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.
4876. 'And your rod which is in your hand' means through the power of this, that is, of this truth. This is clear from the meaning of 'a rod' as power, dealt with below; and from the meaning of 'the hand' too as power, dealt with in 876, 3091, 3387, 3563. The phrase 'which is in your hand' is used because the power of that truth, namely lowest truth, is meant, like that present with the semblance of religion among the Jewish nation, meant here by 'Judah'. Regarding the attribution of power to truth, see 3091, 3563. Frequent mention is made in the Word of 'a rod', yet surprisingly few at the present day know that something in the spiritual world was represented by it, as for instance when Moses was commanded, every time a miracle was performed, to lift up his rod and so it was accomplished. The existence of such knowledge even among gentiles may be recognized from their myths in which rods are assigned to magicians. The reason 'a rod' means power is that it is a support, for it gives support to the hand and arm, and through these to the whole body. This being so, a rod takes on the meaning of the part to which it immediately gives support, namely that of the hand and the arm, both of which mean in the Word the power of truth. Also, the hand and arm correspond to that power in the Grand Man, as will be seen at the ends of chapters.
(References: Arcana Coelestia 878)
 That 'a rod' represented power is evident, as has been stated, from what is recorded about Moses,
He was commanded to take a rod and use it to perform miracles; so he took the rod of God in his hand. Exodus 4:17, 20.
When the waters in Egypt were struck with the rod, they turned to blood.
Exodus 7:15, 19.
When the rod was stretched out over the streams, frogs came forth. Exodus 8:5-15.
When the dust was struck by the use of the rod, it turned into lice. Exodus 8:16-20.
When the rod was stretched out towards heaven, hail fell. Exodus 9:23.
When the rod was stretched out over the earth, locusts came forth. Exodus 10:3-21.
Since 'the hand', which means power, comes first, while 'a rod' is merely its instrument, the following references to 'the hand' also occur:
The miracles happened when Moses' hand was stretched out. Exodus 10:12-13. When he stretched out his hand towards heaven, thick darkness came over the land of Egypt. Exodus 10:21-22. When he stretched out his hand over the Sea Suph, an east wind made the sea dry land; and when again he stretched out his hand, the waters returned. Exodus 14:21, 26-27.
 Reference is in addition made to the rod being used to strike the rock at Horeb, after which water flowed out, Exodus 17:5-6; Numbers 20:7-10. Also, when Joshua was about to fight against Amalek,
Moses said to Joshua, Choose men for us, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill, with God's rod in my hand. And it happened, that when Moses lifted up his hand, Israel prevailed, and when he let down his hand Amalek prevailed. Exodus 17:9-11.
From these references it is quite plain that 'a rod', like the hand, represented power, and in the highest sense the Lord's Divine almighty power. It is also evident that at that time representatives constituted the external features of the Church, and that its internal features - which were spiritual and celestial realities such as exist in heaven - corresponded to those external ones, which owed their efficacy to that correspondence. From this it is also evident how crazy those people are who believe that power had been infused into and therefore dwelt in Moses' rod or hand.
 The meaning in the spiritual sense of 'a rod' as power is also evident from many places in the Prophets, as in Isaiah,
Behold, the Lord Jehovah Zebaoth is taking away from Jerusalem rod and stay, the whole rod of bread, and the whole rod of water. Isaiah 3:1.
'The rod of bread' stands for the support and power provided by the good of love, 'the rod of water' for the support and power provided by the truth of faith. For 'bread' means the good of love, see 276, 680, 2165, 2177, 3464, 3478, 3735, 3813, 4211, 4217, 4735; and 'water' the truth of faith' 28, 680, 739, 2702, 3058, 3424. 'The rod of bread' is used with a similar meaning in Ezekiel 4:16; 5:16; 14:13; Psalms 105:16.
 In addition to this, in Isaiah,
The Lord, Jehovih Zebaoth, said, Do not be afraid - O My people, inhabitant of Zion - of Asshur, who will smite you with a stick and will lift up the rod over you in the way of Egypt. Jehovah will lift up the scourge against him, as when Midian was smitten in the rock of Oreb, and his rod will be over the sea, which he will lift up in the way of Egypt. Isaiah 10:24, 26.
Here 'the rod' stands for power provided by reasoning and knowledge, like that which those people possess who, with ideas based on factual knowledge, reason against the truths of faith and pervert these or else treat them as worthless. This is what is meant by 'the stick with which Asshur will smite' and by 'the rod which he will lift up in the way of Egypt'. For 'Asshur' means reasoning, see 1186, and 'Egypt' knowledge, 1164, 1165, 1186, 1462.
(References: Arcana Coelestia 1164-1165)
 Similarly in Zechariah,
The pride of Asshur will be thrown down, and the rod of Egypt will depart. Zechariah 10:11.
You relied on the rod of a bruised reed, on Egypt, which, when anyone leans on it, goes into his hand and pierces it. Isaiah 36:6.
'Egypt' stands for factual knowledge, as above; and power in spiritual things which is received from that knowledge is meant by 'the rod of a bruised reed'. By 'the hand which it enters and pierces' is meant power received from the Word. In the same prophet,
Jehovah has broken the rod of the wicked, the stick of those who have dominion. Isaiah 14:5
'The rod' and 'the stick' plainly stand for power.
 In Jeremiah,
Grieve, all regions surrounding Moab; say, How is the rod of strength, the rod of beauty, broken! Jeremiah 48:17.
'The rod of strength' stands for power received from good, and 'the rod of beauty' for power received from truth.
 In Hosea,
My people enquire of their piece of wood, and their rod gives them a reply, for the spirit of whoredom has led them astray. Hosea 4:12.
'Inquiring of a piece of wood' stands for consulting evils, 'the rod gives reply' for the fact that falsity results from these, its power being derived from the evil to which they give support. 'The spirit of whoredom' stands for the life of falsity resulting from evil. In David,
Even when I walk in the valley of the shadow I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your stick and Your rod comfort me. Psalms 23:4.
'Your stick and your rod' stands for Divine truth and good, which have power. In the same author,
The rod of the wicked will not rest on the lot of the righteous. Psalms 125:3.
 In the same author,
You will break them in pieces with a stick of iron, you will dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Psalms 2:9.
'A stick of iron' stands for the power of spiritual truth within the natural, for all natural truth that has spiritual truth present within it possesses power. 'Iron' means natural truth, 425, 426. Similarly in John,
He who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations to rule 1 them untie a stick of iron as when earthen pots are broken in pieces. Revelation 2:26-27. (Also Revelation 12:5; 19:15.)
(References: Arcana Coelestia 425-426)
 Because 'a rod' represented the power of truth, that is, the power of good expressed by means of truth, kings therefore had sceptres; and those sceptres were shaped like short rods. For kings represent the Lord as regards truth, while kingship itself means Divine Truth, 1672, 1728, 2015, 2069, 3670, 4581. The sceptre means the power which is theirs not by virtue of their high position but of truth which must reign. Nor must this be any other kind of truth than that which is grounded in good, and so is primarily Divine Truth, and among Christians is the Lord, the source of all Divine Truth.
1. literally, pasture