Adapted from a sermon preached during evening service of PCC, 13 Aug 2000

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep,
O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth,
and thy want as an armed man.”
(Proverbs 6:6–11)

There are many different kinds of ants in the world. Some ants are solitary insects, but the vast majority are social insects with highly developed social organisation and complex behaviour patterns. An ant hive would typically have a queen, though some have multiple queens. The function of the queen is to lay eggs to sustain the colony, but apart from that she does not do anything. There are also drones or male ants. Their only function is to fertilise the queen. They die after they complete their task. All the other ants in the colony are sterile females. In many species, these sterile females have specific functions. There are nursing ants, which look after the queen and the larvae. There are worker ants, which collect food and build the nest. There are soldier ants, which protect the hive from intruders and sometimes also protect the worker ants while they are working outside.

Some types of ants are very specialised. The parasol ants eat only a certain kind of fungi, which the ants cultivate themselves. They are called parasol ants because they are most well-known for carrying large pieces of leaves into their hives. Once the cutters have brought the leaves in, the farmers take over. They will use the leaves to build a massive structure on which the special fungus grows. Do you know that parasol ants are very common in Singapore?

Ants, if you care to study them, are some of the most fascinating of God’s creatures. But ants are not only interesting scientifically. The proverb we are considering teaches us that important spiritual lessons may also be learned from observing the ants.

Brute Wisdom of the Ants

In the first place, consider the wisdom of the ants. Ants have no guides, overseers or rulers (v. 7). Make no mistake: the queen is no ruler. She is an ant-producing machine. Again, the drones are also no rulers, the sole purpose of their existence is to fertilise the females, and then they die. The ants do not receive instruction from anyone. While ants can and do communicate using their antennae, at the most, they communicate with one another on where a food source is. And it is communication between individual ants. You must not think that an ant discovers some food, that it rushes back to the queen and then the queen dispatches soldiers and workers to go and collect the food. That is pure Hollywood or Disney fiction. Solomon knew better!

Ants have no leaders. Yet, ants know how to prepare for winter. This is especially so for ants in temperate countries, such as the harvester ants, which Solomon probably observed. Somehow, they know that come winter, it would be near impossible to find food. They know that whether they survive winter would be much determined by how well they prepare in spring and summer. So throughout the warmer months, we find the ants extremely busy. They are collecting food all the time. They collect more than sufficient, and they are never complacent. They keep collecting. They never know if winter is going to last longer than expected. They have to be prepared for the worst scenario. If there is snow, for example, there is no way for the ants to come out to collect food without freezing to death. Remember that ants are not warm-blooded. No, come winter, they will have to remain underground. Though they slow down in their metabolic and locomotive rates in winter, they will need to eat occasionally especially towards the end of winter, and all the way until food becomes available during harvest time. This is why there is a need for the food cache.

Where does this wisdom of storing food come from? There are people who think that ants must have evolved from lower life forms. But they will find it impossible to show how an amoeba can ever become an ant. I mean: what are the steps? How could one step lead to the next? Could random evolving bring out the complex skeletal structure of an ant? Not only so, but they will find it also impossible to explain how the ants got the wisdom to organise their complex social structure in the first place. Were it possible, evolutionalists should at least be able to speculate some intermediate steps of evolution between amoeba and social ants. But it is simply impossible. It is irrational and illogical. It takes not faith, but sheer intellectual stubbornness, to believe that ants evolved to what they are today.

No, no. The wisdom of ants must have come from God who created them and endowed them with a blue print for how they are to function and how they are to survive. The theory of evolution in its pure form can only be found among those who are hostile to the very existence of God, and hate God. Ants did not evolve wisdom; their wisdom is imprinted by God Himself.

But remember that ants are irrational creatures. They do what they do by instinct. All insects do what they do by instinct. Their capacity to learn is extremely limited. The same is true for most animals. A parrot may be able to talk, but it does not know what it is saying. Go to the Singapore Zoo and they have a show, which features a monkey which can do sums. Can the monkey really count? Do you really think the monkey is able to add and to pick the right answers? Well, observe carefully and think carefully the next time you see the show. Man, on the other hand, is created in the image of God. He is endowed with wisdom and a rational mind.

