Main explanation(s) from Swedenborg's works:
The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 147
Other references by Swedenborg to this story:
Bible Studies:The Washing of the Feet
By Rev. Edward Craig Mitchell
The Lord makes every effort to regenerate all men; but those who confirm themselves in evil and falsity, cannot be regenerated, because they are not willing to give up evil.
THE LITERAL SENSE.
In the text, the city of Jerusalem and its people are compared to a brazen pot, or caldron, or kettle, in which meat was boiling. And we may remember that the Jews, themselves, invited this comparison, by their own saying, as given in Ezekiel 11:3. When the prophet foretold trouble, some of the leading men remarked, "It is not near: let us build houses. This city is the caldron and we be the flesh." And, in our text, our Lord, through the prophet, carried out the comparison.
At this time, the-king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem. The pieces of flesh in a caldron, are apparently safe from the fire under the pot, and yet they are confined in the pot, and they cannot escape. And so the Jews imagined themselves to be safe from the enemy, who were outside of the walls of Jerusalem. And yet these walls were barriers to the Jews, which they could not escape, and which made it easier for an enemy to invest the city.
Generally, the scum rises to the top of the contents of a boiling pot; and then it can be skimmed off, or allowed to boll over. But, when the contents are not thus cared for, the whole mass will boil down; and, finally, it will burn out. And then, even the empty kettle will melt, and be destroyed.
THE FIGURATIVE SENSE.
Figuratively, the text pictured the entire destruction of Jerusalem: nothing was to escape. The prophet was directed to boil the flesh, and also the bones; and finally, to allow the contents to boll down, until nothing was left in the caldron but the dried scum. And then the brass pot, itself, was to be burned, and thus destroyed. And this condition became true, for Nebuchadnezzar soon took Jerusalem, and "burned the house of Jehovah, and the king's house, and all the houses of Jerusalem, and every great man's house burnt he with fire. And all the army of the Chaldees that were with the captain of the guard, brake down the walls of Jerusalem, round about" (2 Kings 25:9-10).
We may notice that the presence of the king of Babylon, at Jerusalem, was revealed to Ezekiel, by the Lord. In the first two verses of the chapter it is said, "Again, in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, the Word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, write the name of the day, even of this same day: the king of Babylon set himself against Jerusalem, this same day" (Ezekiel 24:1).
Now, at this time, Ezekiel was in captivity in Babylon, more than five hundred miles from Jerusalem, across the Great Arabian Desert. And there were not, then, any telegraphs or telephones, or any other physical means of carrying news instantly. And the date revealed is fully confirmed, as to year, month, and day, in the records, as in 2 Kings 25:1, where it is said, "And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came, he and all his host, against Jerusalem, and pitched against it."
Jehovah, through Ezekiel, prophesied that the rebellions house of Israel should soon become a ruined house. And this prophecy was thus given, in a representative form, in the familiar image of a boiling flesh-pot, for two purposes; first, to make a strong impression upon the minds of the Jews; and second, to reveal spiritual truths and warnings to those who can read the inward and spiritual meaning of the prophecy.
We remember that a somewhat similar representative prophecy came through Jeremiah, in the early days of his mission as a prophet. It is recorded in Jeremiah 1:13-14: "And the Word of Jehovah came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the North. Then Jehovah said unto me, Out of the North an evil shall break forth, upon all the inhabitants of the land."
The Jews boasted that they were the chosen people of Jehovah; and that His holy temple was with them; and that they possessed His holy Word, and all His laws and statutes. But all these things did not protect and preserve a people whose character degenerated, and who refused to live according to the laws of God, either in principle, or in form. The mere presence of the Lord's truth does not save an evil man, as the mere presence of the sun does not give sight to blind eyes.
The lowest of the people in a city are often called "the scum," because they are debased, vicious, and of criminal tendencies and habits; and they are a constant menace and injury to the community, coming to the surface, and to evil conspicuousness, whenever there is a general disturbance in the city. But, when a city has fallen so low that all of its people are scum, destruction soon follows, morally, spiritually, and even physically.
