Joseph imprisioned with the cupbearer and baker (Part 2)

The second of two sermons looking at the inner meaning and application of the story of Joseph’s imprisonment with Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker found in Genesis Chpt 40.

The Goodness of the Lord at Work in the Natural Mind
(Part 2)

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Gen 40:1-5 & 20-22

And he restored the chief of the cupbearers to his supervision over [Pharaoh’s] drink, and he put the cup onto Pharaoh’s palm.  And the chief of the bakers he hanged, as Joseph had interpreted to them.  Gen 40:21-22.

Arcana Celestia #5157[2-3]
[2] The significance of all this – that the sensory impressions subject to the understanding part, which are represented by ‘the cupbearer’, were retained, whereas those subject to the will part, which are represented by ‘the baker’, were cast aside – is an arcanum that is completely unintelligible unless it has light shed on it. Let the following serve to shed some such light. By sensory impressions are meant those known facts and those delights which have been introduced through the five external or bodily senses into a person’s memory and into his longings, and which together constitute the exterior natural, by virtue of which a person is called one governed by the senses. The facts are subject to the understanding part of his mind, whereas the delights are subject to the will part. Also, the facts link up with the truths which belong to the understanding, while the delights link up with the forms of good which belong to the will. The former are represented by ‘the cupbearer’ and were retained, but the latter are represented by ‘the baker’ and were cast aside.

[3] The reason those known facts were retained is that in time they were able to accord with [true] ideas in the understanding; but the reason the delights were cast aside is that they were by no means able to accord with…[what belongs to the new] will.

We saw last time that 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 also saw that Pharaoh represents the internal aspect of the natural mind which draws its life from all the impressions that we have taken in via our natural senses.  This is because the countries mentioned in the Word are not to be taken as countries in the external world but as things that represent internal states of the human mind.  So just as Canaan represents the spiritual level of the human mind so Egypt represents the natural level. When we get hold of this inner dimension to Scripture we begin to see just how essential it is to our spiritual growth and development.  As with all things in the Word their deeper meaning has both a positive and negative application, that is, it can related to what is good and true or what is evil and false depending on the context.

So in the case of Pharaoh when he rules harshly in his treatment of the son’s of Israel, who being from Canaan represent what is of a spiritual origin in the natural mind, then he takes on a negative representation, this is because the order of life for people is that the spiritual rules over the natural but when the natural oppresses what is spiritual then we have a state of disorder in the mind.  We see a lot of this in the book of Exodus.  Here in the book of Genesis however the story develops so that Joseph effectively becomes the “ruler” in Egypt such was his relationship and influence in Pharaoh’s court.  Spiritually this describes a state in which goodness from the truths worked into a persons life, which is what Joseph represents, is the principle ruling influence in the natural mind, and is supported and protected by Pharaoh and so here Pharaoh carries a positive representation.

Now Joseph having ended up in prison due to having been wrongly accused by Potiphar’s wife represents how access to the Lord’s goodness is restricted or limited through the evils and falsities that are present in the natural mind.  The natural level of our mind is built up through what we receive via our senses and what organises the masses of sensory information that enters into us are the loves that are active within it.  Everyone born into the world is born into the loves of self and the world which are diametrically opposed to everything heavenly and as such are actively looking to destroy what is good and true from the Lord.  These loves govern the perceptions and thoughts of the natural mind to such a degree that all the impressions that are gathered through the senses are organised in a way that what is actually opposed to heaven is confirmed to be good and true.

For any spiritual progress to be made we have to come accept what the Word teaches on this matter.  Unless we accept that what we feel to be good and believe to be true is actually opposed to the Lord we will limit the operation of goodness from the Lord in our life and Joseph in us will remain bound in prison.  Our natural state is to believe we are right, that the way we see things is as they are, we voice our opinions as if they were fact, this tendency to we are always in the right plays out in situations where if someone causes us offence we almost always see that issue lies with them.  The large proportion of our lives is taken up with thinking we are right and everyone else who disagrees with us is wrong.  Such a life is a life with self at the center.  It’s a self that is only willing to hear and see what suits its own view of things and accepts others only to the degree that others agree with it.  We may struggle to see this in ourselves but that’s only because we have yet to accept that what the Word teaches concerning the state of the natural mind is in fact true.  If we accept that it is true then and only then will be able see all the instances in our day in which the truth of it is confirmed in our living experience.

