The Sluggard
Dr. Joe Temple


The Personal Proverbs of Solomon is the name of this particular section, and we have suggested to you, regarding this section, that the proverbs are not arranged in any chronological order so that in the first five verses of chapter 1, you have everything Solomon is going to say about a certain subject, but they are scattered throughout the entire section. We believe that the only way we can properly and adequately study the book of Proverbs is to gather them together on the basis of what we refer to as principle ; that is, take all of the proverbs that deal with a certain principle and when we have done that, examine them very carefully and decide what God was trying to teach us along a certain line.

The principle that we are now going to discuss with you is related to the diligent and the sluggard, or as someone else has said, the benefit of industriousness and the curse of indolence. We could expect something like this to be discussed within the book itself since Proverbs is an earthly book, more related to this earth than it is to Heaven.

I think it would be well for us to recognize at the very outset that throughout all of our discussion we will be recognizing one word for the word diligent while we will be recognizing more than one word for the word slothful , or sluggard. Our word diligent comes from the Hebrew word charuwts , which speaks of digging the trenches, of mining gold, and of threshing grain. Used in connection with these three difficult enterprises, you can realize why we suggest to you that the word diligent brings to our mind the thought of industriousness. No person could carry on these enterprises to which we have made reference without expending a great deal of energy and of manifesting some exercise of strength.

The Hebrew words which are translated by our English word sluggard number more than one, and we are going to look at all of the words first. Then we will look at the passages of Scripture which use this word sluggard . We may not remind you every time the specific word is used in this specific verse, but if you keep in mind the meaning of the words, you will be able to follow our thinking.

In the first verse at which we will look, you will find the Hebrew word atsel which is translated by our English words indolent, slothful, sluggard and slack . We have suggested to you repeatedly that Hebrew words paint a picture, and this word paints a picture of leaning idly against the wall. Go down to a city street on the seamy side and find men just leaning against the wall doing nothing, and you will have the exact meaning of this word atsel —a man who leans against the wall and does nothing. Consequently, he is indolent, slothful, a sluggard, a man who is slack in the discharge of his duty.

The second word that is translated by the English word sluggard is the Hebrew word rmiyah . It is also translated by the English words treachery, deceit , and guile . The idea is that here is one who is using his wit rather than his strength to do what he wants to do. I think we are all aware of the fact that some individuals expend more wisdom, more wit, getting out of work than they expend doing a job or that they could expend doing a job unusually well.

The next word used that is translated by the English word sluggard , is the Hebrew word raphah, which speaks of weakness or speaks of going down in the sense of losing strength. The picture back of that word is the picture of the day drawing to a close. As the sun slowly sets in the west, so individuals sometimes discharge their responsibilities and their duties with no more emphasis, no more interest in what they are doing than that.

With these thoughts in mind of the different meanings in the words which we will find in our text, I would like for us to look at the verses in this particular section, chapters 10-22, that have to do with the sluggard. We will take one or two verses beyond chapter 22 in order to amplify some of the things that we want to say in our discussion.

I thought it might be helpful if we put these verses in categories so that we could all think along the same line for a certain period of time, so I am going to suggest that we look first at those verses that represent comparisons, where the Spirit of God takes something and compares it with a sluggard in order to emphasize a special truth.

Vinegar and Smoke and the Sluggard

One interesting comparison is found in chapter 10, verse 26. The comparison that is presented is between vinegar and smoke and the sluggard. Notice:

Proverbs 10:

26 As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him.

Vinegar puts your teeth on edge and makes you uncomfortable. Smoke brings tears to your eyes. This is the way an individual feels when he sends a sluggard upon an errand, when he sends an atsel upon an errand, when he sends a fellow upon an errand who is going to take time to lean against the wall down at the corner instead of pursuing the journey on to its final end. As teeth are set on edge, as tears come to the eyes, so do men react when they realize the man whom they have sent upon a very important errand is a man who is going to take some time out to lean against the wall.

Notice, please, what is recorded in chapter 15, verse 19, so that we will find another comparison that will be of benefit to us here:

Proverbs 15:

19 The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain.

Here we have the same word. The way of the man who takes time out to lean against the wall when he is on an important journey is the man who finds his path a path of hedges instead of a way made plain. This is interesting, as I have already indicated in the beginning of our discussion that the way of the transgressor is hard. Men do more to escape than the work would be itself. This is exactly what Solomon had in mind. If we could get across to our children, for example, that the man who is diligent instead of indolent will find a smoother path in life, we would have accomplished a great deal in their training.

