Spiritual Meaning of JOELOther translations - Chap 1 - Joel - BM Home - Full Page
The only definite statement of personal history with which the prophet Joel supplies us is, that he was the son of Pethuel, and concerning Pethuel the Scriptures are otherwise silent. Unless we regard the external form of the prophecy as relating historic occurrences in enigmatic characters, we can fix upon no period of Judah's history with certainty as that which this prophet must occupy.
It is generally allowed that Joel's message was especially for the people of Judah, because the principal geographical references are to Jerusalem and its immediate environs. It is in Zion that the trumpet is to be sounded which calls the people together; it is "the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem" that gives point to the concluding forecast; it is from Mount Zion and Jerusalem that deliverance shall come; it is the sons of Judah and Jerusalem who were sold into exile, and it is the valley of Jehoshaphat that supplies the ex machina for the judgement of the nations. While Judah is mentioned in the small compass of this book six times, Jerusalem six times, and Zion seven times, Israel is referred to only thrice: and then in such a manner as to make it apparent that the name is employed as descriptive of the twelve tribes, and not the separated ten. In each case wherein Israel is mentioned, Judah is understood as embraced. Neither is any city or speciality of the northern kingdom selected for particular mention. It may be just, then, to conclude that the message of this vigorous prophet was directed immediately to the people of Judah, if not delivered in Jerusalem itself.
It is impossible to state with certainty that Joel was a citizen, or inhabitant of Jerusalem, which, to every Jew, was pre-eminently 'the city'—though it is probable. Once, indeed, the writer seems to speak with that conviction of fellow-feeling (neglectful of the existence of other cities) which characterises those who speak of their own birth-place as "the city," when he most likely means Jerusalem—2:9. This may be due to the fact that the Jews never recognised as a "city" any place but that in which the Lord's Temple stood : that is, they did not give that honour to any place in Israel, although the people of the northern kingdom had erected their own temples. A tradition states that Joel was one of the tribe of Reuben, and possibly a priest; but, so far as can be judged, the tradition is not well based. It is true, however, that the name Joel occurs several times in the tribe of Levi, especially among the Kohathites; but it would not be just to conclude that Joel is a name peculiar to that tribe. Samuel's first-born son bore that name, and Samuel is variously represented as an Ephraimite and a Levite. Others bore the name who were of the tribes of Reuben and Simeon.
Concerning the period wherein the prophet delivered his message, enacted his part in the events of Jewish history, or committed to writing the words of his prophecy, nothing can be set down with certainty. The historic data arc so scanty that ground only for probability can be acquired. Scholars differ greatly as to the king of Judah, in whose reign the prophet appeared; yet there are certain indications which permit us to form a sufficient estimate of his times and circumstances. It is proposed to examine these.
The first indication of the prophet's date is the position his book occupies in the order of the Minor Prophets, The oldest version of the Old Testament extant is that translated into Greek at Alexandria in the third century before the Christian era, and commonly called the Septuagint version. Though it is not justifiable to place too much stress upon the matter, it should be observed that the Septuagint arranges the Minor Prophets in an order not agreeing with the Hebrew Text. The prophecy of Joel is so placed that it comes immediately after those of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, instead of between the former two. Whether we have that version in its original form, or not, is a question hard to determine; it is sufficient to note this difference between the orders of the Hebrew (followed in the English Bible) and the Greek Texts in regard to the Minor Prophets. But, inasmuch as there arc inaccuracies in other respects in the Septuagint, and as, so far as our evidence enables us to determine, the Hebrew canon has not deviated from its ancient order even down to the present time, there is no adequate reason for departing from it now by placing the prophet Joel after Amos and Micah. The last-mentioned also being removed from its place to be brought next to Amos. The Massoretes were as watchful of the orders of the books themselves as they were of the words and letters in the books. Rabinnical tradition tells us that the ancient Hebrew scholars made one book of the Lesser Prophets, lest any, being so short, should be lost. This would tend to preserve their order and integrity. But there are other considerations forbidding any re-disposition of the books in this part of the canon which should be noted and weighed. They will be introduced in their place.
Just as Isaiah seems to be alluded to by Micah (Isaiah 2:2, 4 ; Micah 4:1, 3), so Amos appears to refer to Joel in two different passages (Joel 3:16, 18; Amos 1:2; Amos 9:13). It is noticeable, too, that Amos opens his prophecy by using words taken from the end of Joel's. Thus it would appear, if such references can be regarded as, in any sense, reflections of thought or expression, that Joel preceded Amos in time. A Jewish tradition, which found acceptance in the early Christian church, lays it down as a canon that those prophets to whom no date is affixed in their title arc to be taken as belonging to the period indicated by the prophet preceding them in the order of the Hebrew Bible. The prophet preceding Joel is Hosea, who ministered during the times of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah and Jeroboam II. of Israel. Amos, the prophet immediately after Joel, began to prophesy in Israel, in the time during which Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel reigned contemporaneously. Thus it appears, if the prophets are arranged in the Scriptures in their chronological order, that Joel prophesied in Judah during the reign of Uzziah, and before Amos prophesied in Israel. Or, possibly, though Hosea was the first prophet in Israel whose prophecy occupies a separate book in the Bible, Joel was the first in Judah, and Amos was almost his contemporary in Israel.
It is apparent that this way of looking at the question of the prophet's time depends upon the chronological order of the Minor Prophets as arranged in the Hebrew Text. That the books are so arranged, notwithstanding the opinions of some eminent scholars of the modern school, may be justly inferred from this consideration, in addition to what has been already advanced. The books of those prophets who have indicated their times, or of whom we can otherwise learn some particulars of date and place, as Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai and Zechariah, are arranged in order of time, and therefore it is no violation of sound reason to conclude that the remaining five are so arranged likewise.
The following table will assist in indicating the period to which each prophet seems to belong, and the order of their several places in history. They are divided between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah according to that kingdom in which each is believed to have fulfilled his office. The dates bracketed by the names of the kings are those employed in the margin of the English Bible. While they are not used here with any pretension to accuracy, they sufficiently indicate the relative times of the respective kings, and so help the better to adjust the several prophets. The names of the Greater Prophets are so printed that they may be easily distinguished from those with whom we are especially concerned in this enquiry:—
TABLE OF THE PROPHETS,
Showing the Period of their Ministry.
|the Kingdom of Israel.||the Kingdom of Judah.|
Jeroboam II. (825-784), Hosea.
|Captivity in Assyria (721 — ), Nahum||
|Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel|
|Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel|
Captivity in Babylon
|Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel|
|Malachi. The Return from the Captivity.|
If this table can be relied upon, it will be seen that the sources of information respecting Joel's times, outside the prophecy itself, are considerable. We may now appeal to Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos, as his contemporary prophets, and to the chronicle of Uzziah's reign in 2 Kings xv. and 2 Chronicles xxvi. in the Historical Books. The table above given is compiled from the statements of the prophets themselves, where accessible, without regard to those so-called "results of modern criticism" which are obtained by ignoring the prophetic character of the books "criticised."
