Being industrious and hardworking is a quality that Solomon knew was needed if a person is to be truly wise. In Ecclesiastes 2 we see some of what he did, while in Proverbs he wrote about not being lazy.
The word we find in most English versions of Proverbs is ‘sluggard’. This is defined as “as lazy, sluggish person”. The idea seems to be that because they are lazy they are slow; they don’t want to do what is needing to be done.
Rather than working, the sluggard finds any excuse not to work. “The sluggard has said, ‘There is a lion outside! I will be killed in the middle of the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13 NET). It might sound foolish that someone would use such an excuse to get out of doing something, but some of the excuses we offer could be just as bad!
Sometimes it is just too easy to put off doing what needs done. Solomon was writing in an agricultural society. Planting and harvesting were necessary if a person wanted to survive and support their family. Yet someone who is lazy will find any excuse not to do the work.
“The sluggard will not plow during the planting season, so at harvest time he asks for grain but has nothing.” (Proverbs 20:4)
“I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of one who lacks sense. I saw that thorns had grown up all over it, the ground was covered with weeds, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I scrutinized it. I was putting my mind to it—I saw; I took in a lesson: ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to relax, and your poverty will come like a bandit, and your need like an armed robber.’” (Proverbs 24:30-34)
Isn’t that so true to life? When someone never gets around to plowing, planting, and harvesting, they end up having nothing. But farming requires more than just planting and harvesting – the fields also need to be taken care of. Notice that Solomon passed a field and he could tell the person who owned it was lazy because of the neglect: the plants growing were weeds and thorns and the wall surrounding the field was broken down. Not only could nothing useful grow, but without a wall animals could also get in and eat any growing crops.
Solomon analyzed the problem: the person spent too much time in bed. If all a person does is relax they will never get anything accomplished. The result of this is poverty. Yet the solution would seem to be clear: get to work!
Solomon also identified the type of person we need to be. Rather than being a sluggard we need to be righteous.
“What the sluggard desires will kill him, for his hands have refused to work. All day long he has craved greedily, but the righteous person gives and does not hold back.” (Proverbs 21:25-26)
Wanting, yet refusing to do anything to fulfill our desire, can lead to great frustration. But notice the contrast: the righteous person, because they are industrious, has more than enough to give to those who are in need.
We could make the same application spiritually, as well. What about the person who wants to be a mature, respected Christian, yet refuses to spend time with God’s word, God’s people, or helping others. There will be no spiritual growth.
Whether physically or spiritually, we must learn the importance of doing what we can. When we do all we can, we will be satisfied physically and will grow spiritually. Perhaps Paul expressed this best when he encouraged Christians to live lives that are pleasing to the Lord: “Awake, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” (Ephesians 5:14).
Readings for next week: Proverbs 19-25