I have always been interested in this comparison found in chapter 19, verse 24, because it is a rather humorous comparison to me. Notice:

Proverbs 19:

24 A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again.

We are still talking about the fellow who takes time out to lean against the wall. He has his hand in his coat pocket and food is served to him, and he is too lazy to take his hand out of his coat and reach out his hand for the food. This comparison is made even clearer in chapter 26, verse 15. Notice:

Proverbs 26:

15 The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.

One passage says the slothful man is too lazy to take his hand out of his pocket, and this passage of Scripture says it is a real grief to him if you ask him to. These are the folk who want to be spoon fed. These are the folk who don't want to expend any energy themselves. You are well aware, I am sure, that we are living in an age when we are rearing a generation of individuals who don't want to take their hand out of their pocket for any purpose.

The Roaring Lion

In Proverbs, chapter 22, there is another comparison that I have designated the comparison of the roaring lion. Look at verse 13:

Proverbs 22:

13 The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.

This, too, is repeated in chapter 26, indicating how widespread this attitude is. Notice verse 13:

Proverbs 26:

13 The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets.

Wouldn't you hate to have somebody sound an alarm like that? Usually, if there was a wild lion outside of your door, you would be screaming, “There is a lion out there,” but the slothful man said, “There is a lion in the street,” and does absolutely nothing about it.

The diligent man would not only cry that there is a roaring lion out there, but he would go get his gun and do something about the lion; the slothful man says, “There is a lion out there and we will probably all be eaten up by the lion,” but nothing is done about it.

I am going to let you make your own applications. As you realize the dangers that are all about us, I would like to emphasize there are many parents who say, “There is a lion in the streets, but what can we do about it?” Their children wind up on drugs and in all kinds of trouble, and they do absolutely nothing about it.

You see, the very implication of this verse is that the individual who recognizes a destructive force and does nothing about it is a sluggard in God's sight. Sometimes people say, “Well, we don't need to do anything about these things. God is going to take care of it.” That is not what the Scripture says. The Scripture says, “If you don't do something about it, you are a sluggard.”

A Door On Rusty Hinges

A very interesting comparison and a rather amusing one is found in chapter 26, verse 14:

Proverbs 26:

14 As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed.

The picture here, if you would get the comparison that God would have you have, is a door that is on rusty hinges. It doesn't open easily. You have to push hard to get it open, and it opens slowly and creaks as it opens. God says that is like a lazy man on the bed. That always amused me. The very fact that he was on the bed would indicate he was lazy, but he is too lazy to turn over. When he does turn over, he groans and the bed creaks. He is so lazy he can't even turn over in bed. He is like a door on rusty hinges. Surely you don't need any other thing to suggest to you what a sluggard is as far as God is concerned. To emphasize the truth in addition to the comparisons which we have brought to your attention, we would like for you to notice a contrast that is presented here in Proverbs, chapter 26, verse 16, because it is so very apt:

Proverbs 26:

16 The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.

You just let that sink in for a moment. Here are seven men, well trained in their fields, who can give a reason for the suggestion they make. The sluggard, the fellow who leans against the wall down in the city park, is wiser than all seven of them put together in his own estimation. He ignores facts. He is not interested in what anybody has to say. He says, “Them educated fellows don't know nothing anyway.” He knows all there is to know. That is the sluggard.

I would like for you to think with me, after having noticed the comparisons which should paint the picture for you of what a sluggard actually is, of various areas in which the sluggard is active because the sluggard is not an individual whom you find in a certain area of society and you don't find him in another area of society. You find him in a number of different places.

I wouldn't want to say that you will find yourself operating in some area as the sluggard operates, but certainly you will recognize the various areas in which you will find the sluggard as we call them to your attention. The first one that we would emphasize is in the area of prosperity. Thinking now of material prosperity, the Word of God emphasizes that in relation to the subject of prosperity, the sluggard makes his appearance in the reference to the slack hand. Go back, please, to chapter 10, and notice verse 4:

Proverbs 10:

4 He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.

With this word slack , are we thinking about a lazy fellow? That is involved, but actually this word slack comes from the word rmiyah , which we noticed in the beginning of our discussion, which was related to treachery and deceit. So we are not talking so much about a man who isn't active, but we are talking about a man who uses duplicity to gain his ends instead of diligence. We are told here that such an individual will become poor, but the man who is diligent, who is willing to dig the trench, the man who is willing to mine the gold, and the man who is willing to thresh the wheat is the man who will become rich. Beware of get-rich-quick schemes. When anybody comes to you with some suggestion as to how you can make a fortune without really working for it, be on your guard. The Bible says that man is a sluggard and he is dealing with a slack hand. If you fall into his trap, you will wind up poor instead of rich.

