Divide and Conquer

Saturday, February 2, 2000

Location - Bath
Attribute - Spiritual Disciplines
Bible Verses - 1 Kings 11:43-12:16
Matthew 11:14-30


Bath 2-13-00

I Kings 11:43-12:16

Matthew 12:14-30

From Arcana Coelestia 3207

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.

Matthew 12:25

Our first lesson touched on an illustration of this principle. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel divided against itself, and ultimately it fell. If we are familiar with the geography of the Holy Land, both the division and the failure make clear sense; and that sense, looked at spiritually, overflows with meaning. Our theology tells us that the southern kingdom, Judah, corresponds to our will and the northern kingdom, Israel, to our understanding--the one to the heart, the other to the mind. This may sound arbitrary, but it fits the actual circumstances strikingly.

The two regions are actually quite different. Judah is mountainous and relatively secluded, Israel hilly and open. The Holy Land itself is a kind of narrow land bridge between the vastly larger empires of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the main thoroughfare between them goes straight through the heartland of Israel--through the plain of Jezreel, Ezekiel's "valley of decision," guarded by the city of Megiddo. The Hebrew for ˙"[the hill of Megiddo˙"] is har Megiddo, which comes into Greek as "Armageddon," where, according to the Book of Revelation (16:16), the demonic troops gather in preparation for the final confrontation. From Israel, the route leads to the Philistine lowlands, completely bypassing Jerusalem and the whole center of Judah. Israel is in the thick of things. Judah is off the beaten track.

The difference between the two kingdoms, then, is rather like the difference between upstate Vermont and downtown New York; and the Bible gives evidence that there was a corresponding difference in mentality. Israel was cosmopolitan, Judah provincial. Israelite religious thought was vulnerable to foreign, unorthodox influences. Judah tended to stay with "that old-time religion." Faced with a threat from the outside, they might join in alliance; but when things were going well, they tended to look toward each other with suspicion at best and open hostility at worst.

Let us pause at this point and see how nicely this fits with the correspondence of the two kingdoms. The northern kingdom of our minds is where we carry on our traffic with the world around us. We learn, we evaluate, we chart our course, we share our thoughts with each other. The southern kingdom of our hearts, our loves, is much more private and much more conservative. We are far more cautious about sharing our feelings than about sharing our thoughts; and it is far easier to change what we think about things or people than to change how we feel about them.

With this in mind, let us turn back to the literal story. A superficial reading gives the impression of a classical period of unity under the three first kings, Saul, David, and Solomon, with the northern kingdom rebelling against Solomon's son Rehoboam. A more careful reading, though, gives a different picture.

Saul's gifts and role were clearly more military than administrative. He is portrayed as leader of the armies of Israel only. He never established a capital city or "ruled the nation" in the usual sense of those terms. When he died, his son Ishbosheth succeeded him on the throne in the north, while David was chosen king by the southern tribes. For seven years, the country was divided, with David ruling in Hebron, well south of Jerusalem, and Ishbosheth ruling in the north. It was only after the death of Ishbosheth that the northern tribes chose David as their king and that he accepted and moved his capital north to Jerusalem, right on the border between the two regions.

How united were the South and the North, then? Ultimately, the South accepted the promise to David, with its principle of dynastic succession. Evidently, though, the North saw things differently. Notice how the story is told, joining the last verse of First Kings eleven and the first verse of chapter twelve. "And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father; and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead. And Rehoboam went to Shechem; for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king." Clearly, the North did not regard his Jerusalem coronation as binding on them. "What share do we have in David?" Equally clearly, Rehoboam agreed. When his harsh terms were rejected, he simply went home. This was no rebellion--Rehoboam simply campaigned in New York and lost the election.

What is happening here spiritually? In a way, it is the Jacob and Esau story all over again, the mind apparently supplanting the heart. We tend to start our relatively independent adult lives with the best of intentions, and believe that those intentions will guarantee our success. Then we discover that there are some lessons to be learned, that we cannot just do what feels right. We have to learn to calculate consequences, "whether we like it or not." We discover that we don't make the rules, and that if we want to reach our objectives, we have to play by the world's rules. We learn about mortgages and dentists' bills and car payments. We cannot put our good intentions in the envelopes that come with our monthly bills. Our creditors expect checks.

This is pictured by Israel's exposure to the outside world, her vulnerability to the standards and values of "the Gentiles," even the idolaters. It is hard, perhaps impossible, not to be swayed by the images of success and failure with which we are bombarded. For example, it is frighteningly easy for a minister (or a church member) to attach too much importance to attendance figures. It is hard for the feminist movement not to accept the prevalent male definitions of success.

Mentally, then, we capitulate. The northern kingdom falls. What is often overlooked, though, is that the southern kingdom holds out for quite a long time. That is, the heart is still more or less in the right place. We really do want to live up to our ideals. We want to be decent Christian people, and within the narrow limits of circumstance, we do try. The fall of the southern kingdom does not come until we realize, usually in midlife, how much we have invested in our "positive self-image"--our good opinion of ourselves.

