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

The Inner Meanings of the 23rd Psalm      

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Psalm 23 is undoubtedly the most well-known and well-loved of all the psalms, with its illustration of the Lord as our shepherd. The shepherd's care for his sheep is, internally, describing the things that the Lord does for us in our spiritual journey.

As the psalm unfolds we hear about the Lord’s work for us, during states in our lives when we could be unsure and afraid, and of the Lord’s provision for us. Gradually the psalmist confirms his trust in the Lord’s guidance and declares the many blessings the Lord brings.

This psalm of six verses would surely have been known and loved by the Lord during his life in the world. It would have, for him, been a statement of faith in his purpose to overcome evil and glorify his humanity. Jesus, in states where his human heredity was strong in his mind, would have regarded his own divinity as his shepherd, and seen it as his anchor and provider. For us, spiritually, the same parallel applies -- that our faith in the Lord is to be our trust and guide at all times.

The shepherding care in verses 2 and 3 speaks about how the Lord leads us into acquiring new truths that bring heavenly peace and rest for us. Our state is lifted up and we live in goodness because we understand that this is the divine quality that God wishes for us to live by. (See Apocalypse Explained 375 and Arcana Caelestia 3696)

The valley of the shadow of death describes our states of being afraid, and of not seeing the Lord with us, during which our mind can be filled with disturbing and mocking thoughts. But we know that the Lord is there with us nonetheless. The “rod” and “staff” represent the power of the Lord’s truths for us to use; a rod - used actively to guard the sheep - stands for spiritual truths, and a staff is leaned on, representing natural truths or truths to do with life.”
(Apocalypse Explained 727)

With the provision of truth from the Lord, the psalm shifts to the picture of the bounteous table which truth brings to us as our spiritual nourishment and satisfaction. Our head anointed with oil has many associations of being the Lord’s chosen, of being loved and blessed by the Lord, and of how our mind with its understanding receives love and good to make it full of heavenly joy. “My cup runs over” means the unknown extent of the truths of the Word and the blessings of the Lord. (Apocalypse Explained 727)

The final verse is put in terms of our full conviction of being in the Lord for ever and in all the days of our lives. What we experience and say in terms of time and duration spiritually means what is certain, perpetual and to all eternity. The ‘house of the Lord’ is heaven. (Arcana Caelestia 650)

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:

  Spiritual Topics:

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...

"Leading" people in the Bible is, in the inner meaning, about leading people in spiritual things, not natural ones. When it talks about the Lord...

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:

The Meaning of the 23rd Psalm

We explore the comfort, protection, and safety which God promises us on our spiritual journey, especially when we're undergoing spiritual struggles.

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 #5120

Study this Passage

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5120. 'And put the cup onto Pharaoh's palm' means that the interior natural made these its own. This is clear from the meaning of 'putting the cup' to drink (and so the wine in the cup) as making one's own, for 'drinking' means making truth one's own, see 3168; and from the representation of 'Pharaoh' as the interior natural, dealt with in 5080, 5095, 5118. As is evident from what has gone before, the subject here is the regeneration of the sensory power meant by 'the cupbearer' which is subject to the understanding part of the interior man; consequently the subject is also the influx of truth and good and their reception in the exterior natural. But since these matters are quite beyond the understanding of those who do not have any distinct idea about the rational and about the natural, or any about influx, all further explanation is therefore abandoned.

[2] But there is more to be said about 'a cup' mentioned very many times in the Word - about how in the genuine sense it has the same meaning as wine, namely spiritual truth or the truth of faith which is derived from the good of charity, and about how in the contrary sense it means falsity which produces evil, and also falsity which is a product of evil. The reason 'a cup' has the same meaning as 'wine' is that the cup is the container and the wine the content and therefore the two constitute a single entity, with the result that one is used to mean the other. This meaning of 'a cup' in the Word is evident from the following places:

[3] In David,

O Jehovah, You will spread a table before me in the presence of enemies and will make my head fat with oil; my cup will overflow. Psalms 23:5.

'Spreading a table' and 'making the head fat with oil' stand for being endowed with the good of charity and love. 'My cup will overflow' stands for the fact that the natural will thereby be filled with spiritual truth and good. In the same author,

What shall I render to Jehovah? I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Jehovah. Psalms 116:11, 17.

'Taking the cup of salvation' stands for making the goods of faith one's own.

(References: Psalms 116:12-13)

[4] In Mark,

Whoever gives you drink from a cup of water in My name, because you are Christ's, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. Mark 9:41.

