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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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נמלה , in the Turkish and Arabic, neml, Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 30:25 . It is a little insect, famous from all antiquity for its social habits, its economy, unwearied industry, and prudent foresight. It has afforded a pattern of commendable frugality to the profuse, and of unceasing diligence to the slothful. Solomon calls the ants "exceeding wise; for though a race not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer." He therefore sends the sluggard to these little creatures, to learn wisdom, foresight, care, and diligence.

"Go to the ant; learn of its ways, be wise; It early heaps its stores, lest want surprise. Skill'd in the various year, the prescient sage Beholds the summer chill'd in winter's rage.

Survey its arts; in each partition'd cell

Economy and plenty deign to dwell."

That the ant hoarded up grains of corn against winter for its sustenance, was very generally believed by the ancients, though modern naturalists seem to question the fact. Thus Horace says,


Parvula (nam exemplo est) magni formica laboris Ore trahit quodcunque potest, atque addit acervo Queni struit, haud ignara ac non incanta futuri; Quae, simul inversum contristat aquarius annum, Non usquam prorepit, et illis utitur ante

Quaesitis sapiens." Sat. v. 50. v. 5. 33.

"For thus the little ant (to human lore No mean example) forms her frugal store, Gather'd with mighty toil on every side,

Nor ignorant nor careless to provide

For future want; yet, when the stars appear

That darkly sadden the declining year, No more she comes abroad, but wisely lives On the fair stores industrious summer gives."

The learned Bochart, in his Hierozoicon, has displayed his vast reading on this subject, and has cited passages from Pliny, Lucian, AElian, Zoroaster, Origen, Basil, and Epiphanius, the Jewish rabbins and Arabian naturalists, all concurring in opinion that ants cut off the heads of grain, to prevent their germinating; and it is observable that the Hebrew name of the insect is derived from the verb נמל , which signifies to cut off, and is used for cutting off ears of corn, Job 24:24 .

The following remarks are from "the Introduction to Entomology," by Kirby and Spence:

"Till the manners of exotic ants are more accurately explored, it would be rash to affirm that no ants have magazines of provisions; for, although, during the cold of our winters in this country, they remain in a state of torpidity, and have no need of food, yet in warmer regions, during the rainy seasons, when they are probably confined to their nests, a store of provisions may be necessary for them. Even in northern climates, against wet seasons, they may provide in this way for their sustenance and that of the young brood, which, as Mr. Smeatham observes, are very voracious, and cannot bear to be long deprived of their food; else why do ants carry worms, living insects, and many other such things, into their

nests? Solomon's lesson to the sluggard has been generally adduced as a strong confirmation of the ancient opinion: it can, however, only relate to the species of a warm climate, the habits of which are probably different from those of a cold one; so that his words, as commonly interpreted, may be perfectly correct and consistent with nature, and yet be not at all applicable to the species that are indigenous to Europe."

The ant, according to the royal preacher, is one of those things which are little upon the earth, but exceeding wise. The superior wisdom of the ant has been recognised by many writers. Horace, in the passage from which the preceding quotation is taken, praises its sagacity; Virgil celebrates its foresight, in providing for the wants and infirmities of old age, while it is young and vigorous:

—atque inopi metuens formica senectae.

[And the ant dreading a destitute old age.]

And we learn from Hesiod, that among the earliest Greeks it was called Idris, that is, wise, because it foresaw the coming storm, and the inauspicious day, and collected her store. Cicero believed that the ant is not only furnished with senses, but also with mind, reason, and memory: In formica non modo sensus sed etiam mens, ratio, memoria. [The ant possesses not only senses, but also mind, reason, memory.] The union of so many noble qualities in so small a corpuscle, is indeed one of the most remarkable phenomena in the works of nature.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Ant'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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