The Point: Work isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary.
Laziness: Proverbs 6:6-11.
 Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.  How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,  and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. [ESV]
“Laziness . We are confronted with another path to destruction: laziness. Foolish business practices may ruin you [1-5], but so can sloth. The theme of the sluggard will surface again often [6:9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16]. The word sluggard describes one who is sluggish and lazy. But, it is also set in contrast to the upright [15:19] and the righteous [21:25-26]. Solomon was probably not calling his sons sluggards, but was using the term rhetorically to speak to any, and all, of whom the description might be appropriate. Such a one is to observe and reflect upon the ant. The same imagery returns in Proverbs 30:25, when King Agur calls for a similar comparison. Such reflection will yield a new work ethic which prioritizes self-motivation, industry, diligence and planning [7-8]. Embracing such a work ethic will cause one to be wise. Wisdom is not some esoteric, other-worldly rhetoric. Wisdom is practical success in the real world. Hard work lies in its path.  What is here stated as absolute fact is actually an observation derived from simple reflection. The ant appears to have no leader and no overt organization. Instinct compels them to work industriously, in order to lay up in store for lean times. They do not need an authority figure standing over them. The ant, by all appearances, is a self-starter. Even more than being a self-starter, the ant is a team player. While, to the human eye, there appears to be no leader among the ants, there is a well-ordered precision and coordination to all they do.  Though, for all appearances, leaderless, the ant demonstrates a work ethic and team work beyond what many humans seem capable of. However, wisdom is found not simply in activity, but in the foresight of labor. The two lines of this verse are parallel, the second restating the point of the first in order to underscore its message. The timing is all-important, summer and harvest being terms which indicate the right time for gathering provision for more lean times. Foolishness only labors when the stomach growls. Wisdom labors because it know the stomach will growl [30:25].  Once again, the sluggard is addressed directly. The goal of the two questions is to shame him into action and responsibility. The question How long … reveals that his sloth has become an established pattern. All he can think of is how little he can get by with doing. The second question asks when his appetite for sleep will be satisfied. Proverbs describes sleep as a blessing God gives to those who faithfully walk in wisdom [3:24; 19:23]. For the sluggard, however, the blessing of God has become god. But, sleep makes a tyrannous ruler, for Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep [19:15]. Thus, the wisdom of God is Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty [20:13]. A sluggard, however, has little time for such counsel – As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed [26:14].  This verse appears to be a mocking question of the rationalization of the sluggard. The more the lazy man rests, the more rest he craves. Legitimate leisure becomes consuming laziness. His rationalization is thinly veiled as he hits the snooze button one more time. His delay and procrastination set him up for poverty and want . For the phrase a little folding of the hands see Ecclesiastes 4:4-8, where the polarized dangers of workaholism and laziness are set in contrast to responsible labor. The entirety of verse 10-11 are repeated almost verbatim in Proverbs 24:33-34, where again the sluggard’s shame is set forth.  The logical end of the reasoning espoused in verse 10 now comes into view. The demise of the sluggard is set forth under two similes set off in synonymous parallelism. The problem is described both as poverty and want. The former becomes a familiar theme in Proverbs [10:15; 13:18; 24:34; 28:19; 30:8; 31:7] and refers to being utterly destitute. The latter refers simply to the lack of what is needed. The words robber and armed man personify such poverty. Both words are of uncertain derivation, but their general meaning is clear. The former is variously seen as some kind of dangerous assailant or bandit that waylays travelers unawares. The ancient world was renowned for the bandits that would conceal themselves in the natural surroundings along a roadside and, with suddenness, attack, rob and sometimes kill unsuspecting travelers. The second term means literally ‘a man of a shield.’ It refers to a military man of the light infantry division. The emphasis is on the fact that the man is well armed, but moves with swiftness and stealth. The point of both similes is that poverty breaks suddenly upon the lazy man with overwhelming power, leaving him defenseless. Poverty does not happen overnight. The man has been lazy for some time. But, the realization of it is sudden. With arms folded, eyes closing in slumber, and mouth muttering rationalizations , sudden economic destruction overtakes the sluggard unawares.” [Kitchen, pp. 137-140].
