Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise...The laboratory of the wise man was life itself. He didn't go to mountain tops for esoteric experiences. Wisdom could be found right where he was. Lady Wisdom was like a street evangelist, calling out in the very thick of things to anyone who would listen (Proverbs 1:20-21).
And so the wise man does not speak of hearing the very voice of God speaking directly to him, as to a "proper" prophet. God's wisdom comes to him as he ponders, reflects, thinks.
I passed by the field of a sluggard,Likewise, the sage speaks to people where they are. They don't necessarily need to go to find him. He may seek them out, and find them.
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 [more literally applied my heart/mind];
I looked and received instruction.
And one of the wise man's favorite targets is the sluggard. The Hebrew root `-ts-l is singled out for the sage's barbs and parodies some fourteen times in Proverbs, of which this is the first occurrence. Various attempts have been made to capture him: God's Word Translation has "lazy bum"; NLT and NRSV have "lazybones"; The New Jerusalem Bible has "idler"; The Message has "you lazy fool"; commentator R. B. Y. Scott has "loafer."
What tickles me about the current passage is that Solomon talks to him right where he is. And where is he? On his belly, as usual (6:9; 26:14). "So," the wise king says,
"as long as you're down there, why don't you look at those little critters scurrying past your nose? My, they're busy, aren't they? Rushing here and there as if they are late for an appointment. Yet look around. Where's the whip? Where's the boss? Where's the taskmaster? Nowhere! But that little one there — what is that he's carrying? Why, it's a bit of food, isn't it. And the one behind him, he's carrying some too. And that knot of little fellows there, struggling along together... why, they've got a nice, plump grasshopper, haven't they? That should serve them well in the coming winter.Seems as if nothing stops ants. Someone in our family had left a bit of a granola bar on an upper book shelf, in our living room. Not in the kitchen, not in the pantry. Not in a room filled with food, but with books — and I doubt ants read much.
"But you? What are you doing? 'Just a bit of sleep,' that's all you want. 'Just a tad more slumber, just a wink or two.' And as suddenly as winter will fall on the ants, your poverty will leap upon you! Only they'll be ready, and you'll be destitute. I swear, you're dumber than a bug."
Yet one industrious little scrabbler found it. Not only that, he hurried back and told his mates, and by the time we were aware, there was a black trail streaming across the floor, and up the book case. What industry, what diligence. It fairly takes the breath away.
There are lessons here on many levels. I'm only going to suggest a few, and leave it to you to flesh them out.
The financial is probably the most obvious. I saw a young man holding a sign, begging for money, on a busy street the other day. And smoking. And so I wondered, "How much are cigarettes, these days?"
And I wonder if he ever saw an ant, poring over his pack of smokes? Did he make any connection? Not yet, apparently.
But, while we're feeling all smug, what of us, lazily glancing over our Bibles from time to time — if we're even that regular?
Mark well, I'm not even talking at this point to our leaky-Canon brothers, who don't think that the Bible has all they need as Christians in the first place. Nor do I think of our doctrinally cattywhumpus visitors, whose view of the Bible is many miles below the Lord Jesus' estimation.
I speak to myself, and to you. To us Sola Scriptura types, who say we believe the Book is bursting with the living mind of God. But do we search it diligently for nourishment, as some lone ant searched my barren living room for food? Or do we distractedly glance over the Word as if it were weekly ad-circular? Less than that! Does our behavior bear out our creed? Or does it shame it?
Perhaps I could bear down on pastors, as well. How diligent are you in the care of your own soul, let alone those under your watch? Or in sermon preparation — is it performed as if you will be speaking before immortals, to immortals, in the presence of God? I shouldn't need to say anything about outright sermon-stealing; good heavens, man, if you've nothing to say, give your pulpit to someone who does. Give it to me! But what of unnecessary sermon-punting, sermon-ad-libbing, sermon-bobbling? Did you search the text as that ant did my house?
Or then, again, maybe I will have a word for the man (or woman) who has idly passed by here from time, has heard the Gospel, yet still hasn't stirred himself to do anything about what he's heard. Better still, I'll ask Mr. Spurgeon if he has a word.
Oh, good. It seems he does.
The worst of sluggards only ask for a little slumber; they would be indignant if they were accused of thorough idleness. A little folding of the hands to sleep is all they crave, and they have a crowd of reasons to show that this indulgence is a very proper one. Yet by these littles the day ebbs out, and the time for labour is all gone, and the field is grown over with thorns. It is by little procrastinations that men ruin their souls. They have no intention to delay for years-a few months will bring the more convenient season-to-morrow if you will, they will attend to serious things; but the present hour is so occupied and altogether so unsuitable, that they beg to be excused. Like sands from an hour-glass, time passes, life is wasted by driblets, and seasons of grace lost by little slumbers. Oh, to be wise, to catch the flying hour, to use the moments on the wing! May the Lord teach us this sacred wisdom, for otherwise a poverty of the worst sort awaits us, eternal poverty which shall want even a drop of water, and beg for it in vain. Like a traveller steadily pursuing his journey, poverty overtakes the slothful, and ruin overthrows the undecided: each hour brings the dreaded pursuer nearer; he pauses not by the way, for he is on his master’s business and must not tarry. As an armed man enters with authority and power, so shall want come to the idle, and death to the impenitent, and there will be no escape. O that men were wise be-times, and would seek diligently unto the Lord Jesus, or ere the solemn day shall dawn when it will be too late to plough and to sow, too late to repent and believe. In harvest, it is vain to lament that the seed time was neglected. As yet, faith and holy decision are timely. May we obtain them this night. (Morning and Evening, November 24, p.m.)Amen.
There. Have we exhausted the text now? Not remotely. Welcome once again to the challenge, and joy, of Proverbs.