Spiritual Meaning of GENESIS 8:20
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AC 919. Verse 20. And Noah builded an altar into Jehovah; and took of every clean beast, and of every, clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. "Noah builded an altar unto Jehovah," signifies a representative of the Lord; "and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl," signifies the goods of charity and of faith; "and offered burnt-offerings on the altar," signifies all the worship therefrom.

AC 920. In this verse there is described the worship of the Ancient Church in general, and this by the "altar" and the "burnt-offering," which were the principal things in all representative worship. In the first place, however, we will describe the worship that existed in the Most Ancient Church, and from that show how there originated the worship of the Lord by means of representatives. The men of the Most Ancient Church had no other than internal worship, such as there is in heaven; for with them heaven was in communication with man, so that they made a one; and this communication was perception, of which we have often spoken before. Thus being angelic they were internal men, and although they sensated the external things of the body and the world, they cared not for them; for in each object of sense they perceived something Divine and heavenly. For example, when they saw a high mountain, they perceived an idea, not of a mountain, but of elevation, and from elevation, of heaven and the Lord, from which it came to pass that the Lord was said to dwell in the highest, He himself being called the "Most High and Lofty One;" and that afterwards the worship of the Lord was held on mountains. So with other things; as when they observed the morning, they did not then perceive the morning of the day, but that which is heavenly, and which is like a morning and a dawn in human minds, and from which the Lord is called the "Morning," the "East," and the "Dawn" or "Day-spring." So when they looked at a tree and its leaves and fruit, they cared not for these, but saw man as it were represented in them; in the fruit, love and charity, in the leaves faith; and from this the man of the church was not only compared to a tree, and to a paradise, and what is in him to leaves and fruit, but he was even called so. Such are they who are in a heavenly and angelic idea.

[2] Every one may know that a general idea rules all the particulars, thus all the objects of the senses, as well those seen as those heard, so much so that the objects are not cared for except so far as they flow into the man’s general idea. Thus to him who is glad at heart, all things that he hears and sees appear smiling and joyful; but to him who is sad at heart, all things that he sees and hears appear sad and sorrowful; and so in other cases. For the general affection is in all the particulars, and causes them to be seen in the general affection; while all other things do not even appear, but are as if absent or of no account. And so it was with the man of the Most Ancient Church: whatever he saw with his eyes was heavenly to him; and thus with him everything seemed to be alive. And this shows the character of his Divine worship, that it was internal, and by no means external.

[3] But when the church declined, as in his posterity, and that perception or communication with heaven began to be lost, another state of things commenced. Then no longer did men perceive anything heavenly in the objects of the senses, as they had done before, but merely what is worldly, and this to an increasing extent in proportion to the loss of their perception; and at last, in the closing posterity which existed just before the flood, they apprehended in objects nothing but what is worldly, corporeal, and earthly. Thus was heaven separated from man, nor did thy communicate except very remotely; and communication was then opened to man with hell, and from thence came his general idea, from which flow the ideas of all the particulars, as has been shown. Then when any heavenly idea presented itself, it was as nothing to them, so that at last they were not even willing to acknowledge that anything spiritual and celestial existed. Thus did the state of man become changed and inverted.

[4] As the Lord foresaw that such would be the state of man, He provided for the preservation of the doctrinal things of faith, in order that men might know what is celestial and what is spiritual. These doctrinal things were collected from the men of the Most Ancient Church by those called "Cain," and also by those called "Enoch," concerning whom above. Wherefore it is said of Cain that a mark was set upon him lest any one should kill him (Genesis 4:5); (n. 393, 394); and of Enoch that he was taken by God (Genesis 5:24). These doctrinal things consisted only in significative, and thus as it were enigmatical things, that is, in the significations of various objects on the face of the earth; such as that mountains signify celestial things, and the Lord; that morning and the east have this same signification; that trees of various kinds and their fruits signify man and his heavenly things, and so on. In such things as these consisted their doctrinal things, all of which were collected from the significatives of the Most Ancient Church; and consequently their writings also were of the same nature. And as in these representatives they admired, and seemed to themselves even to behold, what is Divine and heavenly, and also because of the antiquity of the same, their worship from things like these was begun and was permitted, and this was the origin of their worship upon mountains, and in groves in the midst of trees, and also of their pillars or statues in the open air, and at last of the altars and burnt-offerings which afterwards became the principal things of all worship. This worship was begun by the Ancient Church, and passed thence to their posterity and to all nations round about, besides many other things, concerning which of the Lord‘s Divine mercy hereafter.

