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God Made A Farmer

Wisdom in managing the present for the future

Proverbs 27:23-27

23 Be diligent to know the state of your flocks,
And attend to your herds;

24 For riches are not forever,
Nor does a crown endure to all generations.

25 When the hay is removed, and the tender grass shows itself,
And the herbs of the mountains are gathered in,

26 The lambs will provide your clothing,
And the goats the price of a field;

27 You shall have enough goats’ milk for your food,
For the food of your household,
And the nourishment of your maidservants.


And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker”—so God made a Farmer.

God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board”—so God made a Farmer.

These now famous words were part of a speech given by author and radio announcer Paul Harvey at the 1978 National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Convention. This portion of his speech was a mere seven stanzas that Harvey recited with his mellifluous baritone, that in its way assisted in capturing the image of the hardworking farmer in the minds of his agrarian audience. 

Despite its appeal and suitability to Paul Harvey’s voice, he would not make claim to be the author of God made a Farmer. Though it was also published in his syndicated column in 1986, and portions were borrowed from earlier publications, Harvey indicated that it had simply come to him unsigned in the mail. 

Whether a providential gift or clever entertainment, it helped boost Harvey’s career. God made a Farmer also boosted the hearts of farmers enduring a nationwide recession in the 1980’s, and it has become a part of the folklore of the American heartland. [Watch a beautiful rendition of it in this video HERE.]

Solomon knew well the heart of the farmer. Although this son of a king, his father David had also been a shepherd in his youth. Many of David’s psalms doubtless reflected hard lessons learned while tending a flock in the field, and translated to principles of God’s wisdom throughout his life. The last section of Proverbs 27 captures one such lesson:

23 Be diligent to know the state of your flocks,
And attend to your herds;–Proverbs 27:23

The last five verses of chapter 27 make up an admonition to look after one’s flocks, not only for the sake of good husbandry, but with an eye toward future generations. For well-managed flocks and a farm can be self-renewing, but money and status are self-depreciating and not guaranteed to continue.

These “pastoral proverbs” make up a rare sequence that uses more than two verses to illustrate and promote a single facet of wisdom. What’s more, these verses speak directly to both the individual reader, and to a ruler or king.

Let’s say you are a farmer. The first admonition in these passages is positive as Solomon instructs you to know personally concerned with the care and well-being of your flocks and herds. This sounds logical, right? Keep an eye on the farm animals. Check. How hard can it be? You might think, I got this, but before you add “shepherd” or “farmer” to your resume, consider the reality of the life of a “son of the soil.” 

Author James Herriot is known for his stories of life as a veterinarian in rural Yorkshire. His books and later the BBC TV series All Creatures Great and Small work to capture the difficult life of the English farmer with all of its hardships and rewards. Much like Paul Harvey’s God made a Farmer, Herriot contrasts fiction and fact. In one instance, he recalled the sterile, pleasant illustrations and diagrams of his veterinary textbooks where a happy veterinarian stood with a happy cow with no blood, mud, or sweat anywhere:

He hadn't crawled shivering from his bed at two o'clock in the morning and bumped over twelve miles of frozen snow, staring sleepily ahead till the lonely farm showed in the headlights. He hadn't climbed half a mile of white fell-side to the doorless barn where his patient lay.–James Herriot, “If Only They Could Talk”

Herriot’s life became intermingled with the ups and downs of the lives of the farmers—and the animals—that he served. Farming required being up and out of bed at all hours of the night or day, in all weather, and in all seasons of the year. A farmer tended his herds, gathered hay and fodder into his barns, tended his fields and pastures, went to market, and in the middle of it, raised a family:

I was beginning to learn about the farmers and what I found I liked. They had a toughness and a philosophical attitude which was new to me. Misfortunes which would make the city dweller want to bang his head against a wall were shrugged off with “Aye, well, these things happen.”–James Herriot, “All Creatures Great and Small”

The wealth of a farmer, like the honor of a king, or your own success, is never given but always earned. To truly and fully engage in the risk and reward of godly work or leadership will entail victories and defeats. Solomon is telling you that in order for you to live uprightly, it will take industry, kindness, wealth, and wisdom’s virtues. How do you do this?

The key is in knowing “the state of your flocks.” The Hebrew פְּנֵ֣י (panim)  translates literally to read “know their faces.” For a farmer to properly care for a herd, each sheep, goat, or cow must be more than counted, it must be known. This means that a king must know his subjects in order to properly rule them—and you must personally know those under your care. 