By using the words of Joel carefully, and in conjunction with the other authorities mentioned, it is possible to depict the historic background of the prophecy with some accuracy.
For the prophet presents at once a retrospective and prospective survey of Judah's state, historically based on the passing events of his own day. In the utterances of a prophet, though he be unconscious of it, the past and future are historically present. Thus the prophet's vision presents the future as the deeply rooted issues of the present, whose remoter origins are in the past. He stands midway, and holds the threads of time past and future. The present is the outcome of the past, and the prophet predicts the future as the fulfillment of the present. But just as the future foretold is the history to be, so the past and the present are the history that is. In this sense, then, all prophecy is history. The history may be enacted in vision or in symbolic representation: still, it is history. Thus every prophet may be considered to be the historian of his times; but especially the historian of mind in his era, with its parent states and offspring. Jonah is perhaps the most conspicuous instance of this. Again, when history is looked at within its more external seeming—when its origins and issues are regarded, it is seen to be prophecy. Is this why the ancient Jews described the historical books of their Bible as "the Former Prophets"?
Leaving for the moment the origins and issues, the immediately present, if we have rightly concluded as to Joel's era, may be drawn out thus. Twenty-seven years after the accession of Jeroboam II to the throne of Israel, the weak and vacillating king of Judah, Amaziah, was assassinated in Lachish, whither he had fled to evade a conspiracy against him. Lachish ("the Impregnable") proved to be an insecure refuge. Amaziah was succeeded by his son Azariah ("help of Jehovah"), or Uzziah ("strength of Jehovah"), as he is also called. At this time Uzziah was sixteen years of age. His reign covered fifty-two years, during fifteen of which Jeroboam was his contemporary in Israel.
During his long reign Uzziah was successful in several warlike enterprises. He subdued the Philistines, "and God. helped him"; his fame extended towards Egypt, "for he strengthened himself exceedingly." "He built towers in the desert, and dug many wells: for he had much cattle, both in the low country, and in the plains; husbandmen and vinedressers in the mountains and in Carmel; for he loved husbandry." To this description Josephus adds that he "planted the ground with all sorts of plants, and sowed it with all sorts of seeds." If so, greater point is given to the words of Joel respecting the desolation of the harvests, seeds and fruits, and the distress of the husbandmen and vinedressers. Uzziah also had a large armament, "who made war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy." "And his name spread far abroad: for he was marvellously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to destruction: for he transgressed against Jehovah his God, and went into the Temple of Jehovah to burn incense upon the altar of incense." This the priests resisted; at which the king was enraged. But while the anger was yet upon him he became a leper. He hastened to leave the Temple, and dwelt apart from others the remainder of his days. It may be that we have here the historic incident referred to by Joel in 2:17. It seems that the people were yet more corrupt after the reign of Uzziah than during it, which may bespeak the unhealthy influence of the king himself.
The record made by Josephus of the king's punishment is so striking that it may be well to transcribe it verbatim. "Accordingly, when a remarkable day was come, and a general festival was to be celebrated, he put on the holy garment, and went into the Temple to offer incense to God upon the golden altar, which he was prohibited to do by Azariah, the high priest, who had fourscore priests with him, and who told him that it was not lawful for him to offer sacrifice, and that none besides the posterity of Aaron were permitted so to do. And when they cried out, that he must go out of the Temple, and not transgress against God, he was angry at them, and threatened to kill them, unless they would hold their peace. In the meantime, a great earthquake shook the ground, and a rent was made in the Temple, and the bright rays of the sun shone through it and fell upon the king's face, insomuch that the leprosy seized upon him immediately; and before the city, at a place called Eroge, half the mountain broke off from the rest on the west, and rolled itself four furlongs, and stood still at the east mountain, till the roads, as well as the king's garden, were spoiled by the obstruction" (Antiq. ix. 10:4). What may be the sources whence these extra details are drawn cannot be known now, but that relating to the earthquake is certainly supported by some references in the prophetical writings. Thus the prophecy of Amos is dated in the reign of Uzziah and Jeroboam, "two years before the earthquake." So, too, having described a similar cleavage of the mountain, Zechariah says, "You shall flee, like as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah" (Zech 14:5). Doubtless, this incident also gives the historic basis for the words of Isaiah 29:6. And if this be so, is there any reason why it should not also supply a like basis for Joel 2:10, 11, and 3:16? If there is none, then the period of the prophecy is pretty definitely fixed.
In order to see the prophecy in its due proportion and relation to history, we need to follow up a certain growing influence in the land. And here again we strike the line of origins and issues. It is manifest from the general tenor of the prophecy that it relates to a period of disaster and an affliction, the like of which had not come within the experience of the aged nor their fathers: an affliction, the memory of which would descend to the generations yet unborn. Yet the genesis of that affliction began in the fore-ages, and its consequences would go with its memory. And what was this great disaster, with such a past and such a future? The affliction, as to its immediately sensible form, is represented by an invasion of locusts despoiling the land, and by other physical calamities. It appears—for reasons to be stated later—that while this scourge, whatever its full scope may be when that is unfolded, was historically portrayed in Joel's time by a devouring flight of locusts, this portrayal was in its turn a vivid replica of some national foe, recalling the devastating effects of that enemy's influence. Beyond and above this, the swarm of destroying insects, and the national foe of whom they were reminders, were the outward symbol of some inward spiritual enemy vitiating the life of the people.
