If You Can Lead Sheep, You’re Ready for Politics

I could not pass up this gem from Philo Judaeus, in his Life of a Man Occupied with Affairs of State, or on Joseph, I:

Now, this man (Joseph) began from the time he was seventeen years of age to be occupied with the consideration of the business of a shepherd, which corresponds to political business.  On which account I think it is that the race of poets has been accustomed to call kings the shepherds of the people; for he who is skilful in the business of a shepherd will probably be also a most excellent king, having derived instruction in those matters which are deserving of inferior attention here to superintend a flock of those most excellent of all animals, namely, of men. And just as attention to matters of hunting is indispensable to the man who is about to conduct a war or to govern an army, so in the same banner those who hope to have the government of a city will find the business of a shepherd very closely connected with them, since that is as it were a sort of prelude to any kind of government.

When I worked at Church of Lay Ministries, our last bookkeeper lived on a farm and, as part of that, tended sheep.  The whole concept of a real shepherd working in a Christian organisation was more fun than a human being ought to have, and I made the most of it.  Her response was that sheep are pretty dumb, and comparing people to sheep (a common theme in the New Testament) isn’t very complimentary to people.

Given the current state of American politics, Philo’s words resonate, and one would wish that more American politicians had spent their early years watching over the flocks by night than haunting the halls of ivy.

Philo’s idea also puts this passage in a new light:

And Samuel did all that the Lord told him; and he came to Bethlehem: and the elders of the city were amazed at meeting him, and said, Dost thou come peaceably, thou Seer? And he said, Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. Sanctify yourselves, and rejoice with me this day: and he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and he called them to the sacrifice. And it came to pass when they came in, that he saw Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him. But the Lord said to Samuel, Look not on his appearance, nor on his stature, for I have rejected him; for God sees not as man looks; for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. And Jesse called Aminadab, and he passed before Samuel: and he said, Neither has God chosen this one. And Jesse caused Sama to pass by: and he said, Neither has God chosen this one. And Jesse caused his seven sons to pass before Samuel: and Samuel said, the Lord has not chosen these. And Samuel said to Jesse, Hast thou no more sons? And Jesse said, There is yet a little one; behold, he tends the flock. And Samuel said to Jesse, Send and fetch him for we may not sit down till he comes. And he sent and fetched him: and he was ruddy, with beauty of eyes, and very goodly to behold. And the Lord said to Samuel, Arise, and anoint David, for he is good. And Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward: and Samuel arose, and departed to Armathaim.  (1Samuel 16:4-13 LXX)

God’s choice of David really was based on merit!

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