The Literal Story
We were first introduced to Abram at the end of the genealogy revealed in Genesis 11. In this chapter and the ones that follow, we will learn how this man, who lived around 4000 years ago, was chosen by God to become the patriarch of all the Abrahamic religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
In the previous chapters of Genesis, the stories in them are primarily parables or allegories used to tell of spiritual and celestial realities, but those meanings became obscured with the passage of time. Beginning with this chapter and going forward in the Word, the stories are not just allegorical, but also broadly true historically.
As this story opens, Jehovah tells Abram to leave his home in Haran, and to travel to the land of Canaan, where He will make him the father of a great nation. Abram does so, and finds land in Canaan, in Shechem, and then in Bethel. Famine drives Abram and Sarai, his wife, to Egypt. They are welcomed by Pharaoh, and Abram pretends Sarai is his sister, to protect himself from being killed. Pharaoh discovers the subterfuge, reprimands Abram, and commands him to leave.
It's an interesting story on the surface, with both God's promise to Abram, and with Abram's attempt to fool Pharaoh. But it's the inner meaning that makes it sacred...
1. Jehovah tells Abram to leave the country of his birth, Sumer (today, southern Iraq), and travel to a new land.
2. Jehovah tells Abram he will father a great nation.
3. Jehovah will bless him and curse those who curse him. His seed will also carry this blessing.
4. Abram and Lot (his cousin), do as they are told.
5. Abram, his wife Sarai, and Lot, travel to Canaan.
The Inner Meaning
At a deep level, this story is about the story of Jesus's life on earth, from when he is a young man up until he begins his ministry at the age of 30.
The beginning of Jesus’s instruction and education by his Heavenly Father has started. As he begins to grow up from an infant to a child, and further to a young man, he will need to recede from the worldly things of life, the things of the flesh, and learn of a new life born from his spiritual and celestial center, and be led into “the land that I will cause you to see,” which is Heaven. (Arcana Coelestia 1407)
As we read this story, we will need to keep in mind that Jesus is different from a normal man, he was born of celestial seed and with that he is gifted with an internal perception that we do not have. As this story continues to unfold, the communication with his interior self, the Divine that is in him, will lead him and guide him on his path to our salvation. Here in these verses his Heavenly Father is promising that he will Father a great nation, yes, he will reign supreme in the Kingdom of Heaven, and those that follow him and lead their lives as he teaches, will be blessed also and reside with him in Heaven. (Arcana Coelestia 1415)
The way that Jesus was cared for as in infant and as a small child imbued in him a natural goodness. His mother and earthly father new who he was, they knew that he was special and took great care to teach him in early childhood the good things about his Heavenly Father. Jesus was also born with the capacity to love that no human could understand. As he continues to grow his natural goodness will be married to truth and imbedded into his being. He will be drawn to the celestial things of his Heavenly Father represented by the “Land of Canaan”. (Arcana Coelestia 1421-1431)
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6. Abram and his family arrive in Canaan where they find the Canaanite tribes.
7. Jehovah appears to Abram through an Angel and gives him the land he has found. Abram builds an altar to Jehovah.
8. Abram travels to a mountain between Bethel and Ai. There he pitches a tent and builds an alter to Jehovah.
The inner meaning to these verses is about the stages of growth for the young Jesus. He is becoming aware of the celestial love imbedded in him and his perception of the world as it relates to the Heavenly Kingdom of his Father. Also, at this stage, he is becoming aware of the hereditary evil from his mother and the temptations they represent (Canaanites were in the land). (Arcana Coelestia 1439)
We also discover the story of the first vision that the child Jesus has of his Heavenly Father and of the promise that was made to Jesus. "To thy seed I will give this land," this means those who will believe in Jesus and what he represents, they will be given possession of the “Land of Canaan” which represents all the celestial things of Heaven and his church. To "build an altar to Jehovah" indicates that Jesus then began to worship his Heavenly Father. In the Word, building an altar signifies worship. This verse is key in the story of Jesus and his childhood. Now he has seen a vision of his Heavenly Father and been told of his earthly mission and with this vision the celestial things in him began to come forward and act on his earthly self. (Arcana Coelestia 1445)
Another state of growth is also revealed here, the fourth state in his growth and understanding of the celestial things of love. These things are signified by a "mountain on the east of Bethel" (mountains signify celestial principles of the Lord and Bethel signifies knowledge of celestial things). Jesus, who is still a child at this stage, is in an obscure state as signified by Bethel (celestial things) toward the sea (west) and Ai (earthly knowledge) indicating he is in the middle. (Arcana Coelestia 1449)
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9. Abram travels to the south.