The exchange of nations, whether by war or commerce, is a certain channel for interchange of sentiment. The consequence, in regard to religion, often is, considerable alteration of spiritual fervour and questions of faith. And if one nation be debilitated by internal dissension and moral degeneracy, and the other be more vigorous, though erroneous, that other dominates. The very frequent contact of Israel and Judah with the adjacent nations would be of such a character, owing to their fall from rectitude, as to allow of considerable leavening of their religious beliefs from the outer sources. Not only were the Israelites influenced by the military and civic customs of the foreigners (for it appears that the habit of using chariots in warfare and other customs of state were adopted by the Israelites from the Syrians), but certain religious taints accompanied them. Solomon did more than introduce horses from Egypt; he encouraged Phoenician trade, and permitted the encroachments of Phoenician worship, as well as that of other nations. The heathen and idolatrous practices tolerated in this reign were fostered by the succeeding monarchs. It is recorded of the several kings, one after another, that they continued the evil of their forefathers. Of the people in the reign of Rehoboam, who succeeded Solomon, it is said, "Judah did evil in the sight of Jehovah, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. For they also built them high places, and images and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. And there were also-Sodomites in the land: they did according to all the abominations of the nations which Jehovah cast out before the children of Israel," 1 Kings 14:22-24. Of Abijah, Rehoboam's successor, it is recorded that "he walked in all the sins of his father." Asa, who followed next, was not only guilty of the same alliances as his father, but also took the treasures of the Temple and sent them to the Syrian king, that the league between his father and the Syrians might be continued in his day. Jehoshaphat continued the iniquity of Asa. Moreover, the people made idolatrous offerings in his reign. Jehoram succeeded Jehoshaphat and added to the existing wrongs by marrying a daughter of Ahab, thus increasing the evils of Judah by those of Israel. Ahaziah, the next king, continued the double source of iniquity, "for he was the son-in-law of the house of Ahab." Even in the reign of Jehoash, who came to the throne next, the idolatrous worship remained—nor were "the breaches of the House of Jehovah repaired" except with hewn stone, and again the Syrians carried away "the hallowed things" and the gold of the Temple. Amaziah reigned next. He also followed the evils of his predecessors, and "as yet the people sacrificed and burnt incense on the high places." Again the Temple was pillaged of its treasure, but by the Israelites who had set up a false worship in Samaria. All this increasing evil culminated in the act of Uzziah, whereby he attempted to usurp the office of the high priest. Probably one of the most striking statements, implying the influence of heathenism on Judah in Uzziah's time, is that in 2 Chron 26:8, "And the Ammonites gave gifts to Uzziah; and his name spread abroad even to the entering in of Egypt, for he strengthened himself exceedingly." The idolatry remained: the king followed the practices of those who had gone before him. The people were now thoroughly besotted with heathen custom, and this was the state of Judah when Joel directed his burning words against the people's idolatry.
It had grown upon them; it had a long history: its origins were far off, but its effect was near at hand. The sensible image of the desolation it had caused was before their eyes. That was shown to their natural sight which in a more internal way had happened to their souls. In looking upon the ruin of their country they might have seen, depicted by images, the ruin of their spiritual manhood. The event having a double import, the prophecy has a double import also. The evil did not abate in the succeeding reign. In fact, it is said of Ahaz that "he made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen," and the king himself burnt incense to the idols. Not till the reign of Hezekiah was any movement made against heathenism in Judah. But the kings who followed him fell back and openly worshiped false gods. We have here the story of the evil against which the prophecy is projected—the fact upon which the book turns. We have, too, a survey of the past and future to which, in a large measure, the prophecy alludes.
Let us now turn to those incidental allusions which find their illustration in the historic period covered by the prophecy of Joel in its basal sense. But first those passages which relate to the main point of interest. The prophet frequently recurs, to the lack of offerings brought to the temple service. That this is in part due to the increase of idolatrous influence and worship, there can be no doubt. Among the abominations contingent upon this heathenism that of Sodom was mentioned above. It had not been eradicated even in the reign of Josiah, over one hundred years after that of Uzziah, but had rather increased: for it was practised within the sacred precincts of the Temple itself. For it is said of Josiah that "he break down the houses of the Sodomites, that were by the House of Jehovah, where the women wove hangings for the grove" (2 Kings 23:7). It is doubtless to this sin that Joel refers in 3:3. The sources whence these heathen influences emanated are all the nations round about (Joel 3:4, 12). But undoubtedly the Syrians were prominent offenders in this respect —that mighty and numerous nation who came up against the prophet's native land. Hazael, king of Syria, "set his face to go up to Jerusalem" in the reign of Uzziah's grandfather. Compare 2 Kings 12:17, and Joel 1:6 and 2:2. The former riflings of the Temple, with that which took place at this invasion, may supply the historic ground of Joel 3:5. The revolt of Edom "from under the hand of Judah" (2 Kings 8:20, 22), in the reign of Jehoram, with Egypt's part in the desecration of the Temple in Rehoboam's reign (1 Kings 14:25-26) may be the basis of Joel 3:19. The weeping of the priests "between the porch and the altar" (2:17) may have reference to the sin of Uzziah in the Temple mentioned above. But these several conjectures give way to the persuasion that in Amos i. we have the key to the disaster referred to by Joel. Amos records an alliance of the Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians, Edomites and Ammonites, whereby some persons, not definitely named, were given over to exile among the Edomites. The threatened recompense of which is that the Lord would similarly exile the Syrians. Though the Syrians are not named by Joel, their allies are. Again Amos, who was Joel's contemporary, associates this alliance with the house of Hazael, king of Syria, and Hazael "set his face to go up to Jerusalem" in the reign of Uzziah's grandfather. What was the exact nature of the alliance it is now not possible to say; but the parties to it are doubtless those referred to by Joel. As already noted, Uzziah was active in supplying his augmented forces with weapons, and especially with projectiles. This most probably suggests the idea of Joel 2:8 ; and the great attention to agricultural matters is constantly in view in the prophecy. The heroes also find places of occupation—"the host of fighting men, that went out to war by bands" (2 Chron 26:11). Perhaps, indeed, the very numbering of the fighting men supplies the suggestion of the numberless host of the enemy referred to at 1:6. Uzziah also dug wells in the low country of Philistia and the plains. Is there any reflex of this in Joel 3:4, 18? The earthquake mentioned by Amos and ' Zechariah supplies the natural suggestion of Joel 2:10 and iii.; 16—although, it must be admitted that earthquakes were not otherwise unknown. It has been shown by astronomical calculation that an eclipse of the sun, visible at Jerusalem, took place in the year 771 B.C. That would be in the reign of Uzziah. This supplies the historic ground of Joel 2:10, 31, and 3:15. Let it be observed that no prophet speaks of the sun being darkened except those who prophesied within the era now in consideration—Isaiah, Joel and Amos.
