The Bible

Matthew 2:1-12 : The Story of the Wise Men

Study the Inner Meaning

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 113, 117, 1171, 2135, 3249, 3762, 4262, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 277, 913

Sacred Scripture 23

True Christian Religion 205


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 72, 242, 324, 422, 433, 449, 491, ...

Coronis (An Appendix to True Christian Religion) 2, 41

Scriptural Confirmations 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 14, 31, ...

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:


  Spiritual Topics:


Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Numbers 24:17

Joshua 5:14

2 Samuel 2

1 Chronicles 11:2

Psalms 72:10, 78:71

Isaiah 40:11, 60:6

Jonah 4:6

Micah 5:1

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 by following this link.


 Adoration of the Wise Men
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Adoration of the Wise Men
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 Angels in the Christmas Story
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Behold, the Star
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Birth of the Lord
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Childhood of Jesus
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Christmas Star
Gives directions for assembling four large triangles into a beautiful star. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Correspondences of Gold
Illustrations of three stories in the Word that mention gold. (Quotations are the King James translation.)
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Fall Down and Worship Him
Think about your day tomorrow, and prioritize your various activities by thinking about what the Lord wants you to do.
Activity | Ages over 15

 Five Christmas Scenes
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Flee to Egypt
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Flight into Egypt
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Flight into Egypt Silhouette
"Cut out the pieces to show the silhouettes of Mary and Joseph taking the young Child to Egypt, then assemble on a large piece of blue paper and add stars by using glitter or small star stickers. "
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Following the Star
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Follow the Star Dramatization
This simple dramatization of the story of the wise men following the star to find the baby Lord includes a script and an illustration of Mary, Joseph, and the young Child.
Activity | Ages 3 - 7

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

 Gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Gifts of the Wise Men
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 His Star Still Shines
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Jesus' Childhood
People are born without a set purpose and develop a purpose as they learn and choose a pathway. Jesus was born with an identity and a purpose; He had to discover His identity and become true to it.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Joy in the Coming of Our Lord
Like the star that led the wise men, the truth will lead us to the Lord and make us happy. But the real joy in our lives will be when we come to the Lord offering gifts to Him, as the wise men did.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Lacing Star
Print this star onto card stock, punch holes around the edge, then use yarn with sparkly (metallic) strands to “sew” around the edge of the star to make it sparkle.
Project | Ages 4 - 8

 Making Christmas Star Cookies
Ideas for decorating rolled cookies cut in the shape of stars. 
Project | Ages over 7

 Memory Verse: The Guiding Star
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Pop-up Crèche Card for Christmas
A lovely project to color and assemble. Designed by Eudora Sellner Walsh.
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 Quotes: Prophecies of the Advent
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: The Guiding Star
Teachings from the Lord's Word for Christmas about the guiding star.
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Unto Us a Child Is Born
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Quotes: Using Our Talents
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Scroll of Angelic Appearances in Christmas Story
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Show and Tell the Gifts of the Wise Men
Read about the three gifts in Matthew 2. Then show everyone some gold, frankincense and myrrh. Discuss ways we can give these symbolic gifts to the Lord.
Activity | All Ages

 Signs at Christmas
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Star of Wonder
Four ways to picture the star in the dark of night.
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 Star Out of Jacob
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Star Out of Jacob with Quote
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Stars
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Story of the Wise Men Scene Boxes
Paint four sides of a box to show 4 different scenes from the story of the wise men.
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Story of the Wisemen Stained Glass Windows
Make stained glass windows depicting the star of wonder, the three wise men following the star or the wise men presenting their gifts before the Lord.
Project | Ages 4 - 14

 Strange Gifts
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Christmas Star
As we think about stars at Christmas time, let us invite the Lord into our hearts and minds so that His Christmas star will light the way to heaven for us.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Flight into Egypt
Angels came to Joseph in a dream to help protect the baby Lord. Angels can help protect us too. Sample from the Jacob's Ladder Program, Level 1, for ages 6-7.
Religion Lesson | Ages 6 - 7

 The Gold of the Wisemen
Gold stands for loving the Lord. This was the first gift that the wise men gave the Lord because it is essential for worshiping the Lord. You can give the Lord the gift of spiritual gold - the gift of love. 
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Guiding Star [salt crystal star]
Paint a beautiful guiding star and then use salt crystals on wet paint to make a starry sky for the background.
Project | Ages over 7

 The Innocence of Love
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Lord Come into the World
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 Lord Comes into the World (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Lord Comes into the World (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Lord Comes into the World (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Murder of the Innocents and the Flight into Egypt
Within each one of us the Lord’s wonderful Providence keeps what is most important safe from harm. In time, this protection makes it possible for us to prepare ourselves to become angels in heaven.
Worship Talk | Ages 15 - 17

 The Slaughter of the Innocents
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Star of Bethlehem
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Three Gifts of the Wise Men
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Visit of the Wise Men (3-5 years)
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 The Visit of the Wise Men (6-8 years)
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 The Visit of the Wise Men (9-11 years)
Project | Ages 11 - 14

 The Wise Men
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Wise Men
Two project ideas for picturing the wise men.  
Project | Ages 4 - 14

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

 The Wise Men
The wise men brought gifts to the baby Lord. How are we to search for the Lord? What gifts should we bring Him?
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

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

 The Wise Men
A story for young children with color illustrations.
Story | Ages 4 - 10

