“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.”
I adore the book of Proverbs. It is one of the most practical books in the entire Bible. Even if you don’t believe in God, in which case Proverbs would call you out as a fool, there is much practical, everyday wisdom and instruction to be had in its pages. I believe I have a particular affinity for Proverbs because Solomon chooses to throw out any sugar coating and gets straight to the problem. Take Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” There are no fluffy words. He says it plainly and simply. If you love discipline, then you love knowledge. If you don’t, then you’re stupid.
Proverbs 24:30-34 is another one of these types of passages. Solomon tells a story of how he was walking down the road and stumbled upon an overgrown vineyard that belonged to a lazy man. The vineyard was clearly no longer producing fruit. It was overgrown with weeds and thorns. Even the stone wall that surrounded and protected the vineyard was broken. Solomon took this as a teachable moment. Clearly laziness doesn’t get you far…but it does get you deep into poverty.
Now, I by no means believe that every person who finds him/herself wanting is lazy. In fact, Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” Clearly we are to be generous to the poor, giving all that we are able as unto The Lord himself. Jesus drives home the point in Matthew 25:31-46 when he compares those who were generous in life with their time, talents, and resources with those who were not. He says they will be thanked for feeding, clothing, visiting, and helping him when he was in need. The righteous person will be confused, not remembering when they did these good deeds “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
I believe that this Proverb, though, is speaking directly to the person who is in poverty because of his own laziness. There are many who are in poverty because they don’t feel like working 40 hours or more a week. They don’t want to go through the hard work of developing a stellar portfolio or resume. They go hungry and find themselves wanting. I think the implications of this problem are clear. Hard work => good return. Laziness => poverty. But I think there is more we can glean from this warning of the perils of laziness.
At the risk of over-spiritualizing the passage, I think we can learn much more than the obvious here. Of course Solomon is talking about physical laziness, physical weeds and thorns, and physical poverty. But there are many passages in the Bible that use agricultural laws to illustrate a spiritual reality.
The Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 is a story about a farmer who goes to plant seeds on his land. The seed lands in many different places and, therefore, some of the seeds grow better than other seeds. Some of the seeds land among thorns and weeds and are choked out. Now the parable is not really about seeds and soil, but about the telling of the word of God. Some of the seeds have landed among the thorns. Verse 22 clarifies that the thorns and weeds are “the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches.”
It is important to remember that each seed that the farmer tossed out was the same. Each seed had the same potential to grow, but not all of the soil was the same. I believe we can relate this back to our vineyard from Proverbs. Notice that Solomon didn’t say he passed by a vineyard that had horrible soil compared to the neighboring vineyards and farms. Not at all. It was good soil with the same potential as any other vineyard. The man simply chose not to till the ground and pull out the weeds.
Spiritually speaking, we can get lazy and allow weeds and thorns to choke out our fruit from growing. “The cares of the world, and deceitfulness of riches” can cause us to neglect the people and responsibilities that truly matter in this world. We can get lazy and stop reading our Bibles. We can get lazy and stop going to church. We can get lazy and stop praying to God. We can get lazy and stop telling other people about the joy we have found in a relationship with God. We get lazy.
Who knows? Maybe this farmer had worked so hard during the last growing season that he had so much excess and decided to take a vacation. But the season(s) of neglect resulted in an overgrown vineyard that no longer produces fruit and lacks the walls to defend it from robbers and wild animals…not to mention a hungry and needy farmer.
This vineyard had three identifying factors.
1. The thorns and weeds. When we get lazy, thorns and weeds, the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, start to overgrow our lives. This starts slowly with a little bit of greed here and a little bit of vanity there until they are the only things you will see. Anyone who has done any farming or gardening will tell you that you don’t need to try to plant weeds. They just show up. Every day you may walk out to your garden and find a new weed or two and they need to be pulled. Humans don’t need to work hard to become “worldly.” We don’t have to try to be selfish or greedy. It comes naturally to us. It takes hard work and prayer to keep those things from taking over in our lives.
2. The lack of fruit. Once the weeds and thorns have taken over, they begin to choke out the fruit. Maybe there was still some fruit when the weeds first started to come in, but left alone long enough, the weeds overtook the whole vineyard and there were no longer any fruitful plants. Galatians 5 tell us that “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” When we become lazy, the weeds, or cares of this world, choke out all of the wonderful fruit that should be growing in our lives. It only takes a small amount of observation of a person to determine if there is much good fruit being produced in his/her life. We all know someone who me we admire who is full of love, joy, peace…etc. Chances are they are not lazy and are constantly weeding out the thorns from their lives.
3. The lack of protection. Have you ever seen an old, abandoned farm with fences falling over? An active, attentive farmer rebuilds broken fences and works to keep plants from overgrowing and destroying the fences. Our back yard has a thick block wall between us and the trail in town. We have an enormous tree that is not far from the wall. Now, I’m sure when the city first built the wall, it was in great shape and the tree was a little smaller. We currently have a huge crack in the wall where the roots of the tree have started to break the wall in two. The tree, left to its own devices, is beginning to destroy the barrier that protects our yard from invaders. Likewise, the stone wall that had been built to divide and protect this vineyard from robbers or wild animals is destroyed due to neglect. When we become lazy we destroy the barriers between ourselves and the things that would steal our fruit…our love, joy, peace…etc. We allow thieves to come in and take what they want. Whether that thief be an affair, pornography, or some other obvious sin, or something less obvious that takes little by little like too much tv, spending too much money, or gossip, they begin to take anything of value left. The greatest defense we have against these weeds is the Word of God. Hebrews 4 tells us that the word of God is alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, exposing our heart, thoughts, and attitude. The word of God makes the enemies of our hearts clear to us so we can properly defend ourselves and built up walls to keep them out. I used to spend a lot of time on Pinterest. I discovered that the time I spent on Pinterest gave me a horrible case of, what my step mom likes to call, “I-Want-itis.” I became discontented, greedy, and frustrated. I was discontented to see all of these beautiful projects that will never realistically be within my reach. It would take ten mansions to be able to store all of the wonderful bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, backyards, and other objects of my desire. I still pop on Pinterest every now and then when I’m looking for ideas for specific projects or parties. But I constantly have to remind myself to not get carried away. God’s word calls us to flee trim temptation, to not become greedy, and to store our treasures in heaven. If it takes getting rid of my Pinterest app to keep those undesirable thorns out of my life, so be it. I’d rather see good fruit.
Now, if we are honest, we will all say that we have most certainly gone through seasons of clear spiritual laziness. We’ve neglected that which is most important to living this life to the fullest. If we were to inspect our own lives during those seasons we would see a clear correlation between our choice of spending time with God, reading his word, and serving his people, with the health of our spiritual lives.
This vineyard was, no doubt, a sad sight to see. Solomon saw the potential in what could be and thought, “what a pity. What a sad waste of a wonderful vineyard with great potential to grow and provide for a family.” Take this wonderful passage as a warning against laziness both in your physical life as well as your spiritual life. I only pray that my heart will ponder and heed this warning for the rest of my life as I attempt to live a life that is continuously connected to Christ.