10. There was famine in the land, so Abram travels to Egypt.
11-14. Before arriving in Egypt, Abram asks Sarai to pose as his sister. He does this because of her beauty, fearing the king would want her as his wife, and kill him to get her.
15. Sarai is taken to Pharaoh’s house.
16. Pharaoh rewards Abram with gifts because he is Sarai’s brother.
17. Jehovah brings plagues on Pharaoh and his house for taking Sarai.
18-19. Pharaoh confronts Abram about the untruth he was told concerning Sarai.
20. Pharaoh commands Abram to leave Egypt and take Sarai, along with the gifts he has given him.
As it is told in the Gospel of Luke 2:40, regarding the growth of Jesus as a young boy, Luke says “that he grew strong in spirit and was filled with wisdom and grace,” these Genesis verses are telling of that time. Abram, who represents Jesus in this story, is journeying toward the south. This mean going into the light, as he is being led into the goods and truths of his Heavenly Father and into the interior light of celestial love. (Arcana Coelestia 1456)
The "famine in the land" is significant. It drives Abram to Egypt. Some two thousand years later, Herod's destruction of the innocents would cause Joseph, warned in a dream, to take Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:14). Egypt, in the Bible, signifies scientific knowledge. The fact that Abram is said to “sojourn” there means that Jesus would want to be instructed in worldly knowledges, too, as a grounding for "cognitions from the Word", as they are described in Arcana Coelestia 1459. The famine represents a lack of knowledge, and a need for it. Jesus, as a child and a youth, needed to be learning all about the world. He still lacked knowledge that he would need as he grew into a man, and prepared for his great work. The Lord, when he is reforming and regenerating us, uses our knowledges to lead and bend and shape us. Some things we have learned will be discarded, but other things can be used to help fill us with his wisdom and love.
As the child Jesus began to learn more about the world, he also began to learn about the correspondences that relate to the celestial truths of the Heavenly realm. The more he learned the more he would see the relationships to celestial things, and the more he was filled with celestial truths of love and compassion to his fellow man. When Jesus began to learn about the world, he also began to understand that the search for worldly knowledge could crowd out the celestial knowledge that he was being filled with. Here is a great distinction that Jesus learned that all men should understand: worldly knowledge is not the same as heavenly knowledge. Worldly knowledge is man’s conceived knowledge about what is true or good. Everything that really is true or good comes from Heaven. (Arcana Coelestia 1465-1471)
In these verses and in their inner meaning, we are now beginning to see how the man Jesus was being taught by his Heavenly Father. A man is not a man without knowledge of the world (the sister in this story is intellectual truths). It is by these basic knowledges that Jesus could be taught about celestial truths (represented by Abram's wife Sarai) and how they correspond to worldly truths. As Jesus continued to learn of celestial things, he was taught in the proper order, from celestial to spiritual to the intellectual or rational mind, and not the other way around. Jesus was being taught as any other child is taught, regarding the world that surrounds him, but what made Jesus different from anyone else was his celestial seed, his spirit. These verses, at their deepest level, are indicating that He has an understanding of how the knowledge of the world relates to the celestial realm, and the celestial truths of love and charity.
If we refer back to the story of creation, and how the days of creation relate to steps and stages in our development, here we are witness to the same process as it relates to the life of Jesus. He is learning spiritual truths that are over-ruling worldly truths, “Jehovah smote them with plagues,” means that worldly knowledge cannot truly run contrary to heavenly knowledge. Jesus would come to understand that there is nothing really true unless it is based on celestial truth, and celestial truth could not be revealed until the Lord had some semblance of understanding the world. The basic knowledges of Egypt, if they are separated from celestial truth, cause "plagues". When they are conjoined to celestial truth, they help guide Abram, and Jesus, and us, on the right path, journeying to Canaan again, this time with a better foundation. It is the same for us. Things we have learned of the world can be used by God to fill us with spiritual truths, giving us wisdom that can help us in our journey.
As the chapter ends, the Lord is using the memory knowledge he has gained, and is discarding the things that do not align to Heavenly truths. The same can be said of us as we learn and grow in spirit. There are things that we have learned or done that do not align to the Kingdom of God. As we progress in our development, we will be leaving some things behind - the things that do not align to the Lord's teachings of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Spiritual lessons from this chapter: The Divine parable unfolding in this chapter is revealing how Jesus, as a child and young man, is led to understanding the world, and then how that relates to his growing understanding of the divine realm. We can see from this story how it also relate to us, in the process of our rebirth and regeneration. Just as Jesus began to discard the things he had learned from "Egypt" that did not align to the Heavenly Kingdom, we will begin to do the same as we progress through the steps and stages of rebirth and regeneration.