Once again we have chosen a familiar Bible story to show not only that there is an inner, parable meaning in it, but also how that spiritual meaning relates to life here and now. The story or parable is that of Noah’s Ark in the Book of Genesis.
The heavenly meaning of that earthly story has to do with the way the Lord protects mankind when the mind is flooded with the falsities of evil, which threaten to drown out and extinguish all spiritual life.
Now, if we relate the inner meaning to the history of the Church on earth, as we did in the earlier Adam and Eve stories, we see the main subject is how the Lord preserved a remnant of good people when the Most Ancient Church of all, the first Church on earth destroyed itself. The Most Ancient Church was represented by Adam and Even. Neither Adam nor Even was an actual person, but they are representative figures. The same is true of their offspring , Cain and Abel.
You may also recall, perhaps, the heavenly quality of the minds of the people in the Most Ancient Church of all. Their minds were in the perfect order that the Lord had intended for all human beings – they loved the Lord supremely and their neighbour as themselves. They fulfilled the two great commandments.
Now, because their feelings were in such perfect order, their thinking also was of a heavenly kind. They had the most perfect understanding of what was true. They saw everything in the light of the love to the Lord. Since their will was full of celestial love (or love to the Lord), their understanding saw the Lord, His will, His kingdom, His purposes, in everything that before their physical senses. For an example, a mountain suggested the Lord, the “Most High”, and so on. Universal nature was for them a theatre representative of the Lord. They were reminded of the Lord in everything they saw in nature. They had no need for an external revelation of truth in a written Word, as we have, instead, they enjoyed an inner perception of the truth, because, as we have already seen, their feelings were heavenly; their true thoughts were simply a result of their goodwill. What a paradise ! This paradise of the mind is meant by the Garden of Eden…!!
However, in the course of time – probably over thousands of years – there was a gradual decline in the spiritual life of the Most Ancient Church. Instead of trusting in their God-given perceptions, instead of being willing to be led by the Lord, they were persuaded by the serpent of their sensuousness to trust only the evidence of the evidence of their five senses; they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil - taking upon themselves to decide what was good and what was evil. They gradually preferred self, and self-gratification, self-will, to being led by the Lord. They declined from the blessed state of celestial love as being the prevailing love that ruled them, until at length they fell into complete opposition to the Lord. This was the fall of man. Inevitably the excluded themselves from their heavenly state of mind that once they had enjoyed, and brought various curses upon themselves
But among their descendants things were even worse. They merely memorized the doctrine without applying it to life, and so killed all brotherly love or charity; Cain is the mere knowledge of doctrine, and Abel, his brother who was killed, is brotherly love.
The next step in the decline brings us to the flood of falsity that filled the earth if the natural minds of men – the story of Noah, and the Ark that saved him and those related to him.
Noah, also is not a real person but a representative figure. He stands for all those who rested in the Lord by thinking and acting from Him. Significantly, his name means “rest”. He represents the faithful remnant who had not allowed themselves to be perverted by false ideas fabricated by evil men, and so they “found grace in the Lord’s eyes.” These the Lord had to save from spiritual destruction in order to make the nucleus for the new Church – later called the Ancient Church – that was to follow after the Most Ancient one, which, as we have just seen perished in a flood of false principles.
If we are going to go deeper into this parable, we will have to recall what we have learned about the two parts of the mind – the will or feeling side, and the understanding or thought side. In the Most Ancient Church of all – meant by Adam and Eve – the will and the understanding were inseparable, tied together. The people those days just could not separate what they thought from what they loved. What they felt in their hearts, they also thought and uttered with mouths. It was impossible for them to pretend or dissemble or be hypocritical. The wish was ever father to the thought. They just could not think one thing and do the very opposite – as we can today. Their minds were so made that this was impossible for them, the will and understanding were as one.
Perhaps, now, you can see what would be the result if their will or desires became evil. This was a very serious matter. The unavoidable consequence of this was that their thoughts became corrupt also. They were falsified – divorced from reality. They believed the direst fallacies and fantasies. They became gods in their own eyes. They are called “giants” in the Word, but in the original tongue it is “Nephilim” or “fallen ones” – a very graphic description of their fallen spiritual state. Self-love ruled their wills, self-deception their understandings. Bearing in mind this world, we can now understand why God said to unto Noah: “The end of all flesh is come before Me: for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
It is said that God would destroy them but, of course, this, like so many things in the Word, is said according to the appearance, the reality being that they had corrupted themselves, and so they destroyed all spiritual desires in themselves.
