The Bible

Genesis 12:1-8 : To a land that I will show you

Study the Inner Meaning

1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

4 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.

7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

8 And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Main explanations:

Arcana Coelestia 1407, 1408, 1409, 1410, 1411, 1412, 1413, ...

The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 413


Other references to this chapter:

Arcana Coelestia 440, 482, 796, 921, 1025, 1401, 1403, ...


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 340, 750

Coronis (An Appendix to True Christian Religion) 49

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:


  Spiritual Topics:



Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Genesis 4:26, 8:20, 11:27, 31, 13:4, 5, 7, 15, 17, 18, 15:7, 18, 17:1, 4, 8, 20, 18:1, 18, 21:33, 22:18, 24:1, 7, 35, 26:3, 4, 25, 29, 27:29, 28:4, 13, 14, 19, 33:18, 20, 34:30, 35:7, 12, 46:3, ...

Exodus 6:4, 17:15, 23:22, 24:4, 32:10

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Judges 6:24

1 Samuel 7:17

2 Samuel 9, 24:25

1 Kings 18:32

2 Chronicles 20:7, 11

Ezra 3:2

Psalms 105:11

Isaiah 51:2

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Hosea 6:9

Zechariah 8:13

Acts of the Apostles 7:3, 4, 5

Galatians 3:8, 16

Hebrews 7:6, 11:8

Word/Phrase Explanations

the Lord
The Bible refers to the Lord in many different ways, which from the text seem indistinguishable and interchangeable. Understood in the internal sense, though, there...

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

Abram
Abram and Nahor taking to themselves wives, Sarah and Milcah (Gen 11:29), signifies marriages of evil with falsity in idolatrous worship. Abram, Nahor, and Haran,...

Country
Generally in the Bible a "country" means a political subdivision ruled by a king, or sometimes a tribe with a territory ruled by a king...

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

house
A "house" is essentially a container - for a person, for a family, for several families or even for a large group with shared interests...

Land
Land' in the Word, denotes the church, for the things which signify the church also signify the things relating to the church, for these constitute...

Shew
'Shew' signifies instruction to the life.

Make
'To make,' as in Hosea 8:11, refers to good. In the opposite sense it refers to evil. To make heaven, and earth, and the sea,...

nation
The Bible generally uses two different terms for large groups: “people” and “nation.” When it uses the term “nation,” it is talking about a group...

name
It's easy to see that names are important in the Bible. Jehovah changed Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, changed Jacob to Israel and...

Blessing
Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving (Rev. 7.) signify divine spiritual things of the Lord.

curse
The Lord is love itself, and his love for us never wavers and never changes. What does waver and change is the degree to which...

Families
Families (Gen 8:19) signify goodnesses and truths arranged in man by the Lord, according to order. Families have respect to truths. (Nahum 3:4)

Earth
"Earth" in the Bible can mean a person or a group of like-minded people as in a church. But it refers specifically to the external...

blessed
The Lord is perfect love expressed as perfect wisdom. He created us so that He could love us, could give us love and wisdom of...

spoken
Like "say," the word "speak" refers to thoughts and feelings moving from our more internal spiritual levels to our more external ones – and ultimately...

lot
On the most internal level, the stories of Abraham tell us about the Lord's development in his own childhood, with Abraham representing the Lord's spiritual...

Five
Five also signifies all things of one part.

old
'Old waste places' signify the celestial aspects of faith.

Haran
'Haran,' as mentioned in Genesis 11:28, signifies inward idolatrous worship. 'Haran,' as mentioned in Genesis 12:5, signifies an obscure state. 'Haran,' as mentioned in Genesis...

wife
It is because of a celestial and angelic proprium, or selfhood, that the church is called 'a woman,' 'a wife,' 'a bride,' 'a virgin,' and...

