The Bible

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

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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.

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Commentary on this chapter:


Explanation(s) or references from Swedenborg's works:

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

Apocalypse Revealed 277, 913

Sacred Scripture 23

True Christian Religion 205

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works

Spiritual Topics:

Prophecies About Jesus


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 #449

Apocalypse Explained (Tansley translation)

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449. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.- That this signifies the conjunction of those who are in the ultimate heaven with the Lord, is evident from the representation of Benjamin and of the tribe named after him, as denoting the Spiritual-celestial in the natural man, like Joseph in the spiritual. The Spiritual-celestial is truth conjoined to good. For truth, regarded in itself, is spiritual, and good celestial; hence Benjamin and his tribe signify the conjunction of truth and good in the Natural, here therefore the conjunction of those who are in the ultimate heaven with the Lord; for those who are in natural good and truth from the spiritual and the celestial are in the ultimate heaven. Those who are in the ultimate heaven are either spiritual-natural, or celestial-natural. The spiritual-natural in that heaven belong to the spiritual kingdom of the Lord, and the celestial-natural belong to the celestial kingdom of the Lord; wherefore the spiritual-natural communicate with the second heaven, where all are spiritual, but the celestial-natural communicate with the third heaven, where all are celestial, as stated above.

(References: Revelation 7:8)

[2] It is evident from these things what Joseph and Benjamin, who were brethren, signify in the Word. Since Benjamin signifies truth conjoined to good in the natural man, and consequently truth conjoined to good in those who are in the ultimate heaven, therefore he was also the last son born to Jacob, and was called by him the son of the right hand, for Benjamin, in the original language, signifies the son of the right hand; and also he was born in Bethlehem, which city signifies truth conjoined to good in the Natural. That he was born in Bethlehem, see Genesis (xxxv. 16-19). He was born last, because the Natural, consisting of truth conjoined to good, is the ultimate of the church in man. For there are in man three degrees of life, the inmost, the middle, and the ultimate. The inmost degree is that in which those are who dwell in the inmost or third heaven, the middle degree that in which those are who dwell in the middle or second heaven, and the ultimate degree that in which those are who dwell in the ultimate or first heaven. Therefore those who are in the inmost degree are called celestial, those in the middle are called spiritual, and those in the ultimate degree are called either spiritual-natural or celestial-natural. The conjunction of those in the ultimate heaven with the Lord is signified by Benjamin. Concerning these three degrees of life in a man and in an angel, see Heaven and Hell (n. 33, 34, 38, 39, 208, 209, 211, 435). These are the reasons why Benjamin was the last born of the sons of Jacob.

(References: Genesis 35:16-19; Heaven and Hell 33-34, 38-39, Heaven and Hell 208-209, 211, 435)

[3] He was called the son of the right hand, because son signifies truth, and right hand the power of truth from good, and all power in the spiritual world is in truth from good in the natural man. In this resides all the power possessed by the spiritual man, because the efficient cause is in the spiritual man, and the effect in the Natural, and all the power of the efficient cause is brought into active operation by means of the effect. That all the power of the spiritual man is in the Natural, and [acts] by means of the Natural, may be seen in the Arcana Coelestia. (n. 9836). For this reason he was called Benjamin, that is, son of the right hand. And because Bethlehem has a similar signification, that is, truth conjoined to good in the natural man, therefore also David was born there and also anointed king (1 Sam. xvi. 1-14; xvii. 12). For David as a king represented the Lord as to truth from good, which is also signified by a king, as may be seen above (n. 29, 31, 205). And the Lord also was born in Bethlehem (Matt. ii. 1, 5, 6) because He was born King, and from His birth truth in Him was conjoined to good. For every infant is born natural, and the Natural is first opened because it is nearest to the external senses and the world, and with all men it is ignorant of truth and inclined to evil, but with the Lord alone the Natural hungered for good and desired truth. The ruling affection with man is from the father, for it is his soul, but with the Lord the affection or soul from the Father was the Divine Itself, which is the Divine Good of the Divine Love.

