The Bible

Matthew 6:24-34 : Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Study the Inner Meaning

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 1, 1749, 1839, 2357, 3069, 3875, 5449, ...

Divine Providence 18, 233

Doctrine of Life 28

Heaven and Hell 64, 281

True Christian Religion 383, 416, 536

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 144


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 193, 683, 750, 847, 902, 1193

Charity 156

Spiritual Experiences 252, 1312

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Exodus 15:24, 16:19

Joshua 24:14

1 Kings 3:13, 17:4, 9, 18:21

2 Kings 17:33

2 Chronicles 29:3, 31:21

Job 7:1, 12:7

Psalms 145:15, 147:9

Song of Solomon 2:1

Zephaniah 1:5

Haggai 2:19

Malachi 3:10

Word/Phrase Explanations

man
The relationship between men and women is deep and nuanced, and one entire book of the Writings – Conjugial Love or Love in Marriage –...

serve
Generally speaking, those who are at lower levels of an organization serve those at higher levels. Bosses boss and their employees serve; coaches devise strategy...

two
The number "two" has two different meanings in the Bible. In most cases "two" indicates a joining together or unification. This is easy to see...

hate
If you truly hate someone, that means you would kill them and destroy their reputation if you could do so without repercussion – not a...

one
A company might have executives setting policy and strategy, engineers designing products, line workers building them, managers handling personnel and others handling various functions. They...

love
To some degree, there really is no spiritual meaning to the word “love” in the Bible. Why? Because if you truly love another, that is...

Hold
'A hold,' 'a den,' or 'dungeon,' as mentioned in Revelation 18:2, signifies hell, because people who are there are in confinement.

despise
We tend to think of "despising" something or someone as just a strong way of expressing dislike, but there is a further shade of meaning...

God
The Lord is love itself, expressed in the form of wisdom itself. Love, then, is His essence, His inmost. Wisdom - the loving understanding of...

mammon
"Mammon" is an ancient word that means "wealth" or "riches," and is used in the Bible in a negative way, denoting worldly wealth as opposed...

say
As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

thought
Those who are 'anxious' are not content with their own lot, and do not trust the Divine, but only themselves. They only look to worldly...

life
In John 14:6, 'the way is doctrine,' 'the truth' is every thing pertaining to doctrine, and 'the life' is the essential good which is the...

eat
When we eat, our bodies break down the food and get from it both energy and materials for building and repairing the body. The process...

drink
Food in the Bible represents the desire for good, and water and other drinks represent the understanding and true ideas we need to recognize what...

Body
The body (Matt. 6:22), signifies the man (homo). "His body shall not remain all night upon the tree" (Deut. 21:23), signifies lest it should be...

Put on
'To put on' is communication and imbuement.

Put
'To put' has reference to order, arrangement, application, and influx.

Meat
'Meat,' as in Genesis 40:17, signifies celestial good, because 'the meat of the angels' are nothing but the goods of love and charity, which not...

Raiment
Soft raiment,' as in Matthew 11:9, represents the internal sense of the Word.

Sow
'To sow,' as in Isaiah 28:24, signifies learning. 'To sow beside all waters,' as in Isaiah 32:20, relates to people who allow themselves to be...

Reap
'To reap' signifies executing judgment. 'Reaping' denotes the reception of truth in good.

Gather
To gather, as in Genesis 6:21, refers to those things which are in the memory of man, where they are gathered. It also implies that...

father
Father in the Word means what is most interior, and in those things that are following the Lord's order, it means what is good. In...

much
Intellectual things – ideas, knowledge, facts, even insight and understanding – are more separate and free-standing than emotional things, and it’s easier to imagine numbering...

field
When we have a desire to be good people and to do good things, the natural first questions are "What does that mean?" "What should...

Grow
‘To grow’ signifies to be perfected.

Solomon
Solomon was permitted to institute idolatrous worship to provide an image of the Lord's kingdom or the church in all the religions of the whole...

Glory
Glory, wisdom, and thanksgiving signify the Lord's divine spiritual principle. Honor, virtue and might signify his divine celestial principle, as in Revelation 7:12.

Grass
Grass signifies the scientific principle. Just as green grass serves animals for support, scientific truth serves men for spiritual nourishment. ‘Grass’ is scientific truth, and...

