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The Tree of Life:


Forming Principles for Life

Chapter 1. A growing understanding of the Word increases our knowledge of our duty to God and man. It reveals many unsightly evils within contrary to the principles of religion. Conscience demands action. This is the substance of the picture before us. After seven years fighting the children of Israel gained a firm footing in the land. The enemies both within and without the land have gained in numbers in peace time, but are already restive and menacing. The Canaanites—"lowlanders"—who dwelt mainly on the coast and in the Jordan valley were the first to attack. They represent antisocial habits acquired in childhood that are a part of our nature, and have long been tolerated as fixtures. They are there to test our professed love of God and obedience to his will, which Judah and Simeon represent. To cut off the thumbs and great toes of Adonibezek was brutal. We forget the brutality when we see that it is descriptive of the manner in which bad habits may be broken up. The tendency to do evil, or to have our own way, is put out of commission when severed from evil thoughts and intentions. While thus engaged in cutting out mean practices we clear our records of them, and the Scriptures become a fountain of living truth for the soul in its new relationship with God and the world. Othniel won Caleb’s daughter Achsah by capturing Keriathsepher—"the city of books"—and Achsah received from her father land with upper and nether springs in it. This in preparation for major conflicts soon to follow.

Strengthening Our Morale

2. We attack evil at first, imagining that its outward symptoms are all there is of it. We make a slight impression upon its influence over us only to gain our first glimpse of the content, which assumes larger and more serious proportions the more we are prepared to meet it. Joshua and his generation "were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel." "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." With the loss of morale in giving way to loose habits of living the enemy seized the opportunity to tyrannize Israel. The enemy was there "to prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, or not." Whenever Israel cried unto the Lord, He "raised them up saviors, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies." There were twelve judges, or "saviors," six minor and six major. These "twelve" are types of all judgments formed in combating evil in the earlier stages of regeneration. The sectional conflicts under the judges were a preparation for the national conflicts under the kings later.

3. Israel was first placed under servitude to the king of Mesopotamia. We early become aware of our tendency to justify evils in ourselves that we condemn in others. It is enough at first that we see our inconsistency, and clear the conscience for the time being with a hearty confession of it, and a plea for mercy. Moab next enslaved Israel, until Ehud assassinated their king, and killed many of his people at the fords of Jordan. Moab, son of Lot, represents the love of pleasure. This is a first contact with excesses that should be prohibited to prevent serious demoralization. A touch of the spirit of pride in our attainments (Philistia) demands humiliation.

Hasty Judgments Revised

4. The next enemy to oppress Israel was Jabin, King of Canaan. This is a return of the enemy Joshua defeated in taking possession of the northern section of the land. The same enemy puts in an appearance many times before we know it thoroughly, and learn how to keep it under control. Here Deborah and Barak defeated Jabin’s army, and Jael nailed the king to the ground in her tent. Again, our understanding of the Word is put to the test in determining the falsity of a principle that has long justified selfish behavior. After much close reasoning we finally admit that we are in the wrong. And when we are led to consider intimately the underlying principle that accounts for our unseemly conduct, and see its falsity, we unhesitatingly condemn it, wondering why we had so long temporized with it.

5. The song of Deborah and Barak expresses joy in victory. It reflects credit on the tribes who assisted in the defeat of the Canaanites, and discredit on the tribes that did not come to their help. It lauds Jael for loyalty. Great is our elation over our conversion to the truth. The non-cooperative tribes imply reservations in the background that have yet to be cleared up. Later experiences will bring them into the light for judgment. Apart from that our conviction is clear, and the error of our ways condemned without compromise.

