Jospeh imprisioned with the cupbearer and baker (Part 1)

The Goodness of the Lord at Work in the Natural Mind
(Part 1)

This sermon is the first of two dealing with the story of Joseph’s imprisonment in Genesis Chpt 40.  There is no audio version available for part 1 of this sermon.

READINGS:  Gen 40; AC 5072

Arcana Celestia 5072
The internal sense of this chapter continues to deal with the state of temptations, by means of which bodily things could be brought into a state of agreement. Rightly called bodily ones, those things are the powers of the senses, of which there are two kinds, some sensory powers being subordinate to the understanding part of the mind, others to the will part. Those subordinate to the understanding part are represented by the cupbearer of the king of Egypt, and those subordinate to the will part by the baker. The eventual retention of the former but casting away of the latter is represented by the fact that the cupbearer returned to the position he had held previously, whereas the baker was hanged. Everything else will become evident from the train of thought.

When you look at the life of Joseph we see a life marked by major changes in circumstance, of moving from one state of life to another.  Of all the figures in the book of Genesis Joseph seems to have had more than his share of ups and downs.  He was the first of two sons to be born to Jacob and Rachel but in the order of his family he was the 11th son of 12, with the others being born to Jacob and Leah and his concubines.  However, because of Jacob’s love for Rachel he favoured Joseph above all his children and made this obvious in providing him with a coat of many colours.  So it’s pretty clear that Joseph’s relationship to his father was something of a high point in his tumultuous life.  This favouritism didn’t go down too well with his brothers whose jealousy got the better of them after Joseph shared a couple of dreams that he had had, the meaning of which had him ruling over everyone else in his family including his father.  Incensed, his brothers plotted to kill him but in the end one of them managed to persuade them to sell Joseph to a group of nomadic traders, who in turn sold him.  This was clearly a low point in Joseph’s life.

He ended up as a slave in the house of an Egyptian named Potiphar.  Potiphar soon recognised that the Lord was with Joseph due to the fact that everything Joseph was involved in was blessed.  Before long Potiphar saw to it that he was given more and more responsibility to the point where he handed every aspect of his household’s affairs over to him.  Potiphar had complete trust in him.  Then there was an incident where Potiphar’s wife made sexual advances toward Joseph which he rejected.  Spurned by Joseph she lied and accused him of making inappropriate advances toward her.  Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison, a definite low point.  But even in prison all Joseph was involved with prospered in that the keeper of the prison recognised the same qualities in him that Potiphar had and so he placed all the prisoners under Joseph’s authority, another high point relatively speaking.

The life of Joseph is a series of high and low points, of moving from favourable to unfavourable circumstances, but the thing about his life is that even when he was in a patch of unfavourable circumstances they always turned around to be as good as anyone could expect given the nature of the circumstances he found himself in.

There is of course a general spiritual principle being illustrated in all this and that is that every moment offers an opportunity for a new beginning.  Joseph’s changing fortunes, shifts in circumstances, all tell the story of the struggles we all face when we commit to directing our attention towards the inner life of our mind.  His life also teaches us that as far as a spiritual life is concerned ups and downs are to be expected, and that regardless of how difficult things get we are to continue to remain faithful to our understanding of the principles of goodness taught in the Lord’s Word regardless of what life throws at us.  Joseph’s story teaches that even where all else has failed us, the Lord will never will leave us comfortless.  In the darkest times, the Lord is most fully present always keeping open the possibility for a new beginning.

On a deeper level Joseph represents what is of the Lord’s goodness that comes to us through the heavens and is able to flow down into the most external level of our minds to organise our affections and thoughts into a form that is more reflective of a heavenly pattern.  The technical term in the Arcana Celestia used for this is the celestial (which means what is of goodness) of the spiritual (which relates to truth) in the natural (which means on the plane of mind on which we are able to have some level of awareness of spiritual things).

We can see that he represents this when we consider his journey to Egypt.  Joseph came into Egypt from the land of Canaan and that journey is always described in terms of a descent or a movement from what is higher into what is lower.  The terms higher and lower when understood spiritually mean what is more internal (higher) and what is more external (lower).  On a deeper level again, internal or higher refers to a more perfect state and lower or external to a less perfect state.  A state is more perfect to the degree that it is able to hold within it what is of love and wisdom from the Lord.  This is also how we are to understand order when it comes to spiritual realities.  The Lord is order, so the degree to which a state is capable of having the Lord within it to that degree it can be said to be of order.

Divine order is also spiritual freedom.  Where there is less order there is a greater need for more external constraints to keep things from disintegrating into total disorder.  We can think about this in terms of the angels and how they are governed in the spiritual world.  Celestial angels are in greater freedom that spiritual angels because celestial angels have an innate perception of what is good and true that spiritual angels don’t have.

Spiritual angels have to learn what is good and true and then implement it and because of this they are in more obscurity concerning the Lord than celestial angels are who just know what is good and true from an inner perception they possess from the Lord.  Now because things are not so clear for spiritual angels certain constraints are needed while they go through a process of clarifying things.  These constraints are in the form of conscience, which won’t let a spiritual angel move on an idea until that idea can be seen to be true.

