Be Careful About “Beheading” John the Baptist

Rev. Kit Billings

July 16, 2006


1. – “Trust the Eternal”  -B.O.W. 202 - All three stanzas

2. – “Fear Not” - B.O.W. 200 - Stanzas 1-2

3. – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” - B.O.W. 191 - All three stanzas



Joshua 1:10-11; 2:1; 6:1-8, 14-21

Mark 6: 14-29


Reading from New Church Teachings

What temptations, or the conflicts that constitute temptations, accomplish, scarcely anyone is able to know.  They are the means by which evils and falsities are broken up and dispersed (emphasis mine).  They are also the means by which an abhorrence of these is produced, and a conscience is not only given but also strengthened, and one is accordingly regenerated.  This is the reason why those who are being regenerated are led into conflicts and undergo temptations and why those who do not experience them during their earthly life do so in the next life, provided they are such as can be regenerated.  And it is for these reasons also that the Lord's Church is called 'militant'.  The Lord alone however underwent from His own strength or power the most cruel conflicts that constitute temptations, for He was beset by all the hells and constantly overcame them.

It is also the Lord alone who fights in the temptation-conflicts of those who do undergo these.  ...By one’s own power one can accomplish nothing in the slightest against evil or hellish spirits, for they are so closely linked to the hells that if one were vanquished another would rush to take his place, and so on for ever.  They are like the sea pressing against every part of a dike. If the dike were to develop a split or crack the sea would never cease to pour through and flood the land until nothing was left standing.  It would be like this with people if the Lord alone did not bear up against the conflicts temptations.



Heavenly Secrets #1692



            Let me start my thoughts with you this morning letting you know that I will be offering a final “pastoral departing message” (complete with helpful suggestions) with you on the final Sunday of this month, when our official time together as pastor and congregation comes to a close.  God knows we’ve had a very fine run together, and I am indeed celebrating our good fortunes together that the Lord has given us


Now, on to our vital task at hand, making spiritual sense of the Israelites’ Battle at Jericho and to the story of the beheading of John the Baptist.  Both of these stories involve intense violence, and one (our reading in Mark) the ghoulish inhumanness often associated with a Steven King novel (which of course is the plot by a mother and daughter to have John’s head served to them as a trophy on a platter).  Personally, I’ve come to appreciate that they are a part of the Lord’s Word because they remind me that humanity’s spiritual warfare with Hell has been going on a very long time, and also, most important of all, so has God’s victory over them!  These stories are useful too in that for us as well we can expect a certain aspect of our own spiritual growth and development to find its symbolic reflection in these stories in God’s Word.  This is one of the most important spiritual truths that the Lord sent into our world from His Heaven by means of His spiritual Second Coming—that the majority of the Holy Scriptures were providentially molded together to function as living spiritual poetry!  They are an accurate mirror, reflecting back to us the common, everyday internal dramas go on within our hearts and minds.  A “sister part” of our theology states also that not only is the Bible an accurate reflection of what is happening within us as we slowly grow, change and develop into a closer reflection of God’s, but so too is Mother Nature and also world events.  In fact, to be more precise about this, the natural conflicts and warfare going on around us are an expression of the spiritual struggles and battles happening in the spiritual world for a very long time.  This is one among several reasons why I love to Star Wars movies, because they express so well the deep and intense drama of the overall battle between good and evil:  evil tries to win with cunning, malice and vengeance, while good strives to win by means of love, mercy, truth and forgiveness.

For example, take recent news coverage of the escalating violence in the Middle East and of the ongoing genocide happening in the Darfur region of Sudanese Africa.  Indeed, evidence of our inhuman cravings to prefer holding grudges, prejudices, and other forms of malicious thought-patterns that we see underscored by the recent rise in warfare between the Jews of Palestine and the militant Islamic groups of Lebanon continue to make their ugly face known.  Strangely enough, one would think that history would prove that when people choose to return evil and hatred with the same, nothing but death and destruction arise.  The only wise answer to such prejudice and lust for revenge is what Christ and His followers preached:  to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us.  I am glad to hear on Nightline this week that Pastor Rick Warren, the author of the internationally acclaimed book The Purpose Driven Life, is teaching the Lord’s message when it comes to those persons and nations actively seeking hostility and revenge and domination through force that the building up of one’s grudges and hatreds only leads to annihilation.  To be sure, in this nuclear age of weaponry we live in, the only real answer to when we are egregiously hurt and our loved ones are killed is not to avenge them or ourselves, but to seek God’s mercy and the healing balm of forgiveness.

