Hiding From Human Enemies
When Amram and Jochebed gave birth to their son Moses, they hid him for the first three months of his life. If they had not done so, he would have been drowned in the Nile river along with all the other Hebrew male babies, according to Pharaoh’s decree. After three months, the Bible says she could “hide him no longer,” so she put him in a papyrus basket and hid it among the reeds along the banks of the Nile, where the baby Moses was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. This second act of hiding was also crucial to Moses’ survival – but so was his discovery by Pharaoh’s daughter. If Moses had not survived, the tribes of Israel may have stayed slaves in Egypt forever.
Centuries later, Jesus faced a similar fate. This time it was Herod who sought to kill the baby, since he had heard the prophecies that a ruler would come out of Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt, where they hid the Christ child until Herod was dead. If they hadn’t hidden away in Egypt, the baby Jesus would have been killed and Christianity would not exist.
In 2 Kings, there is a lesser known story with similar overtones: during a period of turmoil, the king of Judah was a 21-year-old man named Ahaziah, who was killed in a rebellion. His mother, Athaliah, found out he was dead, and proceeded to “destroy the whole royal family.” While the mother was on a rampage, Ahaziah’s sister took her son Joash and “stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah so he was not killed. He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.” So the grandchild had to be hidden from the insane grandmother, who was queen of the land. It doesn’t say how old Joash was, but the fact that the nurse hid with him suggests he was a baby.
Three mothers who knew their babies were in grave danger, and did the only logical thing: hide the baby away. In all three cases, the source of the danger was the ruler of the land. There was no way to fight against the powers that be, no way to defend themselves but to hide. In all three cases, the child who was hidden rose to be a powerful man whose influence outstripped the person who tried to kill him. (Joash was king of Judah for 40 years). It reminds you of Anne Frank, doesn’t it? She too was hidden away, and although she died young, her diary is still read all over the world 70 years later.
And it’s not just babies who got where they were due to being hidden away for a time. Perhaps the most famous hider in the Old Testament is King David. While Saul was king, David slew Goliath, and Saul became so jealous of him that he wanted to kill David. Saul’s son Jonathan, David’s best friend, told him, “My father Saul is looking for a chance to kill you. Go into hiding and stay there.” (1 Samuel 19:2) That began Saul’s long vendetta against David, trying for a long time to kill him.
Saul gained allies in his quest to kill David, including a tribe called the Ziphites. Saul said to them, “Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty. Find out about all the hiding places he uses and come back to me. Then I will go with you; I will track him down.” (1 Samuel 23:22-23). But the Ziphites weren’t very successful at finding all of David’s hiding places. There is the story of Saul, while he is hunting for David, going into a cave to relieve himself. It turns out to be the very cave David is hiding in, but Saul doesn’t notice him, and David cuts off the hem of his garment without Saul realizing it. A few chapters later, the same thing happens again: Saul and the Ziphites are again on the hunt trying to find David. This time David, who had been hiding in a cave, comes out while Saul is sleeping and takes his spear. Later David wrote the Psalms, so it may not be a surprise that there are 29 different Psalms that refer to hiding.
Over and over in the Bible, there are stories of hidden armies surprising their foes, or spies scouting out the territory. And of course, outside of the Bible there are even more stories: the Trojan horse which the Greek soldiers hid inside, thus winning a 10-year war against the city of Troy. An ambush is one of the most effective military strategies, and it depends on hiding a whole battalion. Snipers, who are only different from other shooters in that they shoot from a hidden location, have been crucial in many wars.
Camouflage, clothing that is intended to hide the soldier (or hunter), is such a common technique that it is surprising to hear about armies that didn’t wear camouflage. For example, the “Red Coats” – the British soldiers in the American Revolutionary War who wore bright scarlet uniforms, which seems reckless. You’re just making yourself an easy target! A soldier who does not know how to hide is simply not a good soldier.
Where did humans learn these military tactics? From animals, who are equally skilled at many different hiding techniques. Predator and prey, hunter and hunted: both are adept at finding hiding places, blending in, disguising themselves, creeping silently, or in the case of squids, creating your own ink cloud to hide in. From the lowly insect that disguises itself as a twig to the majestic tiger silently lurking, its stripes blending in with the grass: most animals depend on hiding in one way or another.
