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
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:

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...

The meaning of "leading" people in the Bible is pretty straightforward, though obviously it is about leading people in spiritual things, not natural ones. When...

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:

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 #5954

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

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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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

In John,

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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] 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'.

[7] 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.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] 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)

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   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 6377, 6524, 7442, 7967, 8459, 8789, 8904, 9093, 9158, 9212, 9372, 9391, 9477, 9572, 9595, 9688, 9780, 9806, 9814, 9822, 9952, 9959, 9960, 10002, 10049, 10083, 10208, 10227, 10229, 10237, 10238, 10252, 10258, 10536

Apocalypse Revealed 161

The White Horse 1

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 24, 121, 186, 209

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 9, 31, 64, 71, 187, 240

   Swedenborg Research Tools

Related New Christian Commentary

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