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.
960. Go pour out the vials of the anger of God into the earth, signifies the state of the devastated church. This is evident from the signification of "the vials of the anger of God," as being the evils and falsities that have devastated the church; for "the vials of the anger of God" have the like signification as "the plagues" in the preceding chapter (Revelation 15:6), where it is said that "seven angels went out from the temple having seven plagues," "plagues" there signifying the evils and falsities therefrom and the falsities and evils therefrom that have devastated the church (see above, n. 949. "The anger of God" has a similar signification, for "the anger of God" is predicated of the evils and falsities that devastate the goods and truths of the church. It is evident also from the signification of "the earth," as being the church (see above, n. 29, 304, 417, 697, 741, 741, 752, 876). "To pour out these vials into the earth" signifies the state of the church so produced, because the vastations of the church are attributed in the Word to God, consequently they are represented as flowing forth from heaven; and yet nothing of them comes from God, but they are solely from man. Nevertheless, it is so said in the sense of the letter of the Word because it so appears to men, and that sense being the ultimate sense consists of appearances.
(References: Revelation 16:1; The Apocalypse Explained 29, 304, The Apocalypse Explained 417, The Apocalypse Explained 697, The Apocalypse Explained 741, The Apocalypse Explained 752, 876, The Apocalypse Explained 949)
 These are called "vials" because vials are vessels, and vessels have a similar signification as their contents, as goblets, beakers, cups, with wine or other liquor in them; and as the incense vessels and censers for the incense, and many other vessels. The reason of this is that the sense of the letter of the Word is the ultimate sense of the Divine truth, and therefore consists of the ultimate things that are in nature; for upon ultimates interior or higher things are built and founded. That vials, goblets, cups, beakers, and platters are mentioned in place of their contents, and therefore have a similar signification, is evident from the Word, where they signify falsities from hell, and drunkenness or insanity therefrom. They also signify temptations; also truths from the Lord and wisdom therefrom. That they signify falsities from hell and insanity therefrom is evident from the following passages. In Jeremiah:
Jehovah said, Take this cup of the wine of the anger of Jehovah out of My hand, and make all nations to whom I send thee to drink of it, that they may drink and stagger, and be mad because of the sword. When they refuse to take the cup out of thine hand to drink, thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah of Hosts, Drinking ye shall drink (Jeremiah 25:15, 16, 28).
"Cup of wine" here signifies the falsity that is from hell; "to drink" signifies to appropriate to oneself; "to be mad" signifies to be spiritually insane, which takes place when falsity is called truth and truth falsity. The "nations" that shall drink signify the evil, and in an abstract sense evils; for many nations that were to drink are there enumerated, and yet nations are not meant, but the evils signified by them, and evils are what drink, that is, appropriate to themselves, falsities. That "cup of wine" signifies falsity is evident also from the words, "that they may be mad because of the sword," for "sword" signifies falsity destroying truth.
(References: Jeremiah 25:15-16)
 In the same:
Babylon is a cup of gold in the hand of Jehovah, making the whole earth drunken; the nations have drunk of her wine, therefore the nations are mad (Jeremiah 51:7).
"Cup of gold" signifies falsity destroying good; "Babylon" signifies dominion over heaven and over the souls of men by means of the holy things of the church, from which dominion profane falsities flow forth; "to make the earth drunk" signifies to so infatuate the church that truth is not seen any more. "Wine" signifies that falsity.
 In Ezekiel:
Thou hast walked in the way of thy sister, therefore will I give her cup into thine hand. Thus saith the Lord Jehovih, Thou shalt drink of thy sister's cup, which is deep and broad; thou shalt be for a laughing and derision; ample to contain, thou shalt be filled with drunkenness and sadness, with the cup of devastation and desolation, with the cup of thy sister Samaria, which thou shalt drink and press out; and thou shalt break in pieces the shards thereof (Ezekiel 23:31-34).
This is said of Jerusalem, which signifies the celestial church as to doctrine; and Samaria, which is the "sister," signifies here the spiritual church, also as to doctrine. For the Jewish nation represented the Lord's celestial kingdom, and the Israelitish nation His spiritual kingdom. But here "Jerusalem and Samaria" signify the church devastated as to all good and truth. The full devastation of the church with the Jewish nation is described by "the sister's cup, which is deep and broad," and "they shall be filled with drunkenness and sadness," and "they shall drink the cup and press it out, and break in pieces the shards thereof. "It is called "a cup of devastation and desolation," because "devastation" is predicated of good, and "desolation" of truth.
 In Zechariah:
Behold I make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the peoples round about (Zechariah 12:2).
Thou shalt be satiated with shame more than with glory; drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered. The cup of Jehovah shall go about unto thee, and shameful vomiting shall be upon thy glory (Habakkuk 2:16).
"Cup" stands for falsified truth, which in itself is falsity, and of this "shameful vomiting" is predicated; therefore it is said "upon thy glory," "glory" signifying the Divine truth in the Word. In Lamentations:
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom; the cup shall pass through unto thee also; thou shalt be made drunken and shalt be uncovered (Lamentations 4:21).
Here "cup" has the same signification.
 In David:
Jehovah shall rain upon the wicked snares, fire, and brimstone, and a wind of tempests shall be the portion of their cup (Psalms 11:6).
In the same:
There is a cup in the hand of Jehovah, and He hath mixed it with wine. He hath filled it with mixture, and hath poured it out thence; but the dregs of it all the wicked of the earth shall suck out and drink (Psalms 75:8).
