Be Hardworking Like the Ant – Avoid Laziness

Proverbs 6:6-11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Which having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie down, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 your poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and your want like an armed man.

One reference work says, “Storing food during the harvest for use during the wintertime, the ant embodied two great virtues, diligence, and wisdom. Actually, the ants either enter a state of dormancy when it is cold or continue working all year around. Obviously, the ants’ endless carrying of grains, leaves, and matter to their ant-heaps must have been the grounds for the proverbial sayings.”[1]

The ant has no chief, officer, or ruler. While it is true that they have a queen ant; however, she is simply responsible for laying eggs, and serving as the mother of the colony. She does not give the ants any sort of directions in carrying out their work. Therefore, the work of hundreds of thousands of ants in a given colony is carried out by hard work and wisdom. The ant wisely stores up its food in the summer, and at harvest, it stockpiles provisions.

The lesson the Israelite was to gain from the ant, was that they to needed to be hard working. Whether he is being observed by a supervisor or not, he needs to work hard and strive to improve himself as a worker. For any Christian today, we too need to be doing our best at whatever we are doing, because it brings either glory or reproach to our good name, and more importantly to the name of God. This applies whether we are in the privacy of our home, or at our place of employment, school, or religious services. There are far more benefits to being diligent, as opposed to being lazy.

Asking questions that he really expects no answers to, Solomon makes a valiant attempt at getting the lazy one to rise up from his sluggishness. The reality that escapes the lazy one is that while he is slumbering, poverty overtakes him with quickness, like a robber. The work that needed to be carried out, soon overtakes him, such as his fields where he should have been raising crops; ‘thistles had come up everywhere, weeds covered the ground and its walls were broken down.’ (Pro 24:30-31) Yes, laziness has only but one end in sight, poverty.

Another alternative is not the sense of the lazy one being quickly overtaken by the problems that slothfulness brings, poverty, but rather the unrelenting harassing of the drifter or beggar, who never leaves you alone, always asking for more, draining off one’s possessions until nothing is left. Regardless, if poverty is associated with robbery, quickly overtaking, or slowly pummeling like a beggar, it still ends the same, poverty.

6:6–11 This is the first of three poems in Proverbs devoted to the sluggard or “lazybones” as the NRSV translates the term (עָצֵל, ˓āṣēl, cf., 24:30–34; 26:13–16). There are other miscellaneous proverbs on laziness scattered throughout the collection (e.g., 10:4, 26; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13). The Hebrew term ant is both feminine and singular (נְמָלָה, nəmālāh). As singular, the emphasis is on the individual responsibility the ant takes.

The ant, which has no overseer or ruler, is self-motivated (v. 7). She acts autonomously, without the need for supervision or direction from others. She manifests self-discipline, an important quality in sapiential wisdom. She fulfills her responsibilities because she sees the larger picture of life (v. 8). The point is, if the little does this, then how much more should humans take the initiative to fulfill responsibilities?

One of the ways in which wisdom is acquired is through observation. Observation as an avenue of instruction is highlighted here in the lesson of the ant. The sages believed that one could gain much insight by simply observing the created world (Job 12:7; Isa 1:3; Jer 8:7). One could learn about order, discipline, dependence, trust, and care.[2]

6:6–11 The ants are models of diligence in that they work tirelessly in spite of having no taskmaster to goad them on, and they prepare for the winter in spite of having no administration to lay out economic plans. Wisdom literature often examines the natural world for moral lessons.119 Laziness leads to inescapable poverty and ruin. Instead of poverty coming “like a bandit” and an “armed man,” it is better to translate v. 11 to say that poverty will come like a “vagabond” and a “beggar.” The point is not that it will attack suddenly, like armed robbers in ambush. Rather, poverty and indebtedness cling to the slothful like incorrigible beggars who always linger about the house and always want more. Laziness will siphon off resources until the indolent have nothing left.[3]


[1] Jesper Svartvik, “Ant”, in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers and Astrid B. Beck, 66 (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000).

[2] Dave Bland, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs, The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 2002), 88–89.

[3] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 96–97.