 The Wisemen Diorama
Print this project onto thick paper (such as cover stock). Then color the wise men, the camels, and the background scene of Bethlehem and assemble a diorama with the wise men looking at the star. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 The Wisemen Present Gifts
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Wisemen Rejoice to See the Star
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Wise Men Worship the Lord
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Christmas Initial Letters
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Christmas Scenes
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Kings from the East
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Three Wise Men
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?
Lesson and activities comparing what the Lord wills to what He permits so that people can be free to make heavenly or hellish choices in their lives.
Religion Lesson | Ages over 15

 Why the Lord Was Taken into Egypt
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Wise Men Follow the Star
At the time of the Lord’s birth a beautiful star appeared in the night sky. It was a star of heavenly light and only people whose spiritual eyes had been opened could see it. Far away from Bethlehem, in the land to the east, this special star was seen by some wise men. Sample from the Jacob’s Ladder Program, Level 2, for ages 7-8.
Religion Lesson | Ages 7 - 8

 Wise Men from the East
Presents a dramatic word-picture of the wise men's journey and a message for us all: If you wish to be wise, and to be made happy with an exceeding great joy, follow the Lord's star.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Wisemen See Star
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Wisemen's Gift Ornaments
Make ornaments for your tree by printing pictures of wise men's gifts on stiff paper (such as cover stock). Then color the gifts, cut them out, and display on your tree.
Project | Ages up to 10

Commentary

Departing into Our Own Country Another Way

The wise men are warned in a dream, not to return to Herod.

As the Christmas season winds down, there is with most of us a mix of emotions – some gratitude, some sadness, perhaps a little wistfulness, a blend of inspired, happy memories and much food for thought. In addition there is the hope and promise of a new year with all its important possibilities for natural and spiritual growth. Where will we be a year from now, and what will we have learned? How will we feel, and who will be sharing their feelings with us? Why will we make the particular decisions that take us into the next new year?

In Psalm 20, David offers a beautiful prayer of blessing for all who trust in the Lord:

"May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble; may the name of the God of Jacob defend you; may He send you help from the sanctuary, and strengthen you out of Zion; may He remember all your offerings, and accept your burnt sacrifice. Selah. May He grant you according to your heart's desire, and fulfill all your purpose... May the Lord fulfill all your petitions." (Psalms 20:1-5).

The prayer, of course, does not stop there, but goes on to acknowledge the power of the Lord and our need to trust Him if we are to receive these blessings. So as we read in the Heavenly Doctrines, the whole Psalm really is about redemption and salvation by the Lord. He is the one who provides for all our needs, and He has done so, at least initially, by coming into the world to bring the hells under control, to restore order in the heavens, and to establish His church on earth (True Christian Religion 84).

The fact is, the Lord HAS answered us in the day of trouble; the name, that is, the pure love and wisdom of the God of Jacob HAS defended us. He HAS sent us help from the sanctuary of heaven so that the desires of our hearts could be granted, our petitions fulfilled. The theme of the 20th Psalm is carried further in the 37th Psalm,

"Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." (Psalms 37:1-4).

It's not as if the Lord will give us anything we want, but if we want what He wants, and we take delight in that, He will bring it to pass, as He actually gives us the desires that fill our hearts. In the Christmas story we read of many whose inmost desires were fulfilled by the Lord's coming: Zacharias and Elizabeth were given a son in their old age; Mary was granted to be the mother of the Lord; the shepherds the wise men, Simeon and Anna all saw the fulfillment of ancient prophecies in their lives. But then what? How did these characters respond to these events in the days and years afterward? What became of them and what did they DO as a result of their extraordinary experiences?

It's at least interesting that hardly anything is said about any of them after the Lord's birth. But what little is said shows the impact it had on them. Simeon in his old age declared that his whole life had been fulfilled, saying, "Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word" (Luke 2:29). Anna, although very old as well, "spoke of Him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). Mary appears from time to time as a background figure in her role as mother, but, significantly, she is only quoted twice in all the Gospels after the birth story (Matt. 12:46, John 2:5), and on both occasions she seems bewildered by the whole experience – although she followed Jesus all the way to the cross (John 19:26). Zacharias and Elizabeth simply drop out of the picture. As for the shepherds, after they visited the infant Lord at the manger they "returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen," but that's all we know.

It's only in the story of the wise men who came from the east to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to worship this Child that we are given any slight indication of how this event really affected their lives. And although it is slight it is important, for in the few words that are said, with an appreciation of their spiritual implications, we can see the most vital issue of the Lord's birth coming to life in simple human terms: – "Then, being warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way."

What a simple sentence this is, but how full of meaning! Every word is expressive, every phrase instructive. It is something we can easily remember and reflect on as we, like the wise men, return to our normal lives after the very special events of this season. And it is something that may give us encouragement as we ponder the questions posed a few minutes ago: Where are we going in our lives? How are we getting there? Why? And who's going with us?

There has been a lot of scholarly speculation about who the wise men were and where they came from, and what exactly led them to Bethlehem. There was a television program years ago about astronomical research into the star and the Magi, who were supposed to have been Babylonian astrologers, taking note of a unique alignment of planets in the night sky.

The Writings tell us that they were students of the ancient Word, men who knew and understood the spiritual meaning of the prophecies foretelling the Advent thousands of years before it took place. The star represented their knowledge, indeed their insights about this. They may or may not have been studying the night sky and they may or may not have had royal status. But what we do know is that they found the Messiah, and it changed their lives, for "being warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way."

