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Work Ethic, Lessons from an Ant (6:6-11)

Proverbs  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

Message 11 | | April 15, 2018

Introduction

Although the detriments of the sluggard are apparent to others around them, the sluggard has justified the life they lead, and firmly believe it is an acceptable lifestyle. These sluggards are often seen accepting unnecessary charity. They will depend on others for their existence, and will proclaim that they are due the help. While the wise see clearly their error, the sluggard does not see their error and would be greatly offended if their error were pointed out to them.

The Sluggard

In the Old Testament, the English word sluggard is only used fourteen times. Every one of these occurrences is in the book of Proverbs.
The Hebrew word asel is used fifteen times in the Hebrew Old Testament and is translated ‘sluggard’ in every instance except one. In , the only occurrence outside of Proverbs, asel is translated ‘hesitate.’ In all of the occurrences in the LXX, the word ‘oknerose’ carries the meaning of lazy and bothersome. (Louw-Nida Lexicon)
a person who is habitually lazy and inactive, suggesting he has no discipline or initiative, as a moral failure[1]
The fourteen passages in Proverbs are spread throughout the book, although there are two passages which have more than one occurrence, 6:6-11 and 26:13-16. The many characteristics displayed in chapter 26 are again restated in other passages.
Lazy. Four times in Proverbs (6:9, 15:19, 19:24, 20:4), the sluggard is described as a lazy person. In chapter 15 he is compared to the upright. “The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway. ( ESV). His path is a hedge of thorns because he refuses to do the work required to clear it. An even more ridiculous image is offered in chapter 19. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth” ( ESV). Of course the author is using hyperbole, and that effectively, but in this verse the sluggard is so lazy that he can’t even manage to get his hand to his mouth to feed himself.
Irrational. Do you ever struggle with someone who can’t seem to connect the negative consequences they experience to the poor decisions they make? The sluggard is this way. “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” ( ESV). You can almost imagine him walking around his field at harvest time, while scratching his head wondering why there is nothing to harvest. The sluggard is irrational.
Spurgeon. He has never taken the trouble to think, and yet I dare not say that he jumps at his conclusions, because he never does such a thing as jump, he lies down and rolls into a conclusion. Yet he knows everything, and has settled all points: meditation is too hard work for him, and learning he never could endure; but to be clever by nature is his delight. He does not want to know more than he knows, for he knows enough already, and yet he knows nothing.[2]
Absurd. I am convinced that our mental and creative faculties are at their best when we are trying to form an excuse for getting out of something.
I just found out that I was switched at birth. Legally, I shouldn’t come to work knowing my employee records may now contain false information.
I am stuck in the blood pressure machine down at the Walgreens.
The dog ate my car keys, so now I have to hitchhike to the vet.
I said I had an appointment with the doctor, because my dad has a PhD and we went to the movies.
I couldn’t do my homework because I was at a rally for higher teacher pay.
I lost my homework when I was fighting this kid that said you weren’t the best teacher in school.
We breathe air. Trees make air. Homework kills trees. Therefore, homework kills us.
And yet, Proverbs offers us one of the most ridiculous and yet creative excuses for not leaving a house and going to work. “The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!” ( ESV Cf. 26:13). The sluggard is absurd.
Irritating. tells us that the sluggard is “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes . . . to those who send him.”
Irresponsible. A sluggard doesn’t take care of his responsibilities. “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. 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).
These qualities are seen in every aspect of life. The sluggard is poor because he will not take care of his possessions and because he will not move from his bed. In two of the passages the sluggard is seen to put his hand to food, only to be too lazy to lift his hand to his mouth. Regardless the consequences, the sluggard continues to choose this unsatisfying, unrewarding, poverty induced lifestyle. Not only does he continue to choose it, he thinks he’s wiser amidst it. “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly” ( ESV).
It’s not likely that the sluggard is going to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, but either way, he is directed by Solomon to “go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways and be wise” ( ESV).

