Spiritual Meaning of GENESIS 21:16
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AC 2683. Verse 16. And she went and sat by herself over against him, withdrawing about a bowshot; for she said, Let "me not see the death of the child; and she sat over against him; and she lifted up her voice and wept. "She went and sat by herself over against him," signifies a state of thought; "withdrawing about a bowshot," signifies how far that state was from the doctrine of truth (a "bow" is the doctrine of truth); "for she said, Let me not see the death of the child," signifies grief that it should thus perish; "and she sat over against him," signifies a state of thought; "and she lifted up her voice and wept," signifies a further degree of grief.

AC 2684. And she went and sat by herself over against him. That this signifies a state of thought, is evident from the signification of "going," and also of "sitting by herself," and this over against, as applied to the things that precede and that follow. To "go," here to go away from the child, signifies removal from spiritual truth; which is further expressed and determined by her withdrawing about a bowshot. To "sit by one’s self," signifies a solitary state, such as is that of thought in grief and despair; "over against," signifies that she might not look on, and yet might look on; that to "look on" means to think, see above (n. 2245); this is also further expressed and determined by her saying, "Let me not see the death of the child; and she sat over against." There is thus involved in these words the state of thought of those who are in desolation of truth, and in the consequent despair.

AC 2685. Withdrawing about a bowshot. That this signifies how distant the state was from the doctrine of truth, is evident from the signification of "withdrawing," as being to be distant; and from the signification of a "bow," as being the doctrine of truth; a "shot" signifies as far distant as possible, since it was as far as an arrow could be sent by a bow. It is here said a "bowshot," because a "bow" is predicated of the spiritual man, and he is a shooter of the bow--as is said of him in (verse 20):--"and he dwelt in the wilderness, and became a shooter of the bow."

AC 2686. That a "bow" here denotes the doctrine of truth, is evident from its signification. Wherever wars are treated of in the Word, and wherever they are mentioned, no other wars are signified than spiritual ones (n. 1664). There were books also in the Ancient Word that were entitled "The Wars of Jehovah;" as is evident in Moses (Num. 21:14-16); which, being written in the prophetic style, had an internal sense, and treated of the combats and temptations of the Lord, and also of those of the church, and of the men of the church. This is manifest from the fact that some things were taken from these books by Moses; and also from other books of that church called "The Books of the Prophetic Enunciators" (Num. 21:27-30), in which almost the same words are found as in Jeremiah. Compare (Num. 21:28), and (Jer. 48:45). From this it may also be concluded that the Ancient Church had writings both historic and prophetic that were Divine and inspired, and that in their internal sense treated of the Lord and His kingdom; and that these were the Word to them, as are to us those historic and prophetic books which in the sense of the letter treat of the Jews and Israelites, but in their internal sense of the Lord, and of the things which are His.

[2] As in the Word, and also in the books of the Ancient Church, "war" signified spiritual war, so all arms, such as sword, spear, buckler, shield, darts, bow, and arrows, signified special things belonging to war as understood in the spiritual sense. What the several kinds of arms specifically signify, will of the Lord‘s Divine mercy be told elsewhere. Here it will now be shown what a "bow" signifies, namely, the doctrine of truth; and this from the darts, arrows, or other missiles, which denote the doctrinal things from which and with which those in especial fight who are spiritual, and who were thence formerly called " shooters with the bow."

[3] That a "bow" signifies the doctrine of truth is evident from the following passages. In Isaiah:--

Jehovah’s arrows are sharp, and all His bows are bent, the hoofs of His horses are counted as rock, and His wheels as the whirlwind (Isaiah 5:28).

Here the truths of doctrine are treated of; "arrows" are spiritual truths; "bows" are doctrine; the "horses‘ hoofs" are natural truths; the "wheels" are their doctrine; and as these things have such a signification they are attributed to Jehovah, to whom they cannot be attributed except in a spiritual sense; for otherwise they would be empty words and unbecoming. In Jeremiah:--

The Lord hath bent His bow like an enemy, He hath stood with His right had as an adversary, and hath slain all that were pleasant to the eye in the tent of the daughter of Zion, He hath poured out His fury like fire (Lam. 2:4).

Here "bow" denotes the doctrine of truth, which appears to those who are in falsities as an enemy and as hostile; no other how can be predicated of the Lord. In Habakkuk:--

O Jehovah, Thou ridest upon Thy horses, Thy chariots of salvation, Thy bow will be made quite bare (Habakkuk 3:8, 9).

