home in Canaan and rebuild the temple of the only God. And the prophet Isaiah calls Cyrus a shepherd anointed by Jehovah. Indeed Cyrus, although a foreign king, becomes a type of the Lord in His Human! (AC 8989:6).

The brief extension of Persian rule over Egypt and Asia Minor came during the era when Greek art and philosophy began their unique development, and when Rome was making its start as a constitutional republic. But the power of Persia was eventually broken by Alexander the Great (332 BC.), whose conquests disseminated the thought, language, and culture of Greece over the Near East. Alexander was welcomed by the Jews in Palestine as an ally and protector as well as a master, and he repaid their services with special privileges. The Greek kings of Syria afterwards oppressed the Jews, who liberated themselves under the brave Maccabees. Then, in the days of Pompei, Rome took Israel under a protection which grew into practical annexation and ended with the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

When the prophet Daniel interpreted the dream of king Nebuchadnezzar, he seemingly predicted the course of empire for the next few centuries. The king had seen a statue with head of gold, breast of silver, belly of copper and legs of iron - an image with clay feet which was broken and shattered by a rock that was cut out without hands and would fill the earth. Daniel does not name the successive kingdoms which were signified, although in later visions some of his descriptions are so close to known facts that many students identify Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Syria, and even the persons of Alexander and Antiochus Epiphanes. But the Writings assure us that the dream "did not signify four political kingdoms on this earth, but four successive churches" (Coronis 2). These four dispensations are named as the most ancient church, the ancient church, the Israelitish church and the Christian; and the Divine truth given as a final revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word is said to be signified by the Rock that would fill the earth (Coronis 4). In another application, the four "kingdoms" of Daniel picture the progressive states which are seen as a church declines from the "gold" of love to the Lord, through the "silver" of spiritual charity, the "brass" of natural good, and the "iron" of natural truth; the last being so mixed with falsities that it had no coherence with the good of life and thus marked the consummation of that church.

The Writings do not directly give us the spiritual correspondences of nations such as Persia, Greek Syria, and Rome, which yet so intimately affected Jewish history. The significance of Babylonia is however given - as the profane love of dominion exercised by means of holy things (LJ 54). This is of course a perversion of a heavenly love - the love, of ruling for the sake of charity and use. This unholy "Babylon" is described in the Apocalypse, in symbols that clearly refer to imperial Rome and which prophetically suggest the eventual spiritual judgment upon the papal hierarchy. Media and Persia are often used in a good sense as representing faith from charity, while Greece stands then for faith without charity (Faith 66). But the representation changes according to the historic role of these nations. To judge from related teachings, Persia represented a passing state of spiritual intelligence which can enlighten the rational. Greece seems to stand for an interior understanding or an intellectual faith which vaguely seeks for a moral good but lacks any strong foundation such as Divine revelation would provide. Rome, by her masterful states craft and by the iron strength of her legions, at times protected but at other times persecuted the infant church of Christ. Rome thus represented a civic good which is founded on order and on practical experience; and this is indispensable for the evangelization of the church.

Yet these states, represented by pagan nations, were not states of the Church Specific, but of the Church Universal! And in their midst - its importance unrecognized - stands Canaan, the country of the Word. Nations may battle, their powers rise and ebb. They may raise armies and armadas and roll their siege engines over the deserts. Yet for all their effort, all their short-lived pomp, the issue which determines their destinies is the spiritual issue which centers around the Church: the issue how far their actions can assist the end of the Divine providence, assist in the chastisement and purification, or in the liberation and eventual growth, of the kingdom of the Lord on earth.

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