My name is Solomon Keal. I am a minister for the General Church of the New Jerusalem, which is a Swedenborgian Christian denomination. These are some of my thoughts about the Lord, the symbolic meanings in the Bible, life after death, faith, charity, usefulness, loving the Lord and one's neighbor, the 2nd Coming, Swedenborg's Writings, and other theological stuff.
Monday, May 17, 2010
My First Sermon
"The Uncut Stones of the Temple"
1 Kings 6:1-7
Swedenborg's True Christianity, number 221
Today we are going to focus on the meaning of the whole uncut stones used in constructing the walls of the temple in Jerusalem, and how that applies to our life. The specific text that we will be focusing on is 1 Kings chapter 6 vs. 7 which says that “...the house itself...was built with unhewn stone, and no hammer or ax or any iron tool was heard in the house while it was being built.” (1 Kings 6:7)
There is some disagreement among Biblical scholars over whether these stones that were brought to build the temple were whole uncut stones, or whether they were simply cut to size and squared off-site at the quarry before arriving at the temple construction site. It makes a big difference in how we picture the temple in out minds, or in artwork. Many artists paint Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem as being built out of large square blocks of stone, much like the construction of the Bryn Athyn cathedral. But this may not be an accurate portrayal of the temple. It may be more accurate to portray the temple as being built of large irregularly-shaped stones, fitted together with mortar. Or maybe the temple was built of whole stones that were carefully fit together like puzzle pieces without mortar, like the dry-stone-wall construction of Machu Picchu in Peru. Whether it’s a difference between source texts, or because the Hebrew is simply unclear, there are differing opinions on this point. Fortunately we know from the Heavenly Doctrines as revealed by Emanuel Swedenborg that the temple was indeed made of unhewn or uncut stones, and that this was for a very specific and important reason.
But before we get to that reason, let’s place this passage in context. How does this story of the temple being built have meaning in our life? What is the spiritual meaning of the temple? Jesus Himself answered this question in John:
So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Break this temple in pieces and I will raise it in three days." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking about the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)
It is widely recognized in the Christian world that the body of Christ means the Church (see TCR 372), and that we should abide in the Lord and the Lord in us. (see John 15:4). We also know from John chapter one that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Word. So from all of these passages we can see that the temple represents the Lord, the Word, the Church or religion, and that we should live our spiritual lives in that temple, and that we should build a house in us for the Lord to live.
So the construction of that temple refers to the construction of our religion; the place in us where the Lord can dwell. And King Solomon in this story represents the Lord in His first advent, or in the case of our current lives, he represents the first advent of the Lord into our hearts and minds. Once we have received the Lord into our lives, He can begin to regenerate us, which is the construction of the temple. The construction of the temple took seven years to accomplish, much like the seven days of creation that we know represents our spiritual rebirth. And though the entire project was overseen by Solomon (representing the Lord), we know that in the Word, "the builders are the people of the church” (HH 534). In other words: we are employed by the Lord to build our own religion.
When a building is being constructed, first the outside is constructed, then the inside is constructed. This is true for us too. First we need create external structures in our life, by developing good habits and spiritual practices. In time, those external structures can be filled with the actual goods of religion. In other words, we first have to force ourselves in a very mechanical and structured way to follow the truths of religion; such as obeying the 10 commandments. After that is accomplished we can begin to love to do those things. That external structure can only be founded on truths. That is why the exterior of the temple was built of hard stone (representing truths), and the interior of the temple was built of soft wood (representing good).
The Lord has told us in His Word that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1), and also that “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:24-25) We also know that the Lord Himself is called “The Stone of Israel” (Genesis 49:24), and that as it says in John; the Lord is the Word (John 1:1,14).
These passages explain that we need to construct our religion based on the truths of the Lord’s Word. In the Word, truths are represented by rocks or stones, such as the two tablets of stone on which the 10 commandments were written. But these passages from the literal sense of the Word also illustrate the process of how we should construct our religion; namely by using the literal sense of the Word. Passages from the Word can be placed together to form spiritual ideas that we can live by, much like stones can be placed together to form a building that we can live in.
The Writings of Swedenborg tell us that whole unhewn stones represent the truths of the literal sense of the Lord’s Word (see AC 8940, 8941; AE 585). Hewn stones by contrast represent “what is artificial, and thus what is fictitious in worship; that is, what is of man's own or of the figment of his thought and heart.” (AC 1298:2) and also “whatever of doctrine, religion, and worship is from self-intelligence” (AE 585:11). Because everything can have both a good and bad correspondence, rocks or stones can represent either truth or falsity; and in this case a hewn stone represents falsity from our own intelligence. (see AR 847) Taken to the extreme we can see how evil comes out of this when we think about how an intricately hewn stone could become an idol, and could achieve the complete opposite result from the one intended by building the temple.
