The Bible


Psalms 23 : The 23rd Psalm


Study the Inner Meaning

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Main explanations:

The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 273

Other references to this chapter:

Arcana Coelestia 57, 650, 3384, 3696, 4715, 4876, 5120, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 50, 383, 485, 672

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 71, 220, 375, 482, 662, 727, 960

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Exodus 15:27

Psalms 27:4, 31:4, 34:10, 11, 92:11, 106:8, 109:21

Proverbs 4:11

Isaiah 40:11, 43:2

Jeremiah 31:25

Ezekiel 34:14

John 10:11, 14

Revelation 7:17

Bible Word Meanings

the Lord
The Bible refers to the Lord in many different ways, which from the text seem indistinguishable and interchangeable. Understood in the internal sense, though, there...

The Lord, in the simplest terms, is love itself expressed as wisdom itself. In philosophic terms, love is the Lord's substance and wisdom is His...

The Writings tell us that shepherds represent those who lead and teach others, using knowledge and true ideas to help people reach the goodness of...

'Want of spiritual nourishment,' denotes a lack of knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom.

Everyone knows the phrase "the natural order of things." It means that everything is in its proper place, occupying the niche it is meant to...

The nature of the soul is a deep and complicated topic, but it can be summarized as "spiritual life," who we are in terms of...

The meaning of "leading" people in the Bible is pretty straightforward, though obviously it is about leading people in spiritual things, not natural ones. When...

These days we tend to think of "roads" as smooth swaths of pavement, and judge them by how fast we can drive cars on them....

The word "righteous" has taken on a bit of negative shading in modern language. That may be because we hear it most often as part...

It's easy to see that names are important in the Bible. Jehovah changed Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, changed Jacob to Israel and...

To walk in the Bible represents living, and usually means living according to the true things taught to us by the Lord -- to "walk...

Shadow of death
'The shadow of death' has respect to the states of people in hell, who are in the falsities of evil.

Fear of the unknown and fear of change are both common ideas, and together cover a broad spectrum of the fears we tend to have...

'Wickedness' signifies evil, and 'iniquity' signifies falsities.

When the Bible talks about someone being comforted or consoled, it generally means that they are being offered ideas that will help bring them to...

Food and drink in the Bible represent the desire to be loving and the understanding of how to be loving, gifts that flow from the...

In most cases, the meaning of "before" is pretty straightforward, both as a way of assessing relative time, and in its use meaning "in someone's...

The head is the part of us that is highest, which means in a representative sense that it is what is closest to the Lord....

Oil – typically olive oil – was an extremely important product in Biblical times, for food preparation, medicinal ointment and for burning in lamps. As...

In regular language, "mercy" means being caring and compassionate toward those who are in poor states. That's a position we are all in relative to...

The basic meaning of "follow" in the Bible is pretty obvious if we consider what it means to "follow the Lord." That obviously doesn't mean...

The expression 'even to this day' or 'today' sometimes appears in the Word, as in Genesis 19:37-38, 22:14, 26:33, 32:32, 35:20, and 47:26. In a...

'Lives' is used in the plural, because of the will and understanding, and because these two lives make one.

Many people were nomadic in Biblical times, especially the times of the Old Testament, and lived in tents that could be struck, moved and re-raised...

house of the
'The house of the prison' denotes the vastation of falsity, and also falsity itself.

A "house" is essentially a container - for a person, for a family, for several families or even for a large group with shared interests...

Videos from the Swedenborg Foundation

The videos shown here are provided courtesy of our friends at the Swedenborg Foundation. You can find out more about them here:

Can You Dwell in the House of the Lord?

The Bible talks about dwelling in “the house of the Lord.” But what does that really mean?

How to Get a Home in Heaven - Swedenborg & Life

What are the houses like in heaven? And how do we get one? We explore the spiritual living conditions of the afterlife and how we can work on our heaven house right now.

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.

 A Shepherd and His Sheep
Use oil pastels or wax crayons to make a picture of shepherd, then use a sponge (cut into the shape of a lamb) to make little lambs around him.
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 Blessings: Good Tidings of Great Joy
Blessings to say at mealtime.
Activity | Ages over 7

 Blessings: Unto Us a Child Is Born
Blessings to say at mealtime.
Activity | Ages over 7

 Experiencing the Twenty-third Psalm
Explore the meaning of each phrase in Psalm 23, then help children experience it using their five senses.
Activity | Ages up to 10

 Following the Lord Our Shepherd
Use magnets to picture members of a family following the Lord as the shepherd.
Project | Ages up to 10

 Lord Is My Shepherd Diorama
Make a simple diorama to help remember the Lord's unceasing care.
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 Memory Verse: God Meant It for Good
Activity | Ages 4 - 14

 Out of the Forest
A story showing how the Lord leads as described in the 23rd Psalm.
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Quotes: The Lord Is My Shepherd
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Rainbow Method of Learning the 23rd Psalm
Use the colors of the rainbow to help you learn the sequence of this psalm. 
Activity | Ages 4 - 10

 Ribbon Bookmark to Embroider
Embroider a satin ribbon with the words: "The Lord is my Shepherd" and pictures of a shepherd's staff and a little lamb.
Project | Ages over 7

 Shepherd and His Sheep Diorama
Project | Ages 7 - 17

 Talking with Your Child About the Twenty-Third Psalm
Article | Ages over 18

 The Good Shepherd
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 7

 The Good Shepherd
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 The Lord Is My Shepherd
The Lord with His flock all around Him.
Coloring Page | All Ages

 The Lord Is My Shepherd
Print and display this lovely poster of the Twenty-third Psalm with an illustrative color border.
Picture | Ages over 7

 The Lord Is My Shepherd
"The teaching that the Lord is our Shepherd is a powerful and comforting one. The relationship between the sheep and their shepherd involves a sense of trust and security.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Lord Is Our Shepherd
Color picture of the Lord our Shepherd.
Picture | Ages up to 14

 The Lord’s Rod and Staff
This family talk explains what the Lord's rod and staff are in our lives, and how He uses them to comfort us. 
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Shepherd Rescuing His Sheep
Project | Ages 11 - 17

 The Stream of Providence Game
This game is about the Lord leading us toward His heavenly sheepfold. 
Activity | Ages 11 - 14

 The Twenty-third Psalm
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 The Twenty-third Psalm Book
Illustrate the literal meaning of the psalm or its application to life. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 The Twenty-third Psalm Calligraphy with Illustrations
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Twenty Third Psalm
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Two Roads
Spiritual tasks offer a reflection on a Biblical story and suggest a task for spiritual growth.
Activity | Ages over 18

 Understanding the Twenty-third Psalm
An outline showing parts of the Psalm 23 with suggestions for explaining them to children.
Activity | Ages 4 - 10



The 23rd Psalm      

By Mr. Brian P. David

The Lord as Shepherd, by Nana Schnarr

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.

(References: The Apocalypse Explained 375 [34], 727 [2]; The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 273)

From Swedenborg's Works


Arcana Coelestia #3563

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

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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)

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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)

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   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 3564, 3565, 3570, 3582, 3593, 3605, 3669, 3701, 3726, 3863, 3995, 4242, 4256, 4266, 4337, 4542, 4592, 4757, 4876, 4925, 4977, 4978, 5008, 5328, 5354, 5544, 6272, 6342, 6343, 6854, 6971, 8080, 8281, 8599, 8604, 8764, 8782, 8910, ...

Divine Love and Wisdom 377

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 121, 186

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 33, 55, 71, 209, 249, 261, 302, 411, 434

   Swedenborg Research Tools

Related New Christian Commentary

Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.