37. Digging Ditches
It seems to me to be fairly obvious that God does not want His children to settle their disputes by killing one another. This, of course, includes war. War of any sort is from hell. To quote Swedenborg: "Wars entail murder, plunder, violence, cruelty, and other terrible evils, which are diametrically opposed to Christian charity." Because of this, I used to get very worried and puzzled as I read about those dreadful wars in the Bible which seem to have been approved by God, and sometimes even enjoined by God. What kind of a loving Father could this be, who encouraged and even commanded His children to hate and kill one another? I realize now, however, that the scriptures are not to be taken literally in this respect, but allegorically. All these old tales have an inner spiritual meaning, by virtue of which they are God's Word. The battles which the Israelites fought against their enemies represent or correspond to conflicts which take place within the mind and heart of every regenerating man: warfare which must be waged against evil spirits from hell who are bent on our spiritual destruction.
By way of illustration and example, consider the strange and memorable military campaign described in II Kings 3. Jehoram King of Israel and Jehoshaphat King of Judah declared war on Moab, because Mesha King of Moab was refusing to pay his annual tribute of sheep: 100,000 lambs and 100,000 rams with the wool. The country of Moab lies on those blue hills east of the Dead Sea and lower Jordan, which you can see in the distance looking down eastward from the summit of the Mount of Olives. The obvious route for an attacking army would be down the famous road from Jerusalem to Jericho, across the River Jordan, and up the other side. However, Moab had natural defenses along the Jordan valley, with rocky ramparts rising steeply. So, after consultation, the two kings decided to make a detour right round the southern end of the Dead Sea and attack Moab from the rear, from the Eastern Desert. This would mean going through Edom, so first of all they approached the King of Edom. He was friendly, and not only agreed to their passage through his territory but offered to join them with his army. The three kings and their troops, some on foot and some on horseback, made the seven days' journey round through the desert to the eastern side of Moab. One wonders how they expected to survive that terrible region. True, they were now in an excellent position to attack Moab, but before the battle could be joined, men and horses were collapsing in the heat and dying from thirst.
Being now at the end of his human resources, Jehoshaphat decided to lay his case before the Lord. Traveling with the army was the prophet Elisha; the three kings went personally to his tent and asked him to make enquiry of God as to what they should do. Elisha summoned a minstrel to play on the lyre, and as the music began to have its effect, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha and he said: "Thus saith the Lord: Make this valley full of ditches. For thus saith the Lord: There shall be neither wind nor rain, yet those ditches will be filled with water, that you and your animals may drink. And moreover, the Lord will deliver Moab into your hands." All this came about as he said. The soldiers dug furrows and ditches, which filled with water overnight. As the sun rose over the desert behind the camp, the Moabites saw the red sky reflected in the water and supposed it to be blood. They said excitedly one to another, "Surely the three kings have quarreled among themselves and are killing each other; see the blood that is being shed! Now come, let us fall upon the spoil." So, without troubling to arm themselves, the Moabites ran into the enemy camp. They got a different reception from what they had expected. The Israelites fell upon them with a great slaughter, so that panic seized them, and they were chased back by the allied armies who killed and destroyed everyone and everything. Thus was avenged the Moabites' refusal to pay the stipulated tribute of 100,000 lambs and 100,000 rams with the wool.
Whether or not such action was morally justified, is not our concern for the moment. What I am interested in is the means the Lord told them to adopt in order to obtain their victory. They were to dig ditches. There is nothing unusual about digging in the ground for water. In most areas, the water level or "table" is fairly near the surface, and if you dig a hole below the water level, water will seep into it - which, of course, is the principle of the well. At one place where we lived in England, you had only to dig down a couple of feet and there was water. In dry South Africa, you might have to dig a hundred feet, but you would surely strike water eventually, which is a problem with the deep-level gold mines. In the Arabian Desert behind Moab, you would probably have to go down deeper still. The miracle was that a ditch which could be dug overnight filled up with water in the morning.
We are speaking now about ditches and wells dug in the ground. But there are other kinds of ditches. At school and college, ditches are dug in the mind! Education is not a matter of filling the mind with facts, as one might fill a bucket from a faucet. Rather, it is like digging wells, which fill up with water from within. When the student goes into the examination room, his mind is probably quite empty. The test comes when he begins to read the question paper. Does the water well up from within? Have the ditches been dug deep enough?