Let's consider this statement phrase by phrase: – first, that they were warned in a dream. Most translations say they were Divinely warned, or warned by God, but there's no such reference in the original Greek. They were simply warned in a dream. The "warning" part is a big Greek word derived from a root that has to do with the practical uses of life, including the transaction of business, particularly the consulting and deliberation that has to do with business. So it is a word with a very pragmatic focus, and when it refers to someone being acted on, rather than someone taking action, it carries the sense of warning, caution, or advice given after very careful thought.

So how do you suppose the wise men were warned? Did God suddenly appear to them in a blaze of light and tell them what to do? No. The word suggests a lot of deep thought and careful reflection. These men were wise because they used their heads. They knew the teachings of the ancient Word and they spent serious time reflecting on their meaning. So they were able to be enlightened in the practical business of their daily lives.

The same principle applies to us. We're not likely to be jolted out of some complacent passivity by a lightning bolt of revelation saying "Do this," or "Don't do that." We, too, if we want to be wise, need to dedicate real time and effort to the study of Divine revelation. Then the Lord can teach us without imposing on our freedom, and lead us according to our own determination.

But we read that the wise men were warned "in a dream." What does this mean? Well, dreams normally occur at night, when we are asleep, and this represents a state of obscurity, a state of mind in which we don't have much clarity or control. But to be warned in a dream is to be enlightened; it is to get a clear, purposeful message in an otherwise obscure, confusing state. It is, perhaps, like seeing a lighthouse through a fog at sea. And as in the case of a lighthouse the wise men were not especially told what to DO, but what to avoid, what NOT to do. This makes perfect sense in our own lives, too, because when we are in states of darkness or obscurity the first and most important thing we can do is to step away from what is harmful or disorderly, or as the Writings put it, shun evils as sins against the Lord. Only when we do that are we in a position to receive anything genuinely good from Him without corrupting it in one way or another.

So what was the warning to the wise men? Of course! "...that they should not return to Herod," the epitome of self-love and the love of the world. Now this is interesting. The wise men were wise because of their dedication to the Word. But they had come to a place – Jerusalem – which at that time represented a religion corrupted by evils and falsities. And it's not hard to see how this represents at least some of the temptations any wise person might encounter on his – or her – journey to find the Lord, for despite the wisdom we all have we are all born into natural and selfish loves, and if we're not careful these loves will drag us down. Sure, they guide us to the Lord, but not for HIS sake. They always want to know "What's in it for ME?" or "What am I going to get out of it?" That said, it's worth noting that while they were in the sphere of such loves and the falsities that went with them the wise men couldn't even see the star. But when they left Herod and continued to Bethlehem the star appeared again. Surely this experience taught them a valuable lesson, and it shows us, too, how self-interest or love of the world can corrupt our thinking.

So when we come to see the Lord, and really appreciate all that He stands for, like the wise men we cannot turn back. We cannot go back to the selfish attitudes or any of the old falsities represented by the place where Herod ruled. Rather, as we read, the wise men "departed into their own country another way," and so must we.

Here again, a single word carries a lot of nuances: in the original Greek "depart" is based on a root meaning to lift up or hold high. From this we get the sense of upholding or continuing, that is, carrying on in a certain way. It also suggests strength and endurance, as when someone holds up or holds out for something. With all this in mind the word in this case describes not only the return of the wise men but actually their continuation in the strength of their profound experience. Their perseverance. Their determination.

This is important as we think about what can happen in our own lives. When we see the Lord for ourselves in any particular situation; when we see His love, His wisdom, or what He wants for us, and we recognize that and acknowledge it, then we have a special responsibility to apply it in our daily lives, that is, to uphold it and continue in it with real determination. In fact, it is very dangerous for us not to do this, since we run the risk of profanation, which is a permanent, inseparable mingling of goodness and truth with evil and falsity in our minds, leading to an impossibly conflicted life. So, just as the wise men risked being killed if they went back to Herod, our own spiritual lives are threatened if we go back to the loves of self and the world after we have come to see the Lord in our lives. "No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

But the Word goes on to say. "They departed into their own country...." This, too, is an important concept because the Greek word for country here really means any particular place, use, function or position that is properly our own. Of course it means "country," too, but the point is that we can easily relate to the phrase when we know its whole meaning as describing the opportunities and responsibilities the Lord has given each one of us according to our individual skills, insights and loves. Like the wise men we can go back to our jobs, our functions, our uses, our personal relationships; we can go back to whatever positions we hold in life and carry on – but completely changed and with a whole new perspective.

So we read that the wise men went back "another way." And we too must go back "another way." Now of course a way literally is a road or path, but it is also a spiritual life determined by our understanding of what is true and good. So it has to do with what we call doctrine, our way of thinking about what the Lord presents to us. And the truth is, when we come to see the Lord in our lives, and all the potential that He represents, we begin to think differently about everything. We speak differently, we make our daily decisions differently, we live differently; we go in strength and confidence, and with determination into our own country another way. In fact, if the vision of the Lord in His Divine Humanity does not change our lives, especially our inner lives, our attitudes and thought processes, we are in real danger. But if it does, and being warned in a dream that we should not return to Herod, we return instead to our proper places, our special uses, inspired and determined more than ever to live according to the truths of His Word, then surely in this and in every New Year He will answer us in the day of trouble, He will defend us, He will help us and strengthen us; He will remember our offerings and our sacrifices. He will give us the desires of our hearts; He will fulfill all our purpose, and He will, as David said, fulfill all our petitions.