Then we feel the full consequences of the house divided against itself. Then we enter the period of the prophets, with their scathing critiques--their scathing critiques and their radiant visions of a peaceable kingdom to come. That, though, is another story, for another time. For now, let us turn the clock back instead of forward. There is a reason for this division, a reason that comes clear when we look toward its origins.

For this, we turn to the story of the conquest in the book of Joshua. Again, it helps to know the setting, the geography. The story tells of the conquest first of Jericho and then of Ai: and if you plot these cities on a map, you discover that Joshua is bidding to cut the country in half. It comes as no surprise, then, that five southern kings join forces to stop him, and that the locus of the battle is at the head of the valley of Ajalon, the main route from the Philistine lowlands to the mountains of the southern territory. The southern territory is the more isolated, and it cannot afford to be cut off.

It comes as no surprise either that when these kings are defeated, a northern coalition forms. They have not been threatened by the strike across the center because this does not isolate them, but when the major players in the south have been defeated, things begin to look serious. This is not some raiding band from the desert come to plunder and retreat. These are people who intend to settle down and take over.

Spiritually understood, this is a very suggestive picture of a process we go through in adolescence. The conquest of the Holy Land (which, if we read carefully, was a very incomplete conquest) is clearly a picture of beginning to overcome our inner enemies. In early adolescence, peer pressure is everything, and we tend to see the world around us as the source of all our problems. But sometime around the beginning of high school, there is a strong tendency for us to become much more introspective, to try to figure out how we work, what kind of people we really are.

One of the main things we have to learn is precisely how our attitudes affect the way we understand the outside world--how our feelings, then, affect our thinking. I may feel that no one understands me, but that may be only the way I feel. In the language of object relations theory, feelings become what I have and not what I am. I am able to step back from them and look at them. In the image of the Bible, Joshua begins to distinguish the southern kingdom from the northern one.

When we do this, some of our more blatantly egocentric attitudes become so evident that they embarrass us. These "kings of the south" put up some resistance, but once they are exposed, they have lost their hold on us. Once they are rejected, their distorted patterns of thinking lose their hold as well. The "kings of the north" have lost their plausibility. We are, in other words, well on our way to that adult state in which we can learn truths, obey them, and come eventually to love them. We can engage in self-examination, repentance, and reformation of life because our kingdom is divided, because our thinking has gained a measure of independence from our feelings.

This, though, is where our third lesson comes in. It appears that truth is leading, but in fact, we would pay no attention to truth unless there were some desire to do so. The absolute essential is that somewhere down inside, in spite of our self-absorption, we really do want to be decent Christians. We will ultimately discover that we cannot take credit for this, that it is a gift from the Lord, but it us just as much ours, just as much a part of us, as are all the other feelings and thoughts we may have.

"People believe that the truth enables us to perceive what is good because it instructs us, but this is an appearance. It is the good that enables the truth to perceive; the good is actually the soul of truth, or the life of truth. People believe that the truth leads us to the good when we live according to what the truth teaches; but it is the good that flows into the truth and leads it to itself" (Arcana Coelestia 3207:5).

The northern kingdom is the significant player on the international scene. It controls the highway. Egypt and Mesopotamia don't really care much about those people off in the mountains. They should. Some very important things are happening there, in that relative seclusion. It is to Jerusalem, after all, that the Messiah will eventually come, ushering in the kingdom that will endure long after the mighty empires of Assyria and Babylon and Egypt have crumbled. And it is the kingdom of the heart that rules us in the end. It is our love that leads us to our eternal home--not what we profess to believe, but what we love, and love enough to live.


From Arcana Coelestia 3207

But we can tell quite clearly what appearances are from things in the Word. where it speaks in the language of appearances. Still, there are levels of appearances. Natural appearances of truth are full of deceptive elements; but when they are held by people who are engaged in right living, then they are not called deceptions but appearances and even to some extent truths. The good that is in them, because there is something divine in it, gives them a different essence. On the other hand, rational appearances of truth are more or less inward. The heavens are engaged in them--the angels in heaven, that is . . . . To provide some notion of what appearances of truth are, here are some examples. I. People believe that we are reformed and regenerated by the truth that faith perceives, but this is an appearance. We are reformed and regenerated by the good that faith does, that is, by charity toward the neighbor and love for the Lord. II. People believe that the truth enables us to perceive what is good because it instructs us, but this is an appearance. The good is what enables the truth to perceive, good being the soul or the life of truth. III. People believe that the truth leads us to the good when we live by what the truth teaches; but it is the good that flows into the truth and leads us to itself. IV. It seems to us that the truth perfects the good, when in fact the good is perfecting the truth. V. It seems to us as though the good things we do in our lives are the fruits of faith, but they are the fruits of charity. These few examples provide us with some knowledge of what appearances of truth are. There are countless more of the same kind.

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