Spiritual Meaning of GENESIS 21:20
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AC 2705. Verse 20. And God was with the child, and he grew, and he dwelt in the wilderness, and became a shooter of the bow. "God was with the child," signifies the Lord‘s presence with the spiritual; "and he grew," signifies increase; "and he dwelt in the wilderness," signifies obscurity, relatively; "and became a shooter of the bow," signifies the man of the spiritual church.

AC 2706. God was with the child. That this signifies the Lord’s presence with the spiritual, is evident from the signification of "God being with" anyone, and from the signification of the "child." That "God being with" anyone signifies the Lord‘s presence, is evident without explication. The Lord is indeed present with every one; for life is from no other source, and He governs the most minute things of it, even with the worst of men, and in hell itself; but in various ways according to the reception of life. With those who receive the life of the love of His good and truth in a wrong manner, and pervert it into loves of evil and falsity, the Lord is present, and overrules their ends as far as possible for good; but His presence with them is called absence, and indeed in the same degree in which evil is distant from good, and falsity from truth. But with those who receive the life of the love of the Lord’s good and truth, He is said to be present, and indeed according to the degree of reception. It is with the Lord‘s presence as with that of the sun, which is present with its heat and light in the vegetation of the world also according to the reception. That the "child" signifies the spiritual as to truth, has been said above; but here he signifies those who are spiritual because he represents the man of the spiritual church, and also the spiritual church itself, and in the universal sense the Lord’s spiritual kingdom; for when it is said that anyone signifies what is spiritual, as here that "the child" signifies the spiritual as to truth, it involves that those are signified who are spiritual; for there is no spiritual without a subject. It is the same with all other things said in an abstract sense.

AC 2707. And he grew. That this signifies increase, is evident without explication.

AC 2708. And he dwelt in the wilderness. That this signifies in what is relatively obscure, is evident from the signification of "dwelling," as being to live (n. 2451); and from the signification of "wilderness," as being that which has little vitality (n. 1927); here what is obscure, but relatively By what is relatively obscure is meant the state of the spiritual church relatively to the state of the celestial church, or the state of those who are spiritual relatively to that of those who are celestial. The celestial are in the affection of good, the spiritual in the affection of truth; the celestial have perception, but the spiritual a dictate of conscience; to the celestial the Lord appears as a Sun, but to the spiritual as a Moon (n. 1521, 1530, 1531, 2495). The former have light from the Lord, but giving both sight and the perception of good and truth, like the light of day from the sun; but the latter have light from the Lord like the light of night from the moon, and thus they are in relative obscurity. The reason is that the celestial are in love to the Lord, and thus in the Lord‘s life itself; but the spiritual are in charity toward the neighbor and in faith, and thus in the Lord’s life indeed, but more obscurely. Hence it is that the celestial never reason about faith and its truths, but being in perception of truth from good, they say that it is so; whereas the spiritual speak and reason concerning the truths of faith, because they are in the conscience of good from truth; and also because with the celestial the good of love has been implanted in their will part, wherein is the chief life of man, but with the spiritual in their intellectual part, wherein is the secondary life of man; this is the reason why the spiritual are in what is relatively obscure (n. 81, 202, 337, 765, 784, 895, 1114-1125, 1155, 1577, 1824, 2048, 2088, 2227, 2454, 2507).

[2] This comparative obscurity is here called a "wilderness." In the Word a "wilderness" signifies what is little inhabited and cultivated, and also signifies what is not at all inhabited and cultivated, and is thus used in a twofold sense. Where it signifies what is little inhabited and cultivated, or where there are few habitations, folds of flocks, pastures, and waters, it signifies what has relatively little life and light--as what is spiritual, or those who are spiritual, in comparison with what is celestial, or those who are celestial. but where it signifies what is not inhabited or cultivated at all, or where there are no habitations, folds of flocks, pastures, or waters, it signifies those who are in vastation as to good and in desolation as to truth.

[3] That a "wilderness" signifies what is comparatively little inhabited and cultivated, or where there are few habitations, folds of flocks, pastures, and waters, is evident from the following passages. In Isaiah:--

Sing unto Jehovah a new song and His praise from the end of the earth; ye that go down to the sea, and the fullness thereof, the Isles and the inhabitants thereof; let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains (Isaiah 42:10, 11).

In Ezekiel:--

I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil wild beast to cease out of the land, and they shall dwell securely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods and I will make them and the places round about My hill a blessing the tree of the field shall yield its fruit, and the earth shall yield her fruit (Ezekiel 34:25-27);

here the spiritual are treated of. In Hosea:--

I will bring her into the wilderness, and will speak to her heart; and I will give her her vineyards from thence (Hosea 2:14, 15)

where the desolation of truth, and consolation afterwards, are treated of. In David:--

The folds of the wilderness do drop, and the hills are girded with rejoicing; the pastures are clothed with flocks, the valleys also are covered over with corn (Ps. 65:12, 13).

