06 June 2014

The pivotal nature of youth

by Dan Phillips

After preaching on the sad saga of the sluggard (Proverbs 6:6-11) at the church I serve, I had the opportunity to open it again, modified, for some yoots at a local Christian school.

Over the years I've often thought about this mini-discourse, this pointed proverbial parody. On this reading, I was struck with greater force by one particular passage. Here's how I translated it quite literally:

6:9  Until when, sluggard, will you lie there?
When will you rise from your sleep?
6:10  “A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to lie down….”
6:11  Then comes, like a vagabond, [1] your poverty,
And your lack like an armed man! [2]

[1] Literally “walking man.”
[2] Literally “as a man of the shield.”

In this song, Solomon hasn't given his usual call (listen! give ear! attend! treasure! memorize!). The reason can probably be sought in the form of address — not "my son," but "sluggard!" He knows there's no point to call this layabout to anything rigorous. So he finds him on his belly, and talks to him there.

In his attempts to wake up the laggard's languid braincells, Solomon asks questions. Note that they're not yes/no questions. Every youth leader — and every parent! — learns to avoid yes/no questions. Instead, the sage poses provocative open questions: "Until when? When?" The message is that the sluggard will eventually have to rise; but when will this happen?

The sluggard answers in v. 10. Of course he'll get up! He has a plan to do that very thing. Just... not yet. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands. That's all he asks. Then yes, of course, in due course he'll be right up and right at it.

But then verse 11 gives the wise man's answer to the sluggard's response. And it's a doozy.

Escalation of various kinds is common in proverbs. Line A commonly makes a statement, then Line B escalates it. We see that here in this verse. This is what the sluggard's policy of "Work? not yet! / Idling? right now!" will bring him. First, destitution will come as a vagabond. This is a wanderer, a prowler; someone who simply goes about and strikes by stealth and through inattention.

But the second man is a different sort: he's an armed man. The first takes what you have while you're not looking. Theoretically, if you were more alert and more on-guard, you might foil him. The second man, however, puts a sword-point at your throat and says, "Hand it over, and do it now." In that case, your choices are essentially nil.

As always, this proverb is meant to provoke thought and reflection. What's the thought here?

Well, there was a time when this sluggard had abundant opportunity. God had loaded his days with treasures. He woke up in God's world, breathing God's air, subject to Wisdom's call to listen and learn the fear of Yahweh, and be wise (Prov. 1:20ff.). He had parents to love him and teach him of God, and prepare him for life. His future lay open to him. The choices he would make today would affect all his days to come.

Oh, but the use he chose to make of all this was to make no use of it at all. He whiled it away. He learned to defy or dodge his parents, to avoid or skim his responsibilities, and to turn a deaf ear to the Word of God. Instead of cultivating a deep and vital relationship with God, he cultivated a deep and ennervating relationship with rationalizations and excuses and distractions.

And now all those opportunities are gone, destitution is at hand, and poverty (of many kinds) has a knife to his throat.

There's a great deal more to be said, but it would take us beyond the length I aim at for blog posts. You can find some of it here.

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Michael Coughlin said...

That's really insightful. As I was reading, I considered my responsibility as a father to at least one potential future sluggard.

This post motivates me to be diligent (and not sluggardly myself!) in my training of my children.

Brad Mason said...

I am a business owner and it is near to impossible to feel sluggardly every day. This is because I am! There is always the tension between work (which could easily, in my case) consume every waking moment, times of worship (morning and evening), and family (which work seems supposedly to be for. But try just working for your family and see what happens!). Please forgive me,but it is hard for some people to feel that a pastor has any real sense of this, I truly know that I am wrong about this, but just hear me for a moment. It all seems difficult when there is no definitions of what would make one a sluggard, what would make one a lover of mammon over Christ, and what would make one negligent to his family, though he provides. THis is difficult, even after reading a proverb. Maybe more so.