(References: True Christian Religion 571)

From Swedenborg's Works

Apocalypse Explained #324

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley translation)

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324. And golden vials full of incense. That this signifies confession from spiritual goods, is evident from the signification of golden vials which are also called censers, as denoting truths from good; for vials, like all containing vessels, signify truths, and the gold of which they were made signifies good, hence golden vials denote truths from good (that vessels signify truths because they serve good for recipient and containing vessels, may be seen, n. 3068, 3079, 3316, 3318; and also the vessels of the altars, of the burnt-offering, and the incense, n. 9723, 9724; and that gold signifies good, see above, n. 242); and from the signification of incense, as denoting those things of worship that are done from spiritual good, or from the good of charity, and thence are pleasurably perceived. Such things are signified by incense, because all things instituted in the Israelitish nation were representative of celestial and spiritual things, whence also odorous things, which were of a pleasant smell, represented pleasant perception, but those of an unpleasant smell, an unpleasant perception. It was on this account that incense was made of fragrant spices, with myrrh, onycha, galbanum, and frankincense. Moreover, there is a correspondence of odour with perception, which is evident from this fact, that in the spiritual world, where all things perceived by the senses are correspondences, the perceptivity of good and truth is perceived by the senses as fragrance from pleasant smells, and vice versa (concerning which fact see what is shown from experience in the Arcana Coelestia, n. 1514, 1517-1519, 1631, 4626, 4628, 4630, 4631, 5711-5717). Hence it is, that, in common discourse, to smell signifies to perceive; for such expressions, and many others, came into human speech from correspondence; for a man's spirit is actually in the spiritual world, although a man does not know it. Also a man's perceptive faculty is the cause of his bodily sense of smell, and this also is from correspondence. But this is an arcanum which is believed with difficulty, because hitherto unknown. It should be known that the good of love and of charity produces that sweet smelling or fragrance, but by truth, but not from itself without truth, still less by truth which is called that of faith without good; for good without truth has nothing perceptive, neither has truth without good.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1514, Arcana Coelestia 1517-1519, 1631, Arcana Coelestia 3068, 3079, Arcana Coelestia 3316, 3318, Arcana Coelestia 4626, 4628, 4630-4631, Arcana Coelestia 5711-5717, Arcana Coelestia 9723-9724; Revelation 5:8; The Apocalypse Explained 242)


[2] Incense signifies those things of worship which are done from spiritual good, because spiritual good derives its origin and existence from celestial good, and this good is the good of love to the Lord from the Lord, and hence it is the very good of heaven. For that good is directly from the Lord, and the Lord is in that good with the angels as in His own, even to such a degree that whether you say that the Lord is in them, and they in the Lord, or you say that the Lord is with them in that good, and they in the Lord when in that good, it is the same thing. Spiritual good, which derives its origin and existence from celestial good, is the good of charity towards the neighbour;

the worship from this good is signified by incense. Because all worship of the Lord is effected from good, although by means of truths, and because there are two universal goods that make the heavens, and distinguish them into two kingdoms, namely celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord, and spiritual good, which is the good of charity towards the neighbour, therefore with the children of Israel there were two altars, one for the burnt-offerings, the other for the incense; and by the altar of burnt-offering was signified worship from the good of celestial love, and by the altar of incense, worship from the good of spiritual love; hence it is evident what was represented by incense.

[3] That this is the case is evident from the passages in the Word where it is mentioned. As in Moses:

"Thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon; and thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, and thou shalt put it before the veil that is upon the ark of the testimony, before the mercy-seat. And Aaron shall burn thereon incense of spices every morning; in trimming the lamps he shall burn it, and in making the lamps to ascend at even he shall burn it, a perpetual incense before Jehovah throughout your generations. Ye shall make no strange incense to ascend thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat-offering, nor drink-offering" (Exod. xxx. 1-10).

That by this altar and by the burning of the incense upon it was signified the worship which is from spiritual good, is evident from the fact of its being placed in the tent of the assembly without the veil, where also were the lamps; and by the tent was signified the Lord's spiritual kingdom; but by that part of the tent which was within the veil was signified the Lord's celestial kingdom, as is evident from what is shown in the Arcana Coelestia, n. 9457, 9481, 9485, concerning the tent, where was the table upon which was the bread of faces, also where the altar of incense and the candlestick were; and from what is shown concerning the ark, in which was the testimony, and upon which was the mercy-seat (n. 9457, 9481, 9485, 10,545). Hence it is clear, that by the things that were in the tent without the veil, namely, the candlestick, the altar of incense, the table for the bread, were signified such things as pertain to the spiritual kingdom, all which have reference to spiritual good, and to its truth. By the table, upon which was the bread of faces, was signified the reception of celestial good in spiritual good (as may be seen, n. 9527). By the candlestick with the lamps was signified the Spiritual itself of that kingdom (n. 9548, 9551, 9556, 9561, 9572, 9783). And by the altar of incense was signified worship from spiritual good; and because worship from spiritual good was signified by the burning of incense upon that altar, and by the candlestick the Spiritual itself, therefore it was commanded that Aaron should burn the incense upon it every morning and evening, when he trimmed the lamps; but these things are more fully explained in the Arcana Coelestia, n. 10,176-10,213, where they are treated of as to each particular.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 9457, 9481, 9485, 9527, 9548, 9551, 9556, 9561, 9572, Arcana Coelestia 9783, Arcana Coelestia 10176, Arcana Coelestia 10545; Exodus 30:1-10)


