Proverbs Thematic Sermon: The Ant and the Slug (Erik Veerman)

Feb 11, 2024    Erik Veerman

The Ant and the Slug

Thank you to Coleman for his sermon last week on integrity and slander, and flattery, among other things. I listened to it a few days ago. Very well done! And I’m not trying to flatter him.

Well, as we’ve gone through the book of Proverbs, one of the amazing things is how timeless the proverbs are. I think you would agree. This book was written almost 3000 years ago… But no matter whether you lived back then or you live today, the human condition is the same. It’s just manifested in different ways.

This morning we’re considering the theme of sloth or idleness compared to diligence. In fact, it’s one of the more prominent themes in Proverbs. Clearly in King Solomon’s day, it was a significant issue. And I think that it’s also one of our struggles today.

Please take out your Proverbs reading insert. You’ll see that we are starting with a few verses from chapter 6 this morning. The first half of chapter 6 was the only portion of Solomon’s opening lessons that we saved for later. So we’re coming back to part of it now and in a few weeks, we’ll consider the rest of it.

If you would like to read those first verses from you Bible, please turn to Proverbs 6.

Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.

Reading of Proverbs 6:6-11 and selected proverbs


Proverbs 6:6-11

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.

How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?

A little sleep, a little slumber, a  little folding of the hands to rest,

    and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.


10:4-5 A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

He who gathers in summer is a prudent son,

    but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.

10:26 Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,

    so is the sluggard to those who send him.

12:11 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,

    but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

12:24 The hand of the diligent will rule,

    while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

12:27 Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,

    but the diligent man will get precious wealth.

13:4 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,

    while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

14:23 In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.

15:19 The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,

    but the path of the upright is a level highway.

16:26 A worker's appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.

18:9 Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.

19:15 Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.

19:24 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish

    and will not even bring it back to his mouth.

20:4 The sluggard does not plow in the autumn;

    he will seek at harvest and have nothing.

20:13 Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;

    open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

21:17 Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man;

    he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.


The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.

All day long he craves and craves,

    but the righteous gives and does not hold back.

22:13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”

22:29 Do you see a man skillful in his work?

    He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.

24:27 Prepare your work outside;

    get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.


I passed by the field of a sluggard,

    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; I looked and received instruction.

    A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,

    and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

25:13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest

    is a faithful messenger to those who send him;

    he refreshes the soul of his masters.


The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!

    There is a lion in the streets!”

As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;

    it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.

The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.

27:18 Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,

    and he who guards his master will be honored.

28:19-20 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,

    but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.

A faithful man will abound with blessings,

    but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.



A few years ago, ESPN hosted a contest which they called the “Ultimate Couch Potato.” The goal was to see who could last the longest in a recliner watching ESPN. The rules allowed only one stretch per hour. You were not allowed to sleep… and you could only take a bathroom break once every 8 hours. Oh, and they provided all the food and soft drinks you wanted. The winner went 72 hours. Can you believe that?

The guy received a new TV, a new recliner, and the coveted Ultimate Couch Potato trophy. By the way, it was the third year in a row this guy won. I suspect that’s why they discontinued the contest.

Our culture glorifies and enables laziness.

Here are some statistics. Americans spend, on average, 3 hours and 9 minutes a day streaming video content. On average, we spend 4 hours and 25 minutes on our phones every day. And weekly, we average 8-12 hours playing video games.

To quote the title of Neil Postman’s prophetic book, we are Amusing Ourselves to Death. He wrote that in 1985. Imagine what he would say today.

And social media and games are only one of the paths today to an idle and slothful lifestyle. As we read, Proverbs speaks to this. It warns against this. The problem is, such a life does not reflect the goodness of God’s creation in you, nor does it reflect God’s call for your life. Let me say that again, a slothful lifestyle does not reflect the goodness of God’s creation in you, nor does it reflect God’s call for you life.

That’s basically the summary for today. Let me tell you how we’re going to work that out.