By careful attention to the physical features of the country, and comparison with the hints supplied by the prophecy as to similar features, it may be possible to trace the course taken by the locusts. It is said that the district in which locusts are germinated is the Arabian Desert, and that they always enter Palestine from the south. This being so, the denunciation of Egypt and Edom in 3:19 is brought into the closest association with the leading theme of the book. For the territories of Egypt and Edom, at this time, joined together in closing in the southern boundary of Judaea.
Standing in the Holy City, and looking out on the Zion side southward, the view would be shut in by the rising heights of Hebron, on the northern side of which is the brook of Eshcol. About seven miles south of this stands Carmel of Judah, which, though situated on the central range of the country, and in a direct line with Hebron, is much below it in elevation. Probably the scene of the prophecy extends no further southward than Carmel. Hebron rises three thousand feet above the sea-level, and Zion, the highest of the hills of Jerusalem, and the most southerly one, comes somewhat short of that height. If, therefore, the range of vision, from the horizon to the point whence the view is taken, include most of the country described, and traversed by the locusts, then most of the physical features must be included within these points. But there is sufficient reason to believe that Carmel, beyond and below Hebron, is the real point whence the description begins. Between Carmel and Jerusalem, then, lay the tract of country represented as desolated by the locusts.
Uzziah had "husbandmen and vine-dressers in the mountains, and in Carmel: for he loved husbandry" (2 Chron 26:10). The name Carmel most probably means the vineyard of God. We have here the reason that the prophet, after speaking of the locusts, made reference in the first place to the loss of wine. The new wine had been "cut off"—a fitting word whereby to describe the loss of the wine which came from Carmel to Jerusalem. When it is observed that from Carmel, after a certain extent of fertile plateau, the ground rises quickly to the height of Hebron, the force of the words, "for a nation ascended over my land," is seen. "He put my vine to desolation, and my fig-tree to dissolution," only states what the features of the land require when invaded by the destroyers depicted. Before Carmel, northward, there is an upland plain of fruitful soil on which wheat and barley are cultivated. Carmel having been desolated, and the multitude of devouring locusts having swarmed into the fields of corn and barley, we expect to hear the prophet say, "He caused oblation and libation to be cut off from the House of Jehovah... The field was devastated, and the ground mourned; for grain was devastated. He caused must to be dried up, new oil to waste away." And as the prophet continues we are reminded of those husbandmen and vine-dressers who were placed in Carmel and the "mountains"—a term used of this central plateau—for they were to mourn "over the wheat and barley: for the harvest of the field had perished." If the township be rightly named, the locusts, in taking this course, would traverse Jezreel ("The place sown of God"), a name attesting the nature of the surrounding country.
Coming out of Egypt, Moses sent spies from Kadesh in the desert of Paran to search out the land of Canaan. The spies went up by the south and came to Hebron, pausing at the brook Eshcol ("the Vine Cluster" ). From this point of vantage they doubtless obtained the best possible survey of the land northward. But though they journeyed to Rehob, on the northern frontier of the country, they brought no better indication of its richness than that which they obtained in the neighbourhood of the brook Eshcol. Thence they carried a huge cluster of grapes, pomegranates and figs. The brook seems to have received its name from the plentiful vines growing in its vicinity (Num 13:23-24; Deut 1:24). A few miles to the east of Hebron lay Engedi, luxuriant in vineyards (Sol. Song 1:14), and famous for its palms. The latter gave to Engedi one of its ancient names, Hazazon-Tamar ( "The Felling of the Palm," 2 Chron 20:2). Looking a little westward of Hebron, slightly below the city of that name, though still on the horizon, stands Beth-Tappuah ( "The House of the Apricot," Josh 15:53). The flying locusts have advanced in a broad column from Carmel to Hebron, and their ranks stretch from Engedi to Beth-Tappuah—twenty miles—as they have been known to do in other instances. It does not astonish us, therefore, now that the scourge is fairly under view, to hear the prophet say, "It has caused the vine to be dried up, and the fig-tree to waste away, the pomegranate ; the palm also, and the apricot tree—all the trees of the field are dried up." The remarkable fact in this phrase is that while the vine, fig and pomegranate are kept together, the palm and apricot are separated from them, and from each other by the natural pauses; answering to the geographical positions of the districts wherein they were. In the woods hereabout David had hid himself in days gone by (1 Sam 23:19).
The ancient name of Hebron was Kirjath-Arba ( "The city of the
giant Baal" ). Have we any suggestion of this in Joel 1:8, "Lament like a
virgin girded with sackcloth over the owner (baal) of her childhood"?
Telling words if, while we look at Hebron, we remember that the Canaanites dwelt
From the district towards which our gaze is now directed would come up the wine, flour, and oil required for the offerings in the House of the Lord. Looking a little westward, we observe the field "which is before Mamre"(Gen 23:17), and following the northward track of the locusts we come to Beth-Anoth ("the House of Furrows"), an undoubted seat of agriculture. Again we hear the priests enjoined to lament "because oblation and libation are withheld from the House of God." As the invaders strike across the valley of Beracah ("Blessing"), and swarm towards the pastures of Tekoa ("the Pitched Tents "), whereof the herdmen were famous (Amos 1:1), and sweep northward over the foreground pastures, we perceive what prompts the prophet to exhort to lamentation and fast.
Again observing that the hosts of locusts are covering Jeshimon ("the desolated"), the point of the words, "as a devastation from Shaddai," strikes us.
It is without surprise that we hear the prophet ask, "Is not food cut off in front of our eyes—gladness and exultation from the House of our God?" For the destroyers have passed over Tekoa, and come up to the plains of Beth-Lehem ("the House of Bread ")—famous alike for its fruits (Ephrata), its corn fields, in which Ruth came to reap, and its flocks. It is in this connection we hear reference to the loss of the sown-seed, the desolation of barns and granaries, and the perplexities of the flocks and herds. For inasmuch as the pasturage of Tekoa had been destroyed (and if it had not been, no shepherd would lead his flocks towards the place whence the locusts had come), and now the plains of Bethlehem are under desolation, what could be said but that "the droves of the herd were entangled, because there was no pasture for them; the flocks also transgress"?
Nor are the wilder growths on the less arable plains lost sight of. The pasture grounds of the desert, lying between Bethlehem and the hill-slopes to Jerusalem, are assaulted by the enemy, and by the scorching wind with which they travel. Both the flocks and the beasts of the field are driven from their abodes. "The channels of waters" aptly describes the water-courses nearer Jerusalem on the hill-sides, such as the brook Kedron; for channel is used strictly of the river-bed, or valley through which water finds its track.