Brother
There are two ways "brother" is used in the Bible, ways that are still reflected in modern language. One denotes an actual blood relationship; the...

son
Marriages in the Bible represent the union we all can have between the desire for good and the understanding of truth (or an understanding of...

substance
Substance' and 'treasures,' as in Jeremiah 17:3, signify the spiritual riches of faith, or the aspects of the doctrine of faith.

souls
The nature of the soul is a deep and complicated topic, but it can be summarized as "spiritual life," who we are in terms of...

go
In the physical world, the places we inhabit and the distances between them are physical realities, and we have to get our physical bodies through...

land of
'The land of Rameses,' as in Genesis 47:11, signifies the inmost of the spiritual principle in the natural mind.

Land of Canaan
The land of Canaan' in the Word, means love, and consequently, the will of the celestial self.

of Canaan
'Sons of Canaan,' as in Genesis 10, are people who kept external worship separate from internal.

Canaan
Canaan signifies a worship in things external without internals, which arose out of the internal church corrupted, called Ham. Thus it is that Ham is...

came
As with common verbs in general, the meaning of “come” in the Bible is highly dependent on context – its meaning is determined largely by...

Passed
'Passed' or 'expired' denotes the conclusion of whatever state is being discussed.

place
'A room' or 'place' denotes state.

Sichem
'Sichem' or 'Shechem' means the celestial aspects of love.

Plain
'A plain' signifies good and truth in the natural self, because 'the people who dwell in plains,' or 'beneath mountains and hills' are in the...

Moreh
'Moreh' signifies the earliest moment of the Lord's perception.

Seed
'A seed' signifies love, and everyone who has love, as in Genesis 12:7. 8:15, 16. 'A seed' signifies faith grounded in charity. 'A seed' signifies...

give
Like other common verbs, the meaning of "give" in the Bible is affected by context: who is giving what to whom? In general, though, giving...

altar
The first altar mentioned in the Word was built by Noah after he came out of the ark. On that altar, he sacrificed clean animals...

removed
As with many verbs, the meaning of "remove" in the Bible varies a good bit depending on context. It generally involves a separation of spiritual...

mountain
The Writings tell us that the Lord's love is the sun of heaven, and it is natural for us to look above ourselves to the...

bethel
When Jacob had his famous dream, of a staircase leading to heaven, he named the place "Bethel," which is Hebrew for "the house of God."...

Tent
'Tent' is used in the Word to signify the celestial and holy aspects of love, because in ancient time they performed holy worship in their...

West
'The west' signifies people in obscured good, and in an opposite sense, people in evil. 'The west' signifies the affection of truth.

Hai
Hai, or Ai, signifies light derived from worldly things.

called
To call someone or summon someone in the Bible represents a desire for conjunction between higher and lower states of life. For instance, imagine someone...

upon
'Upon' or 'over' signifies being within.

Resources for parents and teachers

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


 Abraham and Lot
Activity | Ages 7 - 14

 Abraham and Sarah's Family
The Lord promises Abraham many descendants.
Story | Ages 2 - 8

 Abraham Leaves for the Promised Land
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 God’s Covenant with Abram
A lesson for younger children with discussion ideas and a project.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 The Call of Abram
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 Call of Abram
Family lessons provide a worship talk and a variety of activities for children and teens..
Religion Lesson | Ages 4 - 17

 The Call of Abram
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Call of Abram
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 The Lord’s State at Birth
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Tower of Babel
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 You Shall Be a Blessing
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

Commentary

Finding Jesus in the Life of Abraham, Part 1: Beginnings

By Rev. Joel C. Glenn

Flight of a Honeybee, a 2010 photo by Jennifer Stein. See her work at familiarlight.com. All rights are reserved by the author.

Finding Jesus in the Life of Abraham, Part 1: Beginnings

A Sermon by Pastor Joel Christian Glenn
30 April 2017

We all know that the Word, or the Bible, is about God. That’s not hard to believe. But shortly after His resurrection Jesus pushed this idea to another level. When He appeared to two disciples on the way to Emmaus, it says, “Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). From this we can gather that all of the Scriptures are not just about God, but are about Jesus Himself. That’s a concept that is harder to grasp. Yes, there are the prophecies that are clearly about Jesus. But what about, say the story of Creation? Or the Exodus from slavery in Egypt? The many kings of Israel, both good and evil? Or all the many lists of laws and genealogies, are even those about Jesus?