Here also the "bow" is the doctrine of good and truth. In Moses:--

They grieved him, and shot at him, the archers hated him, his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob; from thence is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel (Gen. 49:23, 24);

where Joseph is spoken of. His "bow" denotes the doctrine of good and truth.

[4] In John:--

I saw and behold a white horse, and he that sat thereon had a bow, and there was given unto him a crown (Rev. 6:2).

The "white horse" denotes wisdom; "he that sat thereon," the Word, as is said plainly in (Rev. 19:13), where the white horse is again treated of; and as he that sat thereon was the Word, it is evident that the "bow" is the doctrine of truth. In Isaiah:--

Who hath raised up righteousness from the east, and called him to his footsteps? he hath given nations before him, and made him to rule over kings; he gave them as dust to his sword, as the driven stubble to his bow (Isaiah 41:2);

where the Lord is treated of; the "sword" denotes truth; the "bow," doctrine from Him. In the same:--

I will set a sign among them, and I will send such as escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan (Isaiah 66:19).

They that "draw the bow" denote those who teach doctrine. The signification of "Tarshish" may be seen above (n. 1156); that of "Lud" (n. 1195, 1231), that of "Tubal" (n. 1151), and that of " Javan" (n. 1152, 1153, 1155).

[5] In Jeremiah:--

For the voice of the horseman and of him that shooteth the bow, the whole city fleeth; they have entered into clouds, and climbed up upon the rocks, the whole city is forsaken (Jeremiah 4:29).

The "horseman" denotes those who declare truth the "bow," the doctrine of truth, which they who are in falsities flee from or fear. In the same:--

Set yourselves in array against Babel round about; all ye that bend the bow shoot at her, spare not with the arrow, for she hath sinned against Jehovah (Jeremiah 50:14, 29; 51:2, 3);

where "they that shoot, and bend the bow" denote those who declare and teach the doctrine of truth.

[6] In Zechariah:--

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and He shall speak peace unto the nations (Zechariah 9:10).

"Ephraim" denotes the understanding of truth in the church; the "bow," doctrine. In Samuel:--

David lamented with this lamentation over Saul, and over Jonathan his son, and he said it to teach the sons of Judah the bow (2 Sam. 1:17, 18).

where the "bow" is not the subject, but the doctrinal things of faith. In Ezekiel:--

Said the Lord Jehovah, This is the day whereof I have spoken; and they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn up the weapons, the shield and the buckler, the bow and the arrows, and the hand staff and the spear, and they shall kindle fire in them seven years (Ezekiel 39:8, 9).

The arms here named are all arms of spiritual war; the "bow with the arrows" denote doctrine and its truths. In the other life truths themselves when separated from good and represented to the sight, appear like arrows.

[7] As a "bow" signifies the doctrine of truth, in the opposite sense it signifies the doctrine of falsity. The same things in the Word have usually an opposite sense, as has been said and shown in several places; thus in Jeremiah:--

Behold a people cometh from the north country, and a great nation shall be stirred up from the sides of the earth; they lay hold on bow and spear; they are cruel, and shall not have compassion; their voice shall roar like the sea, they shall ride upon horses set in array as a man for battle, against thee, O daughter of Zion (Jeremiah 6:22, 23);

where "bow" denotes the doctrine of falsity. In the same:--

Behold a people cometh from the north, and a great nation, and many kings shall be stirred up from the sides of the earth, they lay hold on bow and spear, they are cruel, and have no compassion (Jeremiah 50:41, 42);

where the meaning is similar. In the same:--

They bend their tongue; their bow is a lie, and not for truth, they are grown strong in the land; for they have gone forth from evil to evil, and have not known Me (Jeremiah 9:3).

[8] That the "bow" is the doctrine of falsity is plainly manifest, for it is said, "they bend their tongue; their bow is a lie, and not for truth." In the same:--

Jehovah Zebaoth said, Behold I will break the bow of Elam, the chief of his might (Jeremiah 49:35).

In David:--

Come, behold the works of Jehovah, who hath made desolations in the earth He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth, He breaketh the bow, He cutteth the spear in sunder, He burneth the chariots in the fire (Ps. 46:9).

In the same:--

In Judah is God known, His name is great in Israel; in Salem also shall be His tabernacle, and His dwelling-place in Zion; there brake He the fiery shafts of the bow, the shield and the sword, and the war (Ps. 76:1-3).