AC 921. And Noah builded an altar into Jehovah. That this signifies a representative of the Lord, is evident from what has just been said. All the rites of the Ancient Church were representative of the Lord, as also the rites of the Jewish Church. But the principal representative in later times was the altar, and also the burnt-offering, which being made of clean beasts and clean birds, had its representation according to their signification, clean beasts signifying the goods of charity, and clean birds the truths of faith. When men of the Ancient Church offered these, they signified that they offered gifts of these goods and truths to the Lord. Nothing else can be offered to the Lord that will be grateful to Him. But their posterity, as the Gentiles and also the Jews, perverted these things, not even knowing that they had such a signification, and making their worship consist in the externals only.

[2] That the altar was the principal representative of the Lord, is evident from the fact that there were altars, even among Gentiles, before other rites were instituted, and before the ark was constructed, and before the temple was built. This is evident from Abram, as that when he came upon the mountain on the east of Bethel he raised an altar and called upon the name of Jehovah (Gen. 12:8); and afterwards he was commanded to offer Isaac for a burnt-offering on an altar (Genesis 22:2, 9). So Jacob built an altar at Luz, or Bethel (Genesis 35:6, 7); and Moses built an altar under Mount Sinai, and sacrificed (Exod. 24:4-6). All this was before the (Jewish) sacrifices were instituted, and before the ark was constructed at which worship was afterwards performed in the wilderness. That there were altars likewise among the Gentiles, is evident from Balaam, who said to Balak that he should build seven altars and prepare seven bullocks and seven rams (Num. 23:1-7, 14-18, 29, 30); and also from its being commanded that the altars of the nations should be destroyed (Deut. 7:5; Judg. 2:2). Thus Divine worship by altars and sacrifices was not a new thing instituted with the Jews. Indeed altars were built before men had any idea of slaying oxen and sheep upon them, but as memorials.

[3] That altars signify a representative of the Lord, and burnt-offerings the worship of Him thereby, is plainly evident in the Prophets, as also in Moses when it is said of Levi, to whom the priesthood belonged:--

They shall teach Jacob Thy judgments, and Israel Thy law; they shall put incense in Thy nostrils, and whole burnt-offering upon Thine altar (Deut. 33:10),

meaning all worship; for "to teach Jacob judgments, and Israel the law" denotes internal worship; and "to put incense in Thy nostrils, and whole burnt-offering on Thine altar" denotes corresponding external worship. In Isaiah:--

In that day shall a man look unto his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel; and he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hand (Isaiah 17:7, 8),

where "looking to the altars," plainly signifies representative worship in general, which was to be abolished. Again:--

In that day shall there be an altar to Jehovah in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to Jehovah (Isaiah 19:19),

where also "an altar" stands for external worship.

[4] In Jeremiah:--

The Lord hath cast off His altar, He hath abhorred His sanctuary (Lam. 2:7);

"altar" denoting representative worship which had become idolatrous. In Hosea:--

Because Ephraim hath multiplied altars to sin, altars have been unto him to sin (Hosea 8:11);

"altars" denote here all representative worship separate from internal, thus what is idolatrous. Again:--

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

where "altars" denote idolatrous worship. In Amos:--

In the day that I shall visit the transgressions of Israel upon him, I will also visit the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off (Amos 3:14),

where again "altars" denote representative worship become idolatrous.