The truth of the matter is that the whole of the Word is not just about Jesus, it is Jesus. Listen to these verses from the opening of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4, 14)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That is a clear reference to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the eternal Word, the Word that is also embodied in the Word of God, our Old and New Testaments.

If you feel that it is hard to grasp how Jesus and the Word are one and the same, you are not alone. It is difficult to comprehend how a living, breathing, person and an apparently lifeless slab of paper can be one and the same. The Writings for the New Church acknowledge this difficulty and offer a way around it. This is from the Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture:

Few understand how the Lord is the Word, for it is generally supposed that the Lord, by means of the Word, can enlighten and teach people, and yet He cannot, on this account, be called the Word.

So as we’ve said, it makes sense that the Word is about the Lord, and it is the Lord’s way of teaching us, but that doesn’t mean He is the Word. The passage however continues:

It should be known, however, that every person is his own love, and consequently his own good and his own truth. A person is a person for no other reason than this, and there is nothing else in him that is a person. For the same reason that a person is his own good and his own truth, angels and spirits also are people; and for all good and truth proceeding from the Lord, is in its own form, a person. But the Lord is Divine Good itself and Divine Truth itself; thus He is Personhood Itself, from whom every person is a person. (Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture 100)

There is a lot going on in that passage. What it all boils down to is a definition of humanity that transcends having a physical body, a definition that helps us see how a book and a person can be one and the same. As the passage said, a person is a person because of his loves, and therefore because of all his good and truth that stem from that love. In short, you are what you love, and what you love makes you human. Think of it this way: if we were to transplant your brain from your body into someone else’s, and this new person loved the same things you love and in the exact same way, and so behaved as you would behave, wouldn’t we say that it is still you, even though the body is completely different? Take that a step further and think of death. Even your brain will die, but your spirit, your spirit in which resides everything of your love, will carry on. Even though there will no longer be a shred of “you” left on this earth, you will still live on. So that’s what makes a person a person: the mind, especially the love within the mind.

If a person is a person because of what he or she loves and so thinks from that love, then anything that reveals our love or our thought reveals us. We know this instinctively from other books we encounter. Have you ever read a book that you loved immensely, and felt that in some way you were connected to the author, as if you understood each other even though you’d never met? I’m not just talking about biographies either. You can read a book that never once refers directly to its author and yet still feel connected. That can happen because the book is a kind of extension of the author, since it reveals the authors loves and ideas.

We now come to the Word. The Word, more than any other book on earth, reveals the mind of its Author. This is so deeply the case that we say that the Word is one and the same with its author, the Lord. Yet unlike with some books that engross us, the Word can feel like a tangled mess that reveals little about the true character of God, much less the inner workings of the mind of Jesus. I have here two images that can help us understand this. On one side there is a brain scan. On the other, an open copy of the Word. At first glance these pictures have little to do with each other. But think about what this brain scan really is. To you and I and most other people it reveals little. But to a trained doctor it would reveal a great deal about what is going on in a person’s mind at a given time. It is a snapshot into someone’s inner life, but one that we can only read if we have the proper training to understand it.

On the other hand we have a copy of the Word. As with the brain scan it reveals what is going on in someone’s mind at a given point. In this case it is the mind of the Lord that is being revealed. And like the brain scan, even though any particular story we might open up to reveals the Lord’s mind, we need the proper training to understand it. If we read this document correctly than we will discover the loving mind of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Every page, every sentence, contains insight into how He thinks and what it is that He loves and cares about. The purpose then of exploring the stories of the Word in light of how they reflect the life and mind of Jesus Christ is that we will then be better equipped to follow His example, not only following the path He set with His words and actions, but going deeper to follow the path He set in His mind.

With this in mind, over the next three weeks we will be looking to the story of Abraham. Even though Abraham lived thousands of years before Jesus was even born, his life perfectly reflects the inner life that Jesus experienced. When we can see this connection we will be better able to not only understand the Lord, but to understand how to model our lives on His. This week we will spend a short time getting a glimpse of how this works. Over the next two weeks we will go deeper into the story of Abraham and into the mind of Jesus. We begin with the first inkling that Abraham had that God had chosen him for a special purpose. As a side note, early on Abraham was known as Abram:

Now the LORD had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran….

