He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
By Mr. Brian P. David
The 23rd Psalm is one of the best-known and most-loved literary works in the world, and it may well be the best poem ever written. It is also a fine example of the power of figurative language: We read deep things into the vision of ourselves as sheep, led to green pastures and good water by a kind shepherd. It’s empowering to feel the confidence to go fearlessly into the valley of the shadow of death, and to feel the love and caring of a table prepared by the Lord and a cup so full it overflows.
What people don’t know, however, is that this language actually has precise internal meanings, and that when we see them there is an even deeper beauty in the poem. That’s because what it actually describes is the path to heaven, and the fierce desire the Lord has to lead us there.
The first step is to let the Lord be our shepherd – to accept His teaching and His leadership. The green pastures and the still waters represent the things He will teach us for the journey. Then He begins working inside is, setting our spiritual lives in order, so that we desire to do what’s good and to love one another. That’s represented by restoring our souls and leading us in the paths of righteousness.
But we will still face challenges. We still live external lives, out in the world, and we are subject to desires that arise in those externals, in our bodily lives. That’s the valley of the shadow of death. But the rod and staff represent truth from the Lord on both external and internal levels, ideas that can defend us against those desires.
And if we keep following, the Lord will prepare a table for us – a place inside us that he can fill with love (the anointing oil) and wisdom (the overflowing cup). Thus transformed, we can enter heaven, with love for others (“goodness”) and love from the Lord (“mercy”) and can love and be loved to eternity.
One of many beautiful things about this is the fact that it is the Lord who really does all the work. In the whole text, the only action taken by the sheep is walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Other than that, they follow the Lord, trust the Lord, accept the blessings of the Lord. And that is really true! In external states (in the valley) we might seem to be doing the work ourselves, but internally, spiritually, we simply need to give ourselves to the Lord and let Him bless us.
The underlying idea here is that the Lord created us so that He could love us, in loving us wants us to be happy, knows that our greatest happiness will come from being conjoined to Him in heaven, and Himself wants nothing more than to be conjoined to us. So everything He does, in every moment of every day for every person on the face of the planet, is centered on the goal of getting that person to heaven. He wants each and every one of us in heaven more than we are capable of imagining. We just need to cooperate.
482. Verse 17. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, signifies that the Lord will instruct them out of heaven. This is evident from the signification of "the Lamb," as being the Lord in relation to Divine truth (of which see above, n. 297, 343, 464); also from the signification of "throne," as being heaven (of which also above, n. 253; "in the midst of the throne" signifies in the universal heaven, for "in the midst" signifies in each and every thing, that is, in the whole, see above, n. 213; also from the signification of "to feed" as being to instruct (of which presently). This makes evident that "the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them" signifies that the Lord will instruct them out of heaven. It is here said, "the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them," and above, "He who sitteth on the throne shall dwell over them" which makes it very clear that it is the Lord who is meant both by "He who sitteth on the throne," and by "the Lamb in the midst of the throne," but "He who sitteth on the throne" means the Lord in relation to Divine good, and "the Lamb in the midst of the throne" means the Lord in relation to Divine truth; for "to dwell," which is said of Him that sitteth upon the throne, is predicated of good (see above, n. 470); and "to feed," which is said of the Lamb, is predicated of truths; for "to feed" signifies to instruct in truths.
 In the Word of the Old Testament mention is frequently made of "Jehovah" and "God," also of "Jehovah" and "the Holy One of Israel," and both mean the Lord alone, "Jehovah" the Lord in relation to Divine good, and "God" and "the Holy One of Israel" the Lord in relation to Divine truth; it is thus said because of the marriage of Divine good and Divine truth in every particular of the Word. That "to feed" signifies to instruct can be seen without further explanation, since it is a custom derived from the Word to call those who teach "pastors" (or feeders), and those who are instructed "a flock;" but why they are so called is not yet known, and shall therefore be told. In heaven where all things that appear before the eyes are representative, representing under a natural appearance the spiritual things that angels think and by which they are affected; thus are their thoughts and affections presented before their eyes in such forms as exist in the world, that is, in forms similar to natural things, and this by virtue of the correspondence that is established by the Lord between spiritual things and natural. (This correspondence has been treated of in many places; also in the work Heaven and Hell , n. 87-102, and 103-115.) It is from this correspondence that in heaven flocks of sheep, lambs, and goats appear feeding in green pastures, and also in gardens; and these appearances spring from the thoughts of those who are in the goods and truths of the church, and who from these think intelligently and wisely. It is from this that mention is so often made in the Word of "flock," "pasture," as also of "feeding," and "feeder" (or shepherd); for the Word in the letter consists of such things as appear in heaven before the eyes, and these signify correspondent spiritual things.
(References: Heaven and Hell 103-115)
 As it is known in the church that "to feed" signifies to instruct, "pasture" instruction, and "shepherd" an instructor, a few passages only in which "feeding" and "pasture" are mentioned shall be quoted without further explanation. In Isaiah:
In that day shall thy cattle feed in a broad meadow (Isaiah 30:23).
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs into His arm, and shall gently lead them that give suck (Isaiah 40:11).
He shall say to the bound, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Reveal yourselves. They shall feed upon the ways, and in all the bare hills shall be their pasture (Isaiah 49:9).
Against the shepherds that feed My people, ye have scattered My flock. Because of cursing the land mourneth; the pastures of the desert are dried up (Jeremiah 23:2, 10).
He shall feed Israel on Carmel and Bashan (Jeremiah 50:19).
I will seek My flock and I will search them out. I will feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the mountains of the height of Israel shall their sheepcote be; there shall they lie down in a good sheepcote, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel (Ezekiel 34:11, 13, 14).
I did know thee 1 in the wilderness, in a land of drought; where they had pasture (Hosea 13:5, 6).
The droves of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; and the droves of sheep are made desolate (Joel 1:18).
Out of Bethlehem of Ephrathah shall go forth one who shall stand and feed in the strength of Jehovah (Micah 5:2, 4).
Feed Thy people with Thy rod, the flock of Thine heritage; they shall feed in Bashan and Gilead (Micah 7:14).
The remnants of Israel shall feed and lie down (Zephaniah 3:13).
Jehovah is my Shepherd, I shall not want; He will make me to lie down in pastures of herbage (Psalms 23:1, 2).
The Lord chose David; from following the ewes giving suck He brought him to feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance; and he fed them in the integrity of his heart (Psalms 78:70-72).
Jehovah hath made us His people, and the flock of His pasture [keri]. Therefore we are His people and the flock of His pasture (Psalms 100:3).
Jesus said to Peter, Lovest thou Me? He said that he loved Him. He said unto him, Feed My lambs. He said a second time, Feed My sheep. Again He said a third time, Feed My sheep (John 21:15-17).
Also in many other passages, in which "to feed" signifies to instruct in truths, and "pasture" truths in which they are instructed.