A religious fabrication, produced out of self-intelligence and not derived from the Word, is meant in the internal sense by 'idols' and 'strange gods', by 'molten images' and 'graven images'. Products of the self are nothing else; for in themselves they are dead, even though venerated as living. (AC 8941)
The reason why hewn stones represent this, is because of what iron tools represent. “By these instruments are signified such things as are of self-intelligence, and which devise.” (AC 8942) Iron tools are an extension of our hands which are extensions of our own will and our own understanding, and when these stem from love of one's self above all else, it is dangerous to apply them to the Lord’s Word. (see AC 10406:11) The Writings say that, "‘iron’ signifies truth in ultimates, which is called sensual truth, which when separated from rational and spiritual truth, is turned into falsity.” (AR 847) When we take truth only at it’s sensual, literal level, we can be tempted to abuse it. We could take one truth out of context and repeatedly hit someone over the head with it to drive home a point we want to make, much like chiseling at a stone with sharp iron. That is not what the Lord wants us to do with His truths. His truths are meant to be gently, quietly placed together to build a house suitable for worship which is the life of charity.
As was said earlier, the stones in the walls of the temple specifically represent the truths of the literal sense of the Word. Like rocks these truths can be very irregular at times. They can be bulky. They can be heavy and hard to carry. They can have sharp points and rough edges. When we’re trying to fit them into the philosophy of how we live our lives, it can be very tempting to take the iron tools of our limited selfish intellect and shave off some corners. For example ‘This statement about the Lord wanting the children of Israel to kill Midianites in the book of Numbers, doesn’t fit with Jesus telling us to love our enemies in Matthew. I think I’ll just trim the corner off so they fit together better. Or maybe I’ll just leave this stone out; it really doesn’t seem to fit.’ In the past, the Christian church fell into the error of splitting God into three persons, almost like splitting what should have been one whole stone into three stones to make them fit better in the walls of the temple.
Despite the fact that the Lord warns us not to use our limited selfish intellect to change the stones of the literal sense of the Word, He still wants us to work with these stones. We still need to do the work of actually piecing them together into the walls of a temple that will hold the life of charity. The Lord does not do this for us. And so we are told in the Writings,
That by "'a worker in stone' is signified the good of love, or the will of one who is regenerate, [and that this] is because the good of love works in a person while they are being regenerated, and disposes the truths with them into order; and afterward, when they have been regenerated, it keeps them in their order." (AC 9846)
If we have a love for the Lord and a love for the neighbor in our hearts, then that will guide us in knowing how these strangely shaped stones of the Lord’s Word can be pieced together to form a beautiful temple; the life of religion.
Our job as good workers of stone, is to trust that the whole stones of the literal sense of the Lord’s Word do fit together to form the walls of the church in us. Whether they fit because of the conjunctive power of mortar (which represents the good of charity (see AC 1300)), or because the Lord gives us the spiritual enlightenment to see how the puzzle-like stones fit together, the important thing is that we do not attempt to change or modify the truths of the literal sense of the Word with our own intellect. We need to trust that our religion can be based on those truths.
When we do this, we will develop a good trusting relationship with the Lord. We will also gain a sense of contentment. This is why the building of the temple was relatively silent, because of “the meaning of 'being silent' as resting content and... refusing to think or believe that [we] achieve anything by [our] own powers” (AC 8176)
Once the external structure of our religion has been constructed out of the truths of the literal sense of the Word, we can begin the interior decoration of that temple. Strangely enough, though the external walls of the temple had to be built from unhewn stones, the interior walls of the temple were built out of intricately carved wood. Iron tools must have been used on that wood! So how do we reconcile this? The Lord does not want us to be robots, blindly obeying His will. He wants us to use our understanding, and our sense of self, for good. A common saying in our church, taken from the book True Christianity, is that ‘Now it is permitted to enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith.” (TCR 508) The Lord permits the use of our 'iron tools' on the rational and good things of the interiors of the temple. But those things must first be given structure and stability by the unhewn stones of the exterior walls: the truths of the literal sense of the Word. Without that structure and protection, the beautifully and delicately carved wood of the interior of the temple would be destroyed by the elements of nature, and simply fall to pieces.
So think about your own religion. Is it constructed out of whole unhewn stones? Is it constructed out of a knowledge of the literal sense of the Word? Are you a good worker in stone? Is your construction design based on love to the Lord and love to the neighbor? Think about these things the next time you see a stone wall, and remember the Lord’s words in Matthew: “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:24-25)