But there were still a few who acted from the Lord, and these are represented, as we saw, by Noah – the nucleus for a new Church to be raised up in place if the former Church, which no longer was able to be the necessary link between heaven and earth.
A Profound Psychological Change
Here we come to something that had a most profound and far-reaching influence on the history of the human race ever since, and still affects us today. That is, it became necessary for the Lord to make a most significant change in the make-up of the human mind. In order to preserve those few good in the Church, the Lord had to separate the understanding side of the mind from the will side. Even those represented by Noah would have perished spiritually in the end, if this drastic change had not been made – if it had not been possible for people to think apart from the influence of their natural will, their natural inclination and impulses, in fact, think contrary to them.
For example, the lust of murdering those who stood in the way would have remained unchecked unless the understanding could have risen above the desires of the will. Unless the understanding could have been elevated to see that murder was wrong and forbidden, it could would simply have supplied reasons and justifications for murder. It would have been just a tool in the hands of man’s evil desires. So it had to be separated, and have, to speak, an independent life separated, and have, so to speak, an independent life of its own. In this respect, you see, the people of the second Church on earth, the Ancient Church, were very different from their predecessors, the Most Ancient Church. They could be instructed that such and such a thing was evil; and though they still might want to d it, they could see the truth, because their understanding could be separated from the feelings of their will. Their thoughts could rise above the evil influence of the their corrupted will, which had to be sealed off and covered over, so that it would not act upon the understanding and corrupt it. It is quite obvious that when mankind cannot even see the truth, it has no hope of living according to it. That is why it was so important for the remnant of the good represented by Noah to have their understanding separated from their will
Now, we are like that today; and there we see the particular relevance of the story of Noah’s Ark for us today. We do not have that Celestial perception, that insight, that the people of the Most Ancient Church of all had. We are different from them. We cannot trust our feelings. Despite the seductive murmurings of mystics and sentimentalists, we cannot rely on our feelings, our delights, our impulses. We have to examine them. We have to bring them into the courtroom of our understanding, and judge them according to the law of the kingdom of God, which He set out in His written Word. We have to use our understanding of the Word as the criterion of what is good and evil, true or false, because the Word raises our thoughts – our understanding - into the light of heaven. We are not forced to think in accordance with our evil hereditary will, as were the fallen ones of the Most Ancient Church. We are capable of thinking apart from it; we are capable if raising our thoughts above the prompting of our natural man. Our understanding can function separately from our diseased will.
This very drastic and significant change in the makeup of man of the human mind had to be made before the last remnant of the good and faithful perished from the earth in a flood of falsity. Noah had to be saved.
The destructive falsities that flooded the mind of mankind are the floodwaters. These falsities blotted out every vestige of love and charity – the exalted mountains of our spiritual life, our elevated states, when we feel uplifted. This is meant in the story by the waters covering even the mountain tops. The extinction of all the feeling and thoughts of a heavenly kind is to be understood by the “death of every living thing”. The protection of the truly faithful and sincere in the Church is seen in the preparations made for the making of an Ark – which represents that independent understanding that could rise above the perverted will.
This natural will, with its evil impulses, had to be closed off so that its influence would not penetrate into the new spiritual kind of understanding that the people of the Ancient Church were to have. This is the significance of the Ark being “pitched with pitch,” or, as it really says in the original, being “covered with the covering.” The old will had to be, as it were, covered over so that it would not cause falsities to seep in and eventually sink the understanding of truth, just as seen in the natural sense, the covering had to keep the water out of the Ark.
In this new, separated understanding, there was to be a constant looking upwards to the Lord, in order to receive spiritual light. This, you can see, is rather graphically taught in the parable by the reference to the window made in the Ark a cubit from the top. Everything in the Ark had to look upwards in order to see the light. No light came from below – only from above. And not only that; the elevated understanding, through which the is admitted, is to be the means of looking out and seeing the state of the earthly, natural mind below, just as the window admitted light and was the only means of seeing the state of the earth below.
All the good affections and the true thoughts in the conscious mind had to be collected together and preserved from the ravages of the flood of falsities. These good things are meant by the various animals, the fowls, and the creeping things, that were saved by means of the Ark.
By the way, it is most interesting and instructive, and also very convincing, to study the order in which these things are mentioned. When the fowls are mentioned first in the list, the understanding or thought side if the mind is always being discussed, because, as we remember from the seven days of creation, the fowls of the air or the birds correspond to the thoughts of the mind, which can rise more easily to greater heights than the affections can, which are represented by the beasts and the creeping things.
But when the will or affectional side of the mind is being discussed, it invariably happens in the narrative that the beasts or the clean animals are mentioned first in the list of creatures that are to enter the Ark. That always happens. It surely must be more than a coincidence.
