Spiritual Meaning of GENESIS 3:1
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AC 194. Verse 1. And the serpent was more subtle than any wild animal of the field which Jehovah God had made; and he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? By the "serpent" is here meant the sensuous part of man in which he trusts; by the "wild animal of the field," here, as before, every affection of the external man; by the "woman," man‘s Own; by the serpent’s saying, "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree?" that they began to doubt. The subject here treated of is the third posterity of the Most Ancient Church, which began not to believe in things revealed unless they saw and felt that they were so. Their first state, that it was one of doubt, is described in this and in the next following verse.

AC 195. The most ancient people did not compare all things in man to beasts and birds, but so denominated them; and this their customary manner of speaking remained even in the Ancient Church after the flood, and was preserved among the prophets. The sensuous things in man they called "serpents," because as serpents live close to the earth, so sensuous things are those next the body. Hence also reasonings concerning the mysteries of faith, founded on the evidence of the senses, were called by them the "poison of a serpent," and the reasoners themselves "serpents;" and because such persons reason much from sensuous, that is, from visible things (such as are things terrestrial, corporeal, mundane, and natural), it is said that "the serpent was more subtle than any wild animal of the field."

[2] And so in David, speaking of those who seduce man by reasonings:--

They sharpen their tongue like a serpent; the poison of the asp is under their lips (Ps. 140:3).

And again:--

They go astray from the womb, speaking a lie. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent, like the deaf poisonous asp that stoppeth her ear, that she may not hear the voice of the mutterers, of a wise one that charmeth charms (sociantis sodalitia ) (Ps. 58:3-6).

Reasonings that are of such a character that the men will not even hear what a wise one says, or the voice of the wise, are here called the "poison of a serpent." Hence it became a proverb among the ancients, that "The serpent stoppeth the ear." In Amos:--

As if a man came into a house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of Jehovah be darkness and not light? even thick darkness, and no brightness in it? (Amos 5:19, 20).

The "hand on the wall" means self-derived power, and trust in sensuous things, whence comes the blindness which is here described.

[3] In Jeremiah:--

The voice of Egypt shall go like a serpent, for they shall go in strength, and shall come to her with axes as hewers of wood. They shall cut down her forest, saith Jehovah, because it will not be searched, for they are multiplied more than the locust, and are innumerable. The daughter of Egypt is put to shame, she shall be delivered into the hand of the people of the north (Jeremiah 46:22-24).

"Egypt" denotes reasoning about Divine things from sensuous things and memory-knowledges (scientifica). Such reasonings are called the "voice of a serpent;" and the blindness thereby occasioned, the "people of the north." In Job:--

He shall suck the poison of asps; the viper‘s tongue shall slay him. He shall not see the brooks, the flowing rivers of honey and butter (Job 20:16, 17).

"Rivers of honey and butter" are things spiritual and celestial, which cannot be seen by mere reasoners; reasonings are called the "poison of the asp" and the "viper’s tongue." See more respecting the serpent below, at (verses 14 and 15).

AC 196. In ancient times those were called "serpents" who had more confidence in sensuous things than in revealed ones. But it is still worse at the present day, for now there are persons who not only disbelieve everything they cannot see and feel, but who also confirm themselves in such incredulity by knowledges (scientifica) unknown to the ancients, and thus occasion in themselves a far greater degree of blindness. In order that it may be known how those blind themselves, so as afterwards to see and hear nothing, who form their conclusions concerning heavenly matters from the things of sense, of memory-knowledge, and of philosophy, and who are not only "deaf serpents," but also the "flying serpents" frequently spoken of in the Word, which are much more pernicious, we will take as an example what they believe about the spirit.

[2] The sensuous man, or he who only believes on the evidence of his senses, denies the existence of the spirit because he cannot see it, saying, "It is nothing because I do not feel it: that which I see and touch I know exists." The man of memory-knowledge (scientificus), or he who forms his conclusions from memory-knowledges (scientiae), says, What is the spirit, except perhaps vapor or heat, or some other entity of his science, that presently vanishes into thin air? have not the animals also a body, senses, and something analogous to reason? and yet it is asserted that these will die, while the "spirit of man" will live. Thus they deny the existence of the spirit.

[3] Philosophers also, who would be more acute than the rest of mankind, speak of the spirit in terms which they themselves do not understand, for they dispute about them, contending that not a single expression is applicable to the spirit which derives anything from what is material, organic, or extended; thus they so abstract it from their ideas that it vanishes from them, and becomes nothing. The more sane however assert that the spirit is thought; but in their reasonings about thought, in consequence of separating from it all substantiality, they at last conclude that it must vanish away when the body expires. Thus all who reason from the things of sense, of memory-knowledge, and of philosophy, deny the existence of the spirit, and therefore believe nothing of what is said about the spirit and spiritual things. Not so the simple in heart: if these are questioned about the existence of spirit, they say they know it exists, because the Lord has said that they will live after death; thus instead of extinguishing their rational, they vivify it by the Word of the Lord.

AC 197. Among the most ancient people, who were celestial men, by the "serpent" was signified circumspection, and also the sensuous part through which they exercised circumspection so as to be secure from injury. This signification of a "serpent" is evident from the Lord‘s words to His disciples:--

Behold, I send you forth as sheep into the midst of wolves; be ye therefore prudent as serpents, and simple as doves (Matt. 10:16).

And also from the "brazen serpent" that was set up in the wilderness, by which was signified the sensuous part in the Lord, who alone is the celestial man, and alone takes care of and provides for all; wherefore all who looked upon it were preserved

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