"Snares, fire, and brimstone," signify falsities and evils leading astray, and "a wind of tempests" signifies vigorous assault upon truth. These are called "the portion of a cup," because a "cup," as a containant signifies these. "To mix" and "to fill with mixture" signify to falsify truth and to profane it.
 In all these passages the devastation of truth and good by falsities and evils is attributed to Jehovah, for it is said that "they were to take the cup of the anger of Jehovah out of His hand," that "Jehovah hath mixed it with wine and filled it with mixture," also it is called "a cup in the hand of Jehovah;" and yet it must be understood that nothing of devastation is from Jehovah, but everything of it is from man. It is so said because the natural man sees no otherwise than that God is angry with, punishes, condemns, and casts into hell, those who despise and blaspheme Him, in a word, who do not give glory to Him; and because to so think is natural, it is so said in the sense of the letter of the Word, which is natural.
 So in other passages in Revelation:
He that adored the beast shall drink of the wine of the anger of God, mixed with unmixed wine in the cup of His wrath (Revelation 14:9, 10).
Great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath (Revelation 16:19).
A woman having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and of the uncleanness of her whoredom (Revelation 17:4).
Double unto her double according to her works; in the cup that she mingled mingle to her double (Revelation 18:6).
This makes clear the signification of the seven "vials" of the angels, which they poured out into the earth, the sea, the rivers, the fountains of waters, upon the sun, the throne of the beast, the river Euphrates, and into the air, namely, that they mean states of devastation, which are described by these.
(References: Revelation 14:9-10)
 That a "goblet" or "cup" signifies temptations can be seen from the following passages. In the Gospels:
Jesus said to the sons of Zebedee, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They said, We are able. Then He said unto them, My cup indeed shall ye drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with (Matthew 20:22, 23; Mark 10:38, 39).
But these passages may be seen explained above n. 893. In the same:
Jesus said to Peter, The cup which the Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:11).
Jesus said in Gethsemane, If it be possible let this cup pass away from Me (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
In these passages a "cup" or "goblet" plainly signifies temptations. So in Isaiah (Isaiah 51:17, 22), where it is also called "the cup of the anger of God" and "the cup of trembling."
 As "cup" has a similar signification as "wine," and "wine" in the good sense signifies the Divine truth, therefore also this is what "cup" signifies in the following passages. In the Gospels:
Jesus taking the cup and giving thanks, gave to the disciples, saying, All drink from it; for this is My blood, that of the new Testament (Matt. 26:27, 28; Mark 14:23, 24; Luke 22:17, 18).
As the Lord's "blood," and likewise "wine," signify the Divine truth that proceeds from Him, consequently the "cup" also, it is said therefore "this is My blood;" and as it is by means of the Divine truth that the Lord is conjoined with the church, it is called "that of the new Testament or the new Covenant." (That the Lord's "blood" signifies the Divine truth may be seen in 328, 329, 476, 748; and that "covenant" signifies conjunction, n. 701)
 In David:
Jehovah is the portion of your 1 part and of my cup; Thou sustainest my lot (Psalms 16:5).
In the same:
Thou wilt set a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou wilt make fat my head with oil; my cup shall run over (Psalms 23:5). 2
In these passages "cup" stands for the Divine truth; and as this is the signification of "cup" it is also called:
The cup of salvation (Psalms 116:13);
And the cup of consolations (Jeremiah 16:7).
 In Mark:
Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye are Christ's, he shall not lose his reward (Mark 9:41).
"To give a cup of water to drink in My name, because ye are Christ's," signifies to teach truth from the love of truth, thus from the Lord, likewise to do it. The love of truth for the sake of truth is meant by "giving a cup of water in the name of the Lord;" and "Christ" means the Lord as to the Divine truth.
 In the Gospels:
Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full from rapine and intemperance. Cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside may become clean also (Matthew 23:25, 26; Luke 11:39).
The Lord used the terms "cup" and "platter," because the containant has the same signification as the contents; thus the "cup" the same as "wine," and the "platter" the same as "food." "Wine" signifies the truth of the Word and of doctrine, and "food" the good of the Word and of doctrine. The natural man or the natural mind is inwardly purified when falsities and evils are removed, but it is not purified when they are not removed. For such as the interior is such does the exterior become, but the interior does not become such as the exterior is. For the interior flows into the exterior and disposes it to agreement with itself, but not the reverse.
(Continuation respecting the Second Commandment)
(References: Matthew 23:25-26)
 Since "the name of God" means that which is from God and which is God, and this is called the Divine truth, and with us the Word, this must not be profaned, because it is in itself Divine and most holy; and it is profaned when its holiness is denied, which is done when it is despised, rejected, and treated contemptuously. When this is done heaven is closed and man is left to hell. For the Word is the only medium of conjunction of heaven with the church; therefore when the Word is cast out of the heart that conjunction is dissolved; and because man is then left to hell he no longer acknowledges any truth of the church.
(References: Exodus 20:7)
 There are two things by which heaven is closed to the men of the church. One is the denial of the Lord's Divine, and the other is the denial of the holiness of the Word; and for this reason that the Lord's Divine is the all of heaven, and the Divine truth, which is the Word in the spiritual sense, is what makes heaven; which makes clear that he who denies the one or the other denies that which is the all of heaven, and from which heaven is and exists, and thus deprives himself of communication and thence of conjunction with heaven. To profane the Word is the same as "blaspheming the Holy Spirit," which is not forgiven to anyone, consequently it is said in this commandment that he who profanes the name of God shall not be left unpunished.
(References: Revelation 16:1)