The sluggard says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!"
This is not what I expected the proverb to say. I would have expected it to say "The coward says, 'There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!'" But it says, "sluggard," not "coward." So the controlling emotion here is laziness, not fear. But what does laziness have to do with the danger of a lion in the street? We don't say, "This man is too lazy to go do his work because there is a lion outside. The presence of a lion does not produce laziness, it produces fear. So what's the point of the proverb?
The point is that the sluggard creates imaginary circumstances to justify not doing his work, and thus shifts the focus from the vice of his laziness to the danger of lions. No one will approve his staying in the house all day just because he is lazy. But they might sympathize with him and approve his staying home if there is real danger outside. So, to hide his laziness and justify himself, he deflects attention away from the truth (laziness) to an illusion (lions).
If we would be wise people - people on the way to being "sages" - we must understand how our sinful human hearts and minds work. One profound Biblical insight we need to know is that our heart exploits our mind to justify what the heart wants. That is, our deepest desires precede the rational functioning of our minds and incline the mind to perceive and think in a way that will make the desires look right. It is an illusion to think that our hearts are neutral and incline in accordance with cool rational observation of truth. On the contrary, we feel powerful desires or fears in our heart, and THEN our mind bends reality to justify the desires and fears.
This is what the sluggard is doing. He deeply desires to stay at home and not work. There is no good reason to stay at home. So what does he do? Does he overcome his bad desire? No, he uses his mind to create unreal circumstances to justify his desire. He may even believe the creation of his mind. Deception can cross from moral depravity to mental derangement - from deceiving others to deceiving ourselves.
Thus Proverbs 26:16 says, "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer." Now why is that? Does laziness make a person haughty? Not necessarily. But it does make them resistant to any truth that exposes their laziness. So when seven men say, "There is no lion in the street," the sluggard cannot concede. He must insist that his own answer is wiser: There is a lion in the street. Otherwise his laziness is exposed for what it is. Thus truth is sacrificed on the altar of self-justification.
It is an old tale. From Cain (Genesis 4:9) to Clinton, truth has been sacrificed to desire, and the mind has been shrewdly employed by the darkened heart to shroud its passions. We are all given to this. Our only hope is the transforming work of God in our hearts to free us from the bondage of a hardened heart that produces a futile mind (Ephesians 4:17-18; Romans 6:17).
This is what we saw last Sunday in Romans 1:18: "They hold down the truth in unrighteousness." Truth is held hostage by the unrighteous commitments of the heart. The unrighteous heart then employs the mind to distract and deceive. As Jesus says, "Everyone who does evil hates the Light" (John 3:20). Doing the evil we love makes us hostile to the light of truth. In this condition the mind becomes a factory of half-truths, equivocations, sophistries, evasions and lies - anything to protect the evil desires of the heart from exposure and destruction.
O growing sages of Bethlehem, consider and be wise.