Oven
'An oven,' as in Malachi 4:1, signifies hell, where the people live who confirm themselves in false doctrines and evils of life from earthly and...

faith
It's interesting to note that despite the prominent place of faith in mainstream Christian belief systems, the word itself appears exactly twice in the King...

seek
The meaning of "to seek" in the Bible is pretty straightforward, but there is a bit of nuance: Swedenborg tells us that in most cases...

first
Why would it be insulting for a man to refer to his married partner as his “first wife”? Because it implies there will be a...

kingdom
In the most general sense, a kingdom in the Bible represents a church. In a more specific sense, a kingdom represents a church in regards...

righteousness
The word "righteous" has taken on a bit of negative shading in modern language. That may be because we hear it most often as part...

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 Analyzing the Lord's Prayer
Look at the Prayer to see which parts are statements and which are requests. 
Activity | Ages over 11

 Blessings: Life Is Eternal
Blessings to say at mealtime.
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 Blessings: The Word of God
Blessings to say at mealtime.
Activity | Ages over 7

 Border for the Lord's Prayer Calligraphy
Color the border around this calligraphy of the Lord's Prayer.
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 Clothes That Angels Wear
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

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Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Dare to Give
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Divine Providence and Tragedy
The Lord respects our freedom because He loves us. He respects it so much that He allows us to get into trouble, and then as far as we are willing, He brings us new strength out of our troubles
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 Do Not Worry
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 6

 Earthly vs. Heavenly Treasures
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 For Reflection: Treasure of the Heart
How can we gather spiritual treasure and bring forth good?
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 Golden Rule and Prayer Crossword Puzzle
Crossword puzzle about the Golden Rule and the Lord's Prayer.
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Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

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Article | Ages over 18

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Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Infinite Meaning in the Lord's Prayer
Think of ways that you can become more “connected” with the Lord and the people around you.
Activity | Ages over 15

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Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Looking More Closely at Flowers
Ways to help children appreciate the beauty of flowers the Lord has created. 
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Lord's Prayer Book
Illustrate your own book about the Lord's Prayer, following the suggestions given below each phrase of the prayer.
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 Lord's Prayer in Folding Hands
Put the text of the Lord's Prayer in hands that can be folded in prayer.
Project | Ages up to 10

 Make a Border for the Lord's Prayer Calligraphy
Make your own border for the Lord's Prayer.
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 Make a Mural of the Lord's Prayer
Make a mural with a section depicting each portion of the Lord's prayer. Then illustrate what each part means to you.
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 Memory Verse: Our Daily Bread
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Memory Verse: The Lord Protects Us
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Memory Verse: Trusting in the Lord
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 No Other Gods
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Our Father, Who Art in Heaven
How, then, should we pray, and what should we ask for from the Lord? One of His disciples asked the Lord this while He was on earth.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Quotes: Holy Is His Name
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Praying to the Lord
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Trusting in the Lord
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Relationship With God
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Seek First the Kingdom of God
The most important thing for us to do is to think about the Lord and try to obey what He says.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Simplicity
In order for us to receive the Lord's words, we must be simple - simple in the sense of being single-minded, looking to one source of truth, and in having our internal and external thoughts agree. 
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Spiritual Treasure
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Taking Care for the Morrow
We must work and plan for the future but trust that the Lord has the ability and the desire to lead us to heavenly happiness. 
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Glory of the Lord
We can know and love the Lord in His glorified human even better than the disciples did.
Article | Ages over 18

 The Life Which Lasts Forever
Death is a new beginning. We continue to be the same people. We meet up with people we know. And husbands and wives who had been separated by death are reunited. This is a beautiful picture, and it can provide tremendous reassurance.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord Is Our Heavenly Father
Make a picture of the Lord who is our Father in heaven, always looking out for us. 
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 The Lord Is Our Heavenly Father (version 1)
Color picture of the Lord with children.
Picture | Ages up to 14

 The Lord Is Our Heavenly Father (version 2)
Color picture of the Lord with children.
Picture | Ages up to 14

 The Lord's Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer is a way of talking directly to the Lord who is our Heavenly Father. The Lord gave us this prayer because it can lead our minds to the important things that will make our spirits grow strong. Sample from the Jacob's Ladder Program, Level 1, for ages 6-7.
Religion Lesson | Ages 6 - 7

