The Book of Sluggards
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Proverbs. We want to notice chapter 26. Keep in mind that while we have been studying the book of Proverbs, we have been following the divisions into which the book naturally falls. Following that procedure we find ourselves in a division of the book that we have designated The Gleanings of Hezekiah's Men . That title is taken from chapter 25, verse 1:

Proverbs 25:

1 These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.

The proverbs of Solomon were hidden in the dust of the back-slidden condition of the nation of Israel. Under good King Hezekiah they were uncovered, the dust blown off them, and added to the book of Proverbs, written by Solomon and read as the sacred, inspired Word of God during that time.

This particular division of the book of Proverbs falls into natural sections in chapter 25. We noticed a number of unrelated comparisons and in chapter 26, we began to notice a number of illustrations of fools and sluggards and scoundrels—three classes of people.

We want to continue our discussion of the three classes of people, and I think it would be wise for us to orient ourselves to the Scripture that is under discussion. Keep in mind that in this chapter in verses 1-12, the subject of fools is discussed. In verses 13-16 the subject of sluggards is discussed, and in verses 17-28 the subject of scoundrels is discussed. I would like for you to follow in your Bibles as I read verses 13-16, which will deal with the subject of sluggards . Notice:

Proverbs 26:

13 The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets.
14 As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed.
15 The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.

We will stop our reading right there because the four verses of Scripture which I have read illustrate the four characteristics of the sluggard that is presented in this particular paragraph. I say in this particular paragraph because if you are familiar with the book of Proverbs, you know that we have met this character fifteen other times in the book of Proverbs up to this particular point. I would not expect you to remember at a moment's notice everything you have learned about this character. All that I ask is that you learn what God has in store for you concerning the illustrations that are given in this particular paragraph concerning the sluggard.

I think it would be wise for us to have a definition of terms concerning this individual described for us in verses 13-16, so I would like to call to your attention that the word slothful , which is used three times in these four verses, and the word sluggard , which is used one time in these four verses, all come from the same Hebrew word atsel which maybe translated by the word indolence , or may be translated by the phrase, leaning idly . Actually, as we have pointed out to you before, Hebrew words are rather picturesque words, and this particular word atsel describes the picture of a man who is leaning idly against a wall waiting for something to happen. The meaning of the word is further brought to our attention when we look at the translation of the word idleness in Proverbs, chapter 31. Keep in mind that the words slothful and sluggard , coming from the Hebrew word atsel , is translated by the word idleness in the book of Proverbs, chapter 31, verse 27, describing the capable woman—that is, the woman who makes a good wife for any man. Notice verse 27:

Proverbs 31:

27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.

That word idleness is the translation of this word. It sticks in your minds that when we are talking about a sluggard, when we are talking about a slothful person, we are talking about an idle person. Let me emphasize further the meaning of the word by calling to your attention that in the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament—that is the Old Testament translated from Hebrew to Greek—the word that was used for slothful in this particular portion is the Greek word argos in two passages of Scripture in the New Testament.

Turn with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, and glance at that portion of the Word. It is a parable and we do not have time to read this entire parable, but we will read a portion of it so that you might get the picture. Notice, beginning with verse 1:

Matthew 20:

1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,

Notice the word idle there. That is a translation of our Greek word argos , which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word atsel , which is talking about a slothful and a sluggard. The sluggard is an individual who leans against the wall, waiting idly for his opportunity to come along, because in the parable, of which we read a portion, this is what these individuals were doing. They were waiting for somebody to come along and hire them instead of pursuing a job for themselves.

Turn with me, please, to Paul's first letter to Timothy, chapter 5. In this chapter there is discussed for us the matter of the benevolence program of the early church. In the days of the early church they had a problem because there were not the opportunities for livelihood as there is today. They were told to be very careful about taking the widows into the church with the idea of support. This passage of Scripture has been misconstrued. Some people have even preached from it that widow's don't have a place in the Kingdom of God. I have had people write me letters and ask me if this is what that means because they had been told such. Notice verse 9:

I Timothy 5:

9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man.
10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.

“When you take an older woman into the church for her support, be sure that she is worthy of that support.” In verse 11, we read:

I Timothy 5:

11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry;
12 Having damnation [condemnation, not damnation—no one is damned for marrying the second time] because they have cast off their first faith.

This is a reference to marrying heathen husbands instead of Christian husbands. Keep in mind that in the early days of the church the problems of heathenism was a very real one. Notice verse 13:

I Timothy 5:

13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.

There is our word idle again. It is the same word we have been talking about which emphasizes to us what a sluggard or a slothful person actually is. Oftentimes a slothful person is an individual who has nothing to do but talk too much.

