Arcana Coelestia #1748

By Emanuel Swedenborg

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1748. 'That not a thread, nor even the latchet of a shoe' means all things, natural and bodily, that were unclean. This is clear from the meaning of 'the latchet of a shoe'. In the Word 'the sole of the foot, and the heel' means the lowest part of the natural, as shown already in 259. The shoe is that which covers the sole and the heel, and therefore 'a shoe' means something still more natural, thus the bodily itself. The exact meaning of a shoe depends on the actual subject. When it has reference to goods it is used in a good sense, but when it has reference to evils it is used in a bad sense, as it is here where the subject is the acquisitions of the king of Sodom, who means evil and falsity. 'The latchet of a shoe' therefore means things, natural and bodily, that are unclean. 'The thread of a shoe' means falsity, and 'the latchet of a shoe' evil, and because the expression denotes something very small the most degraded of all is meant.

[2] That these things are meant by a shoe is clear also from other places in the Word, such as when Jehovah appeared to Moses from the middle of the bush and said to Moses,

Do not come near here; put off your shoes from on your feet, for the place or which you are standing is holy ground. Exodus 3:5.

Similarly, in what the commander of Jehovah's army said to Joshua,

Put off your shoe from on your foot, for the place on which you are standing is holy. Joshua 5:15.

From this anyone may see that a shoe would not take away anything from the holiness provided the individual were holy in himself, but that this was said because 'a shoe' represented the lowest natural and bodily that was to be cast off.

[3] That it is the unclean natural and bodily is also clear in David,

Moab is My washbasin; upon Edom I will cast My shoe. Psalms 60:8.

The commandment to the disciples embodies the same,

If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, as you leave that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Matthew 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5.

Here 'dust of your feet' is similar in meaning to a shoe, for 'the sole of the foot' means the lowest natural, that is to say, uncleanness resulting from evil and falsity. They were commanded to do this because at that time they lived in an age of representatives, and imagined that heavenly arcana were stored away solely in these and not in naked truths.

[4] Because 'the shoe' meant the lowest natural, shedding, that is, 'taking off the shoe' meant that the lowest things of nature were to be shed, as in the case, mentioned in Moses, of any man who refused to fulfill the obligations of a brother-in-law,

He who refuses to fulfill the obligations of a brother-in-law - his sister-in-law shall go up to him in the sight of the elders, and she shall remove his shoe from upon his foot and spit in his face; 1 and she shall answer and say, So will it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house. And his name will be called in Israel, The house of him who has his shoe taken off. Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

This stands for being devoid of all natural charity.

[5] That 'a shoe' means as well, in a good sense, the lowest natural is clear from the Word, as in Moses when referring to Asher,

Blessed above sons be Asher; let him be acceptable to his brothers, and dipping his foot in oil. Your 2 shoe will be iron and bronze. Deuteronomy 33:24-25.

Here 'shoe' stands for the lowest natural - 'iron shoe' for natural truth, 'bronze shoe' for natural good - as is clear from the meaning of iron and bronze, 425, 426. And because the shoe meant the lowest natural and bodily part, it therefore became a figurative expression for the least and basest thing of all, for the lowest natural and bodily part is the basest of all in man; and this is what John the Baptist meant when he said,

There is coming one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to untie. Luke 3:16; Mark 1:7; John 1:27.


1. literally, faces

2. The Latin means His, but the Hebrew means Your, which Swedenborg has in another place where he quotes this verse.

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Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.