The garden portrays the powers of knowing, thinking, and understanding given to each of us to cultivate and to make fruitful for the Lord. To describe the blessing of those who serve the Lord, in Isaiah 58:11 we read, "You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." And in Psalm 1:3, "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers."
In Psalm 80, the spiritual life of the people of Israel as well as the spiritual life of everyone is described as a vine brought out of Egypt by the Lord and planted upon the hills of the Holy Land. This psalm of the vine tells of the wasting of the vineyard through the breaking down of its hedges and its being spoiled by the boars from the forest and beasts of the field.
Swedenborg explains that the vine out of Egypt is the symbol of intelligence, with its roots in natural knowledge, rising into spiritual air and sunshine. But it is important that the rules of external order and good conduct, which, while not spiritual life in themselves, are not neglected because they are the safeguards and defenses of spiritual life. Nothing is more destructive of spiritual intelligence than the indulgence of selfish attitudes and passions.
But there is more instruction for us in the care of our spiritual gardens in the New Testament. The Lord used the same symbol of the garden to teach of the Kingdom of God in his parables. The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8) tells of the different kinds of soil upon which the seeds of divine truth may fall. Some seeds fell upon rocky ground, some upon thorns, while others fell on good soil and brought forth grain.
This parable tells us of the division of interest between the good seed or the truth of life and the seed among the thorns or the seed of selfish and worldly things. This division of interest is also stressed in the parable of the wheat and tares, which tells us that evil seed often finds its way into the mind and good and bad, or true and false, cannot be separated at once. But the day will come when the separation can be made and hopefully the things that are false and evil will be rejected and the things that are good and true will be preserved.
The parable of the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, is one of encouragement, teaching how much a seed of truth may expand as it rises in the mind to higher planes of understanding and wisdom. These thoughts of the "garden of the mind" show us new beauty in the Lord's declaration of His care and is such that true and lovely thoughts shall fill our minds with brightness and hope. He supplies them from His Word, from the beauty of nature and fro the inspiration of His spirit.
In Mark 3 we read, "The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how." Three is vitality in truth and influence of heaven helping its development while we sleep and while our attention is being given to other things while we are awake. This parable tells us of the stages of progress by which truth develops. First there is the gathering of knowledge, beginning in childhood. Later the knowledge is put in order with the power to reason and make plans for the uses in the future. Finally, there is the actual doing of the uses and enjoying the act of being useful. The Lord desires that all truth learned shall be cherished and developed to its fullness in use and charity. This is also taught in the story of the barren fig tree. (Matthew 21) The Lord hungered for the fruit, but found none. He hungers for the fruits of use and charity in all who have the knowledge of what is right and good. But, if there is no fruit, the tree withers away, for sooner or later one will lose the truth if it is not used.
The stories of the shepherd and his flock illustrate the will with its powers of affection. In these stories there is help in learning of a religious life and in living a religious life. Our first duty and opportunity, as with the Lord's garden, is within ourselves. This is shown in the parable of the shepherd with a hundred sheep (Matthew 18). He loses one and leaves the ninety and nine on the mountains while he searches for the one that went astray and brings it back.
In the Old Testament the stories of the patriarchs who were shepherds tell of the enrichment of the soul by the Lord, especially in childhood, with gifts of innocent affection. Joseph's brethren were shepherds when they and their families came to live with him in Egypt. They were like children going from the shelter of the home out into the world. But they were made safe in Egypt and prospered in the land by insisting to Pharaoh that they were shepherds. This kept them apart from the Egyptians and insured their safety. We need to remember that when we go from the sheltering influences out into the world, we are the shepherds of the Lord's sheep of innocent affections. We need to care for the flocks of the Lord and by so doing the continual contacts with the material world will not keep us from growing spiritually.
There are many psalms about shepherds. The 23rd psalm is my favorite, David was called from being a shepherd to being anointed king. This represents the Lord in His divine desire to preserve innocent life in humankind, putting forth the divine strength to protect it.
The coming Messiah is predicted as a shepherd. (Isaiah 40:1) Swedenborg writes that "By lambs are meant those who are in love to Him, thus who are in the good of innocence, wherefore it is said that 'He will gather them in His arms, and carry them in His bosom': for they are conjoined with the Lord by love, and love is spiritual conjunction." (Arcana Coelestia #10132)
When the Lord described to the disciples His mission in the world, He choose the shepherd to picture Him and His work most accurately. The gardener and the sower of seed pictured His work of sowing and cultivating the seeds of divine truth. But the occupation of a shepherd showed His saving work the best. The dangers and hardships of the shepherd's work could depict the temptations He must meet and overcome. The faithful shepherd dying for his sheep could picture His complete giving of Himself. But even more than that, the shepherd's care for sheep and lambs is the symbol of divine care for innocent heavenly affections in our hearts: affections of trust, kindness, forgiveness, and serving. An evil world might destroy such affections, but the Lord had come to search them out and save them because they are the most vital part of life.
The examples in the Bible of the Lord's garden and of us as the keepers of the garden are lessons of our duty to keep the Lord's garden in ourselves, to cultivate the powers of knowing and understanding truth which the Lord entrusts to us, especially the truth of spiritual life, and with His help these truths will bear fruits of use and charity. The lessons of the shepherd teach us of the work we should do as His disciples. We, too, must be shepherds, cherishing innocent affections in ourselves, ready to recognize good affections in others, and cherish and encourage the growth of such affections and protect them. These affections are the flock that we must help the Lord to keep.
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Let us remember to strive not only to cultivate our minds but also to cultivate our love for our God and for each other.
"Now Abel was a keep of sheep, Cain a tiller of the ground."
You brought a vine out of Egypt: you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River. Why then have you broken down its wall, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? The boar from the forest ravages it, and al that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted. They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance. But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you, give us life, and we will call on Your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let Your face shine, that we may be saved.
Reading from Swedenborg:
That "a vine" signifies the intellectual part, is evident from the signification of a "vine" as being the intellectual part in the spiritual church... As regards the intellectual of the spiritual church, be it known that where this church is described in the Word, its intellectual part is everywhere treated of, for the reason that it is the intellectual part which in the person of this church is regenerated and becomes a church. For there are in general two churches, the celestial and the spiritual. The celestial church is with the person who can be regenerated or become a church as to the will part; and the spiritual church is with the person who, as just said, can be regenerated only as to the intellectual part... That a "vine" is the intellectual part of the spiritual church is evident from many passages in the Word...
In David, the "vine out of Egypt" in the supreme sense denotes the Lord, the glorification of His Human being described by it and its shoots. In the internal sense the "vine" here is the spiritual church, and also the person of this church, such as the person is when made new or regenerated by the Lord as to the intellectual and will parts. The "board in the forest" is the falsity, and the "wild beast of the fields" the evil, which destroy the church as to faith in the Lord.
Arcana Coelestia #5113