And while ants have no guide, overseer or ruler, the same cannot be said of man, for God made man in His own image and imprinted the work of the law in his heart and has given him a conscience so that he is able to discern between right and wrong, good and evil. In that way, it may truly be said that man is guided and governed, in regard to his life by the moral laws of God. And not only so, but because the Fall of Adam has darkened the knowledge and conscience of all man, God has given unto man in written form a revelation concerning Himself and what duty He requires of him. I am referring to the Bible. But that is not all. God has also given man preachers and teachers to expound His Word unto the people.

These were the prophets and priests in the Old Testament. These are ministers of the Gospel under the New Covenant. It is the duty of ministers to read the Word, to give the sense of it, to cause the people to understand the meaning of the text, and to persuade them to believe and obey the Word. Man, in other words, are not left without guide, overseer or ruler in so far as our lives are concerned.

The Obvious Lesson

But what may we learn from the ants? Solomon says: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (v. 6). Therefore, in the first place, we must learn not to be sluggards. Rather, we must be hardworking. Laziness is a sin. Slothfulness and laziness are condemned not only here, but also in many other verses in Proverbs.

It is also condemned in the New Testament. In particular, the Apostle Paul commands that “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes 3:10). This is a straightforward principle. God had made us responsible creatures. He expects everyone to exercise his God-given ability to ensure his own survival.

Now, note that this is not strictly necessary for every creature of God. The angels, for example, do not need food to survive. So they need not work for survival. Working is a way of life for angels. But angels are of a different order of being altogether. In God’s inscrutable wisdom, man is made differently. Man is made with a body that has many limitations so that we may learn a whole range of emotions, including pain and sorrow. But as part of the package we must work hard.

We must especially prepare for the rainy day. Even ants, which have no guides, overseers or rulers, know the importance of working hard while there is opportunity to work. How much more should man, who have been endowed with reason and wisdom and knowledge know that it is important to work hard while he can. Make hay while the sun shines. “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing” (Prov 20:4). Laziness is a dangerous policy because it is akin to complacency. The lazy man is concerned only about today—that he has enough to eat now. He wants to enjoy himself as much as he can. He wants to escape from work. But he forgets that if he were to do so, he will suffer later.

Now, we must not confuse this attitude with the attitude of contentment that is taught elsewhere in Scripture, such as in Matthew 6, or in Paul’s assertion that “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Remember that godliness includes being industrious, and excludes laziness. We are not to be overly anxious and worry about the future, but we must not neglect our present duty to the detriment of our future.

In any case, the general principle that this proverb teaches is that man should be hardworking. It calls us to stir up ourselves to the work. It charges us not to love sleep nor to be complacent. This is what the phrase “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber” means. It also commands us not to procrastinate: “a little folding of the hands to sleep.” In whatever areas in our lives, there will come a time when it would be too late to do anything. When something is important and needs to be done, we must never procrastinate, or we may live to regret our procrastination.

Are you intending to upgrade your skills? Do not wait too long, or it will get more and more difficult to learn. Do you see problems in your relationship or marriage life and you are desirous of seeking help. Do not wait till irreparable damage is done. Is there someone you would like to reconcile with, but are procrastinating? Do not wait, or the opportunity may be over before you know it. Then you will say: “I wish I had spoken to him, but it is too late.” Few of us would delay to seek treatment if we know that we have contracted cancer or a life-threatening disease. But there are just too many things for which we procrastinate to do.

But is this proverb only about life in this world? Is it only to teach us how we can be happy in this world? No, no; it cannot be. If the book of Proverbs is read merely as principles for life in this world and no more, then this proverb may be used to justify the attitude of the rich fool who was deigned to build more barns to stash away his excess harvest. No, the inspired Proverbs are part of God’s self-revelation. It must not be read as some secular proverbs or self-help books, which have no concern about the destiny of the soul. No, like the rest of the Scripture, Proverbs is given to us that we may be wise unto salvation. Thus, there is a spiritual lesson for us from the passage.

A Spiritual Lesson

The ultimate and spiritual lesson from this formic proverb is that how we live today will determine our future. Right now counts forever! The slothful is not concern about the future. He thinks, “I am OK now. I have a job, I have a house, I have a wife, I have all that I need. I am happy. Why worry about the future?” He forgets that man is set in this world only temporally. The Word of God teaches us that “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecc 12:14). Let none of us go away with the wrong idea. Everything we do in this life has eternal implication because God will judge everything that we do. God is a perfect judge. When He judges, everything will be taken into consideration. The Lord Jesus Christ tells us that even an idle word spoken will be judged. It is, therefore, abundantly clear that what you do in this life will have implication for eternity.