1. First, we’ll analyze Proverb’s account of the slothful and the diligent. What it says

2. Next, we’ll look at the consequences. What it warns.

3. Third, it’s very important to consider the cause. And let me say, there are some difficult things in life that can contribute to idleness.

4. And fourth, last, we’ll talk through the cure.

So, the account, the consequences, the cause, and the cure. That’s where we’re headed.

1. The account: The Sloth and the Diligent

Number 1. How do these verses account for the slothful and the diligent?

The first thing is that there’s word here used over and over. It’s the word “sluggard.” It’s used 14 times here. Now, in English, the word “sluggard” is a derivative of the word “slug.” Slug, meaning, of course those slimy little creatures that move so slowly.

In the Hebrew language, the word for sluggard and slug are totally different words, but the idea is similar. The Hebrew meaning of sluggard is someone who is slow to take action - someone habitually lazy with no discipline or initiative in his life. That’s very similar to the second word used here. The word slothful… used 3 times. It’s someone who constantly refuses work. He is the opposite of diligent.

And we see these definitions worked out all through these verses.

·      First, a sluggard loves to sleep! As a door turns on it’s hinge, so a sluggard on his bed. Or as we read a couple of times, “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” He even sleeps during the harvest, it says. By the way, we all need sleep… but this is different. The sluggard wins the couch potato award.

·      Second, the one who is slothful is mere talk. That’s how Proverbs 14:23 describes him. “Mere talk tends only to poverty.” He’ll say something like, “Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow.” But tomorrow never comes. He talks a big talk, but never follows through.

·      Next, he also makes excuses. Like in 26:13 – This is a funny one… “There’s a lion in the road!” In other words, “I can’t go out there to work.” There are murder hornets out there! Or, the dog ate my homework. If you lived in our house, that could actually happen.

·      And a fourth description are his worthless pursuits. That phrase is there in Proverb 28:19. “…he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” That’s pretty descriptive of us today. We get sucked into the vortex of social media. Name your favorite – Tick Tok, X, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. We get pulled into the articles, pictures, videos, and reading the comments. Then all of a sudden, hours have passed! Has that happened to you? It’s happened to me.

·      There are some other descriptions in here as well. For example, work is drudgery to the slothful. Also he ignores the severity of his situation.

So, he loves his lazy-boy recliner or his bed, always procrastinates, talks a big talk, pursues the unimportant, and cares not about working or his situation.

Now, no one here that fits that full description. But I think we can each identify slothful areas or lazy tendencies, perhaps even significant ones, in our lives.

The contrast here is with the diligent. That word means someone who is industrious in his work and focused. It’s not just that he is diligent to do something, he is also thoughtful and intentional in his tasks. Look at Proverbs 27:24, you’ll see that sense of priorities. “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” The diligent understand when it’s time to plant seed and when it’s time to harvest. It’s in between those times, that’s when he will build or maintain his house.

And, of course, the illustration is the ant. Now, at the time in Israel, one of the more common types of ants was the harvester ant. It was known to store kernels of grain during the harvest, which would last them the whole year. At other times of the year, these ants would expand their nest and care for the young. So likely, Solomon had these in mind. It’s a picture of diligence and preparedness in the tasks at hand. You see, the diligent don’t need a task master to keep them going, rather they understand and can accomplish their responsibilities.

Kids, if your mom or dad are always reminding you, every day, to do your school work, then likely you are acting more like a slug than an ant. It’s time to become like an ant.

2. The Consequences

Ok, point #2. The consequences. All throughout these verses, we’re given consequences. Let me say, these are generalities, not formulas. When the Proverbs speak about immediate consequences, it’s not giving us a formula. We can’t say, if you are diligent, the result will always be blessing and security. No, those Proverbs are rules of thumb. Look at Proverbs 10:4. “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Is it the case that a sluggard will always find himself in self-inflicted poverty? No? Is it the case that the diligent will always have financial security? No. External circumstances can change the outcome. But the principal is generally true. It’s important to understand that.

For the sluggard, in many many cases, his carelessness and laziness will lead to poverty. Some of the language used here is “suffer hunger” or “have nothing” or he’ll “be put into forced labor.” Or he’ll have “plenty of poverty.”

