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Go to Bible: Proverbs 6
“put up security for.” This proverb is almost 3000 years old, yet it speaks of a person co-signing a loan for a neighbor. It has always been the case that people who have money (which in the biblical culture might mean you have cows, goats, or land with fruit trees) have been asked to secure a loan for someone who is needy. The person who co-signs “puts up security” or “becomes security,” or, in the more precise financial terms of many versions, “become surety” for the one who gives the loan.
If the person who got the loan defaults, the “surety”—the one who promised to pay and put up the security for the loan—owes the money to the lender. If we were to put Proverbs 6:1-2 into much more colloquial English, we would say something like: “My son, if you have co-signed a loan for your neighbor, if you have shaken hands with a stranger, then you have been ensnared by the words of your mouth.” At that point, the father’s advice is to go and humble yourself and get freed from the commitment, and don’t rest until you are released.
Seeing the wisdom of this proverb could have saved many people a lot of grief. Co-signing a loan is rarely a wise thing to do. People who constantly need money are in that position for a reason. They may consistently have bad judgment and make poor decisions, they may not have learned to deny themselves the pleasures that drain their resources, they may not be willing to take the risk to quit a dead-end job so they can find other work and make more money, they may have loads of good ideas none of which actually work out, or they may just be lazy or not know how to work smart and hard. In any case, no matter how desperate their pleas, or how “good” and “profitable” their ideas are, the wise thing to do is to not take on their debt.
The needy person will try many angles to get you to help them get money: paint grand pictures of how wonderful things will be, tug on your heartstrings, or try to make you feel guilty for not helping. Follow the proverb and walk in wisdom; you will avoid many heartaches.
“shaken hands.” The Hebrew is more literally “struck your hands,” although the word “struck” can also be “clap” and can also refer to thrusting hands together as people would in a handshake. Thus, the Hebrew is an idiom that describes a custom that would have been the same as, or similar to, our modern handshake. It makes perfect sense linguistically that the Hebrew custom was not exactly described by the words involved. We do the same thing; for example, our modern “handshake” may not be a hand “shake.” Many times people today make an agreement by just clasping each other’s hand but not actually “shaking” it at all, but we still call that a “handshake.” So this verse is describing an agreement that was almost certainly made by some kind of handshake or clasping hands, not just by people who hit their hands together.
The origin of the custom of striking hands together, and the handshake, and exactly how they were done, is lost in ancient history. Like many things that were common and part of ordinary life, they were written about but never described. Here in Proverbs, written earlier than 900 BC, the custom of striking hands was already so well known that the writer did not have to describe it—it is obvious it was already being used to seal an agreement, just as we today use a handshake to seal a deal (or at least some people still do). Other than slim epigraphical evidence like this in Proverbs, early material evidence comes from Greece. In the Pergamon Museum in Berlin there is a base-relief of soldiers shaking hands on a funerary stele that dates from the 5th century BC. So the handshake was not only practiced in the ancient Middle East, but in other places in the world as well.(top)
|Pro 6:2||- (top)|
“be set free.” Although some verions say, “free yourself,” the person cannot free himself, he has to be set free from the one he made an agreement with.
“hand.” Here, “hand” has the common idiomatic meaning of “power” or “authority.”
“Humble yourself.” The Hebrew is literally, “bring yourself low.” Arrogance and high-mindedness do not help a person win the favor of others.(top)
|Pro 6:4||- (top)|
“from a hunter.” This is the reading of the Septuagint, and there are a number of reasons why many scholars think it is to be preferred over the Hebrew, which reads, “like a gazelle from the hand” (although some English versions simply add to the text and say, “like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,” cp. ESV, NIV). The “hunter” in the first stanza parallels the “fowler” in the second stanza.
The gazelle and birds are wonderful object lessons in nature, and are chosen in this verse because they are both very good at escaping trouble. Someone who has entered into a bad agreement has to be very committed and persistent to get out of it.