One of the most noticeable facts about this description is, that the first place mentioned in connection with the invasion of the city of Jerusalem is Mount Zion. Zion is on the south side, showing that the inroad was from that quarter. While the foes are making their way up the mountain a brief review of the scene is given. The flying hordes hang in the air and becloud the sky. A day of darkness, cloud and dense darkness, like dusk they spread out over the mountains. The land was like Eden before they came, now it is like a desert of desolation. Now they leap over the mountains, and the buzz and whir of their coming is plainly heard. The people of the City are terrified, for they know the suffering that must follow. Now they come up over the ramparts of the City itself, and it is useless for the warriors to fling their darts, arrows, or stones -- the enemy gains upon them. They swarm into the streets, and the houses. Even the light of heaven, by day and night, is shut out by their multitude.
After repentance, the course of the destroyers is changed. They had come up with the south wind, which brings heat, drying up the vegetation. Hence the prophet said, "fire ate before it, and after it a flame will ignite." The sirocco, or south wind, is "a dry wind of the high places in the desert, in the way of the daughter of my people, neither to fan nor to cleanse" (Jer 4:11). "When the south wind is blowing, you say, there will be a scorching heat,—and it comes to pass" (Luke 12:55). But the wind from the west is laden with rain, and renews the land. By this wind the locusts were swept away towards the Dead Sea. The blessing lost at Beracah is renewed. Looking toward Tekoa, the prophet calls the priests to pitch a trumpet in Zion—for he often uses this play on words—and beyond Tekoa to the desert of Jeruel ( "the fear of God") and says, "You shall not fear, O ground.... You shall not fear at all, O beasts of the field: for the pasture-grounds of the desert have sprouted forth." The threshing floors of Beth-Lehem and the wine-vats of Hebron and Carmel shall be filled, and the Lord will return what the locusts had destroyed.
Leaving Jerusalem on the eastern side, we see the locusts "descend into the valley of Jehoshaphat;" we see the multitudes in the valley of decision. As they pass over En Shemesh ("The Eye of the Sun") we understand why the prophet says, "the sun shall be black." Sweeping down into the Jordan valley, they strike the Dead Sea, or are hurled on to the Shittim Valley and Beth-Jeshimoth ("The House of the Desolated ones") against a sheer rise of a thousand feet; and, remembering whence the locusts came, we recognize the prophet's meaning as he says, "Egypt, you shall be for desolation, and Edom, you shall be for a desert of desolation."
Reasons were given above for retaining the book of Joel in its present position. But those reasons were of a historic or natural kind. There is a way of approaching the matter by taking higher ground altogether. Not only do the prophets occupy certain positions relative to each other in history, but they hold respective positions in their representation. It is proposed to examine these in some detail.
The prophets, as being speakers for God, together represent the Lord's Word. On this account the Lord is said to have "spoken through" the prophets, and when He came upon the earth as the Word, He was also called the Prophet (John 7:40). As prophecy is speaking for God, and as God's Word is adapted to the varied states of men, it follows that the different prophets will represent the changes incident upon the Word because of the variation of state in the church. In other terms, each prophet represents some general characteristic and feature of life in the church, especially as to its connection with God's Word. The distinguishing marks of any one prophet will convey the particular quality of the people in regard to the Divine Word which he represents. Thus it will be seen that the prophets, if their respective representations are of Divine ordination, will stand in certain appointed relations to each other; and further, if their books have been providentially preserved in a certain order, that order should illustrate their respective relations. Our enquiry is, for the most part, restricted to the Twelve Minor Prophets. They will, as their number suggests, represent the attitude of the Israelitish church to the Word in all respects: twelve denoting all things of the church. The Greater Prophets are very properly related to the Lesser, but from another point of view. While the twelve indicate the church in respect to the Word, the three—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—indicate the work of the Word in respect to the church. Daniel occupies special ground. It is not suggested that within the extremes of each prophecy the same subjects are not treated of, but that the especial feature of the general theme upon which each prophet is most at home is his particular place in the general representation. Nay, further, that the general theme of spiritual life and progress is treated in each prophet from the point of view regarding the Word which he represents. Taking, then, the special representation of each of the twelve in the order in which we find them placed, they should fit together in a regular sequence, as following one upon another as if by appointment Let each be considered in his place.
In order that our enquiry should be effectually conducted, and Joel's position among the prophets should be clearly understood, it is necessary to premise the distinction between the realms of faith and charity. This distinction having been accomplished and represented by the division of Israel from Judah, it is not difficult to allot to the several prophets the general phase of life in which they are concerned. By reference to the Table of Prophets on a former page this distribution will appear. It must be remembered, that in such a distribution Israel is the kingdom of the understanding, the region of faith or truth: Judah is that of the will, whence is charity.
Hosea, the first of the prophets among the twelve, ministering in Israel, relates to the state of the ecclesiastical understanding in regard to the Word. The special state of that understanding which Hosea represents is its falsification. Thus Hosea represents the falsification of the Divine Word in the understanding of the church (SS 79). Hence the prophet says, "There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God, in the land. ... My people are dumb for lack of knowledge: because you have scorned the knowledge, I will also scorn you, that you shall be no priest to Me: seeing you have forgotten the law of your God, I will also forget your children," Hos 5:1,6; "They commit falsehood," Hos 7:1; "They have spoken lies against Me," Hos 7:13. The whole effect of this falsification is followed throughout the prophecy, and shown in its connection with the Lord, until, in the final chapter, its effect on the worship of God is introduced. This effect is briefly stated to be idolatry—"O Israel, return to Jehovah, your God: for you have fallen by your iniquity," Hos 14:1.
Joel is the first in Judah, the kingdom of the will, and relates to a state of the ecclesiastical affection regarding the Word. When the Divine Word is falsified in the understanding, acknowledgement of the Lord and His Word from the heart speedily fades away. This fact was briefly suggested at the end of Hosea, but is fully illustrated by Joel. The turning of the feelings away from true worship is the subject of this prophecy throughout, as shown in the exposition following.
At present it is enough to notice that the idolatry which the prophet so forcibly and repeatedly describes, howbeit it is of the will, follows as a consequence upon the falsification of the Word represented by Hosea.