(References: 1 Samuel 16:1-14, 17:12; Arcana Coelestia 9836; Matthew 2:5-6, 2:1; The Apocalypse Explained 29, 31, 205)

[4] Because Benjamin and his tribe signify truth conjoined to good in the natural man, therefore his lot in the land of Canaan was between the sons of Judah and the sons of Joseph; and Jerusalem also, which was then inhabited by the Jebusite, fell to that tribe for an inheritance (Joshua xviii. 11-28); so that the sons of Benjamin dwelt there with the Jews, who afterwards occupied that city. The tribe of Benjamin was granted a lot between the sons of Judah and the sons of Joseph, because that tribe represented and thence signified the conjunction of good and truth; for Judah signifies the good of the church, and Joseph, the truth of the church. The reason why Jerusalem was given to that tribe was, that Jerusalem signified the church in regard to doctrine and worship, and all the doctrine of the church is the doctrine of truth conjoined to good, and all worship according to doctrine takes place by means of the natural man, for, as stated above, worship is an effect from the efficient cause in the spiritual man.

(References: Joshua 18:11-28)

[5] From these observations the signification of Benjamin in the following passages is evident.

In Jeremiah:

If ye hallow the sabbath "they shall come in from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountain, and from the south, bringing the burnt-offering, and the sacrifice, and the meat-offering, and frankincense" (xvii. 26).

The reason why such things are said to be the result of hallowing the sabbath is that the sabbath signified the union of the Divine and the Divine Human in the Lord, and in the respective sense (sensu respectivo), the conjunction of His Divine Human with heaven and the church; and in general the conjunction of good and truth, as may be seen in the Arcana Coelestia (n. 8495, 8510, 10,356, 10,367, 10,370, 10,374, 10,668, 10,730). The cities of Judah, the places about Jerusalem, and the land of Benjamin, signify truths conjoined to good in the natural man. The cities of Judah, signify the truths of good, the places about Jerusalem, the truths of doctrine in the natural man, and the land of Benjamin, their conjunction. For cities signify truths, and Judah signifies the good of the church; Jerusalem the doctrine of truth. The places round-about signify such things as are around, or beneath, which are the truths of good in the natural man; and the land of Benjamin signifies the church as to the conjunction of those things in the natural man. From the plain, from the mountain, and from the south, signifies good and truth in the natural man from a celestial and from a spiritual origin. The plain signifies good and truth in the natural man, because those who are in the ultimate heaven, and are called celestial-natural and spiritual-natural (of which above) dwell in plains or below mountains and hills. The mountain signifies those who are in celestial good, and the south, those who are in spiritual good, and therefore in the light of truth. To bring the burnt-offering and the sacrifice, and the meat-offering, and frankincense, signifies worship from celestial good and from spiritual good in the natural man. The burnt-offering signifies worship from celestial good, the sacrifice, worship from spiritual good; the meat-offering and frankincense signify good and the truth of good in the natural man. These are the things signified by the above words. For what other object could there be in saying that if they hallowed the sabbath they should come in from the cities of Judah, from the places about Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the plain, the mountain, and the south? Why not from the whole land of Canaan?

(References: Arcana Coelestia 8495, 8510, Arcana Coelestia 10356, 10367, 10370, 10374, 10668, 10730; Jeremiah 17:26)

[6] Because these details signify such things as relate to heaven and the church, therefore similar things are also mentioned elsewhere in the same prophet:

"In the cities of the mountain, in the cities of the plain, and in the cities of the south, and in the land of Benjamin, and in the places round-about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, shall the flocks pass again under the hands of him that numbereth" (Jer. xxxiii. 13).

So again:

"They shall buy fields for money, and write it in a book, and cause witnesses to witness it in the land of Benjamin, and in the places round-about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the mountain, and in the cities of the plain, and in the cities of the south; because I will bring back their captivity, saith Jehovah" (Jer. xxxii. 44).

In these passages similar things are signified as above by the land of Benjamin, the places round-about Jerusalem, the cities of Judah, the mountain, the plain, and the south; therefore, Benjamin signifies the conjunction of truth and good in the natural man, and thus the conjunction of truth and good with those who are in the ultimate heaven.