On the other hand, the diligent will in many many cases “reap a harvest” or “will have plenty of bread” or “will abound in blessing.” That’s the language here. You can see the contrast – poverty versus plenty.

Let me highlight another consequence. Being around a sluggard is no fun. Especially if you are responsible for him or her.

This last week, Amy, Caleb, and I were in the kitchen, and Caleb said, “Mom, do you remember when you made us take a mouthful of vinegar and then you read us that Proverb?” Amy and I both laughed because little did Caleb know at the time, but that Proverb is on the list for today. Look down at Proverbs 10:26. “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.”

This was several years ago. The kids were all having one of those days. They weren’t listening. They were not following through on chores or assignments. They didn’t want to do anything. Parents, you know what I’m talking about.

So Amy brought them out on our deck. She gave them each a little cup of vinegar, and made them swish it around in their mouths … and then she read Proverbs 10:26. Her point was this: That bitter and sour taste in your mouth is what it’s like to those around you when you disobey and are lazy.

Now, to be sure, Amy didn’t make them swallow the vinegar, so please don’t call family services.

By the way, some of the other consequences listed here are similar. A sluggard brings shame and the diligent brings honor.

To summarize: the consequence for the slothful include self-inflicted poverty, difficulty working with him, and often shame to his family. And for the diligent? Stability, security, leadership even, and honor.

#3 The causes

At this point, let’s transition to the causes and the cure. We’re going to focus on idleness and sloth. Now, is it possible that our diligence can become a problem? Yes! Absolutely. Work can become an idol. What I’m saying is that you should not use these verses to justify working 60, 70, or 80 hours a week at the expense of your family. Nor should you use these verses to turn work into your identity. Those are problems, for sure… but what these verses focus on is laziness.

Also, I also want to acknowledge that there are difficult things in life which can lead to struggles with motivation. Grief is one of them. When you lose a family member or dear friend, some days it’s hard to even get up out of bed. Depression is similar. Depression can be caused by many things. And I want to say, in those two situations, it’s important to get help – that may be Godly counselling or other kinds of help. If that’s your struggle, please reach out for help and guidance.

I also want to say that idleness is different than rest. We all need rest. God has given us the pattern and focus of our rest. That’s a topic for another day. What many of these verses speak to is the sin of laziness. It’s being a dead weight on your family or friends or at work. It’s when you are not contributing with your God given skills and gifts to labor.

Let me add, this is not just about a career. Rather, we all have lowercase “c” callings. That may be a paid job. It may be caring for someone or a family. It may be serving the needs in the church or community.

For example, children, at this point in your life, your responsibility is to be diligent in your schoolwork. On the other hand, if you are one of our older members and struggling with heath issues, your calling may be prayer. Whatever it is, we’re to pursue it with diligence.

But the problem is that sin has affected everything. That includes affecting our motivations and our work. And this goes way back to Genesis 3. Part of God’s curse on all creation is that the ground will produce “thorns and thistles.” And as it also says, “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” Because of that, we often don’t want to work. We don’t want to deal with the struggles of whatever calling we have.

And those thorns and thistles can come in many forms. And so, we cave in. We don’t want to put in the effort. We distract ourselves and we make all kinds of excuses. But at the heart of it all, the heart of our laziness in whatever area of our life… is our sin. We don’t want to recognize that part of God’s call for us is to work. Again, work in a broad sense of our daily callings.

You see, we were created to work. Every one of us. We read that earlier in the service from Genesis 1 and 2. Part of God creating man in his image, is the inherent responsibility to labor in this world… which is patterned after God and his work in creating all things.

In other words, work is not a result of the fall. No, the toil of work is the result. And in our selfishness and pride, we would rather distract ourselves with mind numbing activities or a lazy lifestyle, than follow through on the gift of God in our callings.

To summarize, what are the primary causes of our sloth? Sin in the world and the sin in our hearts.

Let me add one more cause. And I’d like to use CS Lewis for this one.

