Spiritual Meaning of GENESIS 3:16-19
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AC 261. Verse 16. And unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth sons, and thine obedience shall be to thy man (vir), and he shall rule over thee. By the "woman" is now signified the church as to proprium, which it loved; by "greatly multiplying her sorrow," is signified combat, and the anxiety it occasions; by "conception," every thought; by the "sons whom she would bring forth in sorrow," the truths which she would thus produce; by "man," here as before, the rational which it will obey, and which will rule.

AC 262. That the church is signified by the "woman," has been previously shown, but here the church perverted by the Own which was itself formerly signified by the "woman," because the posterity of the Most Ancient Church, which had become perverted, is now treated of.

AC 263. When therefore the sensuous part averts itself or curses itself, the consequence is that evil spirits begin to fight powerfully, and the attendant angels to labor, and therefore this combat is described by the words, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow, in relation to the conception and birth of sons," that is, as to the thoughts and productions of truth.

AC 264. That the "conception and birth of sons," in the Word, are taken in a spiritual sense--"conception" for the thought and device of the heart, and "sons" for truths, is evident from Hosea:--

As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb: and from the conception; though they shall have brought up their sons, yet will I bereave them, that they be not man; yea, woe also to them when I depart from them (Hosea 9:11, 12),

where "Ephraim" signifies the intelligent, or the understanding of truth; and "sons," truths themselves. It is likewise said elsewhere concerning Ephraim, or one who is intelligent, who has become foolish:--

The sorrows of one in travail have come upon him, he is an unwise son, for at the time he will not stand in the breach of the womb of sons (Hosea 13:13).

And in Isaiah:--

Blush, O Zidon, for the sea hath spoken, the fortress of the sea, saying, I have not travailed, nor brought forth, nor have I brought up young men, nor caused girls to grow up; as at the report concerning Egypt, they shall bring forth according to the report of Tyre (Isaiah 23:4, 5),

where "Zidon" means those who have been in the knowledges of faith, but have destroyed them by memory-knowledges (scientifica), and so have become barren.

[2] Again in the same prophet, treating of regeneration, and where likewise the truths of faith are signified by "sons:"--

Before she travailed she bringeth forth; and before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child; who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? shall the earth bring forth in one day? and shall I not cause to bring forth? saith Jehovah; shall I cause to bring forth, and close up? saith thy God (Isaiah 66:7-9).

Goods and truths, being conceived and born of the heavenly marriage, are therefore called "sons" by the Lord in Matthew:--

He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; and the seed are the sons of the kingdom (Matthew 13:37, 38).

And the goods and truths of a saving faith He calls "sons of Abraham" (John 8:39); for "seed" (n. 255) denotes faith, wherefore "sons," which are of the "seed," are the goods and truths of faith. Hence also the Lord, as being Himself the seed," called Himself the "Son of man," that is, the faith of the church.

AC 265. That by "man (vir)" is signified the rational, appears from (verse 6) of this chapter, in that the woman gave to her man with her, and he did eat, by which is meant his consent; and the same is also evident from what was said of the man in (n. 158), where by him is meant one who is wise and intelligent. Here however "man" denotes the rational, because in consequence of the destruction of wisdom and intelligence by eating of the tree of knowledge, nothing else was left, for the rational is imitative of intelligence, being as it were its semblance.

AC 266. As every law and precept comes forth from what is celestial and spiritual, as from its true beginning, it follows that this law of marriage does so, which requires that the wife, who acts from desire, which is of what is her own, rather than from reason, like the man, should be subject to his prudence.

AC 267. Verse 17. And unto the man He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake, in great sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. By the "man hearkening to the voice of his wife," is signified the consent of the man (vir), or rational, by which it also averted or cursed itself, and consequently the whole external man, denoted by "cursed is the ground for thy sake." To "eat thereof in sorrow," means that the future state of his life would be miserable, and this even to the end of that church, or "all the days of his life."

AC 268. That the "ground" signifies the external man, is evident from what was previously stated concerning "earth," "ground," and "field." When man is regenerate, he is no longer called "earth," but "ground," because celestial seed has been implanted in him; he is also compared to "ground" and is called "ground" in various parts of the Word. The seeds of good and truth are implanted in the external man, that is, in his affection and memory, and not in the internal man, because there is nothing of one‘s Own in the internal man, but only in the external. In the internal man are goods and truths, and when these no longer appear to be present, the man is external or corporeal; they are however stored up in the internal man by the Lord, without the man’s knowledge, as they do not come forth except when the external man as it were dies, as is usually the case during temptations, misfortunes, sicknesses, and at the hour of death. The rational belongs also to the external man (n. 118), and is in itself a kind of medium between the internal man and the external; for the internal man, through the rational, operates on the corporeal external. But when the rational consents, it separates the external man from the internal, so that the existence of the internal man is no longer known, nor consequently the intelligence and wisdom which are of the internal.

