Spiritual Meaning of GENESIS 29:31
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AC 3853. Verse 31. And Jehovah saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb, and Rachel was barren. "And Jehovah saw," signifies the Lord’s foresight and providence; "that Leah was hated," signifies that the affection of external truth was not so dear because further from the Divine; "and He opened her womb," signifies that thence came the doctrines of churches; "and Rachel was barren," signifies that interior truths were not received.

AC 3854. And Jehovah saw. That this signifies the Lord‘s foresight and providence, is evident from the signification of "seeing," when predicated of the Lord, as being foresight and providence, which will be treated of in the following verse, concerning Reuben, whose name was given from "seeing." "Jehovah" is the Lord, (n. 1343, 1736, 1793, 2156, 2329, 2921, 3023, 3035).

[2] As regards foresight and providence in general, it is foresight relatively to man, and providence relatively to the Lord. The Lord foresaw from eternity what the human race would be, and what would be the quality of each member of it, and that evil would continually increase, until at last man of himself would rush headlong into hell. On this account the Lord has not only provided means by which man may be turned from hell and led to heaven, but also from providence He continually turns and leads him. The Lord also foresaw that it would be impossible for any good to be rooted in man except in his freedom, for whatever is not rooted in freedom is dissipated on the first approach of evil and temptation. This the Lord foresaw, and also that man of himself, or from his freedom, would incline toward the deepest hell; and therefore the Lord provides that if a man should not suffer himself to be led in freedom to heaven, he may still be bent toward a milder hell; but that if he should suffer himself to be led in freedom to good, he may be led to heaven. This shows what foresight means, and what providence, and that what is foreseen is thus provided.

[3] And from this we can see how greatly the man errs who believes that the Lord has not foreseen, and does not see, the veriest singulars appertaining to man, and that in these He does not foresee and lead; when the truth is that the Lord’s foresight and providence are in the very minutest of these veriest singulars connected with man, in things so very minute that it is impossible by any thought to comprehend as much as one out of a hundred millions of them; for every smallest moment of man‘s life involves a series of consequences extending to eternity, each moment being as a new beginning to those which follow; and so with all and each of the moments of his life, both of his understanding and of his will. And as the Lord foresaw from eternity what would he man’s quality, and what it would be to eternity, it is evident that His providence is in the veriest singulars, and as before said governs and bends the man to such a quality; and this by a continual moderating of his freedom. But concerning this subject, of the Lord‘s Divine mercy more hereafter.

AC 3855. That Leah was hated. That this signifies that the affection of external truth was not so dear because it was further from the Divine, is evident from the signification of "hated," as being what is not dear; and from the representation of Leah, as being the affection of external truth. That external truths are more remote from the Divine than internal truths, may be seen from the fact that external things come forth from internal ones; for external things are images and forms composed of myriads of internal things which appear as a one; and this being the nature of external things, they are further from the Divine; for the Divine is above the inmost, or in the highest. The Lord flows from the highest into the inmosts of man, and through these into his interiors, and through these again into his externals; thus He flows in mediately, and also immediately; and as the externals are further from the Divine, they are also on this account relatively without order, nor do they suffer themselves to be reduced to such order as do the internals. The case herein is the same as it is with seeds, which are more perfect within than without, being so perfect within as to enable them to produce a whole plant, or a whole tree, in its order, together with its leaves and fruits, the external forms of which may easily suffer injury from various causes, but not so much so the internal or inmost forms of the seeds, which are in a more interior and perfect nature. The case is the same with the internals and externals of man, and therefore when man is being regenerated, he is regenerated as to the rational before he is regenerated as to the natural (n. 3493); and the regeneration of the natural is both later and more difficult, because in it are many things which are not in order and are exposed to injuries from the body and the world; and this being the case, it is said that these things are "not so dear;" but in so far as they agree with internal things, and in so far as they conduce to the life and to the sight of the internal things that are within them, and also to man’s regeneration, so far they too are dear.

AC 3856. And He opened her womb. That this signifies that therefrom came the doctrines of churches, is evident from the signification of "opening the womb," or of conceiving and bringing forth, as being to become a church; and because this is effected by means of doctrinal things, therefore by "opening the womb" are signified the doctrines of churches. By "conceptions" and "births" in the Word are signified spiritual conceptions and births, such as occur when man is born anew, (n. 1145, 1255, 1330, 2584). How the case stands with these things will appear from what presently follows.

