The sluggard is a common sort.He even comes to church. He can be identified in part by the problems in his life. He will personally suffer for in laziness: “A lazy man does not roast his prey” (12:27). He is too lazy to even eat! (19:242). His whole is characterized by sloth (26:15; 10:4-5; 14:4; 20:4; 21:5; 28:19; cf, 12:14; 13:23; 22:9). It overshadows everything in his life (19:15). He can be easily found, for his vineyard is filled with thorns:
I passed by the field of the sluggard.3 And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; Its surface was covered with nettles, And its stone wall was broken down. When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, and received instruction. “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest,” Then your poverty will come as a robber. And your want like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:30-34, NASB95)
Obviously, a man who cannot take the time to care for his property, or his business will not have anything to eat. Yet the problem will be greater than just the problem immediately before him, say a field or a hedge. Proverbs 15:19 makes plain that the scope if greater, as seen from the contrasting clause:
The way4 of the lazy is as a hedge of thorns5
But the path of the upright is a highway.
The contrast is between the lazy and the upright; between a hedge of thorns and a highway. The merely literal interpretation is quite problematic and obviously suggests a broader principle.Waltke explains, “The sluggard wants to achieve his goals and surmount his obstacles, but his spiritual disposition prevents him from doing anything; in his eyes everything is too difficult, painful and/or dangerous to expend effort . . . .But the path . . . of upright people . . . who have the spiritual disposition to conform their lives to the sage’s teaching, is a highway . . . . built up, prepared and cleared of obstacles to facilitate travel”.6
Waltke’s comment opens up the basic problem with the lazy sluggard: (1) he fills his mind with delusions, and thus (2) will not receive counsel. The sluggard’s delusions are of two kinds: (1) excuses, and (2) expectations. The excuses of the sluggard make for some of the most entertaining sections in the book: In Proverbs 26:13, the sluggard worries that a lion will be in the city.7Solomon apparently has no time for this excuse, for he immediately compares the sluggard to an inanimate object (hinges) turning in his bed (26:14).
This does not mean that the sluggard lacks desire, he is filled with it. In Proverbs 28:19-20, the sluggard is called one “who follows worthless pursuits” to the point of poverty. (ESV). The NIV calls him “one who chases fantasties”.The parallel line in verse 20 tells us that he is “one who makes haste to be rich.” (NASB).8Proverbs 13:4 tells us, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing”. Proverbs 21:25 says it plainly, “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, For his hand refuses to work.”
Having become full of his own expectations, fantasies, hopes, the sluggard is notoriously difficult to counsel: “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes, Than seven men who can give a discreet answer” (26:16). The Sage first tells the sluggard to go receive instruction (6:6-9).Such instruction must include the fact that laziness is a sin and must be treated as any other sin.9
I have found that successful counseling of lazy men (a very common problem in the Singles group) is first repetition of counsel. The repetition of the exact same proverbs (with slight variation) demonstrates the need for such repetition. The hope is that the sluggard will take the counsel to heart, that sheer repetition will break through the veneer of words and desire.
Another aspect of counseling reality: The laziness proverbs continual point toward the outcome of the laziness10: There is a constant reinforcement of the idea that if you continue in this path you will have this end. Moreover, the damage will not merely be linear: it will create an overarching degree of difficulty in your life (this is a springboard to point to the other problems in his life and note how they have a genesis in laziness).
In order to break through the excuses for laziness, the excuses must be shown and seen to be excuses. At times humor used to underscore the ridiculousness of the excuses is necessary: There is a lion in the street! The laughter attached to the excuse makes the excuse very difficult to maintain11.
The counselor must also realize the desire which lies at the back of laziness: it is a self-centeredness for one’s own “needs”. The desire can so override all other considerations, that reality can have difficulty intruding.“He thinks to live by wishing, not by working.”12 The refusal to work is “the epitome of folly”.13 Paul instructs that such people not eat (2 Thess. 3:10).
If reason or ridicule cannot move the sluggard into action, then perhaps hunger will provide a sufficient motivation. The sluggard leads a life divorced from reality. His dreams and aspirations form a bulwark which supports his laziness. Until reality can breach the wall of his delusion, he will continue in his conduct. When a sluggard presents for counseling, due to the problems in his life, one must be careful to not help remove the problems so that the sluggard merely returns to his ease without a change.