'Giving drink from a cup of water in My name' stands for imparting the truths of faith from a small measure of charity.

[5] In Matthew,

Then taking a cup, and giving thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink from this, all of you; for this is My blood - that of the New Testament. Matthew 26:17, 28; Mark 14:27, 24; Luke 22:20.

The word 'cup' is used, not wine, because 'wine' has reference to the spiritual Church but 'blood' to the celestial Church. Both wine and blood however mean holy truth going forth from the Lord, though in the spiritual Church the holiness of faith springing from charity towards the neighbour is meant, whereas in the celestial Church the holiness of charity springing from love to the Lord is meant. The spiritual Church differs from the celestial in that the spiritual is moved by charity towards the neighbour, whereas the celestial is moved by love to the Lord. Furthermore the Holy Supper was established to represent and be a sign of the Lord's love towards the whole human race and man's reciprocal love towards Him.

(References: Mark 14:23-24; Matthew 26:27-28)

[6] Because 'a cup' meant that which served to contain and 'wine' that which was contained, 'the cup' consequently meaning the external aspect of man and 'wine' the internal aspect of him, the Lord therefore said,

Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the exterior of the cup and of the plate but the interiors are full of pillage and lack of restraint. Blind Pharisee! cleanse first the interior of the cup and of the plate and the exterior will be made clean also. Matthew 23:25, 16; Luke 11:39.

Here also 'cup' is used to mean in the internal sense the truth of faith. Cultivating the truth of faith without the good of faith is 'cleansing the exterior of the cup', the more so when the interiors are full of hypocrisy, deceit, hatred, revenge, and cruelty; for in this case the truth of faith exists solely in the external man and not at all in the internal, whereas cultivating and embracing the good of faith causes truths to be joined to good in the interior man. Furthermore when the truth of faith is cultivated without the good of faith, false ideas are accepted as truths; this is meant by 'cleansing first the interior of the cup, and the exterior will be made clean also'.

(References: Matthew 23:25-26)

[7] It is similar with matters recorded in Mark,

There are many other things which the Pharisees and Jews have received carefully, the washing 1 of cups and of pots, and of bronze vessels, and of beds. Forsaking the commandment of God you keep to human tradition, the washing' of pots and of cups; and many other similar things you do. You reject the commandment of God, so that you may keep to your tradition. Mark 7:4, 8-9.

[8] As regards 'a cup' meaning in the contrary sense falsity which produces evil and also falsity produced by evil, this is clear from the following places: In Jeremiah,

Thus said Jehovah, the God of Israel, to me, Take this cup of the wine of anger from My hand, and make all the nations to which I send you drink it, in order that they may drink and stagger, and go mad because of the sword which I am going to send among them. So I took the cup from Jehovah's hand, and made all the nations drink to whom Jehovah sent me. Jeremiah 25:15-17, 28.

'The cup of the wine of anger' stands for falsity that produces evil. The reason falsity producing evil is meant is that as wine can make people drunk and make them of unsound mind, so too can falsity. Spiritual drunkenness is nothing other than unsoundness of mind caused by reasonings regarding matters of belief when a person does not believe anything which he does not apprehend - which unsoundness of mind leads to falsities and to evils that are the product of falsities, 1072. Hence the statement 'in order that they may drink and stagger, and go mad because of the sword which I am going to send'. 'Sword' means falsity at war against truth, 2799, 4499.

[9] In the Book of Lamentations,

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom. dweller in the land of Uz; to you also the cup will pass, you will be made drunk and uncovered. Lamentations 4:21.

'Being made drunk by the cup' stands for being made unsound in mind by falsities. 'Being uncovered', or shamelessly laid bare, stands for resulting evil, 213, 214.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 213-214)

[10] In Ezekiel,

You have walked in the way of your sister, therefore I will give her cup into your hand. Thus said the Lord Jehovih, You will drink your sister's cup, which is deep and wide; you will be laughed at and mocked, as an ample recipient. You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, with the cup of devastation and desolation. You will drink the cup of your sister Samaria, and crush it and crumple the pieces. Ezekiel 27:31-34.

This refers to Jerusalem, by which the spiritual aspect of the celestial Church is meant. 'The cup' in this case stands for falsity that is a product of evil; and because such falsity lays waste or destroys the Church, the expression 'the cup of devastation and desolation' is used.