Go back to Proverbs, chapter 26, and let me suggest to you the four characteristics which are found in the paragraph before we begin to discuss them individually because I want you to have them firmly fixed in your mind. In verse 15 we are going to find the characteristic of the slothful man being one of intimidation . In verse 14 we see one of indolence , in verse 15 one of self-indulgence , and in verse 16 one of blind conceit .

I would like for you to look at these four characteristics because I don't want you to sit back comfortably and think that everything that I am talking about is related to non-Christians, to people who do not have faith in Jesus Christ. One of the criticisms of Christianity on the part of the unsaved is the fact there are among us some who are sluggards, some who are slothful.

I think that an individual who falls into any one of these categories, if he is a believer, is one who is certainly out of fellowship with the Lord; and I think you will see the reason as we look at this first characteristic—the characteristic of intimidation. Notice verse 13:

Proverbs 26:

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

You may say, “I don't see anything about intimidation there. Why do you suggest that this is the characteristic of the slothful man?” I have tried to teach you through the years that there are certain laws to keep in mind relative to the study of the Word of God. One of the laws I have referred to is The law of First Mention . The way that you find some thing or some object mentioned for the first time in a given book or in the whole Bible is the significance that that particular object will have throughout the Word of God.

Intimidation of the Slothful Man

Turn back to Proverbs, chapter 19, and notice in verse 12:

Proverbs 19:

12 The king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion; but his favour is as dew upon the grass.

This is the first time that the lion is mentioned in this symbolic way in the book of Proverbs, and the symbolism is one of fear. When a king gets angry he is like a roaring lion in the streets, and you had best be afraid of the wrath of a king, so when the slothful man says, “There is a lion in the street,” we know that the thing that is bothering him is the fear of the lion. This is further emphasized when we find this first brought to our attention earlier in chapter 22, verse 13:

Proverbs 22:

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

“If I leave my house, that lion out there is going to kill me,” so I don't think there is any question that the characteristic that is presented to us in this verse is the intimidation of the slothful man.

Perhaps you are sitting there thinking, “Well, I don't know but what that isn't a better part of wisdom. If there is a lion in the street, isn't it rather unwise to go out?” Are you forgetting the definition of the slothful man? The editors of The Living Bible's rendering of the Scripture has kept that in mind, and they have suggested that the verse might well be rendered, “The lazy man won't go out to work. There might be a lion in the street.” Actually, he doesn't know there is one there, but it is a pretty good excuse. “There might be a lion out there, and if I go out there I might get eaten up, so I had better be a little bit careful about what I do.”

This has been used of Satan all down through the ages to keep the people of God from doing what they ought to do, and it is not characteristic of the righteous. It is not characteristic of the believer. Turn, please, to Proverbs, chapter 28, and notice verse 1, where this very fact is brought to our attention:

Proverbs 28:

1 The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.

The righteous man need not be afraid of any lion in any street. I say this kindly, but I say it because I believe it needs to be emphasized. If you are failing to do what you know very well God wants you to do because you are afraid, you are displeasing the Lord, for the righteous should be as bold as a lion. As a matter of fact, if you are failing to do what God wants you to do because you are afraid, then you are not walking in the Spirit. If you are not walking in the Spirit, then you are out of fellowship, and if you are out of fellowship, you are displeasing the Lord.

Turn with me to Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 1, verse 7. Notice the words:

II Timothy 1:

7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

To get the full sense of the passage of Scripture, let me read it in this fashion: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of power and the spirit of love and the spirit of a sound mind.” The Holy Spirit, Who is given to the believer the very moment that he receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, is not the spirit of fear. Fear does not come from the Holy Spirit. Fear comes from Satan. If you are fearful, you are listening to the voice of Satan instead of the voice of the Spirit of God.

I realize that some folk are born naturally with a tendency toward fear, and when I make a statement such as I have just made, it concerns them, for they usually wind up saying something like this: “I try my best not to be afraid, but I am just naturally a fearful person.” I would like for you to notice the last phrase in verse 7: “…The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of a sound mind.” Those two words sound mind could better be translated by the one word discipline . The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of discipline. If you will permit Him the Holy Spirit will discipline you, train you, so that you can have victory over your fear. He will discipline your thinking and bring your attitudes into right relationship with Him through the Word of God, so that you can be absolutely fearless. Every time you need some training along this line, the Holy Spirit is able to provide it.