And it’s not just predators that people and animals hide from. You may not have noticed, but we’ve had a long, cold winter. Luckily, everyone I know has managed to survive the cold, but that’s only because we’re able to stay indoors most of the time. Many times I’ve sat at my computer, looking out the window at the deep snow, and sent emails or Facebook postings to people far away bemoaning how cold it is. “Look, here’s a screen shot showing that it’s -20, with a windchill of -39!” What I don’t mention in those messages is that I’m sitting inside a warm room wearing a T-shirt, and I didn’t have to go outside at all that day. Still, the sound of the rattling windows and the sight of the blowing snow makes me not want to go anywhere. I think I can speak on behalf of all of us when I say that we all feel like we’ve been in deep hibernation for months.
And the reason no one I know has suffered from serious hypothermia is because we Minnesotans all know the truth: you can’t fight the cold, you can only protect yourself from it. Bundle up in thick layers of clothing, leaving as little exposed skin as possible, or even better, stay inside. You may get a bad case of cabin fever, but you’ll survive. Like Pharaoh or King Herod or tiger on the hunt, there’s no defeating a Minnesota winter – just try to make sure it doesn’t find you. When you are outgunned, you don’t fight: you hide.
But this is a sermon, so let’s turn to spiritual matters. The Bible, we are told, is the story of our own spiritual development. So the question is: What role does hiding play in your spiritual life?
In doing research for this service, I not only looked up all those stories about Joash and King David, I also searched Swedenborg’s writings for references to hiding. The contrast is remarkable. Although hiding played a very important positive part in the life of Moses and King David and Jesus and many others, almost every reference to hiding in Swedenborg’s writings is negative. Most of the passages are about falsities and lies. People conceal their evil intentions, they hide behind lies, they bury their sins.
For example, the book Apocalypse Explained is an explanation of the book of Revelation. Revelation 6:15 reads, “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne!’” Apocalypse Explained #410 reveals the spiritual meaning of this: “’Hid themselves in caves” signifies “those things destroyed by evils of life and by falsities,” and goes on to talk at great length about how hiding in caves represents hell.
And even in the Bible itself, hiding is not always a good thing. A moment ago I described how often David hid from Saul, but Saul himself was no stranger to hiding. There is the almost comical story in 1 Samuel 10 where all the people gather for a great occasion, the crowning of their very first king – and they can’t find him! They have to ask the Lord, “Is Saul here?” And the Lord replies, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”
Later, when Saul’s army of 600 men was fighting the Philistines, who had “six thousand charioteers and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” The Bible says “When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.” (1 Samuel 13:6). That seems to be a good example of a situation where you are outgunned and the appropriate response is to hide. But Samuel, the spiritual leader of Israel, didn’t think so. He scolds him severely. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” Ironically, that “man after his own heart” was David, and we have already talked about how David’s success depended on his hiding skills. The lesson? There are times to hide, and times not to. And it might not be easy to tell the difference between the two.
The story from John that I read is about Jesus’ brothers telling him to go to the Festival of Tabernacles. They can’t understand why he won’t go, and Jesus’ reply is, “It’s not time yet.” Jesus does go, but in secret. Think of all the times in the New Testament where Jesus performs a miracle, and the people say, “Let’s tell the world about this!” And Jesus replies: “No, don’t tell anyone. Not yet.” Even Emanuel Swedenborg followed this philosophy: most of his theological books were published anonymously, in England, far from his native Sweden. Only the last few books had his name on the cover. Timing is an important factor.
A more important factor is what you are hiding, and why. The mothers of Moses, Joash and Jesus were hiding an innocent baby. That is a whole different thing than hiding your sins, such as Moses and David both did when they were adults. A few years ago, I gave a service about Moses killing the Egyptian and hiding his body in the sand, and King David trying to hide his adultery with Bathsheba by having her husband killed in battle. Hiding a baby that needs protection and hiding a dead body are not the same thing at all.
So we need to look at our own lives and the things we are hiding, and the reason behind it. Are we hiding a truth because it is not safe to reveal it yet? Swedenborg says that Moses and Jesus represent the truth, and he also talks about why the Bible is written the way it is. In the Bible, not everything is laid bare – much of it is hidden in symbolism and parables, and its meaning only becomes clear to us when the timing is right; when we are in the right state of mind to be ready for it. The book of Revelation itself is perhaps the best example. On its face, it is a confusing book about a series of bizarre visions. It was not until centuries later that the Lord directed Swedenborg to write that book I mentioned a minute ago: “Apocalypse Explained,” and the shorter version, “Apocalypse Revealed.” In the same way, Jesus was able to reveal the inner meanings of the Old Testament. The lesson is the same: the truth needs to be concealed, until people are ready to hear it.