And Questionable Impressions

6. Then came the Midianites, a nomadic tribe frequenting the region beyond Jordan. Like grasshoppers for multitude they despoiled the meadows at harvest time. Even so, superficial and unsound impressions of social conditions that sway public opinion destroy good will, and engender fears. The children of Israel hid in dens and caves. An angel was sent to Gideon, the Manassite, when "threshing wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites." We secretly sift the rumors to separate the good from the bad ("The ungodly are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.") We readily distinguish between that which is useful and that which is useless, but dare not always take it into the open. Gideon’s offering (a plea for strength) is charged with virtue at the touch of the angel’s staff. He then built an altar to Jehovah-shalom, "the Lord of peace," and destroyed Baal’s altar in his father’s household. The Midianites were close at hand. Gideon gathered the tribes for battle, but sought a favorable omen. This elaborate preparation reveals the demands that must be met before the mind is clear and the arm strong for judgment. How shall we proceed? A charitable demeanor (sheep’s clothing), truth that makes for peace (the dew), and an open heart (the dry ground) ensure success, while dry or severe criticism and apathy (a dry fleece and wet earth) presage failure.

7. Any solid body of men of action under competent leadership will surely carry conviction in a campaign for social betterment when they fight zealously in the light of truth from the opened Word (the trumpet blast and uncovered torch). Gideon’s army numbered 32,000, but 300 were sufficient to overcome the enemy. The esprit de corps is more important than numbers. The well of Harod represents the Word. Its waters are the practical truths that quench the "thirst after righteousness." Those who drink of the waters with an intense eagerness to put them into practice can never be downed. "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon," in the context, is an invincible slogan in Christian warfare against corrupt politics, or propagandism hurtful to the community, whether it results in immediate reforms or not.

Autocracy or Democracy?

8. Gideon healed the wounded feelings of the Ephraimites by acknowledging the special value of their services in killing the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, in the land. The new understanding of the Word (Ephraim) is invaluable in exposing the falsity in the leading arguments for the opposition. But the kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and their hosts, were still at large in their own territory on the other side Jordan. After defeating them Gideon punished the men of Succoth and Penuel for refusing help. They who profit by social injustices and stand in the way of reforms—the "die-hards"—cannot escape the consequences. Passive resistance and unhappiness are inseparable. "Men do not gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles" (Matthew 7:16). Israel wanted Gideon to rule over them, but Gideon said, "The Lord shall rule over you." Gideon himself made an ephod of gold taken from the Midianites, and the people worshipped it. They were not ready for a king. Kings follow judges. The practice of the law must be applied in segments of the community, before we are prepared to extend its application to the whole—the nation and the world.

9. The effort to extend the operation of the law to social injustices begets many projects for the solution of them (Gideon’s sons). One of these, the rule of a dictator, presents itself as the most obvious key to the situation. Autocracy promises to bear quicker results than the rule of love to God, or the neighbor, or simple kindness—the olive, the vine, or the fig tree. Abimelech represents this illegitimate form of government, autocracy. He was not a judge, or "savior," but a pseudo-king. Violence has no remedy for injustice. A drastic suppression of liberty and thought only breeds vindictiveness which ultimately effectuates its own destruction. A boiler without a safety valve must explode when the pressure exceeds the resistance.

10. To the open-eyed, experience teaches the pressing need of reciprocity and probity in all human relationships. This is represented by the appointment of Tola, a judge in Issachar, and Jair, a judge in Gilead. The effort to get people together to fulfill their engagements to each other honorably arouses opposition from those who spurn outward changes as well as inward changes in life. Israel is in the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites.


11. Israel must first settle its account with the Ammonites. The stake in the conflict is Jephthah’s daughter, which means a change in the inner life. If Jephthah wins, the home is a different home. To illustrate the point: we have tried prohibition as a cure for intemperance, and found it to be unworkable. How then shall we solve the problem? There seems to be no alternative to that of personal regeneration. Each man shall draw the line between use and abuse, or for total abstinence for himself. There are many who may not safely touch drink. For them "it is better to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell" (Mark 9:43). Take the case of one who has fallen for drink, and determined to cut it out. He must count on paying the price for victory—sacrifice one of the members of his own household, the first to appear after conflict, self-confidence. Every inebriate knows when he has had enough! But does he ever stop when he has reached that point? No, never, so long as he feels certain that he knows how to take care of himself! No man dare question it! Not until he is ready, however, to surrender his will to the will of God can he ever expect to triumph in temptation. The changed heart must precede a changed life. The sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter after the conflict is only the completion of the vow made in the beginning.

