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.
485. CHAPTER 11
1. Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood by, saying, "Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.
2. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.
3. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."
4. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.
5. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire will proceed from their mouth and devour their enemies. And if anyone wants to do them injury, he must be killed in this manner.
6. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.
7. Then, when they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.
8. And their bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
9. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their bodies for three and a half days, and not allow their bodies to be put into tombs.
10. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and be glad, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
11. But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
12. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.
13. In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth part of the city fell. And in the earthquake seven thousand people by name were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.
14. The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.
15. Then the seventh angel sounded, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!"
16. And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God,
17. saying: "We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, who are and who were and who are to come, because You have taken Your great power and entered Your kingdom.
18. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time to judge the dead, and to reward Your servants the prophets and saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and to destroy those who are destroying the earth."
19. Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING
The Contents of the Whole Chapter
The subject continues to be the state of the church among the Protestant Reformed and the character of those inwardly caught up in faith alone in opposition to the two essential elements of the New Church, namely, that the Lord alone is God of heaven and earth, whose humanity is Divine, and that people ought to live in accordance with the Ten Commandments. These two essential elements were proclaimed before them (verses 3-6). But they were utterly rejected (verses 7-10). The Lord revived them (verses 11, 12). Those people perished who rejected them (verse 13). From the New Heaven the state of the New Church was shown (verses 15-19).
The Contents of the Individual Verses:
|Verse Contents||Spiritual Meaning|
|1. Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod.||John was given the ability and power to learn and see the state of the church in heaven and in the world.|
|And the angel stood by, saying, "Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.||The Lord's presence and His command to see and learn the state of the church in the New Heaven.|
|2. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it,||The state of the church on earth, as it is still, must be set aside and not learned.|
|for it has been given to the gentiles.||Because, owing to evil practices, the state of that church has been lost and forsaken.|
|And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.||It has dispelled every truth of the Word to the point that none remains.|
|3. And I will give power to my two witnesses,||Those people who confess and acknowledge from the heart that the Lord is God of heaven and earth, whose humanity is Divine, and who are conjoined with Him by a life in accordance with the Ten Commandments.|
|and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days,||These two - an acknowledgment of the Lord and a life in accordance with the Ten Commandments, which are the two essential elements of the New Church - must be taught until the end and a new beginning.|
|clothed in sackcloth."||The grief experienced meanwhile over the truth's not being accepted.|
|4. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.||The love and intelligence, or charity and faith, that people have in them from the Lord.|
|5. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire will proceed from their mouth and devour their enemies.||Anyone who wishes to destroy these two essential elements perishes from a hellish love.|
|And if anyone wants to do them injury, he must be killed in that way.||Anyone who condemns the two essential elements is likewise condemned.|
|6. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy;||People who turn away from these two essential elements cannot receive any truth from heaven.|
|and they have power over waters to turn them to blood,||People who turn away from these two essential elements falsify the Word's truths.|
|and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.||People who wish to destroy these two essential elements propel themselves into evils and falsities of every kind, as often as, and in the measure that, they do so.|
|7. Then, when they finish their testimony,||After the Lord has taught these two essential elements of the New Church,|
|the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.||those people who are caught up in the interior tenets of the doctrine regarding faith alone will reject these two elements.|
|8. And their bodies will lie in the street of the great city||These two elements have been utterly rejected.|
|which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt,||The two hellish loves, namely, a love of ruling springing from a love of self, and a love of holding sway from a conceit in one's own intelligence, loves which are present in the church where there is not one God and where the Lord is not worshiped, and where people do not live in accordance with the Ten Commandments.|
|where also our Lord was crucified.||A failure to acknowledge the Lord's Divine humanity, and thus a state in which He is rejected.|
|9. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their bodies for three and a half days,||All those who were or who would be caught up in doctrinal falsities and evil practices at the end of the church still existing, when they have heard and later hear about these two essential elements at the beginning of the New Church,|
|and not allow their bodies to be put into tombs.||have condemned them and will continue to condemn them.|
|10. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and be glad,||The delight of the heart and soul's affection among those people in the church caught up in faith alone.|
|and send gifts to one another,||Their consociation by love and friendship.|
|because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.||These two essential elements of the New Church, opposed as they are to the two essential elements accepted in the Protestant Reformed Church, are objects of contempt, distress, and repugnance.|
|11. But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet,||As the New Church commences and grows, these two essential elements are made living by the Lord in people who accept them.|
|and great fear fell on those who saw them.||A disturbance of the mind and alarm at Divine truths.|
|12. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here."||The two essential elements of the New Church raised by the Lord into heaven, where they originate and where they remain, and where they are protected.|
|And they ascended to heaven in a cloud,||Their elevation into heaven and conjunction with the Lord there through the Divine truth of the Word in its literal sense.|
|and their enemies saw them.||People caught up in a faith divorced from charity heard of these, but remained in their falsities.|
|13. In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth part of the city fell.||A considerable change of state occurring then in those people, and their being plucked away from heaven and sinking into hell.|
|And in the earthquake seven thousand people by name were killed,||All those people who professed faith alone and for that reason made works of charity of no account, perished.|
|and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.||People who saw their destruction acknowledged the Lord and were set apart.|
|14. The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.||A lamentation over the corrupted state of the church, and lastly a final lamentation, as depicted after this.|
|15. Then the seventh angel sounded,||An examination and exposure of the state of the church after its end, at the time of the Lord's advent and the advent of His kingdom.|
|and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!"||Celebrations on the part of angels, that heaven and the church had become the Lord's, as they had been from the beginning, and that they had now become those of His Divine humanity, thus that the Lord would reign over heaven and earth as regards both aspects of Him to eternity.|
|16. And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God,||An acknowledgment on the part of all the angels in heaven that the Lord is God of heaven and earth, and their highest adoration of Him.|
|17. saying: "We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, who are and who were and who are to come,||A confession and glorification on the part of the angels in heaven, that the Lord is He who exists, lives, and has power of Himself, and who governs all things, because He alone is eternal and infinite.|
|because You have taken Your great power and entered Your kingdom.||The New Heaven and New Church, where people will acknowledge Him alone as God.|
|18. The nations were angry,||People who were caught up in faith alone and thus in evil practices were enraged, and harassed those who opposed their faith.|
|and Your wrath has come, and the time to judge the dead,||Their destruction, and the last judgment on those people who were without any spiritual life.|
|and to reward Your servants the prophets and saints,||The happiness of eternal life for people who possess doctrinal truths from the Word and live in accordance with them.|
|and those who fear Your name, small and great,||People who love things having to do with the Lord, in a lesser or greater degree.|
|and to destroy those who are destroying the earth."||The casting down into hell of the people who destroyed the church.|
|19. Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple.||The New Heaven, in which the Lord is worshiped in His Divine humanity, and where people live in accordance with the Ten Commandments, which constitute the two essential elements of the New Church that are the means of conjunction.|
|And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.||The reasonings, disturbances, and falsifications of goodness and truth then in the lower regions.|
Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. (11:1) This symbolically means that the Lord gave John the ability and power to learn and see the state of the church in heaven and in the world.
