And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Arcana Coelestia 6313
When a man is being elevated toward interior things, he comes out of the gross sensuous light into a milder light, and at the same time is withdrawn from the influx of scandalous and filthy things, and is brought nearer to the things that belong to what is just and fair, because nearer to the angels who are with him, thus nearer to the light of heaven. This elevation from sensuous things was known to the ancients, even to the Gentiles, and therefore when the lower mind is withdrawn from sensuous things, their wise men said that it comes into interior light, and at the same time into a tranquil state, and into a kind of heavenly bliss; and from this they also concluded that the mind is immortal. Man is capable of being elevated still more interiorly, and the more interiorly he is elevated, the clearer is the light into which he comes; and at last he comes into the light of heaven, which light is nothing else than wisdom and intelligence from the Lord. The three heavens are distinguished in no other way than according to elevations toward interior things, thus also according to degrees of light; the third heaven, being in inmost things, is in the greatest light, thus in a wisdom which far surpasses the wisdom of the lower heavens.
Our focus today is on a transformation of person’s understanding of the Lord from something purely natural into something of a higher spiritual quality. From the Text, we see that this transformation, this lifting up of the serpent, is somehow necessary if the human mind is to be regenerated and salvation effected. So whatever this is about, we begin with the acknowledgement that it is of supreme practical importance so far as our spiritual life is concerned. But before we look to unpack the deeper aspects of the teaching here we need to first lay down a foundation for thinking about this spiritually.
To do that we must lay aside, to the degree that we are able, all the references and associations in the letter of the Text that draws our focus onto historical persons and associations of time and space. There is nothing of time, space, or persons in a spiritual understanding of what’s found in the Word, despite how things may appear in the letter. What the Word deals with, and the only thing the Lord is concerned with, are matters to do with the salvation of the human race, or to put it another way, Divine revelation is solely concerned with providing the means by which the regeneration of the human mind can be supported. To access this level of meaning and application within the Text we need to learn how to read it apart from persons places and times. We find teaching to this effect in the work, The Apocalypse Explained 175…
Peoples and nations are often mentioned in the Word, and it is believed by those who know nothing of the spiritual or internal sense of the Word that peoples and nations are thereby meant; whereas by peoples are meant those who are in truths, or, in the opposite sense, those who are in falsities, and by nations, those who are in goods, or, in the opposite sense, those who are in evils. And when such are meant by peoples and nations, then also, in the abstract, by peoples are meant truths or falsities, and by nations goods or evils, for the true spiritual sense is not concerned with persons, spaces, times and similar things, that are proper to nature.
Sensual or natural thinking is embedded in ideas of persons, places, and times. In the Word, we find that those who reason about spiritual realities from the appearances of the senses are in fact called serpents. From this, it can be seen that any mention of a serpent in the Word is a reference to the sensual level of life and thought. And because we find such references in the Word to serpents, its teaching regarding this serpent-like mode of life, is primarily directed toward those within the Church and not so much toward those outside of it. It is a teaching directed primarily toward those who are actively seeking to be regenerated so that they might become aware of how this serpent mode of life operates within themselves and what’s needed if it is to become a means of supporting rather than hindering their spiritual development. The Word states in the work Arcana Coelestia number 3923 that…
…’a serpent’ means one who reasons from sensory evidence and from factual knowledge about Divine arcana…
and again in the same work in number 6398…
 That a “serpent” denotes reasoning from what is sensuous, is because the interiors of man are represented in heaven by animals of various kinds, and hence in the Word the like are signified by the same animals. The sensuous things of man were represented by serpents because sensuous things are the lowest things in man, and are relatively earthly, and as it were creeping; as may also be seen from the forms through which sensuous things flow, … Hence these sensuous things were represented by serpents…
So sensuous things are natural things, or the lowest things, and in regard to the Word are those things belonging to the sense of the letter that captivates the thought, holding it in ideas of persons, places, and times. Interestingly the Hebrew root from which the word for serpent is derived is linked to the idea of enchantment or magic or the casting of a spell. Such is the nature of sense based reasoning which takes the false appearances of the senses and casts them as truths in an effort to hold the mind spellbound. Anyone who has wrestled with the sense of the letter of the Word and struggled to get beyond its natural meaning knows the power of the serpent to keep them from seeing the Word’s spiritual applications. The feeling of being stuck in a wilderness due to an apparent lack of goods and truths is not lost on them. The Word can be such a wilderness when all we can see is the literal meaning, while we yearn for it to give up its promise of something deeper.
Something is needed if we are to be healed of the bite of sense based reasoning and so enter into an understanding of the Word that can truly transform our life. If we are to experience the transforming power of the Word then the Son of Man must be elevated in our life as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness. Moses represents the internal sense of the Word which, when engaged with consciously, is able to elevate the letter of the Word, and with that our understanding of it, out of the grip of the senses so that it can serve as a container and foundation for conveying spiritual concepts that can bring healing and spiritual wholeness to our life. The imperative is that the Son of Man be lifted up. Now the term “Son of Man” means the Lord as to Divine Truth or the Word. To elevate the Word in relation to the regeneration of the human mind means to live from its truths or to apply them to life.
