We can learn some big spiritual lessons from these tiny creatures!
Most of us have at some time been startled to notice, in the kitchen or pantry, a mass of vigorous little black insects teeming all over some sugar, honey or jam that we have forgotten to seal. Speedily, the busy creatures transport their newfound spoil along a bustling column from the sweet substance to a well-concealed hideout. Ants! They come in several shapes, colors and sizes. Scientists estimate that there are about 10,000 different species of ants. Some bite or sting, others strip the leaves from trees. Some are harmless. But one thing characterizes them all: They're always busy, industrious, active. King Solomon draws our attention to this point in the book of Proverbs: "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest" (Prov. 6:6-8). Let's do that. Let's take Solomon's advice and go to the ant to see what we can learn from this assiduous little creature.
The ants to which Solomon referred are the harvester ants, common in Palestine and the surrounding areas. These ants gather seeds or grains, sort them, throwaway any useless outside husks and store the food in long, underground chambers and galleries for winter use. After periods of wet weather, they bring the material out into the sunshine to dry. If the seeds start to sprout or germinate inside the nest, the ants cut off the shoots to prevent further growth. Some of these ants actually make a sort of biscuit from the seeds they collect. They put the seeds out in the rain until germination begins. They then dry the seeds again and chew them into a kind of dough, which they dry into biscuits. So these ants certainly verify Solomon's statement in Proverbs 6:6-8. They store up their food at harvest time and use it in the winter — a good example for us to follow in planning ahead and "redeeming the time" (Eph. 5:16). Each issue of The Good News, each of Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong's broadcasts and telecasts, each sermon we hear (particularly the sermon-packed week we experience at the Feast of Tabernacles) comprise a spiritual harvest — a sudden abundance of spiritual food. Will we follow the example of the harvester ants and diligently gather all the spiritual seeds we can, storing them in our minds to use in future times of trial and stress?
Dairying and weaver ants
Two fascinating kinds of ants that typify resourcefulness are the dairying ants, found on every continent except Antarctica, and the weaver or tailor ants of Southeast Asia. The dairying ant lives on the sweet juice secreted by small insects, particularly aphids and other plant lice. In many cases, such ants obtain this juice by stroking the insects with their antennae, in effect milking their insect "COWS." These ants even carry their tiny livestock from one plant to another to find the best feeding places. Some species spin silk to make shelters or barns for the smaller insects. Others take them into their nests, where they keep them and feed them so they serve up a continuing supply of juice during the winter. Weaver or tailor ants form a leaf house by fastening living tree leaves together with silk threads. The threads are formed by the young ant larvae, which can secrete silk. The adults carry the larvae in their jaws and move them back and forth like tiny spools, gluing the leaves together with silky threads. If the leaves are too far apart to start with, a number of ants join in chains to slowly draw the leaves together to make them ready for "sewing."
Ants that grow gardens
Believe it or not, various types of ants cultivate gardens in their nests. They put leaves, flower petals or other plant materials on their gardens as fertilizer, and raise fungi for food. A well-known group of fungus growers are the leaf-cutter or parasol ants. They are so named because they are often seen in processions, each carrying a piece of green leaf above its head. The ants cut the leaves and carry them back to their nests, where they chew them into a pulp, which they place like compost on their gardens. These ants sow, manure and even prune and weed their crops — different kinds of fungi — before fin ally harvesting them.
Reasoning humanly, it almost seems like some kinds of ants have evil human nature! For instance, there are slave-maker ants, which take over the nests of other ants, kill the ones that oppose them and capture the others as slaves. Kidnapper ants barge into other species' nests or sometimes hide in the walls of their nests and then steal their young ones. Carpenter ants damage people's houses by tunneling through the woodwork. Pharaoh's ants and thief ants invade houses, restaurants, hospitals and other buildings and eat stored food. Probably the most fearsome of all ants are the driver or legionary ants, also know as army ants, which live in the tropical areas of Africa and America. These ferocious creatures travel in armies of multiple thousands and eat almost anything they find in their paths. For instance, African driver ants have been known to eat caged leopards in one night. When these ants are on the move, hardly anything stops them — not even rivers. When a group reaches a river, scouts are sent out to look for the best place to cross — usually a bend where the current moves diagonally across the stream. The ants then wriggle together into a large ball and roll across the river. The current keeps the ball rolling, so that each ant is ducked only momentarily. As soon as the ball reaches the other side, the ants unscramble themselves and continue the hunt. Can you imagine what would have happened if the army ants had had to gradually acquire this ability through evolution? How many would have died trying to learn how to cross a stream? The army ants confront evolutionists with a phenomenon that their theory cannot explain — you might say the army ants leave evolutionists all wet! As Paul said in Romans 1:20, professing atheists are without excuse when they look at the things God has made, because these creatures clearly show the existence of God even though He is invisible. God equipped army ants with the instinct to be able to perform this feat right from the beginning. As Job said, "But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you... the hand of the Lord has done this" (Job 12:7-9).
