Having warned us against offering collateral, and of being tied up by our own words, Proverbs 6 moves on to a subject it will return too fairly often – laziness.
Go to the ant, you sluggard.
Consider her ways, and be wise;
7 which having no chief, overseer, or ruler,
8 provides her bread in the summer,
and gathers her food in the harvest.
9 How long will you sleep, sluggard?
When will you arise out of your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to sleep:
11 so your poverty will come as a robber,
and your scarcity as an armed man.Proverbs 6:6-11 WEB
Verses six to eight begin by pointing to the ant as our example. This is, on the surface, a rather strange comparison. What can we – humans created in the image of God – learn from the humble ant? Quite a bit it seems!
Verse 6 is addressed to a lazy man – a sluggard. He is directed to look at the ways of the ant, and to “be wise.” You may not think of yourself as a “sluggard,” but a wise person does indeed look around, consider other ways and learn from them. Even if you are not lazy, do not skip over these words – instead, be wise and learn!
Verse 7 tells us that the ant has no chief, overseer or king. This is important because it shows us that despite this, the collective group of ants – a “colony” I’m told – appears to operate collaboratively and as one. Take the same number of people, set them a task and don’t elect a leader, and you will have chaos! Somehow, the colony of ants know what needs to be done and they work together to achieve it. it is as astonishing miracle when you think of it. God, as Creator, has given them the ability to work together in this way, and to even plan ahead. These are lessons we can all learn.
Verse 8 is key here. It tells us that he ant provides her food in the summer, and gathers in at harvest time to see herself through winter. Under God’s sovereign control, the ant enjoys the good of the summer and yet plans ahead to see itself through the harder winters.
To be like the ant, we must do the same. I imagine an individual who is self-employed. They may be enjoying a time of abundance right now, with lots of work and good money coming in. a wise person would not just enjoy this time, but would prepare for times when the income may fall.
My father-in-law is a butcher and runs a village shop. He knows that in the run up to Christmas, he will make a lot of sales and be extremely busy. Likewise, in the summer, he knows he will sell much produce for barbeques and parties. He also knows that January and February are quiet months, with little trade. To survive, he must ensure that the summer takings and Christmas abundance see him through the more difficult winter months.
Enjoy the good times of course, but store up in preparation for the bad times #wisdomTweet
Verses 9 and 10 then go on to warn of the dangers of “sleep.” Now, to be clear, these verses are not saying sleep is a bad thing and we should not do it. Clearly, it is right and biblical to get sufficient amounts of rest. The warning here is against sleeping too much – it is about lazing about instead of getting up to work. I reiterate that rest is important, but so is putting in a good day’s work. There is danger in the extremes; too much rest and you fall into the temptation of laziness, too little rest and you risk making yourself ill and unproductive.
Verse 10 does say “a little sleep,” implying that even a little sleep is dangerous. I may be incorrect, but would qualify this as a “little sleep at the wrong time…” is dangerous. If, for example, my boss walks into my office and sees me asleep at my desk, then the argument that I was only asleep for a few minutes probably won’t wash. A good eight hours of sleep in bed at night is a good thing, but even 8 minutes when we should be working is bad.
Verse 11 concludes the section giving quite a stark picture of poverty. Laziness leads to poverty; particularly in a society where you were dependent on working the land for survival. If you do not work, you do not eat, because the land will not yield its fruit to you unaided. To be lazy is to allow poverty to creep up on you like an armed man. When faced with a robber holding a weapon, you have little choice but to do as they say. In a similar way, laziness leads to poverty, and this leaves little choice in life.
For us in the modern world, this danger may not seem so real. Many have access to credit cards and loans, and so if one loses their job, they can rely on debt to see them through. Similarly, if loans and credit are not open to you, then the Government provide benefits to help out. We can debate if use of credit or to rely on benefits is a good thing or not, but clearly these are intended to be temporary measures. You cannot live your life on credit, charging one purchase after the next, without it one day catching up with you.
I write this at a time when interest rates are rising, and energy prices in the UK are skyrocketing. I want to be clear that I am not saying you are lazy if you are struggling to pay your bills! Far from it! Many people are struggling financially right now, and are working extremely hard to make ends meet. The point here is that laziness leads to poverty, but that does not mean that poverty equals laziness.
Let each of us examine our lives in the light of God’s Word. We all have lazy days or times of lower productivity due to a variety of reasons. When laziness becomes a habit however, this is when it becomes a real problem. As I said above, the opposite extreme is just as risky, so we each need to work hard and rest well.
An ant may be a tiny thing, and yet it has much to teach us. Let us open our eyes, and learn from God’s Creation. We must “be wise” just like the ant!
Thanks for reading.