HORSE AND ASS OF THE BIBLE
In our more particular examination of mental characteristics, we will begin with those figured in the ass, attending first to the nature of the animal. Tristram says of him:
When we read of the ass in Holy Scripture we must not picture to ourselves the stunted, degraded, spiritless, and ill-used creature which we too often meet with in northern countries, where the ass has degenerated both in size and spirit from the powerful and nimble animal of the East. The ass is less capable of enduring cold than the horse, and has often degenerated as it has advanced northwards.
In Syria, it has almost as much care bestowed on it as the horse; it is groomed and well fed, always obtaining its share of barley with its equine companions; great attention is paid to the cultivation of the breed, and the finest and tallest he-asses are carefully selected. . . . They have often great vivacity, and exhibit both ingenuity and humor, sometimes decidedly mischievous. One of our asses which had been severely beaten for misconduct by a member of our party, never forgot the circumstance, but, while ready to sniff and caress any of the others, would stand demurely whenever his old enemy was near, as if unconscious of his presence, until he was within reach of his heels, when a sharp sudden kick, with a look of more than ordinary asinine stolidity, was the certain result. The Eastern ass will accomplish quite as long a day’s journey as the horse or the camel; though its speed is not so great, it will maintain an easy trot and canter for hours without flagging, and always gains on the horse up the hills or on the broken ground.
Other writers unanimously testify to the superiority of the asses of Egypt and Palestine over those with which we are acquainted. Yet I suppose that even the best asses will justify Hamerton’s discriminating criticism:
The deficiency of the ass may be expressed in a single word; it is deficiency of delicacy. You can guide a good horse as delicately as a sailing boat; when the skillful driver has an inch to spare he is perfectly at his ease, and he can twist in and out amongst the throng of vehicles when a momentary display of self-will in the animal would be the cause of an immediate accident. The ass appears to be incapable of any delicate discipline of this kind. He may be strong, swift, courageous, entirely free from any serious vice; but he is always in a greater or less degree unmanageable.
When he is really vicious, that is another matter. There is no end to his inventions, for he is quite as intelligent as the horse, and a thousand times more indifferent to man’s opinion or man’s punishment. I have seen a donkey feign death so perfectly as to take in everybody but his master, who had been too often a spectator of that little comedy.” (Chapters on Animals)
This waywardness is very strongly marked in asses as we commonly know them; they stop when they please, and go when they please; their own whims they will follow, no matter at what inconvenience to their rider, with a headstrong assurance that they know what is best; and only the most patient coaxing, or blows which seem really cruel, will affect their resolution.
In contrast with this somewhat slow, minute,and self-willed character—that we may see both natures more distinctly by comparison—the horses of the Arabs, which are probably as far superior to ours for riding purposes as are the asses, seem to be almost perfect embodiments of their masters’ love of going. A well-bred Arab mare is off like the wind, as the tension of her master’s body and the tightening grasp of the knees betoken his desire, her delicate ears strainingto catch every sound, and her sensitive skin every lightest touch, of command. A touch uponthe neck guides her, the relaxation of her rider’s body slackens her speed almost as if she were his own organs of locomotion. And the same responsiveness to the human will is in a great degree characteristic of all good horses. To complete the contrast, it should be added that the speed of horses is, as a whole, considerably superior, though they are not so able to pick their way carefully over stony paths and hillsides. Horses also require a somewhat more generous diet of good grass and grain, and would starve on the coarse shrubs and thistles which asses eat with pleasure, and sometimes in preference to better fare.
Man, as a rider, represents the human will with its power to choose good or evil, and to compel the reasoning, thinking mind to support it in the ways of its choice.
A generous horse, in the good sense, represents a mind that delights in thinking the truth which the spiritual will desires. It bounds lightly over natural truths, using them as supports to its flight, but giving its first attention to the spiritual love which it bears. An ass, picking its way more carefully among the stones, heeding its rider less and the objects about it more, represents in a good sense the right understanding of natural things.
