A Spiritual Interpretation of the Old Testament
As taught by:
Unity School for Religious Studies
Unity Village, MO 64065
I. MAJOR POINTS
- Metaphysical meaning of expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden.
- Metaphysical meaning of Cain and Abel.
- Metaphysical meaning of the birth of Seth to Adam and Eve.
- Allegory of the flood.
- Allegory of the tower of Babel.
- Genesis, Chapters 3-4, 6-9, 11
- Mysteries of Genesis Chapters III and IV
- Let There Be Light Chapter II
- What two aspects of human nature do Cain and Abel symbolize?
- What is the significance of the meaning of Seth's name ("compensation")?
- Why is the allegory of the flood not a description of punishment?
- Give your choice of a metaphysical point made by the allegory of the tower of Babel.
If it is felt that not enough in-depth explanation of the meaning of Moah is given in the course, a very extensive discussion of his metaphysical significance can be found in the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary under the heading "Moah."
The famous encounter between Eve and the serpent is contained in Gen. 3:1-6. This event has been interpreted in any number of ways, and even today students are coming up with new insights concerning it. One of the most persistent questions concerning the traditional view of it has to do with the so-called "sin of disobedience." The question is: How could Adam and Eve be accused of disobedience when they had absolutely no knowledge of what is good and what is evil? Could they have done wrong when they had not the slightest notion of what wrongness was? Again, the innate logic of the human mind faces a severe trial when one tries to take the allegories of the Bible literally.
The serpent is the Genesis symbol of the desire for experience and sensations, and in ancient eastern cultures in general, was the symbol for wisdom. These can be gained only by leaving the Edenic state and stepping forth into the evolution of the soul which occurs through the experiences and knowledge gained by human existence. The exit from Eden is the symbol of the starting point for soul growth (evolution) gained by conscious human effort.
Jehovah's denunciation of the serpent (Gen. 3:14, 15) can be understood, in terms of man's evolution, only on a purely metaphysical level. The desire for varied experiences and the desire for sensations will always be a troublesome factor in the evolution of mankind. There seems to be no avoiding this. This desire is what the serpent symbolizes. He is not wicked or evil, he is simply trouble-causing. This is quite typical of man's sense nature and his curiosity about life's experiences.
In Gen. 3:21-24 we are told that Adam and Eve are given coats of skin. This symbolizes biological birth in a body of physicality. Then they are expelled from Eden and sent out into the world. Again, this denotes the experience of biological, physical birth. This event is duplicated in the human family each time a baby is born. Adam and Eve are the archetypes of humanity in general.
Adam and Eve out of Eden and into the world symbolizes the situation of persons who are living a life based upon worldly knowledge. It is not easy, ever. ("In the world you have tribulation." John 16:33) But it is necessary. For man now has his destiny, which is to develop CONSCIOUSNESS OF PERFECTION. That perfection is already in him, but he must discover it within himself and express it from within himself. He cannot do this in the Edenic (passive) state, so he cannot live in Eden any more. (". . . and at the east of the garden of Eden he (Jehovah) placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned eyery way, to guard the way to the tree of life." (Gen. 3:24)
The entire 4th chapter of Genesis is the story of Cain and Abel. Each human being is primarily a thinking nature (Adam) and a feeling nature (Eve). And from these he has developed two predominant aspects in his human nature:
Cain (a tiller of the soil) "Cain refers directly to that part of the human consciousness which strives to acquire and possess." (MBD p. 135) "Abel (a keeper of sheep) means breath, which places him in the air, or the mental realm. . . the mental is more closely related to the spiritual consciousness than the physical (Cain) ... (MBD p. 12)
One aspect of our human nature is mostly concerned with doing things n the outer and getting things from the outer. This is Cain.
Another aspect of our human nature is more concerned with our inner states and is more of an observer than a doer. This aspect of us is mostly mental, and hence is "nearer to the spiritual." This is Abel.
The violence of Cain and his slaying of his brother Abel is almost self-explanatory. The more physical-oriented side of us is often capable of resentment and violence. When it becomes frustrated, it often will turn against its own "twin brother," which is our inner, mental self.
Later, Jesus refers to this typical human predicament in His statement, ". . . and a man's foes will be those of HIS OWN household." (Matt. 10:36) Today people are referring to this human predicament when they say, "He is HIS OWN worst enemy."
In Gen. 4:14 we have another item which appears to frustrate the notion that all of the Bible is to be taken 1 iterally. Cain speaks these words to Jehovah: ". . . 'I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.'" If we are taking the Bible literally, the only other persons on earth were Adam and Eve, Cain's parents. Was he speaking of them when he refers to "whoever"? Did he believe his own parents would slay him? If not, then who are these persons whom he fears will slay him? The Bible literally has made no mention of any others existing at this time. Then in addition to this, we read in verse 17: "Cain knew his wife. . ." The obvious question would be: if the Bible is to be taken literally, then how could Cain have acquired a wife?
"And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son, and called his name Seth, for she said, 'God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him,'" (Gen. 4:25) The word Seth means "compensation; substituted." The birth of Seth to Adam and Eve symbolizes the action of God's law of divine compensation. Nothing that we acquire lawfully can be taken away from us permanently. We may experience losses, but they are temporary if what has been lost is really rightfully ours. The law of divine compensation will recompense us. God's justice is perfect.
