By Randy Dillon
Proverbs 6:6-11 “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When will thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep. So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.”
Proverbs Chapter 6 begins with a warning about becoming a surety for others. That is to say, taking financial responsibility if someone else does not pay their debt. Today we use the term “co-signer” in the same way. It is not wise says Solomon. In the passage above, the writer turns to another issue that should be avoided by a wise person: indolence or laziness. Use the ant as an example of how to be wise with your time. The advice is given directly to the lazy man who is called a “sluggard.” This old term is like our use of the word “slug” which identifies someone who is like the insect slug. The slug just lies in the soil waiting for something to come to it for food or drink. It doesn’t move much or take initiative to improve its surroundings, but rather remains stationary in the soil for most of its life. It moves mostly when the soil is disrupted by some outside force and it is often eaten by moles.
On the other hand, the ant, although one of the smallest insects, is among nature’s most industrious creatures. Always, it seems, ants are on the move. They can carry many times their weight. They can be odious when attacking the home for food, but they are certainly not lazy. Nor is the wise person lazy.
Notice that the writer finds that the ant is constantly working in spite of the fact that they do not seem to require external guidance from an authority, such as a court; nor do they need a supervisor to give them direction; nor do they need a governmental executive to give them orders. God has magnificently given to the ant an intuitive sense of what needs to be done and how to do it. They appear to have an intrinsic organization.
In the book of Job we find a similar situation when Job says, “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee.” God’s animal kingdom, although fallen like mankind, operates on universal principles which are innately understood. A wise man looks to these examples and applies them to his own experience. Work seems to be an intrinsic activity not only for animals, but also for human beings. It is an intuitive instinct given by God to man and woman in the fall of both in the Garden of Eden.
The ant eats in the summer when food is plenty and stores during the harvest time for the coming winter when food is scarce. Likewise, the wise man uses what is available when there is plenty, but also knows to put away what is required to make it through the winter when food is not so readily available. The fool considers that what is plenty now will always be so, but the wise man knows that situations can change dramatically in a very short time and makes preparation for such contingencies. Like Joseph in Egypt, wisdom dictates that overindulgence now may lead to scarcity in the future.
Next the writer turns to the reason that too many humans do not seek lessons from the ant and other hard-working examples in the animal kingdom. The lazy man is too invested in his sleep to make an effort, like the ant, to improve his situation. The idea of waking up to do work is not something the lazy man wants to do. He would rather continue to sleep rather than make the effort to contribute to his own improvement or that of his society. Again, Solomon calls such a man a sluggard, a drain on the community and a fool in his home. How much sleep does a man really need? In our time, sleeping for 8 hours is considered a good amount of sleep, if it is truly restful.
Some greatly industrious people, such as Elon Musk, can do with considerably less sleep, such as four hours. Some people with illness or other sleep interrupters may require more than eight hours. But only indolent persons can just sleep the entire day away. Sleep, slumber, folding the hands such as to give the body additional rest can become habitual to the lazily inclined person. And with such indolence come the fruit of their non-labor. It results in poverty such as a hobo might be inclined to or the loss of what little is actually owned as if an armed robber has stolen it by force. The implication is that the wise man will be industrious and always working to make it possible for he and his family to survive and, in fact, thrive. This is wisdom.