Tending the Sheep and Fields
Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, Give careful attention to your herds;
for riches do not endure forever and a crown is not secure for all generations.
When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in,
the lambs will provide you with clothing and the goats with the price of a field.
You will have plenty of milk to feed your family and to nourish your servant girls. Prov. 27:23-27
This Old Testament passage looks like a word of warning to a farmer to tend to the needs of his animals and land. Grass is to be cut and gathered at the right time, just before the rains, so that the water will refresh the earth and allow another crop of vegetation for the animals to graze.
If the shepherd gives proper care to his animals, making sure they have food and water, the animals will reward him with clothing, milk, food and income. With the money made from selling animals he can afford to buy another field and expand his operation.
“Be sure to know the condition of your flocks” literally reads, “know the face of your animals.” The implication is that the shepherd spends real time with his flock. He knows his animals and evaluates their health. Knowing the face of his animals means he is investing considerable time and effort with them. Further, even if the shepherd has enough money to hire others to work his flocks and land, he still gives the time and energy to move among his animals and see how they are doing. There is too much at stake as the shepherd of the flock to leave all the evaluation and care to others who have no personal stake in the health of the lambs and goats.
Interestingly, while this poem addresses shepherds and flocks, it may not be about animals at all. This poem appears in a section of proverbs known as the “Hezekiah Collection” (Prov. 25:1), a group of sayings that concern the king and his reign. So, this poem is really addressing the responsibilities of a monarch toward his people.
We know a king would deal with political and economic issues, but in Israel the king had one more important responsibility: providing spiritual leadership. Deuteronomy 17:18-20 says the king was responsible to copy, learn and remain faithful to the law. The king was not just responsible for providing healthy economic conditions for the people, he was responsible for providing healthy spiritual leadership as well.
A crown is not secure for all generations (Prov. 27:24b). That means, a king who does not tend to the needs of his flock could lose his position as king. Whether through rebellion, assassination or takeover from outside forces, a king who failed to monitor the health and contentment of his people could find the loyalty of his people fade, and with it, his position and authority.
It isn’t difficult to see several application of this for today. Dads and moms, we are shepherds of our home. Do we know the faces of our children? Not just what they look like, but how they function? Are we giving proper attention to their emotional, physical, and spiritual health?
This has application for churches, too. Teachers, we don’t just teach Bible classes, we teach the Gospel to our flock. Elders, we don’t just provide general leadership, we move among the flock to “know the faces” of our people. Preachers, we don’t just deliver sermons, we speak the Word to hearts hungering for good food. Deacons, custodians and maintenance workers, we don’t just tend to a building, we provide a safe and clean atmosphere for our fellow worshipers. To all of us who provide leadership at any level, our number one task is to spend time with and know the faces of our people. If we do, we will find loyalty returned to us. If we don’t, we may find we our flock grazing in someone else’s pasture.