AC 3857. And Rachel was barren. That this signifies that interior truths were not received, is evident from the representation of Rachel, as being the affection of interior truth; and from the signification of "barren," as being that there were no doctrines therefrom, consequently no churches; for this statement is opposed to what is said of Leah--that "Jehovah opened her womb," by which is signified that therefrom came the doctrines of churches. The reason why interior truths were not received, is that interior truths are such as to transcend man‘s faith, for they do not fall into his ideas, neither are they according to external appearances, that is, the fallacies of the senses, by which every man suffers himself to be led, and does not believe that which does not in some measure coincide with them.

[2] For example: it is an interior truth that there are no times and spaces in the other life, but instead of these, states. Whereas during his life on earth, man--who is in time and space--has all his ideas from them, insomuch that without time and space he cannot think at all (n. 3404); and therefore unless the states that are in the other life were described to man by means of times and spaces, or by means of such objects as derive therefrom their forms, he would perceive nothing, thus would believe nothing, and consequently would not receive the instruction; so that the doctrine would he barren and there would he no church from it

[3] To take another example: unless celestial and spiritual affections were described by means of such things as belong to worldly and bodily affections, man would not perceive anything, for he is in these affections, and thereby is capable of having some notion of celestial and spiritual affections, when nevertheless they are as different, or as distinct from each other, as heaven is from earth (n. 3839). For instance--in regard to the glory of heaven, or of the angels in heaven--unless man formed for himself an idea of the glory of heaven in accordance with the idea of glory in the world, he would not apprehend the matter, thus neither would he acknowledge it. And so in all other cases.

[4] For this reason the Lord spoke in the Word in accordance with man’s apprehension, and in accordance with the appearances of the same. The literal sense of the Word is of this nature, but still it is such as to contain within it an internal sense, in which are interior truths. This then is the reason why it is said of Leah, that "Jehovah opened her womb," and of Rachel, that "she was barren;" for as before said by Leah is represented the affection of exterior truth, and by Rachel the affection of interior truth. But inasmuch as exterior truths are the first truths man learns, it is provided by the Lord that by means of them he may be introduced into interior truths, and this is what is signified when it is said that at last "God remembered Rachel, and hearkened to her, and opened her womb" (Gen. 30:22).

[5] These matters may be substantiated from the churches which were of ancient time, and from their doctrinal things, in that these were formed from external truths. Thus with the Ancient Church that was after the flood, its doctrinal things were for the most part external representatives and significatives, in which internal truths were stored up. Most of the members of this church were in holy worship when in externals; and had anyone told them in the beginning that these representatives and significatives were not the essentials of Divine worship, but that the essentials were the spiritual and celestial things represented and signified thereby, they would have altogether rejected such a doctrine, and thus there would have been to church. This was still more the case with the Jewish Church: if anyone had told the men of this church that their rituals derived their sanctity from the Divine things of the Lord that were in them, they would not have acknowledged it at all.

[6] Such also was man when the Lord came into the world, and still more corporeal had he become, and especially they who belonged to the church. This is very plain from the disciples themselves, who were continually with the Lord, and heard so many things concerning His kingdom, and yet were not able to perceive interior truths, not being able to form any other notion of the Lord than such as the Jews at this day entertain concerning the Messiah whom they expect; namely, that He will exalt their people to dominion and glory above all the nations in the universe. And even after they had heard so many things from the Lord respecting the heavenly kingdom, they still could not think otherwise than that the heavenly kingdom would he like an earthly kingdom, and that God the Father would be the highest therein, and after Him the Son, and then the twelve, and thus that they would reign in their order; wherefore also James and John asked that they might sit, the one on His right hand and the other on His left (Mark 10:35-37); and the rest of the disciples were angry at their desiring to be greater than they (Mark 10:41; Matt. 20:24). For the same reason also the Lord, after He had taught them what it was to be the greatest in heaven (Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45), still spoke according to their apprehension, saying that they should sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:24, 30; Matt. 19:28).

[7] If they had been told that by "the disciples" are not meant themselves, but all who are in the good of love and faith (n. 3354, 3488); also that in the Lord‘s kingdom there are neither thrones, sovereignties, nor rule, as in the world, and that they could not even judge the least thing in a single man (n. 2129, 2553), they would have rejected the saying, and, leaving the Lord, would have returned everyone to his own occupation. The reason why the Lord so spoke was that they might receive external truths, and thereby be introduced into internal ones, for within those external truths which the Lord spoke, internal truths were concealed, which in course of time stand open; and when these stand open, the external truths are dissipated and serve only as objects or means of thinking about the internal truths. From this it may now be known what is meant by what is here related--that Jehovah first opened Leah’s womb and she bare sons to Jacob, and that Rachel bare sons afterwards.