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. (Genesis 12:1-4, 7-9)

Prior to the moment described here Abraham did not know of Jehovah in the slightest. He was in fact an idol-worshipper like most people of His day. Yet when he heard the call from the Lord he responded and moved with his family and everything he owned into a new land. This moment may not seem significant but it is the beginning of the epic saga of the Children of Israel, and the land to which the Lord sent Abraham would one day become the Kingdom of Israel. What began as the simple travels of one man from a faraway country into the heart of the Holy Land would lead to momentous things in the future. What we see here is simply the seed being planted, but a seed that would grow to become a great nation, a nation of which the Lord said it would become a blessing for all the nations of the earth. That is the reason that God called Abraham in the first place.

What can this simple beginning tell us about the mind of Jesus? Like the Kingdom of Israel, the great works that Jesus would do needed a beginning: a seed had to be planted that would grow into something greater. That seed was planted in Jesus early childhood. Just as Abraham was called to enter into the heart of what would become the earthly Kingdom of Israel, Jesus from the very beginning was brought to the heart of His own heavenly Kingdom. That heart, the heart and soul of heaven, is childlike innocence and love. Now as with Abraham, the journey does not end there: for Abraham, many centuries would pass before his people were a great nation. And for the Lord it would take years of temptation and struggle before He could fulfill His mission. But all of it, every last bit, stemmed from that first seed planted in childhood.

It might seem odd to think that everything the Lord needed to face the hells, to put them in their place, and to conquer them was established while He was still a little boy, but it is so. It is in fact the case for each of us that something essential to our life is planted within before we are even aware. Listen to this passage from the Teachings of the New Church that speaks to how powerful our childhoods are for our later lives:

The Lord had first of all to be endowed from infancy with the heavenly things of love - the heavenly things of love consisting in love towards Jehovah and love towards the neighbour, and in innocence itself present in those loves. From these, as from the very sources of life, flows every single thing, for all other things are simply derivatives. These heavenly things are implanted in a person primarily in the state of infancy through to childhood. (Secrets of Heaven 1450)

As a child Jesus received deep stores of love and innocence. This took place before He could even talk or conceptualize these things in His mind. They were simply blessings of love that would remain with Him for the rest of His life, and indeed, to eternity.

This stage of the Lord’s life was not trivial. Without these perfectly innocent and heavenly remains sitting at the core of His being He never would have been able to face the onslaught of hell later in life. That which would later give Him strength in temptation, even on the Cross itself, had been received in childhood innocence and stored away, hidden, until such time as it would be needed. Every loving word and parable, every miracle, every demon cast out and every sickness made well, all flowed from the fountain of love, a fountain established in His youth. We all know the power of little children and their heavenly innocence. There was never a moment that that innocence of infancy dissipated. We don’t often think of the fact that while that innocence recedes and is hidden, it never leaves us.

We all have those same heavenly remnants left over from our childhood. Before we were born the Lord was with us in the womb. He has blessed us, as Jesus was blessed, so that now we have all the innocence and power of a child. As does every human being you will meet. The boss who frustrates you to no end, the spouse that drives you crazy, the acquaintance you can’t stand, all were once little children that would have been beautiful to hold and love, that were beautiful and were held and were loved. None of that goes away. It is always there, part of you, making you who you are. And any time you make an effort to show true love, you are only able to do so because love was once the only thing you knew.

