A sluggard is habitually lazy or inactive. Such a person does not take personal responsibility for his own life. The word sluggard is used exclusively in the book of Proverbs. In each case, the Bible condemns laziness and warns of the consequences of being a sluggard.
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.
English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 6:7–11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
King Solomon has some simple advice for the slacker. Look at nature. I remember growing up and getting an ant farm once. They were fascinating. I could watch them for hours on end.
- The ant shows us the way. Having just used the analogy of the survival instinct of a bird from a trap (6:5), this second warning concentrates on the ant’s foresight and hard work (6:6).
- Such analogies taken from the animal kingdom were common in the ancient Near East; Solomon taught about plants and animals as a sign of his wisdom and learning.
God’s goal: God is working. God has ordained us to work. We rest one day and work six. Being a sluggard and lazy demeans the way of God.
My dad taught me this truth. He was a hard worker and expected me to do the same. I wanted to watch cartoons on Saturday morning. Nope. Once he was up, we were working. He took Sundays off.
The term translated “sluggard” (ʿaṣel) occurs fourteen times in Proverbs and nowhere else in the Old Testament. If we look at the appearances of this figure in Proverbs, we learn that the sluggard exemplifies folly, particularly in matters of food production.
- Therefore, the sluggard must look to a lowly creature to learn wisdom, one of the topsy-turvy motifs of wisdom literature.
- The ant has no ruler, yet it works to provide for itself, gathering and storing.
- It is self-governed and self-directed, it does not need to be told what it should do; moreover, it does not need to learn, it teaches.
- To drive home the point on diligence, the LXX adds material about the hard-working bee and its benefits to humans.
Imperative gives way to sarcasm as the teacher asks, “How long will you lie there?” (6:9), and adds a mock quotation, in effect saying, “Oh, you say, ‘Just a few more minutes and I’ll get up,’ but I know you.” Three “little” things (sleep, slumber, and the folding of hands, 6:10) add up to the big trouble of poverty, the third reminding the reader of the hands foolishly struck in pledge. Hands folded when they should be working are the ultimate sign of sloth.
The example of the ant’s diligence and planning challenges avoidance of one’s duties and responsibilities. It urges the young man to prevent being caught in the position of needing a loan and a guarantor.
- Taken together, the first two teachings resemble our proverb, “Neither a lender nor a borrower be,” for efforts to help others are counterproductive if they allow irresponsibility to go unchecked.
- The teachings also show that laziness is, at its root, a failure of love.
- While others work to provide for self and family, caring for others, the loafer wants to be carried.
- In sum, the theme common to the first and second teachings may well be that of laziness, a willful negligence that looks to others to bear the burdens that should be one’s own. Just as it is wrong to take what is not one’s own, so it is wrong to shirk responsibility for what is.
“Sleep” (6:4, 9–10) and “hand” are the terms that link these first warnings. To the one who would strike hands in a pledge, the teacher says, “Save yourself, free yourself! Do not sleep, or you will become the prey of a hunter.” To the one who would fold hands in rest, the teacher says, “Rouse yourself! Do not sleep, or you will become the prey of that robber poverty.” In both cases, sleep, a form of negligence, puts one under another’s power and risks the danger of losing one’s material wealth to others, a theme first introduced in chapter 5.
The two warnings work together to present a lesson on responsibility. The young man is told not to take responsibility for someone else’s finances and to make sure that he never needs others to take responsibility for him. Of course, this call to responsibility does not rule out lending to the poor and caring for their needs. “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done”. But one ought not to borrow for purposes of speculation, and one ought not be a beggar out of laziness.
- Proverbs 6:6–8 (CSB) — 6 Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. 7 Without leader, administrator, or ruler, 8 it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest.
- Proverbs 12:27 (CSB) — 27 A lazy hunter doesn’t roast his game, but to a diligent person, his wealth is precious.
- Proverbs 15:19 (CSB) — 19 A slacker’s way is like a thorny hedge, but the path of the upright is a highway.
- Proverbs 19:24 (CSB) — 24 The slacker buries his hand in the bowl; he doesn’t even bring it back to his mouth!
- Proverbs 20:4 (CSB) — 4 The slacker does not plow during planting season; at harvest time he looks, and there is nothing.
- Proverbs 21:25 (CSB) — 25 A slacker’s craving will kill him because his hands refuse to work.
- Proverbs 24:30–31 (CSB) — 30 I went by the field of a slacker and by the vineyard of one lacking sense. 31 Thistles had come up everywhere, weeds covered the ground, and the stone wall was ruined.
- Proverbs 26:15 (CSB) — 15 The slacker buries his hand in the bowl; he is too weary to bring it to his mouth!