A reed symbolizes weak power, the kind a person has of himself, and a rod symbolizes strong power, the kind a person has from the Lord. Consequently John's being given a reed like a measuring rod symbolizes power from the Lord. That it was the ability and power to learn and see the state of the church in heaven and in the world is apparent from the events that follow in this chapter to the end.
(References: Apocalypse Revealed 485, 486, 487, 488, 489, 490, 491, 492, 493, 494, 495, 496, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 502-503, 504, 505, 506, 507, 508, 509, 510, 511, 512, 513, 514, 515, 516, 517, 518, 519, 520, 521, 522, 523, 524, 525, 526, 527, 528, 529; Exodus 8:5; Revelation 11:2, 11:3-6, 11:3, 11:4, 11:5, 11:6, 11:7-10, 11:7, 11:8, 11:9, 11:10, 11:11, 11:11-12, 11:12, 11:13, 11:14, 11:15, 11:15-19, 11:16, 11:17, 11:18, 11:19)
 That a reed or length of cane symbolizes weak power such as a person has of himself is apparent from the following:
Look, you are relying on the staff of (a) broken reed, on Egypt, which, when a man leans on it, will go into his hand and pierce it. (Isaiah 36:6)
That... the inhabitants of Egypt may know that I am Jehovah, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. When they took hold of you with the hand, you broke and punctured all their shoulders... (Ezekiel 29:6-7)
Egypt symbolizes the natural person who relies on his own powers, and that is why it is called the staff of a broken reed.
A reed symbolizes weak power, in Isaiah:
A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not extinguish. (Isaiah 42:3)
 A rod, on the other hand, symbolizes strong power, which comes from the Lord, here the power to learn the state of the church, because John used the rod to measure the temple and altar, and to measure means, symbolically, to learn, and the temple and altar symbolize the church, as depicted next.
A rod symbolizes power because in olden times people in the church made wooden rods, and wood symbolizes goodness. It also substituted for the right hand and supported it, and the right hand symbolizes power. It is owing to this that a scepter is a shortened rod, and a scepter symbolizes the power of a king. Moreover, "scepter" and "rod" in Hebrew are the same word. 1
 That a rod symbolizes power is apparent from the following passages:
Say, "How the strong staff is broken, the beautiful rod!" ...Come down from your glory, and sit in thirst. (Jeremiah 48:17-18)
Jehovah shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. (Psalms 110:2)
You punctured with his shafts the head of the faithless. (Habakkuk 3:14)
...Israel the rod of (Jehovah's) inheritance. (Jeremiah 10:16; 51:19)
Your rod and Your staff will comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)
Jehovah has broken the staff of the wicked... (Isaiah 14:5, cf. Isaiah 9:4, Psalms 125:3)
My people consult a piece of wood, and their staff answers them. (Hosea 4:12)
...Jehovah... takes away from Jerusalem... the whole staff of bread and the whole staff of water. (Isaiah 3:1, cf. Ezekiel 4:16; 5:16; 14:13, Psalms 105:16, Leviticus 26:26)
A staff of bread and of water symbolizes the power of goodness and truth, and Jerusalem symbolizes the church.
The rod of Levi with the name of Aaron on it, which in the Tabernacle blossomed with almonds (Numbers 17:2-10), symbolizes, in the spiritual sense, nothing else than the power of truth and goodness, because Levi and Aaron symbolized the truth and goodness of the church.
 That a rod symbolizes power is apparent from the power of Moses' rod: On being stretched out it turned water into blood (Exodus 7:20). It caused frogs to come up on the land of Egypt (Exodus 8:1ff.). It produced lice (Exodus 8:16f.). It summoned thunder and hail (Exodus 9:23ff.). It caused locusts to come (Exodus 10:12ff.). It caused the Red Sea to be parted and the waters to return (Exodus 14:16, 21, 26). It caused water to flow from the rock at Horeb (Exodus 17:5ff., Numbers 20:7-13). In Moses' hand it enabled Joshua to prevail over the Amalekites (Exodus 17:9-12).
And an angel's staff caused fire to come forth from a rock (Judges 6:21).
It is apparent from these instances that a rod or staff symbolizes power, and also elsewhere, as in Isaiah 10:5, 24, 26; 11:4; 14:29; 30:31-32, Ezekiel 19:10-14, Lamentations 3:1, Micah 7:14, Zechariah 10:11, Numbers 21:18.
1. I.e., מַטֶּה.