Some of you have read his book Screwtape Letters. It’s a fiction and it’s really unique. It’s a series of letters written by Screwtape, who is a senior demon in the devil’s army.

Screwtape, the demon, is writing to his demon apprentice, Wormwood. Screwtape’s goal is to get Wormwood to effectively distract his human patient from God and instead direct him to sin. His tactics are many including exploiting personal weaknesses, stirring up anger and strife, undermining prayer and the church, promoting despair and apathy, and elevating the patient’s pride.

Let me read what Screwtape writes in letter 12:

“My dear Wormwood… You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. [or should I add, “a little screen time”]  You can make him waste his time… [by doing] nothing at all for long periods… you can keep him up late at night… staring at a dead fire…. Nothing is very strong -  strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why in the gratification of curiosity so feeble the man is only half aware of them… You will say that these are very small sins… [but] it does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.” He wrote that 85 years ago.

You see, the devil has many lies and tactics and one of them is complacency or sloth. He wants to exploit your sin and the fallen world around you…  He wants you to retreat into the world of idle nothingness and away from God.

#4 The Cure

So, where does that lead us? Well, it leads us to the cure. This is point number 4.

The good news is that God is at work. He’s at work redeeming. And one of the things that he’s redeeming… is he’s redeeming our labors.

We don’t often think about redemption being applied to our daily callings. Do we?

Rather, when we think about redemption, we think about how Christ has redeemed us from the eternal consequences of our sin. Or we think about how we are reconciled to God through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Or we think about how the resurrection gives us hope for eternity. Or we consider the grace that God gives us through Christ in forgiving us for the sins that we actively commit. Those are all amazing things.

But we should also consider that God’s redemption applies to our passive sins like sloth… and we should consider how God is redeeming our labors. Whatever you’re called to do in this life.

Many of you know I spent almost 20 years in a different career. I experienced the highs and lows of any job – difficult situations, demanding responsibilities. At times, I struggled with motivation. But at other time, I experienced joy in my work.

And I will say, these last 10 years as a pastor, there have been highs and lows. Times of discouragement and times sensing the joy and passion of this calling. I’m thankful to God that most often it’s been the later.

Let me share four things I’ve learned over the years:

·      First, when we intentionally seek to honor God in our work, God often gives us a desire to work and a satisfaction in our work. That’s the first one. By the way, I’ll restate them at the end.

·      Second, when we recognize that part of what it means to be created in God’s image is being created to work… when we recognize that, God often gives us purpose and meaning in our work.

·      Third, when we recognize that God’s work of redemption includes our work, we are able with his help to endure the thorns and thistles.

·      And fourth, when we realize that God’s grace in Christ through the cross includes forgiving us for our sloth, then we can be renewed to diligence… as we pursue our daily callings.

Let me says those again. (1) Pursuing God’s glory in what we do, often gives us desire and satisfaction in our callings (2) Remembering that we are created in God’s image gives us purpose in our callings (3) God is redeeming our work which helps us persevere through trials in our callings and (4) God’s grace covers all our sin, including our idleness. When we come to him with it, he will help renew our hearts in our callings.

As we come to a close, let’s consider one more thing - work in this life compared to eternity. You see, in this life, each one of us struggles or will struggle in our daily callings. That may include a struggle of apathy. You may have days or weeks or months where you are fighting to regain motivation and fighting against idleness. But beloved, if you are in Christ, there will be a day when work will no longer be a chore. A day when you will be in the presence of your Savior with all the saints. A day when you will enter his rest. His eternal rest. But it won’t be a rest without work. No, it will be an eternal rest from the thorns and thistles… an eternal rest from any and all temptations to sin. Yes, we will be worshiping forever, but we’ll also be working in some way. But our labors and service will be fully redeemed, with no toil or struggle. Whatever it is like, at every moment it will be fully satisfying to us and fully glorifying to God.

May God give us an eternal motivation and perspective, as we labor in this life. My we forsake our sloth and idleness and instead hear the call to diligence – not for our glory, but for God. Amen?