“fowler.” A bird is a “fowl,” and a person who hunts birds is a “fowler.” The older English word for some of the guns we now call a “shotgun” was a “fowling piece.”(top)
“lazy one.” The Hebrew word is atsel (#06102 עָצֵל), and it means “lazy, idle, slow, sluggish.” The opposite is “diligent.” The word occurs 14 times in Proverbs (Prov. 6:6, 9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13, 14, 15, 16). It refers to one who is habitually lazy. According to Proverbs, the lazy man should learn from others, even nature itself (Prov. 6:6); will become poor (Prov. 6:9-11; 24:30-34); is a problem for those who rely on him (Prov. 10:26); has great desires, even craving and coveting throughout his days, but nothing to show for it (Prov. 13:4; 21:26); has a lifestyle that causes pain to himself and others (Prov. 15:19); goes hungry even when there is an opportunity to get food (Prov. 19:24; 26:15); will not do hard, productive work, so he will lack in life (Prov. 20:4) and may even die both physically and everlastingly (Prov. 21:25); makes up excuses to keep him from working (Prov. 22:13; 26:13); spends too much time in bed (Prov. 26:14); and thinks he knows more than everyone else (Prov. 26:16). Laziness is a character flaw, surely, but it is more that that. Proverbs contrasts the lazy person with the upright person (Prov. 15:19) and the righteous person (Prov. 21:26), so as well as being a character flaw, it is a moral issue. The lazy person is poor, but is never equated with the other “poor” in Proverbs whose poverty is beyond their control. Thus it is important to notice that, while generosity to the poor and needy is extolled in Proverbs (cp. commentary on Prov. 19:17), no one is instructed to give to the lazy who are poor. Proverbs 21:25 should arrest our attention, because it says, “The desire of the lazy man kills him.” The use of terms relating to life and death in Proverbs mean more than just life or death on this earth, and often extend to everlasting life or death. This is one of those verses, and the lazy person, who “never gets around” to learning about God, fearing God, and obeying God, will die not only temporally, but eternally.(top)
|Pro 6:7||- (top)|
|Pro 6:8||- (top)|
“lazy.” See commentary on Prov. 6:6; “lazy one.”(top)
“Just a little.” Notice this sentence is in quotation marks. This is either the son talking back to the father, or the father mimicing the words of the son as to why he won’t get up. The son wants, “just a little more sleep.”
“folding of the arms.” The Hebrew uses the word “hands” but culturally the “hand” included the wrist and forearm. This is why Jesus was nailed to a cross through his “hands” but the part of Jesus’ body the nails went through was his wrists. The person lying on his bed ignored the father’s advice to get up, and folded his arms, which was likely comfortable, but also likely had overtones of rejection—that he was refusing his father’s request.(top)
“and your poverty will come.” The undisciplined person will become poor (see commentary on Prov. 21:17).(top)
“person of Belial.” What do we know about “men of Belial” [beliya`al] from the OT itself? From Proverbs 6:12-14 we learn that these men have perverse mouths and hearts, are generally dishonest, and sow discord. These people lead others away from God. In cultures with many pagan gods, they may lead people to worship other gods or idols (Deut. 13:13), or in atheistic societies simply try to turn people away from God. They plot evil against Yahweh (Nahum 1:11); they defy the righteous worship of God (1 Sam. 2:12-17, 22); they mock at justice (Prov. 19:28); they cause division (1 Sam. 10:27; 30:22; 2 Sam 20:1); they are selfish (Deut. 15:9); they may be drunkards (1 Sam. 1:13-16); they are unreasonable and committed to foolishness (1 Sam. 25:17, 25); they will give false testimony even if it means the death of the one they are lying about (1 Kings 21:10, 13); they will engage in illicit sex (1 Sam 2:12, 22), even rape, including homosexual rape (Judges 19:22); they will gather around powerful people to destroy godly society (2 Chron. 13:7. Cp. the way Bar-Jesus, a “child of the devil,” attached himself to Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cypus in Acts 13:6-10); they plot evil (Prov. 16:27); they will burn others with their words (Prov. 16:27); and they need to be handled with spiritual power, not fleshly power (2 Sam. 23:6). Although there are people who engage in some of these activities who are not children of the Devil but are simply caught up in sin, the above activities are the kinds of things that children of the Devil are consistently involved in.