 The Lord's Prayer
The Lord's prayer in a color border.
Picture | Ages over 15

 The Lord’s Prayer
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord’s Prayer
This lesson discusses a story from the Word and suggests projects and activities for young children.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 The Lord's Prayer Calligraphy with Violet Border
The Lord's Prayer with a lovely border of violets around it.
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 The Second Coming
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 The Sermon on Mount: Do Not Worry
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Sermon on Mount: How to Pray
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Sermon on the Mount
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Sermon on the Mount (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer
Activity | Ages over 15

 Thy Kingdom Come
Activity | Ages over 15

 Treasures in Heaven
What would you put in a treasure box for life here on earth? What would you put in a treasure box for heaven?
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 Treasures in Heaven, Treasures on Earth
On one chest, write what you would put in a treasure box for life here on earth. In the other treasure chest, write what you would want to pack in a treasure box for heaven.
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 Trusting in the Lord's Providence Bookmarks
Print out these beautiful bookmarks with quotes about trusting in the Lord. 
Project | Ages over 15

 Understanding the Meaning of the Lord's Prayer
This is an overview of the deeper meaning of the prayer.
Activity | Ages over 11

 Vain Repetitions
Activity | Ages over 15

 Why Did God Create Me?
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

Commentary

Worrying About the Future

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

A little boy, hands clasped tightly and eye squinched shut, says his prayers.

Consider the simple faith expressed in this psalm to the Lord. A confidence that evil will be punished and that good will always prevail. The future is bright. There is no need to worry.

We might assume that the author was an idealistic youth - one who has never experienced pain or disappointment. Yet this psalm did not come from any naive child. It was written by a very old man, a man who had known incredible hardships. It is a psalm of David.

Think of David. Although from a shepherd he became king, he also knew hardship. As a youth he had to flee for his life from the jealous Saul. He felt the grief over being responsible for the death of his infant son. Later, as king, he saw his children rape and kill one another. He was forced to flee Jerusalem for his life, because his own son Absalom had rebelled. Then he regained his throne at the cost of his beloved Absalom's life.

David experienced intense pain. Yet he could advise us not to worry about those who do evil. All we need do is trust in the Lord and do good. Indeed, he claims that those who commit their way to the Lord will have everything they need, even if it be but a little in comparison with those who are evil. There is nothing in the future to fear. The good will be rewarded for their efforts.

Comparing this psalm with David's life, we may think that he had an unrealistic view of providence. But consider a similar teaching from the doctrines of the New Church: "When the Lord is present with someone, he leads him, and provides that all things which happen, whether sad or joyful, befall him for good; this is the Divine providence" (Arcana Coelestia 6303). Whatever happens - being promoted or fired, realizing our dreams or having them dashed - all result in good!

A difficult idea to accept - in large part because it seems like the Lord thereby is just manipulating us, causing evil to come into our lives.

But such is not the case. The Lord would never make anything bad happen. And He would prefer that we never suffer any pain. His providence is a gentle leading which causes good things to happen, and tolerates evil things. However He permits us to hurt ourselves and He allows others to cause us pain. Not as punishment, but as the result of free choices by individuals and groups.

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to sensing mercy in His providence is that when we feel pain or worry about serious problems we think that is all there is in life. We cannot see beyond the suffering, the hurt. But while we are occupied with worry, the Lord is already looking ahead - to what can come from the experience, to how He can lead us to grow in spite of the difficulty. For the Lord's view is eternal. He sees hope when we see none. He leads to happiness when we feel hurt.

The apparently random and purposeless events in life are described in the Heavenly Doctrines with pebbles. The Lord allows a person "to go here and there, so that the moments of his life appear like scattered pebbles. But the Lord then sees whether he fills up that space between them; He sees what is lacking and where; and then, continually, what is next in order, after a hundred or a thousand years" (Spiritual Experiences 4692[m]). The Lord's sight and providence encompasses eons of time. He sees all we are, and all we might become. He then gradually provides for it - not immediately, but over the course of an eternal lifetime. Whatever happens, whatever decisions we make, or whatever others do to us - the Lord eventually turns everything to good.