The Slothful Man is Idolent

We pass on from the first characteristic of the slothful man to the second characteristic which we brought to your mind. We referred to it with the word indolence . Notice Proverbs, chapter 26, verse 14:

Proverbs 26:

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

This illustration, it seems to me, is a very apt one for several reasons. Actually, there is a comparison of a door turning on its hinges and a man turning in his bed. If you stop and think about that, you probably fail to see any comparison and you might say, “I don't know that that is such a good illustration.” Perhaps we need to exegete the verse a bit so that we will get all the meaning out of it, and you will be able to understand why the Spirit of God uses this particular comparison.

There are a number of words for door in Hebrew, and it is important to know which one is used in any given place to get the full meaning of the verse. This particular Hebrew word for door refers to a swinging door—a door that swings back and forth on its hinges. It doesn't go just one way. It isn't one that is stationary. It goes back and forth upon its hinges. It continually swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Doesn't that remind you somewhat of yourself during some of the nights when you have been suffering from insomnia and you don't do anything but turn over on one side and then back on the other side and over on the other side and back on the other side. You are not going anywhere at all, but you are wearing a hole in the mattress.

Of course, we are talking about indolent men—men who are not willing to get up in the morning and go to a job and they sleep till noon. Have you ever watched folk who slept that way? You see, most of your sleeping has been done. You might as well get up. You don't need that extra rest, but you are lazy. If you observe a person like that, all they do is turn back and forth in the bed, from one side to the other back and forth, back and forth, just like that swinging door does.

This word for door is used only one other place in the Old Testament. I couldn't help but be amused. Have you ever been amused when you read the Bible? Some folk say that that is sacrilegious. Well, it is very interesting, I think. I was rather amused where this particular word was used. The Psalmist was praying. Look at Psalm 141, verse 3:

Psalm 141:

3 Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.

This is a very sensible prayer. It wouldn't hurt any of you to pray it any time. Notice again:

Psalm 141:

3 Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.

The thing that amused me is that the Hebrew word for door that is used here is the word that is used for swinging doors. You know, young people have a way of expressing things very effectively. One time I said to a young person about a conversation that they had with an individual: “Was anything accomplished?” They said, “No, they were just flapping their gums.” You know, that is a pretty good expression. Well, scripturally, they were just swinging the doors. That was all they were doing. The Psalmist was praying: “Lord, You keep the doors from swinging too much.” When you have swinging doors, you have got a real problem on your hands.

Go back to Proverbs, chapter 26, and notice that same verse because there is something else that indicates the indolence of the person in question. Notice verse 14:

Proverbs 26:

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

This word hinges comes from the Hebrew word tsiyr which is elsewhere translated by our English word confine . If I were to ask you what the purpose of a set of hinges was, you would probably tell me that the purpose of hinges is to make a door operate. If you didn't have hinges on the door, it wouldn't open. In a sense that is true, but you know the purpose of hinges is to keep the door in place. If you just had a door standing up there in the opening, and you shoved it, it wouldn't open. It would fall down. Every time you shove the swinging door, what do the hinges do? They confine it in the place where it is so that all it can do all of its life long is fly back into place.

Don't you think that this is an apt illustration of a slothful man? All in the world that he does with all of his life is swing back and forth and get nowhere at all. There are a lot of Christians like that. They are confined by hinges of various sorts that keep them in the same place doing nothing more than swinging back and forth or turning back and forth, tossing to and fro upon the bed.

I don't expect an audible answer to the question. I ask it only to provoke your thinking. How do you measure up when we talk to you about sluggards? Look over your life. Have you done nothing but just swing back and forth? Have you ever really accomplished anything?

The Slothful Man is Self-Indulgent

Let's look at the third characteristic of an indulgent person. Notice verse 15:

Proverbs 26:

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

Get the picture. Here is a slothful man. He puts his hand inside his coat, something like Napoleon did. You have seen that picture of Napoleon. The slothful man is too lazy to take it out and put it to his mouth.

When the average person reads that passage of Scripture, he says, “That means absolutely nothing to me. In the first place, what did he put his hand in there for, and in the second place, why does he want to put it in his mouth?” It means absolutely nothing the way it is written in The King James Text (I say that reverently), but I am going to suggest to you and then I am going to show you why it suggests to me the characteristic of self-indulgence . A slothful man is a self-indulgent man. A sluggard is a man who indulges self altogether too much.

