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.
483. And shall guide them unto living fountains of waters, signifies in Divine truths. This is evident from the signification of "living fountains of waters," as being Divine truths, "living" signifying living from the Divine, "fountain" the Word, and "waters" truths therefrom. "Living waters" are often mentioned in the Word, and by them are meant truths that come from the Lord and are received. These are living, because the Lord is Life itself, as He Himself teaches, and that which comes from Life itself is living; while that which comes from man is dead. That the Lord may give life to truths, He flows into them through good, and good makes alive. The Lord also flows in out of the higher or interior parts, and opens the spiritual mind, and imparts to it the affection of truth; and the spiritual affection of truth is the very life of heaven with man. This life is what the Lord insinuates into man by means of truths. This makes clear what is meant here by "living fountains of waters," and by "living waters" in the following passages.
 In Isaiah:
When the poor and needy seek water and there is none, their tongue faileth for thirst. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains will I place in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness into a pool of waters, and the dry land into springs of waters (Isaiah 41:17, 18).
This treats of the saving of the nations by the Lord, who are called "poor and needy" from the lack and ignorance of truth; their desire to learn truths from those who are in the church, where there were no truths, is described by "they seek waters and there are none, and their tongue faileth for thirst," "water," meaning truth, and "thirst" the desire for truth. That the Lord will instruct them is signified by "I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains will I place in the midst of the valleys;" "to open rivers" meaning to give intelligence, "on the bare heights" meaning in the interior man, "in the midst of the valleys" in the exterior man, and "to place fountains" to instruct in truths; "to make the wilderness into a pool of waters, and the dry land into springs of waters" signifies abundance of truth with those who before were in the lack and ignorance thereof, "wilderness" meaning where there is no good because there is no truth, and "dry land" where there is no truth and thence no good; a "pool of waters" and "fountains of waters" signify abundance of the knowledges of truth. This makes clear that "waters," "fountains," "springs," "rivers," and "pools of water," are not here meant, but the knowledges of truth and intelligence therefrom, whence comes salvation.
(References: Isaiah 41:17-18)
 In the same:
Behold your God will come for vengeance, and will save you. Then the dry place shall become a pool, and the thirsty place springs of water (Isaiah 35:4, 7).
This, too, is said of the instruction of the nations in truths, and their reformation by the Lord when He should come into the world; and "the dry place shall became a pool, and the thirsty place springs of waters," has a similar signification as "the wilderness shall become a pool (or collection) of waters, and the dry land springs of waters," in the passage above.
 In Jeremiah:
They shall come with weeping and with supplication will I lead them; I will make them go unto the brooks 1 of waters in the way of right, they shall not stumble in it (Jeremiah 31:9).
This, too, treats of reception of the Lord by the Gentiles; that He would instruct them in genuine truths is signified by "He will lead them unto brooks of waters in the way of right, they shall not stumble in it." In Isaiah:
They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat or the sun smite them; for He that hath compassion on them shall guide them, and unto fountains of waters shall He lead them (Isaiah 49:10).
This also is said of the instruction of the Gentiles by the Lord; instruction in truths is meant by "unto fountains of waters shall He lead them." (What "to hunger" and "to thirst" signify see above, n. 480; also what "heat" and "sun" signify, n. 481
 In Joel:
It shall come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drop down must, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the water-courses of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall go forth out of the house of Jehovah and shall water the brook of Shittim (Joel 3:18).
What is signified by "the mountains shall drop down must, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the water-courses of Judah shall flow with waters," may be seen explained above n. 433; and that "a fountain shall go forth out of the house of Jehovah and shall water the brook of Shittim" signifies that there shall be truth out of heaven from the Lord illustrating the knowledges and cognitions that are in the natural man.
(References: The Apocalypse Explained 433)
 In David:
Before Thee thou art in travail, O earth, before the God of Jacob; who turned the rock into a pool of waters, the flint into a fountain of waters (Psalms 114:7, 8).
