The book of Proverbs is all about wisdom. Sometimes, it’s hard to apply the abstract ideas of Proverbs like fearing the Lord or having integrity. Luckily, we don’t need to turn to Irish, Japanese, or Chinese sayings to find practicality. For those of us who need to start with doing, Proverbs has it all.

One topic that Proverbs heavily emphasizes is the value of diligence, creativity, and good old hard work. We will aid our studies with the Bible Speaks Today expository commentary.

The need and opportunity for work were of course assumed in the Old Testament. Although some writers focus on work as a gift in which the worker expresses something of the creativity of God (Gen 1-2; Ps 104:23), others reflect how, in this fallen world, work has too often become toil and meaningless drudgery (Gen 3:19; Eccl 2:19-23). We are faced in the Bible by both these positive and negative aspects to work, and the tension we constantly experience between them. The Bible does not, however, refer to dole queues, unemployment figures, reselling, or youth training schemes. The work of industrial society is very different from the work in which the local extended family unit was also largely an economic unit, and in which the worker could see and appreciate the end product of his labors.

Even so, we can take what the Bible says, find the embedded truths, and arrive at a point of application.

Why is work important?

Not because by working harder we will get richer; there is no simple equation between hard work and wealth. We work essentially because we have received gifts of creativity to use in God’s world. Work is our human activity which corresponds to the work of God in his providential care for the whole created order.

The world of Proverbs illustrates a society in which, if people did not work, they did not eat; so hard work is a value. ‘The lazy man does not roast his game [because he doesn’t have any game to roast!], but the diligent man prizes his possessions’ (12:27). ‘The laborer’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on’ (16:26). ‘One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys’ (18:9). ‘Laziness brings on deep sleep, and the shiftless man goes hungry’ (19:15).

But the value underlying much of the concern of Proverbs is the diligent attention needed to live in God’s world, and conversely the folly of indolence. If you love sleep too much, you won’t have any food to live on (20:13). The sluggard is too lazy to feed himself (19:24), to plough his fields (20:4) or to do any work (21:25-26). In contrast to the profitable rewards which come the way of the diligent worker (21:5), the sluggard’s rewards are a constant craving for more, which is never satisfied; and the end of that road is death (21:25-26).

One of the key themes which does link back without any difficulty into the twentieth century world seems to be the irresponsibility of the sluggard. He would rather stay dependent on the goodwill of others than seek to make something of his own life. He would rather stay safely in his indolence than take the risk of making relationships. With heavy, humorous sarcasm, the proverb recounts the sluggard saying, ‘There is a lion outside!’ as an excuse for inactivity, or even, ‘I will be murdered in the streets!’ as an excuse for not leaving his sofa (22:13). This is not saying anything about a dependency culture, or about those who would love to work but cannot find paid employment. Rather, it is reminding the readers that living in the way of wisdom is inevitably also the way of responsibility.

If the point of these proverbs about work is that wisdom results in responsibility, then we should recognize that being responsible, as a caretaker, provider, or emotional support, is a gift from God and an opportunity to gain and practice wisdom.

What has been the purpose or blessing that hard work brought in your own life? Tell us in the comments below!

The Bible Speaks Today

Bible Speaks Today Proverbs

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