What is a sluggard?
Question: "What is a sluggard? What does Proverbs teach about sluggards?"
Answer: A sluggard is someone who is habitually lazy or inactive. Such a person does not take personal responsibility for his own life. The word sluggard is used 14 times in the book of Proverbs. In each case, the Bible condemns laziness and warns of the consequences of being a sluggard.
Proverbs 6:9 asks two rhetorical questions, highlighting one of the main traits of a sluggard: “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? / When will you get up from your sleep?” Verse 6 tells the sluggard to learn a lesson from an industrious insect: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; / consider its ways and be wise!”
Proverbs 10:26 says, “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, / so are sluggards to those who send them.” A sluggard is painful as an employee; no boss wants an inefficient sluggard in his employ.
Proverbs 13:4 states, “A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, / but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” In this antithetical proverb, the sluggard is contrasted with the diligent. The lazy person has unfulfilled desires precisely because he fails to take action.
Proverbs 19:24 uses humor to make its point about laziness: “A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; / he will not even bring it back to his mouth!” Being too sluggish to lift a fork to the mouth—that’s true laziness!
Proverbs 20:4 says, “Sluggards do not plow in season; / so at harvest time they look but find nothing.” Because the sluggard does not work hard or plan ahead, he does not have what he needs to live. Sluggards seem not to understand the law of sowing and reaping, since they expect the benefits of labor without actually having labored.
Proverbs 21:25 repeats the theme of laziness leading to lack: “The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, / because his hands refuse to work.”
Proverbs 22:13 paints a humorous picture of a sluggard’s excuse-making: “The sluggard says, ‘There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!’” This extreme excuse would be like a person today saying, “There could be a wild bear loose on the highway, so I had better not go to work.” For most people, the possibility of a rampaging bear is so remote as to be laughable—and it’s certainly no reason to skip work.
Proverbs 26:14 uses emblematic parallelism to again mock the sluggard’s love of sleep: “As the door turns on its hinges, / So does the sluggard on his bed.” The next two verses complete the picture of the slothful person: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; / He is weary of bringing it to his mouth again. / The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes / Than seven men who can give a discreet answer.” Of note is the sluggard’s high opinion of himself: he thinks he is smart not to work; it doesn’t matter how many reasonable arguments are brought against him, he persists in his conceit that he is a wise man.
A sluggard is a person who has the ability to work but refuses to. He lacks the drive, personal responsibility, and common sense to provide for his needs. He likes sleep and dislikes work. Sluggards are called to action, to work hard to honor God with their lives. “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Recommended Resource: Proverbs NIV Application Commentary by Paul Koptak
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Questions about Proverbs
What is a sluggard? What does Proverbs teach about sluggards?