Both Jesus and Paul referred to certain evil people as children of the Devil (John 8:44; Acts 13:10), and given the information in the Bible about these people of Belial, it seems to miss the point to simply call them “worthless,” or “scoundrels.” It seems clear that the Bible is giving us information about the behavior of those people who have a connection to the Adversary such that they take on the character and desires of the Adversary. Jesus made this clear when he said to certain religious leaders, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44). Given the information the Bible provides, it will be most informative if we refer to these people as people “of Belial.” [For more on sons of Belial, see commentary on 1 Sam. 2:12. For more on the names of the Devil, see Appendix 14, “Names of the Devil”].(top)
|Pro 6:13||- (top)|
“strife.” The Hebrew word is plural, indicating that the wicked person initiates and also contributes to a lot of strife.(top)
|Pro 6:15||- (top)|
“his soul.” This is a good example of the use of “soul” meaning “himself.” For more information, see Appendix 7, Usages of “Soul.”(top)
|Pro 6:17||- (top)|
|Pro 6:18||- (top)|
|Pro 6:19||- (top)|
“commandments.” The Hebrew is singular, “the commandment,” but the singular is being used to reflect the whole body of the father’s teaching, so we would say “commandments.”
“instruction.” See commentary on Proverbs 1:8.(top)
|Pro 6:21||- (top)|
“she will lead…she will watch…she will speak.” The Hebrew text uses the feminine singular pronoun “she,” instead of “they” which seems to refer to both the father’s commandment (“commandment” is a feminine noun) and the mother’s teaching, her “Torah” (“Torah” is a feminine noun) as one body of teaching (cp. Prov. 6:20, 23). This may be because the commandment is part of the Torah, or because they are both part of Wisdom. The active verb has the commandment and Torah (or Wisdom) doing the leading, watching, and speaking, which is the figure of speech personification.
It is possible that the commandment and Torah are just other names for Wisdom, or they could also be separate personifications, as if Wisdom had other female friends that helped her bless and protect believers. Because there always has to be gender agreement between the noun and pronoun in languages that ascribe a gender to nouns, we might think that the “she” should be an “it” (which is the way it is translated in many versions). The “it” makes the verse easier to understand for most English readers, and still retains the personification. However, we think God was really trying to drive the personification home to the reader and even went out of His way to pick nouns that are feminine and would be joined with the pronoun “she.” The words, “Wisdom” (#02451), “Torah” (#08451), “commandment” (#04687), “understanding” (#0998), “prudence” (#06195) and “discernment” (#08394) are all feminine nouns.
There are a number of lessons that seem to be subtly embedded in the feminine personifications. One would be that if the man is attracted to women, then wisdom, Torah, and understanding are much better choices than a strange woman, an adulteress. Another may be the value of wise counsel. We all need wise counsel and wise friends to give it, and Wisdom is not doing everything by herself, she has female friends to help her watch over people.(top)
“instruction.” The Hebrew is “Torah.” See commentary on Proverbs 1:8.(top)
|Pro 6:24||- (top)|
“eyes.” The Hebrew is literally “eyelids,” but that seems to be a synecdoche; the part of the eye for the whole eye. Although women seem to have always batted their eyelids to be seductive, in ancient times just as today, women painted and decorated their eyes in many different ways to bring attention to their eyes. Job named one of his daughters “Keren-happuch,” which seems to mean, “horn [or dish] of eye-paint” (Job 42:14).(top)
|Pro 6:26||- (top)|
|Pro 6:27||- (top)|
“burned” The Hebrew is a different word than in Prov. 6:27, and an alternative reading is “branded.” If you step on hot coals, the coals burn marks into your feet as if you were branded. But today we use a “brand” for identification, so for the sake of clarity we repeated the idea of being burned.(top)
|Pro 6:29||- (top)|
“feed himself.” The Hebrew is literally, “feed his soul,” where “soul” is being used for the person himself. This is an example of when using a literal translation in the receptor language would cause confusion because of the way words are used in the receptor language. The phrase, “feed his soul” is literal from the Hebrew, but in English when we use the phrase “feed my soul,” we do not mean with food, we use the phrase of mental rejuvenation: “Being here at the ocean feeds my soul.” Thus, although we try to keep “soul” in the English when it is in the Hebrew text, we made an exception here for clarity.(top)
“seven times.” The Mosaic Law said four or five times, depending on what was stolen (Exod. 22:1). This is an example of the cultural use of “seven” to refer to completeness. The man will pay back completely.