In a somewhat different sense, we can dig ditches in the Word of God. Nor do we have to dig down very far; the water table is surprisingly near the surface! Remember the conversation Jesus had with the Woman of Samaria at Jacob's Well outside Sychar. Jesus promised to give her "living water." She replied, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; how do you propose to obtain this living water?" Jesus replied, "Whosoever drinks of this water that you are speaking about will thirst again; but he who drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst again, for it shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:13, 14).
The Israelites wanted water to drink. By approaching the Lord through the prophet Elisha, they got it - all they needed, and more than they needed. At the same time, they found it led directly to the total collapse and defeat of their enemies. The process is somewhat complex, but I think you can follow it if you raise your mind a little above the literal level of the story. When the evil spirits see us drawing water from the Bible or Word of God, they mistake the water for blood. "These people are killing themselves," they say; "Let's run in and collect the spoil!" In a sense, we do commit "suicide" when we drink water from God's Word. We die unto our lower selves, the selves in which we were born, and become re-born or "regenerated" from the Lord. We "take up our cross" and follow Jesus to death and resurrection. Jesus "died" as to His lower, finite nature on Calvary hill. As he hung on the cross, many must have thought, "That's the end of Him!" They supposed He was weak and vulnerable, because His blood had been flowing. But His submission to torture and execution was not a sign of weakness but of tremendous strength. If the evil spirits imagined Jesus was at their mercy, they were greatly mistaken. Seeing the bloodshed, they rushed in, like the Moabites, to collect the spoil, but they acted too precipitously. Jesus drove them back into hell, and utterly and permanently defeated them. It was the Redemption of the human race. And so, to a lesser degree, with us. His crimson blood gives us the power to conquer in temptation's strife. We can overcome our lower natures in His strength and enter with Him into glory.
There is an interesting relationship between water and blood, or, to extend it into a triplet, water, wine and blood. All represent the truths of the Sacred Scripture, but at different levels of comprehension.
Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding party at Cana in Galilee, by changing water into wine. He took the natural teachings of the Hebrew Word and spiritualized them. Then, at the very end of His ministry, His final act before His arrest and execution was to take wine and give it to His disciples, saying, "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." He had virtually changed the wine into blood. Blood is the Divine Truth living from Him and conveying His life to as many as receive it. Remember the countless multitudes of the saved, mentioned in chapter 7 of the Book of Revelation: "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more . . for the Lamb shall feed them, and shall lead them into living fountains of water, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." Our human blood symbolizes death. It flows out when we die, which was why the Moabites thought the Israelites were killing each other. The Lord's blood, the "blood of the Lamb," symbolizes resurrection and everlasting life. "He that drinketh My blood," said Jesus, "dwelleth in Me and I in him."
Turning back to the story in the Book of Kings, we note that the whole thing was triggered by the rising sun. A new day was dawning, just as in our contemporary world a new Age is dawning. All is being made new - everybody recognizes this. We are blinking our eyes in the light of the sun as it bursts over the horizon in the east. This new light is inexorably revealing hypocrisy, corruption and crime, even in the highest places; it is also bringing out new beauties unsuspected before. Especially is the Word of God being shown to possess new and amazing depths of meaning. We can see it shining with gold and crimson and all the glorious colors of dawn. Those who are interested in this new understanding of the scriptures will probably be regarded by the secular world as weak, spineless, vulnerable, not quite "all there!" But in fact the Word of God will be your strength, your stay, your refreshment in the desert, your weapon of conquest in temptation.
Study the Bible at as great a depth as you can. Live in harmony with its spiritual teachings. Get soaked in it. Make it your regular drink. Let the minstrels delight you with its music, and the prophets prophesy to you of it and from it. Then the evil hordes, who are bent on withholding from you the innocence which is your due - represented by the 100,000 lambs and the 100,000 rams with the wool . these will be seized with panic and go scattering back to their abode in hell. There will not have to be any actual fighting at all when the crunch comes. No nuclear warheads, or bombs, or napalm or other horrors of weaponry. The gates of hell will not prevail against you. And this wonderful New Christianity, which is just beginning, will bring life-giving truth to the surface, which will cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea, fertilizing and refreshing it. The desert will blossom red as the rose.