Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Broken Wall of the Sluggard

Proverbs 24:30-34 gives us the following piece of wisdom:

I passed by the field of a sluggard,
    by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
    the ground was covered with nettles,
    and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
    I looked and received instruction.
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.  (ESV)

I used to think that the stone wall referenced here was a stone fence around the farmer's field to protect his property, and that may be what the author had in mind when he penned these verses.  However, there is an alternative way to understand this verse.

In the hill country of Israel, farmers use what is referred to as "terraced farming."  Since the hills are steep, farmers in ancient times built stone retaining walls to create fields that they could cultivate and to prevent the soil from eroding away.  The importance of these retaining walls cannot be stressed enough: no wall, then no soil; no soil, then no crops.  As you can see in the photograph above, the stone retaining wall has started to collapse and it is only a matter of time before the soil erodes away through the gaping hole.  Maintaining these stone walls would have been of first importance to a farmer in this region.

So instead of referring to a free-standing stone wall constructed around a field to protect it, these verses may be referring to a retaining wall constructed as a vital part of the field itself.  This only elevates the foolishness that is described.  It is one thing to leave you field unprotected from outside threats.  It is much worse to expose your field to severe erosion.  If you loose your crops one year due to thieves or animals, you can always plant again the next year.  But if you lose your entire field, then you are in dire straits.

There are many modern equivalents of this principle.  Are we being good manager of the resources that God has given us?  Are there basic things (such as balancing your checkbook or fixing that leak) that we are neglecting?  Don't be foolish, or "poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man."

Photo courtesy of