Proverbs Lesson 5 - Observations from an Anthill
Ants are considered pests for a good reason! They build their houses in the middle of your yard and they sneak into your kitchen to eat your fruit and cereal! But believe it or not, ants also teach us a lot about discipline and hard work. So let's learn a big lesson from these little teachers.
“Observations from an Anthill”
When we come to Proverbs chapter 6, the text turns to some other wise warnings. The first, in verse 1, concerns a very practical matter of finances. A godly person will be generous toward others but also very careful to use his money wisely.
To “put up security” for another is to take on responsibility for someone else’s debts, such as when cosigning on a loan. This can have serious consequences for both parties. You should count the cost carefully before making such an agreement; and if you discover you’ve spoken too quickly and unwisely obligated yourself, you should seek to remove yourself from the deal if legally possible and ethical. This is wise advice that can save you much trouble.
In a book authored by Chuck Swindoll, he retells the humorous, anonymous testimony of someone who was overworked and tired of it. I was standing in my study reading this and laughed out loud when I came to the end of it.
Here is what this disgruntled, overworked person had to say;
I’m tired. For several years I’ve been blaming it on middle age, iron poor blood, lack of vitamins, air pollution, water pollution, saccharin, weight, dieting, wax buildup and a dozen other maladies that make you wonder if it’s really worth the effort. But now I found out, it’s none of those things. I’m tired because I’m overworked . . . and I’ve figured out why.
The population of this country is around 300 million, but 98 million are retired. That leaves 202 million to do the work.
But there are 161 million in school, which leaves 41 million to do the work. Of this total, there are 22 million employed by the federal government and another 14,800,000 people employed by state and city governments and none of ‘em are doing any work which leaves us with 4,200,000 people to do all the work.
4 million are serving all over the world in the military, so that leaves behind 200,000 people to do all the work. 188,000 of them are sick and in the hospital, so that leaves 12,000 to do the work. But there are 11,998 people in prison, so that leaves just 2 people to do all the work; you and me. And you’re standin’ there reading a book . . . no wonder I’m tired.
Adapted from Charles Swindoll, Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart (Word Publishing, 1998), p. 319
As I prepared for our study, it occurred to me that there is a vast difference between being tired from work and being tired of work.
You ever met anybody on the job who worked hard at keeping away from work?
There probably isn’t any better testimony for Christ than someone who works hard enough on the job to get tired.
The average person in America get paid for 40 hours but actually works around 30 of them.
Sick days are always used up, as well as vacation days, personal days and holidays. Few of us have ever heard someone ask their boss for added assignments and more difficult tasks.
Don’t misunderstand, the Bible doesn’t recommend that Christians become workaholics. In fact, the quantity of work hours on the job isn’t as much of an issue in scripture as the quality of work.
Paul told the Colossian believers exactly how they were to show up and work on the job. He writes, “Do your work heartily, as unto the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive your reward . . . it is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
Do your work heartily. The Greek word can be translated energetically or diligently.
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 582
In fact, buried in this compound word is the transliterated word, zest.
How often do we show up at work with the thought, “I will work with zest today.” Sounds like a soap commercial doesn’t it? That’s corny . . . who shows up at the job with zest. . .c’mon.
The truth is, if you did, most people would tell you, “Slow down . . . where’s the fire . . . relax, you’re gonna make us all look bad.”
The trouble is, we’ve drawn an artificial line between the secular and the sacred. You can get really excited about discipling a group of men – God definitely rewards diligence in that, but how does that compare to doing laundry . . . or laying tile . . . or filing a brief.
We’ve forgotten that we’re not working for men as Paul reminded the Colossians, we’re ultimately working for God.
In fact, the Latin word vocatio, which gives our word vocation, literally means calling – a summons to duty.
Any profession was considered your own personal profession of the sovereign glory of God in and through your work. Your work was your personal estimation of God’s worth.
All work was considered a sacred calling from God.
That’s why the Spirit could inspire Solomon to write, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
The truth is, Solomon had a lot to say about how we live at work – the kind of employee we are.
Throughout the Book of Proverbs, Solomon continually warns his son about:
- one kind of employee that none of us want to hire;
- the worst roommate you could ever have in college;
- the most discouraging player on the team and
- the most difficult person to work around.
