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.
727. "Rod and staff" signify power, and indeed, the power of Divine truth, chiefly for the reason that they were branches or boughs of trees, and these signify the knowledges of truth and good, which are the truths of the natural man; and as they also supported the body, they signified power. This is still more true of an "iron rod," because iron likewise signifies the truth of the natural man, and because of its hardness it signifies power that cannot be resisted. That "rods and staffs" thence signify the power of Divine truth is derived from correspondence. Therefore in the spiritual world, where all things that appear are correspondences, the use of staffs is a representative of the power of those that use them. It was similar in the Jewish Church, which, like the ancient churches, was a representative church. This is why Moses wrought miracles and signs in Egypt, and afterwards in the desert, by stretching forth his staff, as that:
The waters smitten with the staff were turned into blood (Exodus 7:1-21).
Frogs came up from the rivers and pools, over which the staff was stretched forth (Exodus 8:1).
From the dust smitten with the staff there came lice (Exodus 8:12).
When the staff was stretched toward heaven there came thunders and hail (Exodus 9:23.).
Locusts came forth (Exodus 10:12 seq.).
The Sea Suph when the staff was stretched forth over it was divided, and afterwards returned (Exodus 14:16, 21, 26).
From the rock in Horeb, smitten with the staff, waters came forth (Exodus 17:5; Numbers 20:7-13).
Joshua prevailed over Amelek when Moses held up his hand with the staff, and Amelek prevailed when Moses let it down (Exodus 17:9-12).
Also fire went up out of the rock and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes which Gideon offered, when the angel of Jehovah touched it with the end of his staff (Judges 6:21).
These miracles were wrought by the stretching forth of a staff, because a "staff" from correspondence signifies the power of the Lord through Divine truth (which power was treated of in the article immediately preceding).
 Divine truth in respect to power is signified elsewhere in the Word by "rods" and "staffs," as can be seen from the following passages.
Yea, when I shall walk in the shady valley I will fear no evil to me; Thy rod and Thy staff will comfort me; Thou wilt make ready before me a table in the presence of mine enemies; and Thou wilt make fat my head with oil and my cup will abound (Psalms 23:4, 5).
"To walk in a shady valley" signifies in the spiritual sense an obscure understanding that does not see truths from light; "Thy rod and Thy staff will comfort me" signifies that spiritual Divine truth together with natural Divine truth will protect, for these have power; "rod" meaning spiritual Divine truth, "staff" natural Divine truth, the two together meaning these in respect to their power to protect, for "to comfort" means to protect. As "rod and staff" signify Divine truth in respect to power, it is next said, "Thou wilt make ready before me a table, Thou wilt make fat my head with oil, my cup will abound," which signifies spiritual nourishment through Divine truth; for "to make ready a table" signifies to be nourished spiritually; "to make fat the head with oil" signifies with the good of love, and "cup" signifies with the truth of doctrine from the Word, "cup" standing here for "wine."
(References: Psalms 23:4-5)
 In Ezekiel:
Thy mother was like a vine planted by the waters, whence she had rods of strength, as scepters for them that rule; but she lifted herself on high in her stature among the thick boughs; therefore she was plucked up in wrath, she was cast down to the earth and the east wind dried up her fruit; the rods of her strength were broken off and dried up, the fire devoured everyone. Now she is planted in the wilderness, in a land of drought and thirst; a fire hath gone out from the rod of her branches, and hath devoured her fruit, and so there is not in her a rod of strength, a scepter of them that rule 1 (Ezekiel 19:10-14).
This describes the desolation of all truth in the Jewish church; the "princes" against whom is the lamentation signify truths, and the "mother" who was made a lioness signifies the church; about these this is said, "Thy mother was like a vine planted by the waters" signifies that the spiritual church, from its establishment had been instructed in truths; "mother" meaning the church in general; "vine" the spiritual church in particular; "waters" truths, and "to be planted" to be established. "Whence she had rods of strength as scepters for them that rule" signifies that the church had Divine truth in its power, and thus dominion over the falsities of evil which are from hell, "rods of strength" signifying Divine truth in respect to power, and "scepters" Divine truth in respect to dominion, for the scepters of kings were short staffs from a significative tree, here from the vine; "but she lifted herself on high in her stature among the thick boughs" signifies the pride of self-intelligence from knowledges [scientifica] of the natural man; this pride is signified by "she lifted herself on high in her stature," and the knowledges [scientifica] of the natural man are signified by the "thick boughs." "She was plucked up in wrath, she was cast down to the earth," signifies the destruction of the church by the falsities of evil; "the east wind dried up her fruit" signifies the destruction of its good, "east wind" signifying destruction, and "fruit" good; the good that those have, remaining from the Word, who are in the falsities of evil, is here meant, and its destruction is signified by "the drying up of the fruit by an east wind." "The rods of her strength were broken off and dried up" signifies that all Divine truth was dispersed, consequently that the church had no power against the hells. "The fire consumed everyone" signifies pride from the love of self, which destroyed; "now she is planted in the wilderness, in a land of drought and thirst," signifies that the church is desolated until there is no good of truth or truth of good. "A fire hath gone out from the rod of her branches," signifies pride in every particular of it; "it hath devoured her fruit" signifies the consumption of good; "so that there is not in her a rod of strength, a scepter of them that rule," signifies the desolation of Divine truth in respect to power and in respect to dominion, as above.