Do not procrastinate in your spiritual duties and seeking salvation in Christ. Listen to the counsel of the Apostle Paul: “[do] Not [be] slothful in business; [be] fervent in spirit; serving the Lord” (Rom 12:11). The day of death will come upon you as a thief. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom 13:12). If you know that you have only a month left to live, will you live differently from what you are doing now? If you know you have a week left, will there be any difference? The trouble is that most of us live as if we will never die. But the reality is that we may die at any moment. And it is reality too that even if we do not die abnormally, our life is actually so short, and time passes by so quickly. We must live as if we are going to die, for with each passing day we are one day nearer to meeting our Creator and Judge. Think about those who have gone ahead of us. Let bad examples remind us of our sloth and strike terror in us. But let the examples of faithful saints stir us to diligence: “Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:12).

Beloved, friends, you have a rational mind, the ants do not. You have the Bible and also expositors of the Bible. The ants have nothing. What a great irony if the ants know how to survive whereas you fail to do anything to prepare yourself. May this lesson from the ants provoke you to think about the future and to begin to lay up treasures in heaven. May it not be said of you what Proverbs says of the sluggard: “The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (Prov 26:16).

And, may I remind you of one great difference between ants and you: You have a soul, ants do not. When ants die, they return to the dust and that is the end. When you die, your body returns to the ground and will remain in the ground until the resurrection, but your soul returns to your Creator, who will judge you for your life. The ants will not be judged. They know nothing. They have no responsibility. But you will be judged because you ought to know, you have responsibility and you are rational and you have been forewarned.

Notice this spiritual implication in a parallel proverb: “The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long: but the righteous giveth and spareth not” (Prov 21:25–26). Notice how the slothful is said to be committing suicide? He desires and covets, but he would not work. He expects things to happen as he wishes, but it does not happen this way. Moreover, notice what the slothful is contrasted with. Is it the industrious? Is it the hardworking? No, it is “the righteous”!

Who is the righteous? No man is truly righteous by biblical standards. Only those who have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ may be regarded as righteous. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom 10:4). “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). How is this so? It is so because Christ loves His Church and lived and died on her behalf (Eph 5:25b). The Christian, moreover, has a new heart. He has a new heart which loves the Lord, and a new desire to please God. He is enabled to die to sin and live unto righteousness.

What a great irony, is it not: that the tiny ant knows how to prepare for winter, whereas a man who can squash the ant with the pinkie does not take heed and does not prepare for the winter of his soul? The ultimate sluggard, my dear friends, is the one who has heard the Gospel and says: “I will think about it another time.” Or, “when I grow up then I will consider these things.” Or, “when I have settled in my career and enjoyed my life, then I will contemplate these things.” Or, “why worry: death is a long way to come.” In other words, the worst sluggard is one who hears the Gospel but does not care for his soul. The Bible calls such a person wicked. Because he has no regard for God, though God has so graciously brought him to hear the Gospel. This is why the sluggard can be contrasted with the righteous.


How should you prepare?

Are you a believer? Persevere on: repent of your sins, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and make use of the means of grace. Do not neglect them. You know all these? Yes, but man is a forgetful creature. You need to be reminded. Constantly seek after Christ. Constantly seek to know Him more, and love Him more. Do not allow your heart and love to grow cold and formal.

Are you an unbeliever? You cannot prepare yourself by your own efforts. Because nothing you do will be enough. You can read the Bible and you must. You can come to church and you must. You can pray and you should. But these things are not going to be enough preparation. Without Christ, whatever you do to prepare yourself is like ants trying to prepare for winter by planting daisies. If you are without Christ, oh what a rude shock it will be when winter comes, for this winter is no cool weather. It is fire that burns and cannot be quenched. Why will you perish? Will you not repent of your sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ while there is yet time?

Remember the ants. The next time you see an ant, do not squash it immediately. Think about your life. Learn a lesson from the ant. Then squeeze it hard. And remember how short and meaningless your life will be too—without Christ

J.J. Lim