The Theme of the Sluggard in Proverbs:
13:4. “The thematic relation of verses 2-4 continues with the word translated here twice as soul. The first line is abrupt in making its point: The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing. This terseness helps make the point of the barrenness of the slacker. In contrast the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. The use of soul here should be linked with its translation desire in verse 2. Clearly, that is what is in view here. The deepest, inner longings of the lazy remain only vaporous dreams, for they lack the willingness to apply themselves to a course that will see those dreams become reality [Prov. 6:6,11; 21:25-26]. The longings of the diligent, however, are destined to become concrete, for they will take any legitimate, and moral, step to see that their dreams become reality [10:4,24; 12:24].” [Kitchen, p. 283].
15:19. “This antithetical proverb sets the way of the lazy man over against the path of one who lives uprightly. The sluggard has been met already [6:6,9; 13:4] and will be again. His laziness has now caught up with him. Because he has lacked diligence, the pathway before him has become overgrown with thorns [22:5; 24:30-31]. A hedge of thorns could be used as fencing – making the way impassible and directing travelers along another route [Hosea 2:6]. This man has failed to tend to the hedge of thorns along the path near his house. It has become overgrown. Now, he is cut off from progress. He is landlocked. He can only sit idly by and complain that he can do nothing else. How different the path of the upright. It is like a level highway [16:17]. The word has the idea of building, or throwing up, dirt to make a level and easily passable roadway. The contrast between the sluggard and the upright reminds us that there is something unethical and unholy about laziness. In the case of the sluggard, his sin has now found him out. He is stuck. He cannot go forward in life. The word upright is perfect in this context for, in its root, it has the idea of that which is straight. Is that not precisely the point made here? Because, in his uprightness, he has lived diligently, when the time comes for him to make a new move and travel down the path, the way is clear and unobstructed [3:6; 4:26].” [Kitchen, pp. 336-337].
21:25. “Proverbs has often warned us of what laziness produces: further laziness [19:24], the lack of a harvest [20:4], empty hands [13:4], poverty [6:11; 24:34], troubles [15:19] and even forced labor [12:24]. Here, however, we come face to face with the stark reality of its end: death. Interestingly, it is his desire which kills him. Some take this to mean that desire means hunger and, since he won’t work, he actually starves himself to death. However, it seems to point not so much at a legitimate hunger, but a lustful desire. The same word is used in Numbers 11:34-35 and 33:16-17 as part of the place named ‘graves of craving.’ When the people grumbled against God and Moses and demanded meat to eat, God sent an abundance of quail to fill their demand. Then He sent a plague in judgment. They got what they wanted and it killed them. They buried their dead and called the place ‘graves of craving.’ Here, too, the craving of the sluggard digs his grave, for, if he can muster any energy and take any initiative, it is spend on that which is frivolous (desire) and not on what is essential (labor). In the end, such a lifestyle destroys him. If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat [2 Thess. 3:10].” [Kitchen, p. 483].
24:30-34. “Here begins a short story [30-34] in which the teacher reflects upon a personal experience for didactic purposes. It is, as such, not dissimilar to Proverbs 7:6-23, though it addresses a different issue. Whether or not this reflects an actual event or is a moral story manufactured for purposes of instruction is beside the point. What should not be lost, however, is how much can be learned if one simply keeps his eyes open. We would be surprised how many moral and spiritual lessons unfold about us if we only observed life more carefully as we passed by. The field or vineyard apparently was obtained at some expense. No doubt an investment of labor and seed had been made at some point. This is obvious from the state of the field in verse 31. This reveals that the man was not only lazy (a sluggard), but was lacking sense. The expression is, literally, ‘lacking heart’ and is found also in Proverbs 6:22; 7:7; 9:4; 10:13; 12:11; 17:18; 24:30. It is equivalent to saying that such a person is a fool. Investments require nurture in order to return a good yield. To make the initial investment without following through with that required to make the venture fruitful is folly fed by laziness. The unusual three-line verse  adds fine detail to the picture already begun in broad strokes in the previous verse. This field in which a vineyard was once planted has become overrun with brush due to the owner’s neglect. Indeed, instead of a bountiful crop, thorns and nettles abound. God’s curse upon the ground assured that, apart from the sweat of your face, the ground would produce nothing but thorns and thistles [Gen. 3:18-19]. The sluggard is giving way before the curse upon sin. Even the protective rock wall built around the field, to protect it from both human and animal intruders, has been allowed to crumble. His inverted values are becoming evident to all [Prov. 24:27]. For a contrast, read both Isaiah 5:1-7 