 In Jeremiah:
Say ye, How is the staff of strength broken, the staff of splendor! Come down from thy glory and sit in thirst, O thou daughter that dwellest in Dibon; for the devastator of Moab hath come up against thee and hath destroyed thy fortresses! (Jeremiah 48:17, 18).
"The daughter of Dibon" signifies the external of the church, and thence the external of the Word, which is the sense of its letter; and "the devastator of Moab" signifies its adulteration. From this it is clear what is signified by "the staff of strength is broken, the staff of splendor," namely, that they have no Divine truth in its power, "staff of strength" meaning Divine truth in the natural sense, and "staff of splendor" meaning Divine truth in the spiritual sense; "come down from thy glory and sit in thirst, O thou daughter that dwellest in Dibon," signifies the deprivation and lack of Divine truth; "to come down from glory" meaning the deprivation of it; "glory" Divine truth in light, and "thirst" the lack of it. "For the devastator of Moab hath come up against thee" signifies the adulteration of the Word, in respect to its literal sense; "and hath destroyed thy fortresses," signifies the taking away of defense; "fortress" meaning defense against falsities and evils; the literal sense of the Word is that defense.
(References: Jeremiah 48:17-18)
 In David:
Jehovah shall send the staff of thy strength out of Zion (Psalms 110:2).
Here also "staff of strength" signifies Divine truth in its power, and "Zion" the church that is in love to the Lord, and is therefore called a celestial church.
 In Micah:
Feed Thy people with Thy rod, the flock of Thine heritage; they shall feed in Bashan and Gilead according to the days of an age (Micah 7:14).
"Feed Thy people with Thy rod" signifies the instruction of those who are of the church in Divine truths from the Word; "to feed" signifying to instruct; "people" meaning those who are of the church in truths, and "rod" where the Word is because it is Divine truth. "The flock of heritage" signifies those of the church who are in the spiritual things of the Word, which are the truths of its internal sense; "they shall feed in Bashan and Gilead" signifies instruction in the goods of the church and in its truths from the natural sense of the Word.
 In Isaiah:
He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4).
Here "the rod of Jehovah's mouth" signifies Divine truth or the Word in its natural sense; and "the breath of His lips" signifies Divine truth or the Word in the spiritual sense, both destroying the falsities of evil in the church, which is signified by "smiting the earth and slaying the wicked."
To smite with a rod (Micah 5:1);
And to pierce with his staffs the head of the unfaithful (Habakkuk 3:14);
have a like signification.
 In Moses:
Israel sang a song respecting the fountain in Beer; O fountain the princes digged, the nobles of the people digged out, by the Lawgiver, with their staffs (Numbers 21:17, 18).
"The fountain in Beer" here signifies doctrine from the Word, "Beer" meaning in the original tongue a fountain; the "princes" who digged, and "the nobles of the people" who digged out, signify those who are intelligent and those who are wise from the Lord, who is here "the Lawgiver." The "staffs" with which they digged and digged out signify the understanding enlightened in Divine truths.
(References: Numbers 21:17-18)
 In Zechariah:
There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and a man in whose hand is a staff because of the multitude of days (Zechariah 8:4).
"Old men and old women" signify those who are intelligent from doctrine and from the affection of truth; "the man in whose hand is a staff [scipio] because of the multitude of days" signifies the wise who trust in the Lord alone and not at all in themselves; that these will be in the church that has the doctrine of genuine truth is signified by "in the streets of Jerusalem," "Jerusalem" meaning the church in respect to doctrine, and "streets" the truths of doctrine, here genuine truths.
 In Jeremiah:
Every man has become brutish by knowledge, every refiner is put to shame by the graven image; the portion of Jacob is not like these; but He is the Former of all things, and Israel is the staff of His heritage, Jehovah of Hosts is His name (Jeremiah 10:14, 16; 51:19).
