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 #9806

Arcana Coelestia (Elliott translation)      

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9806. 'And you, cause Aaron your brother to come near to you' means the joining of Divine Truth to Divine Good within the Lord's Divine Human. This is clear from the representation of Moses, the one here who was to cause Aaron to come near him, as the Lord in respect of Divine Truth, dealt with in 6752, 6771, 7014, 9372; from the meaning of 'drawing near' as a joining to and presence with, dealt with in 9378; from the representation of 'Aaron' as the Lord in respect of Divine Good, dealt with below; and from the meaning of 'brother' as good, dealt with in 3303, 3803, 3815, 4121, 4191, 5686, 5692, 6756. From all this it is evident that the words telling Moses that he should cause Aaron his brother to come near to him mean the joining of Divine Truth to Divine Good within the Lord, the reason why within His Divine Human is meant being that this was where that joining together had to take place. For the Lord had first to make His Human Divine Truth, then afterwards Divine Good, see the places referred to in 9199, 9315. The reason why Aaron was chosen to serve in the priestly office was that he was Moses' brother, and in this way the brotherly relationship of Divine Truth and Divine Good in heaven was at the same time represented. For as stated above, Moses represented Divine Truth and Aaron Divine Good.

[2] Everything throughout creation, both in heaven and in the world, has connection with good and with truth, to the end that it may be something. For good is the inner being (Esse) of truth, and truth is the outward manifestation (Existere) of good. Good without truth therefore cannot manifest itself, and truth without good has no real being. From this it is evident that they must be joined together. In the Word the two joined together are represented by a married couple or by two brothers, by a married couple when the heavenly marriage - the marriage of good and truth - and the succeeding generations which spring from that marriage, are the subject, and by two brothers when two kinds of ministry, namely those of judgement and worship, are the subject. Those who served as ministers of judgement were called judges, and at a later time kings, whereas those who served as ministers of worship were called priests. And since all judgement is arrived at through truth and all worship springs from good, truth founded on good is meant in the Word by 'judges', in the abstract sense, in which no actual person is envisaged; but truth from which good results is meant by 'kings', and good itself by 'priests'. So it is that in the Word the Lord is called Judge, also Prophet, as well as King, in places where the subject has reference to truth, but Priest where it has reference to good. He is in like manner called Christ, Anointed, or Messiah in places where the subject has reference to truth, but Jesus or Saviour where it has reference to good.

[3] It was on account of this brotherly relationship of the truth which belongs to judgement and the good which belongs to worship that Aaron, brother of Moses, was chosen to serve in the priestly office. The fact that 'Aaron' and 'his house' because of this mean good is clear in David,

O Israel, trust in Jehovah! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in Jehovah! He is their help and their shield. Jehovah has remembered us, He blesses [us]. He will bless the house of Israel, He will bless the house of Aaron. Psalms 115:9-10, 12.

In the same author,

Let Israel now say that His mercy [endures] to eternity; let the house of Aaron now say that His mercy [endures] to eternity. Psalms 118:2-3.

In the same author,

O house of Israel, bless Jehovah! O house of Aaron, bless Jehovah! Psalms 135:19.

'The house of Israel' stands for those with whom truths exist, 'the house of Aaron' for those with whom forms of good are present; for in the Word wherever truth is the subject so too is good, on account of the heavenly marriage, 9263, 9314. For the meaning of 'the house of Israel' as those with whom truths exist, see 5414, 5879, 5951, 7956, 8234. In the same author,

Jehovah sent Moses His servant, Aaron whom He chose. Psalms 105:26.

Moses is called a servant because 'servant' is used in regard to truths, 3409, whereas one chosen or elected has regard to good, 3755 (end).

[4] In the same author,

Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell also together! It is like the good oil upon the head running down onto the beard, the beard of Aaron, which runs down over the collar 1 of his garments. Psalms 133:1-3.

Anyone who does not know what 'brother' means, nor what 'oil', 'the head', 'the beard', and 'garments' mean, nor also what 'Aaron' represents, can have no understanding of why such things have been compared to brothers who dwell together. For what similarity is there between oil running from Aaron's head down onto his beard, then onto his garments, and the unanimity of brothers? But the similarity in the comparison is evident from the internal sense, in which the flow of good into truths is the subject and is described by their brotherliness. For 'the oil' means good, 'Aaron's head' the inmost level of good, 'the beard' the very outermost level of it, 'garments' truths, and 'running down' a flowing in. From this it is plain that those words mean the flow, from inner to outer levels, of good into truths, and a joining together there. Without the internal sense how can anyone see that those words hold these heavenly matters within them? For the meaning of 'oil' as the good of love, see 886, 4582, 4638, 9780, and for that of 'the head' as what is inmost, 5328, 6436, 7859, 9656. The fact that 'the beard' means what is the very outermost is evident in Isaiah 7:20; 15:2; Jeremiah 48:37; and Ezekiel 5:1. For the meaning of 'garments' as truths, 2576, 4545, 4763, 5319, 5954, 6914, 6917, 9093, 9212, 9216; and for the representation of 'Aaron' as celestial good, see above.

(References: Psalms 133:1-2)

[5] Seeing that Aaron was chosen to serve in the priestly office, thus to administer the most sacred things, people can understand what the situation was with representations in the Jewish Church. No attention was paid to the person who represented, only to the thing represented by that person. Thus something holy, indeed most holy, could be represented by persons who were inwardly unclean, indeed idolatrous, provided that outwardly they had an air of holiness when engaged in worship. The fact that Aaron was one such person becomes clear from the following details in Moses,

Aaron took the gold from the hands of the children of Israel, and fashioned it with a chisel, and made out of it a molded calf. And Aaron built an altar in front of it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, Tomorrow there will be a feast to Jehovah. Exodus 32:4-5, 25.

And elsewhere in the same author,

Jehovah was greatly moved with anger against Aaron and would have destroyed him; 2 but I prayed for Aaron also at that time. Deuteronomy 9:20.

As regards the representatives of the Church among the Israelite and Jewish nation, that no attention was paid to the persons, only to the actual things represented, see the places referred to in 9229.


1. literally, the mouth

2. literally, to destroy him


(References: Exodus 28:1)

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   Study this Passage
From Swedenborg's Works

Inbound References:

Arcana Coelestia 9810, 9900, 9924, 9936, 9937, 9939, 9952, 9954, 9960, 10000, 10011, 10012, 10015, 10027, 10067, 10076, 10082, 10090, 10093, 10095, 10106, 10152, 10198, 10202, 10208, 10239, 10249

Apocalypse Revealed 854

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 31, 46, 155, 195, 375, 427, 502

   Swedenborg Research Tools

Related New Christian Commentary

  Spiritual Topics:


Word or Phrase Explanations:




Glossary of Terms Used by Emanuel Swedenborg

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