A first step to having “Moses lift the serpent in the wilderness…” in our own life is to look to the Word as the basis for an active spiritual life, or to be in the effort to understand its spiritual applications, which means looking to apply its truths to the life of our spirit. Where by our “spirit” is meant those things belonging to the human mind; these being nothing other than states of affection and thought. Mental states are the only thing the spiritual sense of the Word is concerned with, and until we are really interested in applying the Word to the life of our mind so that it can be reformed and regenerated this level of application will remain hidden from us. Everything in the Word, so far as its deeper meaning is concerned, is about the Word and its operations within the human mind. Once we get hold of this the Word then becomes an intensely practical support for self-examination and repentance as it relates to the inner life of the mind. Why? Because the Word then begins to provide us with light or insights into the destructive patterns of thinking and feeling our sense of self is attached to that stand opposed to the life of heaven. But not only does the Word provide these insights, it also provides what’s needed for us to overcome self-centred proprial states of life.
Returning to the statement; “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness…” If the name “Moses” and “the serpent” refers to spiritual or mental phenomena, then the terms, “lifted”, and “wilderness”, must also refer to states of mind. Which of course they do. The term wilderness refers to an uncultivated, or unregenerate state of mind, or a mind that lacks rational or spiritual principles through which the Lord is able to govern sensual thinking and bodily desires tied to the loves of self and the world. It is into this disordered state of mind that the Lord seeks to bring order, but He cannot do that unless there is a recognition on our part that we are in a state of mental or spiritual disorder. This acknowledgement must come first if there is to be a turning towards Lord as the Word in search of a better understanding of spiritual principles that can be used examine the quality of our thoughts and affections in an effort to identify evils need to be shunned as sins against the Word.
In the work, The Apocalypse Revealed number 841 it states that…
All people, indeed, who do not turn directly to the Lord think sensually about matters having to do with the church, and cannot think spiritually, for the Lord is the true light (nos. 796, 797). Consequently people who do not turn to the Lord directly cannot think in the light of spiritual light, which is the light of heaven, but do so in the light of natural light divorced from spiritual light, which is to think sensually. They are for that reason called that serpent of old. People who do not turn to the Lord directly and refrain from evils as being sins, remain in their sins…
Further to this in the work, Divine Providence number 20 it says…
To look [or turn] to God in the life means nothing else than thinking this or that evil to be a sin against Him, and for that reason not doing it.
And in the work, Divine Love and Wisdom, number 138 we have this…
This turning to the Lord is an actual turning, a kind of elevation; for there is an uplifting into the heat and light of heaven, which takes place by the opening of the interiors; when these are opened, love and wisdom flow into the interiors of the mind, and the heat and light of heaven into the interiors of the body. From this comes the uplifting, like a rising out of a cloud into clear air, or out of air into ether. Moreover, love and wisdom, with their heat and light, are the Lord with man; and He, as was said before, turns man to Himself. It is the reverse with those who are not in love and wisdom, and still more with those who are opposed to love and wisdom. Their interiors, both of mind and body, are closed; and when closed, the exteriors re-act against the Lord, for such is their inherent nature. Consequently, such persons turn themselves backward from the Lord; and turning oneself backward is turning to hell.
Now for those in the Church, turning to the Lord means turning to the Word, or to be clear, it means engaging with the Texts of Divine revelation, for this is where the Lord is and it is through the Texts of Divine revelation alone that He enlightens and elevates the minds of those who are becoming a Church inwardly. It is also where the truths or spiritual principles are found by which the natural mind, along with its sense based reasonings, can be governed and brought into order. It is not enough that we simply know this, we actually have to be prepared to engage with the Word by applying it to the life of our mind in an effort to examine the quality of our thoughts and affections in its light. If this is not done the evils and falsities that exist within it will remain unseen, and if unseen they will remain integrated into our sense of self, although often carefully concealed within an externally ordered “moral” life, which is so often mistaken for the spiritual life.
When the Word is understood in purely moral terms it falls into the domain of natural religion, or what is termed in the Word a historical or natural faith. The mindset that underpins this may acknowledge that there is a deeper meaning within the Word but it doesn’t know what this actually looks like. It fails to grasp that the spiritual sense of the Word concerns itself with the human spirit or mind. That this level of meaning is specifically focused on the application of the Word to the life of the mind and its regeneration. A historical or natural faith is limited to the realm of moral behaviour and external religious practices, holding that these are what salvation consists of. But we know from the Word that a historical faith, while it precedes a saving faith, is not actually a saving faith, for it is a faith separated from charity, this being “faith alone”, or what is referred to in the book of Revelation as “the dragon or serpent of old.” (Rev. 12:9; 20:2) So what is a saving faith? Well, a saving faith is a faith grounded in charity, or love towards the neighbour which, contrary to popular belief, is not the person next door. By the neighbour is spiritually understood the Divine truth and by loving the Divine truth is meant the activity of applying truths from the Word to one’s inner life as the basis for self-examination and repentance. This is what it means to live a spiritual life.
And when we choose to live a spiritual life defined in this way we find that the Word begins to open up and directs our attention onto the spiritual realities that belong to the inner life that is our mental world. As this occurs we will find that the Text Itself undergoes a transformation in meaning as its letter is elevated out of sensuous things revealing its deeper applications. It is only as we make a conscious effort to respond to the challenges that truths place upon our life that the Word works to bring order out of disorder, life out of death, that it works to bring us into the salvation the Word has secured for all who are willing to embrace it as the Lord. In the reading for today, Moses represents that very same Word, the Divine truth that is constantly seeking to lift our understanding out of the sensuous and towards what is of heaven. If the Son of Man is to be elevated then we must make the Word a priority in our life which means we must learn how to engage with it as the basis for our life.
Arcana Coelestia 8624
…the bronze serpent represented the Lord… the fact that it also meant protection is self-evident for the healing effected by looking at the serpent on the standard meant healing from evils arising from falsity, effected by looking to faith in the Lord. For the Lord says in John, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.