AC 269. That Jehovah God (that is, the Lord) did not "curse the ground," or the external man, but that the external man averted or separated itself from the internal, and thus cursed itself, is evident from what was previously shown (n. 245).

AC 270. That to "eat of the ground in great sorrow" signifies a miserable state of life, is evident from what precedes and follows, not to mention that to "eat," in the internal sense, is to live. The same is evident also from the fact that such a state of life ensues when evil spirits begin to fight, and the attendant angels to labor. This state of life becomes more miserable when evil spirits begin to obtain the dominion; for they then govern the external man, and the angels only the internal man, of which so little remains that they can scarcely take anything thence with which to defend the man; hence arise misery and anxiety. Dead men are seldom sensible of such misery and anxiety, because they are no longer men, although they think themselves more truly so than others; for they know no more than the brutes of what is spiritual and celestial, and what is eternal life, and like them they look downward to earthly things, or outward to worldly ones; they favor only their Own, and indulge their inclinations and senses with the entire concurrence of the rational. Being dead, they sustain no spiritual combat or temptation, and were they exposed to it their life would sink under its weight, and they could thereby curse themselves still more, and precipitate themselves still more deeply into infernal damnation: hence they are spared this until their entrance into the other life, where, being no longer in danger of dying in consequence of any temptation or misery, they endure most grievous sufferings, which likewise are here signified by the ground being cursed, and eating of it in great sorrow.

AC 271. That "all the days of thy life" signifies the end of the days of the church, is evident from the fact that the subject here treated of is not an individual man, but the church and its state. The end of the days of that church was the time of the flood.

AC 272. Verse 18. And the thorn and the thistle shall it bring forth unto thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. By the "thorn and the thistle," are meant curse and vastation; and by "thou shalt eat the herb of the field," is signified that he should live as a wild animal. Man lives like a wild animal when his internal man is so separated from his external as to operate upon it only in a most general manner, for man is man from what he receives through his internal man from the Lord, and is a wild animal from what he derives from the external man, which, separated from the internal, is in itself no other than a wild animal, having a similar nature, desires, appetites, phantasies, and sensations, and also similar organic forms. That nevertheless he is able to reason, and, as it seems to himself, acutely, he has from the spiritual substance by which he receives the influx of life from the Lord, which is however perverted in such a man, and becomes the life of evil, which is death. Hence he is called a dead man.

AC 273. That the "thorn and the thistle" signify curse and vastation, is evident from harvest and fruit-tree denoting the opposites, which are blessings and multiplications. That the "thorn," the "thistle," the "brier," the "bramble," and the "nettle," have such a signification, is evident from the Word, as in Hosea:--

Lo, they are gone away because of the vastation; Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them; their desirable things of silver, the nettle shall inherit them; the bramble shall be in their tents (Hosea 9:6).

Here "Egypt" and "Memphis" denote such as seek to understand Divine things from themselves and their own memory-knowledges. In the same Prophet:--

The lofty places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed; the thorn and the thistle shall come up upon their altars (Hosea 10:8),

where the "lofty places of Aven," signify the love of self; and the "thorn and thistle on the altars," profanation. In Isaiah:--

Mourning upon the paps for the fields of desire, for the fruitful vine; upon the ground of My people shall come up the briery thorn (Isaiah 32:12, 13).

And in Ezekiel:--

There shall be no more a pricking brier unto the house of Israel, nor a painful thorn from all that are round about them (Ezekiel 28:24).

AC 274. That to "eat the herb of the field" (that is, wild food) denotes to live like a wild animal, is evident from what is said of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel:--

They shall drive thee from man, and thy dwelling shall be with the beast of the field; they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee (Daniel 4:25).

And in Isaiah:--

Hast thou not heard how I have done it long ago, and from the days of old have I formed it; now have I brought it to pass, and it shall be to lay waste bulwarks, fenced cities, in heaps; and their inhabitants, short of hand, were dismayed and put to shame; they were made the grass of the field, and the green (olus) of the herb, the grass of the house-tops, and a field parched before (coram) the standing corn (Isaiah 37:26, 27).

