Arcana Coelestia (Elliott) n. 3858

Previous Number Next Number Next Translation See Latin 

3858. Since the subject in the verses that follow now is the twelve sons of Jacob, and since the twelve tribes of Israel were named after them as their fathers, let an introductory statement be made here about what the tribes mean and why there were twelve. Nobody as yet has known the arcanum lying within these considerations, for people have believed that the historical descriptions of the Word are purely history and hold nothing more of the Divine within them than their ability to be made to apply to matters of a holy nature when these are under discussion. Consequently they have also believed that the twelve tribes meant nothing else than the divisions of the Israelitish people into so many separate nations or general families, when in fact Divine realities are implied in those tribes. That is to say, those tribes mean so many universal divisions of faith and love and so mean things that constitute the Lord's kingdom in heaven and on earth, each tribe in particular meaning some universal division. But what exactly each tribe means will be evident from the verses that follow directly after this, where the subject is the sons of Jacob after whom the twelve tribes were named. In general the twelve tribes meant everything constituting the doctrine of truth and good, that is, of faith and love; for these - that is to say, truth and good, or faith and love - constitute the Lord's kingdom, since what are essentially matters of truth or faith constitute the whole of thought there, and what are essentially matters of good or love constitute the whole of affection. And because the Jewish Church was established so as to represent the Lord's kingdom the divisions of that people into twelve tribes therefore meant those things of His kingdom. This is an arcanum which has not previously been disclosed.

[2] Twelve means all things in general, as shown already in 577, 2089, 2129, 2130 (end), 3272, while 'tribes' means matters of truth and good, or of faith and love, so that 'the twelve tribes' means all of these. Let this meaning of 'the twelve tribes' be substantiated here from the Word before each one is dealt with individually. In John,

The holy city New Jerusalem, having twelve gates, and above the gates twelve angels, and names written which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. He measured the city with the measuring rod, twelve thousand stadia. And he measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits, which is the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Rev 21:12, 14, 16, 17, 21.

'The holy city', or the New Jerusalem, means the Lord's new Church, as is evident from each detail of this description. Previous chapters refer to what the condition of the Church was going to be like before its end; this chapter refers to a new Church. That being so, 'the gates', 'the wall', 'the foundations' mean nothing else than things constituting the Church, which are those of charity and faith since these constitute the Church.

[3] From this it may be clear to anyone that 'twelve' used so many times in that description, also 'tribes', and 'apostles' too, are not used to mean twelve, or tribes, or apostles, but that 'twelve' is used to mean all things in their entirety; see what has been shown in 577, 2089, 2129, 2130 (end), 3272. The same is true of the number 'a hundred and forty-four', for this is twelve twelves. And since 'twelve' means all things it is evident that 'the twelve tribes' means all things constituting the Church, which, as stated above, are truth and good, or faith and love. The same is also true of 'the twelve apostles' who as well represented all things constituting the Church, that is, all things of faith and love, see 2129, 3354, 3488, 3857. That number is therefore called 'the measure of a man, that is, of an angel', by which is meant a state of truth and good. For 'measure' means state, see 3104, and 'man' means that which constitutes the Church, as is evident from things said about the meaning of 'man' in 478, 479, 565, 768, 1871, 1894, and also from the fact that the Lord's kingdom is called the Grand Man, which it is called by virtue of good and truth which come from the Lord, dealt with at the ends of chapters in 3624-3649, 3741-3750. And 'angel' has the same meaning, 1705, 1754, 1925, 2821, 3039.

[4] As in John, so also in the Prophets, in the Old Testament Word, is the new Jerusalem referred to, where in a similar way the Lord's new Church is meant, as in Isaiah 65:18, 19, and following verses; in Zechariah 14; and in particular in Ezekiel, Chapters 40-48, where the new Jerusalem, the new Temple, and a new earth describe in the internal sense the Lord's kingdom in heaven, and the Lord's kingdom on earth, which is the Church. The contents of those chapters, plainer than anywhere else, show what 'earth', 'Jerusalem', 'Temple', and everything in them meant, and also what 'the twelve tribes' means. For the subject of those chapters is the division of the land and the inheritance of it according to tribes, as well as the city and its walls, foundation, and gates, and everything that was to go with the Temple there. From those chapters let simply matters relating to the tribes be quoted here,

The Lord Jehovih said, This is the boundary of your inheritance of the land, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. You shall divide this land according to the tribes of Israel. But you shall divide it by lot as an inheritance, and for sojourners sojourning in your midst. They shall cast lots with you for an inheritance in the midst of the tribes of Israel. Ezek 47:13, 21-23.

As regards the land, it will be for the prince as a possession in Israel. And the princes will no longer oppress My people, and the land they will give to the house of Israel according to their tribes. Ezek 45:8.
Concerning inheritances and how they were assigned to individual tribes which are also referred to there by name, see Ezek 48:1
and following verses; and concerning the gates of the city which are named after the tribes of Israel, verses 31-34 of the same chapter.