NOAH AND THE FLOOD (Gen. 6:5)
"The Lord (Jehovah) saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." (Gen. 6:5) This is the first mention made in the Bible of "wickedness" and "evil" as descriptions of human behavior, and thus emerges the religious concept of "wicked people" and "righteous people" which continues throughout the remainder of the Bible narrative. We now look at this on a strictly metaphysical level as symbolic:
PEOPLE: thoughts and feelings within an individual consciousness.
EARTH: the soul; the individual human consciousness and its manifestations.
WICKED: thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, etc. which are false, negative, useless, harmful.
RIGHTEOUS: thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, etc. which are true, useful, beneficial.
Jehovah's decision to destroy "the wicked" symbolizes the action of the law which works to neutralize and eliminate the useless and harmful elements from man's consciousness (earth), and also their ill effects on his life and his world.
"But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Jehovah)." (Gen. 6:8) The word Noah means "calm, rest, equilibrium". 'Metaphysically Noah stands for that within us which enables us to remain calm, poised, and balanced even when strong disturbances are happening within us or around us. It is the Noah factor within us which is always preserved and strengthened as we follow God's guidance through the many challenges and disciplines which are part of the educational experience of earthly life.
"'For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth. . .'" (Gen. 6:17)
The decision of Jehovah to cause a flood symbolizes the action of spiritual law to insure that nothing in man that is false or harmful can endure permanently. It is eventually subjected to a neutralizing, dissolving, purifying process, wherein its energy is reduced back to the level of pure substance. (NOTE: Later on in the Bible this same idea is presented as a willing, conscious act which a person himself decides. On this level it is not called flooding or drowning, but is called "water baptism.")
Nothing within man that is real and good is ever destroyed or taken from him. The qualities within us which are symbolized as "Noah and his family" are protected and preserved from dissolution no matter what other processes or experiences may be occurring. This saving and preserving aspect of the spiritual law is symbolized as "the ark." Also, our basic elemental energies are also protected and preserved in "the ark." These elemental energies are designated as the male and female animals that are saved.
'And the rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights." (Gen. 7:12) Four is the numerical symbol of balance or sufficiency. Zero is the numerical symbol for unlimited or unspecified. The number of zeros does not change the basic meaning of zero. The number forty would then stand for a sufficient amount of time needed to bring balance or sufficiency (unspecified).
"Then God (Jehovah) said to Noah, 'Go forth from the ark ... be fruitful and multiply upon the earth.'" (Gen. 8:15-17) These words contain a meaning which should bring encouragement and reassurance to those who undergo some of life's difficult cleansing experiences. When these experiences are over and have accomplished something useful in us, we will emerge from them stronger and wiser, and usefulness and meaning wi 11 increase for us.
The famous "Covenant of the Rainbow" is found in Gen. 9:8-17. The metaphysical meaning of this covenant is a great spiritual insight. The words of Jehovah are an assurance that the presence of God as our help in every need can always be found if one remembers, believes, and seeks. Clouds symbolize problems. The rainbow symbolizes the presence of God as many possible forms of help (colors of the rainbow). Within the cloud are always the elements of the rainbow. Within every human challenge and problem are always the elements of divine help. Our part is to remember, believe, and seek (pray).
The seemingly sordid story of Noah's drunkenness and the cursing of Canaan in Gen. 9:20 and following verses seem to be saying that man got off to a pretty poor start after the flood, and this is probably one of the original writer's points. However, there is a significant metaphysical insight to be gained here. Noah becoming drunk represents the human tendency to relax back into old patterns after the "spiritual victory" won through the flood experience. That these old patterns must be firmly denied in order for the growth gained to be maximized is well illustrated in Noah's action of cursing, or "denying", Canaan. Canaan represents the "fleshly organism and tendencies of man; it refers to the physical and not to the spiritual." (MBD, p. 138) Remember that one of the hallmarks of the Old Testament is its "imperfection." The characters and events, no matter how "advanced" they are do not reach the Christ level of consciousness, but only point the way.
The story of the tower of Babel is contained in Gen. 11. The metaphysical meaning of this allegory is not clear. The key symbol in the story is the city of Babel, which means "confusion; chaos; vanity; nothingness". The tower which is to reach to heaven stands for a consciousness of spiritual understanding. But how can one succeed in building spiritual understanding on a basis of "confusion" and "vanity"? Evidently it cannot be done, even though an initial appearance of success was achieved. A "confusion of tongues" stops the building project. But the builders were scattered over the Earth, each one speaking a new language, This would indicate that even out of our so-called failures and confusions we learn new "languages." Even failure can scatter seeds
Perhaps, too, we can learn something from the negative lesson in this allegory. If we remember that the city or tower was not named Babel until the end of the story, it is clear that the project was started without confusion. . . in fact there was a harmony of sorts since "... the whole earth had one language. . ." (Gen. 11:1) Then 11:4 becomes very significant. "Then they said, 'Come, let US build OURSELVES a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let US make a name for OURSELVES. . ." The lesson here then is one that teaches the effect when we engage in an exercise of our human will, with no awareness of divine will. Although our human will may seem harmonious, there is no true harmony without divine will. The inevitable result of such an exercise is always confusion and chaos, the "offspring" of vanity. Our thinking becomes "scattered" or dis-integrated when our own human will is in charge. This isn't the end of the whole story however. The next stage in growth in consciousness is caused by laying hold of faith, as illustrated by Abraham (in this case, faith that there is a reality called divine will) in the next lesson.
Preceding Entry: Old Testament Metaphysics 1: Lesson 1 Allegories of Genesis
Following Entry: Old Testament Metaphysics 3: Lesson 3 Abraham