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.
3563. 'And said, The voice is Jacob's voice, and the hands Esau's hands' means that the understanding consists in this case of truth existing inwardly, while the will consists in this case of good existing outwardly, so that an inversion of order exists with them. This is clear from the use of 'voice' to refer to truth and of 'hand' to refer to good. For 'voice' is used in reference to truth, as is evident from the places introduced in Volume One, in 219, 220, and from the fact that the actual words used are 'the voice is Jacob's voice', Jacob representing natural truth, as shown in various places above. And the reason why 'hand' is used in reference to good is that 'the hand' means power and ability, 878, 3541, the source of which is nothing other than good. All the power and ability that truth possesses comes from good, even though it seems to come from truth. This likewise is evident from the fact that the actual words used are 'the hands are Esau's hands', Esau representing natural good, as also shown above. The consequent existence of an inversion of order with them is evident from the consideration that proper order requires good, which belongs to the will, to exist inwardly, and truth, which belongs to the understanding, to exist outwardly. But these matters, as stated above, are such as can hardly be explained in any intelligible way because few have any knowledge of such things. For even if a perfectly clear explanation of them were given they would still not be understood if knowledge of them is lacking. Nevertheless the matter must be discussed since it is the subject at this point.
(References: Arcana Coelestia 219-220)
 The only source of the good of the natural which manifests itself in a person is interior good, that is, the good of the rational. Natural good can have no other source, though that which flows in from the one determines the nature of the good in the other. And since the good of the natural comes from no other source, neither does the truth of the natural, for where good is, so also is truth. Both must be present if they are to be anything at all. And again, that which flows in determines the nature of the truth there. Influx is such that the good of the rational flows into the natural along two different routes - one a very short and thus direct route into the good itself of the natural, and then on through the good of the natural into the truth there, this good and this truth being represented by Esau and his venison. In addition to this, the good of the rational flows into the natural along a second route which is less short, that is to say, through the truth of the rational, by means of which influx it forms something resembling good, but which in fact is truth.
 Everything is thus taking place according to order when the good of the rational flows directly into the good of the natural and at the same time into the truth there, and also indirectly by way of the truth of the rational into the good of the natural, and in a similar way both directly and indirectly into the truth of the natural. When all this is taking place the influx is according to order. Such is the influx with those who have been regenerated. But a different influx exists prior to regeneration, as has been stated above. That is to say, the good of the rational does not flow into the good of the natural directly but indirectly, by way of the truth of the rational, and so manifests something resembling good in the natural, which is not genuine good nor consequently genuine truth. Instead it is something such as does indeed possess good inmostly by virtue of influx through the truth of the rational; but there is nothing more. Therefore good too presents itself there under a different form, that is to say, outwardly as good represented by 'Esau' but inwardly as truth represented by 'Jacob'. And as this is not in accordance with order an inversion of order is said to exist with them. Yet insofar as nobody can be regenerated in any other way it is according to order.
 I realize that no matter how clearly these matters are stated and as a consequence are able to be perceived clearly by those who have a knowledge of the existence of such things, they still remain obscure to those who do not know what influx is, more so to those who do not know that the rational is distinct and separate from the natural, and more so still to those who do not have any distinct and clear idea of what good is or of what truth is. But the nature of natural good and of natural truth in the state prior to regeneration is plain to see only from the desires present at that time. When a person desires truth not because he has life in view but some other ends, such as to become learned, and to become this because of some desire to outdo others, which amounts to childish envy, and also because of some desire for glory, the order existing with the good of the natural and the truth of the natural is akin to that represented here by Jacob. As these two exist in relation to each other, there is a reversal of order, that is to say, the will, to which good belongs, exists outwardly, while the understanding, to which truth belongs, exists inwardly.
 But in the state following regeneration the situation is different. In this case the person desires truth not only because he has life in view but more still because he desires the good itself which constitutes that life. Previous desires, that is to say, those connected with outdoing, with childish envy, and with glory, now break away, so much so that they seem so to speak to have been dispelled. At this point good which belongs to the will exists inwardly, and truth which belongs to the understanding exists outwardly. The result then is that truth acts as one with good since it stems from good. This order is genuine order. The order existing previously also serves to bring this order about, for the will which at that time occupies an external position allows many things to come in which contribute to regeneration, like a sponge which absorbs water, clear or muddy, so that it absorbs such things as would otherwise be rejected. Indeed these things serve as means and also as ideas that have to be formed concerning genuine goods and truths, besides other uses which they serve.
(References: Genesis 27:22)