Spiritual Meaning of

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The signification ships is doctrinal things from the Word. That ships have this signification is because they pass through seas and rivers, and carry things useful for life; for by seas and rivers are signified knowledges and memory-knowledges; the useful things of life which they carry, are the doctrinal things and also the very truths from the Word which are signified by ships, as is plain from the following passages:--

The isles shall trust in Me, and the ships of Tarshish in the beginning, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them (Isa. 60:9);

ships of Tarshish denote doctrinal things and truths from the Word, wherefore it is said that they should bring their sons, their silver and gold; for by sons are signified those who are in truths; by silver, the truth itself; and by gold, good. Everyone can see that ships of Tarshish are not here meant, nor sons, silver, and gold.

[2] In Ezekiel:--

Thy borders are in the heart of the sea, thy architects have perfected thy beauty. They have built all thy planks of fir-trees from Senir; they have taken the cedar from Lebanon to make a mast for thee. Of the oaks of Bashan have they made thine oars; they have made thy beam of ivory; the daughter of a step from the Isles of Kittim. Of fine linen with broidered work from Egypt was thy sail, that it might be to thee for an ensign; blue and crimson from the isles of Elishah was thy covering. The inhabitants of Zidon and Arvad were thy rowers: thy wise men, O Tyre, who were in thee, were thy pilots. The elders of Gebal and the wise men thereof were in thee thy calkers; all the ships of the sea and their sailors were in thee, to trade thy trading (Ezek. 27:4-9);

this is said of Tyre, by which are signified the knowledges of good and truth (AC 1201), which are described by what belongs to a ship, as planks, mast, oars, beam, sail, a covering, rowers, pilots, and sailors. That all these are not to be understood according to the letter must be plain to everyone; but when the knowledges of truth and good, which are Tyre, together with doctrinal things from the Word, are understood by ships, then all things fit together beautifully.

[3] In David:--

O Jehovah, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all. This sea great and wide in spaces; there go the ships; the whale which Thou hast formed to play therein (Ps. 104:24-26).


Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of confession; and declare the works of Jehovah with rejoicing. They that go down to the sea in ships, that do work in many waters, these see the works of Jehovah and His wonders in the deep (Ps. 107:22-24);

here also ships denote knowledges and doctrinal things; the whale denotes the generals of memory-knowledges (AC 42); and as ships are knowledges and doctrinal things, therefore it is said, they that go down to the sea in ships see the works of Jehovah and His wonders in the deep; for those see these things who are in the knowledges and doctrinal things from the Word.

[4] In John:--

The second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea became blood, whence the third part of the creatures that were in the sea, and had souls, died; and the third part of the ships was destroyed (Rev. 8:8, 9);

the great mountain burning with fire denotes the love of self (AC 1691); the sea, the natural where memory-knowledges are (AC 28); blood, violence done to charity (AC 374, 1005); creatures in the sea having souls, truths of memory-knowledge with goods; a third part, something not yet complete (AC 2788); their dying, that they had no spiritual life (AC 6119); hence the third part of the ships being destroyed denotes that the truths and goods of doctrinal things from the Word were falsified. From all this may be known what is signified by this prophecy.

[5] But in the opposite sense ships signify the knowledges and doctrinal things of what is false and evil, as in Daniel:--

At the time of the end shall the king of the south strive with him; therefore the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariot and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall come into the lads, and shall overflow and penetrate (Daniel 11:40);

the king of the south denotes truth from good; the king of the north, falsities from evil; chariots with horsemen and with ships, doctrinal things of falsity; the lands, churches, of which it is predicted that falsities from evils in the time of the end should overflow and penetrate them.

[6] In John:--

Every pilot, and everyone employed upon ships, and sailors, and all they who trade upon the sea, stood afar off, and cried when they saw the smoke of the burning of Babylon, saying, What city is like the great city? Woe, woe, the great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! (Rev. 18:17-19);

it is evident that ships here denote the knowledges and doctrinal things of falsity and evil, because Babylon denotes war ship which outwardly appears holy, and inwardly is profane. Moreover no one can fail to see that by ships something else than ships is here meant. In Isaiah:--

Thus saith Jehovah your Redeemer, the Holy one of Israel, For your sake I have sent to Babylon, that I may throw down all her bars, and the Chaldeans, whose cry is in the ships (Isa. 43:14);

where the meaning is similar. Moreover falsities from evil are signified by ships in (Isa. 2:11, 16; 23:1, 14; Ps. 48:7).

from AC 6385

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