Summary: The book of Proverbs is not a book of finances. Rather, Proverbs is about wealth and want in light of the social reality of Proverbs. It makes us rethink the tribulations of poverty and, yes, even the troubles of prosperity (Prov. 15:16).
"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man" (Prov. 6:10-11).
The context of this sub-section is laziness. Solomon tells the lazy person to look to the ant (Prov. 6:6). The ant has no boss telling her what to do. Yet she prepares her bread in summer. She gathers food for the winter—when food is lacking in the bitter cold. The ant is a picture of diligence and preparation—the opposite of laziness.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep (Prov. 6:9)? At first glance, the issue seems to be the sleeping habits of the lazy person. Then in vv. 10-11, the wise man says that a little sleep leads to poverty. It does not mean that we should no longer sleep and rest. Sleep here symbolizes laziness in preparing for the future. It is not just laziness or doing nothing. In view of the ant, it is about laziness in preparing for tomorrow.
Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread (Prov. 20:13). In Proverbs 20:13, poverty is contrasted with plentiful food. Sleep is compared to the opening of the eyes. Hence, to sleep is to become poor, i.e., to lack food. Sleeping leads to poverty. Sleeping is thus a metaphor of laziness. To open the eyes, however, is to have plenty of food. Opening one’s eyes, therefore, is a metaphor of diligence.
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man (Prov. 6:10-11; cf. 20:4). If you are lazy and do nothing, poverty will come upon you like an armed robber. It would seem that poverty will attack quickly like armed robbers attack quickly. However, the word “robber” is actually a verb in the Hebrew (halak)1 which means to “go, come, walk.”2 It is a piel participle, translated, “going” or “walking,” indicating continuing action to produce a result.3 Hence, poverty shall come upon you like one walking towards you and getting to you.
The verb “armed” (magen) means “to beg” in the ancient language of Ugaritic. It can be translated, “beggar.”4 If you are lazy, poverty comes to you walking like a beggar.
What does a beggar do? A beggar keeps on asking you, clinging to you. He will not go away until you give him something. Hence, poverty shall come upon the lazy person like a beggar, clinging to him, asking for more, until he has nothing left to give.5
To avoid poverty, then, resist laziness. Fight it. Do not love sleeping or you will become poor. Open your eyes and you will prosper.
1 Unless otherwise noted, italicized words in parenthesis are Hebrew words.
2 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “?????,” BDB 2400:229.
3 Warren Baker, ed., The Complete Word Study Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG, 1994), 2280.
4 Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (NAC 14; ed. E. Ray Clendenen; Nashville: Broadman, 1993), 96.
5 Garrett, Proverbs, 96.