Unfortunately, our view is seldom as long. We cannot see how things will turn out in twenty, much less two thousand years. And when we are suffering our sight is even more limited. So we worry about what will happen. We may try to trust in His guidance, but we are more likely to feel abandoned by the Lord. Whatever He might be doing is both invisible and insensible to us.

In such a frame of mind we might wish we could see the future, be certain of how things will work out. If we were assured of the specific outcome, or knew exactly which path were the best to follow, we could really trust in the Lord - have confidence in Him to lead us.

Yet, in this, as in all other things, the Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. He does not hide the workings of providence from us as a test of our trust, or a puzzle for us to sort out. The Divine does not tease us. But the Lord is fully aware that if we were to know the future, or if we received the "right" answers to our specific questions by a voice out of heaven, we would wind up destroying ourselves.

Imagine what we would feel like if someone predicted every last thing that we would experience for the 24 hours. At first we would disbelieve, but what if the predictions started coming true? It would be disturbing, to say the least. And would we not begin to feel restricted, and try to prevent the predictions from coming true?

We value our freedom, our sense of self. We will protect it at all costs. When we are forced to do something, or if we are pressured into one course of action, do we not rebel, wanting to act against that pressure?

Such resistance is not adolescent or infantile reaction to authority. It stems from our inner freedom of thought. For us to be human beings we need to think things out for ourselves and then act in freedom. Whatever choices we make determine the kind of person we become - and whether our choices are good or bad, at least they make us who we choose to be, not who someone else forces us to be.

Yet, when we are confused or suffering, we have a tremendous yearning to see something of the potential the Lord sees for us and those we love. Unfortunately, if we were able to glimpse it, we would probably work against it. A paradox which can be frustrating and lead us to worry about the future.

It would be much better if we could just let go and trust the Lord to make the best of whatever we do. That is what the angels do. They have no memory of past events from their earthly life to trouble them. Nor do they have any desire to know what is to come. For they are content in the present. Imagine if we could be so fully engaged in our present activities, dealing with what we can do rather than what is beyond our power, that we had no time to worry about the future! It is a goal worth striving for.

But for now, we tend to worry. We tend to worry about our jobs, our health, our children, the international situation, our spiritual state. It can on go on and on. Certainly some amount of thoughtful consideration is important. We are meant to make plans for the future - use good judgment to provide for our families. And we can delight in looking forward to continued productivity or happier times. But planning and worrying about what might or might not occur can become excessive.

The Psalms admonish us: "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret - it only causes harm" (37:8). Do not worry, it only causes pain. Thinking too much of the future can lead us to forget that the Lord's providence is silently guiding us. The doctrines of the New Church point out that, "a longing to know the future is innate with most people; but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil" (Psalm 179).

Anxiety about the future stems from a lack of confidence that the Lord can lead us to happiness. Since He works invisibly, we can think that we are the only ones who have any direct influence upon what happens. It is a subtle trust in self, and denial that the Lord can be relied upon. Certainly it appears as if we have to do all the work, but it is not the reality. For we could not have created ourselves. We can't even make ourselves happy!

So the Heavenly Doctrines describe the Lord's providence "as when one walks in thick forests, the exit out of which he does not know; but when he finds it, he attributes the discovery to himself, whereas providence meantime is as one who stands in a tower, sees the wanderings of such a person, and leads him without his knowing it to the place of exit" (Spiritual Experiences 4393). The Lord is in the tower, inspiring our thoughts, motivating our actions so that we can be led from darkness into light.

But His guiding can only be effective when we cooperate. We have to search for ways out of the forest. The Lord gave us the ability to think so we would use it. If we sit back and ponder our situation, how hopeless it may seem, little is accomplished. Can we add one cubit to our height by worrying about it? We also need to act. If we stand around and complain about how lost we are, or how unfair life is, it is very difficult for the Lord to lead us anywhere. He will not drag us out of our forests against our wills.

It is as the Psalm said: "Trust in the Lord and do good." Such simple advice, but so true! We cannot alter the past, but we can do something in the present, enabling the Lord to create a happy future.

There will still be times of selfishness where we long to know how things could possibly work out, and there will still be things happening to us which are not pleasant. We cannot control life. But we can avoid being defeated by it. We have been given the knowledge of how the Lord operates to bring about happiness in the long term. We have been given the freedom to act with reason. We have the basis for trusting in Him.