Amos takes us back to the kingdom of the understanding, and must, therefore, represent an effect upon the understanding in regard to the Word, issuing from the state of the will represented by Joel. It is also rational to expect, in the spiritual plane of the prophecies, some exposition of the fact already mentioned in connection with the historic position of Joel, namely, that a teaching with which Joel concludes is that with which Amos commences: so that the general spiritual import of Joel 3:16 is the same as that of Amos 1:2. Thus it appears that, just as Joel occupies his right place in relation to Hosea, because the subject which the one states in brief the other deals with in full, so Amos occupies his right place in relation to Joel for the same reason. It was stated above, that Amos represents an effect upon the understanding in its attitude to the Word, which arises from the state of the will portrayed by Joel. Idolatry in the will, as the result of falsifying the Word, has the effect, in the understanding, of perverting the general teachings of the Word. When the heart is turning from the Lord, the understanding perverts His Word in order to support the desires of the heart. We observe, in passing, that the theme of Amos is directly associated with Edom, Syria, Tyre, and Philistia. See what is said above as to the part these places played in the state of the Church depicted by Joel. In regard to Amos, the state he represents may be properly described as the effect of reaction from the will upon the understanding. The perversion of the Word indicated is illustrated in these words, "You gave the Nazarites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets, spying, Prophesy not," Amos 2:12; "You have turned judgement into gall," Amos 6:12. It may be remarked, that the name Amos is derived from to load or bear up. We learn from AC 5774
that this term relates to bringing back from the sensuals of affection to the scientifics. By reference to the following exposition it will be seen that the effect of sensual idolatry is the theme of Joel, and it was stated above that Amos treats of the re-active effect of idolatry on the understanding; that is, the bringing back of the result of sensual idolatry upon the scientifics of the understanding, which is that of perverting the understanding regarding the Word. While, therefore, the prophecy of Amos properly follows that of Joel in its order, it has the appropriate connection with Hosea so far as the understanding is concerned, implied in the former Table of Prophets. Perversion follows next after falsification, but needs the corruption of the will to precede.
Obadiah also belongs to the kingdom of the understanding. A further result of the non-acknowledgement of the Lord in the will upon the understanding or faith, is the activity of self-intelligence, engendered thereby, in perverting the literal sense of the Word. This state is represented by Obadiah, and is expressed both by his name and his words. The name means, Jah serves. Jah is used of the proceeding Divine Truth. When that Truth is subservient, self-intelligence is paramount, and perverts the natural meaning of the Word. "The presumption of your heart has beguiled you... that says in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the earth?" 3; "There is no understanding in him," 7. Thus, it happens, in connection with the promises given (to be fulfilled on the reversal of the state indicated by the prophet) that while in the former prophet the new Church is to be known by the understanding of the doctrine of Truth, in this prophet that Church is indicated as understanding the Truth itself.
Jonah very fittingly follows next in order. When both the general teachings of the Word and its literal sense are perverted, there is no disposition to carry the instructions of the Word to the far-off nations. Or, in other words, there is no desire to bring out the truths of the Word in external works.
Jonah, whose name signifies the good of charity, represents the lack of missionary disposition in this particular. His endeavour to evade the command of the Lord to go and preach in Nineveh is expressive of what the prophet represents. Thus, as the Church itself perverted the Word, and did not carry it to others, the knowledge of its truth began to perish. The lack of charity towards the neighbour is illustrated by Jonah's anger when the gourd sprang up in Nineveh, indicating that the Lord would save the surrounding Gentiles, which was contrary to the spirit of exclusiveness by which the Jews were marked after perverting the Word.
Micah, as formerly remarked, prophesied in Israel and Judah. The reason is, that he represents the effect, thus far traced, of the state of the will and understanding upon the reception of the Word. The Church is in a condition of doubt as to the doctrines of truth and good from the Word. Its understanding is deprived of truth. It was, therefore, said to the prophet, "Make you bald, and shear you for the children of your delicacy: enlarge your baldness as the eagle: for they are gone into captivity from you," (Micah 1:16). As to its will, the Church did nothing good. "They have behaved themselves ill in their doings," Micah 3:4. "They build Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with unrighteousness," Micah 3:10. Finally, the prophet indicates that such a Church will pass away— "The land shall be a desolation, because of the inhabitants thereof, for the fruit of their doings," Micah 7:13.
Nahum treats mainly of the subject with which Micah concludes—namely, the consummation and judgement of the Church, because of its evil condition. "Who can stand before His indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of His anger?" (1:6). The judgement, as treated of by Nahum, is especially that which relates to the faith of the Church in connection with the Word. He speaks of those who falsify the Word thus: "Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery" (iii. i). Their fallacious thought will not save them. On referring again to the Table, it will be noticed that Hosea's prophecy extends through the periods of the prophets until the time of Nahum. Nahum prophesied in the captivity of Israel. That captivity denotes the consummation of falsity, and therefore the falsification of the Word, represented by Hosea, extends through all states of the Church as to its faith, even to the consummation of falsity.
Habakkuk and the following prophets belong to the kingdom of Judah. When the false understanding is consummated, the will openly and avowedly turns from the acknowledgement of the Lord. Thus, historically, the greatest enormities of idolatry were practised during the reign of Manasseh, in whose time Habakkuk prophesied. Altars to idols were erected within the Temple itself. Some of the king's sons were dedicated in the fires to Moloch. Human sacrifices were openly offered in the city, and the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah as shamelessly practised. In this state the moral sense is despoiled of the light of truth, and its trust in God. It remains a low species of emotion, unguided by reason: "Spoiling and violence are before me: and there is strife, and contention arises" (Hab 1:3); "What profits the graven image... the molten image and a teacher of lies?" (Hab 2:18). The prophecy concludes with the promise of the Saviour.
Zephaniah represents the obscure state of the world everywhere, both in regard to truth and good, and the judgement at the Lord's advent. The prophet's name means, Jah is concealed. As the issue of this judgement, and following upon the darkness, a new Church is promised: "Every morning does He bring His judgement to light" (Zeph 3:5); "I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth" (Zeph 3:20). Thus the prophet would represent the obscurity of the world regarding the Divine Word and its proceeding Truth. He also utters the promise that from the very obscurity shall arise the light.
