The Bible


Psalms 23 : The 23rd Psalm



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.

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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


Arcana Coelestia #3696

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3696. 'And lay down in that place' means the serenity of that state. This is clear from the meaning of 'lying down' as being in a state of serenity, for lying down or sleeping is nothing else. This meaning which 'lying down' has in the internal sense may also be seen from other places in the Word, which are dealt with immediately below. In the case of those who are to undergo regeneration, and who are the subject here in the representative internal sense, they are first of all in a state of serenity or external peace, for external peace or peace experienced in external things is called serenity. Indeed it is a product of the Divine state of peace which exists inmostly and which manifests itself in external things through the removal of evil desires and false ideas; for it is these that cause all unrest. Furthermore everyone at the start of his life, that is, in early childhood, is in a state of calm, but as one advances in, years or grows up he moves away from that state, for he gives himself up to worldly concerns and consequent anxious cares caused by the desires of self-love and of love of the world, and by falsities that spring from these.

[2] Something very similar to this occurs with the new life with one who is being regenerated. At first he experiences a state of serenity, but as he moves on into the new life so he moves into a state that is not serene. For evils and falsities which he has taken into himself previously now emerge and show themselves, and these trouble him, so much so at length that he undergoes temptations and trials from the devil's crew who try all the time to destroy his state of new life. But despite this a state of peace exists with him inmostly. But for its presence inmostly he would not put up any fight at all, for in all the conflicts he experiences he sees that state as the end in view. If that end were not in view he would never have the power and strength to fight. And this is also what enables him to overcome. And since it is the end in view he also enters that state once conflict or temptations are past. It is like the state of spring which follows that of autumn and winter, or like the state of dawn following evening and night. Regarding the resemblance of the state of peace in spiritual things to spring and dawn in natural ones, see 1726, 2780; and as regards peace being the result of goodness and truth, but unrest the result of evil and falsity, 3170.

[3] That 'lying down' in the Word means a state of serenity may be seen from the following places: In Moses,

If you walk in My statutes and observe My commandments and do them, I will give peace in the land, and you will lie down, and none will make you afraid. And I will cause evil wild animals to cease from the land, and the sword will not pass through your land. Leviticus 26:3, 6.

'Lying down' clearly applies to a state of peace and serenity. 'Evil wild animals' stands for desires for evil, 45, 46, 908, which 'are going to cease'. 'The sword' stands for falsity in conflict with truth, 2799, which 'is not going to pass through the land'. From this it is also evident that peace and the serenity of peace is the result of goodness and truth, and the destruction of it is the result of evils and falsities.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 45-46 [3])

[4] In Isaiah,

The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion together; and a little child will lead them. And the young cow and the beer will feed; their young will lie down together. Isaiah 11:6-7.

This refers to the Lord and to the state of peace existing in His kingdom. 'They will lie down together' stands for their being unable to be infested by anything evil or false. In Hosea,

I will make for them a covenant on that day with the wild beasts of the field, and with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the earth. And I will abolish 1 the bow, and the sword, and war from the land, and I will make them lie down in safety. Hosea 2:18.

Here likewise 'lying down' stands for a state of serenity following the removal of falsities and evils which are responsible for unrest.

[5] In David,

I will lie down and sleep, and will awake again, for Jehovah sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, who set themselves against me round about. Psalms 3:5-6.

'Lying down and sleeping' stands for a state of serenity and security. In the same author,

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, because You, O Jehovah, alone make me dwell with confidence. Psalms 4:8.

And in the same author,

He will make me to down in green pastures; He will lead me to still waters; He will restore my soul. Psalms 23:2-3.

From these places it is evident that a state of peace and serenity is described by 'lying down', and that 'lying down in that place' means the serenity of the state - for 'place' in the internal sense is state, 3692.


1. literally, break

(References: Genesis 28:11)

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