AC 3858. As in what now follows the twelve sons of Jacob are treated of, and the twelve tribes of Israel were named from them as their fathers, it is here to be premised what the tribes signify, and why there were twelve. No one has yet known the arcanum herein concealed, because it has been believed that the histories of the Word are bare histories, and that there is no more of the Divine therein than that they can serve as examples for the application of holy things. Hence also it has been believed that the twelve tribes signify nothing but divisions of the Israelitish people into so many distinct nations or general families, when yet they involve Divine things; that is to say, so many universal divisions of faith and love, consequently things relating to the Lord‘s kingdom in the heavens and on earth, each tribe involving some distinct universal; but what each signifies will appear from what presently follows, where the sons of Jacob are treated of, from whom these tribes were named. In general the twelve tribes signified all things of the doctrine of truth and good, or of faith and love; for these (that is, truth and good, or faith and love) constitute the Lord’s kingdom; for the things of truth or faith are the all of thought therein, and the things of good or love are the all of affection; and because the Jewish Church was instituted in order that it might represent the Lord‘s kingdom, therefore the divisions of that people into twelve tribes signified these things. This is a mystery never before disclosed.

[2] That "twelve" signifies all things in general, was shown above (n. 577, 2089, 2129, 2130, 3272); but that "tribes" signify those things which are of truth and good, or of faith and love, thus that the "twelve tribes" signify all things of these, may be here confirmed from the Word, before they are described separately. In John:--

The holy city New Jerusalem had twelve gates, and over the gates twelve angels; and names written thereon which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel; and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. He measured the city with the reed unto twelve thousand furlongs; and he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty and four cubits, which is the measure of a man, that is of an angel. The twelve gates were twelve pearls (Rev. 21:12, 14, 16, 17, 21).

That the holy city, or New Jerusalem, is the Lord’s New Church, is manifest from all the particulars thereof. In some of the foregoing chapters the state of the church is described, as it would be before its end. This chapter treats of the New Church, and therefore the gates, wall, and foundations of the city are nothing else than things of the church, which are those of charity and faith, for these constitute the church;

[3] so that everyone can see that by the "twelve" so often mentioned in the above passage, and also by the "tribes," and likewise the "apostles," are not meant twelve, or tribes, or apostles, but by "twelve" all things in one complex (n. 577, 2089, 2129, 2130, 3272); and in like manner by the number "a hundred and forty and four," for this is twelve times twelve. And as by "twelve" are signified all things, it is evident that by the "twelve tribes" are signified all things of the church; which as before said are truths and goods, or faith and love; and in like manner by the "twelve apostles," who also represented all things of the church, that is, all things of faith and love (n. 2129, 3354, 3488, 3857). This number is therefore called the "measure of a man, that is, of an angel," by which is meant a state of truth and good. "Measure" signifies state, (n. 3104). That "man" signifies that which is of the church, is evident from what was said above concerning the signification of "man," (n. 478, 479, 565, 768, 1871, 1894); and also from the fact that the Lord‘s kingdom is called the Grand Man, and this by virtue of good and truth which are from the Lord, on which subject see at the close of the chapters, (n. 3624-3648, 3741-3750). "Angel" signifies the same, (n. 1705, 1754, 1925, 2821, 3039).

[4] As in John, so also in the Prophets of the Old Testament is the New Jerusalem treated of, and there in like manner it signifies the Lord’s New Church--as in (Isa. 65:18, 19); Zech. 14 especially in Ezek. 40-48; where by the "New Jerusalem," the "new temple," and the "new earth," are described in the internal sense the Lord‘s kingdom in the heavens, and His kingdom on earth which is the church. From what is said in these chapters in Ezekiel it is plainer than elsewhere what is signified by "earth," by "Jerusalem," by "temple," and by all things therein, and also what by the "twelve tribes;" for the division of the land is treated of, and its inheritance according to tribes, and also the city, its walls, foundations, and gates, and all things that will belong to the temple therein. From these passages we may here quote only what is said concerning the tribes:--

The Lord Jehovih said, This is the border whereby ye shall inherit the land according to the twelve tribes of Israel. Ye shall divide this land according to the tribes of Israel. And it shall come to pass that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the sojourners who sojourn in the midst of you. They shall cast lot with you for an inheritance in the midst of the tribes of Israel (Ezek. 47:13, 21-23).

As for the land, it shall be to the prince for a possession in Israel and My princes shall no more afflict My people and they shall give the land to the house of Israel according to their tribes (Ezek. 45:8). Concerning the inheritances, and how they were assigned to the several tribes, which are there also mentioned by name, (Ezek. 48:1). And concerning the gates of the city, according to the names of the tribes of Israel, (Ezek 48:31-34).