Haggai is the representative of the confirmed state of evil, blinding the Church to the perception of the nature of the Word, and vastated of its good. So firmly had the love of self established its hold on the Church, that it was incapable of ever receiving the truth, and therefore the new Church must be raised up among the Gentiles, with whom the Word would not be polluted by self-love: "My house that is wasted, and you run every man to his own house" (Haggai 1:9). Haggai, it will be remembered, prophesied after the captivity of Judah in Babylon; thus after the Church was in the bonds of self-love.
Zechariah, whose name means, Jah remembers, prophesied at the same time almost as Haggai. He represents the nature of the new Church which is raised up parallel with the vastation of the old: "Jehovah shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem" (Zech 1:17Be silent, O all flesh, before Jehovah: for He is awakened out of the Habitation of His Holiness" (Zech 2:13); "They that are afar off shall come and build in the Temple of Jehovah, and you shall know that Jehovah of hosts has sent me to you" (Zech 6:15). In this new Church every blessing shall flow from an acknowledgement of the Lord: "Ask you of Jehovah rain in the time of the latter rain... and He will give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field" (Zech x. i). Thus, the Lord will reestablish a celestial and spiritual kingdom in His Church: I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will restore them: for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am Jehovah their God, and will answer them" (10:6). The Church shall then return its allegiance to the Lord and His Word: "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for purification and for separation" (xiii. i). So a true worship of the Lord will be restored, with a new will and a new intelligence, and its sign is to be, "Holiness to Jehovah" (14:20).
Malachi, the return from captivity having been described in the former prophet, speaks mainly of the coming of the Lord into the world in order to re-instate the Church, and, by preaching the Gospel, to restore the Church to the doctrine and worship of the ancients. In consonance with this representation the prophet is named "My Messenger." It should be observed also, that the preparation for the Lord's coming which he indicates, Malachi expresses in the foretelling of John the Baptist in Mal 4:5. Of the renewed worship of the Lord then to follow, he says, "Then shall the oblation of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant to Jehovah, as in the days of old, and as in the former years" (Mal 3:4), which identifies the Lord Jesus Christ with Jehovah. But again the Lord is to come as the Redeemer and Saviour—"The Sun of righteousness shall shine with healing in His wings" (Mal 4:2).
Referring once more to the Table, it will be noticed that the Greater Prophets are interlaced among the Minor Prophets of Judah. Isaiah covers a period of Judah's history until Israel went into captivity, or, in respect to the spiritual import, until the consummation of falsity. It was stated that the Greater Prophets represent the relation of the Word to the Church, rather than that of the Church to the Word. Isaiah represents the Word in the work of incarnation and redemption. It is this which has given to Isaiah, by common consent, the reputation of having more likeness to the Gospels than any other prophet. He speaks more of the Redeemer and His redemption than others. Isaiah and Hosea are contemporaneous, because while the Church falsifies the Word, the Lord, on the other hand, is preparing for the work of redemption by the Word. Their names also have similar meanings. Isaiah (Salvation by Jehovah), Hosea (Salvation). Again, Isaiah and Hosea are contemporary for the most part with Micah. Hereby is illustrated the effect of the Lord's redeeming work, together with the falsification of His Word by the Church—namely, that while He preserves them interiorly by good, the Church corrupts them externally. Thus the relation of interior and exterior is changed, and doubt ensues. After Habakkuk and Zephaniah, Jeremiah appears. This prophet, as his prophecy fully attests, represents the Divine Word in the combats against the hells. Hence the deep cries of agony with which the book abounds. The vastation of the Church, and the obscure state of the world inciting this, are fully portrayed in the prophets who precede Jeremiah. It may be added that the book of Lamentations, belonging to the same prophet, parallels the scene in Gethsemane and the Passion of the Cross. Daniel, as it was said, occupies a unique place. He is especially the prophet of the advent (AC 3652), or that of the Messiah, the Incarnate Word, and as such is intimately connected with Jeremiah and Ezekiel in historic time. Ezekiel, whose visions into the higher spiritual spheres well illustrate his place among the prophets, represents the Word in its glorification. But as the Lord is glorified, so is the self-love of the Church the more confirmed and the more hardened in its opposition. This is the state indicated by Haggai, who follows Ezekiel in historic time. And yet also by that glorification is a new Church upraised, as indicated by Zechariah, who is parallel with Haggai; Haggai's name, meaning "my festival," implies an exultation in self which the Jews doubtless felt when they had "crucified the Lord of Glory," which was at once the completion of the work of His combats, His coming and His glorification,—the states of the Word represented by Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Jeremiah naturally follows Zephaniah, because it was when the world was in darkness that the Lord's combats with the powers of darkness began. Naturally also the prophecies of Jeremiah, Daniel and Ezekiel terminate with the captivity in Babylon: for when the Lord was glorified the consummation of self-love in the Jewish Church had come. It remains to be observed that the Greater Prophets appeared in connection with Judah, because from goodness the Lord works for the redemption and salvation of the world through His Word.
Again, it is remarked that although each prophet maintains his special representation, the course in general represented by the whole, appears in each. Thus, although Joel gives in brief the story portrayed above by means of the representation of all the prophets, he does so from the distinctive representation which he in particular conveys. There will be found in his prophecy the causes of decline, the fall of the Church, its consummation, judgement, and end: the raising of a new Church by the Lord's coming and redemption, and the character of that Church. But all this is done from the one position of the origin and issues of idolatry.
