Spiritual Meaning of

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By the serpent is here meant the sensuous part of man in which he trusts; by the wild animal of the field, here, as before, every affection of the external man; by the woman, man's Own; by the serpent's saying, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree? that they began to doubt. The subject here treated of is the third posterity of the Most Ancient Church, which began not to believe in things revealed unless they saw and felt that they were so. Their first state, that it was one of doubt, is described in this and in the next following verse.

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

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

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

And again:--

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

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

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

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

[3] In Jeremiah:--

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

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

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

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

from AC 194-195

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