The more thou puttest in the Lord thy trust
The stronger shall thine arm for service be.

– D. H. Howard

12. Ephraim is piqued because the Gileadites left them out in their war with the Ammonites. A changed heart, signified by the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter, necessitates a changed mind, a new understanding of the Word (Ephraim). We naturally incline to interpret the Scripture literally. At first we take even the spiritual sense literally. The modification and change of that literalistic interpretation in answer to the changed heart is not effected without another conflict. Our new understanding of the Word must be purged of everything out of harmony with the spirit of the Word. The Ephraimite who could not pronounce the word Shibboleth "was slain at the passage of Jordan," that is, in passing into the land. The aspirate is the symbol of the Spirit. The Spirit of love—God’s love in Christ—is the key to the Scriptures, and not the abstract doctrine of correspondences. "In itself the Word is nothing but the doctrine of love to the Lord, and of charity toward the neighbor" (Arcana Coelestia #7262). "Anyone who lives rightly is in the spirit of the Word, whether he knows it or not. It is one thing to know the spiritual sense of the Word, but quite another to be in it" (Arcana Coelestia #4280). The experiences which bring forth this judgment lead to other judgments adding to the powers of reason to meet life’s problems with growing certitude. Every day brings additional knowledge of variations in human behavior that test our convictions and require a modification or alteration of them in the line of progress. The three minor judges who follow Jephthah represent a development in discriminating the truth in relation to conduct that prepares for meeting one of the most insidious enemies of the spiritual life—faith without works. We may imagine that we have finally disposed of that error, when we have denounced it in unmeasured terms. Yet a dead faith without works is very much alive in these days, in ourselves too, and only needs fearless investigation to uncover its haunts for judgment.

"Faith without Works Is Dead"

13. Israel has been subject to Philistia forty years. We have long been aware of traits in our character that are questionable. We sidetracked every challenge of them, and tried to ignore them altogether. Our new understanding of the Word has gone to seed working out a purely abstract spiritual sense of it. We measure our faith by our love of it, and readiness to sacrifice everything for it. This is a dangerous form of faith alone. The angel told Manoah’s wife and Manoah too that she must drink no wine, nor eat any unclean thing. The child born to her would be a Nazarite from the womb (see Matthew 2:23). The spiritual sense is valueless except in so far as it gives faith its life’s tests from day to day. For "unless a man shun evils, nothing of his worship is good, and in like manner nothing of his works" (Doctrine of Life #30). "To shun evils as sins is the Christian religion itself, and faith separate from charity is the only obstacle to its adoption" (Divine Providence #265). The perception of this truth is from above. When conceived, brought forth and nurtured faithfully, we are prepared to meet a great enemy in ourselves to spiritual progress, or real religion.

14. The Scriptures consistently testify throughout that we can know when we are in the wrong, and overcome that wrong. Experience is equally unequivocal in its testimony that we vehemently protest against opening our book of life, and gazing fearlessly at the record against us within. The defiance displayed at the first suggestion of guilt is like the roar of a lion in the way. We are exceedingly touchy, taking violent offense at the least hint of guilt. Au contraire, it is utter folly to resist investigation. Why live under the delusion that we can hide anything from God, or get away with the least unworthy thought? Why not face the light? Samson killed the lion on his way to marry a Philistine woman. We gain much when under criticism we mark the sudden appearance of rising indignation and resentment, silence the fierce passion, and look into the situation with equanimity. At the marriage in Timnath, Samson propounded a riddle to the Philistines which led to a separation from his wife. And its meaning for us? Experience teaches us that when we are open to conviction of sin, even in part, we find a new satisfaction, and even a delight, in upholding reasons for at least modifying corrupt habits of life. We cannot justify them as before. "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness."