This message is much easier to give than to take however, especially for those who have felt the agony of losing their loved ones to the malevolent plans of criminals, war-mongers, and/or emotionally ill persons hell-bent on ending natural life rather than saving it.  Others experience the searing end of evil through the unfortunate brutality within domestic violence, discrimination, rape or even delinquency.  Given that most of us during our time on Earth spend it in the spiritual condition of not being fully regenerated, which means that God’s love, will, and mercy for most of us doesn’t gain full leading power within us until after we die (and it means that the lost will part of us finds delight in what flows forth from Hell), it is wise I feel for us to remember that there are likely to be many times in our lives when our unregenerate will gets very weak.  And during these times remaining true to the Lord’s heavenly principles gets extremely hard.

And this is what our New Testament story is about this morning, on its inner level of meaning.  It deals with the great temptation we can feel at times to want to not only stop the presence of the literal truths and principles of life that live in God’s Word, but even more so to want to eliminate them at times.  The slaying of John the Baptist, as with the same thing involving the Old Testament prophets, represents our desire to want to reject the Lord’s principles of life in the literal degree of His Word.  There can be part of the natural will that feels sympathetic to them, and another part (represented by Herodias and her daughter) that is passionately against them!

Notice the depth of the cunning and evil in those two female characters.  We must be aware of the same kind of energy and intensity of the hells trying to reach our affections too.

And so, we are wise to remain on guard for the spiritual attacks from within us when evil forces want us to give up on God’s spiritual military plan for us, and even worse, try to “behead John the Baptist” within us and give up on the literal commandments we find in God’s Word.  It can happen to us easily in this world.  These affections arise from within anyone (from our self-interest and dysfunctional self-love) who is actively regenerating, and it should not surprise us when or if such tempting evil enters the conscious regions of our minds.  These unholy affections are the chief obstacles within our spiritual growth and development.  This narrative stands as a stark reminder to us of our continual need for repentance and reformation, as our cooperative part in opening up to the Lord’s saving regenerational power flowing in to our will and understanding.

All those who choose to stop the cunning plots and dynamics of that “inner Herodias” within, by going to God for help, will be all right.  As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 33:  No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.  A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.  But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.  Using the Biblical lens of correspondence, we know that God’s Word is speaking here to the spiritual equivalent of “death” and “living” and “famine.”  For when we are faint, the Lord is the power to give us strength!  And when we are emotionally or spiritually starving, it is God’s love and truth that only can satisfy and feed (which sometimes come through the loving ministry of friends, ministers, or family).


The other big lesson in our Bible readings this morning deals with the great story of the Children of Israel finally choosing after 40 years of wandering in the desert to follow God’s plan and promise for them to make preparations for entering the Land of Canaan.  The correspondential lessons here are enormous!  And speak volumes to those who have reached a point in life when no matter how many or how serious one’s inner weaknesses and issues may be, THE TIME HAS COME, we say.  It’s time to get down to business—to the Lord’s spiritual business of helping us to strategically search out, analyze and overcome our spiritual enemies, one at a time.

The one New Church book that deals with this wisdom was written by Grant Schnarr, called The Art of Spiritual Warfare.  In it, one finds the same kind of careful warrior tactics displayed here in the Book of Joshua, where a now highly disciplined, highly trained, and “desert hardened” group of God’s people have grown to the point of really being ready for the spiritual task at hand.  On a historical note, we need to understand that the overall immaturity of human beings way back then made it hard for them to be open to the depth of spiritual goodness and truth seen in Jesus’ day.  The ancient Hebrews were not able to understand that evil and falsity inside of a person or group or city did not mean that they were all evil and worthy of killing.  They were not ready to hear and live the truth that Christ taught, which is to “hate the evil” but love the sinner.

At any rate, we turn now to the amazing and action-packed story of Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho.  First of all, some basic background.  Historically, the time of Joshua was around 1350 B.C.  In the literal story, Yahweh has clearly re-affirmed His calling toward the Hebrews, which was the same as it was with Moses, to go into the Promised Land and take hold of it.  This meant going in and doing battle with many different tribes or nations.  There were the Hittites, the Gergashites, the Amorites, the Hivites, the Canaanites, et cetera.  These were various peoples that were essentially not open to Yawheh’s core truths and ways.  And while the general story is a very violent and bloody one, from a theological perspective it was the means through which the truth of the Ten Commandments would move in and begin to take hold of that fertile region.  Humanity was at a rather barbaric period in our spiritual development, and so the literal story did involve a lot of war and death.  This reminds us that whatever level of simplicity or complexity we are in, God wants to help us and work with us.

