“I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 24:30-34)
There are many ways to learn: classroom instruction, on-the-job experience, role-playing, written essays, online education and discussion groups, and so on. One of the most effective ways to learn is through observation and application. The ESV Study Bible Notes comments on the process of learning according to Proverbs 24:30-34. “These verses illustrate how proverbs are supposed to function: upon walking by a field and vineyard that has fallen into ruin through laziness…the observer takes it to heart and rightly recognizes…that the wise instruction he has heard about the sluggard applies to the situation at hand.” We have a picture of neglect in an overgrown vineyard with rubble instead of a wall. Inside the home, we have another picture of the owner sleeping, with idle hands. Hopefully we, the observers, learn that “sustained and steadfast labor is a part of the path of wisdom.” (1)
This lesson is not a new one for us, but verse 34 describes the poverty that is inevitable from neglecting work, which seems to come suddenly, like a thief, and unsatisfied “want” like an armed robber. The teachable observer isn’t at all surprised since the vineyard did not descend into disorder overnight. However, the one who should have been working has been living in a bubble of unrealistic expectations and is suddenly overcome with the consequences of his slothfulness. Perhaps unwanted animals have invaded his garden since the wall no longer functions to keep them out. And not only is there no fruit from which the owner would benefit, but the work has increased many times over. Anyone who has had to renovate a garden plot or orchard knows the tremendous job involved in removing straying roots and unwanted weeds that are the size of bushes in their overgrown state.
A great many spiritual analogies may be given for this neglected vineyard. For example, John Gill says, “the fence about the fields, the wall about the vineyard, to keep out men and beasts and thus carnal professors and unregenerate men, having no guard upon themselves, are open and exposed to every sin, snare, and temptation; Satan has free egress and regress; the evil spirit can go out and come in when he pleases, and bring seven evil spirits more wicked than himself: indeed such is the evil heart of man that it needs no tempter; he is drawn aside of his own lust, and enticed; he is liable to every sin, and to fall into the utmost ruin; he has nothing to protect and defend him; not the Spirit, nor grace, nor power of God.” (2)
My purpose, however, is not quite as ambitious—to help us remember that God has given us food-bearing plants and trees for our benefit and his glory, just as he has given us work to do, for the provision of our needs. Keeping up with our work diligently and responsibly provides continual sustenance for ourselves and our families while neglect will result in unmet needs. We have a choice to either attend to our responsibilities and relationships regularly or be an object lesson for someone watching us. Christians have the calling and means to witness effectively for Christ by our work ethic, with the untiring Holy Spirit, who protects us from invaders and compels us to work. But do we?
(1) ESV Bible Study Notes, Proverbs 24:30-34, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(2) John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Proverbs 24:31, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-24.html