The Wishful Thinker

Another individual is described for us in chapter 13, verse 4. I have referred to him as the wishful thinker . Notice verse 4:

Proverbs 13:

4 The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.

Here is a fellow who is always wishing and never getting, and that is going to be the story of his life. The word atsel is used here. This is the fellow who leans against the wall, and my, what grandiose dreams he can spin. What tremendous stories he can tell. He is always ready to tell you about what is going to happen to him someday, but the sun goes down while he is telling the story and he goes home just as poor as he was when he left in the morning. But the man who is digging the trenches and mining the gold and threshing the wheat is getting rich.

The Hasty Man

If you will notice in Proverbs, chapter 21, verse 5, you will become acquainted with another man. The Scripture refers to him as the hasty man . Notice verse 5:

Proverbs 21:

5 The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness [that is, plans]; but of every one that is hasty only to want.

This word hasty describes a man who is always jumping the gun. He never thinks the thing through. He never makes any plans. He is always going off half cocked, if you will permit that statement, and consequently he ends up in want. The hasty man is described not only here, but also in chapter 29, verse 20:

Proverbs 29:

20 Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him.

Here you have an amplification of the thought. The man who is hasty in his words is the man who doesn't think before he speaks, and the Word says that there is more hope for the fool than such a man as that. Likewise, the man in the area of prosperity who is hasty and does not plan his work before he begins execution of it will end up in want.

The Man With Excuses

There is another individual in the area of prosperity that we need to consider, and I have described him as the man with excuses . Notice what is recorded in chapter 20, verse 4:

Proverbs 20:

4 The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.

You get the picture. Here is the farmer. It is time to go out and plow the field, but he says, “It is too cold today. I will wait until tomorrow when it is a little bit warmer.” Tomorrow is warmer and the wife says, “What is your excuse today?” He says,“It is too warm today.” One excuse after another. He never accomplishes his purpose. He never gets the field plowed.

Parents, in training your children, be careful that you do not ignore the excuses children give for not getting the job done. You may be raising a sluggard who finds it more convenient to give an excuse than to do the work that you want him to do.

The Procrastinator

The last kind of sluggard that we would like to consider with you in the area of prosperity is the one I have referred to as the procrastinator . Turn to Proverbs, chapter 24, and notice the description that is presented of the procrastinator regarding the matter of diligence. Notice verse 30:

Proverbs 24:

30 I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding;
31 And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.
32 Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction.

Solomon said that he passed by the field that belonged to the sluggard, the slothful man, and he noticed that the field was overgrown with thorns and nettles, and the wall was broken down. He said, “As I looked at that field and as I considered it well, I received some instruction from it.” What was the instruction from it? Look at verse 33:

Proverbs 24:

33 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
34 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.

The man who said just a little bit more sleep, a little bit more slumber, the man who turns over in bed after the alarm has gone off and says, “I will catch me forty winks,” may wind up sleeping all day. When he does, that which is his rightful responsibility is neglected and want comes upon him as an armed man. It may be all right to catch those forty winks occasionally, but don't train yourself to do it. You may wind up in the case of the slothful man if you do.

Position, Rule, and Authority

We hurry on and call your attention to another area in which the slothful man is described for us here in the book of Proverbs, in the area of position, rule, and authority. Yes, we are living in a world where there is authority. We are living in a world where there is rule. We are living in a world where there is position, and you as a believer have not been taken out of the world. You were left in the world, and the place that you occupy in the area of position, rule, and authority can be governed by your attitude regarding the diligent and the sluggard.

Turn to chapter 12 and notice in verse 24 why it is that some people are free and some people are under tribute. In verse 24, we read:

Proverbs 12:

24 The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.

The man who is willing to dig the trenches and mine the gold and thresh the wheat will be the man who will occupy the position of authority, but the man who is slothful in this respect is not going to rule; rather, he is going to be subject to the man who rules.

The word that is translated slothful was the word we introduced to you in the very beginning of our discussion—rmiyah , which means “the man who is remiss in his duty.” Let me give you a very concrete but simple illustration. It is the duty and responsibility of every Christian to vote. How many are remiss in their duty in this respect?