Solomon calls him, the sluggard.
Even the name sounds slow, like a slug, doesn’t it.
Solomon describes him with bold and frank language throughout these Proverbs. He appears 16 times in Proverbs.
The word, sluggard is best defined by the different texts that describe him in Proverbs.
Let me give you several descriptions of the sluggard:
His work patterns are undependable in chapter 10:26, Solomon writes, Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.
In other words, you can’t depend on the schedule of a lazy man. Give him a deadline . . . Solomon specifically refers here to giving him a message to deliver to someone and if you use the sluggard you will end up grinding your teeth, set on edge by his failure to just do his job.
Further, Solomon says he will be as smoke to your eyes.
What happens to your eyes when smoke from a campfire or grill shifts in the wind and blows into your face. Your eyes burn and water from the stinging pain.
Listen, a sluggard is gonna make you cry! Out of pain and frustration – you tell him to deliver that message, or show up at a certain time or finish the job and he’s late . . . he loses the message . . . it was lunchtime and he stopped off to get a hamburger and then decided to run some errands and what should have been a short delivery takes an entire day and now it’s too late and the post office is now closed.
Adapted from Ray Pritchard, The ABC’s of Wisdom (Moody, 1997), p. 236
And here’s the point – sluggards don’t really care. The boss can only bang his head against the wall and take some medicine for ulcers and cry tears of frustration.
The work patterns of the sluggard are undependable.
Bruce Waltke says, a sluggard is without a moral sense of responsibility to others.
Adapted from Bruce K. Waltke, Proverbs: Chapter 1-15 (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 476
Secondly, the excuses of a sluggard are unbelievable.
Solomon writes, The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside; I will be slain in the streets.’ (Proverbs 22:13)
This goes way beyond calling in sick. That’s too normal. That’s too plain Jane. No, haven’t you heard, there’s a lion loose!
It could be true, but for the most part, his excuses are so unbelievable that after a while you simply are in awe of his creative ability to come up with excuses.
One author said, “It’s as if the sluggard summons all of his creative energy into making excuses rather than making a living.”
Charles Swindoll, Selected Studies from Proverbs (IFL, 1994), p. 52
Then again, all sluggards aren’t so creative. I heard on the news recently that an employee had been caught calling in asking his boss if he could miss work so that he could attend his grandmother’s funeral. Of course he was allowed, by all means. Six months later he called in again. Seems his grandmother had died again – he even used the same grandmother’s name. It didn’t occur to him that he ought to use his other grandmother’s name! He was caught, of course.
Creative or not, excuses may be nothing more than lies. And the believer who is dedicated to professing the glory of God through his vocation will tell the truth . . . and live the truth at work.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “He that is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else.”
Pritchard, p. 477
First, the work patterns of sluggards are undependable;
Secondly, the excuses of a sluggard are unbelievable.
Thirdly, the spirit of a sluggard is unteachable.
Proverbs 26:16 says, “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a reasonable answer.”
In other words, try and challenge a lazy man about his careless work or his late appearances or his failure to meet the latest deadline or turn in the latest report you were waiting on and he’ll respond with more reasons than 7 dependable people.
Just ask him . . . he’s your best employee. She’s the one who is really working the hardest. How can you do anything less than give him the biggest compliment and the largest bonus because if it weren’t for him or her, you wouldn’t be able to make it one week!
Just ask them . . . they’ll tell you.
They are wiser and more valuable in their own eyes than anyone else.
The truth is, they are costly to their company . . . their team is always having to pull their weight along. They can talk it up but they don’t work.
Solomon wrote He who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys. (18:9).
He wrote further in Proverbs 14:23, “Mere talk leads only to poverty.”
It’s all talk.
Just don’t suggest to the sluggard he’s a bag of wind – she’s blowing smoke . . . they’ll pin you to the wall with a barrage of logic and reasoning that will make your head spin. You can’t keep up with it all. They’ve got all the answers.
The truth is, they cannot be challenged . . . they refuse to change or improve. The spirit of a sluggard is unteachable.
4. Another characteristic of the guy or gal who’s all talk and no work is this: the expectations of the sluggard are unreasonable.