Here it is explained what is signified by the "grass of the field," the "green of the herb," the "grass on the house-tops," and a "field parched;" for the subject here treated of is the time before the flood, which is meant by "long ago," and the "days of old."

AC 275. Verse 19. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. By "eating bread in the sweat of the face," is signified to be averse to what is celestial; to "return to the ground from whence he was taken," is to relapse into the external man, such as he was before regeneration; and "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return," signifies that he is condemned and infernal.

AC 276. That to "eat bread in the sweat of the face" signifies to be averse to what is celestial, is evident from the signification of "bread." By "bread" is meant everything spiritual and celestial, which is the food of the angels, on the deprivation of which they would cease to live as certainly as men deprived of bread or food. That which is celestial and spiritual in heaven also corresponds to bread on earth, by which moreover they are represented, as is shown by many passages in the Word. That the Lord is "bread," because from Him proceeds whatever is celestial and spiritual, He Himself teaches in John:--

This is the bread that cometh down from heaven; he that eateth of this bread shall live to eternity (John 6:58).

Wherefore also bread and wine are the symbols employed in the Holy Supper. This celestial is also represented by the manna. That what is celestial and spiritual constitutes the food of angels, is manifest from the Lord‘s words:--

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4),

that is, from the life of the Lord, from which comes everything celestial and spiritual.

[2] The last posterity of the Most Ancient Church, which existed immediately before the flood, and is here treated of, had become so thoroughly lost and immersed in sensuous and bodily things, that they were no longer willing to hear what was the truth of faith, what the Lord was, or that He would come and save them; and when such subjects were mentioned they turned away. This aversion is described by "eating bread in the sweat of the face." So also the Jews, in consequence of their being of such a character that they did not acknowledge the existence of heavenly things, and desired only a worldly Messiah, could not help feeling an aversion for the manna, because it was a representation of the Lord, calling it "vile bread," on which account fiery serpents were sent among them (Num. 21:5, 6). Moreover the heavenly things imparted to them in states of adversity and misery, when they were in tears, were called by them the "bread of adversity," the "bread of misery," and the "bread of tears." In the passage before us, that which was received with aversion is called the "bread of the sweat of the face."

AC 277. This is the internal sense. He who keeps close to the letter, understands no other than that man must procure bread for himself out of the ground by labor, or by the sweat of his face. "Man" however does not here mean any one man, but the Most Ancient Church; nor does "ground" mean ground, nor "bread" bread, nor "garden" garden, but celestial and spiritual things, as has been sufficiently shown.

AC 278. That by "returning to the ground whence he was taken" is signified that the church would return to the external man such as it was before regeneration, is evident from the fact that "ground" signifies the external man, as previously stated. And that "dust" signifies what is condemned and infernal, is also evident from what was said of the serpent, which in consequence of being cursed is said to "eat dust." In addition to what was there shown as to the signification of "dust," we may add the following passages from David:--

All those who go down to the dust shall bow before Jehovah, and those whose soul He hath not made alive (Ps. 22:29).

And in another place:--

Thou hidest Thy faces, they are troubled; Thou takest away their breath, they expire, and return to their dust (Ps. 104:29),

which means that when men turn away from the face of the Lord, they expire or die, and thus "return to the dust," that is, are condemned and become infernal.

AC 279. All these verses then, taken in a series, involve that the sensuous part averted itself from the celestial (verse 14); that the Lord would come into the world for the purpose of reuniting them (verse 15); that combat arose in consequence of the external man averting itself (verse 16); whence resulted misery (verse 17); condemnation (verse 18); and at length hell (verse 19). These things followed in succession in that church, from the fourth posterity down to the flood.

AC 286. This and the preceding chapters, down to the verses now under consideration, treat of the most ancient people and of their regeneration first, of those who lived like wild animals, but at length became spiritual men; then of those who became celestial men, and constituted the Most Ancient Church; afterwards of those who fell away, and their descendants, in regular order through the first, second, and third posterities and their successors, down to the flood. In the verses following, which conclude the chapter, we have a recapitulation of what occurred from the period when the man of the Most Ancient Church was formed, until the flood; thus it is a conclusion to all that goes before.

GENESIS 3:16-19    previous  -  next  -  text  -  summary  -  Genesis  -  Full Page

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