and 28:24-29 for a picture of the measures taken by the wise farmer to assure a bountiful crop. Open eyes can lead to an informed heart . The speaker has taken visual notice of the condition of the sluggard’s field, but the eyes of his heart [Eph. 1:18] have also been opened. The Hebrew word translated saw speaks not only of the literal sight of the physical organs, but is often used of studying, gazing at or scrutinizing something. It describes the prophetic insight and vision of the prophets as well. So, this is more than a mere passing glance; this is insightful study. Similarly, the word translated I looked is the one used more than any other word to describe what happens when the prophet receives a vision from God. It is not merely sight that we meet here, but insight. That which is seen with the eyes soon engages the heart. Beware what you set before your eyes [Ps. 101:3]. The expression considered it is, more literally, ‘I set my heart.’ This expression is used ten times in Scripture. It can have a negative connotation, as when Pharaoh ignored, dismissed and refused to take notice of what God was doing in the first plague [Ex. 7:23]. It can also be used positively, as here, to describe considering something [Prov. 22:17; 27:23]. The use of the word ’heart’ echoes verse 30, where it was the sluggard’s lack of heart that started his troubles. The result of open eyes and a reflective heart is that we may receive instruction. The word refers to education through correction. It often describes discipline and even chastening. The wise man is the one who chastens himself through reflective study and insight. Such a one, often, is able to bypass the discipline inflicted by the consequences of foolish choices. Verses 33 and 34 are a virtual repetition of Proverbs 6:10-11. In both 6:10 and here, the words appear to be a derisive quotation of the sluggard, as he attempts to justify his laziness.” [Kitchen, pp. 556-559].
26:13-16. “Paranoia and excuse-making are always evidence enough to convince the sluggard that this is not a good day to work. Generally speaking, lions prowl at night and sleep during the day, when men are at work [Ps. 104:21-23]. This is pure fancy, but the lazy man has convinced himself. The veneer of his excuses may not persuade others, but they are not the target of his logic. He is convinced, so what else matters? It is the places of commerce, business and exertion that he avoids: the road … the streets. How unlikely is that which turns him back: a lion in the road … a lion in the streets. It is all-consuming self-centeredness which provides the soil for the paranoia to grow so quickly and convincingly. The mind will never lack for reasons not to do something it does not want to do [Eccles. 11:4]. Every shadow is a monster. Every possibility is a probability. The sluggard soon forgets God’s enabling and protecting presence [Ps. 91:11-13]. Humor can, at times, achieve what direct address cannot. The humor of the proverb in verse 14 has a biting edge to it and is meant to provoke the sluggard to meaningful action. The lazybones is here likened to a door that turns on its hinges. The door moves, but goes nowhere. It is motion without march, movement without mobility. Just so, the sluggard flips and flops from side to side, but never makes any progress toward getting out of bed and making his life useful. His excuse is A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest [6:10]. But, his family and friends wonder, How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? [6:9]. Verse 15 is a near repeat of Proverbs 19:24. The proverb pictures one so lazy that it affects his physical wellbeing. He would rather starve then move! If a person is not willing to muster the small amount of energy to feed himself physically, how much less likely is he to undertake the discipline to feed himself on the bread of life [John 6:35-40]? The lazy man’s sloth makes perfect sense to him . Generally, we do what we do for reasons that sound convincing to ourselves. The sluggard has marshaled a self-convincing array of reasons for his lifestyle. In that sad world of illusion, he is beyond counsel, for not even seven men who can answer sensibly are able to dislodge his misplaced thinking. He has added folly to his laziness . Being convinced of the soundness of his thinking, he has placed himself beyond counsel and is, therefore, beyond hope . He is, first and foremost, unwilling to do the hard work of good, clear thinking. This, then, blocks him from seeing the wisdom in a disciplined life of wisdom. The portrait of the sluggard now comes full circle. Fearful and paranoid of what might happen if he applied himself and left the safe confines of his comfortable, self-controlled world , the sluggard cloisters himself in his self-made safe haven  and, there, slowly degenerates into an obsessively self-consumed lifestyle that, eventually, destroys him . There, he is unreachable, for he has shut out all reason and counsel by the self-convincing arguments of folly dressed in the robes of wisdom .” [Kitchen, pp. 591-593].
Questions for Discussion:
1. What does Solomon want us to learn from the ant?
2. In these passages, to what does Solomon compare laziness; to what does he contrast laziness? What do we learn about the danger of laziness from these verses?
Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.
Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.
Exploring Proverbs, vol. 1, John Phillips, Loizeaux.