The trouble is, we also conceal lies, and addictions, and sins, and shortcomings. That too may have an important purpose for a while. After all, humans are given the ability to lie, which the Lord didn’t need to give us. And most of us are very bad at detecting when someone is lying to us, even with all of the most recent research and techniques available to us. Angels don’t have the ability to lie: everything is revealed right there on their face. But while we’re still here on earth, God has decided in His wisdom that we should have the ability to conceal our thoughts and feelings.
There are times when hiding your fears, your anger, your resentment and hurt, can be useful. When someone asks you “How are you doing?,” your instinctual reaction may be to avoid telling them anything real. Like a witness on the stand in a trial, you may not be covering up any crime, but you still feel the urge to “plead the 5th amendment” anyway. It’s a way of keeping yourself out of trouble—why tell them what you don’t have to?
Maybe this was a crucial survival tactic at some point in your life. Maybe you learned the hard way that keeping your mouth shut and hiding your feelings was the only way you could protect yourself. There is no shame in that. Just like Moses and Jesus, there is nothing wrong with hiding in order to survive. Especially if the forces you are hiding yourself from are far more powerful than you are. When you are outgunned, hiding is the appropriate response.
Time to Come Out of Hiding
But here’s the thing: hiding is not a good long-term strategy. It may be an appropriate response to danger, but only for a limited amount of time. It is sometimes important to go into hiding, as King David did. But it is equally important to come out of hiding. If David had never left the cave, he never would have become king.
Imagine if Moses had spent his whole life in those bulrushes. It might have been possible to do so – creating a dwelling place in there, coming out only at night. He might have survived a long time that way. But what kind of life is that? Compare that to later in his life, when he confronted Pharaoh – a different Pharaoh, but still an incredibly powerful ruler. That must have been terrifying for him, but he knew that he wasn’t outgunned this time. Why? Because the Lord was on his side. He didn’t have the power to fight the leader of Egypt on his own – but he knew he did have that power with God.
Likewise, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt while Jesus was a baby, knowing that King Herod wanted to kill him. But eventually that king died, and it was safe to come back. There was no reason to stay in hiding. Jesus not only came out of hiding, but in the last years of His life, he was not afraid to directly confront the powers that be. Those authority figures had far more worldly power than he did – but Jesus knew he had the power of the divine, so he wasn’t outgunned. And he had work to do, work that could not be done from a hiding place.
Military strategists know the value of hiding for a while. But in order to win the battle, you have to come out sooner or later. Imagine a soldier joining the army, being trained in all the necessary military skills, and being shipped to the front. When he is on the edge of the battlefield, he ducks into a nearby woods and finds a hollowed out log, where he hides for the duration of the battle. He survives, which is a good thing. But no one would call him a good soldier. Just as you can’t be a good soldier if you don’t know how to hide, you also can’t be a good soldier if you don’t know when to come out of hiding.
Hibernation is a good survival skill for many animals – but they need to come out of the cave once winter is over. When the danger is passed, it’s time to stop hiding, and live a life outside of the cave.
The trouble with humans, on a spiritual level, is that we get stuck. The survival tactics that we needed for a while become habit. And the habit can become so ingrained that you don’t notice when the danger is passed. We stay in the cave in hibernation mode for so long that we don’t realize spring has come, and the coast is clear. And it’s time to get out there and do what we need to do.
It takes courage to come out of hiding. But maybe not as much as you think. You may say to yourself, “I’ve been hiding the truth for so long that I can’t tell it now.” But you may be wrong. You might have been in a past relationship in which it was not safe to reveal your true self and show what you’re feeling and thinking. But that relationship might be long over. And you don’t notice that the person in front of you now, asking you “How are you doing?,” is a safe person – a person who cares, and wants to see the real you. If you hide from them, you are depriving yourself of the joy of life.
And maybe you still feel outgunned, still feel that the dangers are too great and you can’t win the battle. But don’t forget: this time, the Lord is with you. He is leading you out of darkness into the light, and he wants the world to see your glory.