"Every man has become brutish by knowledge" signifies by the knowledges of the natural man separated from the spiritual; "every refiner is put to shame by the graven image" signifies by falsities that are from self-intelligence, "but He is the Former of all things" signifies the Lord from whom is all intelligence of truth; "Israel is the staff of his heritage" signifies the church that has Divine truth, and its power against falsities; and because this treats of intelligence through Divine truth it is added, "Jehovah of Hosts is His name;" the Lord is called "Jehovah of Hosts" from Divine truths in the whole complex, for "hosts" mean armies, and "armies" signify all the truths and goods of heaven and the church.
 When the sons of Israel murmured in the desert against Moses and Aaron on account of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, because they were swallowed by the earth, it was commanded that:
The princes of the twelve tribes should place their staffs in the Tent of meeting, before the testimony; and when this was done the staff of Aaron blossomed and brought forth almonds (Numbers 17:2-10).
This was done because they murmured against Jehovah, that is, against the Lord, and indeed against Divine truth which is from Him; for Moses and Aaron represented the Lord in respect to the law, which is the Word; for this reason it was commanded that "the princes of the twelve tribes should place their staffs in the Tent of meeting before the testimony;" for "the twelve tribes," and in particular "their princes," and likewise "their twelve staffs," signified the truths of the church in the whole complex; and "Tent of meeting" represented and thence signified heaven, from which are the truths of the church, and the "testimony" the Lord Himself. "The staff of Aaron" blossomed and brought forth almonds, because his "staff" represented and thence signified truth from the good of love; and because truth from the good of love alone brings forth fruit, which is the good of charity, it was his staff that blossomed and brought forth almonds, "almonds," like as "the tribe of Levi," signifying that good (see above, n. 444. It is be known that "tribe" "staff" are expressed by the same word (as in Numbers 1:16; 2:5, 7); therefore "the twelve staffs" have a like signification as "the twelve tribes," namely, the Divine truth of the church in the whole complex. (On the twelve tribes see above, n. 39, 430, 431, 657.)
 As a "staff" signifies the power of Divine truth, it signifies also the power to resist evils and falsities. In Isaiah:
Behold the Lord Jehovih of Hosts doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the staff and the stay, the whole staff of bread, and the whole staff of water, the mighty one and the man of war, the judge and the prophet (Isaiah 3:1, 2).
Here "to take away the whole staff of bread and the whole staff of water" signifies to take away every good and truth of the church, and when these are taken away there is no longer any power to resist evils and falsities, so as to hinder their free entrance; "bread" signifies the good of the church, "water" its truth, and "staff" the same as to their power to resist evils and falsities; therefore it follows that "the mighty one and the man of war, the judge and the prophet," who will also be taken away, "the mighty one and the man of war" signifying truth combating against evil and falsity, and "judge and prophet" the doctrine of good and truth.
(References: Isaiah 3:1-2)
 In Ezekiel:
Behold I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and they shall eat bread by weight and in carefulness, and drink waters by measure and with astonishment (Ezekiel 4:16).
"To break the staff of bread" signifies that good and truth shall fail in the church, for "bread" here signifies good and truth; therefore it follows "they shall eat bread by weight and in carefulness, and drink waters by measure," which signifies a lack of good and truth, and thus of the power to resist evils and falsities:
Breaking the staff of bread and of water (Ezekiel 5:16; 14:13; Psalms 105:16; Leviticus 26:26);
has a like signification.
 As "rod and staff" signify the power of Divine truth, and thus Divine truth in respect to power, so in the contrary sense "rod and staff" also signify the power of infernal falsity, and thence infernal falsity in respect to power. In this sense "rod and staff" are mentioned in the following passages. In Isaiah:
Jehovah has broken the staff of the wicked, the rod of them that rule (Isaiah 14:5).
"To break the staff of the wicked" signifies to destroy the power of falsity from evil; and "to break the rod of them that rule" signifies to destroy the rule of falsity.
 In David:
The staff of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous, that the righteous put not forth their hands to perversity (Psalms 125:3).
"The staff of wickedness" signifies the power of falsity from evil; "upon the lot of the righteous" signifies over truths from good, which the faithful have, and especially with those who are in love to the Lord, for these in the Word are called the "righteous;" "lest the righteous put forth their hands to perversity" signifies lest they falsify truths.
 In Lamentations:
I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His fury; He hath led me in darkness, and not into light (Lamentations 3:1, 2).
This is said of the devastation of the church; and "the rod of fury" signifies the rule of infernal falsity; "he hath led me and brought me in darkness and not into light" signifies into mere falsities, and thus not to truths.
(References: Lamentations 3:1-2)
 In Isaiah:
Thou hast broken the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his exactor (Isaiah 9:4).
