Questions From Readers
◼ What basic counsel is Proverbs 27:23 offering to spiritual shepherds as well as to Christians in general?
The verse reads: “You ought to know positively the appearance of your flock. Set your heart to your droves.” (Proverbs 27:23) This text has often been used to encourage spiritual shepherds to show interest in and to be familiar with the situation and problems of Christians in the congregation. Such encouragement is appropriate, since the Bible likens the elders to shepherds and the congregation to a flock of sheep. (Acts 20:28, 29; 1 Peter 5:2-4) Yet, though the above principle applies, this verse is not basically about spiritual shepherds.
The book of Proverbs contains many verses that stand alone as pithy statements of counsel, but Proverbs 27:23 is part of a group of verses: “You ought to know positively the appearance of your flock. Set your heart to your droves; for treasure will not be to time indefinite, nor a diadem for all generations. The green grass has departed, and the new grass has appeared, and the vegetation of the mountains has been gathered. The young rams are for your clothing, and the he-goats are the price of the field. And there is a sufficiency of goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household, and the means of life for your girls.”—Proverbs 27:23-27.
This inspired passage extols having a life-style marked by diligence, industriousness, simplicity, and recognition of our dependence on Jehovah. It does this by highlighting the pastoral life of an Israelite shepherd, perhaps in contrast with a flamboyant life based on business deals and quick riches.
“Treasure,” or wealth gained in fast business ventures, with resulting prominence (“diadem”), can easily disappear, as many will testify. There is thus much to be said for a simple life, such as that followed by ancient shepherds in caring for livestock. That way of life was not simple in the sense of being carefree. A shepherd needed to be attentive to his flock, making sure that the sheep were protected. (Psalm 23:4) If, in giving them attention, he found a sick or injured sheep, he might anoint it with soothing oil. (Psalm 23:5; Ezekiel 34:4; Zechariah 11:16) In most cases the diligent shepherd who set his heart to his droves would see his efforts produce results—the gradual increase of his flock.
A hardworking and careful shepherd had a dependable source of help—Jehovah. How so? Well, God provides the seasons and cycles that normally result in ample grass that could feed the flock. (Psalm 145:16) When, with seasonal changes, the green grass disappears from lower regions, it might be abundant at higher elevations, where an attentive shepherd could move his animals.
Proverbs 27:26, 27 mentions one result of such labor—food and clothing. Granted, the description is not of fancy convenience foods or gourmet specialties, nor does it give a laborer reason to expect clothing in the latest designer style or the best material. But if he was willing to put forth effort, the shepherd and his family could obtain from the flock milk (and thus cheese), as well as wool for weaving sturdy garments.
So the advice: “You ought to know positively the appearance of your flock” is not primarily for spiritual overseers; it is for all Christians. It underscores the value of our being content with sustenance and covering obtained by steady, diligent work, trusting that God will not abandon us. (Psalm 37:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:8, 12; Hebrews 13:5) Comparing Proverbs 27:23-27 with the counsel at Luke 12:15-21 and; 1 Timothy 6:6-11, we see how consistent has been God’s advice on this matter. So each of us might reread Proverbs 27:23-27, asking ourself, ‘Am I taking this to heart and applying it in my daily life?’
[Picture Credit Line on page 31]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.