Spiritually speaking, Canaan represents the deeper part of us, the depths within us where Heaven is meant to grow and thrive.  We all have a central spiritual region within us where the Lord and His Word is designed to live and thrive.  The challenge is, though, that we all inherit these formidable inner foes, strong tendencies that are resistant to the Lord and His love, goodness, mercy and wisdom.  So, the moral of this story is, that after many of us have wandered around in adult life for some period of time, there comes a point when we can be deeply open to God, His saving truth and love, and the calling to go in and begin battling our inner demons, foes or weaknesses.

It ain’t always the prettiest picture, mind you, but it is the primary means through which the Lord saves us.  As our doctrine reminds so poignantly this morning: “[Spiritual battles] are the means by which evils and falsities are broken up and dispersed.  They are also the means by which an abhorrence of these is produced, and a conscience is not only given but also strengthened, and one is accordingly regenerated.  This is the reason why those who are being regenerated are led into conflicts and undergo temptations.”  So, it is critical, then, that churches learn a lot about the profound use and importance of spiritual warfare—for without a doubt, anyone who is willing to want God in their life, who wants the Lord’s love and will to take hold and guide in life, who wants to learn and live out the Lord’s commandments, will run directly into various internal foes.

The battle of Jericho was the Hebrews first great victory in Canaan, and the second wondrous miracle involving the Ark of the Covenant.  Notice the amazing military tactics and carefulness used by Joshua’s men.  Using stealth and calm, they found where their ally was, in Rahab of course, and found a way inside the sturdy walls of Jericho.  Those walls around that small city were rather high really, perhaps 30 ft. up.  There was a formidable gate, and a small garrison of soldiers watching from up on the walls.  Joshua sent some spies to go sneak in, find anyone willing to support the Lord’s agenda, and to work with them once the battle began.  Rahab represents those good, natural affections in us that may have gotten caught up in some unhealthy ways of living and treating others or ourselves, and which are open to hearing the good news, the wise truth we find in the Lord’s Word.  Indeed, it is well to note that the natural degree of our minds does contain more than selfish desires.  It also has some inherited tendencies toward love and truth.  And, we are smart to want to find those allies within us out, and work with them—rather than assume that all there is inside of our natural depth of self is what is perverted toward God’s will and ways.

Lastly, we must learn here where the only power to overcome the intimidating city of Jericho was—in God, and in how God worked powerfully and surely through the Ark of the Covenant containing the Commandments.  The number seven stands out in this story of course.  It reminds us of the thoroughness and patience with which we need to work with God in overcoming our personal inherited evil inclinations—there is great patience with which the Commandments must be used, in overcoming and defeating evil within ourselves.  The blowing of the trumpets and the great SHOUT from the Hebrews, which toppled the walls of Jericho, are very, very important expressions of the awesome POWER that lives in the Divine laws of the Lord.  When you choose to learn, know and use them…watch out evil and falsity!!  Your day is over.  Your defeat is certain.  As Swedenborg saw in the spiritual world, every depth and force within the hells is no match whatsoever for the Lord’s power that blasts into life through love.  Time and again in the Bible story, just as when Christ was facing down some evil spirit possessing someone, we see the amazing force and power of God’s love and truth working directly against evil.  In short, evil and falsity always lose.  And this is the confidence with which we can enter strategically into our inner battles.

And so, it is up to us to follow the amazing example set forth by Joshua and his army of the faithful.  It is up to you to discover what exact spiritual laws and truths, such as this fine story involving Jericho, that you must have as swords and arrows ready to send precisely into those inner foes you are fighting.  It is important not to rush in too quickly, but to take care and concern with it all.  And, most of all, one must be grounded and standing strong in God, by means of prayer, worship, exposure to the Word, and in allegiance with the great spiritual armies of Heaven—our mighty angel legions, those who are much more advanced in spiritual fighting than most of us.

Let us be in prayer…



Closing prayer:

Dearest Lord, Father of love, light and truth, thank You for the many serious stories in the Old Testament that teach us that part of the reason we are here, part of our purpose for living, is to hear your mighty calling to gain courage and discipline about working with you to form our heavenly character.  Thank You for Your solid promise that salvation through spiritual growth and transformation is ours should we follow You into this awesome enterprise in life.  Thank You for the joy that comes with Your promise, and also the maturity in learning how to carefully and painstakingly discover how to turn our weakness into our strength.  Help us to study and analyze our inner foes, and march bravely into battling them, hearing Your assurance that in You we shall overcome.  Mold us into strong spiritual warriors, ever ready to pick up and help others who also see that putting on the armor of God is an armor of Your truth shining forth from Your love.  Amen.