In Isaiah,

Stir, stir, surge up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of Jehovah the cup of His anger; you have drunk the dregs of the cup of consternation. Isaiah 51:17.

In Habakkuk,

Drink, you also - that your foreskin may be revealed. The cup of Jehovah's right hand will come round to you, so that disgusting vomit may be upon your glory. Habakkuk 2:16.

In David,

A cup is in the hand of Jehovah; and He has mixed the wine, filled it with the mixed, and poured out from it. But they will suck out the dregs of it; all the wicked of the earth will drink from it. Psalms 75:8.

(References: Ezekiel 23:31-34)

[11] In these places 'a cup' also stands for the insanity caused by falsities and resulting evils. It is called 'the cup of Jehovah's anger' and also 'of His right hand' for the reason that the Jewish nation believed, as the common people believe, that evils, and the punishments of evils and falsities, had no other origin than Jehovah, though in fact they originate in man and in the hellish crew who are present with him. From the appearance, and from a belief based on it, such statements occur many times; but the internal sense teaches how one ought to understand them and what to believe. On these matters, see 245, 592, 696, 1093, 1683, 1874, 1875, 2335, 2447, 3605, 3607, 3614.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1874-1875; Matthew 26:42, 26:44)

[12] Since 'a cup', like 'wine', in the contrary sense means falsities that produce evils, and also falsities produced by evils, cup, as a consequence also means temptation, for temptation arises when falsity conflicts with truth and therefore evil with good. The word cup is used instead of and in reference to such temptation in Luke,

Jesus prayed, saying, If You are willing, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done. Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36.

'Cup' here stands for temptation. Similarly in John,

Jesus said to Peter, Put your sword into its sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it? John 18:11.

And also in Mark,

Jesus said to James and John, You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? They said, We are able. But Jesus said to them, The cup indeed that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized you will be baptized. Mark 10:38-39; Matthew 20:21, 13.

From this it is evident that 'cup' means temptation, for temptation comes about when evils use falsities to enter into conflict with goods and truths. 'Baptism' means regeneration which, being effected by means of spiritual conflicts, consequently means temptation also.

(References: Matthew 20:22-23, Matthew 26:42, Matthew 26:44)

[13] In the completely contrary sense 'cup' means falsity that is a product of evil among those who are profaners, that is, with whom inwardly the exact opposites of charity are present but who put on an outward show of holiness. The word is used in this sense in Jeremiah,

Babel was a golden cup in Jehovah's hand, making the whole earth drunken. All nations have drunk of her wine, therefore the nations are mad. Jeremiah 51:7.

'Babel' stands for people with whom there is holiness outwardly but unholiness inwardly, 1182, 1326. The falsity which they veil with holiness is meant by 'a golden cup'. 'Making the whole earth drunken' stands for the fact that they lead those who belong to the Church, meant by 'the earth', into erroneous and insane ways. The profanities which they conceal beneath outward holiness involve nothing else than this - their intention to become the greatest and the wealthiest of all, to be worshipped as gods, the possessors of heaven and earth, and so to have dominion over people's souls as well as their bodies. And the means Used by them is their outward display of respect for Divine and holy things. Consequently they look, so far as their external man is concerned, like angels; but so far as their internal man is concerned they are devils.

[14] A similar description of Babel exists in John,

The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and covered 2 with gold and precious stones and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup, full of abominations and the uncleanness of her whoredom. Revelation 17:4.

In the same book,

It has fallen, Babylon the great has fallen and become a dwelling-place of demons; for she has given all nations drink from the wine of the fury of her whoredom; and the kings of the earth have committed whoredom with her. I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Render to her as she has rendered to you; in the cup which she mixed, mix double for her. Revelation 18:2-4, 6.

In the same book,

The great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. The remembrance of Babylon the great was established before God, to give her the cup of the fury of the anger of God. Revelation 16:19.

In the same book,

The third angel said with a loud voice, If anyone worships the beast and his Image, he will drink from the wine of God's anger, poured unmixed as it is in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone. Revelation 14:9-10.


1. literally, baptisms or dippings

2. literally, gilded


(References: Genesis 40:9-13)

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From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 5118, 5126, 5144, 5736, 9032, 9088, 9229, 9557, 9818, 9960, 9996, 10236, 10238

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 121, 209

   Swedenborg Research Tools

Related New Christian Commentary
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:

The Meaning of the 23rd Psalm

We explore the comfort, protection, and safety which God promises us on our spiritual journey, especially when we're undergoing spiritual struggles.

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