Let us then listen to the Psalm, not worrying about the future, not worrying about what is or what might be. Let us do the good that we can, and leave the rest to the Lord. After all, He should be able to do a much better job than we. Let us commit our ways to the Lord, trusting in Him, and He can give us the heavenly desires of our hearts.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 6303; Divine Providence 176; Spiritual Experiences 2178, 4393, 4692)

Commentary

Gideon: Weakness and Strength, Part 2 - The Rout of Midian

By Rev. Malcolm G. Smith

By Hult, Adolf, 1869-1943; Augustana synod. [from old catalog] [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

Gideon: Weakness and Strength, Part 2: The Rout of Midian
(Adapted from a Sermon by Rev. Malcolm G. Smith, 16 August 2015)

Introduction

As this story from the Book of Judges begins, the enemy Midianites are encamped about 7 km north of Gideon and the people with him, who are in camp beside the spring of Harod. In Hebrew, the spring of Harod means the spring of trembling, which fits the story line, and which also fits the inner meaning, in this story line on our own lives.

This is Part Two of a three-part study that we’re doing on the story of Gideon from the book of Judges. The sub-title we gave this series was “Weakness and Strength.” Throughout the story you see these themes coming through. Last week we read about Gideon being called to lead his people against the massive Midianite enemy. But he's not feeling strong; he’s hiding in a winepress when the Angel of Jehovah says to him, “Jehovah is with you, you mighty man of valour!”

Gideon asks for a sign - some proof - and the angel makes fire come out of a rock and consume Gideon’s offering. In the strength of that Gideon tears down the altar of Baal in the town, blows a trumpet, and gathers the people together for battle.

But then, he feels weakness. Gideon needs another sign that the Lord will really be with him. There’s similar weakness and strength in our early efforts at spiritual growth. The call of Gideon in us is some sense of a desire for something deeper, something spiritual, something more than the pursuit of pleasure that the Midianites represent.

The tearing down the altar of Baal is a commitment to do something for more than just our own pleasure and enjoyment. When we embark on trying to become a better, more spiritual, person don’t we also experience doubts - doubts about what it is that we’re going to do as spiritual people? Or doubts about our ability to actually follow through with our intentions?

That brings us to this story, in Judges 7. Gideon and the people are gathered together for battle but are at a place of trembling. What we’re going to explore today is how the Lord takes what we have, refines, mobilises and equips it with the power of His truth to go and rout the Midianites.

Finding the Right People for the Fight

The first task, at this point in the story, is to find the right people for the fight. There they are, outnumbered 5 to 1 and Jehovah says something to Gideon that probably sounded crazy to him: “The people who are with you are too many…”

Gideon may well have thought, “We were doing pretty well to get 32 thousand people to come when the odds are this bad and You want less?”

The Lord knew that if that many people went to battle and they won they would then think that it was because of them that the battle had been won. When we find ourselves with some motivation to change and become a better person we can have a lot of our self involved: “I’m deciding to do the right thing!".

That's admirable in one sense and misguided in another. We need to realise that it’s only through the Lord’s strength and the people He picks that we will have victory.

Round 1: “Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn back…”

There are two rounds of removing people from the army. First, Gideon is told to say, “Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn back and depart at once from Mount Gilead” (7:3). “And twenty-two thousand of the people turned back, and ten thousand remained” (7:3). These are the people who get behind a cause - sort of. There are the people in the front of the group, leading the charge saying, “Yeah!!” And then there are the people who are just as happy to be somewhere towards the back saying, “Yeah…”. If you ask them, “Do you want to be here?”, their response might be, “Yeah… sure.” And if you ask further, “Actually, would you rather go home?”, their response is, “Yes! See ya!”

If we look within ourselves when we’re trying to change we’ll probably find that there are a fair number of ideas and thoughts that aren’t quite on board. If you imagine a natural example of someone deciding that they’re going to be a better student, they might say, “Yeah, I’m going to develop my study skills and be proactive and optimise my time management.” And you ask them, “What does that mean? What will that look like?”

They’d say, “Uhh…. I dunno. But that’s the sort of stuff you’re supposed to do, right?”

