The Thought Behind the Proverb
When Solomon sat on the throne in Jerusalem, the capital was a center of world culture and trade. Wealth, merchants and goods poured into the city from all sides. However, people enjoying such prosperity were also potential victims of laziness, greed, sharp business practices and other poisons against which the inspired proverbs would act as an effective antidote.
“Go to the ant, you lazy one; see its ways and become wise. Although it has no commander, officer or ruler, it prepares its food even in the summer; it has gathered its food supplies even in the harvest.”
Solomon does not specifically say that the ant stores up this food for winter use, but commends the industrious creature as an example of foresightedly gathering supplies in the season when food is plentiful. Some critics have asserted that Solomon was in error, supposing that he mistook ant larva for grain. However, a number of groups of ants known as “harvester ants” normally eat only seeds. These ants occur mostly in arid lands, “gathering seeds during the proper season and storing them in chambers below the surface of the ground for use when the supply is short.” (The Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 2, 1946 Ed.) The black ant (Atta barbara) and a brown ant (Atta structor), two of Palestine’s most common varieties, are strictly seed feeders that store up large supplies of grain in the summer. In the vicinity of threshing floors farmers destroy ant colonies to prevent the energetic creatures from carrying away large quantities of grain, which they are otherwise certain to do with startling efficiency. Instead of sleeping in the season favorable for work, the lazy person should learn wisdom from the lowly ant.
“One will positively fare badly because he has gone surety for a stranger, but the one hating handshaking is keeping carefree.” “Do not get to be among those striking hands, among those who go security for loans.”
Borrowing and lending money was common in Solomon’s day. The speculators found many opportunities to lend funds at high rates of interest and on responsible suretyship. One’s entry into such a bond was signified by the act of striking the hands. To allow a stranger to talk you into “cosigning” for him so he could borrow money would expose you to the possibility of the stranger’s vanishing, leaving you with the obligation to repay his loan. Solomon may have had his son Rehoboam particularly in mind in this connection. If the heir apparent would allow court parasites to impose upon his generosity through flattery, his royal inheritance would be foolishly administered and the people exposed to a bad example.
“There exist companions disposed to break one another to pieces, but there exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.”
Companions attracted by gifts are not the kind that stick in time of adversity (Prov. 19:6) In those days when a man might have sons by several legal wives, the ties of brotherhood were not as strong as they might have been otherwise. Solomon knew the difference between true and false friends. His brother Absalom attracted friends to himself and usurped the throne that Jehovah had appointed for Solomon. After Absalom’s death, and before Solomon was anointed as king, his brother Adonijah also attempted to seize the kingship. In contrast with these unloving brothers was Solomon’s friend Nathan the prophet, who remained loyal to the king, sticking closer than a brother.
“An earring of gold, and an ornament of special gold, is a wise reprover upon the hearing ear.”
From earliest times fine earrings have been appreciated for their value and attractiveness. Gold jewelry would be a gift gladly accepted and eagerly worn. How much more treasured is the wise counselor who gives you words of correction and wisdom from Jehovah! By meekly listening to such instruction and cheerfully complying with it, the hearing person allows the valuable reproof and the reprover to adorn him like an earring of gold. Yes, getting true wisdom is better than getting silver or gold.—Prov. 3:13, 14.