Go to the Ant
“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest” (vv. 6–8).- Proverbs 6:6–11
Science continues to learn from the animal kingdom. Researchers have been studying the echolocation of bats in order to improve our own sonar technology. Examining the skin of sharks made it possible to create swimsuits for divers and swimmers that allow them to glide more quickly through the water. It would be almost impossible to total the number of medical advances that have been made through animal experimentation.
Of course, we are not the first generation to learn from the animals. Thousands of years ago, the sages who contributed to the book of Proverbs learned key spiritual lessons by observing the creatures God made. We see evidence of this in today’s passage, which calls us to examine the ant in order to learn the virtues of hard work and the dangers of idleness.
It seems that the specific ant in view in Proverbs 6:6–11 is the harvester ant, which lives throughout the Middle East and stores the grain that it gathers in its nest. What the observer finds remarkable about this insect is that it is industrious enough to gather its food without any overseer. In other words, it does not need a boss or chief following it around constantly in order to keep it on task. The ant understands what her job is, and she does it without external coercion. The lesson here for us is that we should labor diligently and work in the vocations to which God has called us and for which He has equipped us. Certainly, we will have overseers to whom we are accountable, but we should not need their constant prodding to get the job done. Moreover, we should be careful to labor at the appropriate time. Just as the ant “gathers her food in harvest” (v. 8), we must work when it is time to work, for there is a specific season in which we are to labor and one in which we are to rest (see also Eccl. 3:1–8).
Today’s passage presents the ant as an encouragement to rouse the idle from their sleep—not the “sweet sleep” of the laborer (Eccl. 5:12), but the kind of sleep that prevents one from fulfilling one’s vocation. In other words, Proverbs 6:9–11 is talking about laziness and calling us to reject it. The emphasis is on not using excuses to avoid work. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” refers to short periods of rest taken excessively. The sense is the continual putting off for tomorrow what should be done today. If we do this, poverty will hit us. It might seem sudden (“like a robber”), but will actually result from continual procrastination.
Christians from the Reformed tradition believe that God has revealed Himself in Scripture and in creation. We cannot obtain saving knowledge of the Lord by observing the world around us; for that, we must have the special revelation given to us in Scripture. However, there is much we can learn from the natural world, including the value and virtue of hard work. Let us do what we can to impart this lesson in our churches, our families, and our communities.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 15:10
2 Timothy 2:6