[4] In Isaiah:--

I will make the wilderness a pool of waters, and the dry land springs of waters. I will plant in the wilderness the cedar of Shittim, and the myrtle, and the oil-tree; I will set in the desert the fir-tree; that they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of Jehovah hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it (Isaiah 41:18-20);

where the regeneration of those who are in ignorance of truth, or the Gentiles, and the enlightenment and instruction of those who are in desolation, are treated of; the "wilderness" is predicated of these; the "cedar, myrtle, and oil-tree" denote the truths and goods of the interior man; the "fir-tree" denotes those of the exterior. In David:--

Jehovah maketh rivers into a wilderness, and water-rings into dry ground; He maketh a wilderness into a pool of waters, and a dry land into water-springs (Ps. 107:33, 35);

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

The wilderness and the parched land shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose; budding it shall bud; in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:1, 2, 6).

In the same:--

Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail; and they that be of thee shall build the deserts of old (Isaiah 58:11, 12).

In the same:--

Until the spirit be poured upon as from on high, and the wilderness become Carmel, and Carmel be counted for a forest; and judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness in Carmel (Isaiah 32:15, 16);

where the spiritual church is treated of, which though inhabited and cultivated is called relatively a "wilderness;" for it is said, "judgment shall dwell in the wilderness and righteousness in Carmel." That a "wilderness" denotes a comparatively obscure state, is plain from these passages by its being called a "wilderness" and also a "forest;" and very evidently so in Jeremiah:--

O generation, see ye the Word of Jehovah. Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? or a land of darkness? (Jeremiah 2:31).

[5] That a "wilderness" signifies what is not at all inhabited or cultivated, or where there are no habitations, folds of flocks, pastures, and waters, and thus those who are in vastation as to good and in desolation as to truth, is also evident from the Word. This kind of "wilderness" is predicated in a double sense, namely, of those who are afterwards reformed, and of those who cannot be reformed. Concerning those who are afterwards reformed (as here in regard to Hagar and her son) we read in Jeremiah:--

Thus saith Jehovah, I remember for thee the mercy of thy youth, thy going after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown (Jeremiah 2:2);

where Jerusalem is treated of, which here is the Ancient Church that was spiritual. In Moses:--

Jehovah‘s portion is His people, Jacob is the line of His inheritance; He found him in a desert land, and in a waste howling wilderness; He led him about, He made him understand, He kept him as the pupil of His eye (Deut. 32:9, 10).

In David:--

They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way, they found no city of habitation (Ps. 107:4);

where those who have been in desolation of truth and are being reformed are treated of. In Ezekiel:--

I will bring you to the wilderness of the peoples, and I will judge with you there, as I judged with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt (Ezekiel 20:35, 36);

where in like manner the vastation and desolation of those who are being reformed are treated of.

[6] The journeyings and wanderings of the people of Israel in the wilderness represented nothing but the vastation and desolation of believers before reformation; consequently their temptation, if indeed they are in vastation and desolation when they are in spiritual temptations; as may also be seen from the following passages in Moses:--

Jehovah bare them in the wilderness as a man beareth his son, in the way, even unto this place (Deut. 1:31).

And in another place:--

Thou shalt remember all the way which Jehovah thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to afflict thee, to tempt thee, and to know what is in thy heart; whether thou wouldest keep His commandments or no. He afflicted thee, He suffered thee to hunger, He made thee to eat manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that thou mightest know that man doth not live by bread only, but by everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live (Deut. 8:2, 3).

And again in the same chapter:--

Lest thou forget that Jehovah led thee in the great and terrible wilderness, where were serpents, fiery serpents, and scorpions; a thirsty land where was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; He fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that He might afflict thee, and might tempt thee, to do thee good at thy latter end (Deuteronomy 8:15, 16).

Here the " wilderness" denotes vastation and desolation, such as those are in who are in temptations. By their journeyings and wanderings in the wilderness forty years, all the state of the combating church is described-how of itself it yields, but conquers from the Lord.

[7] By the "woman who fled into the wilderness," in John, nothing else is signified than the temptation of the church, thus described:--

The woman who brought forth a son, a man child, fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God; there were given unto the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place; and the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman water as a flood, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. But the earth helped the woman; for the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth (Rev. 12:6, 14-16).

[8] That "wilderness" is predicated of a church altogether vastated, and of those who are altogether vastated as to good and truth, who cannot be reformed, is thus shown in Isaiah:--

I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink because there is no water, and die for thirst; I clothe the heavens with thick darkness (Isaiah 50:2, 3).

In the same:--

Thy holy cities were become a wilderness, Zion was become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation (Isaiah 64:10).

In Jeremiah:--

I beheld and lo Carmel was a wilderness, and all her cities were broken down at the presence of Jehovah (Jeremiah 4:26).

In the same:--

Many shepherds have destroyed My vineyard, they have trodden My portion under foot; they have made My pleasant portion a wilderness of desolation, they have made it a desolation, it hath mourned unto Me, being desolate the whole land is made desolate, because no man layeth it to heart. Spoilers are come upon all the hillsides in the wilderness (Jeremiah 12:10-12).