They will give you the biggest problem when it comes to pay raises . . . bonus’ . . . promotions . . . awards.
Listen to a person without any internal initiative – we use nice terminology for them – “these are people who are lack self-motivating objectives . . . Solomon calls them sluggards. Lazy loafers.
Just listen to the sluggard who sits next to you in that college class, or works down the hall from you, or across the lathe in the machine shop. They consistently avoid the hard tasks and late hours in the library. They refuse to pay the price and sweat it out, yet they’ll talk about everything they’re gonna have.
He’s got high expectations. He’s the one going places . . . he’s gonna do this and start that; he’s gonna have this and build that or reach this, win that or do great things. Just watch . . . you’ll see.
But you watch his life and discover that in reality he’s expecting everything to happen without him lifting a hand.
In chapter 12:27, Solomon informs us that the sluggard finally goes out to hunt wild game but then he never prepares it and roasts it so he can eat it . . . that’s not as fun.
Solomon writes in chapter 20:4, The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he asks during the harvest but finds nothing.
He’s so unreasonable in his expectations that he expects to go out to his field that he hasn’t plowed or planted and still he arrogantly expects some profit where he’s invested nothing.
And if you ask him, he’ll tell you all the reasons why life is unfair to not pay up, even though he never paid in.
He’s got such big plans and dreams and desires but at the same time he’s the same guy who says, “Hey, the boss is gone . . . kick back and relax.” “Follow this shortcut over here . . . take it easy, don’t work so hard . . . where’s the fire?”
In chapter 21:25-26, perhaps in the most blunt terms yet, Solomon writes of the sluggards misguided, self-deceived, self-centered arrogance, “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death; all day long he is craving.” Literally he desires a desire.
In other words, every day he wakes up and finally gets out of bed and desires another desire – he covets greatly.
Peter Steveson, Proverbs (BJU Press, 2001), p. 292
But his expectations are unreasonable; because
His spirit is unteachable; and
His excuses are unbelievable; for
His work patterns are undependable;
One more, the private life of a sluggard is unaccountable.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 26:14, As the door turns on its hinges, so does the sluggard on his bed.
Solomon uses the metaphor picture of a double hinged door. There’s a lot of movement – turning back and forth, but never any forward motion.
Steveson, p. 367
This is the sluggard in bed – he turns back and forth – there’s a lot of movement, but no forward motion.
In verse 15 Solomon writes that the sluggard is so lazy that he buries his hand in the dish and is too weary to bring it to his mouth again.
Total apathy. He doesn’t take care of himself at all. Even when he’s at the table he has no initiative to feed himself properly.
This employee . . . this roommate . . . this co-worker is headed for disaster.
Solomon has one solution that he believes will work.
Turn to Proverbs chapter 6. Solomon further describes the life of a sluggard behind closed doors as being one of undisciplined, laziness. He says in verse 9. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? Notice verse 11, your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man.
In other words, you’re being robbed of an excellent life and you don’t even realize the burglar has moved into your guest room.
You’re not just cutting corners at work – coming in late, making up excuses, not fulfilling your contract, being dead weight in the board room and on the dorm floor. You’re allowing your life to be stolen away.
Just a little slumber . . . just a little sleep . . . Solomon says in verse 10. That’s all I’m doing . . . just taking a nap.
This is not the kind of nap you took this afternoon. How many of you got a Sunday afternoon nap? That’s a rich experience isn’t it?
One of my college aged sons – now nearly 22 was headed up last Sunday after lunch – home on winter break, and I said, “Where you going?” He said, “To take a nap.” I said, “Do you remember when we made you do that so we could take our nap on Sunday?” “Oh yea, he said, I thought you guys were so out of it . . . now I know better.”
Solomon isn’t referring to a nap brought on by fatigue and hard work . . . this isn’t that kind of nap, thank the Lord.
On author writes, “The sluggard will lose in life – not everything overnight, but minute by minute, inch by inch; just a little here and a little there.
Adapted from Waltke, p. 339
He’ll just waste life away by degrees.
Solomon says, “I’ve got the solution . . . let’s take a field trip out to an anthill and just watch.”
He writes in verse 6. Go to the ant O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise.
Have you ever watched ants work?