The number of people that turned back, 22,000, is significant. In the Word, 12 means fullness, completeness, all, like the 12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples, and 12 gates into the Holy City New Jerusalem. Then number 11 is almost 12 but not quite, not fully there, not completely integrated into a whole. The 22 thousand is a multiple of 11, and has a similar meaning. Those religious ideas that we don’t fully get or buy into are not going to be effective against the Midianites, so it’s better if they just go home.

Round 2: “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps…”

So what in us IS fit to fight against the Midianites? Jehovah says that the 10,000 soldiers still with Gideon are still too many. This is the sort of description that just screams that there must be some sort of deeper, symbolic meaning in the story. Otherwise all these weird-seeming details would be just the whims of a bizarre god.

The people are commanded to go down to the water and, though it’s not exactly clear from the text what it looked like, those that drank like dogs were the ones who were selected. The teachings of the New Church provide this explanation of the significance of this difference.

In Apocalypse Explained 455:9, it says, “Midian” here means those who do not care for truth, because they are merely natural and external; therefore Midian was beaten by those who “lapped the waters in the hand with the tongue like a dog;” these mean people who have an appetite for truths, thus they who from some natural affection seek to know truths, a “dog” meaning appetite and eagerness, “waters” truths, and “lapping them with the tongue” to have an appetite for and eagerly seek.

This lapping represents the part of us that really wants to know the truth, the part of us that is so eager that we’re bouncing up and down as our Master brings the water dish. You might think, “I’m not sure that there’s much of me that is that eager to learn the truth.” There were only 300 men out of an original 32 thousand. That’s not much, and it's probably just a small part of our minds, but it’s enough. It's what the Lord selects in us.

To identify the part of you that is represented by these 300 men, I find it’s helpful to think of people who just love a certain subject area and lap up any new information they can get on it. Think of a kid who memorises tons of facts about rugby or cricket and can tell you what the final score was from a game from the 1970s. Or a teenage girl who knows everything about her favourite band. There are times when we just love learning more about a certain subject.

Do you know any people who have that sort of passion about truths from the Word? It can be helpful to try to pick up their infectious enthusiasm and eagerness. I had a professor in university who taught ancient history - not the most exciting of courses to the average college student. She had such genuine, infectious enthusiasm about her subject area that it would rub off on her students. People would say, “I never knew that someone could care so much about an old broken pot.”

Think of those people in your life who have that sort of passion for learning from the Word and look for that in yourself - even if it’s just 0.9% of yourself (which is what you get if you divide 300 by 32 thousand). That part of you that’s eager to learn the truth - that’s what the Lord will use to rout the Midianites.

Seeing the Camp and Overhearing the Dream

After the second round of winnowing, Gideon has the group that Jehovah has approved for him to take into battle, but there’s one final thing that Jehovah has him do before the battle to give him the courage to attack. He says, “afterward your hands shall be made firm to go down against the camp” (7:11).

At nighttime He tells Gideon to take his servant, Purah, and sneak down to the camp of the Midianites. One thing that happens in this part of the story is that he sees the enemy as a whole for the first time and it’s overwhelming. “Now the Midianites and Amalekites and all the sons of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the lip of the sea in multitude” (7:12).

This is what the life of external pleasure can look like. It’s everywhere—like the sand of the beach - consumerism and self-absorption and this pandering to people’s lowest desires - it’s just saturated throughout the world we live in. And we can feel like, “Who am I to think that I won’t get caught up in all that stuff?”

But then, they go down to the camp and they overhear one man telling another about a dream he had about a baked loaf of barley bread overturning and collapsing a tent. A dream at nighttime means a dim perception of something - not a clear sight but some sense of something. This tent being knocked over and collapsing means the camp of Midian, which seemed to have such a solid hold over the children of Israel, no longer having any dwelling place there. This means us getting to have some sense that the focus on just having as much pleasure and fun as possible just doesn’t have to have as much of a hold on us as before. With the Lord’s help, we can look down on it from above and see it for what it is and say, “I don’t actually want that.” Gideon hears the interpretation that the other man gives that this dream means that God has given Midian into Gideon’s hand. Then he worships the Lord, returns to the camp and musters his men for battle.

Torches and Trumpets

Gideon divides the men into 3 groups, gives each of them a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a torch to go inside the pitcher. They surround the camp, blow the trumpets, break the pitchers so the torches can be seen, and yell, “The sword for Jehovah and for Gideon!”