15. But new difficulties come to the surface. Most bad habits have good and evil in them. The good is used to justify procrastination in dealing with the evil. Samson returned to his wife, but her father protested that she had been given to a Philistine. In reprisal Samson destroyed their wheat crop, and vineyards and olives. Further reflection upon the persistence of evil habits leads to the further conclusion that unless the evil is separated from the good in them, it will ultimately destroy all the good in human nature. Good and evil cannot live together. Evil habits gain strength when we temporize with them, or take the line of least resistance by indulging them. Courage to resist weakens until we seem powerless to do anything. The men of Judah bind Samson, and hand him over to the Philistines. Something must be done. The jawbone of an ass that smote the Philistines signifies the use of reason to condemn further delay, and enforce action. Evil must be curbed, and we can only learn in what manner this can be done, when strained to make amends for past apathy and neglect.

16. We may need to suffer more, however, to appreciate the gravity of postponing the day of reckoning. The practice of habits which we condemn in others is adulterous. Can we justify that? The Philistines have Samson entrapped in Gaza, a walled city, but Samson carried away the gates of the city to Hebron. The wiles of the flesh get us into many a tight place, but there is always a way out, when we take the bull by the horns. There is no limit to the strength available when our duty to God is clear. This lesson is further illustrated in Samson’s relationship with Delilah (whose name means "languid, feeble, weak") in the valley of Sorek. Three times she enticed Samson to divulge the secret of his power, and three times he deceived her. But the fourth time he succumbed to her allurements. His enemies deprived him of his eyesight, and put him in prison. To trust in knowledge, and let well enough alone, takes all the force out of the simple precepts of God’s Word, blinds us to the duty before us, and destroys our freedom. The degradation due to this relapse shames us to make amends for our blindness. The child in man gives direction to a last effort to put an end to the emasculating worship of culture and wealth. No lesson learned and honestly put to service even half-heartedly is lost. Samson sacrificed his life in the temple of Dagon, but was buried in his native land. The experience is preserved in "the kingdom within." It is a bit of heaven that forms part of the background of our nature in subsequent trials.

17. We now enter the period of transition from judges to kings. Samson was the last of the twelve judges. In the days that followed him "there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." This does not imply that religion has been discarded. We go to church as usual, but our worship is for the most part a pleasurable recreation. Life’s interest at this juncture is centered in fashioning an idol—a silver idol. Our chief delight is in a course of action that promises to bring prosperity or fame—with, of course, the sanction of the church. The intention at least is to pursue our worldly objective on strictly honorable lines. Yes! But the benison of religion is paid for. Micah expected that the Lord would do him good, seeing he had a Levite as his priest. His priest, however, was hired. Self-interest is at the bottom of the whole scheme, as presently appears in the light.

The End Justifies the Means?

18. The Philistines were making it too hot for the Danites to hold the inheritance allotted to them. Therefore the Danites sought a home elsewhere. On the way to take possession of it, they robbed the house of Micah of its idols. Our judgment, which Dan represents, is greatly weakened by a loss of courage, and an open attempt to escape from life’s responsibilities (Philistinism). Note how closely this dovetails into the description of Dan’s new home by the spies. "They came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate (or, heir of restraint) in the land, that might put them to shame in anything; and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man." It all fits in with the robbery of Micah’s idols and hired priest. It is a disappointing but challenging picture of a relapse to mammon worship, choosing the broad and easy way in preference to the strait and narrow way. The golden calf set up later in Dan marks a resurgence of this same spirit. But more significant of Dan’s decline is the fact that this is the first permanent breach in the nation. Barring the mention of the tribe in Ezekiel’s vision (chapter 48), there is no further mention of it in the Scriptures. And John omits the name from the list of the twelve in the seventh chapter of the Apocalypse.