The creeping things are always included , too. They correspond to the pleasures that we derive from the body, and these pleasures are the lowest part if the mind. But they, too, have their place in the Ark – they must be protected by means of an enlightened elevated understanding.
But it was very important, as you can easily understand, for the people represented by Noah to keep looking upward to the light, to the Lord, to keep thinking in accordance with that He said, because they would have been sorely tempted to believe the flood of falsities that was swirling around them. They had to rise above them, they had to stay within that Ark, which, as we saw, represented the separated understanding. And all that was in the Ark means all the good affections and true thoughts that were preserved by means of it.
They were tempted to believe the false ideas of man. There was a constant struggle on in their minds as to whether they would look upward to the Lord or downward to the world; and that is still a perennial struggle with the human race.
You know, people tend to have a rather restricted idea if what the temptations are; and very few understand that they are all useful for regenerating our minds and making them heavenly. There are actually two kinds of temptations; being tempted to do what is evil, that is, what is forbidden by the Lord; and also being tempted to believe what is false, and reject the truth that the Lord reveals. Now, it is this latter kind of temptation, being tempted to believe what is false, that most people overlook Yet this is what appears on the scene first, and it is the kind of temptation meant by the flood described in this parable of Noah’s Ark. As we have already seen, the Ark means the understanding separated from the will, and it is this understanding that has to be made heavenly or reformed first of all. Now, how is this done ? Well, the only means of doing that is temptations struggles. Man is tempted to believe what is false. He wavers between the true and the false. The issue always is, is he going to believe and follow what the Lord reveals or not ? This is the kind of temptation suffered by the people represented by Noah and his family.
Now, perhaps you can see why the number “forty” is mentioned so frequently in the narrative; “the forty days and forty nights” of rain, for example. That reminds us that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and the Lord was tempted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. Whenever the number “forty” occurs in the Word, it very obviously refers to a state of temptation. And in the Noah’s Ark story, as we saw, the reference is to the temptations which help reform the understanding and make it rise above the perverted, twisted natural will, and thus kept it afloat.
So the purpose of the temptation if that sort is to strengthen our belief in what is true. When the understanding is, in this way, reformed and made heavenly, when the man of the church can at least think and believe as they do in heaven, then he can begin to live and do what he sees to be true and good. He can conjoin his new understanding with a new kind of will, that also is heavenly and spiritual. The two have to be conjoined together.
Incidentally, that is why the animals had to go in two by two, in pairs – male and female; to represent the conjunction of the new will and the new understanding, the male representing the understanding and female the will.
But following the long siege of temptation troubles, there came a blessed period of consolation for the people of the Ancient Church that followed after the Most Ancient Church one. There was a blessed period of peace and release from the imprisonment of the temptation. This of course, is meant by Noah and his family and the animals emerging from the Ark. Let us look into the significance of that now, as we conclude our overview of the parable of Noah’s Ark.
EMERGING FROM THE ARK
Now, they did not emerge from the Ark immediately. Before the release from temptation could take place, there was a period of fluctuation between the truth and believing the false. Falsities had not disappeared completely and immediately. This is represented by the waters coming and going, staying on the earth for a considerable period. In this stage falsities come and go, causing a certain disturbance in the mind. This state of obscurity that they experienced is also represented by the dark – coloured raven that went forth, going and returning. It is easy to see how the black raven represents the darkness of falsities. In many passages in the Word it is linked with the owl – a bird of night, for example, in Isaiah Chapter 34, where the spiritual sense also discusses he darkness of ignorance and falsity that prevails when the Church comes to an end. So it is said: “The owl also and the raven shall dwell therein.”
Now it is interesting to note that the raven was sent forth after “forty” days. Not “forty days and forty nights,” as is said in the earlier verses. This is to signify that it is the beginning of a new state, when temptations will cease. There will be no night. The light of day has dawned.
In general, there are three phases to this state of mind following temptation. There are three gradual changes. The first is that there are in mind some true things that should be delivered, but they cannot find a lodging place where they can rest. The second phase is one in which there is some reception of the true things that should be delivered. The third is one in which the good feelings of charity make themselves felt and come forth in word and deed. This is the true consolation, and release from temptation.
These three phases of the state following temptation can be seen very easily in the Noah’s Ark story. The first one – where the true things of faith cannot be fully received because falsities and doubts are still floating around – is meant by the dove that Noah sent forth from him which “found no rest for the soul of her foot, and returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth.” This is even more understandable if you know what a dove always corresponds to whatever it is mentioned in the Word of God. It stands for the belief in truth that a man has when he lives a good life. It is the kind of faith that a charitable man has. He sees the truth because he has already lived it.
