Going through the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament, diligence and laziness are a common theme. It is shown many different ways which is viewed more positively and which is looked down upon. Diligence and laziness may be slightly intertwined, but they are also completely separate ideas. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes provide much of the understanding to be gained from the Bible on all four of these ideas, making them two of the most important Old Testament books in regards to teaching.
The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes give a plethora of information on Hebrew ideas regarding diligence and laziness. But the first thing that needs to be done is to define what diligence and laziness are. Proverbs uses sluggard to define someone who is lazy. It is noted that “A diligent person, like the ant, does not need a taskmaster to find motivation”1. This is contrasted with the sluggard by Proverbs 6:6 (KJV), which states “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” This shows the contrast between the sluggard, or lazy person, and the diligent person, represented by the ant. A lazy person, or sluggard, can also be described as someone who “cannot find enough motivation to rise out of bed”2. This point is shown in Proverbs 26:14 (KJV), stating “As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed.” All of this illustrates that Hebrew Wisdom has a much higher view of diligence over laziness.
Wisdom and folly are very far apart in definition. Wisdom can be defined as making good decisions with the information that you have. Folly, on the other hand, can be defined as making a foolish decision even knowing the wise decision would have a better result. Proverbs 5:23b (KJV) shows what happens when we use folly, stating “in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.” This is in contrast to Proverbs 3:13-14 (KJV), which states “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. / For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.” This shows that if wisdom is used and gained, then the rewards for wisdom are great. Using poor judgment, even knowing that there is a better decision to be made, will cause a person to not follow the righteous path and lead people away from God, whereas using wisdom and making the proper choice will help people to stay on the path God has chosen for them and lead them to great rewards. Ecclesiastes 7:5 (KJV) shows us how much the person who uses wisdom is valued, stating “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.”
This shows it is more important to listen to a wise person giving advice than it is to listen to an unwise person who thinks our foolish decisions are to be celebrated. Getting advice to correct mistakes should always be preferable over being told to make the same foolish decision again. This point is emphasized in Ecclesiastes 10:12-13 (KJV), stating “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. / The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.” This just proves yet again that listening to the fool and making foolish decisions will lead to evil and no rewards. This is as opposed to using the wisdom of a wise man and having grace with our words and actions. Using wisdom will get be rewarded here on earth and with God. The difference between the person who is diligent and lazy is an important theme when discussing the type of work ethic that should be had.
Proverbs 10:26 (KJV) also shows how the lazy person is viewed by those who employ them, stating “As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him.” The lazy person is viewed as a problem to their employers while the diligent person will help those who employ them, as stated in Proverbs 10:4b (KJV), “the hand of the diligent maketh rich.” The diligent person will bring wealth upon themselves as well as those who are wise enough to employ them. This can show people reading these verses that the harder you work and the more diligent you are in your work, the more you will be rewarded. Teachings about diligences, laziness, wisdom, and folly can be found all throughout the Bible.
The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes provide some of the best commentary on all four of these subjects. Because of this commentary they provide, these two books are some of the most important teaching books in the Old Testament. They teach how important diligence and wisdom are. They also teach how much we need to avoid laziness and folly because they will not provide the rewards to us that diligence and wisdom will.
Hindson, Edward E., and Yates, Gary E. The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2012.