This is a principle of the spiritual life.  We first need to accept that what the Word teaches is true then and only then will we be able to see its truth illustrated in our experience.  Non acceptance of what the Word teaches is spiritual blindness, a blindness from which nothing can be seen in the light of heaven because all we have to enlighten us if we will not heed what the Heavenly Doctrines teach are the impressions our senses receive which are utterly incapable of grasping spiritual and celestial realities these being attuned solely to those things belonging to the natural world.

The senses are the source of all the illusions that reign in a person, and they are the reason why…the natural man is opposed to the spiritual man, that is the external man to the internal.  Consequently if the natural or external man starts to have dominion over the spiritual or internal man, no belief at all in matters of faith exists any longer, for illusions cast a shadow over them and evil desires smother them. AC #5084

While the phrase ‘the natural world’ takes in all that we commonly understand by that term spiritually it specifically refers to the natural mind within which that world is perceived and experienced by us.  In terms of the Word the natural world refers to the literal sense of the text or that sense that is closest to the natural level of life and can touch our minds through our senses of sight when reading it ourselves or hearing when it is read by others.  Now, in coming back to Joseph and Pharaoh, we need to think not from our senses which simply sees a story about two people in history, but from doctrine which teaches that the Lord operates in the natural mind from truths that have become established on a higher level.  If we think from our senses the truth of this story remains locked up, in the prison of a natural understanding, our access to the good within it remains somewhat limited.  But when we think from what the Word teaches, that people mentioned in the Word are representative of spiritual realities, something of its internal meaning can begin to come to the fore.

If we hold onto the principle that Joseph’s presence in the land of Egypt represents good from the Lord or good that flows from truth in the internal mind influencing things in the natural mind then everything happening in the story is interrelated whether the literal story makes a direct connection between the characters or not.  For example as far as the literal story is concerned there isn’t an identifiable connection between Joseph and Pharaoh.  Joseph is nothing more that a foreign slave who, as far as Pharaoh is concerned, doesn’t exist.  At this point of the story Pharaoh is unconscious of Joseph’s presence in the land of Egypt.  But when we see that Joseph is goodness at work in the natural mind we can then see that the Lord is at work in us in our minds in ways that we are not conscious of, yet His influence has far reaching effects that we are as yet unaware of.

Within the literal sense of the Word are genuine truths.  These are truths that can be picked up directly from our reading of the Heavenly Doctrines, truths like the one we are focussed on here today, that you can’t trust sensory impressions in matters of determining what is good and true.  There are a large number of statements in the Heavenly Doctrines that can be drawn together to support this general teaching if we are willing to search them out.  But it is one thing to know the teaching and another to act on it.  We may give mental assent to the teaching but carry on living in our own sense of being right, of living from an attitude that says we know best.  This is Joseph imprisoned in our self promoting attitudes that live from the illusions of sensory impressions.  But if we begin to heed the teaching we begin to pull ourselves up as we notice just how prevalent this attitude is in ourselves.

We may find ourselves in the delight of appearing to know more that someone else on some matter and find ourselves expressing an opinion as fact and in that process realise that we are talking about something we actually know very little about, and that the delight we feel is one of knowing more that someone else or pride in our own intelligence.  Or perhaps we know something about someone else that we know on one level should be kept confidential but find ourselves talking about it to a third party despite another side of ourselves knowing that this is not good.  That we do this shows that there is a delight in the negative behaviour that is too strong for us to resist, we know that the behaviour is not good but the delight we get from it is more than our delight in obeying the truth and what we do in the end reveals which delight we feel is good practically speaking.

But at least now with the knowledge we have from the Word we can in hindsight see our behaviour for what it is, evil feeling like something good or delightful.  If we go a step further and justify our behaviour that’s calling falsity, truth.  Truths from the Heavenly Doctrines enable us to see this, but nothing can change unless we act on what we know.  How do we do that?  Well, we need to take our understanding of the truths we find in the Heavenly Doctrines that we can’t trust our senses and use them to fight against the tendency to seek the “good” of lower level delights, knowing that what feels good to us is not necessarily good at all.  When we get an internal prompt that what we are engaging in as far as our behaviour, thoughts or affections are concerned is not good, despite the delight or gratification on offer, we are experiencing the influence of Joseph or what is good operating within the natural mind.

If we are open to the influx of good from the truths of the Word that sit on a higher level in our minds then we will recognised that our senses are in a state of disorder and we will make an effort to see that they don’t rule over us.  If we let our senses rule, that is if we run with what feels “good’ or from an attitude that we know best then we will live a contradictory life in which true charity will be lost.  This is to miss the mark of the spiritual life but if we seek to live a life in accordance with what truths teach then we will make sure that promptings from the senses to take delight in what is opposed to the Word will be bound as they arise and so will not be acted on.  This is what is meant by…

It came to pass after these things that the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt.  And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker.  So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, the place where Joseph was confined. Gen 40:1-3.