There are two reasons why there was no place for this kind of truth. We have seen the first one: falsities and doubts had not entirely disappeared. The second reason was that they thought they did what was good and believed that was true from themselves, from their own power and strength. They thought that the Lord’s truth was their own not the Lord’s. They thought, subconsciously, that all the power and strength to do the Lord’s will came from themselves, that it was their hand that did it, even as Noah stretched forth his hand and took the dove in unto himself. There are many other examples in the Word where the “hand” or the “right hand” stands for power, and in the case of the Lord, the Divine Omnipotence. So, for an example, we read in Isaiah, in reference to the Lord’s Power, “Is my hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem ? Or, have I no power to deliver ?”
This usage is consistent throughout, so when it is said that Noah stretched forth his hand, the meaning is that they did it all from their own power, without acknowledging the Lord’s strength. But the second phase – when there was some reception of the true things that must be believed – is seen in what happens when the dove is sent forth a second time from the Ark. And note: it is not sent out from him…!! The words “from him” are very significantly omitted. The people of the Ancient Church began to realize that they did not do it all from their own power. They acknowledge the Lord’s strength. This is why there began to be some reception of the truth. Something of charity was beginning to move them now. This is meant by the fact that the dove brought back the olive leaf in her mouth. In the Word there are several examples of “the olive” and “the oil” (which comes from the olive tree) standing for and representing the goodness of charity. This is not the time to demonstrate this, although it could be done.
You can readily understand that when, in the natural story (as told in the Word), the dove brought back the olive leaf, this indicated that the waters had decreased to the point where at least the trees were visible. And this means, of course, in the spiritual sense that falsities and doubts were decreasing somewhat.
Yet it was only a beginning. There was still a great deal of obscurity. That is why the dove is said to have returned “at eventide.”
The third phase – when the good feelings of charity began to shine forth in word and deed – is pictured by the dove returning no more to the Ark. Then began a period of genuine regeneration, when they began to live from real charity or love of the neighbour. There is real consolation and release from nagging temptation doubts. Noah and his family and the animals come out from the Ark, are set free, and the told to multiply. Love of the neighbour multiplies in anyone the more it is practiced.
You know, there are some interesting details that we could notice in passing: for instance, when the new Church – the Ancient Church that followed on after the Most Ancient one – when the new Church meant by Noah was established, the worshiped the Lord. The original actually says “Jehovah.” Before this time the name used is always God, as we also saw in the first six days of creation. Whenever the Church is being established, the Divine name used is God; but whenever it has been established, the name used is the Lord. This is consistent throughout the Word.
There are, of course, many other details in the story – each one containing some spiritual lesson – but there is no space to go into them. However, everything we learn about the inner meaning of Noah’s Ark is important for us today, because the Lord’s way of regenerating our minds and preparing them for heavenly happiness is still the same as in the Ancient Church meant by Noah. We still cannot trust our natural feelings and impulses. We still need to seal off our old will and raise our understanding by means of the Word into the light of heaven. We still need the Lord’s loving and wise protection against the flood of falsities that inundate our minds and cause us to doubt and wonder. We still need to be reminded that the Lord does console and pacify us after temptations today just as He did for the Ancient Church represented by Noah.
By Rev. Douglas Taylor
All this is based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Let us conclude with this passage about Noah’s Ark:
“If the ark with its coating of pitch, its measurements, and its construction, and the flood also, signified nothing more than the letter (Bible) expresses, there would be nothing spiritual and celestial in the account of it, but only something historical, which would be of no more use to human race than any similar thing described by secular writers. But because the Word if the Lord everywhere in its bosom or interiors involves and contains spiritual and celestial things said about the ark, are signified hidden things not yet revealed. It is the same in other places, as is the case if the little ark in which Moses was concealed, which was placed among the bulrushes by the river side (Ex. 2:3); and to take a more lofty instance, it was made after the pattern shown to Moses on Mount Sinai. If each and all things in this ark had not been representative of the Lord and His kingdom, it would have been nothing else than a sort of idol, and the worship idolatrous. Similarly, the temple of Solomon was not holy at all of itself, or account of the gold, silver, cedar, and stone in it, but on account of all the things that these represented. And so here – if the ark and its construction, with its several particulars, did not signify some hidden thing of the church, the Word would not be the Word of the Lord, but a kind of dead letter, as in the case of any profane writer. Therefore it is evident that the ark signifies (these things)” Arcana Caelestia p. 639.
That was quoted from the work Arcana Caelestia by Emanuel Swedenborg.