DISCLAIMER: What is presented here is admittedly inconclusive. Yet I still believe it can be beneficial to our productivity as a co-worker with Jesus Christ.
Proverbs 22:13 (KJ)
“The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.”
Merriam-Webster defines slothful as ‘indolent’.
Merriam-Webster then defines indolent as ‘averse to activity, effort, or movement : habitually lazy’. ¹
I’ve always assumed this ‘slothful man‘ from 22:13 was someone who would make up any excuse to get out of work.
I suppose I accepted this assumption mostly because of being a life-long American, from a sizable city. Wild beasts in the streets was something I’d never experienced. ²
Whatever the reasons, I assumed the lion in this case was an imaginary danger.
GIVE THE GUY A BREAK
But for some cultures (both ancient and current), wild beasts, inside the ‘city limits’, are a real danger.
Maybe I need to cut this ‘slothful man‘ some slack.
If you drop “habitually lazy” from the Merriam-Webster definition, you end up with: “averse to activity, effort, or movement.”
This shortened definition could reflect a temporary frame-of-mind.
Suppose I was headed out the door, and a lion was lounging on my lawn. I would go back inside.
Would that make me “habitually lazy”?
No. But it would make me, for a while at least, “averse to activity, effort, or movement.” Calling 9-1-1 would probably be my greatest achievement during the next couple of hours.
So … what about this Proverbs man who also doesn’t want to face a lion? Is he just making up “any excuse” to avoid work?
Perhaps. Unless the lion is real. Then he is, in most cases, exhibiting wisdom.
Yet Proverbs is hard on the guy, calling him ‘slothful’.
I have not done extensive research. And I know that Proverbs shoots many arrows at slothfulness.
But I’m now wondering if Proverbs 22:13 might be one of those ‘gems’ that sparkles from several angles. In the case of this article, that angle would not be laziness, but the disabling power of fear.
In Revelation 3:16 ³ we read of Jesus getting very stern with believers who were ‘lukewarm’. These would be people with limits to their involvement. In their case, it wasn’t fear of lions that held them back, but rather reliance on their wealth.
Yet, the damage would be similar in this respect: their commitment (to the things of God, in their case) would not be 100%. If a situation demanded more than their commitment level, they would become “averse to activity, effort, or movement.”
Perhaps our slothful guy from Proverbs was like that … lukewarm. You could count on him up to a point. But if required to face something difficult or frightening, he became unreliable.
His passion to obey was overridden by some form of self-preservation.
Our sense of self-preservation was given to us by God, so it is not automatically an evil thing. It stops us from doing stupidly hazardous actions.
But when self-preservation stops us from doing an “activity, effort, or movement” God has requested of us, then it has become a conflict-of-interest.
DRAW YOUR OWN MEAT FROM THIS MATERIAL
Jesus is certainly unimpressed by ‘lukewarm’. I’m currently thinking the writer of Proverbs 22:13 was similarly unimpressed. I’m also thinking there are multiple lessons to be had from all this.
However, my purpose is not to suggest some of those lessons. My purpose is to present a different look at a verse that I think I’ve seriously misjudged for four decades.
BUT … I would repeat this popular quip:
“If God brings you to it, He will see you through it.”
NO LACK OF MATERIAL
The Bible is well-stocked with confidence verses, commands to ‘fear not’, and examples of what total trust in God can produce. By ‘well-stocked’ I mean … a lifetime of feasting.
If you’d like an immediate example, here’s a link to another article (short) from “The Lindberg Children”:
‘FEAR NOT’ – First Occurence in KJV Is Loaded for Bear
THE ABRUPT CONCLUSION
Trust God completely.
¹ Merriam-Webster definition of ‘indolent’
² I also may have been to some degree guided to this assumption by other sources. Here is one:
“Slothfulness produces a sickly timidity, and is ever fruitful and expert in raising idle objections and imaginary dangers.” The Land & The Book, William M. Thompson, citing Proverbs 22:13 as documentation of his point. (P.337 in my copy, but can be found via the “INDEX OF SCRIPTURE TEXTS ILLUSTRATED” in the back of the book),
³ Revelation 3:14-19 (KJ)
“14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye salve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. ”