Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 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. (ESV)
The two essentials for financial survival are easy to know but not easy to do.
We must (1) store when we have abundance and (2) endure the pain of work to get the gain from work.
This means (1) not overspending when we can easily overspend and (2) not over resting when we can easily over rest.
A little extra sleep on a regular basis is one of the greatest obstacles to financial prosperity. Learn to get out of bed quickly. A step out of bed is a step out of poverty. It really is true: You snooze, you lose! The ant is the epitome of industry. Check it out for yourself. The ant exemplifies internal motivation. The ant works very hard to prepare for its anticipated future needs. This text tells us to learn from the ways (plural) of the ant to improve our financial condition. We will learn many lessons on rejecting laziness and the benefits of saving for future needs. But there’s a danger here for those of us who take great pride in ourselves. Ants have tiny brains. How can we learn anything from tiny, simple-minded ants? Read on to find out.
Part One: Pride Leads to Poverty
As the Geneva Bible Translation Notes say: “If the word of God cannot instruct you, learn from the little ant to labour for yourself.” Ants are busy little creatures. Certainly the ant does not have great intelligence in itself, but an ant colony reveals the intelligent design of the natural world.
The Amazing Ant
The Financial Freedom: Men’s Manual Volume 2,1 contains a comprehensive and attractive commentary on this passage. It describes the ant’s strength, government and industry. Do ants really harvest crops? Until the late 1800s many thought that Solomon had exaggerated the industry of the ant. However, In 1871 a species of ant was found that not only harvests grain, but also winnows it and treats it to prevent germination during storage.
Harvester Ants have also been known to carry spoiled seeds to dumping grounds, where they sprout and create small fields that are cultivated and later harvested. The grain is stored in large underground granaries, where it is actually milled and converted to a type of bread.
A Leaf-cutter Ant can carry up to 50 times its own weight. Leaf-cutter ants also act cooperatively with other creatures. They cannot digest the leaves that they harvest so they cultivate a type of fungus to break down the cellulose in the leaves to make them useable for the ants as food. This cooperation between species is called symbiosis—more evidence of an intelligent Creator! Read more about intelligent design here: Intelligent Design.
Some ants act like dairy farmers in that they herd aphids that secrete a sweet sticky substance called honeydew, which is greatly prized by the ant. Unlike bees that live about two months before they work themselves to death, ants live for years. Young ants usually begin working in the nursery, and when they are 5 or 6 years old they assume leadership responsibilities in the colony.
Ants hibernate during the winter. In the spring when plant sap is scarce, they survive on their stored food. The ant works hard like a slave, but has no slave driver. It demonstrates inner motivation, determination, and peer interdependency. It was not just Solomon who learned from the ant. Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper highlights a similar lesson. The Aesop Fable. Learn the lesson. Ants work diligently during times of opportunity to prepare for times of need when there will be no opportunity. Opportunities come and go. Seize them when you can.
Classic Comments: Saving, Teamwork, Diligence and Even Nursery Duty
Matthew Henry comments on three clear lessons from this passage:
- 1. We must prepare for hereafter, and not mind the present time only, not eat up all, and lay up nothing, but in gathering time treasure up for a spending time.
- 2. We must take pains, and labour in our business, yea, though we labour under inconveniences... The ants help one another; if one has a grain of corn too big for her to carry home, her neighbours will come in to her assistance.
- 3. We must improve opportunities; we must gather when it is to be had, as the ant does in summer and harvest, in the proper time.
Adam Clarke, in his commentary on this passage notes:
No insect is more laborious, not even the bee itself; and none is more fondly attached to or more careful of its young, than the ant. When the young are in their larva state, in which they appear like a small grain of rice, they will bring them out of their nests, and lay them near their holes, for the benefit of the sun; and on the approach of rain, carefully remove them, and deposit them in the nest, the hole, or entrance to which they will cover with a piece of thin stone or tile, to prevent the wet from getting in.
More Classic Comments: Food Preservation & Retirement
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, observes that the ant,
...though a small, weak, feeble creature, will travel over flints and stones, climb trees, enter into towers, barns, cellars, places high and low, in search of food; never hinder, but help one another in carrying their burdens; prepare little cells to put their provisions in, and are so built as to secure them from rain; and if at any time their corn is wet, they bring out and dry it, and bite off the ends of it, that it may not grow.
According to Gill many scholars have concluded that this text is teaching people,
...to presage old age, and therefore provides against it. The lesson from the ant is instruction to persons who are in health, and have youth on their side; that they may have a sufficiency for present use, and lay up against a time of sickness and old age.
The Keil & Delitzsch (K&D) commentary describes the ant as “a model of unwearied and well-planned labour.” It is noteworthy that the Hebrew word for sluggard (aw tsal) is based on a root word meaning to lean idly, to be indolent or slack. K&D observe that the word includes the idea of weight and dullness. Have you ever seen a fat lazy ant? The queen ant may be large, filled with eggs, but she is not fat. The K&D commentary also notes that the worker ant is not the same as the worker bee. The sluggard is not told to go to the bee to learn her ways but to the ant. Most types of ants are easy to observe and don’t sting!
A chief, officer, or ruler all represent the management of an enterprise. It is management’s role to organize labour to prepare for future scarcity. Ants have no supervisors prodding them on in their work. We may have parents, teachers, team leaders, and others to get us to work, but still we are often negligent. The point is: Think ahead. Work now and prepare for the future when resources may be scarce. At first all these glowing reports about the ant seemed to me to be overdone until I visited the city library. I found entire books describing the complexities of the ants. The more I read the more I was amazed by the industry of this lowly creature.
Conclusion Part One
- Be alert for opportunities.
- Understand that seasonal and economic cycles result in periods of scarcity (i.e. winter).