As shown in the Proverbs cited above, such a one is damaging and a shame to the entire community.Therefore, the community may eventually need to act to protect itself : “The hand of the diligent will rule, But the slack hand will be put to forced labor (12:24)”14
As is the case for other such fools, the only hope for this kind of fool is that he will eventually hear: “A fool rejects his father’s discipline, But he who regards reproof is sensible (15:5)”. Unfortunately, such a one will likely not receive instruction. “Wisdom is too high for a fool (20:3).” Even when he is confronted by a wise man, he is likely only to argue (29:9, 20:3).Thus, when counseling a lazy man , one must be prepared to simply send the sluggard on his way to eat the fruit of his ways. I can think of one specific instance where such was necessary. He left angry. Hopefully, he will eventually listen and learn.
2 “Some people are too lazy to eat. This humorous portrayal is certainly an exaggeration. It probably was meant more widely for anyone who starts a project but lacks the energy to complete it (Whybray, Book of Proverbs, p. 111). The sluggard “buries” (taman perhaps a cleverly chosen metaphor) his hand in the dish and is too lazy to pull it out—even to feed himself” (Allen P. Ross, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 5. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991) 1037).
3“It has been said, and truly said, that ‘wise men profit more by fools, than fools by wise men: for wise men will learn how to avoid the fault of fools, but fools will not learn to imitate the virtues of wise men.’” (Ralph Wardlaw, D.D., Lectures on the Book of Proverbs (Edinburgh: A Fullarton & Co., 1869), 138).
4“Where another person would proceed with easy alacrity, he seems held back by invisible obstacles; his garments are always getting caught in briars; there is not impetus enough to carry him over the slightest difficulty; and after frequent and somnolent pauses, the end of the day finds him more weary than the busiest, though he has nothing to show but futile efforts and abortive results” ( R.F. Horton, The Expositor’s Bible: The Book of Proverbs (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1895), 264).
5“Everything requiring effort becomes painful and uneasy to him who indulges in slothful habits” (A. Elzas, The Proverbs of Solomon (London: Charles Goodall, J.W. Bean & Son, 1871), 34).
6Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 1-15 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 629.
7 “The sluggard uses absurd excuses to get out of work (see 22:13). This verse begins the Book of Sluggards (vv.13-16). Kidner provides a helpful overview of the section by explaining that the sluggard does not think he is lazy and so is self-deceived: he would say that he is a realist and not a shirker (v.13), that he is below his best in the morning and not self-indulgent (v.14), that his inertia is an objection to being hustled (v.15), and that he is sticking to his guns and not mentally indolent (v.16) (Proverbs, p. 163).” Ross, Allen P. “V. Proverbs of Solomon Collected by Hezekiah (25:1-29:27)” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991) 1991; see, also, Prov. 22:13).
8 Waltke explains, “The B versets present a person hurrying to get rich, apart from hard work and without character. He is chasing an empty dream, for he will become poor, and more than that, the Lord will punish him” (Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs Chapters 15-31 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 423).
9I have found that when teaching through Pilgrim’s Progress that the sin of Christian at the arbor on the Hill of Difficulty needs some explanation, because Christian is guilty of laziness and even otherwise well taught Christians find Bunyan’s use of laziness to be quaint and antiquated.
10 By developing the outcome of laziness, the counselor can undercut the unrealistic expectations of the sluggard – which expectations fuel and undergird his current laziness.
11 “But in addition to his laziness, the sad part is the sluggard will not listen to reason (v. 16).He knows better than everyone else . . . . Perhaps it is for this reason Solomon uses ridicule and sarcasm; he is trying to motive the sluggard by shaming him. You ought to learn this methodology as it applies to such persons counseling. Reasonable approaches simply fail” (Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Commentary on Proverbs (Woodruff: Timeless Texts, 1997), 199-200).
12 Charles Bridges, Proverbs, 1846; repr. (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth, 1998), 388.
13 Tremper Longman III, Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 561.
14“Diligence at work determines success and advancement. To put it bluntly, the diligent rise to the top and the lazy sink to the bottom. At the bottom they may be forced to work as if they owed it (Ross, 973).” Or as Stuart explains it, the sluggard “is obliged to become a tributary or a servant to the diligent” (Moses Stuart, A Commentary on the Book of Proverbs (Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1870), 261).