If getting a good night’s rest is beneficial for maintaining overall health, why does Proverbs 6:10 say “a little sleep, a little slumber” will bring poverty? The maxim does not downplay the value of sleep. Instead, it uses “a little sleep, a little slumber” to represent the laziness that leads unavoidably to poverty and ruin.
The full passage warns, “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9–11). Notice to whom the proverb is addressed: the sluggard. The counsel is not aimed at an industrious person needing a good night’s rest; the target is the habitual sloth.
The word little before sleep and slumber and folding of the hands is meant to express sarcasm to the sluggard, who has just been asked when he plans to stop sleeping. He says he will only sleep “a little,” but a little soon turns into a lot and eventually becomes a lifestyle. Folding of the hands to rest is similar to a phrase in Ecclesiastes 4:5, which signifies foolish inactivity: “Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves.” The proverb writer combines vivid word pictures of too much sleeping and folding one’s hands in idleness to illustrate the attitude of the lazy sluggard.
The book of Proverbs often extracts moral teachings from the world of nature. In Proverbs 6:6, the writer tells the sluggard to “take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise!” (NLT). Ants are consummate examples of hard workers. They labor tirelessly and diligently despite having no taskmaster to keep them toiling.
The New Living Translations says to the lazy loafer that “poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber” (Proverbs 6:11). It doesn’t take long for shortage and debt to swoop down on a slothful person. Laziness will steal away every resource until nothing is left.
Laziness is portrayed as the epitome of foolish behavior in Proverbs (Proverbs 26:13–15). “Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich. A wise youth harvests in the summer, but one who sleeps during harvest is a disgrace,” teaches Proverbs 10:4–5 (NLT). Proverbs 12:24 also contrasts the sluggard with the diligent, hardworking person: “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.”
The Proverbs are packed with admonitions to work hard if you want to succeed and avoid financial ruin (Proverbs 14:23; 19:15; 20:4, 13). Like the fool and the scoffer so often portrayed in the Proverbs, a lazy person believes he is wise, but his life will end in destruction because of his idleness (Proverbs 21:25–26).
The same expression, a little sleep, a little slumber, appears again in Proverbs 24:30–34, which contains a story about the danger of laziness: “I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul urged believers to warn the idle among them to work (1 Thessalonians 5:14). He also taught that lazy people should not be allowed to freeload: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
The main idea of a little sleep, a little slumber is that lazy people prefer sleep over work, a propensity that ultimately leads to poverty and ruin. Thus, laziness is a sure sign of a spiritual problem. God wants His followers to be diligent in their walk of faith: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:5–10, ESV; see also 2 Peter 3:14; 1 Timothy 4:14–15).