So what do we do with this information? Abraham heard the call of God and left his home to dwell in a new land. Jesus felt a call from deep within His soul and left his own desires to accept the heavenly love that was welling like a fountain within Him. Can we follow the example of both Abraham and Jesus? Will you answer the call? Will you remember when times are hard that once in this life all you knew was love? That deep within your heart beats the love and innocence of childhood? That every human you ever meet has that same source of love and innocence within them? And finally will you use that love to become a blessing to those around you? Jesus answered this call. He continues to answer this call. And He calls on us to do the same. Will you answer? Amen.
(Read the next sermon in this 3-part series, about Bargaining)

Commentary

Finding Jesus in the Life of Abraham - Part 2: Bargaining

By Rev. Malcolm G. Smith

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, 1929-30, High Museum of Art, 
By Henry Ossawa Tanner - High Museum of Art, Public Domain,

Finding Jesus in the Life of Abraham - Part 2: Bargaining

A Sermon by Pastor Malcolm G. Smith
7 May 2017

Introduction

The story that we’re going to focus on this evening comes right before one of the more terrifying stories in the Old Testament. That’s the story of when God made it rain fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah and completely destroyed everything and everyone in the whole area.

It’s a terrifying story because, on the face of it, it seems to suggest that, if you manage to anger God badly enough, He will burn you off the face of the planet! This is the kind of story that makes you understand why some people don’t want to believe in God. They don’t want to believe in a God who could do that and they certainly don’t want to try to follow Him.

But, when we look at the story that comes before it, and when we have the help of the teachings of the New Church we get an entirely different picture of God — one that actually shows His incredible love for each and every person. And it can also help us with times when we look at other people who seem to be in a really bad place and stuck in some really destructive behaviours.

This is the second sermon in a series called “Finding Jesus in the Life of Abraham”. Last week, our Assistant Pastor, Joel Glenn, talked about how Jesus, on the road to Emmaus explained to two of His disciples how the whole Old Testament was about Him. In the New Church we take that to be true and believe that “if we read [the Word] correctly then we will discover the loving mind of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Every page, every sentence, contains insight into how He thinks and what it is that He loves and cares about.” If you want more explanation of that concept, go back and read or listen to that sermon.

Today and next week we’re going to focus on using this approach to try to find Jesus in two of the more troubling stories in Abraham’s life. And we’ll be drawing a lot from a book called Secrets of Heaven that goes through Genesis and Exodus and explains the inner meaning, verse by verse.

The Story: The men gaze upon the face of Sodom

Let’s get into the story for today. In chapter 18 of Genesis Jehovah comes to Abraham in the form of three men and Jehovah tells Abraham something that ends up being true: that Sarah will become pregnant and have a son within the next year.

That seems to be the main progression of the story. But then, before the end of the chapter, we read this, in Genesis 18:16-21 (NKJV, modified):

16 And the men rose from there and gazed upon the face of Sodom; and Abraham walked with them to send them on.

17 And Jehovah said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?

18 And Abraham shall be a great and numerous nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.

19 For I know him, and because of that he will command his sons and his household after him, and they will keep the way of Jehovah, to do justice and judgment, so that Jehovah may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

20 And Jehovah said, “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and because their sin has become very heavy,

21 I will go down now, and see whether they have made a complete end of it, according her cry that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

"Secrets of Heaven" explains that, in this chapter, Abraham means the merely human part of the Lord that He got from Mary (Secrets of Heaven 2264-2265) and, perhaps obviously, Jehovah means the Divine within Him.

The Lord went back and forth between two states: times when He was connected to the Divine within Him and times when He was connected with the merely human part of Him from Mary.

In the story when Jehovah comes to Abraham or talks to Him it means the Lord in His human aspect gaining perception or a deep understanding about something from the Divine within Him.

Here the men “gaze upon the face of Sodom” and that’s symbolic of when the Lord, from the Divine within Him, realized just how badly off the human race was — how stuck they were in evil.

Jesus was born into the world when He was, precisely because people were so stuck in evil but, until this point, He hadn’t realized the full extent of it. So when Jesus understood the full extent of people’s evil, He didn’t like it and didn’t want to think about it.

Listen to this explanation of the meaning of the phrase “… and Abraham walked with them to send them on” (Genesis 18:16).

From Secrets of Heaven 2222: “to send them on” means that He wanted to withdraw from that perception.... The reason is also evident, namely that the perception from the Divine, and the thought from it about the human race that that was what they were like, struck Him with horror, for the Lord’s love toward the human race was so great that He willed to save all people to eternity....