[5] That by "tribes" there, are not meant tribes, is very plain, for the ten tribes were already at that time dispersed through the whole earth, neither did they afterwards return, nor can they ever return, for they are become Gentiles; and yet mention is made of each tribe, and how they should inherit the land, and what should be the boundaries of each; namely, what boundary for the tribe of Dan (Ezek. 48:2); what for the tribe of Asher (Ezek. 48:3); what for Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, Judah; what should be the inheritance of the Levites; what the boundary of Benjamin; what of Simeon, of Issachar, of Zebulun, and of Gad (Ezek. 48:4-29); also that the city should have twelve gates according to the names of the tribes of Israel; that three should be toward the north, for Reuben, Judah, and Levi; three toward the east, for Joseph, Benjamin, and Dan; three toward the south, for Simeon, Issachar, and Zebulun; and three toward the west, for Gad, Asher, and Naphtali (Ezek. 48:31-34). Thus it is evident that by the "twelve tribes" are signified all things of the Lord’s kingdom, or all things of faith and love, for these as before said constitute the Lord‘s kingdom.

[6] Because the "twelve tribes" signified all things of the Lord’s kingdom, therefore also the twelve tribes by their encampments, and also by their journeyings, represented that kingdom. Concerning these we read in Moses that they should encamp according to the tribes around the tent of the assembly; toward the east, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; toward the south, Reuben, Simeon, and Gad; toward the west, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; and toward the north, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali; and that as they encamped, so they journeyed (Num. 2). That in this they represented the Lord‘s kingdom, is very plain from the prophecy of Balaam:--

When Balaam lifted up his eyes, and saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes, the spirit of God came upon him, and he uttered his enunciation and said, How goodly are thy tabernacles, O Jacob, thy habitations, O Israel! As the valleys are they planted, as gardens by the river side, as the lign-aloes which Jehovah hath planted, as cedar-trees beside the waters (Num. 24:2-6).

That Balaam spoke these words from Jehovah, is expressly stated (Num. 22:8, 18, 19, 35, 38; 23:5, 12, 16, 26; 24:2, 13).

AC 3858a.

[7] From all this it is evident what was represented by the inheritances of the land of Canaan according to the tribes, concerning which we read in Moses that Moses was to take the sum of the congregation of the sons of Israel according to their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old, everyone that went forth into the army of Israel; and that the land should be distributed by lot; according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they should receive inheritance (Num. 26:7-56; 33:54; 34:19-29); and that the land was divided by Joshua, by lot, according to the tribes (Josh. 13, 15 to 19). That as before said the Lord‘s kingdom was the represented, is manifest from all the particulars; for the "land of Canaan" signifies this kingdom (n. 1585, 1607, 3038, 3481, 3705).

[8] The reason why the sons of Israel are called "armies," and it is said that they should "encamp according to their armies," and should "journey according to their armies" (Num. 2:4-30), is that an "army" signified the same, namely, truths and goods (n. 3448); and the Lord is called "Jehovah Zebaoth," that is, "Jehovah of Armies" (n. 3448). Hence they were called the "armies of Jehovah" when they went forth out of Egypt; as in Moses:--

It came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years, even the self-same day it came to pass, that all the armies of Jehovah went out from the land of Egypt (Exod. 12:41).

It must be evident to everyone that they who were of such a quality in Egypt, and afterwards in the wilderness, were called the "armies of Jehovah" only representatively, for they were in no good or truth, being the worst of all nations.

[9] From the same ground it is very plain what is signified by the "names of the twelve tribes" in Aaron’s breastplate, which was called the Urim and Thummim, concerning which we read in Moses that there should be four rows therein, that there should be twelve stones, and these stones according to the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names and that the engravings of a signet should be to each over its name for the twelve tribes (Exod. 28:21; 39:14); for Aaron represented the Lord‘s Divine priesthood; for which reason all the things with which he was invested signified Divine celestial and spiritual things. But what they signified will of the Lord’s Divine mercy appear where they are treated of. In the breast plate itself, inasmuch as it was most holy, there were representations of all things that are of love and faith in the Lord: these are the Urim and Thummim. The reason why the names were engraved on precious stones was that "stones" in general signify truths (n. 1298, 3720); and "precious stones," truths which are transparent from good (n. 114); and as the "names" of the several tribes signified the quality, therefore a particular kind of stone was assigned for each tribe (Exod. 28:17-20; 39:8, 10-13), which stone by its color and transparency expressed the quality that was signified by each tribe; hence it was that Jehovah or the Lord gave answers by the Urim and Thummim.

