Proverbs: What Is Wisdom? Folly? Diligence? Laziness?

by charlestinsley

Proverbs is a book of The Bible which poetically presents Hebrew teachings regarding a variety of topics. These topics include: wealth, marriage, family, self control (diligence opposed to laziness), and relationships. Within the book’s teaching, the idea of wisdom is praised in all of its manifestations[1]. Also presented is the idea of folly. If wisdom can be classified as doing what is wise, folly is the representation of foolish decisions and choices. The book of Proverbs presents Hebrew teachings on a variety of topics and distinctly outlines the differences between wisdom and folly as well as diligence and laziness.

Wisdom and folly are two terms that could not be any further apart. Wisdom is the definition of making the wise decision that either pays off initially or later down the road. Folly is knowing the benefits of the wise choice, but making the foolish choice anyway. For example, a student is made aware of a big essay assignment that is due in a month’s time. Instead of getting to work on that essay, the student procrastinates until the last few days before the paper is due to being working on it. As a result, the essay is rushed and a failing grade is received from his folly. Had the student been diligent and wise from the beginning, the essay would have been executed better and a higher grade would have been achieved. Worth noting is that a choice cannot technically be foolish if the person who makes it has not been taught or shown (by another or past experience) other alternatives to certain behaviors. This is a big reason why the book of Proverbs was and is necessary as a teaching mechanism.

Diligence and laziness are two topics covered on multiple occasions in Proverbs. For the sake of a general definition, diligence means being aware and “on top” of things. Laziness, therefore, would be someone who puts things off and makes excuses for their behavior[2]. Important to note is that Proverbs describes the lazy as “sluggards”[3]. Sluggards are slow moving creatures who seem to spend most of their time in one spot while their lives pass them over. Also important to recognize is diligence has rewards while laziness is presented as having consequences[4].

Proverbs makes several contrasts between the diligent and the lazy that mirror the contrasts between wisdom and folly.  For example: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”[5] In this verse, the ant is diligent because he acts on his own accord without needing to be forced to act. He is wise to do this in order to reap a bountiful harvest. In contrast: “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.”[6] A door is attached to its hinges just as the sluggard is attached to their bed. Also, a door has to be forced to move be it by hand or a gust of wind. In this respect, the sluggard would have to be forced to get out of bed and become productive. Therefore, because the sluggard is lazy and chooses to sleep and refrain from being as productive as the ant, the sluggard will not reap a bountiful harvest. The sluggard’s folly is that he chose to stay in his bed instead of being productive.

Another area alluded to is in regards to dreams and aspirations a person may have. Most notably: “The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.”[7] All of man has dreams and goals they would like to see realized, but accomplishments come from hard work and diligence. As presented above, the sluggard (lazy) has no desire to even get out of bed. The point of this passage is that the sluggard will continue to dream and it will eat him alive because it will never be realized if he is consistently lazy and unproductive.  In this example and the one prior, the ant’s diligence and wisdom reap reward while the sluggard’s follies and laziness lead to failures.

In regards to laziness and diligence, the book of Proverbs is quite extensive. The several examples presented above are just a fraction of the bountiful Hebrew teachings presented in the text. The contrast between wisdom and folly is quite clear in Proverbs as wise choices and actions reap benefits while folly reaps, well, nothing. God is and will always be the author of wisdom and the choices that man makes that are against God’s view of wisdom will always be follies. Now that God’s definition of wisdom has been revealed through Proverbs, man has no excuse for the follies they commit. Wisdom would be to heed God’s Word, it would be a folly to ignore it.

[1] Hindson, Edward E. and Gary Yates. The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey. Nashville:

B&H, 2012. p. 265

[2] Hindson, Edward E. and Gary Yates. The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey. Nashville:

B&H, 2012. p. 268.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Proverbs 6: 6-8.

[6] Proverbs 26:14.

[7] Proverbs 21:25

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One Comment to “Proverbs: What Is Wisdom? Folly? Diligence? Laziness?”

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