"Pool of waters" and "fountain of waters" here mean truths in abundance, by means of which is the church; for "thou art in travail, O earth," signifies the commencement of the church, which is said "to be in travail" when truths are brought forth therein, "the earth" meaning the church.
(References: Psalms 114:7-8)
 In the same:
Jehovah sendeth forth springs into the brooks; they go between the mountains. They give drink to the wild beast of the fields; the wild asses quench their thirst. By them the fowl of the heavens dwell (Psalms 104:10-12).
"To send forth springs into the brooks" signifies to give intelligence by means of truths from the Word; "they go between the mountains" signifies that truths will be from the good of love; "the springs" meaning truths from the Word, "the brooks" the things that are of intelligence, and "mountains" the good of love. The instruction of those who are in the good of the church is signified by "they give drink to the wild beast of the fields;" the instruction of those in the church who desire truths is signified by "the wild asses quench their thirst;" that the understanding is thus perfected is signified by "the fowl shall dwell by them." "The wild beast of the fields" mean in the spiritual sense the Gentiles that are in the good of life, "the wild asses" natural truth, "thirst" the desire for truths, and "the fowl of the heavens" thoughts from the understanding.
 In the highest sense, a "fountain" means the Lord in relation to Divine truth or Divine truth from the Lord, consequently the Word, as can be seen from the following passages. In Jeremiah:
My people hath done two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no waters (Jeremiah 2:13).
Here Jehovah, that is, the Lord, calls Himself "the fountain of living waters," which signifies the Word, or Divine truth, consequently the Lord Himself, who is the Word; for it is said, "they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters." "To hew out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no waters," signifies to frame for themselves doctrinals from self-intelligence, in which there are no truths, "cisterns" meaning doctrinals, "broken cisterns" doctrinals that do not hold together, "that hold no waters" signifies in which there are no truths. Such are the doctrinals that are not from the Word, that is, from the Lord through the Word (for the Lord teaches through the Word), but are from self-intelligence; that these are not from the Lord through the Word is meant by "they have forsaken the fountain of living waters."
 In the same:
All that forsake Thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from Me shall be written on the earth, because they have forsaken the fountain of living waters, Jehovah (Jeremiah 17:13).
Here in like manner Jehovah, that is, the Lord, calls Himself "the fountain of living waters" from the Divine truth, which is from Him; "to be written on the earth" signifies to be damned (see above, n. 222.
(References: The Apocalypse Explained 222)
 In David:
They shall be filled with the fatness of Thy house; and Thou makest them drink of the brook of Thy delights; for with Thee is the fountain of life, in Thy light shall we see light (Psalms 36:8, 9).
"Fatness" signifies the good of love, and "the brook of delights" truth from that good; "to make to drink" means to teach; "with Thee is the fountain of life" signifies that with the Lord and from Him is Divine truth; because that is what is signified by "the fountain of life" it is added, "in Thy light shall we see light," for "the light of the Lord" means Divine truth.
(References: Psalms 36:8-9)
 In Zechariah:
In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for impurity. And in that day I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land; and I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land (Zechariah 13:1, 2).
This also treats of the Lord's coming. That those who are in the Lord's kingdom will then understand the Word, that is, the Divine truth therein, is signified by "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem," "a fountain" signifying the Word, "the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem" the Lord's spiritual kingdom. The Lord's spiritual kingdom is with those in the heavens and on the earth who are in Divine truths; "for sin and for impurity" signifies the removal of evils and falsities by means of truths from the Word. Because the Word or the Divine truth therein is meant by a "fountain" it is said, "In that day I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land;" "idols" signifying a false religion, "prophets" false doctrine, and "the unclean spirit" evils flowing from the falsities of doctrine; for when a man lives according to the falsities of religion and doctrine he becomes an unclean spirit.
(References: Zechariah 13:1-2)
 That Divine truth from the Lord is meant by a "fountain" the Lord Himself teaches in plain words in John:
When the Lord sat by Jacob's fountain in the field of Samaria, He said to the woman of Samaria, Everyone that drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever shall drink of the water that I shall give him shall not thirst forever; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto everlasting life (John 4:5-20).
