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.
5954. 'And to them all he gave each one changes of garments' means truths brought in touch with good. This is clear from the meaning of 'garments' as truths, dealt with below, so that 'changes of garments' are truths that are new, and truths are made new when they are brought in touch with good, for then they receive life. The subject is the joining of the natural man to the spiritual, or the external man to the internal. When the joining together is effected the truths undergo change and are made new since they receive life from the good that flows into them, see just above in 5951. 'Changing one's garments' was representative of the need to put on holy truths, and this is also the origin of 'changes of garments', see 4545.
 The reason why in the Word truths are meant by 'garments' is that truths clothe good in almost the same way as blood vessels contain blood or fibres contain spirit. 'A garment' also has truth as its meaning because spirits, and angels too, are seen wearing garments; and each spirit or angel is attired in a way that accords with the truths that reside with him. Those seen wearing white garments are spirits or angels whose truths of faith act as paths to good, whereas those seen wearing brightly shining garments are ones whose truths of faith radiate from good. For it is good radiated through truth that produces the shining brightness, see 5248.
 The wearing of garments by spirits and angels is also evident from the Word where mention is made of angels that have been seen, as in Matthew,
The appearance of the angel sitting at the Lord's tomb was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. Matthew 28:3.
On the thrones I saw twenty-four elders seated, clad in white garments. Revelation 4:4.
In the same book,
He who sat on the white horse was clothed in a garment dyed with blood, and His name is called the Word of God. His armies in heaven were following Him on white horses, clothed in linen, white and clean. Revelation 19:11, 13-14.
'Garments white as snow' and 'white linen' mean holy truths, for whiteness' and 'brightness' have reference to truths, 3301, 3993, 4007, 5319, for the reason that they are very nearly as bright as light, and the light which radiates from the Lord is Divine Truth. This explains why, when the Lord was transfigured, His garments looked like the light, as described in Matthew,
When Jesus was transfigured His face shone like the sun, and His garments became like the light. Matthew 17:2.
It is well known in the Church that 'the light' is Divine Truth; but its comparison to a garment is clear in David,
Jehovah covers Himself with light, as if with a garment. Psalms 104:2.
 The fact that 'garments' are truths is evident from many places in the Word, as in Matthew,
When the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man (homo) who was not wearing a wedding garment. And he said to him, Friend, how did you come in here not having a wedding garment? Therefore he was cast out into outer darkness. Matthew 22:11-13.
Who exactly are meant by the one 'not wearing a wedding garment', see 2132. In Isaiah,
Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion, put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for no more may there come in to you the uncircumcised and the unclean. Isaiah 52:1.
'Beautiful garments' stands for truths that spring from good.
 In Ezekiel,
I clothed you with embroidered cloth, and shed you with badger, and I swathed you in fine linen and covered you with silk. Your garments were fine linen, and silk, and embroidered cloth You ate fine flour, honey, and oil. Ezekiel 16:10, 13.
This refers to Jerusalem, by which is meant at this point the spiritual Ancient Church, which was established by the Lord after the celestial Most Ancient Church breathed its last. The truths bestowed on that Church are described as 'garments'. 'Embroidered cloth' is factual knowledge. When such knowledge is genuine it also manifests itself in the next life as embroidered cloth and as lace, as I have also been allowed to see. 'Fine linen' and 'silk' are truths springing from good; but in heaven those fabrics are utterly bright and transparent because they are in the light there.
 In the same prophet,
Fine linen with embroidered work from Egypt was your sail, and violet and purple from the islands of Elishah was your covering. Ezekiel 27:7.
This refers to Tyre, by which the cognitions of truth and good are represented, 1201. When genuine ones, these are 'fine linen with embroidered work from Egypt'. Resulting good, which is the good of truth, is meant by 'violet' and 'purple'.
 In David,
All glorious is the king's daughter, in her clothing with gold interweavings; in embroidered robes she will be led to the king. Psalms 45:13-14.
'The king's daughter' stands for the affection for truth. 'Her clothing with gold interweavings' stands for truths that have good within them. 'Embroidered robes' stands for the lowest truths. In John,
You have a few names in Sardis, who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white ones, for they are worthy. He who conquers will be clad in white garments. Revelation 3:4-5.
'Not soiling one's garments' stands for not defiling truths with falsities.
 In the same book,
Blessed is he who is awake and keeps his garments, so that he may not walk naked, and men see his shame. Revelation 16:15.
'Garments' in a similar way stands for truths. Truths of faith drawn from the Word are what are meant, strictly speaking, by 'garments'. Anyone who has not acquired those truths from there - or who has not, as gentiles do, acquired truths or something like them from the religion to which he belongs - and applied them to life, is not in touch with good, no matter how much he may think that he is. For having no truths from the Word or from what his religion teaches he allows himself to be led by reasonings received as much from evil spirits as from good ones, and cannot thus be given protection by the angels. This is what is meant by being awake and keeping one's garments, so that one may not walk naked and men see one's shame.
 In Zechariah,
Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and so stood before the angel, who said to those standing before him, Remove the filthy garments from upon 1 him. But he said to him, See, I have caused your iniquity to pass away from you, by putting on you a change of garments. Zechariah 3:3-4.
'Filthy garments' stands for truths defiled by falsities deriving from evil. Once these were removed therefore and others were put on, the words 'See, I have caused your iniquity to pass away from you' are used. But anyone can recognize that iniquity does not pass away through a changing of garments, from which anyone may also deduce that a changing of garments was a representative act, as was also the washing of garments, which was commanded when people were purified, for example when they drew near Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:14, or when they were cleansed from impurities, Leviticus 11:25, 40; 14:8-9; Numbers 8:6-7; 19:21; 31:19-24.
 Cleansings from impurities are effected by means of the truths of faith since they teach what good is, what charity is, what the neighbour is, and what faith is. They also teach the existence of the Lord, heaven, and eternal life. Without truths to teach them people have no knowledge of these things or even of their existence. Who left to himself knows other than this, that the good which goes with self-love and love of the world is the only kind of good in a person? For both constitute the delight of his life. Can anyone know except from the truths of faith about the existence of another kind of good that can be imparted to a person, namely the good of love to God or the good of charity towards the neighbour? Can anyone know that those kinds of good have heavenly life within them, or that those kinds of good flow in from the Lord by way of heaven in the measure that the person ceases to love himself more than others and the world more than heaven? From all this it becomes clear that the purification which was represented by the washing of garments is effected by means of the truths of faith.
1. The Latin means before but the Hebrew means upon, which Swedenborg has in another place where he quotes this verse.
(References: Genesis 45:22)