The Expository Files.


Four Small, Wise Creatures

Proverbs 30:24-28

I am constantly amazed at the variety of life on earth. Animals, fish, birds, there are all kinds and varieties of each, and the variety speaks loudly of God's existence (Ps. 19:1). But of all the creatures God has created, there are four that seem particularly wise, even though they are small in size: the ant, the badger, the locust, and the spider. No, I haven't lost my senses, nor am I "stretching" for something to write about! I am simply reminded of the words of the Proverb writer who said in Proverbs 30:24-28;

"There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer; The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands; The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces."

THE ANT (vs. 25)
The Proverb writer begins by stating that ants are "not strong." In comparative terms this is true. After all, I can simply step on an ant and crush him! But in relative terms ants have amazing strength. Have you ever watched an ant carrying a morsel of food? They're tireless and strong. In fact, those who study ants tell us they can carry ten to fifty times their own weight! That would be like a 150 lb. man carrying an object of 1,500 to 7,500 pounds! But more important than their relative strength, ants are constantly making preparation for the future. It seems they never rest. They are in constant motion as they go about their work. In Proverbs 6:6-8, the "sluggard" is warned to pattern himself after the ant:

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest."

Ants are also armored. Scientists call the hard, outer shell of an ant "chitin." It protects them from a hostile environment and contributes to their strength. Similarly, the Christian is to be armored. We also live in a hostile world. All around us are evil men who would undo our faith. But God, in his wisdom, has provided us with a unique and glorious armor:

"...take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" Ephesians 6:13.

Like the ant, we must constantly prepare. We must tirelessly go about the work of the Lord. "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" John 9:4.

THE BADGER (vs. 26)
I'm not sure what animal the Proverb writer has in mind in this verse. The New American Standard (NAS) translates the Hebrew word (shaphan) as badger, while the King James Version (KJV) translates it as "cony" (rabbit). The concordances and commentaries don't help much either! Young's translates the Hebrew "shaphan" as "a hare, hedgehog, or rabbit," while Matthew Henry calls them "Arabian mice"!

Whatever they are, these animals make their houses in the rocks. They are small and weak, yet they have the wisdom to find security in the rocks. The spiritual comparison is compelling. Like the badger (or whatever) we can only find real security in the Rock! This message of security afforded by the Lord is found everywhere throughout scripture:

Ps. 18:2: "The Lord is my Rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust...."

Ps. 40:2 "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a Rock, and established my goings."

Ps. 61:2 "From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the Rock that is higher than I."

Notice Paul's remarks concerning the wandering children of Israel; :

1Cor. 10:4 "...for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ."

The believer would be wise to emulate the rock badger by finding solace and care in the Rock that is Christ!

THE LOCUST (vs. 27)
A single locust is hardly noticeable. In fact, by itself, a locust is harmless and insignificant. But when locusts travel together they get the world's attention! No one knows better the damage a swarm of locusts can cause than the Pharoah who refused to let God's people go:

"For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees...and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt." Exod. 10:15

The lesson of the locust seems to be that God 1) never intended for us to work alone, and 2) we can accomplish much by working together.

After the creation of Adam God knew it was "not good that man should be alone," (Gen 2:18) so Eve was created to provide Adam with help and assistance. This same principle of "joint effort" is described again in Ecclesiastes 4:9. The writer tells us that "two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour." In other words, there is strength in numbers. The modern world refers to this phenomenon as "synergy" which is best expressed in the following equation:

1 + 1 + 1 = 4

With synergy, the sum of the parts is greater than the individual parts alone. The importance of working together, of emulating the locust, is clearly seen in Christ's establishment of the church which is:

"...fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." Eph. 4:16.

The lesson Christians everywhere can learn from the lowly locust is this: if we "pull together" then we can change the world!

THE SPIDER (vs. 28)
The final creature mentioned in the passage again poses a translation problem. What exactly is the writer describing? The KJV renders the Hebrew word :semamith" as "spider," while the NAS renders it "lizard." Other translators even attach the word "poisonous" to the creature being described. More puzzling, however, is the meaning. Unlike the earlier creatures, the analogy of the spider is not so clear.

In his commentary of the passage, Matthew Henry says: "Spiders are very ingenious in weaving their webs with a fineness and exactness such as no art can pretend to come near. They...

spin a fine thread out of their own bowels, with a great art; and they are not only in poor men's cottages, but in kings' palaces."

Perhaps, then, the Proverb writer would have us understand this:

The beauty of the spider comes from within, and he shares this beauty whether in a poor or rich man's dwelling.

If this is the meaning, then there are many wonderful biblical examples of men and women whose inner beauty brought hope to both the rich and poor of the world. Joseph spun a web of beauty and godliness whether in prison or elevated to power in Egypt (Gen 39 - 41). Job spun a web of beauty ? a web of service ? when wealthy and when destitute. And let's not forget Paul. Whether preaching to the poorest of the masses or while imprisoned in the splendor of Caesar's palace, his inner spiritual beauty overflowed in his message of love for all who would serve God.

It is in the Good News of Christ, springing from within the true believer that "the rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all" Prov. 22:2.

By Matt Hennecke
From Expository Files 5.3; March 1998