Learning from the ants
The amazing activities of the various types of ants stand as vivid evidence of the marvelous, intricate design and handiwork of a wonderful Creator God. But Solomon's proverb (Prov. 6:6-8) also points out some significant spiritual principles we can learn from these interesting little insects. Let's notice the proverb again: "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise" (verse 6). Are you a sluggard at times? If so, this instruction applies to you — and indeed, we all tend to lapse into laziness from time to time. The next verses go on to show two ways we can learn from ants. "Which, having no captain, overseer or ruler... " (verse 7). The first thing we need to consider is that ants are self-starters. They don't have to have leaders and supervisors constantly directing them. They live in organized communities called colonies, which are started by queens but not ruled by these queens in any way. The other members of the colony are males, whose only job is to mate with young queens, and workers. The vast majority of ants are workers — aptly named, because they work hard, and without any leader urging them on. Do you need to always have someone on your back pushing you to complete your duties? Or do you, like the ant, have the initiative, resourcefulness and drive to accomplish things by yourself? Spiritually speaking, God has established a system of leadership in His Church, and the direction provided by His ministry aids us all greatly in our spiritual development (Eph. 4:12). But God requires us to put out plenty of our own effort, too. We can't qualify for God's Kingdom by holding onto our minister's or our mate's or anyone else's coattails! Paul tells us, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Peter said, "Be... diligent to make your calling and election sure" (II Pet. 1:10). Do you constantly have to be urged, prodded, beaten and threatened into spiritual action? Do you feel inspired after hearing Mr. Armstrong speak, reading Good News articles or hearing Sabbath sermons, only to lapse into spiritual lethargy immediately thereafter? Or can you stir yourself up through the power of God's Spirit working in you (II Tim. 1:6) to continue your spiritual activity, laboring diligently in your personal prayer and Bible study? If you can't seem to get yourself going, perhaps you need to seriously consider the lesson of the ant.
Laziness is dangerous
Now notice Proverbs 6:8, which records how the ant "provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest." The second lesson we can learn from ants is the importance of being conscious of the time. We need to be working diligently, building up a solid spiritual reserve for future use. We know that we are now in the time of lull before a terrible global conflagration worse than any other that has ever struck mankind (Dan. 12:1). Right now, God's Word goes out virtually unhindered, and we can grow spiritually in relative peace and prosperity. But things will not always be this way — God prophesies a soon-coming famine of His Word (Amos 8:11-12).
Do you constantly have to be prodded into spiritual action? If you can't seem to get yourself going, perhaps you need to seriously consider the lesson of the ant.
Like the ant, we need to be busily drinking in of God's Word and way of life, gathering spiritual food in this time of harvest and storing up spiritual meat for our sustenance in future times of persecution and trial. Paul gives us the same admonition in Ephesians 5:15-16: "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." And the days will be even more evil in the future! The next three verses of Proverbs 6, after the admonition to "Go to the ant," graphically show what will happen to people who are spiritually lazy — spiritual sluggards — at the end time: "How long will you slumber, 0 sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep — so shall your poverty come on you like a robber, and your need like an armed man" (Prov. 6:9-11). In Christ's parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), the wise virgins prepared ahead, building up and maintaining their supply of the oil of God's Holy Spirit. But the foolish virgins were spiritual sluggards. They all slumbered and slept while they should have been spiritually active and alert. At midnight they woke up, but it was too late. They hadn't prepared in the "time of harvest," and had no store of spiritual character and strength to draw on. When the bridegroom came and the marriage was ready, they were shut out — a terrible price to pay for spiritual lethargy! In Hebrews 2:3 we are exhorted not to neglect "so great a salvation" that has been offered to us. One way we can neglect the magnificent, awesome future God has in store for us is by sheer spiritual drowsiness and lethargy — by failing to give "earnest heed" to our spiritual progress (verse 1) — by failing to "gird up the loins of our minds" (I Pet. 1:13) and really work on building up our spiritual strength.
Don't neglect salvation
We need to be working hard now, really drinking in of God's Holy Spirit through regular Bible study, prayer, fasting and actively following the lead of that Spirit at work in us. We need to be disciplining our minds and establishing spiritual fruitfulness, spiritual depth and power, now, while there is time! Now is the time to be laboring diligently, seeking God with all our might (Eccl. 9:10, John 9:4). The tiny ants conduct their lives with diligence, industriousness, hard work. So can we! Go to the ant, and be wise!