It is clear that the "water" that the Lord gives does not mean water, but Divine truth; for it is said that in drinking of the water the woman of Samaria came to draw, one thirsts again, but not of the water that the Lord gives. That "that water shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto everlasting life" means that in that truth is life. That there is life in truths when the Lord gives them may be seen in this article above. The Lord said these things to the woman of Samaria, when He sat by Jacob's fountain, because by the "Samaritans" the Lord meant the Gentiles that were to receive Divine truths from Him; and by the "woman of Samaria" a church constituted of such; and by "Jacob's fountain" Divine truth from Himself, that is, the Word.
 In Moses:
Thus Israel dwelt securely alone by the fountain of Jacob (Deuteronomy 33:28).
This is in the prophecy of Moses respecting the sons of Israel, in the conclusion of that prophecy. Because "Israel" here signifies the church that is in Divine truths from the Word, therefore it is said "by the fountain of Jacob," which means the Word; so, too, the Lord in relation to the Word, for He is the Word because He is Divine truth, as He Himself teaches in John (John 1:1-3, 14). This is said at the end of that prophecy, because in that prophecy the Word is treated of. "Fountain" has a similar meaning in the prophecy of Israel the father respecting Joseph:
The son of a fruitful one is Joseph, the son of a fruitful one by the fountain (Genesis 49:22).
"Fountain" here means the fountain of Jacob, for the field that contained that fountain was given to Joseph by his father (John 4:5, 6). What is signified by "Joseph the son of a fruitful one, the son of a fruitful one by the fountain," may be seen above n. 448. A "fountain" also means the Word, and "fountains" mean Divine truths from the Word, in David:
Bless ye God in the congregations, the Lord from the fountain of Israel (Psalms 68:26).
I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely (Revelation 21:6).
Then with gladness shall ye draw waters out of the fountains of salvation (Isaiah 12:3).
All my fountains are in Thee, Jehovah (Psalms 87:7).
 As most things in the Word have also a contrary sense, so have "fountain" and "fountains," and in that sense they signify the doctrine of falsities, and falsities of doctrine. Thus in Jeremiah:
I will dry up her sea and make her fountain dry (Jeremiah 51:36).
This is said of Babylon; and her "sea" signifies falsities in one complex, and "fountain" the doctrine of falsity.
 In Hosea:
An east wind shall come, the wind of Jehovah, coming up from the wilderness; and his fountain shall become dry, and his spring shall be dried up (Hosea 13:15).
This is said of Ephraim, and by him is here meant a perverted understanding of the Word which confirms falsities by means of the Word; its destruction is signified by "his fountain shall become dry, and his spring shall be dried up by the east wind, the wind of Jehovah from the wilderness;" "his fountain" meaning the doctrine of falsity thence, "spring" its falsity, and "the east wind from the wilderness" its destruction by fallacies that are from external sensual things; for external sensual things, when they are not illustrated from things internal, destroy man's understanding, because all fallacies are from that source.
 In David:
Thou hast broken up the sea by Thy strength; Thou hast broken the heads of the whales in the waters. Thou hast crushed in the heads of leviathan, and hast given him to be food to the people, for the Ziim. Thou didst cleave fountains and brooks; Thou hast dried up the rivers of strength (Psalms 74:13-15).
Here, too, "fountains" and "brooks" signify false doctrine, which is from self-intelligence; "the rivers of strength" are confirmed principles of falsity therefrom; "the whales" and "leviathan" signify knowledges [scientifica] belonging to the sensual and natural man, from which is all falsity when the spiritual man is closed over them. The sensual and natural man are the seat of what is man's own [proprium], therefore conclusions drawn from those alone are conclusions from one's own [proprium] or from self-intelligence; for the Divine flows in through the spiritual man into the natural, and not into the natural when the spiritual is closed over it, but the spiritual man is opened by means of truths and a life according to them. The "people, the Ziim to whom leviathan is to be given for food," signify those who are in infernal falsities.
1. The photolithograph has "fountains," the Hebrew "brooks."
(References: Revelation 7:17)