The great cities of ancient history, once centers of great military power, but, later, conquered and destroyed, were generally conquered after their people had degenerated, and had fallen into weakening vices, borrowed from conquered nations, and which broke their former power. Arid, even now, archaeology is revealing the remains of many ancient cities, some of which have never been known within historic times, and their inhabitants are unrecognized among the peoples of the earth.
Thus, in every age, history is repeating itself, in the lives of men on earth. Regenerate character is the one and only permanent element for human progress and happiness. Times come and go; nations rise and fall; races progress and retrograde. But, within all these changes, we mark the rise and fall of character, on which all changes depend.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
The ancient Jew could possibly be reached by the imagery of representative prophecy. And, we, today, are in need of similar warnings, and similar instruction. But, if we "have ears to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Revelation 2:17 and elsewhere), we may see, within the literal imagery of the Scriptures, a profounder and spiritual truth, teaching us not merely facts, but, also Divine principles, which are spiritually applicable to all men.
Each of us has his Jerusalem, his holy city, in his own mind; i.e., the system of truths built up in his mind, and in which he dwells, as to his affection, thought, and life. In that spiritual Jerusalem, the Lord of love is seeking to build up every Divine Truth, and to establish every good principle in our hearts, and in our conduct. And if we live in the mental Jerusalem which our Lord builds within us, then "Thine eye shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. But there the glorious Jehovah will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams" (Isaiah 33:20-21).
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, prosperity within thy palaces" (Psalm 122:6-7).
But, if we are unregenerate, our mental Jerusalem will be a rebellious house, living in opposition to the Divine principles, in heart and in practice. And then our condition will be represented by the circumstances of our text and the context.
Every hollow vessel, made to contain food, and liquids for drinking, or in which such things are prepared for food, represents a doctrine, which performs a similar service to the human mind. Every true doctrine is a mental vessel, containing goodness and truth. Water has no form of its own, but it assumes the form of the vessel which holds it. And it must be held in a vessel for practical use. And so truth must take form in a doctrine, which states the truth, in form, and which sets bounds, and gives shape to the truth.
Thus, the pot, or kettle, or caldron, in which food is cooked, represents a doctrine. The water represents natural truth, truth such as is seen and applied by the natural mind. And the solid food represents practical goodness, which is to be prepared for mental use, when the water of truth is set in motion by the fire of love.
The flesh-pot mentioned in the text was made of brass. Brass represents natural good, good as seen by the natural mind, good in outward form. But, in the unregenerate mind, this natural idea of goodness will be very different from the heavenly form of goodness, which is represented by gold. Brass may be made to look very much like gold, but their qualities are very different. And it is equally so with natural goodness and heavenly goodness.
To "set on" the pot, is to set it upon the fire, in order to boil its contents. And we do this, mentally, when we apply our affections to the matter in hand, and operate from love, so as to bring the goodness and the truth into practical form for actual use, in our daily life. All the "good pieces" which are to be put into the pot, represent all the different kinds of good, goodness of different degrees, for our mental use. "The thigh, the shoulder, and the choice bones," are these different kinds of goodness, applicable to the different departments of our mental life, celestial, spiritual, and natural. The thigh represents the good of celestial love, especially as exemplified in pure conjugial love.
The shoulder, with which a man pushes, represents power. And, as mental power is mainly exerted by means of known truths, applied to life, so, here, the shoulder represents the spiritual degree, in which truth is the fundamental element, and whose goodness is the goodness of truth; i.e., goodness which comes in the love and practice of truth. But the bones, being less alive than the soft parts of the body, represent the natural degree, the external good of conduct, which forms a framework, by which the man can stand and move. And all of these, the good of love, and the good of truth, and the good of action, should be placed in the mental caldron, for our daily food.
