The Bible

Exodus 23:14-19 : The Three Annual Festivals

Study the Inner Meaning

14 Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year.

15 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)

16 And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.

17 Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD.

18 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.

19 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Study the Inner Meaning

Main explanation(s) from Swedenborg's works:

Arcana Coelestia 9285, 9286, 9287, 9288, 9289, 9290, 9291 ...

Commentary on this text:


Other references by Swedenborg to this text:

Arcana Coelestia 1001, 2342, 2405, 2788, 3519, 4262, 7906 ...

Apocalypse Revealed 623, 939

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works


Three Feasts

A loaf of homemade bread.

The Children of Israel were told to keep three feasts each year - the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of first fruits, and the feast of ingathering. Should we still do that?

In Exodus 23:14-16, Moses receives the instructions about these feasts. Those three verses in Exodus comprise our brief story. Their inner meaning is explained in Arcana Coelestia 9286-9296.

There are three feasts. In the Word, the number three represents a completeness, a sense of things being covered from beginning to end. Our thankfulness to the Lord is supposed to keep going - to endure.

The first feast, of unleavened bread, stands for worship, for our thankfulness for the Lord's action in our minds to get rid of false ideas. That enables us to start to receive good loves.

The second feast, of first fruits, relates to the planting of true ideas in that "soil" of initial loves for doing good.

The third feast, of harvest, or ingathering, stands for the time when, by applying our true ideas, we receive real good - loves of the neighbor and of the Lord - that become the middle of our lives. This is the state of rebirth, where we have - by working through the year (our lives), and enduring in thankfulness, allowed the Lord to get rid of our false ideas, and push our evil loves to the periphery, so that good can work, and be fruitful.

These feasts, then, represent the progress of our spiritual lives. In some manner, we need to keep them.

From Swedenborg's Works

Arcana Coelestia #9300

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)

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9300. 'The first of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of [Jehovah] your God' means that every truth of good and every good of truth is holy because it comes from the Lord alone. This is clear from the meaning of 'the firstfruits of the ground' as the truth that the Church's forms of good and its truths must be attributed to the Lord alone (for these are meant by 'the firstfruits', see Arcana Coelestia 9223, and the Church by 'the ground', Arcana Coelestia 566, 1068), the expression 'the first of the firstfruits' being used because that truth must be paramount, since forms of good and truths receive their life from the Lord, that is, they receive it from the Lord when they are attributed to Him; and from the meaning of 'bringing into the house of God' as bringing them to the Lord, in order that they may be holy (for 'the house of God' is the Lord, see Arcana Coelestia 3720, and everything holy comes from the Lord, Arcana Coelestia 9229). From all this it is evident that 'the first of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of your God' means that every truth of good and every good of truth is holy because it comes from the Lord alone.

[2] The terms 'truth of good' and 'good of truth' are used because in the case of a person who is being regenerated, and especially of one who has been regenerated, truths emanate from good, and forms of good emanate from truth. For the truths compose the life of his understanding, and the good the life of his will. And with the person who has been regenerated understanding and will form a mind that is one, communicating reciprocally with each other; the truths which belong to the understanding communicate with the good which belongs to the will, and the good belonging to the will with the truths belonging to the understanding. There is a mutual flow from one to the other, scarcely any different from the flow of the blood from the heart into the lungs, and from them into the heart again, then from the left side of the heart into the arteries, and from these back again through veins into the heart. One can form an idea similar to this regarding the reciprocal flow of the good and truth with a person from his understanding into his will and from his will into his understanding. The reason why the heart and lungs can give us an idea especially of the reciprocal activity of the truth of faith and the good of charity in the understanding and the will is that the lungs correspond to the truths belonging to faith and the heart to the good belonging to love, Arcana Coelestia 3635, 3883-3896. So it is also that 'the heart' in the Word means the life of the will, and 'the soul' 1 the life of faith, Arcana Coelestia 9050.

[3] The reason why those two organs can help us to form an idea regarding truths belonging to the understanding and good belonging to the will is that all things which are aspects of faith and of love are accompanied by ideas formed from such things as a person knows. For without ideas formed from things that can be known and things that can be perceived by the senses a person has no ability to think. And a person thinks properly, even about aspects of faith and love, when he does so from objects that correspond; for correspondences are natural truths in which spiritual truths are reflected as in a mirror. Therefore to the extent that ideas in the mind regarding spiritual realities are conceived of but not by means of those correspondences, they are formed either from the illusions of the senses or from absurdities. What a person's ideas are like regarding aspects of faith and of love is transparently evident in the next life, for people's ideas there are plainly perceptible.

