“Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah in Tahpanes, saying,
“Take great stones in thine hand, and hide them in the clay in the brickkiln, which is at the entry of Pharaoh’s house in Tahpanes, in the sight of the men of Judah;
“And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them.
“And when he cometh, he shall smite the land of Egypt, and deliver such as are for death to death; and such as are for captivity to captivity; and such as are for the sword to the sword.” – Jeremiah 43:8-11
When the king of Babylon took Jerusalem, he appointed Gedaliah governor over the poorer class of people who were left in the land when Judah was carried away to captivity in Babylon. Ishmael, a Jew, stealthily slew Gedaliah, and fled, taking some of the people with him, intending to join the Ammonites. Then Johanan, one of the leaders of the remaining Jews pursued Ishmael and brought back the Jews whom Ishmael had taken with him. But Johanan feared to return to Jerusalem, lest the king of Babylon should visit punishment upon Jerusalem for the killing of Gedaliah, and planned to flee to Egypt. First, however, he asked Jeremiah the prophet to consult the Lord as to where they should go. Jeremiah brought him the Lord’s answer, telling him to go to Jerusalem, where he would be protected by the Lord. But Johanan accused Jeremiah of being a false prophet plotting for his destruction. So Johanan went to Egypt, to Tahpanes the house of Pharaoh, taking with him all the remnant of Judah, including Jeremiah.
In the narrative of the text is presented a graphic picture of the destructive consequences of knowing the truth but reasoning against it and following fallacious appearances. The spiritual lesson lies near the surface. Jeremiah, because he spoke the words of Jehovah, stands for the Word of the Lord, the Divine truth, which counsels and unerringly guides. Jeremiah counseled Johanan and his company to go to Jerusalem, to dwell there, and not to fear the king of Babylon. But Johanan and those with him were afraid to do as the prophet advised, and reasoned that his counsel was false. They chose rather to go into Egypt, to the ruling city there.
What a contrast between these two cities, Tahpanes and Jerusalem! Tahpanes, the home of Pharaoh, a city of Egypt, in which land for two hundred and fifty years Israel was held captive, a land of science and of power thereby, a low flat land made fertile by waters that rose up from the ground, is a representative of the external natural mind, whose sense impressions inflow from without. And Jerusalem, the city of the great King, where God is known in her palaces for a refuge, where out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined, the central city of the Promised Land, a land that drank of the rain of heaven, is a fit symbol of the mind which receives the Divine truth that comes down from above into the soul, in which truth one is protected and blessed.
Let us apply this text to ourselves, as it relates to our experiences and to present times. Adversity threatens to overwhelm us, as it did Johanan and his company. Like them we seek to know the way. We are like Johanan seeking counsel of Jeremiah if at such times we go to the Word for light and guidance in our spiritual weakness, fears, and doubts. And the Word invariably urges us for safety and protection to dwell in Jerusalem, to abide in the truth for which Jerusalem stands, to dwell in those states where the voice of the Lord is heard.
Then there come up our own reasonings against the voice of the Lord in our conscience. We think the Word cannot be true. How by being strictly just can one succeed in this age of competition? How by humility can a victory be won in this proud world of natural force and ambition? How by laying down our own life can we gain life? How by self-sacrifice can we stand against the selfish? Those who succeed are the froward, the insistent. So it may seem.
When we resort to such seeming truths, we, like Johanan, turn from the counsel of Jeremiah – the Word – and go down into Egypt; for, as against natural conceptions of truth, the counsel of the Word is as the voice of a false prophet seeking our destruction.
Again, how fully our lives seem to be our own! We can think, will, and do what we please. It seems that we live from ourselves. What we accomplish seems to come from our own ways of thinking and doing. Our happiness seems to be proportioned to the satisfactions of our natural desires. The ways of the world seem better than the ways of the Lord. In the realm of nature the sun seems to make the grass grow and to cause vegetation to fruit; man seems to be a being self-developed; we appear to originate truth, to discover laws, and to invent wonderful things from ourselves. To turn from the Word and believe this and so to be self-led is Johanan going down into Egypt. We are told that fragments of the story of creation, of the forbidden tree and the serpent, and of the flood are also found in ancient literature. In recent times these stories have been found written upon tablets in the excavated libraries of Syria, where they have lain from long before the time of Moses. The Commandments were the laws of nations centuries before they were given from Sinai. How then can the Word be from God? Does not the science of our day explain away the Divinity claimed for the Scriptures?
When we allow such reasonings as these to persuade us to take refuge in them, to believe them rather than the truths of the Word, we are Johanan forsaking the Divine counsel given through Jeremiah and going down into Egypt. Thus we have presented to us in the story of Johanan a parable of one who, knowing what the Word teaches, reasons that it is false – of man, not of God – and then takes refuge in the apparent but fallacious opinions of the merely natural man.
Then the consequences! Jeremiah was commanded to take great stones and hide them in the clay of the brickkiln which was before the house of Pharaoh in Tahpanes.
Let us get the meaning of this. The Lord is with everyone alike in the inmost receptacle of his being. Men differ because of the successive wrappings about this inmost, which wrappings are the internal mind with its three planes and the external mind with its three planes. Influx from the Lord flows into the inmost of every man, evil or good, and every angel alike; for the inmost is discretely above the effects of man’s willing and thinking. An angel may be compared to a translucent diamond radiating the inflowing light. An evil man is like a diamond covered over with mud and filth.
What were these great stones that Jeremiah put in the clay in the brickkiln? They were that advice which he gave to Johanan when he spake the words of Jehovah, saying, “If ye will still abide in this land, then I will build you… Be not afraid of the king of Babylon… for I am with you to save you… But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the voice of the Lord your God… Then it shall come to pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in the land of Egypt; and there ye shall die.”
Those stones in the clay in the brickkiln are the truths of the Word hidden in the structure of worldly desires which those who turn from the ways of the Lord build. For the burned bricks are the earthly desires hardened in the heat of self-love on the low plane in which the thoughts have then formed the habit of moving.
Then follow the final results of departing from the Word. The king of Babylon would pursue those disobedient ones. Over those very stones at the entrance of Pharaoh’s house he would spread his royal pavilion. The king of Babylon – self-love – would come to rule in Tahpanes, the capitol city, by means of falsities. So in graphic imagery that ought easily to be read is pictured the inevitable result of rejecting the truths of the Word and following one’s own ways. When we turn from the Word, its Divine truths become hidden in the slime of worldly loves and pleasures. The way of the feet is in the field of false thoughts which rule over the understanding. And over all is the pavilion of evil ruling in the heart. For that royal pavilion is the love of dominion holding evil sway.
What else can follow but that, when evil spreads its royal pavilion, the land of Egypt – in the sense of genuine science – will be smitten and its people delivered to spiritual death, into everlasting captivity to falsity, and will suffer the condemnation of truth itself? The Word is the everlasting truth, and what the Lord spoke to Jeremiah, He speaks to us now. If we turn from Jerusalem and choose to go for safety into Egypt, if we join ourselves to the fallacious and false suggestions of the natural mind, we will eventually lose sight of the great truths of the Word, our feet will become established in the way of false principles, and evil will spread its regal pavilion over us and rule our lives.
Rather, let us have faith in the Word, and make our dwelling place and refuge the Jerusalem of revealed truth from the Lord. Then will the Lord build us and plant us, take away our fear, and save us, and show us His mercy.