Lessons from an Ant
Proverbs 6:6-8; 30:25
Philippe R. Sterling
Have you ever heard of a Myrmecologist? No…it’s not a person that studies "murmuring”! Myrmecology is the study of ants.
Myrmecology (from Greek: μύρμηξ, myrmex, "ant" and λόγος, logos, "study") is a branch of entomology that focuses on the scientific study of ants. Some early myrmecologists considered ant society as the ideal form of society and sought to find solutions to human problems by studying them. Ants continue to be a model of choice for the study of questions on social systems because of their complex and varied forms of eusociality (social organization). Recently, researchers have studied ant colonies for their relevance in machine learning, complex interactive networks, parallel computing, and other computing fields.
I don’t know about devoting one’s whole life to studying the little things, but I do know that the Bible says to consider their ways. And when we do take a look at them, we find out that they are amazing creatures, and we can gain much wisdom from watching them.
The industrious ant has been the subject of proverbs, fables, songs, cartoons, and movies.
“The Ant and the Grasshopper” is one of Aesop’s Fables:
In a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.
“Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”
“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew: “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”
I’ve sung the song The Ants Go Marching One by One, Hurrah, Hurrah with my grandchildren. I watched the cartoon Atom Ant as a child. You may have seen the movies A Bug’s Life, Antz, Ant Man.
God at times sends us to the animals to learn certain lessons.
To cure our ingratitude, God sends us to the ox and the donkey: “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider” (Isa 1:3).
To cure our insensibility to the times, God sends us to the stork and other birds: “Even the stork in the heavens knows her appointed times; and the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the Lord” (Jer 8:7).
To cure our distrust, Jesus sends us to the ravens: “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?” (Luke 12:24)
To shake us from our lethargy, God sends us to the ant: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest” (Prov 6:6-8); and “The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their food in the summer” (Prov 30:25). Let us take note of the learner, the teacher, the instruction, the lessons to be learned, and the application of the whole appeal.
The learner is the sluggard, who is averse to duty, both in temporal and spiritual matters; and so, sins against God and his own interests. God does not intend us to be idle. Our faculties are made for use as all nature models for us. The sun runs its course. The waters flow. The winds blow. The earth brings forth its vegetation. But the sluggard is the shame of the creation. All nature is a witness against him to condemn his sloth. But here God sends the sluggard to the ant to learn to labor and make provision for the future.
The teacher is the ant, a diligent and wise creature. Scientists speak wonders of them, as what skill they show in building their nests; what order and discipline they have among themselves; what diligence they use to get provisions by day or by night; how they manage to adapt and survive in most land environments.
The instruction consists of three things: Go; Consider her ways; Be wise.
“Go,” as was the manner of going to a prophet. 1 Samuel 9:9 indicates, “Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: ‘Come, let us go to the seer’; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.” To shame the sluggard, God instructs him to go to the ant as he would go to a prophet. When he arrived, what must he do?
“Consider her ways.” This prophet speaks not by words, but by example. The sluggard is not to hear, but to see, and consider her ways; that is, see and reflect on the diligence and foresight of the ant.
“Be wise.” Be not a spectator only, but a doer; not more knowledgeable, but wiser; not indolent but diligent (cf. James 1:22-25).
The lessons to be learned are industry and foresight and self-motivation.
Ants are busy. Their industry is a pattern for us.
Ants prepare for the future. They work in the summer and in the harvest. We are also to redeem the season. The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15-16).
The amplification of the industry and foresight of the ant enforces the lessons, “which, having no captain, overseer or ruler,” that is, the ant does her duty by instinct, not compelled by any that have power to check and control her. Entomologists analogically tell us that the bees are a monarchy directed by the queen, but the ants are a democracy, where every one’s natural industry prompts him to seek his own good, and the good of the whole.
The text uses three titles, the ant has “no captain” to go before her and show her what to do; no “overseer” to observe whether she does it or not; no “ruler” to punish her for idleness; yet she labors.
No one carries a whip behind the ant to ensure the work gets done. There are no time cards in the anthill. No ant mothers nag their babies to get out of bed. These creatures are self-motivated, and need no captain to ensure they get their work done. As believers, maturity means we no longer need someone standing behind us to ensure that our work gets done, our moral purity is not compromised, or that we continue to assemble with the saints.
Application of the Whole Appeal
From the whole we see an argument from the lesser to the greater, to shame us. If creatures that lack reason with such diligence make preparation for the future, how much more are we without excuse, who are endowed with reason, and can foresee the end, and choose the means to provide for the future.
This is binding upon us in regards to this life and the life to come. We must make provision for both.
We are to provide for our welfare in this life. Some live without a profession or trade, and have nothing with which to support themselves. They are not only worse than the ant, which by labor lays up for the time of want, but worse than the grasshopper, have little joyful life in the present. Those that are busy in an honest calling can supply for their own needs, and give to others in need. Ephesians 4:28 exhorts us “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”
We need to be wise in setting aside funds for times when things are lean. The wise who store up for those times are ready, while those who simply spend all that they get are unprepared for such times. Joseph in his wisdom in setting aside in the time of plenty kept an entire region of the world from starvation and devastation.
The lesson of the ant is also useful to us in our preparation for the life to come. If diligence and foresight is needed for this life; surely, it’s needed for the life to come. This life is our opportunity, our summer and harvest, to provide for the world to come. Therefore “Go to the ant, you sluggard!” You careless believer, consider the manner and course of life of the ant, how she is vigilant and diligent for the time to come, and likewise do something for the life to come.
The opportunity of doing this work is confined to this life; and when that is at an end, it ceases. There is no mending of errors in the world to come.
We have a captain, overseer, and ruler, to whom we must render an account of what we do, which is not accorded to the ant. 2 Corinthians 5:10 informs us, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
This life is our opportunity, and when that is over, we receive the reward for our work. After death we shall have the benefit of it. Revelation 14:13 says of the martyrs of the Tribulation period, “their works follow them;” that is the reward of their works.
Consider how satisfying it will be when we depart this life knowing that we have made preparation, known our season, done the things which God has given us to do, thought of the hour and made provision for it before it comes upon us. Jesus said in John 17:4, “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” This was Paul’s confidence in 2 Tim 4:6-8, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Peter presses us to diligence in 2 Peter 1:5-10, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
To overcome indolence, consider how great our reward will be. Paul concluded his great resurrection chapter with these words, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58).
Ants are a nuisance we all deal with at times. Yet there’s a lot we can learn from the little ant.