- Work hard during both seeding and harvest times and save the extra production for the future.
- Do it from internal, not external motivation.
What will keep us from being prepared? Intelligence, tools, and talent are not required. It’s so simple we miss it: GET OUT OF BED! The words sleep, slumber, and folding of the hand to rest are three states of low consciousness. Each state has a higher degree of alertness, but that really doesn’t matter, the person is still doing nothing! Our first daily obstacle is the battle of the blanket. The text speaks of an imminent attack.
The Hebrew word for robber can also be translated as vagabond. It means a traveler or someone rather like a street person, or hobo with no fixed address. He can make good use of all your assets since he has none of his own. His traveling companion referred to him as an armed man, connoting someone who cannot be overpowered; even though you fight against him, you won’t win.
Thus the battle is against two men. One will take your possessions. The other will resist all your efforts to stop him. It’s two against one... better get out of your pyjamas fast!
Rise and Shine Tactics
It’s usually uncomfortable getting out of bed, especially during the cold Canadian winter. Start the process the evening before:
- Determine why it’s important to wake up.
- Get into bed early.
- Avoid drinking fluids after 6 PM.
When you wake up... get up!
- The first 30 seconds are critical.
- Arching your back while lying in bed makes it a little easier to get up.
- Perhaps lift your legs and ride a bicycle for a short while.
- Concentrate on ONE thought as you battle with the blanket.
Those first few minutes are not a time for heavy intellectual work, but for raw endurance. Be prepared for some pain. The reward afterward is worth the brief discomfort.
Zip a la Ziglar
In his book, See You at the Top, Zig Ziglar, one of the top American motivational speakers of the 20th Century, tells people how to start the day with zip:
Most people when the alarm sounds, they moan a bit, slap their faces and say, “Oh no, don’t tell me it’s time to get up already—I feel like I just laid down.” Many people start each day like it’s going to be another yesterday—and they didn’t like yesterday. With this kind of start, is it any wonder one “bad” day follows another bad day? There is a better way to start your day, and it will produce dramatically better results for you. Follow this procedure and you’ll acquire enthusiasm as a permanent way of life.
Now I want to give you some bad news and some good news. Bad news first. By following this procedure you’ll probably feel foolish and perhaps even childish. This will be some what diminished by the fact that your mate (if you have one) will be the only one who’ll know about it.
Now for the good news. First, you’ll get more enjoyment out of life for yourself and for those with whom you work, live, and associate. Then, you’ll earn more money. You might not receive it immediately, but you will earn it, and that means very shortly you’ll receive it. (Seriously now, you would be willing to feel slightly ridiculous five minutes each day if it meant more fun and more money, wouldn’t you?)
Tomorrow morning when the alarm clock goes off, reach over and shut it off. (I think that’s important.) Then, immediately sit straight up in bed, clap your hands and say, “Oh boy, it’s a great day to get out and take advantage of the opportunities the world has to offer.” Now, I want you to see the picture before you continue. You’re sitting on the side of the bed, two-thirds asleep with hair in your face. Not only that, but you’re slapping your hands like a 9-year-old child saying, “Oh boy, it’s a great day to get out and face the world.” If you live to be one hundred, you’ll never tell a bigger one than that. But let me emphasize something important: You’re up, and that’s where you wanted to be when you set the alarm, and you’re taking control of your attitude.
Whatever techniques you use, it’s important to start the day with a bounce.
Extra Sleep is Expensive
Over sleep and excess sleep are more costly than we realize. Just how much sleep is necessary? That depends on the individual. Young people need more sleep. Quick rising, especially in the early morning, does NOT mean that the body must be deprived of necessary sleep for basic health. A little extra rest easily becomes a lot. We all know how we lose our sense of time while asleep. What feels like a few minutes may be over an hour.
Try taking a power nap in the afternoon. A short nap for a few minutes during the day can be very refreshing. During WWII Winston Churchill learned to operate consistently on 4 hours of sleep with short naps during the day. But are there benefits to quick early rising when the nation is not at war?
Early Morning Outings
During the summer of 1997, for one week I handled my daughter’s paper route. This meant delivering all newspapers before 6:30 AM to all the customers. I realized what customer service meant... pleasing them rather than myself. And I also realized the benefit of being outside in the early morning: The air is fresher, it is quieter, and the traffic is lighter. My mind is alert and ready for input. It accelerates the wake-up process to get out of the house. This is why the military often have early-morning training runs as part of boot camp.
One Common Cause of Poverty
Poverty, like sickness, has many causes. Government programs designed to eliminate poverty are often misguided benevolence. Sometimes people are financially poor simply because they have bad work ethics and sleep-in when they should be up and at it!
I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise.” Thus to say, “I love my sleep,” is also to say, “I love my poverty.” No pain—no gain.
Our Maker, Saviour, and Friend
How did Jesus handle pain?
The record of Jesus’ life tells us that he would often get up before others. “In the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out to a lonely place, and was praying there,” (Mark 1:35). Jesus is described as a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. We are told to “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted,” (Hebrews 12:3).
It’s amazing how much easier it is to handle discomfort—even the slight discomfort of getting out of a warm bed—when we think about the pain, agony, and public humiliation that Jesus Christ endured on our behalf without complaint.
- Memorize the text in your favourite Bible translation and think about it often.
- Don’t naively believe that the future will always be rosy. Prepare for bad times during the good times.
- Imagine two uninvited strangers coming into your home while you are snoozing. One is raiding your fridge, and the other is standing guard to protect him. Maybe it’s better not to snooze.
- Do whatever it takes to optimize your time awake. Don’t waste your life by sleeping it away.
Which of these steps, if any, does Jesus want you to take now? Ask Him.
1Men's Manual, vol. 2 (Oak Brook: Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, Inc. 1983), 226-229.