Two Ways to Learn

Instruction can present itself in many forms. Proverbs offers two avenues for learning, by principle and by experience. In this context we are taught a principle about work by observing the ant. We are as well taught a lesson by means of experience as we consider the sluggard who refuses to work. If the sluggard were to choose to follow the example of the ant given in verses 6-8, they would avoid the consequences shown in verses 9-11.
Learning by Principle (6:6-8). The word for ant is only used twice in the Bible and both usages are in the book of Proverbs (6:6 and 30:25). Both passages offer the ant as a positive example of providing in the summer for the needs of the winter.
Proverbs 30:25 ESV
the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer;
ESV).
Proverbs 6:6–8 ESV
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.
ESV).
Wisdom would like the sluggard to observe two lessons taught by the ant. First, ants do not appear to need “a chief, officer, or ruler.” In contrast, the sluggard does nothing unless he is first prodded. He has a field full of thistles because he was too lazy to get into the field. He is shown as begging during harvest because he didn’t plow when needed. Even the little food that he can provide he is too lazy to prepare and eat. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth” ( ESV).
Wisdom would like the sluggard to observe two lessons taught by the ant. First, ants do not appear to need “a chief, officer, or ruler.” In contrast, the sluggard does nothing unless he is first prodded. He has a field full of thistles because he was too lazy to get into the field. He is shown as begging during harvest because he didn’t plow when needed. Even the little food that he can provide he is too lazy to prepare and eat. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth” ( ESV).
While it is obvious that the sluggard eats on a regular basis, Proverbs uses sarcasm to prove a point. Sluggards are incredibly lazy, lazy to the point of not meeting their own needs. The ant, on the other hand, needs no exterior prodding to do the necessary job.
Secondly, the ant without a leader “prepares her bread in the summer and gathers her food in harvest.” The ant seems to have a sense of time and as a result is diligent with her time. The sluggard on the other hand does not sense time and is not at all diligent with the time allotted to him. A few verses later (6:10), the sluggard is shown to be preoccupied with sleep. This desire for sleep is also spoken of in chapter 26, “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed” ( ESV). Time is of no concern to the sluggard, but Wisdom admonishes the sluggard to follow the ant’s example of diligence with time.
Point of Application. Since Proverbs uses humor and extreme contrasts to display laziness, the lessons may be lost on some readers. It is not only the extreme cases that are to view the ants’ example. All are to take notice because all people struggle being as diligent as they ought to be. Whether it be as extreme as not providing for oneself or for their family to such a minor case of using the snooze button too often, all people must take note of the ant and follow their lead. If the example of the ant is not followed, there are some inevitable consequences. The sluggard will learn by experience if he does not learn by principle. The experience of the sluggard is displayed in verses 9-11.
Learning by Experience (6:9-11). The ant was characterized by leaderless diligence, whereas the sluggard is characterized by two differing distinctives.
Proverbs 6:9–11 ESV
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).
First, the sluggard is not aware of time. These verses are begun with the assumption that the sluggard is in bed sleeping. It is not as if the ant does not sleep, but the sluggard is always sleeping. There is nowhere that the sluggard does not find reason to rest. There is always a reason for which they can give for staying in bed. “There is a lion in the road! A lion is in the open square!” (26:13).
First, the sluggard is not aware of time. These verses are begun with the assumption that the sluggard is in bed sleeping. It is not as if the ant does not sleep, but the sluggard is always sleeping. There is nowhere that the sluggard does not find reason to rest. There is always a reason for which they can give for staying in bed. “There is a lion in the road! A lion is in the open square!” (26:13).
Secondly, as a result all will be taken. Poverty will be the result of the sluggard, and this poverty will be taken by the robber and the armed man. The sluggard will lose his possessions in the same way that a traveling bandit or robber would come in and take an unsuspecting victim’s stuff. Not only will the sluggard lose his possessions in a discreet manner, but also boldly. The traveler is not the only one to steel from the sluggard because as verse 11 informs, there are also armed men who come and forcefully take the sluggards belongings. They come in as soldiers and through brute force pillage the town and leave nothing.
All that the sluggard has and desires to have is taken by others. The ant does not allow this, for she is diligently storing and protecting her supply. One may wonder how the sluggard has everything stolen, and yet the ant avoids that same plight. Poverty does not come because someone stole the goods of the sluggard; poverty comes upon the sluggard as if someone had stolen his goods. The sluggard will slowly begin to lose all he has as if a robber were secretly taking his possessions. The day will then arrive when the sluggard finally realizes that all he had vanished, and he will feel as if armed men came and destroyed him.
Point of Application. Laziness can be subtle. Most lazy people probably believe that they are balanced. They do not realize that they are slowly becoming the sluggard, and they will soon wake up with nothing. People begin to feel overwhelmed by life, and they take on the attitude that they must find time for relaxation. This idol of relaxation then pervades every area of life, and soon every activity must have room for periods of rest. Work may become too strenuous, so longer lunch breaks are taken, or work time is affected. Study time may be set aside because the individual feels overwhelmed by their work load, whether it be at school or work. Going to bed early is justified on a regular basis because of the need for rest. Getting out of bed late becomes the standard because they need more rest to prepare for their strenuous day. Justifications abound, yet they are all based on unrealistic needs. A year may go by and a job or two may have been lost, a relationship with a spouse or children may be in jeopardy, and the sluggard still feels as if they are busier than those around them. It is at this point that they must do an analysis of their time and determine if they are meeting up to their obligations. If they do not, they will one day wake up in the middle of the afternoon and realize they have no possessions and no relationships.