In Joel:--

The fire hath devoured the folds of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field, the water brooks are dried up, the fire hath devoured the folds of the wilderness (Joel 1:19, 20).

In Isaiah:--

He made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities thereof (Isaiah 14:17);

where Lucifer is spoken of. In the same:--

The prophecy of the wilderness of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south, it cometh from the wilderness, from a terrible land (Isaiah 21:1).

The "wilderness of the sea" denotes truth vastated by memory-knowledges and the reasonings from them.

[9] From all this it may be seen what is signified by the following concerning John the Baptist:--

It was said by Isaiah, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way for the Lord, make His paths straight (Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23; Isa. 40:3);

which means that the church was then altogether vastated, so that there was no longer any good, nor any truth; which is plainly manifest from the fact, that then no one knew that man had any internal, nor that there was any internal in the Word, and thus that no one knew that the Messiah or Christ was to come to eternally save them. Hence it is also manifest what is signified by John being in the wilderness until the days of his appearing to Israel (Luke 1:80); and by his preaching in the wilderness of Judea (Matt. 3:1-17); and by his baptizing in the wilderness (Mark 1:4); for by that he also represented the state of the church. From the signification of a "wilderness" it may also be seen why the Lord so often withdrew into the wilderness. See for examples (Matt. 4:1; 15:32-39; Mark 1:12, 13, 35-40, 45; 6:31-36; Luke 4:1; 5:16; 9:10; John 11:54). From the signification of a "mountain" also it is manifest why the Lord withdrew into the mountains, as in (Matt. 14:23; 15:29-31; 17:1; 28:16, 17; Mark 3:13, 14; 6:46; 9:2-9; Luke 6:12, 13; 9:28; John 6:15).

AC 2709. And he became a shooter of the bow. That this signifies the man of the spiritual church, is evident from the signification of a "shaft," "dart," or "arrow," as being truth; and from the signification of a "bow," as being doctrine (n. 2686). The man of the spiritual church was formerly called a "shooter of the bow," because he defended himself by truths, and disputed about truths; differently from the man of the celestial church, who is secure by means of good, and does not dispute about truths (n. 2708). The truths by which the man of the spiritual church defends himself, and respecting which he disputes, are from the doctrine which he acknowledges.

[2] That the spiritual man was in old time called "shooter" and an "archer," and that doctrine was called a "bow" and a "quiver," and that the truths of doctrine, or rather doctrinal matters, were called "darts," "shafts," and "arrows," is further evident in David:--

The sons of Ephraim being armed, shooters of the bow, turned back in the day of battle (Ps. 78:9).

"Ephraim" denotes the intellectual of the church. In the book of Judges:--

Consider, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit upon carpets, and ye that walk by the way; because of the voice of archers among them that draw water, there shall they rehearse the righteousnesses of Jehovah, the righteousnesses toward His villages in Israel (Judges 5:10, 11).

In Isaiah:--

Jehovah hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother hath He made mention of my name, and He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand hath He hid me, and He hath made me a polished arrow, in His quiver hath He hid me; and He said unto me, Thou art My servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Isaiah 49:1-3).

"Israel" denotes the spiritual church.

[3] In David:--

As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of the youth; happy is the man that hath filled his quiver with them (Ps. 127:4);

a " quiver" denotes the doctrine of good and truth. In Habakkuk:--

The sun and moon stood still in their seat; at the light of Thine arrows shall they go, at the shining of the lightning of Thy spear (Habakkuk 3:11).

That Joash king of Israel shot an arrow from a bow through the window, at the command of Elisha, while Elisha said, "The arrow of the salvation of Jehovah, the arrow of the salvation of Jehovah against the Syrian" (2 Kings 13:16 to 18), signifies arcana concerning the doctrine of good and truth.

[4] As most of the things in the Word have also an opposite sense, so likewise have "shafts," "darts," "arrows," bows," and a "shooter;" and they signify falsities, the doctrine of falsity, and those who are in falsity. Thus in Moses:--

Joseph is the son of a fruitful one, the son of a fruitful one by a fountain, of a daughter, she marcheth upon the wall; they grieved him, and shot at him, and the archers hated him (Gen. 49:22, 23).

In Jeremiah:--

They have shot out their tongue, their bow is a lie, and not for truth; their tongue is a lengthened arrow, it speaketh deceit (Jeremiah 9:3, 8).

In David:--

They have sharpened their tongue like a sword, they have aimed their arrow, a bitter word, to shoot in secret places at the perfect; suddenly will they shoot at him, and will not fear. They will make strong for themselves an evil word, they will tell of the hiding of snares (Ps. 64:4-6).

In the same:--

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

In the same:--

His truth is a shield and buckler thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, for the arrow that flieth by day (Ps. 91:4, 5).

AC 2710. In the verse before us the state of the spiritual church is described, as being obscure in comparison with the state of the celestial church, and as being combative, for the reason that the man of the spiritual church knows truth only from doctrine, and not from good itself, as does the man of the celestial church.

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