In conclusion, a word or two shall be said as to the use made of Joel by the Christian writers of the first three centuries. No passage of this prophet is so often quoted in the writings of the early Christian Church as Joel 2:28, 29. It is used of course in connection with Acts 2:17, 18. But still it is used with a deeper and wider import than its historic fulfillment alone justifies. Indeed, it may be said, that the writers of that period use all Scripture in a higher sense than their letter alone requires. Irenaeus, the first of those fathers to whom we shall refer, in his great work against certain heresies already appearing in the Church, pointing out the place of the Lord's advent in the world, and this especially as the Incarnate Word, twice cites Joel 3:16: "Jehovah has spoken from Zion, and He has uttered His voice from Jerusalem" (Against Heresies, iii 20:4; and iv 31:11). The simple quotation of such a passage, in such a connection, bespeaks an insight not continued in the Christian Church of later times. Another great work of the early Church was that written by Tertullian against Marcion, towards the end of the second century. In treating of the prophetic style and the principles of scriptural interpretation, the writer calls attention to that sense of the Word which is parabolically clothed in its literal sense, and cites Joel 3:18 in illustration (Against Marcion, iii., v.). In elucidating the subject of the Lord's second advent, as parabolically told in Luke xxi., Tertullian adduces Joel 2:30, 31, in evidence of such an interpretation (Ibid., iv., xxxix.). The words of Joel 2:28, also, are put forth by the same author to show that the "fullness of time" was the consummation of the age (Ibid., v., iv.). Again the same passage is advanced to make manifest the difference between the letter and the spirit of God's Word (Ibid., v., xi.). Origen, a no less conspicuous figure than Tertullian in the early Christian Church, wrote On Principles, in exposition of the Christian faith. The words of Joel 2:28 are also cited by this writer to the same purpose as that of Tertullian, but especially to show reason for the spiritual sense of the Scriptures generally. For it is argued, that by the pouring out of the Divine spirit the ability to "look beyond the mere corporeal meaning and discover something greater—something spiritual, in the Law or in the Prophets," was imparted to men (On Principles, ii 7:2). Theophilus of Antioch wrote at about the same time as Origen. In the Third Book and its twelfth chapter of his work to Autolycus, he treats of righteousness. Joel 2:16 is cited as setting forth the same teaching as those scriptures which enjoin righteous conduct. Yet not without some spiritual exposition could the likeness be seen. But the writer expressly connects this understanding of the prophet with the inspiration of the spirit of God. In conclusion, Cyprian, an author of the middle of the third century, in his treatise against the Jews, devotes a section to showing that the Lord is the Bridegroom, and the Church His Bride. The section opens with the words of Joel 2:15,16 (Against the Jews, ii. 19). This prophecy, the writer declares, had respect to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Bridegroom of the Church.
Thus the early Christian Fathers are a testimony, that the method of interpretation employed in the following exposition is a method justified by the knowledge of the Christian Church before it had fallen into the darkness into which it did fall in later centuries. But the method has not its only justification from their testimony; it is its own justification. For although it is nothing but the application of the scientific principles laid down in the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, it nevertheless bespeaks its own genuineness by its uniformity, rationality, and the perspicuous expositions of Divine truths which it enables the reader to perceive as resident above the mere letter of the Word.
WHEN, at Lystra, the apostle Paul declared that God "had not left Himself without witness," he probably did not refer to the fact that there has at all times existed in the world a Church of God. Yet of this Paul's declaration is true. God's truest witness is His Church: and He has never left mankind without its witness. Sometimes ideal, sometimes degraded; but whether ideal or degraded, it has always testified that God is, and requires the life of holiness and righteousness at the hands of man.
In the course of succeeding ages there have appeared on the earth four epoch churches, or successive dispensations: no one of which has been the same in character and constitution as another. The first, whose nature is described in the foremost chapters of Genesis, is called the Adamic, or the Most Ancient Church. Its character was of a celestial order. This passed away, and the Noahic succeeded. This is the church described by Noah and his immediate descendents. It is also called the Ancient Church, and was spiritual in character. Upon the decay of the Ancient Church, succeeded the Israelitish dispensation, being the third in sequence. This church, which existed among the children of Israel, was neither celestial nor spiritual in nature, but only a representative of those orders. That is to say, while it was full of symbolic rites (and all its doings were representative), representing the celestial and spiritual principles of life, nothing of their qualities existed interiorly with it, but they were only shadowed or imaged, as by types, by its sacred ceremonials, ordinances and acts.
With this—the Israelitish Church, the following prophecy has to do. The exposition of the prophecy, according to the laws whereby the representatives and symbols are unfolded, will thereby be reasonable and necessary. The end of this Church came when our Lord effected His first Advent. He then initiated still another dispensation, which was the same as the institution of the Christian, as the fourth Church in succession upon the earth. In the Christian Church representation was put away, and the open declaration of truth by the Divine Word was its charter. But the unfolding of the interior principles of Divine revelation—for the Lord had many things to tell His Church which they could not then bear, being scarcely weaned from the former church, in a measure its parent—was left for a yet later age. The Christian Church repeated the story of its predecessors: it has had its end, and now a new dispensation for a new age is descending from God out of Heaven—"The New Jerusalem," the New Christian Church is to be the crown and glory of them all. This latter is the Church promised by the Lord Himself in His Second Coming: it is the truly Christian Church.
Just as between the Most Ancient Church and the Ancient, between the Ancient and the Israelitish Churches, intermediate dispensations were raised up, so between the Israelitish and the Church of the Lord's second advent, that of His first advent was an intermediary Church. That Church was established that the Lord might preach from the Word, but by the New Christian Church the Lord has unfolded the interior sense and glory of His Word. That it descends from God out of Heaven is the evidence of its interior heavenly light and faithfulness: it is the Bride adorned for her Husband.
In reading the following exposition of Joel it must be borne in mind, that a distinction exists between the Internal Church, or the Church as it is in the Heavens and descends from God by them, and the church external as existing on the earth. The external of the Jewish Church, with the whole of its organization and ceremonies, was only representative of the Internal Church, which representation answered to nothing in the lives of the people composing the earthly church. Thus, the Church actual and the church apparent were quite distinct.
The former is strictly the spiritual principles embodied in the lives of all who truly worship God. The latter was a series of rites and performances representing the spiritual principles; and though the outward church was corrupt, as fully shown in this prophet, God yet provided that it should preserve the Inward Church by representation. The same relation and the same difference exist between the representative church and the Church represented as there are between the external sense and the internal sense of the Divine Word. The external church existing among the Jews, by its adaptation to the genius of the Jewish mind, preserved the Internal Church from violation and corruption. Again, just as the Jewish was a shadow of the Church to come, which was unfolded from it, so the Word in its external form prophesied the internal truths which are unfolded from it in these latter days. The condition, therefore, of the representative church is described by the prophet in such language, that, while it is adapted to the external nature of his hearer's minds, it is, at the same time, representative and symbolic of the more interior heavenly principles of true religion. The purpose of this style of writing is, that the higher planes of spiritual wisdom might be preserved from violence by presenting them to the depraved in an outward form adapted to their states: thus permitting them to be passed on to other ages whose condition may be such as to make it possible to unfold the inner senses without violence to the Word. At the same time, it was intended that the external church should be brought as far as possible into uniformity with the internal, and so prepare the way in time for opening and establishing a truly spiritual Church on earth. The medium between the one and the other was the first Christian Church. The unfolding referred to has now been made by the Lord Himself through the instrumentality of Emanuel Swedenborg, and the new Internal Church is at the same time being established, as represented by the descent of "the New Jerusalem."