We saw last time that these servants of Pharaoh represent the powers of the senses that minister to it.  What this verse describes is a state in our development when we begin to see that the powers of the senses have been ruling our life and that this constitutes a state of disorder, the term used to describe this state of disorder here is that they “offended their Lord”.  These powers of the senses are represented by two servants because there are those powers that serve the will and those that serve the understanding.  The servant of the understanding is represented by the cupbearer and that of the will is represented by the baker.  Now we remember that Joseph had been placed in authority over all the prisoners.  This teaches us that the powers of our senses have to be brought under the authority of the good that truths teach represented by Joseph as the celestial of the spiritual in the natural if we are to become more receptive of heavenly life.

The prompt to keep our natural tendencies bound is from the Lord and this prompt which is the Lord’s love for our salvation flows into the knowledge of the Word we have in our natural mind.  This is the foundation for a genuine spiritual conscience that can consciously influence us.  That prompt is Joseph in us which comes through the spiritual truths in the higher part of our mind before becoming the active principle that brings life to the knowledge of the Word that sits in the natural level of the mind.  That knowledge of spiritual things in the natural mind forms a new natural which is what is represented by Pharaoh and it is from this knowledge that we can see the quality of what our senses are conveying to us from which we can then act to bind what is disordered and not in keeping with a genuine spiritual life.  So we can see the importance of developing knowledge of the Word for it is this that gives power to the Lord’s love in our life so that we might be delivered from the loves of self and the world.  It is said that it is Pharaoh that has his two officers imprisoned, this is because nothing can be accomplished as far as our spiritual life is concerned without us acting from truths as if of ourselves.  We must act and do what we are prompted to do, the Lord has done His part in providing us with His Word by which we can be instructed in the things of spiritual life, we now must take that and apply to our inner life, to our reactions and responses, if the inside of the cup of our minds is to be made clean.  We must do this always keeping in mind that while it appears to be us who are obeying the truths we have it is actually the truths themselves or the Lord in us and Him alone who is the enabling power.  Of ourselves we can do nothing.

We now come to the two dreams that Pharaoh’s servants had.  When the control that our senses have had over our natural man is bound new insights can begin to arise in our awareness.  We can begin to see what is serviceable to the spiritual life and what is not that belongs to the natural level of the mind.  Dreams are a form of knowledge but tend to cloud the insights they carry in symbolic language.  Because of this they correspond in the Word to knowledge that isn’t clear or is obscure.  This aspect is highlighted in the story by neither the cupbearer nor the baker being able to understand what their respective dreams meant and being downcast.  Joseph seeing them sad enquires into the reason for their state.  This shows us how good or the Lord’s love for our spiritual wellbeing probes into our states of life to bring us to make us aware of what’s needed if we are to enter into a new state of life.  We experience this as inner reflection, self examination and the insights that come from this.

We don’t need to go into the detail of the dreams as a general coverage will serve our purposes.  Essentially what begins to emerge is that certain powers of the senses represented by the cupbearer are able to be restored and serve a use and those represented by the baker are to be cut off.  We saw last time that the cupbearer relates to the powers of the senses that serve the understanding faculty due to his relationship to things to do with drink and that the baker represents those powers associated with the will due to his relationship to foods and their delights.  We can go back now to the example given earlier to see what this means.  The delight that comes from sharing something confidential with a third party is a kind of food albeit an unsavoury kind that feeds and gratifies something in our ego or proprium, it also sustains this negative trait and keeps it alive in us.  Such delights have no place within the kingdom of heaven and the motivation that drives them is such that they can never be restored to serve the natural mind if that mind is to serve its proper function in serving what is spiritual.  These sorts of things must be seen for what they are if they are to be eradicated from our life which is represented by the baker being hanged.

The cupbearer on the other hand is able to serve the spiritual life.  This is because the powers of the senses that relate to the understanding faculty are needed in order to draw in knowledge from the letter of the Word that can serve the spiritual life, and so it is that the cupbearer is restored to its proper place in the natural mind.  In the spiritual life the faculty of the understanding can serve higher ends but the delights of the old will are cursed and remain so.  Our lesson is to be aware of the delights that we feed on, to look to the Word always so that we can be responsive to the Lord’s promptings and get to know the Joseph that works within through building a sensitivity to the operation of a genuine spiritual conscience that our lives might better reflect the heavenly order that the Lord has created us for.


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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