Proverbs 20:4 – The sluggard does not plow in the autumn . . . - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

Geneva College Blog

RSS Subscribe Print   

Biblical Wisdom
February 1, 2019

Proverbs 20:4 – The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.

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)

In 1790, ninety per cent of Americans were farmers, just like most ancient Israelites were. After Israel’s spring harvest, and America’s fall harvest, both usually plowed their fields in the fall, when cold winds began to blow. A farmer who failed to plow in the fall found plowing in Israel’s rainy winter, or in America’s muddy spring, difficult. He could not reasonably expect much of a harvest.

When does a person “plow” in our society? That is, when does someone get ready for planting and reaping? Farm children had to learn to plow fields behind horses (oxen in Israel). American young people have to endure schooling and cultivate self-control – not much more fun than plowing -- in order to be ready when they are grown to reap a salary, or run a business.

Woe to the youngster who will not do his homework or pay attention in class, responding every few minutes to his smart phone’s addictive demand for attention. Are his excuses any more valid than those of a farmer facing the cold and dealing with unruly horses (or oxen)? Listen to the excuses: “It’s too hard,” “It’s boring,” “I don’t like my teacher,” “My teacher doesn’t like me,” “Sitting at a desk all day is unnatural,” “The other girls are mean to me” – all of them often enough true.

As my mother once breezily said to a worried school guidance counselor about a son whose standardized psychological test revealed that he hated school: “Oh? I always thought it was perfectly normal not to like school.” But put off plowing, refuse to learn in school or cultivate self-discipline, envy the neighbor with stronger horses (or oxen), be jealous of the smart kid who gets it (or seems to) without trying, and it will be that much harder to earn a salary or run a business as an adult. No schooling in youth means little reaping as an adult, since low-wage jobs or no job at all await the uneducated. Thirty-year olds with little education rarely catch up.

Is this a spiritual proverb? It requires no spiritual insight to know its truth. No work, no food. When our oldest two children were not yet six, they helped our neighbor weed her large vegetable garden. It was not fun, as they often informed us, but we ate from that garden, as they knew, so we rightly helped to weed it. The Bible calls those who refuse to work unless they “want to,” or find it  “fulfilling,” sluggards. It predicts a hungry future for them. Farmers have to plow in the fall, and youngsters have to “plow” in today’s world by getting an education. Only then can both expect a harvest.

Geneva College is a Christ-centered academic community offering over 115 traditional undergraduate majors and programs to help students serve wholeheartedly and faithfully in their life's work. For more information, contact Admissions - 800.847.8255 or


Photo by Raphael Rychetsky on Unsplash