The Lord Is My Shepherd or Predator?

Many people today find the famous psalm troubling. But we need it now more than ever.
The Lord Is My Shepherd or Predator?
Image: Gillmar / Shutterstock

Psalm 23 offers hope and encouragement like no other poem. Countless Jews and Christians have found in this short psalm solace in the face of life’s greatest challenges, including death. Two verses in particular (4 and 6) have given the psalm such power:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil ... and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (KJV, used throughout)

But some modern readers find its language foreign and patronizing.

Most readers today tend to think of sheep as dumb farm animals that are easily manipulated. Suggesting that we are like docile creatures that follow a leader en masse touts mindless religiosity. Our culture teaches us to be independent and self-sufficient. To compare humans to sheep is offensive.

Consider Pink Floyd’s sarcastic rendition of Psalm 23—“Sheep,” from the 1976 album Animals, which drew from George Orwell’s novella, AnimalFarm. The opening lines evoke the pastoral scene from Psalm 23, but with sinister overtones (“Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air,” “Things are not what they seem”) and faint religious allusions (“I’ve looked over Jordan”).

The next section highlights the pliability of humans who behave like sheep (“pretending the danger’s not real, meek and obedient you follow the leader”). The third stanza opens with the words of Psalm 23, but they are sung in a threatening, menacing tone to contrast the soothing message of the psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want He makes me down to lie Through pastures green he leadeth me the silent waters by. With bright knives he releaseth my soul. He maketh ...
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