This is said of the Gentiles who were in falsities from ignorance, because they did not have the Word, and therefore did not know the Lord. The evil by which they were oppressed and the falsities by which they were infested are signified by "the yoke of the burden, the staff of the shoulder, and the rod of the exactor," "to break" signifies to destroy these, for "to break" is predicated of a yoke, a staff, and a rod, and to destroy, of evil and falsity, which heavily weigh upon and powerfully persuade and compel to obedience.
 In the same:
At the voice of Jehovah Asshur shall be dismayed, he shall be smitten with a staff; then every passage of the rod of foundation upon which Jehovah shall cause to rest shall be with timbrels and harps (Isaiah 30:31, 32).
This is said of the time of the Last Judgment, when there shall be a New Church. "Asshur, who shall be dismayed at the voice of Jehovah, and shall be smitten with a staff" signifies reasoning from falsities that will be dispersed by Divine truth. That the truths of the literal sense of the Word will then be understood and received with joy, is signified by "then the passage of the rod of the foundation shall be with timbrels and harps," "passage" signifying the opening and free reception, and "timbrels and harps" signifying the delights of the affection of truth. The truths of the literal sense of the Word are signified by "the rod of the foundation," because that sense is a foundation for the truths of its spiritual sense; and as the spiritual sense rests upon the literal, it is said "upon which Jehovah shall cause to rest."
(References: Isaiah 30:31-32)
 In Zechariah:
The pride of Asshur shall be brought down, and the staff of Egypt shall depart (Zechariah 10:11).
"The pride of Asshur" signifies the pride of self-intelligence, and "the staff of Egypt" signifies its power from the confirmation of its falsities by the knowledges of the natural man.
 In Isaiah:
Woe to Asshur, the rod of Mine anger and the staff of Mine indignation, which is in their hand; O My people that dwellest in Zion, fear not Asshur that he smite thee with a rod, and lift up his staff upon thee in the way of Egypt (Isaiah 10:5, 24, 26).
Here, too, "Asshur" signifies the reasonings from self-intelligence by which truths are perverted and falsified; the consequent falsities and the perversions of truth are signified by "the rod of Mine anger and the staff of Mine indignation, which is in their hand." That truths will not be perverted with those of the church who are in celestial love and in truths therefrom is signified by "Thou that dwellest in Zion, fear not." That falsity urges and excites and strives to pervert by means of such things as pertain to the natural man is signified by "that he smite thee with a rod, and lift up a staff upon thee in the way of Egypt," "the way of Egypt," signifying the knowledges of the natural man, from which come reasonings. Since "Egypt" signifies the natural man with the things that are in it, and the natural man when separated from the spiritual is in mere falsities:
Egypt is called the staff of a bruised reed, which goeth into and pierceth the hand when one leaneth upon it (Ezekiel 29:6, 7; Isaiah 36:6).
This may be seen explained above n. 627.
 In Isaiah:
Be not glad O Philistia, because the rod that smiteth thee 2 is broken; for from the serpent's root shall come forth a basilisk, whose fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent (Isaiah 14:29).
That "Philistia" signifies the religion of faith separated from charity, "the serpent's root" that false principle, "the basilisk" the destruction of the good and truth of the church, and "the fiery flying serpent" reasonings from the falsities of evil, may be seen above n. 386; thus these serpents have a similar signification as "the dragon" in this chapter of Revelation. That "Philistia should not be glad because the rod of him that smiteth her is broken" signifies that she should not boast that the dominion of that falsity is not yet destroyed.
(References: The Apocalypse Explained 386)
 In Hosea:
My people question the wood, and their staff answereth them, for the spirit of whoredoms hath seduced them, and they have committed whoredom under their God (Hosea 4:12).
This is said of the falsification of the Word. "To question the wood or an idol of wood" signifies to consult the intelligence that is from what is one's own [proprium] that favors its loves; "the staff answereth them" signifies the falsity in which one has faith, for when the selfhood [proprium] is consulted falsity responds; the selfhood is of the will, thus of the love, and the falsity thence is of the understanding, thus of the thought. "The spirit of whoredoms that has seduced" signifies the lust of falsifying; "to commit whoredom under their God" signifies to falsify the truths of the Word.
 From this now it is clear what "rod and staff" signify in both senses; and from this it can be known what is meant by "the iron rod with which the son, the male is to tend all nations;" likewise by these words in Revelation:
Out of the mouth of Him who sat upon the white horse goeth forth a sharp sword, that with it He may smite the nations; and He shall tend them with an iron rod (Revelation 19:15).
Also by these words above:
He that shall overcome I will give him power over the nations, that he may rule them with an iron rod; as a potter's vessels shall they be broken (Revelation 2:26, 27).
The explanation of this may be seen above n. 176. Like things are signified by these words in David:
Thou shalt break them in pieces with an iron rod, thou shalt shatter them like a potter's vessel (Psalms 2:9).