Angels of the natural heaven are in even more obscurity concerning what is good and true.  They are in the love of obedience which is like a love for obeying rules and regulations.  Their love is such that they aren’t overly interested in probing too deeply in the nature of celestial or spiritual realities.  These angels look to more external rules as a guide to their behaviour, with the attitude that if it doesn’t break the rules then it’s ok.  In their case the rules themselves become the constraints that govern what is done and not done.

When we get to the level of the hells the constraints are totally external and take the form of punishments.  This is necessary because there is nothing internal or no affection for what is good and true to govern behaviour there.  And the deeper the hell the more severe the punishments or at least the threat of punishments have to be for some semblance of order to be maintained.  So from this we can see that as far as the human mind is concerned the more disordered the mind becomes the greater the need for external constraints to hold things in place and with any increase in the need for external constraints there is a corresponding decrease in freedom.

Now because the level of order is directly related to the degree to which the Lord or goodness is able to be received, an increasing movement towards what is more external is a movement into greater and greater degrees of disorder.  This is also reflected in the story of Joseph who went through a series of conditions which saw his freedom curtailed as he became subject to imprisonment in his descent into Egypt.  Now Egypt corresponds to the natural mind and Joseph’s descent and bondage reflects how the inflowing goodness of the Lord’s life becomes less and less available to us as it descends into the natural levels of our mind.  And it becomes less available, not due to any lack of power on the part of the Lord, but due to the strength of our attachment to the evils and falsities that make up our sense of self.  It is our state that effectively shuts out or restricts the Lord’s life from working within us as it should.  This is described in the story with Joseph representing the celestial of the spiritual in the natural being imprisoned and made to serve the natural man represented by the authorities of Egypt.

Just what is meant by this phrase, the celestial of the spiritual in the natural, will become clearer when we come next time to explore the meaning of the cupbearer and the butler’s relationship to Joseph in prison.  For now it’s enough to hold onto the basic idea that Joseph represents the Lord’s presence in the natural with those who are engaged with the Word as the basis for attending to their inner life.

The Heavenly Doctrines teach that what is from the Lord is the Lord.  Therefore because Joseph represents the goodness in the natural from the Lord, he also represents the Lord.  And the picture of Joseph being bound is an image of how the Lord’s goodness is restricted in us due to the disorder that exists within the natural when our sense of self is bound up in evils and falsities.  But the Lord of course is never bound, it’s an appearance, for He who is freedom itself can never be bounded or restricted in anyway.  What is actually bound is us, and it is the Lord who works incessantly to reorder and regenerate our minds in order to free us from our proprium.  The celestial of the spiritual in the natural or Joseph is the Lord’s love for the salvation of the human race at work in our natural mind.  The state of our mind is foreseen and known by the Lord who freely enters as the Word into the prison house of our proprium knowing that we will constantly work against what He is wanting to accomplish in our lives.  There is no greater illustration of this fact than in what was illustrated by the Lord coming into the world and subjecting Himself to the violence of the human race towards His person, which is an image of our own proprium’s violence towards divine truths.

The Word reveals on every page the state of the natural mind in regard to the Lord or Divine truths, that it is opposed to Him on every turn being filled with evils and falsities that imprison His goodness so that we can preserve the life and delights we have cultivated from our love or self and the world.  The problem is that if we won’t accept what the Word teaches concerning our state then stories like this one from the Word will seem remote, having little relevance, and we won’t see that they are actually descriptions of ourselves and our own states of life.  They also teach us what it is we must do as far as our spiritual life is concerned and so they serve as an invaluable support and guide for living an interior or spiritual life.

To set the scene for next time I want to briefly touch on those who we find in the prison house with Joseph, the two leading servants of Pharaoh, the chief cup bearer and the chief baker.

Pharaoh as the king of Egypt corresponds to the ruling principle of the natural, and those that are called his servants, the cup bearer and the baker, are those that serve this.  Because the Pharaoh is over the servants, i.e. he has a higher office, and because what is higher spiritually corresponds to what is more internal, he represents the internal of the natural that governs what is more external, this being represented by the cup bearer and the baker.  Taken together and being servants they represent those external powers of the natural mind that serve it.  The external powers that serve our natural mind, that is, those powers that deliver to it what it needs for its life are the bodily senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.  The natural mind’s life is tied up with facts, which are its truths, and the delights associate with obtaining facts that support its beliefs.

These powers of the senses are represented by two servants because everything in us has a relationship to either the will or the understanding.  The cupbearer represents those aspects of the senses that connected with the understanding part of the mind because his use or function is focussed on quenching Pharaoh’s thirst for all things to do with drink in the Word relate to truths.  The baker on the other hand is concerned with foods and as foods provide goodness to the body and goodness is connected to the will the baker therefore represents those powers of senses connected with the will part of the mind, including the emotions with their pleasures and delights.

We’ll leave it there for today, but if you get a chance to re-read the story before next time, given what you now know perhaps you can see why it is that the cupbearer was restored to his office while the baker condemned to death.  If not we will be looking into this next time.


About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
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