[4] Because spiritual good derives its origin and existence from celestial good, as has been said above, therefore that altar was not only placed near the veil which was upon the ark, but it was also commanded that when Aaron should make atonement for himself and for his house, he should bring the incense within the veil, by which is signified the influx, communication, and conjunction of celestial good and spiritual good. Concerning this it is thus written in Moses:

"And Aaron shall make an atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin-offering; and he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before Jehovah, and his hands full of incense of spices, and he shall bring it within the veil, so that he may put the incense upon the fire before Jehovah; and the cloud of the incense shall cover the mercy-seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not " (Lev. xvi. 11-13).

That he should take the fire from off the altar of burnt-offering, upon which he should put the incense, also signified that spiritual good, which is the good of charity, exists and proceeds from celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord (that the fire of the altar signified that good, may be seen, n. 4489, 6314, 6832, 9714, and elsewhere). On this account it was that the fire for burning the incense was taken only from the altar of burnt-offering. The reason why Aaron, when he made atonement for himself and his house, burned the incense within the veil, was, because Aaron as chief priest represented the Lord as to the good of love, and by his functions he represented those things that proceed from that good, all of which have reference to spiritual good. Unless spiritual good is from celestial good, it is not good, therefore neither would its function be from the Divine, nor would it represent anything of the Divine; therefore death was threatened to him unless he did so.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 4489, Arcana Coelestia 6314, 6832, Arcana Coelestia 9714; Leviticus 16:11-13)


[5] This is why Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, were consumed by fire from heaven, because they burnt incense from other fire than the fire of the altar of burnt-offering, consequently they performed worship from another love than that of love to the Lord. Concerning this circumstance, it is thus written in Moses:

"Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer and put strange fire therein, and put incense thereon; therefore fire went out from before Jehovah, and devoured them, and they died, and afterwards they were borne out of the camp" (Lev. x. 1-5).

Their being carried without the camp, signified that their worship was not from heaven, because not from love to the Lord; for by the camp of the sons of Israel heaven and the church were represented (see n. 4236, 10,038).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 4236, Arcana Coelestia 10038; Leviticus 10:1-5)


[6] The reason why Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with their company, were swallowed up by the earth, although they took the fire from the altar and burnt incense, was, because by their murmuring against Moses and Aaron profanation of the good of celestial love was signified; for Moses and Aaron represented the Lord; and to murmur, that is, to rebel against the Lord, and engage in holy offices, is profanation; but because they took the fire from the altar, that fire was cast out and their censers were made into a covering for the altar. Concerning this fact, it is thus written:

"Moses said unto them that they should take fire, and put it into their censers; which also was done, but they were swallowed up" (Num. xvi. 1 to end).

But afterwards it was commanded

"That they should collect the censers, and scatter the fire towards this place; and of the censers which were of brass, they should make broad plates, a covering to the altar, because they were hallowed" (Num. xvi. 37, 38).

They were sanctified by the fire of the altar, which signified Divine celestial love.

(References: Numbers 16, Numbers 16:1-35, 16:37-38)


[7] Because spiritual good, which is the good of charity towards the neighbour, derives its essence and soul from celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord, therefore also the frankincense, by which spiritual good is signified, was put upon the bread of faces, by which was signified celestial good; as is evident from these words in Moses:

"Frankincense shall also be put upon the bread of faces, which is upon the table in the tent of the assembly, that the bread may be for a memorial" (Lev. xxiv. 7).

That the bread may be for a memorial, signifies, that it may be received and heard by the Lord; for all worship of the Lord, that is truly worship, is from celestial good by means of spiritual good, for spiritual good, which is charity towards the neighbour, is the effect of celestial good; for charity towards the neighbour is to perform uses and to lead a moral life from a heavenly origin (concerning which see the work concerning Heaven and Hell, n. 390, 484, 529, 530-535, and the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, n. 84-107). This therefore is spiritual good; and celestial good is to look to the Lord, and [to acknowledge] that all good and truth are from Him, and that from man, or his proprium, there is nothing, but evil.

(References: Heaven and Hell 390, 484, 530-535; Leviticus 24:7; The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 84-107)


[8] That the incense was burned from no other fire than that of the altar of burnt-offering, by which was signified celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord, appears also from other passages; as in Moses

"When the congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron, and they were attacked by the plague, then Aaron took fire from the altar, and [put it] in a censer, and put incense in it, and he ran into the midst of them; and the plague was stayed" (Num. xvi. 41, 46-48, and also in Rev. viii. 3-5).

(References: Numbers 16:41, 16:41-48, 16:46-48; Revelation 8:3-5)


[9] That incense and frankincense signify spiritual good, and the burning thereof the worship that is grateful from that good, and therefore hearing and reception by the Lord, is evident from the following passages. In Isaiah:

"A troop of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and frankincense; and they shall show forth the praises of Jehovah" (lx. 5).