When our kids were smaller we had one of those ant farms – sort of Plexiglas aquarium filled with sand and a bunch of ants.
We watched them work, dig amazing little tunnels . . . store food . . . they simply worked all the time.
Solomon said, study the ant.
So I did a little extra study on the ant.
It was hard to know where to start.
One single ant colony can include over 5 million busy ants – soldier ants to guard the colony; worker ants that all had their job to do, either cleaning, or caring for the Queen ant or gathering food. All of it implanted into their created instinct by God.
Argentine ants keep herds of cows – which are plant lice. The Mediterranean ant makes biscuits from seeds; honey ants store their food in living storage tanks; Amazon ants have emplyees to help with the work.
They carry on complex organizations, building projects and communication systems. Ants can lift up to 30-40 times their weight – which would be like you going out in the parking lot and picking up the nearest SUV . . . with a full tank of gas even.
The red fire ant lives a very organized life – they literally never stop doing their job. Red ants are extremely clean and constantly clean the mound.
Some of you Mom’s are convinced none of your kids have any red ant DNA.
The Leaf-cutting Ant builds mounds that contain as many as three thousand chambers and houses up to 4 million ants – which is twice the population of West Virginia, the state of Nebraska, and Idaho; larger than the population of South Carolina and Oklahoma.
Here’s the amazing thing – Solomon writes, in verse 7. The ants have no chief, officer or ruler.
Can you imagine the state of North Carolina surviving, or any state for that matter, without police officers and government officials and civil support systems.
Nothing is provided for the ants. They do it all themselves.
One woman sent in a brief story of what happened when she visited her parent’s home on the farm. Her 5 year old niece had come along and she was going to be able to pick and shell corn by hand. At first, the work was great fun, but after a few minutes, this little five year old looked up at her grandmother and said, “You know you can buy this in the store, don’t you?”
Dana Stephens, “Kids of the Kingdom,” Christian Reader (July/August 2000)
You ever take your kids to a strawberry patch? That’s a test of endurance and sanctification. Work is fun until you have to do it.
What’s amazing is that Solomon says these ants do it all without
3 kinds of people . . . or ants, in this case:
Solomon writes in verse 7, They do it all without a chief.
This Hebrew word can be rendered judge. There isn’t any need for any ant to settle a dispute or decide some duty or direct some issue relative to labor. The ants just move around and over each other. The task is more important than anything else. This word can also carry the nuance of a guide.
Imagine a mound with 4 million ants – and no traffic signals. I’m likin’ that!
Solomon goes on to mention that the ants don’t need an officer:
This is a word that refers to someone who literally “writes down;” to list personnel. This is the guy who makes sure everyone stays in line and on task.
This is the same word used for the Egyptian officers who drove the Israelites to their hard labor in Exodus 5:6.
In other words, there aren’t any ants with little whips to crack other ants if they come in late or sleep on the job or slow down the assembly line.
The third unnecessary office in the ant colony is a ruler:
Now while ants serve the Queen who lays eggs all her life – up to several million a day, what Solomon means is that the ants don’t need a supervisor – the word could be translated – to either challenge them to work or praise them when they did.
Hebrew word meanings from Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 337
As I studied these three unnecessary occupations within the ant colony, it struck me that:
- They don’t need restrictions – that’s the chief;
- They don’t need requirements – that’s the officer;
- And they don’t need rewards – that’s the supervisor.
They don’t need anyone to:
- Make them,
- Manage them or
- Motivate them.
They are internally managed and motivated by instinct to serve for the good of the colony.
No wonder Solomon writes in verse 6. Go to the ant O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise.
Solomon says, go to the anthill . . . look and learn. It just might rescue you from wasting your life away.
Let’s wrap up our study by making some observations from an anthill.
Observation #1: Ants seem to have an internal eye on the future.
Solomon wrote in verse 8 that the ant gathers her provisions in the harvest . . . they know the season of being able to work outside and gather food will be over.
Let’s learn from the ant!
We should consider that future day when Christ will gather us before His Bema seat and reward us for glorifying the Father by our good works. I Corinthians 3:13 – where every man’s work will be revealed.
A trip to the Anthill results in very practical questions:
- What kind of employee are you?