19. The consequences of this defection—letting down on the resistance of evil—appear in the closing chapters of Judges. We fall to rise. The light shines forth out of a very dark background. The Levite represents one who is genuinely interested in the life of religion and the study of the Word, but thinks more of setting the world right, than of first setting himself right with God. The ideas to which he is wedded are mixed, partly good and partly bad. This the concubine from Bethlehem Judah, the birthplace of the Savior, represents. The church calls the union of good and evil adulterous. The concubine "played the whore against" the Levite. The hereditary tendency to the evil overruled all scruples, however, on the ground that the end justifies the means. Her father brought the two together again. The end is good—to save, to better the conditions of living. The Levite and his concubine were on their way to the house of God, but by sunset they had only reached Gibeah. There the concubine was humbled by the Benjamites to the point of death. Good intentions sometimes pave the way to hell. "Benjamin was the last of the twelve sons of Israel, and signifies the Word in the ultimate sense which is natural. He signifies also the last thing of the Church and of Heaven, the conjunction of good and truth in the natural man, and through good conjunction with the spiritual man; for all that is good in the natural man flows in from the spiritual man, that is, through the spiritual man from the Lord" (Apocalypse Explained #449). The corruption of this spirit in an effort to justify the means by the end destroys the power of the letter of the Word, the good life in man, and the point of contact with heaven and the Lord. It takes the bottom out of everything worth living for. Everything rests upon separating good from evil, truth from falsity in speech and action. "Where conscience is relaxed there is no medium through which the Lord may inflow" (Arcana Coelestia #1835). It is astonishing to find how universal is the weakness in men to justify vicious practices by the end—a good intention. Being fundamentally wrong, threatening the entire breakdown of character, it demands the united effort of everything of sterling value in character—faith, obedience, worship, intelligence, courage, love of God and man, etc.—to rectify this great wrong.

20. Benjamin—"son of the right hand"—represents the power of the truth motivated by love. It is not surprising, therefore, that Benjamin’s chief defenders against the attack of all their brethren were "seven hundred left-handed men, every one of whom could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss." The left hand signifies the power of intellectuality, and the stones signify arguments in self-defense. The good of one’s country justifies all brutality in war, and corruption in party politics! The good of children justifies the cruelty of parents, or teachers! The good of the state justifies ill treatment of criminals! And the church has much brutality to answer for that was credited, or debited, to the good of man’s soul. So keen is the logic of those who see only their objective—the good of others—that the appeal of religion falls short on two counts. It cannot be proved that the heart is wrong. Neither can it be proved that the head is at fault. Only on the third count can religion score a victory, and that is on the question of life. The life product is ruinous to the personal and public welfare.

21. The Benjamites were so thoroughly decimated that only six hundred men, who fled to the rock Rimmon in Judah, were left alive. For them four hundred virgins from Jabesh Gilead, beyond Jordan, were provided to save the tribe from extinction. The spiritual, enlisting one’s whole being in doing right, because it is right, reopens the way for the inception of the kingdom of the Lord. Hereafter the power and the meaning of the Scriptures is determined by its practicability. The stock of Benjamin is now mothered by the Gileadites. Gilead signifies "the first good, which is that of the senses of the body; for it is the good or the pleasure of these into which the man who is being regenerated is first of all initiated" (Arcana Coelestia #4117). More and more the growth of the Church will be dependent upon her ability to show plainly the bearing of revelation upon the daily life of her people. Abstract doctrine will always have a place in the Church. But the power of the Church for good in the world will be measured by her ability to lead men to greater freedom, and peace, and joy. "In these days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes." To all appearance we are the same today individually and collectively as we were yesterday and the day before. We have learned nothing from experience. That is the outside, most disappointing and discouraging. Such is the situation because we insist that the cause is on the surface, and not at the center in our own hearts. It takes a lifetime to learn that from experience.


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