The Teaching of Proverbs On Work
There are not as many verses in the book of proverbs dealing directly with work as I expected. Topics searched included: work, labor, toil, diligent, job, industry, gather (and the various inflections of these terms). In total there appears to be about 15 verses bearing directly on the subject.
A List of Relevant Scriptures
10:5; 12:11,14, 24; 13:11; 14:23; 16:6; 18:9; 21:25; 22:29; 24:27; 28:19; 31:13, 17, 31.
Principles from Proverbs
The consistent presupposition of the Proverbs on this subject is that the person being addressed by these pithy sayings is indeed able to work. This would include most of us by far, but there are certain people who are unable to work (for whatever reason), and should not feel guilty for not being able to perform the duty described in the proverb. For them God has another word of wisdom (cf. Proverbs 3:5, 6).
1. Working is essential to living and obtaining the essentials for life.
2. Food is essential to life (12:11a; 16:26; 28:19a).
3. Food in these verses can really be amplified to include any basic necessity of life (clothing, money, etc.).
Lesson 1: Accept work as God’s divine design for you (cf. Genesis 2:15; 2 Thess. 3:10)!
Therefore, it can be said that: (1) People who refuse to work reveal a lack of common sense in their judgment. (2) Sometimes people refuse to do the job that they have because they’re always looking for a better one (12:11b). (3) Refusing to work can lead to death (21:25).
Lesson 2: Be careful for the "grass is greener on the other side of the fence" syndrome.
But, just determining to see the logic in working and then setting out to work is not enough. It is obviously the place to start, but one must also. . . Prioritize his work. Do the primary things first; the things upon which all else depends.
After determining which things are primary and which are secondary, and depend on the former, determine also, the proper order of the primary and secondary things (10:5).
Lesson 3: Do first things first, according to a plan.
Then, once a person has determined to prioritize their work by planning carefully, a person should work hard because. . . Working hard is better than working in a lazy manner.
- Hard work brings a profit (14:23a).
- Work done in a slack manner is as good as a piece of work which is later destroyed. Both are valueless (18:9).1
- Slack work leads to poverty (14:23b).
- Diligent work leads to control of one’s situation (12:24).2
Lesson 4: If you’re going to work, you might as well work hard. . .there are many benefits. In the end, after a person has worked wisely and hard, he will often times find that his. . .
- Work can be very rewarding (12:14).
- We get encouraged when we say nice things to others.
- There is, likewise, a deep sense of pleasure as we reflect upon a job well done.
Lesson 5: Enjoy your work–it’s God’s plan!
As time passes, a person who has worked wisely and diligently will find themselves rewarded by their labor as well as skilled at what they do with the result that. . . People who are skilled at their work are sought out by people (22:29).
- Skilled people do not only serve before obscure people.
- Skilled people will eventually be called upon to demonstrate their skill be people in positions of authority (including public arenas).
Lesson 6: If you are good at what you do, do not be surprised when others want to see you in action.
The ideal wife works so well that she should be honored for her work.
- She has skill and ability at what she does (31:13).
- She has an obvious plan (15a)
- She works vigorously (31:17).
- She should be honored by her community (31:31).
Lesson 7: Extol your wife and women in general for their fine work.
Work is God’s idea and therefore excellent for man. Any attempt to circumvent this process only reveals an inability to perceive the obvious. However, for those committed to working, they need to know that there are ways to go about it that lead to enjoyment and reward. And those who are very skilled at their work often times get opportunities to demonstrate that skill before the public. Finally, when it comes to work, no price can be paid for the ideal wife who commits herself so wisely and thoroughly to her tasks that she merits public recognition for her abilities.
1 cf. BKC, 945. The interpretation of this proverb is difficult. It seems that the destruction must be similar to the idea of work done in a slack manner, i.e. a half-hearted job. Therefore, since a half-hearted job is seldom good enough to be profitable, it’s about as good as a piece of work that has been destroyed.
2 Another viable option in interpreting this verse seems to be that those who work hard will eventually govern (lvm) those who are lazy. However, the verb lvm usually takes a preposition when so used (i.e. with a direct object; cf. BDB, 605). On the other hand, the parallelism in the verse may convey the idea that the diligent will govern the lazy. Cf. also Buzzell in BKC (932) who says that some have understood the verse to mean that diligent people will someday govern, i.e. as political officials. Such is not an uncommon use of lvm. In the end, however, Buzzell thinks that the idea is that a diligent worker will be in charge of the various situations in life in which he finds himself. This is a nice antithetical parallel to the lazy person, who being out of control ends up with another needing to control him.