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.
4489. 'Will these not be ours?' means that these two kinds of goods and truths would be alike and take the same form. This becomes clear from the train of thought, the essence of which is that the goods and truths of the Most Ancient Church, which in some measure still remained in existence among Hamor and Shechem and their families, would accord with the goods and truths which came from the Ancient Church and existed among the descendants of Jacob. For the observances which were established among the descendants of Jacob were nothing other than external things which represented and meant the internal things of the Most Ancient Church. 'Will these not be ours?' - or, Would they not belong to them? - means that they would be alike and take the same form.
 But let an example illustrate this matter. The altar on which they used to offer sacrifice was the chief representative of the Lord, 921, 2777, 2811. The altar was also for that reason fundamental to the worship in the Ancient Church that was called the Hebrew Church, and therefore every single thing that went into the construction of the altar was representative, such as its dimensions - its height, breadth, and length - its stones, its network of bronze, its horns; and so was the fire which was kept burning on it perpetually; and above all the sacrifices and burnt offerings. What they represented were the truths and goods which are the Lord's and which come from the Lord. These were the internal things of worship which, because they were represented in that external object, were alike and took the same form as the truths and goods of the Most Ancient Church. Its dimensions - its height, breadth, and length - meant in general the good, the truth, and the holiness from these, see 650, 1613, 3433, 3434, 4482. 'Its stones' meant in particular those truths that are more basic, 1298, 3720. 'The bronze' from which the network around the altar was made meant natural good, 425, 1551. 'The horns' meant the power of truth that springs from good, 2832. 'The fire' on the altar meant love, 934. 'The sacrifices and burnt offerings' meant celestial and spiritual things, according to their various kinds, 922, 1823, 2180, 2805, 2807, 2830, 3519. From all this it becomes clear that internal things were to be contained within external ones, and that internally the two sets of goods and truths would be alike. The same applies to all other external aspects of worship.
(References: Arcana Coelestia 3433-3434)
 But those who belonged to the Most Ancient Church had no interest in those external things because they were internal people, and the Lord flowed in by an internal way existing with them and taught them what was good. To them the variations and differences of good were truths, and from this they knew what every single thing in the world represented in the Lord's kingdom; for the whole world or whole natural order is a theatre representative of the Lord's kingdom, 2758, 3483. Those however who belonged to the Ancient Church were not internal people but external, as a consequence of which the Lord was not able with them to flow in by an internal way and teach them what was good, only by an external way. At first He flowed in and taught them by means of such things as were representatives and meaningful signs, from which the representative Church arose, and later on by means of matters of doctrine concerning good and truth which were so represented and meant, from which the Christian Church arose. In essence the Christian Church is identical so far as its internal form is concerned with the representative Church, but the representatives and meaningful signs of the latter were done away with after the Lord came into the world, for the reason that every single thing represented Him Himself and as a consequence the things of His kingdom, for these are derived from Him and are so to speak the Lord Himself.
 But the difference between the Most Ancient Church and the Christian Church is as great as that between the bright light of the sun by day and the inferior light of the moon or stars by night. For seeing goods by the internal or earlier way is like seeing in the daytime by the bright light of the sun, whereas seeing by the external or later way is like seeing in the night by the inferior light of the moon or stars. The difference was almost the same between the Most Ancient Church and the Ancient, except that those who belonged to the Christian Church could have dwelt in fuller light if they had acknowledged internal things, that is, if they had believed and practiced the truths and goods which the Lord taught. The actual good is the same in both, but the difference between them is that one sees that good in brightness, the other in obscurity. Those who see in brightness see countless arcana almost as angels in heaven do and also feel an affection for those which they see, whereas those who see in obscurity see scarcely anything that is free from doubt, and the things they do see mingle themselves with the shades of night, that is, with falsities. Nor can they inwardly feel any affection for them. Now because the good is the same in both, so also as a consequence is the truth; and this is why the words 'will these not be ours?' mean that the two sets of goods and truths would be alike and take the same form. For as stated already, Hamor and Shechem were part of the remnants of the Most Ancient Church, while the descendants of Jacob belonged to the Ancient Church called the Hebrew Church, though they were interested only in the external things of that Church. But the fact that Hamor and Shechem his son committed an enormous sin by accepting circumcision will be seen below in 4493.