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.
4715. 'And he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron' means going forth from the Divine Natural and Sensory degrees. This is clear from the meaning of 'being sent' as going forth and teaching, dealt with above in 4710; from the meaning of 'a valley' as things that are low, dealt with in 1723, 3417; and from the meaning of 'Hebron' as the Lord's Church as regards good, dealt with in 2909. The words used at this point accordingly mean that it was to teach the lower things of the Church, for the reason that people would not grasp the higher ones. Indeed one who teaches faith and not charity cannot possibly discern the higher and more internal things of the Church since he does not possess the wherewithal that leads him to see and lays down for him whether a particular idea is part of faith or is the truth. But if he teaches charity he is in that case in possession of good. Good lays down the truth for him and leads him, for all truth stems from good and has to do with good; or what amounts to the same, every aspect of faith stems from charity and has to do with charity. The fact that everything taught by doctrine has regard to life anybody can recognize from natural enlightenment alone.
 The meaning 'going forth from the Divine Natural and Sensory degrees' carried by the words used here is their higher meaning. For the expression 'lower things of the Church' is used to describe those which have their origin in the Lord's Divine Natural and Sensory degrees. Not that within the Lord these things are lower ones - for within the Lord and within His Divine Human everything is Infinite, indeed He is Jehovah as regards both Essences, 2156, 2329, 2921, 3023. Those things are lower because of what the situation is with man. People who are sensory-minded rely on ideas as grasped by the senses to think of things which exist within the Lord and which go forth from the Lord, and those who are natural-minded rely on natural ideas. The nature of the recipients is the reason for the way any matter is stated. People however who are heavenly-minded and are as a consequence truly rational do perceive interior things. These are the ones of whom it is said that they teach from the Lord's Divine Rational. This, as has been stated, is the higher meaning which these words carry.
 The meaning of 'a valley' as the lower things of the Church may be seen from other places in the Word, as in Isaiah,
The prophecy of the valley of vision. What is this, that you have gone up, every one onto the housetops? The Lord Jehovih Zebaoth has a day of tumult and of trampling and of confusion in the valley of vision. Isaiah 22:1, 5.
'The valley of vision' stands for false notions about spiritual things - notions formed from sensory impressions, and so from lower things. In the same prophet,
The choicest of your valleys were filled with chariots, and the horsemen positioned themselves at the gate. Isaiah 22:7.
'The choicest of the valleys' stands for goods and truths within the natural or external man. In the same prophet,
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of Jehovah; make plain in the lonely place a highway for our God; every valley will be lifted up. Isaiah 40:3-4.
'Valley' stands for things that are lowly.
(References: Isaiah 22:3)
 In Jeremiah,
How will you say, I have not been defiled, I have not gone after the baalim. Look at your way in the valley; acknowledge what you have done. Jeremiah 2:23.
'The valley' stands for factual knowledge and sensory impressions, which are lower things, by means of which they would pervert truths. In the same prophet,
I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley, O rock of the plain, said Jehovah, you who say, Who will come down against us? Jeremiah 21:13.
'Inhabitant of the valley' and 'rock of the plain' stand for faith which has no charity in it. In the same prophet,
He who lays waste will come upon every city, and no city will escape; but the valley will perish, and the plain will be destroyed. Jeremiah 48:8.
Here the meaning is similar. In the same prophet,
You will not boast of valleys; your valley has flowed away, O perverse daughter. Jeremiah 49:4.
'Valley' stands for the external things within worship which are also the lowest.
 In Ezekiel,
I will give to Gog a place for burial in Israel, the valley of those that pass over. There they will bury Gog and all his multitude, from which they will call it the valley of the multitude of Gog. Ezekiel 39:11, 15.
'Gog' stands for those whose worship is external devoid of internal, 1151, which is why the expressions 'his grave', 'the valley of those that pass over', and 'the valley of his multitude' are used. In David,
Even when I walk in the valley of the shadow I will fear no evil. Psalms 23:4.
'The valley of the shadow' stands for lower things which, compared with others, are in shadow.
 Because valleys lay between mountains and hills and beneath them, 'valleys' therefore means the lower or more external things of the Church; for 'hills' and 'mountains' mean the higher or more internal things of it, 'hills' things of charity and 'mountains' those of love to the Lord, 795, 1430, 2722, 4210. And because 'the land of Canaan' means the Lord's kingdom and His Church, that Church is therefore called,
A land of mountain's and valleys, on the arrival of the rain of heaven it drinks water. Deuteronomy 11:11.
The reason Joseph is said at this point of have been sent out of the Valley of Hebron is that he was sent to those who taught about faith, 4705.
Those who are governed by faith, not by charity, adhere to lower things, for with them faith exists merely in the memory and consequently on the lips, not in the heart and consequently in action.