Proverbs 10:26 - Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
February 4, 2020

Proverbs 10:26 - Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.

by Dr. Bill Edgar, former chair of the Geneva College Board of Trustees, former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA)

Many of Solomon’s proverbs describe lazy people because there are a lot of lazy people. Lazy people ruin their own lives, disrupt their family’s lives, and disturb their employer’s peace of mind. A lazy person makes absurd excuses: “There is a lion in the streets (Proverbs 26:13).” He won’t get out of bed: “How long will you slumber, O sluggard? (Proverbs 6:9).” He can’t finish a job: “The lazy man buries his hand in his bowl; it wearies him to bring it back to his mouth (Proverbs 19:24).” Is the lazy man ashamed? No: “The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly (Proverbs 26:16).” Is the lazy person poor? Probably. “The lazy man will not plow because of winter; he will beg during harvest and have nothing (Proverbs 20:4).”

In Proverbs 10:26, Solomon describes two sluggards, a messenger and his employer. People known to be lazy generally get hired last, but someone needing to send a message may hire the first available sluggard, thinking, “Delivering a message is easy. Surely he can do that!” But the lazy man will botch even that easy job, taking his time leaving, stopping for a cup of coffee and chatting up the barista, getting lost, forgetting who the message is for, and then forgetting the message. Like vinegar that sets teeth on edge, and smoke that irritates one’s eyes, so is the sluggard to anyone who uses him to do even a simple task, like delivering a message.

Here is the lesson: set a lazy person to do a job and expect exasperation. More generally, set someone to a task he cannot or will not complete, and you will regret it. Neither job titles nor job descriptions guarantee someone can do a job. Managers who mechanically use such guides in assigning work deserve the trouble they get, since they end up playing “let’s pretend” about employees. The first principal I worked for never played that game, so when those above him gave him an assistant principal who screwed up every job he ever got, the principal assigned him to four periods a day of cafeteria duty.

The sluggard who cannot deliver a message reliably will nevertheless be full of himself, and full of excuses. So will the person who set him to be a messenger! “I told him exactly what to do.” “How could anyone be expected to know he would stop for two hours at a coffee shop to shoot the breeze?” “I made him repeat the message three times. How could he forget it?” His employer, you see, matches the sluggard’s laziness with mental laziness of his own. He did not evaluate whether the sluggard could do the job. He deserves the “smoke in the eyes” frustration he gets.

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