“all the wealth of his house.” The Mosaic Law said if a thief did not have the means to pay back what the Law required, “he must be sold [into slavery] to pay for his theft” (Exod. 22:3). Although there were times it came to that, the man would sell everything he owned first, and then was allowed to sell his children into slavery (2 Kings 4:1; Neh. 5:5). If he still did not have enough to cover his debt for theft, then he himself would be sold into slavery. That slavery lasted seven years (Deut. 15:9; 31:10).(top)
“sense.” The Hebrew word is leb (#03820 לֵב), which is often translated “heart,” but this is one of those cases where that translation would cause confusion. In modern English, the word “heart” usually refers to emotion or passion, but that is not its meaning here. The function of the brain was unknown in biblical times, so things that we generally assign to the brain, like thinking, attitudes, understanding, and good sense, were assigned to the heart.
In this case, the man who commits adultery does not lack emotion or passion, in fact he probably has plenty of that. What he lacks is “good sense.” The range of meaning of the Hebrew word “heart” in this context is reflected in the number and variation in the English translations of this verse: “void of understanding” (ASV; Darby); “without all sense” or “lacks sense” (CJB; HCSB; ESV); “lacks wisdom” (NET); “lacks judgment” (NIV84); “is an utter fool” (NLT); and the Amplified Bible says, “lacks heart and understanding (moral principle and prudence).” There is no way to capture the full meaning of the Hebrew word leb in this verse; there is simply not an English word that carries the same connotations as the Hebrew word “heart.”
Thankfully, lacking good sense is a correctable problem if the person would begin to listen to Wisdom and act on what she says. In fact, that is part of the purpose of Proverbs—to teach people wisdom and good sense. If a person refuses to learn wisdom, then he is guilty before God on Judgment Day, which has very serious consequences, possibly even everlasting death. The seriousness of lacking sense and acting foolishly is an important reason that believers have a responsibility to try to get people to believe in God, get saved, and then begin to acquire good sense. [For more on the Hebrew word leb and “heart,” see commentary on Prov. 15:21, “sense”].(top)
“he will find.” That is the reading of the Hebrew text and it takes some thought to properly understand it. The key is thinking about what the man thought he would find when he entered into the adulterous relationship, unwisely listening to the flattery and lies of the adulterous. She promised him lovemaking in sumptuous circumstances and good food, but when it was over what he really “found” was not love (she did not, after all, have any intention of actually being in love with him), but rather affliction and dishonor.
“affliction.” The Hebrew word is nega (#05061 נֶגַע), and it means a blow, thus a wound, and it also can mean a plague or the marks caused by a sickness or plague (HALOT Hebrew-English Lexicon; BDB Hebrew-English Lexicon). If the man is caught committing adultery with another man’s wife, he will almost certainly be beaten up by her family—actually, both he and the woman might be executed, although that punishment was not always enforced.
The Hebrew word’s meaning of “plague” also adds the possibility that the man will get a sexually transmitted disease, although the word “plague” is sometimes used to refer to other afflictions besides actual disease, for example, “That person is plagued by depression,” or “Kansas seems to be plagued by tornados.” Unstated in this verse, but stated elsewhere in Proverbs, is the fact that not only the woman’s family will be angry and vengeful, if the man does not repent, he will face God’s anger on Judgment Day. The way to avoid all the pain that can come from adultery is not to do it.(top)
|Pro 6:34||- (top)|
“be persuaded.” The Hebrew uses the idiom, “lift up the face of.”(top)