The horse represents, Swedenborg says," the intellect—the power of seeing the inner truth of things, or of understanding spiritual wisdom. The ass represents the power of understanding particulars of knowledge. Of this power of understanding, which the ass represents, there are several kinds. There is a love that takes pleasure in mere quickness of comprehension, sharpness of criticism, and agility in argumentation. It is selfish, solitary, morose, combative. This is the wild ass man, Ishmael, of whom it is said, “His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” Of the wild ass, Tristram writes:
I saw a wild ass in the oasis of Souf, which had been snared when a colt; but though it had been kept three years in confinement, it was as intractable as when first caught, biting and kicking furiously at everyone who approached it, and never enduring a saddle on its back. In appearance and color it could not have been distinguished from one of the finest specimens of the tame ass.
But though so closely resembling the tame ass in appearance and physical ability, it is of a different species. The tame ass, even when allowed to run wild for many generations, is subdued again as quickly as a wild horse;1 but the wild ass proper is absolutely unwilling to be of service. In this he represents the power of understanding solely for the selfish pleasure in the exercise, never for the sake of use. It is a faculty which cannot take interior views and see things in spiritual light, but still can exercise its wits naturally and remorselessly upon spiritual subjects. ( Apocalypse Explained #2761; also the treatise on The White Horse. On horses in the spiritual world, see Apocalypse Explained #364.)
A much nobler understanding is that which, with similar quickness of wit, considers also the goodness and usefulness of the subjects of its thought, and is unwilling to use its powers to the injury of that goodness. This faculty increases in gentleness and nobleness with its willingness to serve. Yet, as the ass never adopts the rider’s will for his own, but preserves his individuality, and needs some watchful coercion to make his ways serviceable, so the understanding of this kind never becomes an intelligent perception of spiritual wisdom which perfectly serves spiritual love, but always finds its pleasure in the understanding of the particulars of knowledge presented to it, and unless compelled to its work, it magnifies one or another, and continually strays from the main purpose.
Judges in olden time rode upon she-asses because their business was to hear and attend to all the practical questions brought to them, and to advise and decide from a right understanding of the goodness and truth in them. Their sons rode upon young asses, which represent the truths themselves which the judges taught, in which their sons were instructed.1 In the Song of Deborah, she thus addresses the judges of Israel:
“Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment and walk by the way” (Judges 5:10). “Jair, the Gileadite, judged Israel twenty and two years; and he had thirty sons that rode upon thirty ass colts” (Judges 10:3, 4).
It was predicted of the Lord that He would come to Zion “sitting upon an ass and a colt the foal of an ass”; because He came then, not to reveal spiritual truth, but to teach what was really good and right in natural life. When He literally fulfilled the prediction, and came to Jerusalem upon the ass, He wept over the city, saying, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes.” (Arcana Coelestia #2781.)
He went into the temple, and drove out them that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and said, “It is written, My house shall be called of all nations a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.” And these are just such things as a noble judge of Israel, not now revealing spiritual truth, but teaching genuine natural goodness and truth, should do and teach.
But when the coming of the Lord to open the Scriptures, to reveal the inner life of all things, and to give intelligence in spiritual truth, is predicted, the form of representation is changed. John says, “I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He that sat upon him is called faithful and true, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and upon His head were many crowns; and He had a name written which no one knew but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and His name is called, The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven followed Him upon white horses clothed in linen white and clean; and He had upon His vesture and upon His thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:11–16).
Thus the Lord is represented as to His Divine intelligence concerning the heaven of angels and the spiritual life of men; and upon those who now receive and follow Him He bestows spiritual intelligence in the interior things of the Word, and the truth which angels think and live, which is represented by white horses upon which they ride. One other representation we are now prepared to enjoy, which is that when the Lord was born into the world, He was first laid in a manger. In the manger, asses and horses find their food. In the best sense, asses represent the understanding of what is good and right in practical affairs, and horses intelligence in spiritual things, and this understanding and intelligence are nourished by instruction in truth from the Word. But the truth of the Word is from the Lord and is the Lord; and He first comes consciously to us when we, loving the rightness or the spiritual beauty of the truth of the Word, perceive that it is Himself—His own thought with His life in it. To everyone’s consciousness He first lies in the manger. (Citations above; also Apocalypse Revealed #611.)
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875