In Job’s reply to one of his supposed “comforters,” he said: “But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you” (Job. 12:7,8). We can learn much from observing God’s creation. We have done a series on “Lessons from the Honeybee.” In Solomon’s “Book of Wisdom,” Proverbs, he challenged those who are prone to laziness, writing: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which having no chief officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest” (Pr. 6:6-8).
Ants have been famous in all ages for their social habits, foresight, economy and industry. Collecting their food at the proper seasons, they bite off the ends of the grain they collect to prevent it from germinating, and lay it up in its cells till needed. Ants are known as busy, hard-working, insects that build and operate very organized colonies, working together to accomplish a common goal.
One of the amazing features God built into these little creatures is their ability to carry items 10-50 times their own body weight! We were recently in Oregon to attend a grandson’s wedding (more about that in a future “WOW”). We were working on some landscaping at our daughter and son-in-law’s place and had taken a break (it was very warm). As we sat on the porch drinking water and eating some popcorn, we watched as an ant picked up a piece of popcorn we had dropped. It took several minutes for him to pull the huge load—many times his size—across the sidewalk and over some bark chips (which must have seemed like mountains) to his home under a nearby shrub. Pretty impressive! If we were that strong, we could carry an automobile!
Ants belong to a family called the Formicidae and are close relatives to the bees. There are more than 8,500 known species of ants and they are found almost everywhere in the world except the coldest regions. They may be the most numerous of all insects. For example, in the Amazon rain forest, there are more than 3,500,000 ants per acre! (Not a good place for a picnic!) There are an estimated one quadrillion ants in the world.
Ants are known as “social insects” because they live together in colonies that can contain from several dozen ants to thousands of ants, working and living together in a highly organized fashion. Although the queen is a leader of sorts in the colony, she does not give directions to the others. There is no apparent “ant in charge” of the colony, just as Solomon wrote in Proverbs. Somehow, God equipped the ants—as He did the honeybees—to communicate with one another in order to work efficiently and to maintain an orderly colony. Just as in a beehive, the ants divide themselves into certain work duties to handle all the logistical needs of the colony, including food, shelter, security, and reproduction. They organize into forager ants (sterile females) that go out and find food, patroller ants (also sterile females) that guard the colony and also go out and make sure the paths are safe for the forager ants, engineer ants which take care of building and maintaining the structure and also removing waste materials, fertile males called drones that stay available if needed to fertilize a new queen, and of course, the queen that lays eggs.
The way in which God equipped ants to reproduce is also very intriguing and awe-inspiring. Each year, every colony sends out male and female ants on a mating flight. These explorer ants have wings. They all fly to a common place to mate. A queen mates more than once, and eventually all the male reproductive ants die. The newly mated queen then flies to a new location, drops its wings, digs a hole and beings laying eggs there. The queen can live for 15-20 years and continues to lay eggs. When the colony grows to about 10,000 ants, new reproductive ants are sent out on mating flights with a virgin queen and the whole process starts over.
This colony of thousands of ants with various roles operates collectively to support the colony. They have divisions of labor, communication between individuals and the ability to solve complex problems. And God’s Word tells us to “Go to the ant” and “let them teach you.” When we think of our local assemblies of believers, we can see a distinct parallel of diversity and distinct roles that need to work together for one purpose. God has placed us where we are and given us special abilities called “spiritual gifts” to use “for the common good” of the “colony” (the church) (I Cor. 12:7).
We also observe in the ant world evidence of the curse on the earth resulting from the Fall of man back in the Garden of Eden recorded in Genesis 3. While ants are great examples to us of industriousness, and organization and working together for a common cause, they can also be very annoying insects and cause pain from their bites and stings. We have “fire ants” and “red ants” which we try to avoid. There are also slave-maker ants which will raid the colony of other species of ant and steal worker larvae and make them their slaves. And there are thief ants which are small ants that raid the food supplies of larger ants and escape through tunnels too small for the bigger ants to enter!
Unfortunately we see these effects of the Fall in our churches as well, as there are those that ”bite and sting” with their words and accusations and others that enslave us in false teaching and those that, rather that reproducing through evangelism, steal sheep from other’s folds. So, let’s be careful to follow the good examples of industriousness and organization and unity, but avoid the bad examples of biting and enslaving and stealing.
Let us heed Job’s and Solomon’s challenges and learn some lessons from God’s creation of the amazing little, hard-working ants.