The subject here treated of is the Lord's advent. By the troop of camels and the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah are signified the knowledges of truth and good in abundance; that "all they from Sheba shall come," signifies from the knowledges of genuine truth and good, Sheba signifying such knowledges (see n. 1171, 3240). By the gold and frankincense which they shall bring, is signified worship from spiritual good, that is from celestial good; gold signifying celestial good, and frankincense spiritual good. Because worship from these is signified, it is therefore said, "and they shall show forth the praises of Jehovah"; by showing forth the praises of Jehovah is signified the preaching of the gospel concerning the Lord, and the worship of Him.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1171, Arcana Coelestia 3240; Isaiah 60:6)


[10] In Matthew:

The wise men from the east opened their treasures, and presented to the new-born Lord gifts, "gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (ii. 11).

By the wise men from the east are also signified those who are in the knowledges of truth and good; their worship from celestial good, spiritual good, and natural good, is signified by their offering gold, frankincense, and myrrh; for by gold is signified celestial good, by frankincense spiritual good, and by myrrh natural good. That such things are signified by these, was also still known to many in the east, whence also they were called the sons of the east, by whom in the Word are meant those who are in the knowledges of truth and good (see n. 3249, 3762), for knowledge of correspondences still remained with them; wherefore that they might testify the joy of their heart, they offered such things as signified every good from first to last; and this is what was prophesied in Isaiah, that they should come from Sheba and bring gold and frankincense, and show forth the praises of Jehovah, concerning which we have treated just above.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 3249, Arcana Coelestia 3762; Matthew 2:11)


[11] In Malachi:

"From the rising of the sun even unto the setting my name shall be great among the nations; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a clean meat-offering" (i. 11).

"From the rising of the sun even unto the setting my name shall be great among the nations," signifies, that the church and worship of the Lord shall be everywhere with those who are in good; from the rising of the sun to the setting, signifying every place where there is good; "My name shall be great," signifying the acknowledgment and worship of the Lord; and nations signifying those who are in good. "Incense shall be offered unto my name, and a clean meat-offering," signifies the worship of the Lord from spiritual good, which is the good of charity towards the neighbour, and from celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord; worship from spiritual good being signified by incense, and from celestial good by a meat-offering. (That a meat-offering signifies that good, may be seen, n. 4581, 10,079, 10,137.)

(References: Arcana Coelestia 4581, Arcana Coelestia 10079, 10137; Malachi 1:11)


[12] The same is signified by incense and meat-offering in David:

"Give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. Let my prayers be accepted as incense before thee; and the lifting up of my hands as the meat-offering of the evening" (Ps cxli. 1, 2).

And in Isaiah:

"Thou hast not brought to me the cattle of thy burnt-offerings, and thou hast not honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not made thee to serve by a meat-offering, nor wearied thee by frankincense" (xliii. 23).

Because all worship of the Lord is done from spiritual good, which is from celestial good, therefore both the meat-offering and frankincense are mentioned in the letter separately, which, notwithstanding, in the internal or spiritual sense are conjointly understood, but the one from the other.

(References: Isaiah 43:23; Psalms 141:1-2)


[13] Similarly in Jeremiah:

"They shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the circuits of Jerusalem, bringing burnt-offering and sacrifice, and meat-offering and frankincense" (xvii. 26).

By Judah and Jerusalem here are not meant Judah and Jerusalem, but the Lord's church which is in the good of love and in the doctrine of charity therefrom, worship from these is signified by burnt-offering and sacrifice, also by meat-offering and frankincense.

(References: Jeremiah 17:26)


[14] Because meat-offering signified the good of celestial love, and frankincense the good of spiritual love, therefore upon the meat-offering of fine flour were put oil and frankincense; as appears in Moses:

"When the soul willeth to offer a gift of meat-offering unto Jehovah, fine flour shall be the gift thereof, upon which he shall pour oil, and shall put upon it frankincense; and the priest shall take a handful of the fine flour thereof, and of the oil thereof, together with all the frankincense thereof, and he shall burn it for a memorial upon the altar" (Lev. ii. 1, 2).

The reason why this meat-offering was instituted, was, because fine flour signifies genuine truth (as may be seen, n. 9995), because this is from good, namely, from celestial good, and thence from spiritual good, therefore oil and frankincense were put upon it; oil signifying the good of celestial love, and frankincense the good of spiritual love; in the internal sense, the one from the other. There were also other kinds of meat-offering, which were prepared with oil, by which similar things were signified.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 9995; Leviticus 2:1-2)


[15] In Ezekiel:

"Thou hast taken the garments of thy embroidery, and hast covered images of a male, with which thou didst commit whoredom; and my oil and my incense thou hast given before them" (xvi. 18, 19).

These things are said concerning Jerusalem, which signifies the church as to doctrine, here as to doctrine entirely perverted. The images of a male which she covered with the garments of her embroidery, and with which she committed whoredom, signify the falsities which, by perverse interpretation, they made to appear as truths, thus falsified truths. Embroidered garments denote the knowledges of truth from the Word; and to commit whoredom denotes to falsify. To give my oil and my incense before them, signifies to adulterate both the good of celestial love and the good of spiritual love, which are adulterated when the Word is applied to the loves of self and of the world.

(References: Ezekiel 16:17-18, 16:18-19)


[16] In Moses:

"They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law; they shall put incense to thy nose, and burnt sacrifice upon thine altar" (Deut. xxxiii. 10).

This is the prophecy of Moses concerning Levi, by whom is signified the priesthood. And because the priesthood was representative of the Lord as to the good of love, both celestial and spiritual, therefore it is said, "they shall put incense to thy nose, and burnt sacrifice upon thine altar." By incense is signified worship from spiritual good, and by the burnt sacrifice upon the altar is signified worship from celestial good; to the nose, signifies, to the perception.

