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The DEEP

Wastin' Away Again in Sluggardville

Ants, grasshoppers, and the lazy fool

Proverbs 6:6-11

 

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise,

Which, having no captain,
Overseer or ruler,

Provides her supplies in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?

10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—

11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.

 

There is a crisis of laziness in our culture and it is all Jimmy Buffett’s fault. 

It began in 1977 with his hit song, Margaritaville. You probably know the words all too well:

 
Nibblin' on sponge cake
Watchin' the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing
Smell those shrimp
They're beginnin' to boil


Wastin' away again in Margaritaville
Searchin' for my lost shaker of salt–Jimmy Buffett

This is one of the most quintessential songs about laziness ever written–and Buffett has become famous for it. An article in Southern Living magazine tells the story from his long-time producer:

"He was coming home from a bar and he lost one of his flip-flops and he stepped on a beer can top and he couldn't find the salt for his Margarita. He says he's writing lyrics to it and I say 'That's a terrible idea for a song.' He comes back in a few days later with 'Wasted Away Again In Margaritaville' and plays it and right then everyone knows it's a hit song."

Ironically, Jimmy Buffett, who mostly sings about how great it is to be, well, Jimmy Buffett, has made millions of dollars over the years singing about doing nothing. No, he is not really the source of any cultural problem but the song does seem to capture a modern spirit that eschews work and uplifts a life of laziness.

Proverbs 6 introduces a fool that everyone loves to hate: the sluggard. This is not an ordinary, every day word that you or I may use in our casual conversations, and at first hearing, “sluggard” sounds like something that might be etched onto a wooden baseball bat. From Louisville.

The sluggard is the Lazy Fool. Another good word is “slothfulness.” “Sluggard” (like “sloth”), to me is a perfect example of an onomatopoeia: a word that sounds like the thing that it describes. 

The word “sluggard” itself, like many of the “odd-sounding” words in the Bible, is old middle English and simply means “habitually lazy person.” The origin may even be Scandinavian, carried to England by the Norse invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries. Certainly the Vikings were some of history’s most industrious people who– though they enjoyed their food, drink and merriment–were far from lazy, evidenced by all the warfare they waged. 

Here in the sixth chapter, Solomon is addressing his son and providing instruction to him that is useful for all young people–as well as adults. 

Proverbs, as a book of wisdom, is written by Solomon through the Holy Spirit and is also a compilation of other, useful ancient wisdom. Chapters 1-9 are specifically from the pen of Solomon as he forms a backbone of wise learning for his son and for others who may fall under the book’s tutelage. 

This includes you and me. 

What does it mean to be lazy, or “a sluggard?” Is it the opposite of hard, diligent work? Does this proverb mean that God blesses all work and rewards you for beaver-like busyness in your job or at church? 

First, the warnings about being a lazy fool:

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise,–Proverbs 6:6

Solomon uses one of several examples from nature to illustrate a point: even the smallest, most insignificant creatures God has made can provide a good example and ethic concerning work. 

The ant is far from “wise” in the intellectual sense, for it follows chemical signals and genetic habits to be an integral part of its insect society. His point is that unlike a person, this creature does not live by excuses or make poor decisions and in its way glorifies God in performing its created purpose: 

Which, having no captain,
Overseer or ruler,

Provides her supplies in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.–Proverbs 6:7-8

Like the old fable of the “ant and the grasshopper,” Solomon’s ant is busy during days of plenty, gathering food for the future and times of want. There is an entertaining Disney movie called “A Bug’s Life” that we have enjoyed watching with our kids, and it captures the essence of this old fable and Proverbs 6.  It is a timeless tale and even St. Augustine has an interesting view of it through the wording of verse 8:

What do I mean by “while it was summer?” While he had the quietude of life, while he had this world’s prosperity, when he had leisure; when he was being called happy by all, while it was summer.”–Augustine, “Ancient Commentaries”

What do you do when times are good, have money in your pocket, and enjoy health and happiness? Wisdom, through the humble ant, is reminding you to think of the future and be prepared before hard times come.  

In this way, the ant is reminding us that laziness is a matter of the heart. Being lazy has nothing to do with appearance, ethnic background or physical habits. It is a state of mind.