[5] Quite plainly, when the tribes are spoken of here it is not the tribes who are meant, for by that time ten tribes had long since been scattered throughout the whole world, and had not subsequently returned. Nor can they possibly return, for they have become gentiles. And yet reference is made to each individual tribe, and to how it was to inherit the land and what its boundary was to be. What the boundary for the tribe of Dan was to be is stated in verse 2; what the boundary for the tribe of Asher was to be in verse 3; what those of Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben, and Judah were to be, and concerning the inheritance of the Levites; and what the boundaries of Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, and Gad were to be in verses 4-29. In addition to all this that chapter declares that the city was to have twelve gates named after the tribes of Israel - three gates facing north, those of Reuben, Judah, and Levi; three gates facing east, those of Joseph, Benjamin, and Dan; three gates facing south, those of Simeon, Issachar and Zebulun; and three gates facing west, those of Gad, Asher, and Naphtali, in verses 31-34.

[6] From all this it is evident that 'the twelve tribes' means all things that belong to the Lord's kingdom, and so all that are matters of faith and love, for these constitute the Lord's kingdom, as stated above. Because the twelve tribes meant all things of the Lord's kingdom they also represented that kingdom by their encampments and by their travellings. In Moses it is said that they were to encamp according to the tribes around the Tent of Meeting - to the east, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; to the south, Reuben, Simeon, and Gad; to the west, Ephraim Manasseh, and Benjamin; and to the north, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali, and as they were encamped so they travelled, Num 2:1-end. In all this they represented the Lord's kingdom, as is quite evident from Balaam's prophecy,

When Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel dwelling according to tribes, the Spirit of God came upon him and he delivered his utterance, and said, How good your tabernacles are, O Jacob; your dwelling-places, O Israel! They are like valleys that are planted, like gardens beside a river, like aloes Jehovah has planted, like cedars beside the waters. Num 24:2, 3, 5, 6.
The fact that Balaam received from Jehovah these words spoken by him is explicitly stated in Num 22:8, 18, 19, 35, 38; 23:5, 12, 16, 26; 24:2, 13.

[7] From this also it is evident what the inheritances of the land of Canaan according to tribes represented, in connection with which it is said in Moses that he was to take a census of the congregation of the children of Israel, according to their fathers' houses; a census of those twenty or more years old, everyone going into the army of Israel. The land was to be distributed by lot; according to the names of their fathers' tribes they were to receive an inheritance, Num 26:2, 7-56; 33:54; 34:19-29. And Joshua's actual division of the land by lot according to tribes is described in Chapters 13, 15-19 of the Book of Joshua. From these particular details it is evident that the Lord's kingdom was represented, as has been stated; for the land of Canaan meant that kingdom, see 1585, 1607, 3038, 3481, 3705.

[8] The reason why they are called 'armies' and why it is said that 'they encamped according to their armies and travelled according to their armies', Num 2:4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, 19, 21-23, 26, 28, 30, is that 'an army' had the same meaning [as 'a tribe'], namely truths and goods, see 3448. And the Lord is called Jehovah Zebaoth or 'Jehovah of Armies (or Hosts)' 3448. They were for these reasons called 'the armies of Jehovah' when they departed from Egypt, as in Moses,

It happened at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, on that same day it happened that all the armies of Jehovah were to come out of the land of Egypt. Exod 12:41.

Anyone may recognize that such people in Egypt, and after that in the wilderness, were not called 'the armies of Jehovah' except in a representative sense, for no good or truth was present in them, the worst of all nations.

[9] From this it is also quite evident what was meant by the names of the twelve tribes on Aaron's breastplate, which was called the Urim and Thummim. Concerning the breastplate the following is said in Moses,

There shall be four rows in it and twelve stones. These stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names. The engravings of a signet, for each one over its name, there shall be for the twelve tribes. Exod 28:17, 21; 39:14.

For 'Aaron' represented the Lord's Divine priesthood, and therefore all the vestments worn by him as high priest meant Divine celestial and spiritual things. But the exact meaning of those vestments will in the Lord's Divine mercy be clear where they are the subject. Since the breastplate itself was most holy, the names of it were representations of all the essential characteristics of love and faith in the Lord. These are the Urim and Thummim. The reason why the names were engraved on the precious stones was that 'stones' in general meant truths, 1298, 3720, and 'precious stones' truths shining through from good, 114. And because the name of each individual tribe meant some essential characteristic, a specific stone was also allocated for each tribe, Exod 28:17-20; 39:10-13, which expressed by means of its colour and transparence the characteristic meant by that tribe. This was how Jehovah or the Lord gave answers by means of the Urim and Thummim.