(References: Deuteronomy 33:10)


[17] In David:

"I will go into thy house with burnt-offerings; I will pay my vows unto thee. I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, rams together with incense" (Ps. lxvi. 13, 15).

To offer burnt-offerings of fatlings, signifies worship from the good of celestial love; to offer rams together with incense, signifies worship from the good of spiritual love; incense and also a ram signify that good.

(References: Psalms 66:13, 66:15)


[18] In the Apocalypse:

"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he might offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, ascended up out of the angel's hand to the sight of God. Afterwards, the angel took the censer, and filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth" (viii. 3-5).

The signification of these things will be stated in the explanation of those words in the following [verses]; here only that, incense signifies worship from spiritual good, which is the good of charity towards the neighbour. That worship is also signified by the prayers of the saints; therefore it is said, "there was given unto him much incense, that he might offer it with the prayers of the saints"; and after that, the smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, ascended up in the sight of God. That the prayers of the saints signify worship from spiritual good, will be seen in the article immediately following, likewise what is meant by worship from spiritual good or from the good of charity.

(References: Revelation 8:3-5)


[19] In Isaiah:

"A people that provoke me to anger continually before my faces; that sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense upon the sides " (lxv. 3).

Here, by sacrificing and burning incense are signified opposite things, namely, worship from falsities of doctrine, which is from man's intelligence; gardens signify intelligence, here man's own intelligence, and altars of brick signify the falsities thence; to sacrifice and burn incense signify worship. That the ancients performed Divine worship in gardens and groves according to the significations of the trees therein, but that this was forbidden the Israelitish nation, lest they should contrive a worship from the proprium, may be seen, n. 2722, 4552.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2722, Arcana Coelestia 4552; Isaiah 65:3)


[20] In Hosea:

"They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills, under the oak, and the poplar, and the elm, because the shadow thereof is good; therefore your daughters commit whoredom, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery" (iv. 13).

By these words is described worship from the love of self and from the love of the world, and thence from falsities of doctrine; worship from the love of self, by sacrificing upon the tops of the mountains; worship from the love of the world, by burning incense upon the hills; and worship from falsities of doctrine, by sacrificing and burning incense under the oak, the poplar, and the elm. The top of the mountains signifies celestial love, here the love of self; hills signify spiritual love, here the love of the world; for the love of self is the opposite of celestial love, and the love of the world is the opposite of spiritual love. The oak, the poplar, and the elm, signify the lowest goods of truth and truths of good of the natural man, here his evils of falsity and falsities of evil. "Because the shadow thereof is good," signifies complacence; the falsifications of spiritual good thence are signified by, "therefore your daughters commit whoredom," and the adulteration of celestial good by, "therefore your daughters-in-law commit adultery."

(References: Hosea 4:13)


[21] In Jeremiah:

"The number of thy cities were thy gods, O Judah; and even as the number [of the streets] of Jerusalem have ye set up altars, altars to burn incense unto Baal" (xi. 13, 17).

By cities here are not signified cities, nor by gods, gods, neither by the streets of Jerusalem streets there; but by cities are signified the doctrinals of falsity by gods, the falsities themselves; and by the streets of Jerusalem, the falsities of the doctrine of the church. By setting up altars, altars to burn incense unto Baal, is signified worship from the love of self and from the love of the world (as above). This nation did set up altars, and burn incense to Baal; but because all things of their worship were representative, those things which were done according to the statutes were representative of things celestial and spiritual; therefore those things which were done contrary to the statutes were representative of infernal things; consequently, by the altars set up to [their] gods, and by the incense given to Baal, are signified things opposite.

(References: Jeremiah 11:13, 11:17)


[22] In the same:

"I will speak judgments with them upon all their wickedness, that they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, and have bowed themselves down to the works of their own hands" (i. 16).

To burn incense to other gods, and to bow themselves down to the works of their own hands, signify worship from falsities which are from man's own intelligence; other gods denoting falsities, and the works of [their own] hands denoting the things that are from man's own intelligence.

(References: Jeremiah 1:16)


[23] The same is signified by burning incense to gods, in Jeremiah (xi. 12; xliv. 3, 5, 8, 15, 18); also by burning incense to graven images, in Hosea (xi. 2); and by burning incense to vanity, in Jeremiah (xviii. 15). The same also as above by burning incense to Baal, in Jeremiah (vii. 9); and in Hosea (ii. 13); and in like manner by burning incense to Melecheth or the queen of the heavens, in Jeremiah (xliv. 17-19, 21, 25). Melecheth of the heavens signifies falsities in the aggregate.

(References: Hosea 2:13, Hosea 11:2; Jeremiah 7:9, Jeremiah 11:12, Jeremiah 18:15, 44:3, 44:5, 44:8, 44:15, 44:17-19, 44:18, 44:21, 44:25)


[24] Further, the burning of incense signifies those things of worship which are perceived as grateful, and incense spiritual good, because all things that were instituted in the Israelitish nation were representative of celestial and spiritual things; for the church with them was not internal, as the church at this day, but external; and externals represented and thence signified the internals of the church, such as were unfolded by the Lord in the Word of the New Testament; hence their church was called a representative church. The externals of this church consisted of such things in the world of nature as corresponded to the affections of good and truth in the spiritual world; hence it was that when those who belonged to that church were in externals as to worship, those who were in the spiritual world or in heaven, were in internals, and conjoined themselves with those who were in externals; in this manner, at that time, heaven made one with the men of the earth.

