A vagabond is a wanderer, often a fugitive or an exile, who has no fixed place of dwelling. The first use of the word vagabond in the Bible is in Genesis 4:12 when God pronounced a curse upon Cain for the murder of his brother, Abel: “A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” (KJV). The NIV translates the word for “vagabond” as “restless wanderer.” Cain was banished from the society of mankind and was sentenced to lead a nomadic life. God punished Cain with homelessness, insecurity, uncertainty, and restlessness.
Vagabond is usually used in a negative sense in the Bible, as in Psalm 109:10 (NKJV). Vagabonds were often seen as beggars who contributed nothing and lived on the mercy of society. The vagabond lifestyle was associated with irresponsibility and disreputable behavior.
The context of Proverbs 6:11 is a warning to foolish, lazy people. The New American Standard Version translates this verse this way: “Your poverty will come in like a vagabond / And your need like an armed man.” While poverty is not a sin, the reasons for poverty may be. When a person foolishly chooses to live as a vagabond because he is lazy or irresponsible, the label of “vagabond” is a rebuke.
In Acts 19:13, we read of vagabond Jewish exorcists who traveled from city to city casting out demons for money. Most newer translations describe these men as “itinerates,” but the King James Version uses the term vagabond. The seven sons of Sceva, infamous for trying to cast out demons “in the name of that same Jesus that Paul preaches about,” had no idea what they were inviting upon themselves. Verse 15 records the demon’s answer: “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but you, who are you?” (BSB). The demons, through the possessed man, attacked the vagabond exorcists, beat them up, and left them naked and wounded (verse 16).
The life of a vagabond is devoid of the responsibility for ministry and good stewardship of the resources that God entrusts to each of us (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 4:9–10). Simply drifting through life with no goals and no purpose is not God’s plan for anyone.
There have been times when God’s people were forced to live as vagabonds through no fault of their own (Hebrews 11:36–38). When persecution broke out after Jesus’ resurrection, Christians were scattered (Acts 8:1). Over the next three hundred years, history tells us that Christians were driven from their homes, their property seized, and some had to live in caves to survive. Living as a vagabond because of laziness is nothing to be proud of. But being forced into the vagabond life for Jesus’ sake is a form of persecution that will be rewarded in eternity (Matthew 19:29).