Like a parent hearing about something bad that their child has done, part of Jesus didn’t want to know about it. I don’t know about you, but I like knowing that the human part of Jesus was — for a little while at least — overwhelmed by the evil in people and didn’t want to know about it.

It’s also significant to me what happens in the next verse. It says, “And the men turned their face from there, and went toward Sodom, and Abraham was still standing before Jehovah” (Genesis 18:22).

Part of Jesus didn’t want to know it but then He still chose to stand before Jehovah to learn more. You know from the previous verses that He could have just focused on the good people -- those verses about how Abraham will become a great nation and teach his sons in such a way that they always follow Him.

Jesus could have chosen to just think about the obviously good people but instead He stood there and bargained for every last good person who could possibly be in the city.

Abraham Bargains for the Just People

We’ll now read the next part of the story. In this section it contrasts “just people” and “wicked people.” Just people mean good, decent, ethical people who embody justice.

As we read it, instead of hearing it just as being Abraham talking to Jehovah, listen to it as being the human part of Jesus spending time reflecting on the depraved state of the human race, and Him turning to the Divine within Him, trying to get clarity about who could possibly be saved. Listen particularly for the feeling behind the words that Abraham speaks. In the urgency and concern behind the words, we can feel Jesus’ urgency and concern (Secrets of Heaven 2275).

Genesis 18:23-33 (NKJV, modified):

23 And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also consume the just people with the wicked people?

24 Suppose there were fifty just people in the midst of the city; would You also consume the place and not spare it for the fifty just people who are in the midst of it?

25 Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to cause the just people to die with the wicked people, so that the just people should be as the wicked people; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do judgment?”

26 And Jehovah said, “If I find in Sodom fifty just people in the midst of the city, then I will spare all the place for their sake.”

27 And Abraham answered and said, “Indeed, I pray, I want to speak to my Lord, and I am dust and ashes:

28 Suppose there were five less than the fifty just people; would You destroy all of the city for the five?”

And He said, “I will not destroy it, if I find there forty and five.”

29 And he added to speak to Him still, and said, “Suppose there should be forty found there?”

And He said, “I will not do it for the sake of the forty.”

30 And he said, “I pray, let my Lord not be angry, and I will speak: Suppose thirty should be found there?”

And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

31 And he said, “Indeed, I pray, I want to speak to my Lord: Suppose twenty should be found there?”

And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”

32 And he said, “I pray, let my Lord not be angry, and I will speak only this time: Suppose ten should be found there?”

And He said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.”

33 And Jehovah went His way because He had completed speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Jehovah would have spared the city to save even only ten good people. We don’t have the time today to go into the details of what this all means, but can you hear Jesus longing to save every single person who possibly could be helped?

In the story, there aren’t even ten good people in Sodom; there are sort of three. And two angels of Jehovah go down to Sodom to rescue even them. One of them is Abraham’s nephew Lot. The angels tell Him that Sodom is going to be destroyed and so he tries to get his son-in-laws who are engaged to his two daughters to leave but they just mock him. Then the angels tell him to hurry up and take his wife and two daughters and get out of there. But Lot lingers and delays until eventually the angels take him and his wife and his daughters firmly by the hand and bring them out of the city. Then the angels tell them to escape towards the mountain and to not look behind them. And, of course, famously, Lot's wife does look behind, and becomes a pillar of salt. So the only people who escape are Lot and his two daughters and they end up living in a cave and the daughters eventually decide to have children by getting their father drunk and sleeping with him.

The point of all this is that these people that Jehovah saved were not particularly good or cooperative people and yet, because they had even a little bit of willingness to follow, Jehovah went to the effort to rescue them.

I think that’s a beautiful picture of how the Lord God Jesus Christ was when He was in the world, and how He is still. It doesn’t matter what a person has done, the Lord still loves them and cares about them and will still be doing everything He possibly can to rescue them from the hell they have gotten themselves into, if they have even the slightest glimmer of willingness to cooperate.

