At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.Proverbs 20:1
In reading a proverb like this, the first striking thing about it is how obvious it all seems. There is a man who owns a piece of property, say, a field, or a vineyard, and this man is lazy and “void of understanding.”
Because he did not understand how the world works, because he was a sluggard, his agricultural endeavors were overgrown with thorns and nettles, and the stone wall around it was broken down. This is the part that was not obvious to him, to the owner, but which is obvious to us. If you don’t weed, you are going to have weeds. If you don’t repair the wall, the wall will be in a state of disrepair.
But notice how the author of Proverbs talks about this. He “considered it well.” He mulled, he reflected, he pondered. When he considered it well, having looked, he received instruction. What seems intuitive and obvious to us now is actually a topic that will repay meditation. God has placed us in a world of cause and effect. God is not mocked—a man reaps what he sows. If he sows laziness, he reaps nettles. But there is something in the fallen nature of man that wants to grasp at the possible exceptions. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and sometimes a man wins Powerball.
Yes, but not usually. The true results happen regularly enough to be called predictable. Poverty comes like “one who travels.” Several translations render this as “robber,” so perhaps we might combine the senses and say “highwayman.” The second expression brings the full sense. Poverty comes like a mugging. For however obvious it is, it takes wisdom to see it all clearly.
And this brings the sense home. There is a character in a Hemingway story who says that bankruptcy came upon him slowly, and then suddenly. It is like that here. The consequences of laziness and ignorance are cumulative, and they accumulate slowly. It can be managed—for a time. But then the disaster comes. Poverty sticks the gun in your ribs and says, “Hand it over.”