In the same:--

Lo the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrows upon the string, to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart (Ps. 11:2).

Here the "bow and arrows" plainly denote doctrinal things of falsity.

AC 2687. For she said, Let me not see the death of the child. That this signifies grief that it should so perish, is evident from the signification of "seeing the death," as being to perish; and from the signification of the "child," as being spiritual truth--explained above. Hence, and from the feeling of despair on account of the desolation of truth, it is manifest that it is interior grief that is within these words.

AC 2688. And she sat over against him. That this signifies a state of thought, is evident from what was said above (n. 2684), where are the same words. The reason that this is said again in this verse is that the state of thought was increased and aggravated even to the last degree of grief, as is manifest from what just precedes: "let me not see the death of the child;" and from what next follows: "she lifted up her voice and wept."

AC 2689. And she lifted up her voice and wept. That this signifies a further degree of grief, is evident from the signification of "lifting up the voice and weeping," as being the last degree of grief; for weeping with a loud voice is nothing else. The state of desolation of truth, and also of removal from truths, with those who are becoming spiritual, is described in this verse. How these things are to be understood shall be briefly told. Those who cannot be reformed do not at all know what it is to grieve on account of being deprived of truths for they suppose that no one can feel in the least anxious about such a thing. The only anxiety they believe to be possible is on account of being deprived of the goods of the body and the world; such as health, honors, reputation, wealth, and life. But they who can be reformed believe altogether differently: these are kept by the Lord in the affection of good and in the thought of truth; and therefore they come into anxiety when deprived of this thought and affection.

[2] It is known that all anxiety and grief arise from being deprived of the things with which we are affected, or which we love. They who are affected only with corporeal and worldly things, or who love such things only, grieve when they are deprived of them; but they who are affected with spiritual goods and truths and love them, grieve when they are deprived of them. Every one’s life is nothing but affection or love. Hence it is evident what is the state of those who are desolated as to the goods and truths with which they are affected, or which they love, namely, that their state of grief is more severe, because more internal; and in the deprivation of good and truth they do not regard the death of the body, for which they do not care, but eternal death. It is their state which is here described.

[3] That it may be known who those are that can be kept by the Lord in the affection of good and truth, and thus be reformed and become spiritual, and who those are that cannot, we will briefly state that during childhood, while being for the first time imbued with goods and truths, every one is kept by the Lord in the affirmative idea that what he is told and taught by his parents and masters is true. With those who can become spiritual men this affirmative is confirmed by means of knowledges (scientifica et cognitiones); for whatever they afterwards learn that has an affinity with it, insinuates itself into this affirmative, and corroborates it; and this more and more, even to affection. These are they who become spiritual men in accordance with the essence of the truth in which they have faith, and who conquer in temptations. But it is otherwise with those who cannot become spiritual men. Although during their childhood these are in the affirmative, yet in the age that follows they admit doubts, and thus trench upon the affirmative of good and truth; and when they come to adult age, they admit negatives, even to the affection of falsity. If these should be brought into temptations, they would wholly yield; and on this account they are exempted from them.

[4] But the real cause of their admitting doubts, and afterwards negatives, is to be found in their life of evil. They who are in a life of evil cannot possibly do otherwise; for as before said the life of every one is his affection or love; and such as is the affection or love, such is the thought. The affection of evil and the thought of truth never conjoin themselves together. with those in whom there is an appearance of this conjunction, there is really no such conjunction, but only the thought of truth without the affection of it; and therefore with such persons truth is not truth, but only something of sound, or of the mouth, from which the heart is absent. Such truth even the worst can know, and sometimes better than others. With some also there is found a persuasion of truth, of such a nature that no one can know but that it is genuine; and yet it is not so if there is no life of good: it is an affection a the love of self or of the world, which induces such a persuasion that they defend it even with the vehemence of apparent zeal; nay, they will even go so far as to condemn those who do not receive it, or believe in the same way. But this truth is of such a quality as is the principle with each person from which it starts, being strong in proportion as the love of self or of the world is strong. It indeed attaches itself to evil, but does not conjoin itself with it, and is therefore extirpated in the other life. Very different is it with those who are in the life of good. With these truth itself has its own ground and heart, and has its life from the Lord.

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Author:  E. Swedenborg (1688-1772). Design:  I.J. Thompson, Feb 2002. www.BibleMeanings.info