[10] The two shoham stones which were on the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod had a similar representation but in a lesser degree than the twelve stones on the breastplate. For 'the shoulders' meant all power, and so the Lord's omnipotence, 1085, whereas 'the breast' or heart and lungs meant Divine celestial and spiritual love - 'the heart' Divine celestial love, 'the lungs' Divine spiritual love, see 3635 and the end of the present chapter where the Grand Man and its correspondence with the province of the heart and the province of the lungs is the subject. The two stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod are referred to in Moses as follows,

You shall take two shoham stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of the names on one stone and the remaining six names on the other stone, according to their births. You shall put two stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. Exod 28:9-12; 39:6, 7.

[11] Because 'the tribes' meant what are essentially matters of truth and good, or faith and love, and each tribe meant some universal aspect of these, and since the tribe of Levi meant love, as will be evident from the explanation at verse 34 below, one can therefore recognize what was meant by their placing rods, one for each tribe, in the Tent of Meeting and by Levi's rod alone blossoming with almonds. All this is described in Moses as follows,

He was told to take twelve rods, one rod for each head of their fathers' houses, and these were to be left in the Tent of Meeting, the name of Aaron being written on the rod of Levi. Aaron's rod was placed in the middle of them. And the next day, behold, Aaron's rod for the tribe of Levi had blossomed; it had produced buds,a so that it flowered and produced almonds. Num 17:2-8.

These occurrences meant that love was the essential, also the first and foremost, thing of all in the Lord's kingdom and that love is the source of all fruitfulness. And the reason why Aaron's name was on the rod was that Aaron represented the Lord as regards His Divine priesthood. For by the Lord's priesthood is meant Divine Good, which essentially is His love and mercy, and by the Lord's kingship is meant Divine Truth which stems from Divine Good, see 1728, 2015 (end), 3670.

[12] From what has been introduced so far one may now see what 'tribes' and 'the twelve tribes' mean in the following places: In John,

I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed out of every tribe of Israel - twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Reuben, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Gad, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Asher, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Naphtali, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Manasseh, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Simeon, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Levi, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Issachar, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Zebulun, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Joseph, twelve thousand sealed out of the tribe of Benjamin. Rev. 7:4-8.

In Moses,

Remember the days of old, understand the years of generation after generation.

When the Most High gave to the nations an inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel. Deut 32:7, 8.

In David,

Jerusalem, built as a city which is closely compacted together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of Jah, a testimony to Israel, to confess the name of Jehovah. Ps 122:3, 4.

[13] In Joshua, who was told,

The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass over before you into the Jordan. Take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from each tribe. And it will happen when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the Ark of Jehovah, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan will be cut off. They will stand in one heap. Josh 3: 11-17.

And further,

Take out of the midst of the Jordan, from the places where the priests' feet stood, twelve stones which you are to prepare and carry with you. And let each man take a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of Israel, that it may be a sign that the waters of the Jordan were cut off. Moreover Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, beneath the places where the feet of the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant had stood. Josh 4: 1-9.

Also in the description about Elijah,

Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word had come, Israel shall be your name; and he built an altar to the name of Jehovah. 1 Kings 18:31, 32.

[14] That 'the tribes' means the goods of love and the truths of faith is also clear from the Lord's words in Matthew,

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory. Matt. 24:30.

Here 'all the tribes of the earth will mourn' means that the acknowledgement of truth and the life of good will not exist any longer, for the subject in that chapter is the close of the age. Similarly in John,

Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, and those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will wail over Him. Rev. 1:7.

What 'coming in the clouds of heaven' means, see Preface to Gen. 18. See in addition what I have been shown from experience about the number 'twelve', in 2129, 2130.

[15] The reason why all things of faith and love are called 'tribes' is that the same expression in the original language also means a sceptre and a rod. For 'a sceptre' and also 'a rod' mean power, as will in the Lord's Divine mercy be shown elsewhere. For this reason the noun 'tribe' entails the idea that forms of good and truth possess within them all power from the Lord. And angels too are therefore referred to as 'powers' and also 'principalities', for 'princes' means the first and foremost aspects of charity and faith, such as the twelve princes descended from Ishmael, Gen. 25:16, see 2089, as well as the princes who were leaders of the tribes, Num. 7:1-end; 13:4-16.

[16] From what has been said up to now about the twelve tribes one can recognize why the Lord's disciples, who later on were called apostles, were twelve in number, and that like the tribes they represented the Lord's Church as regards goods and truths, 2129, 3354, 3488, 3857. 'Peter' represented faith, 'dames' charily, and 'John' the works that flow from charity, see the Prefaces to Gen. 18 and 22, and also 3750. This is also quite evident from the things which the Lord said about them and to them.


a lit. flower

This page is part of the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg

© 2000-2001 The Academy of the New Church