4th September 2022

Not wanting the shepherd

Have you ever misheard the lyrics to a song in a way that drastically changed the meaning? Most of us have done this at one time or another, perhaps you even had a favorite song that you only discovered years later that had a very different meaning than what you originally understood?

We have a word for that, it’s called ‘mondegreen’ – a misunderstood or misinterpreted phrase resulting from mishearing the lyrics of a song. The consequences of mondegreen can be amusing or absurd. The next time you listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival sing Bad Moon on the Rise, instead of singing the song title during the chorus interject “There’s a bathroom on the right,” and you’ll see what I mean.

A colleague of mine shared a mondegreen he had as a child regarding the famous Psalm 23. This didn’t come from mishearing the words, so much as misunderstanding their meaning. 

When he heard “The Lord’s my shepherd I shall not want” sung at church, he took it to mean that we shouldn’t want the Lord as our shepherd. Why wouldn’t we want Him as our shepherd you might ask? Well because he’ll force you to lie down in green pastures all day!

It’s amazing how a glitch on a record, a syllable out of place, or a word changing its meaning over time can totally change how we perceive and understand a piece of music.

Part of the reason my colleague read the words of Psalm 23 in such a negative light, was because in the authoritarian church he grew up in, it made perfect sense to him why someone would not want to follow the judgemental and condemning image of God he had been presented with. He had been taught that God was a strict and demanding shepherd, not at all like the shepherd we read about in the book of Revelation.

In Revelation we are blessed with a glimpse of the end to come, the lamb sits upon the throne, and all are drawn before Him. Using language drawn from Psalm 23 and Isaiah 25 we are told in no uncertain terms what kind of Shepherd he will be:

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ ”

Revelation 7:17 (NIV)

In other words, he is the Good Shepherd.

The truth is that many people do not want the Lord as their shepherd. Often, this is because they have encountered a theological mondegreen. They’ve misheard, misunderstood, or have been deceived when it comes to the truth about God. As far as they’re concerned, there’s nothing good about him.

Without knowing the Good Shepherd, no other scripture, whether psalm, prophet, gospel, or epistle will be understood in its proper context. Without knowing Jesus, the Bible itself becomes an endless series of misheard lyrics drawing us down some theologically dubious rabbit holes.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd under whose care we shall want for nothing, the Shepherd who, filled with love and compassion, will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The Shepherd whose voice we will never mishear as He calls us by name.

Presented by Greg Williams


About the presenter:
Greg Williams is President of Grace Communion International and lives in North Carolina, USA.  Word of Life each Sunday is taken from ‘Speaking of Life’, (https://www.gci.org/videos/media-speaking-of-life/), a public resource video on the USA website of Grace Communion International

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