(References: Jeremiah 32:8, 32:44, 33:13)

[7] In the same prophet:

"Assemble yourselves, ye sons of Benjamin, from the midst of Jerusalem, and sound the trumpet, and upon the house of the vineyard kindle a fire, for evil looketh out of the north, and great destruction" (vi. 1).

The subject here treated of in the spiritual sense is the devastation of the church in regard to truth and good, because it is against Zion and Jerusalem, for Zion signifies the good of the church, and Jerusalem, its truth. And because the sons of Benjamin signify the conjunction of good and truth they are therefore commanded to assemble themselves out of the midst of Jerusalem, to blow the trumpet, and kindle a fire upon the house of the vineyard. To blow the trumpet, signifies combat against that church from truths which are from good. The house of the vineyard signifies that church itself, and to kindle a fire upon it, its destruction by evil loves. The north from which the evil looketh signifies the falsity of evil; and the great destruction signifies the dissipation of good and truth.

(References: Jeremiah 6:1)

[8] Again, in David:

"Give ear, O shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that sittest upon the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim, and Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up thy strength, and come to save us" (Psalm lxxx. 1, 2).

Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, do not mean Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, but those who are in natural truth and good, and in whom there is the conjunction of these. See above (n. 440:6), where this passage is explained.

(References: Psalms 80:1-2; The Apocalypse Explained 440)

[9] In the same:

"Bless ye God in the congregations; the Lord, from the fountain of Israel. There is little Benjamin their ruler, the princes of Judah, the princes of Zebulun, and the princes of Naphtali" (Psalm lxviii. 26, 27).

In these passages, neither Benjamin, nor the princes of Judah, Zebulun, and Naphtali, are meant, but those things pertaining to the church, which are signified by those tribes. Little Benjamin there signifies the innocence of the natural man. The innocence of the natural man consists in the conjunction of good and truth therein. This passage also is explained above (n. 439:5).

(References: Psalms 68:26-27; The Apocalypse Explained 439)

[10] In the blessing of the sons of Israel by Moses:

"And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of Jehovah, he shall dwell in safety by him; he shall cover him all the day long, dwelling between his shoulders" (Deut. xxxiii. 12).

Benjamin here signifies the Word in the ultimate sense, which is natural. For the Word is described in this blessing pronounced by Moses, and each tribe signifies some essential of it. And because in the ultimate sense of the Word, which is natural, there is the marriage of good and truth, as we have shown in many places, therefore he is called the beloved of Jehovah, and it is said "that he shall dwell in safety by him; he shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders."

(References: Deuteronomy 33:12)

[11] To dwell between the shoulders, denotes to dwell in security and in power. The signification of Benjamin in the prophecy of Israel the father concerning his sons (Gen. xlix. 27) is explained in the Arcana Coelestia (n. 6439-6444). Benjamin in that prophecy is the last spoken of, because he signifies the ultimate of heaven and of the church, the ultimate being the Natural in which truth is conjoined to good.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 6439, Genesis 49:27)

[12] Because these things are signified by Benjamin, therefore the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin encamped in the wilderness about the tent of the congregation, on the west side (Num. ii. 18-24); and these three tribes signify all those who are in natural truth and good, and in the conjunction thereof. Ephraim signifies truth [in the natural man], Manasseh, good, as shown above, and Benjamin, the conjunction of these. The reason why they encamped on the west side, was, that in heaven, those dwell in the west and in the north, who are in the obscurity of good, and in the obscurity of truth, consequently those who are in natural good and truth; but those dwell in the east and in the south in heaven, who are in the lucidity of good and truth. Concerning this circumstance see the work on Heaven and Hell (n. 141-153).

(References: Heaven and Hell 141-153; Numbers 2:18-24)

[13] From what has been stated it is now evident that Benjamin, in the Word, signifies the conjunction of good and truth in the natural man, and conjunction with the Spiritual by means of good; for all that good which is good in the natural man flows in from the spiritual man, that is, by means of the spiritual man from the Lord. Without such influx good does not exist in the natural man. Therefore Benjamin also signifies the conjunction of the spiritual man with the natural, and Joseph, the conjunction of the celestial man with the spiritual.

(References: Revelation 7:8)

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