Why do I say that? Let's look for a moment at that word bosom . Actually that word bosom comes from the Hebrew word tsallachath , which is translated by the word deep , or by the word bowl . It is not talking about putting your hand inside your coat. It is talking about putting your hand in the bowl. Of course, that doesn't sound like very good manners, so we notice the word hideth here because that is in our King James Text . The slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom. The word hideth comes from the Hebrew word taman which means to lay or to lay hold of . This slothful man lays hold of a bowl full of food, and what do you read? “It grieves him to bring it again to his mouth.” So, you see, we are talking about appetites. We are talking about eating, and we are talking about a man who puts his hand down to the bowl where the food is and he grieves because he has to put it back in his mouth again.

Again, you may say, “That sounds rather foolish. If he were hungry he would be glad to feed himself.” But that is understood when you look at the word grieveth which comes from the Hebrew word laah , which means “he wearies himself.” Here is the man who has eaten so much that he has wearied himself with eating. He indulged his appetite. He has become a glutton. He has filled himself to the full, and he hasn't got energy enough to lift his hand to his mouth once again to take any food thereto.

Notice what is recorded in Proverbs, chapter 19, verse 24:

Proverbs 19:

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

It sounds like the same proverb, but we call it to your attention because of the phrase, will not . He is just sick of food. He has overeaten.

There are individuals who love to preach against things and you are told that a great many things are wrong for you. You shouldn't do this and you shouldn't do that. I am purposely trying to avoid naming the things because if I start, sure as the world I won't name the thing that you love and you will go out of here thinking everything is all right when it ain't. I know I shouldn't have said ain't , but I just thought that might wake a few of you up. The thing that has always amused me to some extent is a great, big fat man telling somebody else he ought not to smoke so much.

I recognize that obesity may be a medical problem or a health problem, but a good bit of the time it is related to self-indulgence, and the Word of God is emphasizing for us that a man who is slothful, a sluggard, is a man who self-indulges. He would rather indulge himself than look after the things of God. There are many ways that an individual may indulge himself other than food, but we are speaking of it at the moment because it is the subject of our text.

It is forcefully brought out in what the Apostle Paul had to say to the Philippians when he wrote them a letter about the fact that he couldn't minister to them the way that he wanted to minister, and not only could he not minister to them, he couldn't find anybody else whom he could send to minister to them. Turn to Philippians, chapter 2, and notice verse 19:

Philippians 2:

19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.
20 For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.
21 For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.

Here is a definition of a self-indulgent individual—a slothful man, a sluggard. Look at chapter 3, verse 17, and you will see he had some folk in mind, when he said:

Philippians 3:

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

A self-indulgent individual has for his god his belly, and he minds earthly things so that he cannot do the thing that needs to be done in relation to the things of God.

A Slothful Man Has Blind Conceit

Turn back to Proverbs, chapter 26, and notice the last characteristic of the sluggard presented in verse 16:

Proverbs 26:

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

That is an interesting verse. I wonder what we could say about this verse as an illustrative characteristic. I am going to use the term blind conceit . One of the characteristics of a sluggard is blind conceit. Look at the verse again:

Proverbs 26:

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

The word seven in the Scripture is a symbol of perfection, so when you speak of seven men rendering a reason, you have perfect reasoning. A sluggard, a slothful man, is wiser in his own conceit than perfect reasoning. Such individuals even consider themselves wiser than the Word of God because actually the only perfect reasoning there is is the Word of God.

This passage of Scripture says the sluggard is wise in his own conceit. Now, exactly what does that mean? It comes from the Hebrew word ayin which refers to outward appearance. It refers to the desire to look well. What are we saying? A sluggard, a slothful man, is more interested in his outward appearance, is more interested in looking good than he is in doing right—not right in his own estimation, but right in light of perfect reasoning. There are individuals who would rather have a good outward appearance, there are individuals who would rather look well than obey God's Word. You present the Word; you show them what the Word of God says, and they dismiss it with a wave of their hand. They are wiser in their own conceit than the Word itself.

Some Good Advice

One last passage of Scripture that I would call to your attention is in the book of Romans, chapter 12. Turn there and notice some advice with which we close our meditations. A number of exhortations are given, as a matter of fact. Then in verse 16, we read:

Romans 12:

16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate…

Each of those individual exhortations are worthy of your consideration, but look at the one that we want you to notice particularly:

Romans 12:

16 …Be not wise in your own conceits.

“Be not wise in your own conceits.” You see, the Old Testament is not separate from the New Testament. As someone has said, and I have oft repeated to you, “The New is in the Old concealed and the Old is in the New revealed.” When Solomon said, “A slothful man would rather have a good appearance than obey perfect reasoning, he wasn't too far from this New Testament exhortation that we have just read: “Believers be not wise in your own conceit.” Don't think you know more than the Word of God. You don't. Some may act as though they do, but they are in for a great disappointment one day when the disciplining hand of God will rest upon them.


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