Tim Keller points out that the wise believer, like the ant, is mindful if his or her place in the scope of time and God’s plan. Like the ant, the wise person is a self-starter (6:7) who does not need to wait to be told to serve God or to seek to act responsibly when it comes to taking care of your family, being faithful at your job or thinking ahead for the future. 

The wise believer is also not impulsive (6:8), and works to avoid rash decisions, responding to the world in fear and at times delaying gratification until the reward is best.

Os Guinness, in his book “Carpe Diem Redeemed,” reminds us that all time is God’s time:

Under the twin truths of God’s sovereignty and human significance, time and history are going somewhere, and each of us is not only unique and significant in ourselves, but we have a unique and significant part to play in our own lives, in our own generation, and therefore in the overall sweep of history.–Os Guinness

Is this not the opposite of what our modern consumer culture calls you to do? The ads you see, the movies you watch, your friends on social media posting pictures of themselves “living their best life,” all direct you to squander the here and now in search of immediate reward. 

Listen to the excuses of the sluggard:

How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?

10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—Proverbs 6:9-10

The lazy fool is king of those four little words that I love so dearly: “Just five more minutes.” I have probably mumbled this a million times from my bed over the years, beginning when my mom would try to roust me out to catch the school bus. Today, I enjoy that most western of all inventions: the alarm clock snooze button. 

There is a poem by Isaac Watts, the famous writer of so many beloved hymns:


'Tis the voice of the sluggard; I heard him complain,
"You have waked me too soon, I must slumber again."
As the door on its hinges, so he on his bed,
Turns his sides and his shoulders and his heavy head.–Isaac Watts, “The Sluggard”

The anthem of the sluggard is “just five more minutes.” For it is in little drips and drops that failure and ruin creep up on you in this life, and here is the result:

11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.–Proverbs 6:11

Suddenly, like the grasshopper facing winter’s blast, ruin is here. In a flash it seems that life has passed you by and you are looking back on what might have been–even though, like the grasshopper you knew that winter was coming. 

So what do you do? Get “busy?” What does this even mean? 

In one regard you have an earthly duty to those whom you are personally or physically responsible for: your family, your community and even yourself. Paul addressed work and laziness in the early church: 

10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.–II Thessalonians 3:10-12

This is not a call to be a workaholic or to place too much value in money. God blesses work but does not call us to prize it over other things, nor to neglect our own rest and well-being. Jesus reminds you that your true treasure is not found on earth:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.–Matthew 6:19-21

God works, and He established the blessing of Sabbath rest during creation. He put Adam to work in the garden and called it “good.” Jesus called working men to follow Him.  A humble carpenter Himself, Jesus could have called high priests to follow Him but instead called fishermen and tax collectors. Christ labored in the name of His Father:

17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”–John 5:17

Laziness or unwillingness to work will lead to social decay. There is a crisis in western culture today where many people are simply deciding not to work, or seeking an easier path than learning a trade, pursuing skills and seeking to achieve excellence in what they do.

In my career in finance I have discussed this with many business owners across the southeast over the last decade, and almost all of them have had difficulty finding people who are simply willing to show up and work. The COVID-19 pandemic is a factor today, but this phenomenon has been increasing for many years. 

So, does God bless all work? It is often said in every church 20% of the people do 80% of the work. It is easy to think you need to be “busy for Jesus,” or that God will instantly reward you for your labors. Of course, this is not true but it is an easy trap to fall into.

No, this is about a changed heart and a wise approach to work that has a purpose to bring glory to God:

12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”–Luke 3:12-14

To be wise in Christ, to avoid the path of the sluggard, you will see your life, your goals and even your sense of contentment with your path following Him. This may mean year of labor in an unrewarding field or never receiving the praise of others. Law professor Stanley Fish has good advice on focusing on your work and doing what needs to be done:

Do your job; don't try to do someone else's job, as you are unlikely to be qualified; and don't let anyone else do your job.–Stanley Fish

You may “waste away in Margaritaville” on a well-earned vacation, but for a believer, the lifestyle of sloth and self-fulfillment is not what you are called to live.

As a believer, you are a worker in the fields of the Lord, and by His example and through the help of the Holy Spirit, your hope is that when you finally called home to that eternal five o’clock time, you will hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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