Are you in a position of authority in your life? How about the relationships in your church? You may not “rule” over family, friends, or your brothers and sisters in church, but in order to be a quality friend and companion you must make effort to know the need of those you serve, not merely concerned with what they can do for you. Solomon continues:

24 For riches are not forever,
Nor does a crown endure to all generations.–Proverbs 27:24

Unlike flocks of sheep and herds of goats that can perpetuate with cute baby lambs and capering goat kids, money and status will not continue indefinitely. It too must be managed and put to wise use. The “crown” here shows that family wealth, prestige and even royal honor are fleeting, transitory items. 

A father and mother can work hard, sacrificing years of comfortable living in order to build a business, a farm, or high status in society, only to see it squandered by lazy or foolish sons and daughters. Novelist G. Michael Hopf makes a sobering statement in his post-apocalyptic novel “Those Who Remain” that illustrates the impact of this principle on a culture:  

Hard times create strong men
Strong men create good times
Good times create weak men 
Weak men create hard times

This cycle of peace and prosperity turning to suffering and ruin is as old as the sin in the garden—and is a lesson that is seemingly never learned on the personal or the national level. 

Our modern politicians and government leaders seem to more and more seek to take the liberties and the livelihoods of their people in order to promote destructive ideologies—or for their own personal gain. A president who allows his influence to be purchased by foreign governments, or elected officials who sell their constituents for kickbacks from big business and “dark money” groups will soon find themselves without a people to govern. 

The free societies of the West are currently being gutted in just such a manner. “Chesterton's Fence” is a rule that illustrates the modern eagerness to tear down the old morality and traditions to replace them with what is new and progressive–without considering why these old ways exist in the first place. 

For example, in many states “Blue Laws” have been eagerly struck down, allowing businesses to open on Sunday. While this may seem like a victory for freedom and commerce, the expense is not only the loss of religious heritage, but a loss of a weekly mandated “day of rest” that benefits all in a society. 

How can you be a “strong” man or woman in these times when goodness is fading to bad? Solomon’s picture of the farmer reveals more:

25 When the hay is removed, and the tender grass shows itself,
And the herbs of the mountains are gathered in,–Proverbs 27:25

In order to care best for your flocks, your family, or your congregation, you must cultivate resources to meet their needs. As a farmer plants and harvests hay or manages land for highland grazing, so you wisely provide for the needs of those in your life. This requires planning ahead, making difficult choices, and sacrifice but the rewards are great:

26 The lambs will provide your clothing,
And the goats the price of a field;

27 You shall have enough goats’ milk for your food,
For the food of your household,
And the nourishment of your maidservants.–Proverbs 27:26-27

These final two verses show the long-term rewards of patient, hard work, and honest living under the principles of God’s wisdom. Wool, meat, milk, and market profits provide for needs of family and community, while allowing your holdings to grow. 

Just as a farmer seeks a bountiful harvest and next year’s blessings, so a godly parent hopes and prays that years of sacrifice and love will yield children who provide grandchildren. Wise parents blessed with wealth will teach their children how to work to maintain it. In turn their children will gain wisdom and look to take on the responsibilities and duties that go with family wealth. Do you actively seek to do this with your family? It does not happen without effort or overnight.

Likewise, a king, a senator, or a church elder can cultivate the future honor of faithful service. Do you lead with Godly wisdom? In the history of Israel, most royal dynasties had ended by four generations. David and Solomon reigned in wisdom but not without terrible failings and sins. Impetuous Rehoboam, lost most of His kingdom and saw his people split by civil war. In the end, God sees the efforts of all and blesses or punishes. He ordered the prophet Ezekiel to prophesy against the faithless elders of Israel, who fattened themselves off the people:

You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them.–Ezekiel 34:3-4

This damning indictment also rang in the voice of Jesus against the Pharisees and religious leaders during His ministry here. Jesus preached to the crowds and to His disciples:

saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. –Matthew 23:2-4

In all of this, you are not alone. Christ is King and great judge of all and you are united in Him through His Spirit. If He is the focus of all of your enterprises, then your future is assured—no matter if you face earthly ruin. Take heart that your efforts will never be in vain, if Christ’s glory is what you seek. 

And that…is the REST of the story.


The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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