Conclusion

Can you get something for nothing? That question is answered in this passage. There are two ways to learn this lesson, by principle and by experience. The principle of diligence is offered by the ant that has no leader but is aware of time and is a good steward of that time. The experience is displayed by the failure of the unchanging sluggard who revels in relaxation and selfishness and is dealt with poverty. A choice must be made. If one is a sluggard, they may observe the ant and regain what they have lost or chose to follow the path of laziness and end in poverty.
Laziness misses God’s design for mankind. Yet, is this passage just merely present so that we may avoid the destruction that comes to the sluggard? I would propose that it is bigger than that. Solomon isn’t just offering us guidance so that we will avoid temporal destruction. In avoiding the plight of the sluggard, we are liberated to be what God designed for us. Let’s go back once again to the garden and be reminded of that which we were created to do.
ESV).
Genesis 1:28 ESV
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The ant is doing what it was designed to do. What were we designed to do? We were designed to care for, subdue, and have dominion over the earth. John Oswalt writes, in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, about what it means to subdue.
The ant is doing what it was designed to do. What were we designed to do? We were designed to care for, subdue, and have dominion over the earth. John Oswalt writes, in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, about what it means to subdue.
TWOT. “subdue” in implies that creation will not do man’s bidding gladly or easily and that man must now bring creation into submission by main strength. It [creation] is not to rule man.”[3]
Caring for, subduing, and having dominion all require hard work. Please take note that this is prior to mankind’s fall into sin. God’s original design for us was to work hard. Our most satisfying, rewarding, and joyous position, the position that most accurately reflects the image of God in man, is characterized by hard work. Therefore, laziness is not only destructive to those who embrace it, it is enslaving you to something other than that which is most rewarding and truly liberating. Solomon is appealing to the reader to embrace the original design for which God created us. This design is what Paul points the bondservant back to in Colossians.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. ( ESV).
Laziness misses the whole of the law. Laziness, at its core, is extremely self-centered. In the moment of my laziness, my desires, wants, comfort, etc. are all at the forefront of my mind. And yet, the believer has been called to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” ( ESV). As well, in a discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus summarizes the whole of the law.
Matthew 22:37–40 ESV
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
ESV).
Laziness misses the whole point of the law. Laziness is being motivated by one’s own interests and not the interests of others. Laziness is being motivated by self-love instead of love for God and love for others.
Laziness misses the whole point of the law. Laziness is being motivated by one’s own interests and not the interests of others. Laziness is being motivated by self-love instead of love for God and love for others.
The sluggard’s entire world view must be reversed. He is living life for the moment – and more specifically for his pleasure within that moment. Instead he is to live for God and others (which is the whole of the law).
Laziness isn’t just about working hard physically. And before any of us were to leave thinking that laziness is just about working hard physically, let me caution you away from thinking that way. Clearly, we can be lazy with the physical work we are responsible for, but we can as well be lazy with the spiritual work in which we should be striving. In contrast we are exhorted to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (). “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” for we wrestle against the spiritual forces of evil (). And just a few chapters earlier, Solomon was directing us to seek and search for wisdom as a hidden treasure (). The list could go on and would just continue to solidify the fact that our spiritual lives require our hard work. Laziness has no place in the life of a believer, whether its physical or spiritual laziness. In a message from this same passage Spurgeon preached, “Time does not tarry, death does not tarry, Hell does not tarry; Satan is not lazy, all the powers of darkness are busy: how is it that you and I can be sluggish, if the Master has put us into his vineyard?” [4]
The Gospel is the solution. We must strive to work hard both spiritually and physically, but at the end of the day our personal efforts will always fail us. We work, but always with an eye on the power that only comes through the gospel.
Deffinbaugh. The gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lost men from parasites to producers, from those who take from others, to those who give sacrificially to meet the needs of the helpless. The Gospel turns a man’s attention from himself to others. The way to cure the sluggard is to make a saint of him.[5]
[1] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
[2] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sluggard’s Farm,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 34 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1888), 314.
[2] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sluggard’s Farm,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 34 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1888), 314.
[3] John N. Oswalt, “951 כָבַשׁ,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 430.
[3] John N. Oswalt, “951 כָבַשׁ,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 430.
[4] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sluggard’s Farm,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 34 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1888), 317.
[4] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sluggard’s Farm,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 34 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1888), 317.
[5] Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Sluggard” in The Way of the Wise: Studies in the Book of Proverbs. (Bible.org, June 2, 2004). Accessed April 14, 2018, https://bible.org/seriespage/sluggard
[5] Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Sluggard” in The Way of the Wise: Studies in the Book of Proverbs. (Bible.org, June 2, 2004). Accessed April 14, 2018, https://bible.org/seriespage/sluggard
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