[25] From these things it is evident why there was a table in the tent of the assembly for the bread, why there was the candlestick with the lamps, and the altar of incense. For the bread represented, and thence signified, the good of love proceeding from the Lord, or celestial good, the candlestick with the lamps represented, and thence signified, spiritual good and truth; and the incense represented, and thence signified, worship; and because all Divine worship that is gratefully perceived is from spiritual good, therefore that good was signified by the incense. In order that what is grateful might be represented, the incense was made from fragrant spices, and this also from correspondence; for fragrant odours correspond to the pleasures and delights that inhere in the thoughts and perceptions from the delight of spiritual love, consequently, the incense corresponded to such things as are gratefully received by the Lord, and as are perceived gratefully by the angels. This grateful quality is entirely from spiritual good, or from the good of charity towards the neighbour; for this good is celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord in effect, for celestial good, which is the good of love to the Lord, is fixed in effect solely by spiritual good, which is the good of charity towards the neighbour; therefore to be in this good and to exercise it, is to love and worship the Lord. The nature of charity towards the neighbour, and its exercise, may be seen in the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, n. 84-107.

(References: The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 84-107)


[26] Because the oil by which anointings were performed signified celestial good, or the good of love to the Lord, and the incense signified spiritual good, or the good of charity towards the neighbour, and because the latter is from the former (as has been said above), therefore in Exodus (xxx.) the preparation of the anointing oil is first treated of, and the preparation of the incense immediately afterwards; the preparation of the anointing oil from verse 23-33, and the preparation of the incense from verse 34-38. And as incense is here treated of, I will here adduce what is there commanded concerning the preparation of the incense, namely:

"Take unto thee fragrant spices, myrrh, onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices, with pure frankincense, shall be of equal weight. And thou shalt make it a perfume, an unguent the work of the perfumer, salted, pure, holy; and thou shalt beat of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the assembly, where I will meet thee; it shall be unto you the holy of holies. And the perfume which thou makest unto yourselves ye shall not make after the quality thereof; it shall be unto thee holy for Jehovah. The man who shall make like unto that, to make an odour to him, shall be cut off from his people" (Exod. xxx. 34-38).

But what each of these particulars signifies may be seen in the Arcana Coelestia, n. 10,289, 10,310, where they are explained in order. Here this may be said, that the frankincense was the primary, and the other three were added for the gratefulness of their odour; therefore it is said concerning the frankincense, that of each there shall be an equal part, or the same proportion of one as of the other; the same as with the anointing oil, in which the oil of the olive was the primary, and the other things therein signifying (Exod. xxx. 23-33). Hence it is evident why frankincense signifies the same as incense in the compound, namely, spiritual good.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 10289; Exodus 30:1, 30:22-33, 30:23-33, 30:34-38)


[27] Because the fragrances belonging to odour correspond to spiritual pleasantnesses, or to the pleasantnesses arising from spiritual good, therefore also the most grateful reception by the Lord is called an odour of rest (Exod. xxix. 18, 25, 41; Lev. i. 9, 13, 17; ii. 2, 9, 12; iii. 5; iv. 31; vi. 8, 14; viii. 28; xxiii. 8, 13, 18; Num. xv. 3; xxviii. 6, 8, 13; xxix. 2, 6, 8, 13, 36).

And in Ezekiel:

"By the odour of rest I will be reconciled unto you" (xx. 41).

In Moses:

"If ye will not walk in my precepts, but will go contrary to me, I will not smell his odour of your rest" (Lev. xxvi. 31).

And in Hosea:

"His branches shall go, and he shall be as the honour of the olive, and his odour as of Lebanon" (xiv. 6).

This is said concerning Israel; the honour of the olive signifies celestial good, and the odour of Lebanon spiritual good, from its gratefulness (see above, n. 288). (That the olive also signifies that good, see Arcana Coelestia, n. 9277, 10,261; that odour signifies the perceptive faculty of what is grateful according to the quality of love and faith, n. 1514-1519, 3577, 4624-4634, 4748, 5621, 10,292; that an odour of rest signifies the perceptive faculty of peace, n. 925, 10,054; the nature of the perceptive faculty of peace may be seen in the work concerning Heaven and Hell, n. 284-290.)

(References: Arcana Coelestia 925, Arcana Coelestia 1514-1519, Arcana Coelestia 3577, Arcana Coelestia 4624-4634, Arcana Coelestia 4748, 5621, Arcana Coelestia 9277, Arcana Coelestia 10054, Arcana Coelestia 10261, Arcana Coelestia 10292; Exodus 29:18, 29:25, 29:41; Ezekiel 16:17-18, Ezekiel 20:41; Heaven and Hell 284-290, Hosea 14:6; Jeremiah 11:12-13; Leviticus 1:9, 1:13, 1:17, Leviticus 2:2, 2:9, 2:12, 3:5, 3:16, 4:31, 6:8, 6:14, 6:15, 6:21, 8:28, Leviticus 23:8, 23:13, 23:18, Leviticus 26:27, 26:31; Numbers 15:3, Numbers 16:1-35, Numbers 16:41-48, Numbers 28:6, 28:8, 28:13, 29:2, 29:6, 29:8, 29:13, 29:36; Revelation 5:8; The Apocalypse Explained 288)

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