[10] By the "two onyx stones" that were on the two shoulders of the ephod were represented the same, but in a lesser degree than by the twelve stones on the breastplate; for the "shoulder‘s" signified all power, thus the omnipotence of the Lord (n. 1085); but the "breast," or the "heart and lungs," signified Divine celestial and spiritual love the "heart," Divine celestial love; and the "lungs," Divine spiritual love; as may be seen above (n. 3635), and at the end of this chapter, where the Grand Man is treated of, and its correspondence with the province of the heart and with that of the lungs. Concerning the "two stones on the shoulder of the ephod," ye read in Moses:--

Thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the sons of Israel; six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the six that remain on the other stone, according to their generations. Thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod, stones of memorial for the sons of Israel (Exod. 28:9, 10, 12; 39:6, 7).

[11] Because the tribes signified what is of truth and good, or of faith and love, and each tribe signified some universal thereof, and the tribe of Levi signified love, as will appear from the explication of (verse 34) of this chapter, it may from this be known what was signified by placing rods, one for each tribe, in the tent of assembly, and by Levi’s rod alone blossoming with almonds; concerning which we read in Moses:--

Take twelve rods, one rod for each head of their fathers‘ houses, and let them be left in the tent of meeting; and thou shalt write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi. And the rod of Aaron was in the midst of the rods. On the morrow, behold the rod of Aaron for the tribe of Levi blossomed, and brought forth a blossom so that the flower flowered, and bare almonds (Num. 17:2-8);

this signified that love is the essential and the principal of all things in the Lord‘s kingdom, and that from it is all fructification. The reason why Aaron’s name was upon it, was that Aaron represented the Lord as to His Divine priesthood. By the "Lord‘s priesthood" is signified the Divine good, which is of His love and mercy; and by the "Lord’s royalty," the Divine truth which is from the Divine good, (n. 1728, 2015, 3670).

[12] From what has now been adduced it may be seen what "tribes" and "twelve tribes" signify in the following passages. In John:--

I heard the number of them which were sealed, a hundred forty and four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of Israel. Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Asher were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Naphtali were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Manasseh were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Zebulun were sealed twelve thousand of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand; of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand (Rev. 7:4-8).

In Moses:--

Remember the days of eternity; understand the years of generation and generation. When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel (Deut. 32:7, 8).

In David:--

Jerusalem is built as a city which is compact together; whither the tribes go up, the tribes of Jah, a testimony unto Israel, to confess unto the name of Jehovah (Ps. 122:3, 4).

[13] In Joshua:--

Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth before you into Jordan. Take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man. And it shall come to pass, when the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of Jehovah the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off; they shall stand in one heap (Joshua 3:11-13).


Take out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests‘ feet stood ready, twelve stones, and carry them over with you, every man a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of Israel; that this may be a sign that the waters of Jordan were cut off. Moreover Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests that bare the ark of the covenant stood (Joshua 4:3-9).


Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of Jehovah came, saying, Israel shall be thy name; and he built an altar in the name of Jehovah (1 Kings 18:31, 32).

[14] That" tribes" signify the goods of love and truths of faith, is evident also from the Lord’s words in Matthew:--

Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory (Matthew 24:30);

where by "all the tribes of the earth mourning," is signified that there would no longer be any acknowledgment of truth and of the life of good, for the subject treated of is the consummation of the age. In like manner in John:--

Behold He cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn because of Him (Rev. 1:7).

What is signified by "coming in the clouds of heaven" (n. 2135A); see further what was shown me from experience concerning twelve (n. 2129, 2130).

[15] The reason why all things of faith and love are called "tribes," is that the same expression in the original tongue signifies also a "scepter" and a "staff." That a "scepter," and also a "staff," signifies power, will of the Lord‘s Divine mercy be shown elsewhere. Hence the name "tribe" involves in it that goods and truths have within them all power from the Lord. For this reason also the angels are called "powers," and likewise "sovereignties," for "princes" signify the primary things of charity and faith, as do the "twelve princes" descended from Ishmael (Gen. 25:16) (n. 2089, 3272), and also the "princes" who presided over the tribes (Num. 7) (Num. 13:4-16).

[16] From what has been hitherto said concerning the twelve tribes, it may be known why the Lord’s disciples, who were afterwards called "apostles," were twelve in number; and that they represented the church of the Lord as to goods and truths in like manner as did the tribes (n. 2129, 3354, 3488, 3857). That Peter represented faith; James, charity; and John, the works of charity, may be seen above (preface to chapter 18 and to chapter 22), (n. 3750). This likewise is very plain from what the Lord said concerning them and to them.

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