|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
6:6-11 Diligence in business is every man's wisdom and duty; not so much that he may attain worldly wealth, as that he may not be a burden to others, or a scandal to the church. The ants are more diligent than slothful men. We may learn wisdom from the meanest insects, and be shamed by them. Habits of indolence and indulgence grow upon people. Thus life runs to waste; and poverty, though at first at a distance, gradually draws near, like a traveller; and when it arrives, is like an armed man, too strong to be resisted. All this may be applied to the concerns of our souls. How many love their sleep of sin, and their dreams of worldly happiness! Shall we not seek to awaken such? Shall we not give diligence to secure our own salvation?
Verse 8. - Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. It is this characteristic, combined with what has just been said, which gives point to the lesson the sluggard is to learn. The teacher, as it were, argues: If the ant, so insignificant a creature in the order of the animal kingdom, is so provident, how much more should you be - you, a man endued with superior intelligence, and with so many more resources at hand, and with greater advantages! If the ant, with none to urge, direct, or control her work, is so industrious, surely she provides an example at which you, the sluggard, should blush, since there is every external incentive to rouse you to action - your duty to the community, the urgent advice of your friends, and your dignity as a man. If she provides for the future, much more should you do so, and threw off your sloth. Objection has been taken to what is here stated of the provident habits of the ant in storing food, on the ground that it is carnivorous and passes the winter in a state of torpidity. That the ant does lay up stores for future use has, however, been the opinion of all ages. Thus Hesiod ('Days,' 14) speaks of the ant as harvesting the grain, calling it ἴδρις, "the provident." Virgil says ('Georg.,' 1, 186; cf. 'AEneid,' 4:4027) -
"Veluti ingentem formicae farris acervum
Quum populant hiemis memores, tectoque repenunt." So the ants, when they plunder a tall heap of corn, mindful of the winter, store it in their cave. The language of Horace ('Sat.,' 1:50, 32) might be a comment on our passage -
"Parvula (nam exemplo est) magni formica laboris sicut
Ore trahit quodcunque potest, atque addit acervo,
Quem struit, haud ignara ac non incauta futuri,
Quae, simul universum contristat Aquarius annum
Non usquam prorepit, et illis utitur ante Quaesitis sapiens."
"For thus the little ant (to human lore
No mean example) forms her frugal store,
Gathered, with mighty toils, on every side,
Nor ignorant, nor careless to provide
For future want; yet when the stars appear
That darkly sadden the declining year,
No more she comes abroad, but wisely lives
On the fair store industrious summer gives."
(Francis' Translation.) The same provident character is noted in AEsop's fable, 'The Ant and the Grasshopper;' see also Aristotle ('Hist. Nat.,' 9:6). All objections on this subject appear to be based on insufficient data, and have been conclusively answered by recent observation. Apart from the remark of Buffon, that "the ants of tropical climates lay up provisions, and as they probably live the whole year, they submit themselves to regulations entirely unknown among the ants of Europe." The late Professor Darwin states of the agricultural ant of Texas, which in many features resembles the ant of Palestine, that it not only stores its food, but prepares the soil for the crops, keeps the ground free from weeds, and finally reaps the harvest (Journal of Linnaean Society, vol. 1, No. 21, p. 29). Canon Tristram also observes, "The language of the wise man is not only in accordance with the universal belief of his own time, but with the accurately ascertained facts of natural history. Contrary to its habits in colder climates, the ant is not there dormant through the winter; and among the tamerisks of the Dead Sea it may be seen, in January, actively engaged in collecting the aphides and saccharine exudations, in long flies passing and repassing up and down the trunk. Two of the most common species of the Holy Land (Alta barbara, the black ant, and Alta structor, the brown ant) are strictly seed feeders, and in summer lay up large stores of grain for winter use. These species are spread along the whole of the Mediterranean coasts, but are unknown in more northern climates. Hence writers who were ignorant of ants beyond those of their own countries have been presumptuous enough to deny the accuracy of Solomon's statement" ('Nat. Hist. of the Bible,' p. 320). The Mishna, section 'Zeraim,' also contains a curious piece of legislation which bears testimony to the storing properties of the ant.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Provideth her meat in the summer,.... Against the winter, of which it is mindful, when it never comes out of its place, having in the summer time got a sufficiency laid up in cells for its use: she toils in the heat of summer to get in her provision for the winter, being sensible that nothing is to be gotten then; she works at it night and day while the season lasts; so diligent is it in laying up its stores at the proper opportunity (l);
and gathereth her food in the harvest; the time when corn is ripe, and is shed on the earth; this it gathereth, and lays up in its repositories against a time of need. The seeds it gathers and lays up; it bites off the chit or bud end of them, that they may not grow, as Pliny (m) and others observe, but be a winter store; hence its name in Hebrew is "nemalah", from "namal", "to cut off"; it being done by biting. Yea, according to Aelianus (n), it seems to have some sense of futurity with respect to famine, which being near, it will work exceeding hard to lay up food, fruits, and seed; and, according to Virgil (o) and others, it seems to presage old age, and therefore provides against it. An instruction this to work, while persons are in health, and have youth on their side; that they may have not only a sufficiency for present use, but to lay up against a time of sickness and old age. The Septuagint and Arabic versions add,
"or go to the bee, and learn what a worker she is, and what an admirable work she performs; whose labours kings and private persons use for health: she is desirable to all, and famous; and though weak in strength, honouring wisdom is advanced.''
But this is not in the Hebrew text; but perhaps being written in the margin of some copy of the Septuagint as a parallel instance, was by some unskilful copier put into the text of the Greek version, from whence the Arabic version has taken it; it crept in very early, for Clemens of Alexandria makes mention of it (p).
(l) "Ac veluti ingentem formicae farris acervum", &c. Virgil. Aeneid. l. 4. v. 402, &c. So Horat. Satyr. 1. v. 36. (m) Nat. Hist. l. 11. c. 30. Plutarch. vol. 2. de Solert. Animal. p. 968. (n) Vat. Hist. l. 1. c. 12. (o) "Inopi metuens formica senectae", Georgic. l. 1. v. 186. So Horace, ut supra. Juvenal. Satyr. 6. v. 360. (p) Stromat. l. 1. p. 286.
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