Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.
All men must have a profitable profession or business, for productive labor is God's will. But each man must take precautionary care of his profession or business, for either can disappear easily by many causes. Business analysis and foresight is part of wisdom.
Why is this important? Because life in a sinful world is full of change, and a great job or business can decline and come to an end quickly. The Preacher used two examples to make his point - rich men become poor, and strong kings are deposed (Pr 27:24).
The rich men of previous generations are not the rich men of this generation. The Rothschilds, Vanderbilts, Morgans, Carnegies, Astors, and Rockefellers have fallen far from the preeminence they once had. Today the rich are Gates, Buffet, Allen, Walton, Ellison, and Ballmer. Any one of these could buy out the older families combined. Riches are not for ever - they go away by many means. Economic success is temporary.
Invincible kings, who once ruled mighty empires, have disappeared. Alexander the great died at 33, and his sons were murdered. His crown and family stopped right there! Where are Ramses II, Genghis Khan, Louis XVI, John F. Kennedy, and their families? What happened to the great Nebuchadnezzar? Even his glorious city of Babylon disappeared from the face of the earth. What happened to the mighty Roman Empire? Present Italy and its capital are laughingstocks in comparison!
Solomon saw such political change firsthand. King Saul and his family were wiped out; only a dependent cripple named Mephibosheth was left. David, Solomon's father, replaced Saul; and he was not even from the same tribe of Israel. And Solomon's son Rehoboam quickly lost ten of the twelve tribes through poor leadership. The crown does not endure to every generation. Political success is only temporary.
The employment and business world can change drastically and quickly. Businesses and jobs have been lost through changes in laws, economic depressions, over-expansion, new inventions, neglect and sloth, competition, tax changes, war, political upheaval, natural disasters, theft, cultural changes, death, and other reasons. The shifting sands of business and the economy can swallow up those not diligent to provide for the future.
A job or business is God's kind blessing; He expects wise men to take good care of them. Diligence is necessary and commanded (Pr 22:29; Gen 3:17-19; Rom 12:11; I Thess 4:11-12). Foresight is necessary and commanded (Pr 6:8; 22:3; 27:12; 30:25). David, though king, appointed great men to wisely care for his substance (I Chron 27:25-31); and Hezekiah, who loved farming, made costly efforts to provide well for it (II Chron 26:10).
Part of that diligence is to know your present situation well and provide for your future. In an agrarian society, it was important to know the condition of your flocks and herds. Do they have any diseases? What was the rate of loss from theft? Wild animals? Is there sufficient grazing area? Water? Which shepherds would stay with you and which ones would leave? You needed to know and correct present threats to your prosperity, and you needed to look to the future to accommodate growth or handle adversity.
It is easy to let professional competence or your business edge slip. It is easy to fall into professional habits or ruts and lose your sharpness. Slothfulness is part of human nature. Solomon warned men to apply themselves to preserve their economic means, for the changes in life will surely steal away the former success of the slothful (Pr 24:30-34). Are you as valuable or more so to your employer compared to the day he hired you? Are you operating your business as intensely and carefully as you were during its very best year?
Wise men observe changes and trends in their industry and in their company. They are not caught by surprise when their jobs or businesses are no longer secure. Is your job still in demand? Or is your profession in decline? Are you keeping up with technical changes? Do you have a plan for what you will be doing ten years from now? Is it a valid expectation, or will you need further training or a new job? Have you wisely taken the time to keep yourself marketable and valuable? Do you have a transferable skill, liquid capital, professional contacts, or all three to help you in the future?
These matters all take effort, and Solomon exhorts us to diligence in considering them carefully and correcting them. It is not enough to keep going to the same job or operating the same business, even if you do it diligently. You also need to measure the future viability of your job or business, and make whatever changes are necessary to avoid loss.
The proverb calls for diligence, not fear. Since you cannot even see tomorrow, you must trust the God Who holds the future in His hands. Do your reasonable best in providing for the future, and trust the Lord for the rest. For without His blessing, any labor to build a house, or efforts to keep a city, will be in vain (Ps 127:1). Sleep, beloved (Ps 127:2)!
Ministers of the gospel, who are shepherds of flocks, must be diligent in the oversight of their congregations, knowing individual problems, correcting them, taking precautions against trouble, and planning and preparing for prosperity (I Pet 5:1-4). A great day of reckoning is coming for them as well, though much more terrible (I Cor 3:11-17).
The proverb has very natural and earthly wisdom for you - taking care of business! But these words also testify of Jesus Christ, Who is the good shepherd, knows His sheep, is known by His sheep, planned the purchase of Gentile sheep, and will not lose one of them (John 10:1-16)! Thank you, Lord, for being diligent to know the state of your flock.