What does God say? The man who does not discharge his duty in the area of position, rule, and authority, will eventually be under tribute. We are remiss in our duty. We say to you that if any adverse forces ever take our nation, it won't be by means of arms. It won't be by means of some bomb, but it will be because we are a nation of sluggards who are remiss in our duty, who would rather slumber a little and sleep a little longer than do the thing we ought to do. Mark what I tell you. Any free nation that is remiss in its duty will be paying tribute instead of ruling. If we had no other Scripture than this, it would be ample evidence.

Turn to Proverbs, chapter 22, and notice verse 29:

Proverbs 22:

29 Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.

The word mean here does not mean “cruel.” It means “men who are unimportant and who are of no authority.” The man who is diligent in the business of statesmanship will have influence with kings. He will not be required to grovel in the dust before mean men—men who are less worthy than he.

If you are thinking, you realize that the blessings of prosperity are not just poured out into the hands of people who love the Lord because they love the Lord. They are poured out into the hands of those who are diligent. If you are thinking about what I just said to you, you realize that the privileges of freedom are not bestowed upon individuals because God looks benevolently upon them. They are the privileges of those who are willing to be diligent in this area as well as in the other areas we have suggested.

The Area of Wastefulness

One more area that we would call to your attention in which the slothful and the sluggard plays a very real part I have referred to as the area of wastefulness . The area of wastefulness is first brought to our attention by a very ordinary illustration. Turn to Proverbs, chapter 12, and notice verse 27:

Proverbs 12:

27 The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious.

Get the picture. Here is a hunter; whatever he kills on the hunt, he lets lie. He doesn't do anything about it. He doesn't use it for food. He doesn't even make it available for someone else if he doesn't want it. He lets it go to waste. The diligent man is not like that. The diligent man finds that which he has killed on the hunt a precious thing, a valuable thing, and he is not going to waste anything.

You are all reading in our society today of certain animals and certain birds, etc., which are becoming extinct because of the carelessness of the men of this planet. Here is Solomon, many thousands of years ago, laying down a principle which he said would have this inevitable result. Sluggards are not interested in saving anything. They are wasteful about everything.

I was in a restaurant recently, and I noticed as I stood by a table waiting for it to be cleared so I could sit down, that enough food was on the plates that were on that table to make more than a meal for me and someone else. Of course, we don't go around eating other people's garbage, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the spirit of wastefulness that seems to have gripped our nation. On one plate, for example, there were two whole slices of bread that had not even been touched. When they came to clear the table, it all went into the trash can. You can take that little illustration and amplify it from a personal to a national scale and ask yourself, on the basis of principles that are laid down in God's Word against wastefulness, what we can expect nationally in view of the wastefulness of which we are guilty.

Brother to a Waster

The last thing that I want to suggest to you is described in chapter 18. It is related to the matter of wastefulness. It is the activity of the sluggard in the area of wastefulness. You will notice in verse 9:

Proverbs 18:

9 He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.

If you are not exercising your talents to the best of your ability, then you are a brother to the great waster about whom we were thinking a few moments ago. If you have a job and you are not expending all of the energy of which you are capable, you are a brother to the man who wastes substance. I think employers are faced with the reality of this consistently—individuals who manage to steal time by not being diligent in the discharge of their duties.

These same individuals might not be guilty of stealing merchandise. They might not be guilty of stealing produce, but they are stealing time through many different maneuverings. They are slothful, God says. A man who does not use his talents to the best of his abilities is a brother to him who is a waster.


I would suggest, in the light of the message from God's Word, that you decide whether you are a diligent individual or whether you are a slothful individual. It might help you to determine it if you compare the digging of trenches, the mining of gold, and the threshing of wheat with leaning idly against the wall. You have an idea then whether you are diligent or slothful.

Because I am always interested in children and how they will turn out, I suggest that parents, in this day when everything is so easy, need to be very, very careful that they are not rearing sluggards when they could be rearing diligent people.

If your children are not expending all of their energies in an area where they are working all of the energies of which they are capable, you should be concerned that you might be rearing a sluggard instead of a diligent person.

Don't overdo, and don't try to make them do things of which they are not capable, but don't be guilty of adding to a generation of sluggards. The name for it, by and large, used to be the hippy generation, but Solomon called it the sluggard generation- –people who sit by and want to be spoon fed.

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