Hebrew Wisdom on Diligence and Laziness

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“Proverbs fulfill the human need to summarize experiences and observations into nuggets of wisdom that provide ready-made comments on personal relationships and social affairs.”[1]  In the Poetic books of the Bible, the reader is given a panoramic view on different aspects of life where its main purpose is for personal and spiritual discernment.  These books contain many different parallels both contrary to and complimenting multiple themes of the human experience, and “it is possible to come to an overall understanding of what Hebrew wisdom teaches regarding various practical topics.”[2]  Predominantly all of the proverbs are parallelisms of intelligible truths, and can be applied to any culture in any time.  “The uncertainties that Proverbs recognizes are the diverse circumstances of life, the contingencies that call for a change of course.”[3]  The Hebrew writers often taught about the realities and consequences of diligence and laziness, and how this corresponds with the contrast between wisdom and folly.

Most always life throws us circumstances which can be dealt with practically.  King Solomon was in a position to experience a multitude of instances that would give rise to an insurmountable knowledge about life.  He taught that with a sense of self discipline, the “hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put forced to labor” (Proverbs 12:24, NIV).  As King of the United Kingdom of Israel, Solomon was privy to have been acquaintance to a plethora of successful people throughout his life, and it seems clear that he often attributes diligence with wealth and success, while laziness can be the source of poverty and dismay.  Even the Hebrew Sages claimed that through sluggish behavior, nothing gets accomplished because the lazy have procrastinated in their efforts, making the outcome either ineffective or without merit.  “The sluggard always seems to find excuses for not getting things done, and thus, the excuses of the sluggard become a self-fulfilling prophecy (22:13; 26:13).”[4]

The book of Proverbs assumes “that folly is tantamount to sin–not just that sin is foolish, but that folly causes sin.”[5]  The Sages taught that without God, there is no real knowledge, and fearing Him is the primary source of all wisdom.  “The book of Proverbs emphasizes the fear of the Lord as the key to wisdom and knowledge.” [6]  Because Solomon was appointed King by the divine decree of the Lord, it is absolutely imperative that without Him, all efforts are futile and lack substance.  In his epilogue Ecclesiastes, he clearly establishes that “life can only be enjoyed in the context of the fear of God.”[7]  With a God centered life, wisdom will always supersede folly.  “I saw wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness” (Ecclesiastes 2:132, NIV).

Wealth and success are awarded to the wise, diligent and self-disciplined, while poverty and dismay are often the result of laziness and folly.  When God is in one’s life, they are moved to be like Him, proactive, diligent, seek wisdom and clarity of thought.  But through man’s condemnation, he will often procrastinate while the “limits of wisdom to provide any lasting solution to the fallen condition”[8] is strictly maintained in the values fundamental to a personal commitment to God.  Hebrew sages taught that the wise are diligent and the lazy are subject to folly.  However, without God, King Solomon teaches a profound truth that “For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten.  Like the fool, the wise must too must die” (Ecclesiastes 2:16, NIV).  The reverse qualities of diligence and laziness are synonymously comparable to the contrasts between wisdom and folly, and they directly correspond and are interpreted as antithetical parallels between righteousness and wickedness.[9]

The purpose of these distinctions is to bring the reader towards a deeper understanding of how God influences the lives of those who believe in Him.  Hard working unbelievers can be just as prosperous as a diligent believer, but in the end, their work is purposeless.  Hebrew wisdom, although practical in nature, is comparatively fused with the reverence and fear of the Lord.  The Sages consistently pointed “to an integration of practical judgment and knowledge of God, and that this is finally expressed in the Christian idea of participating in the triune God.”[10]  James said, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18, NIV).  As Christians in the New Covenant, these simple truths of Hebraic wisdom teach “not only how to make good choices in life, but also how to make Godly choices.”[11] The righteous are diligent and wise, but the wicked are lazy and foolish.

[1] Mieder, Wolfgang. “Proverbs: Definition and Classification.” In Proverbs: A Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press, 2004. http://folklore.greenwood.com/wff.aspx?k=6&x=GR2698&=p=GR2698-19&bc= (accessed October 2, 2015). Also available in print form.

[2] Hindson & Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 265

[3] Murphy, Roland E. “Can the Book of Proverbs be a player in ‘biblical theology’?” Biblical Theology Bulletin 31.1 (2001): 4+. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA94331627&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w&asid=c330c8dc825ff6b301b10f74a3019fb0

[4] Hindson & Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 268

[5] Fox, M. V. (2007). Ethics and wisdom in the book of proverbs. Hebrew Studies, 48, 75+. Retrieved from

http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA186861744&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=d5b2dcc8d14dbb70b1919d6ec145618d

[6] Hindson & Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 269

[7] Hindson & Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 273

[8] Hindson & Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 275

[9] Hindson & Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 263

[10] Paul S. Fiddes, Seeing the World and Knowing God, Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Later Modern Context (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013), 297-298

[11] Hindson & Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 259

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