“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside; I will be killed in the streets.'” (Proverbs 22:13)
The Book of Proverbs contains a number of character studies, which describe different kinds of people we encounter — or perhaps ourselves! Among these are the fool, the strange woman, the righteous man, and, as in the present verse, the “sluggard.”
The sluggard is the lazy person. He is pictured in Proverbs as sleeping too long (6:6), not doing work when it needs to be done (20:4), and being so lazy that his hand cannot even bring his food into his own mouth from the dish! (19:24)
This verse contains yet another picturesque description of the sluggard. Here he is portrayed as saying, “There is a lion outside; I will be killed in the streets.” What is implied here is that he has a task which he has been given to accomplish, which, as is typical of his character, he does not want to do. So he finds a convenient excuse: “There is a lion outside. I will be killed in the streets” if he goes out to do that task. But the wise person sees that this is foolish: as many commentators have noted, lions (which did indeed frequent Palestine until the middle ages) did not inhabit city streets! They were out in the country. This was just a flimsy excuse for his indolence. One excuse is as good as another, when you really don’t want to do something.
While we may chuckle and shake our heads at the lazy inventiveness of the sluggard, we should also ask ourselves: is there any way in which I resemble this undesirable character? Do I myself make flimsy excuses for things I don’t want to do? There wasn’t really a lion in streets in the sluggard’s day. Is your excuse for that thing you really don’t want to do today, any more valid?