[5] In David:--

Let them bring me unto the mountain of Thy holiness, and to Thy tabernacles. And I will go unto the altar of God, unto God the gladness of my joy (Ps. 43:3, 4),

where "altar" manifestly denotes the Lord. Thus the building of an altar in the Ancient and in the Jewish Church was for a representative of the Lord. As the worship of the Lord was performed principally by burnt-offerings and sacrifices, and thus these things signified principally representative worship, it is evident that the altar itself signifies this representative worship itself.

AC 922. And took of every clean beast and of every clean fowl. That this signifies the goods of charity and the truths of faith, has been shown above; that "beast" signifies the goods of charity (n. 45, 46, 142, 143, 246); and that "fowl" signifies the truths of faith (n. 40, 776). Burnt-offerings were made of oxen, of lambs and goats, and of turtle-doves and young pigeons (Lev. 1:3-17; Num. 15:2-15; 28:1-31). These were clean beasts, and each one of them signified some special heavenly thing. And because they signified these things in the Ancient Church and represented them in the churches that followed, it is evident that burnt-offerings and sacrifices were nothing else than representatives of internal worship; and that when they were separated from internal worship they became idolatrous. This any one of sound reason may see. For what is an altar but something of stone, and what is burnt-offering and sacrifice but the slaying of a beast? If there be Divine worship, it must represent something heavenly which they know and acknowledge, and from which they worship Him whom they represent.

[2] That these were representatives of the Lord no one can be ignorant, unless he is unwilling to understand anything about the Lord. It is by internal things, namely, charity and the faith therefrom, that He who is represented is to be seen and acknowledged and believed, as is clearly evident in the Prophets, for example, in Jeremiah:--

Thus saith Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, Add your burnt-offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat ye flesh; for I spake not unto your fathers, and I commanded them not in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying, Hearken unto My voice, and I will be your God (Jeremiah 7:21-23).

To "hearken to," or obey, "the voice," is to obey the law, which all relates to the one command: to love God above all things, and the neighbor as one’s self; for in this is the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:35-40; 7:12). In David:--

O Jehovah, sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, burnt-offering and sin-offering hast Thou not required; I have desired to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart (Ps. 40:7, 9).

[3] In Samuel, who said to Saul,

Hath Jehovah as great pleasure in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in hearkening to the voice of Jehovah? behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams (1 Sam. 15:22).

What is meant by " hearkening to the voice" may be seen in Micah:--

Shall I come before Jehovah with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do judgment, and to love mercy, and to humble thyself in walking with thy God? (Micah 6:6-8).

This is what is signified by "burnt-offerings and sacrifices of clean beasts and birds." So in Amos:--

Though you offer me your burnt-offerings and gifts I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace-offering of your fat ones; let judgment flow like waters, and righteousness like a mighty river (Amos 5:22, 24).

"Judgment" is truth, and "righteousness" is good, both from charity, and these are the "burnt-offerings and sacrifices" of the internal man. In Hosea:--

For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings (Hosea 6:6).

From these passages it is evident what sacrifices and burnt-offerings are where there is no charity and faith; and it is also evident that clean beasts and clean birds represented, because they signified, the goods of charity and of faith.

AC 923. And he offered burnt-offerings on the altar. That this signifies all worship therefrom, is evident from what has been already said. Burnt-offerings were the principal things of the worship of the representative church, and so thereafter were sacrifices, concerning which, of the Lord‘s Divine mercy hereafter. That "burnt-offerings" taken in the complex signify representative worship, is evident also in the Prophets, as in David:--

Jehovah will send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion; He will remember all thy offerings, and accept as fat thy burnt-offering (Ps. 20:2, 3).

In Isaiah:--

Whoso keepeth the sabbath from profaning it, them will I bring in to My holy mountain; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon Mine altar (Isaiah 56:6, 7),

where "burnt-offerings and sacrifices" denote all worship; "burnt-offerings" worship from love, "sacrifices" worship from the derivative faith. As is usual in the Prophets, internal things are here described by external.

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