PERVERSION AND CORRUPTION.
But the flesh-pot mentioned in the text, was used by the wicked Israelites. And, in their abuse of all good and true things, they perverted and corrupted truth and goodness and righteousness into evil and falsity and sin. And hence they were addressed as "the bloody city," meaning literally, those who were evil, cruel, and murderous.
In a good sense, blood represents the Divine Truth, which is the inward circulating spiritual life of the regenerate mind, as the physical blood is the circulating life of the healthy physical body. But, when a man perverts the Divine Truth, and rejects its spirit, his inward life is not sustained by the Divine Truth, but by the selfish falsities of evil. And, then, spiritually, his mental caldron is covered with scum. Mental scum is formed of the filthy loves of selfishness and evil. And, as a scum on the kettle, if not skimmed off or boiled over, remains to corrupt the contents of the kettle, so the mental scum of filthy selfish loves, unless recognized and removed, will pollute and defile all the goodness and the truth, in the human mind.
It is intended that we shall recognize the character of the mental scum which rises to the surface of our minds, during the boiling process, when our hearts are busy in preparing our affections and thoughts for actual use, in our daily life. And it is intended that we shall see and know that the scum is unclean, and that it should be removed.
Our experiences in practical life afford us the necessary opportunities to observe our natural hereditary tendencies, and to see that all impure tendencies must be worked out of our minds, or they will fix themselves in our character. And When they do this, they make our whole character impure and evil. Mentally, as well as physically, rejecting and removing the impure scum, is a very important part of the boiling operation.
The trials and hardships of our earthly life serve to help us to separate the evil from the good, in our mental life. And so, if these occasions are used in the right way, they are serviceable to us, in carrying off the scum of our mental life, which is constantly working out upon the surface, where, if we will, we can constantly skim it off, and throw it away. But, in the evil mind, the scum remains, because the man loves his own impurities, and he feels that they are an essential part of his life: and he will not give them up. And then his mental scum boils into the substance of his character, and he remains evil.
Where the text makes a distinction between filthiness and scum, the filthiness represents evil, and the scum represents falsity.
Among the Israelites, the laws regarding blood were very exacting. For, physically, the blood is the life of the body; and so it represents the life of the mind. In Israel, men were not permitted to be careless in handling blood. They were commanded to pour blood on the earth, and to cover it with earth, or dust, to absorb it; and not to allow it to lie exposed, where the atmosphere would soon cause it to corrupt.
In our text, it is said of Jerusalem that she did not carefully cover blood with dust, but even poured it on the top of a rock, to make it doubly conspicuous, while the sun and air corrupted it. And to do this, was an abomination before the Lord. For it represented the bold and insolent action of the evil man, in displaying his own evils in the face of heaven, boasting and glorying in his evils and falsities, by seeking to base them upon the Divine Truth, in the letter of the Lord's Word, which is represented by the rock. And evil is shameless, when it makes itself conspicuous, even in holy places; and when it pretends to justify itself by the Divine laws.
BURNING THE CALDRON.
And we can see how such desecration is followed by the total spiritual destruction of all true doctrine, in the mind which perverts that doctrine to an evil purpose. This condition is represented by the fact that the prophet, speaking in the parable, spoke not only of burning out the contents of the flesh-pot, and also of burning the scum into the substance of the food, but also that he spoke of setting the empty brass caldron upon a raging fire, until the substance of the caldron, itself, should be melted, and destroyed, mixed with the remains of its contents, adhering to its sides, and the filthy scum, which had worked its way into the mixed mass. Evil and falsity bring their own total spiritual destruction, the destruction of all things in them which could have any spiritual life. "She wearied herself with lies, and her great scum went not forth out of her: her scum shall be in the fire." This is the sad destiny of every human heart which will not give up its falsities and its evils, and which sinks into spiritual death, in which the infernal fire of its terrible self-love, is always mixed with the filthy scum of its falsities. Therefore, "turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11).