- What’s your work ethic?
- What kind of student are you?
- How hard do you work?
- What does the teacher think when he or she sees you show up in class?
- What does your boss think of your effort and the quality of your work?
Don’t forget, the review that really matters is not at the end of the fiscal year – it is at the feet of Christ who will evaluate not only the work of our hands, but the attitude of our hearts.
Observation #2: Ants labor according to their divinely created calling.
If they’re worker ants they serve;
If they’re the queen ant they lay eggs;
If they’re cutter ants, they gather leaves;
If they’re army ants they guard the mound.
What are we to learn from this observation?
I believe it returns us back to the calling of God for every believer. Your vocatio – your calling happens to be your profession. Honor God in it. Consider it a sacred calling.
Frankly, a lazy Christian is a contradiction of terms.
Listen to Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Ephesians 6:6-7: Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don't just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ's servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you are really serving God.
Your work is a sacred calling from and unto Christ.
One more observation that may provide some of their secret of the ant’s endurance:
Observation #3: Ants unite their efforts and pool their strength and resources.
I have watched an ant struggling with a load, only to see another ant and then another come along and pitch in.
What a great illustration for the family at home and the family at church.
Listen, the advancement of the gospel is not in big chunks of service or magnificent acts of ministry – but in and through a lot of little acts of service.
If this church was effective today in demonstrating the grace of God and delivering the gospel of Christ to people it was only because there were a thousand plus people, behind the scenes, we never saw, pooling their strength.
They’ll never get rewarded on the platform . . . they’ll probably go unnoticed by the majority of the church – but their faithful service in the mundane, mattered to Christ and His church.
In studying for this message, I read a lot of things about a lot of different kinds of occupations.
This one caught my attention as a great illustration of the critical nature of our work in the gospel and our commitment to serve Christ with excellence and passion.
The Texas Army National Guard has a group of special workers called riggers. Their job is to fold and pack the parachutes soldiers use when jumping from an airplane at 5,000 feet. These people are intensely dedicated to their task. The Rigger’s Creed says this, “I will be sure . . . always.” They know jumpers need assurance that everything regarding their chutes is perfect. Think about it – there is no room for error. In the 20 minutes it takes to meticulously pack an MC1-1 military parachute, 30 folds are required.
The Rigger’s Creed further states, “I will never let the idea that a piece of work is good enough . . . there can be no compromise with perfection.”
These dedicated Riggers know that the parachute business is a life-or-death enterprise. Mistakes cost lives. There is no room for complacency.
Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s a little too perfectionistic for me.” Not if you gotta jump out of airplane with their work strapped to your back.
Can you imagine being told, “Listen, your parachute was packed by that sluggard over there – we think he stayed awake and did all 30 folds but he rarely cares enough to count them.”
No . . . his work matters to you.
If God takes note of the ant and commends them, how much more his commendation for you when you stand before Him; having served as a faithful secretary;
- a dedicated teacher who prepared well;
- a plumber who worked to get it right;
- a mechanic who charged only what was done;
- a doctor who took time to listen;
- a cook who served only your best;
- a salesman who cared about customers;
- a student who tackled every assignment.
Remember, you are performing your sacred calling – your vocatio – unto Christ who has seen everything and will reward you with those incredible words, “Well done, though good and faithful servant.”
Then Solomon offers a list of seven specific sins the Lord hates. The formula in verse 16, “six things … seven,” is simply a Hebrew expression indicating the list is not exhaustive. This list provides a warning against everything that’s detestable to God.
Here’s the list. First, in verse 17 is “haughty eyes,” indicating arrogance and an attitude that disdains others. Neither “a lying tongue” nor “hands that shed innocent blood” needs comment. They reflect the character of Satan, who was both a liar and a murderer (John 8:44).
Verse 18 speaks of a “heart that devises wicked plans.” This describes a person with a depraved spirit, one who is always conniving, scheming, and scamming others. Those whose “feet … make haste to run to evil” are not people who get caught up in evil. Rather they long for evil; they live for evil.
Finally, “a false witness” in verse 19 has a courtroom scene in view. Falsehood is always wrong, but it’s extremely destructive when it leads to injustice. God also hates the sowing of discord among friends and family.
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