[4] The statement that the truths of faith belong to a person's understanding and the good of charity to his will may seem to be nonsensical to people who say and are convinced that having a belief in matters of faith is all that is necessary. This is because the natural man and his power of understanding has no grasp whatever of things of that nature, and because faith comes not from a person himself but from the Lord. But those same people nevertheless acknowledge and believe that a person is enlightened by truths and inspired by good when he reads the Word, and that when he is enlightened he perceives what is or is not the truth. They also speak of those who excel others in uncovering truths from the Word as the enlightened. From this it is evident that those who are enlightened see and perceive within themselves whether something is the truth or not; what is then enlightened within them is their understanding, and what is then inspired within them is their will. But if that which enlightens them is the authentic truth of faith and that which inspires them is the authentic good of charity, it is the internal man's understanding that is enlightened and the internal man's will that is inspired. The situation is different if the truth of faith, or the good of charity, is unauthentic.

[5] People governed by these, and even those ruled by falsities and evils are indeed able to give their assent to the Church's truths; yet they have no inner ability to see and perceive whether they really are truths. So it is that most people keep to the teachings of the Church in which they were born but go no further than giving their assent to them. They would assent even to extremely heretical beliefs such as those of Socinianism or Judaism if they had been born from parents holding such beliefs. From all this it is evident that the understanding is enlightened in the case of those with an affection for truth arising from good but not in the case of those with an affection for truth arising from evil. In the case of those with an affection for truth arising from good the internal man's understanding is enlightened and the internal man's will is inspired, whereas in the case of those with an affection for truth arising from evil the internal man's understanding is not enlightened nor is the internal man's will inspired, for the reason that they are natural men and women. As a consequence of this they maintain that the natural man has no ability to grasp any thing which is a matter of faith.

[6] The fact that the understanding is what is enlightened by the truths of faith and the will is what is inspired by the good of charity in the case of those with an affection for truth arising from good, who are therefore more internal or spiritual men and women, is evident from the same kind of people in the next life. Those who are there are able to understand all matters of faith and to will all that constitutes charity, as they themselves also clearly perceive. Consequently intelligence and wisdom beyond description are theirs; for after they have cast aside the body they enjoy that more internal understanding which was being enlightened in the world and that more internal will which was being inspired in the world. But they could not perceive during that time how they were being enlightened and inspired because during that time their thinking took place within the body and was founded on such things as belong to the world. From all this it is now clear that the truths of faith compose the life of the understanding and the good of charity composes the life of the will, that is, that the understanding ought to be present in those things which are matters of faith and the will in those which are aspects of charity. Or what amounts to the same thing, those two powers of mind are what faith and charity from the Lord flow into; and these are received according to the state of those powers. Thus the Lord's dwelling-place with a person is nowhere else than within those powers.

[7] An idea of what more there is to all this may be gained from what has been stated about the internal man and the external man in Arcana Coelestia 6057, 9279, namely this: The internal man has been created so as to conform to an image of heaven, but the external man so as to conform to an image of the world; and those whose internal man has not been opened up see nothing from a heavenly point of view. And what they see from a worldly point of view regarding heaven is thick darkness, as a consequence of which they cannot have any spiritual idea about such things as are matters of faith and charity. As a result of this furthermore they fail so completely even to see what Christian good is, that is, what charity is, that they entirely suppose that the life of heaven consists solely in truths, which they call the truths of faith, and also that this life can be imparted to anyone at all with whom the assurance of faith exists though not the life of faith.

[8] How blind these people are regarding the life of faith, which is charity, is plainly evident from the consideration that they pay no attention whatever to thousands of things taught by the Lord Himself regarding goodness of life, and that when they read the Word they instantly toss them away behind the back of faith, thereby concealing them from themselves and from others. So it is also that anything which has to do with good, that is, with charity and its works, is banished by them from the teachings of the Church to that lower body of teachings which they call moral theology, and which they regard as natural, not spiritual. But in reality the life of charity remains after death, and faith only in the measure that it accords with that life, that is, thought regarding the truths of faith remains in the measure that there is a will to do good in accordance with them. Those who have faith that arises out of good are able to use any factual knowledge whatever to corroborate things for themselves and thereby make their faith stronger, see Arcana Coelestia 2454, 2568, 2588, 4156, 4293, 4760, 5201, 6047, 8629.


1. The word for soul also means breath.


(References: Exodus 23:19)

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