Eagerness for the truth leads us to learn the truths that we can use to combat the enemy—trumpets and torches. The Word can seem to us like an empty pitcher sometimes—like it’s meant to hold water but it’s dry and there’s nothing there. But when we’re eager for the truth we can sometimes see that it’s actually got a torch inside it, burning and shining.

The trumpet can blast and announce the arrival of the power of Jehovah in the situation. Think about the desires for a life of pleasure and then think of these words of the Lord from the Sermon on the Mount blasting through the air like a trumpet and shining down onto where those ideas are camped:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33).

“Every man’s sword against his companion….”

After they smash their pitchers and blow their trumpets they don’t attack: they just stand there and the Midianites destroy each other. This reveals something about Midian: it seems to be this cohesive group that is working together, like all the ideas out there about pursuing having a good time above all other things seem to be all one message. But Midian’s name in Hebrew means strife or contention.

We might think of people who pursue pleasure as being happy and fulfilled but a life that’s focused on pleasure actually is not peaceful at its heart. It’s competitive. It’s a craving, desperate want for more - for better experiences or better stories than everyone else... a cooler car, a nicer house, better clothes - more better clothes - never satisfied with what it has, always anxious that someone else has something better. It doesn’t want to commit to doing one thing because what if something better comes along? And then, even while doing something fun, there’s FOMO, fear of missing out on what other people are doing. And there’s bingeing - bingeing on TV, food, alcohol, whatever - underneath all of that is not peace and contentment but stress and unhappiness.

With the Lord’s help we can see that we don’t have to worry about that stuff. We worry about earthly treasures getting stolen or damaged but heavenly treasures can’t be stolen or broken. And we don’t need to worry about who has the best clothes and house and stuff. All those conflicting external ideas about what we should do and say and wear and go to etc. they can keep on fighting it out. We can focus on seeking first the kingdom of God and his justice.

Getting Reinforcements to Pursue the Enemy

Then the enemy flees and Gideon and his men pursue them. Gideon calls in reinforcements. It seems that it’s fine to have extra people involved at this point. Given that some of the men he called were from the same places he’d called them from before, it seems likely that some or even many of the original 32,000 may have been involved.

The principle seems to be that as long as eagerness for the Lord’s Word leads the way, then other, less motivated or integrated ideas can fall in behind and help out. It’s important that they pursue the Midianites, to kill as many of them as possible and drive the rest all the way out of the land. When we notice that selfish desires for just having a good time are losing hold in our lives, it’s important to really drive them all the way out, to really examine ourselves and where we still have Midianite tendencies lurking.

Because Gideon's army pursues the Midianites, and calls in the help of the men from the mountains of Ephraim, they manage to even capture the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. These princes symbolize the ruling falsities that have been in charge of our pleasure-seeking. Oreb means raven, which is a black bird with a harsh cry that in the Word is a symbol of falsity that has no interest whatsoever in what the truth is. Zeeb means wolf. A wolf in sheep’s clothing looks innocent but is actually destructive of innocence, just like certain kinds of pleasure seeking can seem like harmless fun but actually lead to destroying things that matter. It’s good that the men caught these princes and killed them.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when we look out at the world we see a lot of secularism and consumerism and people who just seem so shallow and obsessed with pointless stuff. When we compare that to the few religious people we know, the odds seem to be against us. We can think, “How is our small group ever going to have an impact against the overwhelming cultural trend?” How are my children ever going to get to adulthood without being totally corrupted and having everything good and religious stolen away by pleasure-seeking Midian?

Probably for most of us, if we’re honest, we can look inside ourselves and see that there’s part of us that buys into it - part of our minds and hearts that wants it too. We want to have the most fun, see the coolest things, have the coolest stuff. That’s when it can be so powerful to remember this story of how 300 Israelites routed 145 thousand Midianites. Even the smallest bit of eagerness for the truth has the power from the Lord to win against worldliness every single time - in our lives and in other people’s lives. The Lords truths, when eagerly taken in, can allow us to see pleasure-seeking for what it is - an infighting, anxious turmoil - that we can rise above, shine the light on and drive out of our lives with the Lord’s help.

(References: Gideon: Weakness and Strength, Part 3 of 3)


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