We can see this principle in words that Jesus spoke, in John 3:1719:

17 For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

19 And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were wicked.

This is the reality that underlies the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the literal text it says that Jehovah caused the destruction but the spiritual reality is that destruction and pain are inherent in evil and the Lord is perpetually protecting us from so much of the awful onslaught of hell. But when we consciously choose to do evil and harmful things then we remove ourselves from His protection and experience the brimstone and fire that He was able to protect us from before (Secrets of Heaven 2395, 2447[4]).

For example, whenever someone does something against what I want I can choose to let it go or I can choose to hate them and burn with rage at them.

In the sermon on the mount Jesus says, “I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother rashly shall be in danger of the judgment. …. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22).

We put ourselves in danger of hell fire, not the Lord. Can you see how these teachings and this way of finding Jesus in the story of Abraham gives us a very different understand of God and His response to people in evil?

What This Means For Us

I want to shift gears now and talk about what this means for us. Our understanding of who God is and what He cares about and how He thinks about and treats other people can have a big impact on how we think about and treat other people. I was struck by this part of a passage from this section of Secrets of Heaven 2284[5]:

"The life of charity consists in thinking what is good in regard to another, and in willing for him that which is good, and in feeling joy within oneself that others as well are saved. But those people do not possess the life of charity whose will is that no others should be saved than those whose beliefs coincide with theirs…."

Knowing that the Lord loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved makes me realise that, if I don’t want a particular person to be saved or a particular group of people to be saved, then that’s a clear sign that I am not actually following the Lord.

We sometimes find ourselves in a frame of mind somewhat similar to the one in which Jesus found Himself, reflecting on the evil state of the human race. It might be in thinking about people or the world in general or, much more painfully, it might be in thinking about people we know and love who seem to be dealing with some evil or other.

Like Jesus, our first reaction might be to want to pull away - to not think about it, not accept that it could be reality that hell has taken hold in someone’s life. But, in those times, we need to follow Jesus’ example and remain standing before Jehovah, and have a conversation with Him. Hold that person in Your prayers and ask the Lord for insight.

When we think about someone else who seems to be in evil we can tend to want to oversimplify the situation and resolve it. We tend to do that in one of two ways:

1) We either say, “Maybe this person is doing some not so great stuff or doing things that don’t technically follow the Lord’s laws but the Lord loves everyone so it’s all fine. Who am I to judge?”

2) Or we say, “This person is evil. God hates them or at least hates what they’re doing. And so this person is dead to me.”

Notice how both of these “solutions” absolve us of any responsibility. The other person is either totally fine or totally hopeless — they don’t need me or I can’t do anything. I think it’s a lot harder to hold another person’s life with its complexity and contradictions — to see good in them and also the influence of hell in them. And it’s certainly a lot harder to try to figure out how to help or do something in response than it is to sit back and do nothing. But what a loving and merciful person would do sometimes is to take action.

Secrets of Heaven 2417[7]: Charity and mercy are present with a person who exercises justice and judgement by punishing the evil and rewarding the good. Charity resides within the punishment of the evil, for he who imposes the punishment is moved by a strong desire to improve the one who is punished and at the same time to protect others from the evil he may do to them.

Conclusion

It’s not simple to figure out how to think about and act towards someone who seems to be in evil. But I do find this story and the perspective it gives on our God very helpful and I do find that it changes how I hold things. It helps me to see that it’s OK for me to be upset when I see someone or a group of people who seem to be in evil. It helps me to see that it is never OK to be happy about someone else maybe ending up in hell. If I’m glad about a person going down or being worse than me then I am not loving the Lord or my neighbour, plain and simple. It helps me to see that sometimes the Lord does want me to take action, even if it’s a messy, frustrating process like what the angels went through to get Lot out of Sodom.

But the main thing that this story does, with the help of the teachings of the New Church, is that it helps me understand my God a bit more and see that He holds nothing but love for every single one of His children. That He is not looking for reasons to punish people or keep them out of heaven. That He is looking for and working for any possible opportunity to save each and every one of us. And that’s a God I can believe in and a God that I want to try to follow. Amen.
(Read the next sermon in this 3-part series, about Belief)

(Read the first (previous) sermon in this 3-part series, about Beginnings)


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