“The sluggard’s path is like a hedge of thorns, while the way of the upright is smoothed down.” Proverbs 15:19
I know of no pattern of behavior that causes more concern in Proverbs than that of sloth and laziness. We find it throughout the Book. Let’s explore.
First, in 15:19, what does it mean that a sluggard’s path is like a hedge of thorns?
For starters, a lazy person is one, metaphorically, who is prone to avoid the work of tending to one’s path, thus allowing it to become overcome by wild growth, including thorns. This “path” could be read as one’s house, one’s job, one’s relationships, indeed one’s life.
What are the consequences of our path becoming “like a hedge of thorns?”
Walking down such a path would be slow, difficult, and painful. Ironically, then, the sluggard who wants life to be easy makes it harder. Negligence, thus, creates a further barrier – through the mess of the thorns – for the sluggard to have a clear path forward.
The burden of clearing away the thorns is real enough. But, worse, the sluggard often will exaggerate the problem in order to justify the “impossibility” of overcoming it. As an example, in a burst of stalling imagination, “the sluggard may say, ‘There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!’” Proverbs 22:13
All of this proves exhausting to the already exhausted sluggard who becomes even more inclined to “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.” This, then, results in the ultimate product of laziness: “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” Proverbs 24:33-34
Yet, for the upright one who works hard, the path is actually easier. It is smoothed down, made plain. The Hebrew word is selulah. Beautifully, identically rooted verbs are used in Isaiah 57-62, to express God’s promise to cast up the people and make smooth the highway for their return from exile.
So, while the sluggard wishes for the smooth road, the diligent is the one who finds it. Even more, it is the diligent who, as repairer of broken walls and restorer of streets with dwellings, brings the smooth road to others.
Surely, this wisdom is as apt for us in our own time as it was for our forebears. So, set the alarm, and snap to it!