Most of us don’t need to be told to value diligence. We work hard to move up in our jobs, to save for the future, to give our kids good opportunities, so when Proverbs warns against laziness and praises diligence, we gloss over. We’ve got this. But what if God has something else in mind for us?
In ancient Israel, the rhythms of life and work came from the rhythms of the field: planting and harvest times. In Proverbs 20:4, the sluggard shirks the job needing to be done in autumn. Rainy and dry seasons dictated the yearly calendar, determining planting and harvesting times as well as festivals and feasts. Tilling the earth required wisdom and diligence, knowing the proper time for the proper job, when to plow and plant, and how to tend the field to keep it fertile. They had to know when and how to harvest and store food so that there would be enough food for the year, seeds for planting next season, and extra grain for years of drought and famine. When the first rains began in October and November, farmers knew the planting season had begun. But the sluggard shied away from the wet, muddy job. She had no vision for the future or for what was needed for the future harvest, so in the spring and summer her fields were empty and her pantry bare. Without a harvest, the sluggard and her family would starve.
Within this context, we see that there are appropriate times for work and appropriate times for festivities and rest. This reflects the rhythms of God’s creation: six days of work and a day when God sat back on His throne and enjoyed the fruit of His toils. As God’s image-bearers our job is to care for and cultivate His creation. The wise person knows what to do when, and she acts upon that. She also knows to celebrate how God provides and cares for us. Diligence, then, is knowing how to faithfully serve others and acting on that knowledge.