6:1-2 — 1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, 2 if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth,
Putting up security is equivalent to our “co-signing” for someone and it is a big “No, No” in Proverbs. Here, the person is a neighbor, someone close (could be translated as “friend”) or the stranger. That is to say, the verse is simply including “everyone” (cf. Longman calls it a merism, that is, it “is a figure of speech by which a single thing is referred to by a conventional phrase that enumerates several of its parts, or which lists several synonyms for the same thing.” Wikipedia).
The son is tempted to help someone out and thus guarantees the help with his promise. The young naïve man pledges his own assets as security for someone else. He was hasty and has been caught by what he said; he is trapped by his pledge (like a handshake, something like “struck your palm for a stranger”).
Though helping is one thing, but we must avoid being the guarantee for someone’s financial debt. We must not be tied to our indebted friend’s goodwill to pay off his debt; if he is good for it, then he can do it on his own. We must not be his guarantor. The Bible is emphatic: “The teaching is consistent: don’t give loans or secure debts.” (Longman) “The book of Proverbs, however, consistently and unconditionally warns against becoming surety or the debtor for a stranger’s debt…” (Waltke) “He forbids us to become surety, even for a friend, (except for some weighty reason,) and to strike hands with a stranger, in token of our becoming bound for our friend’s debts.” (Lawson)
6:3-5 — 3 then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. 4 Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; 5 save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler.
While the son has the opportunity, he must do all that he can to get out of this situation. The description here is quite alarming. He has “come into the hand of your neighbor” — he is in a trap from which he must be delivered. Furthermore, the father is saying that he must be shameless and give himself no rest until he is out of this predicament. He must act like a gazelle or a bird which is about to be captured. Break free, flee, fly, leave the situation as quickly as possible.
It is recognized that the guarantor is at the mercy of the creditor and the debtor. We are out of power; we are in the hands of the fidelity of our indebted friend and the goodwill of the creditor. This is a serious impediment to his happiness.
The effect of suretiship, even with the most upright men, has often proved hurtful to their souls, embittering their days, and unfitting them for the cheerful services of religion. It has not infrequently rendered them unable to perform those services to God and to his church, for the sake of which a competency of the good things of life is to be valued. We are the servants of Christ, and must not disqualify ourselves for his service, by making ourselves needlessly the servants of men. (Lawson)
On “co-signing” or serving as a guarantor, Proverbs has much to say. The first time this idea is addressed after these verses in ch. 6 is Prov. 11:15 — Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure. The newer New Living Translation has, “There’s danger in putting up security for a stranger’s debt; it’s safer not to guarantee another person’s debt.” The original NLT has, “Guaranteeing a loan for a stranger is dangerous; it is better to refuse than to suffer later.” Furthermore, the Contemporary English Version states, “It’s a dangerous thing to guarantee payment for someone’s debts. Don’t do it!”
Whereas Prov. 6 encourages us to get out of it, this tells us of the harm that will befall us. It is dangerous so we ought not to do it. Proverbs never says that it is good to become someone’s guarantor. We are helping other people secure loans, that is, helping them to get into debt! (cf. Longman)
Whereas these examples (6:1-5 & 11:15) focus on the negative aspects of being a guarantor of someone else’s debt, Prov. 17:18 actually says that if we do, we are senseless or stupid. It says, One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor. CEV has, “It’s stupid to guarantee someone else’s loan.” One may have “reasons” for participating in these precarious situations but the Bible consistently says that such a person is actually senseless.
One more place in Proverbs addresses this topic and it is found in 22:26-27. These verses actually forbid it: “Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?” The New Living Translation: “26 Do not co-sign another person’s note or put up a guarantee for someone else’s loan. 27 If you can’t pay it, even your bed will be snatched from under you.”
The reasoning is very sensible and practical. If we incur debt or put up security for debt, what will happen if we can’t pay back? We can lose the very bed on which we sleep. We must simply avoid the situations that will jeopardize what has been lawfully and graciously given to us.
Proverbs has another way of looking at this. It looks at it from the lender’s perspective! In some situations, the lender is to make sure he receives a pledge or gets security under certain circumstances. 20:16 says, “Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger, and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for foreigners.” That is, if we ended up loaning to someone who was foolish (putting up security for a stranger), then show no mercy and get what is coming to you. This is more explicit in 27:13, “Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger, and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for an adulteress.” Kidner says, “Don’t lend to him without security (Ex. 22:26); he is a bad risk!” “At stake in these warnings was more than the protection of individual wealth or reputation. The stability of the society was a prime consideration. Promises lightly made or pledges rashly offered contribute to economic uncertainty and interpersonal ill will. They enable shysters and con men to flourish and jeopardize the credit of the reliable.” (Hubbard, 172-3)
Further Thoughts on Money, Debt, & Co-Signing
What makes a person co-sign or become the collateral for someone else?
Pressure and a sense of obligation may “guilt” us into it! It may be for a “noble” reason. A dear friend may need a car badly but his credit is not good enough and you are tempted to serve as his co-signer. We may want our own children to develop good “credit” so we help them get into debt by co-signing for something they want! Our parents, whom we love and to whom we own so much, may ask us to co-sign or offer some collateral to enable them to get the final dream house, summer home, etc. Perhaps it is the person we recently met who is a mutual friend of someone very close to us (our parents, our parent’s friends, etc.) and his “need” for something comes to our attention and he asks that you co-sign for him.
Why shouldn’t we?
•We have encouraged the friend to enter into debt. Prov. 22:7 says, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” We do not wish to be in debt and should not be in debt — why should we make it easier for our friend to enter into debt?
•Prudence indicates that if the person in question cannot guarantee his own debt, why should we gamble on him?
•We do not know the future. Why should we hazard our assets on the uncertainty of someone who cannot secure his own? God has not promised us that we will have enough to take care of our friend’s debt in the event he defaults.
•Pride? Do we really think we can underwrite someone else’s bad behavior? Or, can we be certain he will pay back?
•God’s word says (Prov. 22:26), “Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts.”
“In dealing with close friends or relatives…outright gifts may make for less strain and better relations than loans. If the person is able and willing to repay, good and well. Then we have a few dollars to give to someone else. If not, by viewing the transaction as a gift, we are spared both the anxiety of wondering if the repayment will come and the edginess of deciding whether to confront the issue when we see the other person. Jesus’ word about keeping the left hand and the right hand in ignorance about the transactions in which each is engaged is a vote for quiet, unheralded generosity as a mode of Christian living.” (Hubbard, 173)
Bridges says (on 17:18) — “Beware of striking hands in agreement, without ascertaining, whether we can fulfill our engagement, or whether our friend is not equally able to fulfill it himself. “ He says we “must not befriend our brother at the risk or expense of injustice to our family.” He seems to believe there are occasions when it is permitted to enter into suretyship.
One thing he warns against is selfishness. We are to be wise as well as rich in sympathy (p. 104).
Lending, Debt, and the Poor
The Bible does not forbid lending but we are not to incur interest from our brethren. Exodus 22:25-27 says, “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. 26 If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, 27 for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.”
Lending is not forbidden but it is also controlled. M. D. Carroll R. summarizes what the Law says about how debt and lending are related in the OT (in view of the poor):
The laws of the Pentateuch attempted to provide a safety net for the unfortunate and vulnerable members of society. The Pentateuch prescribed a series of charitable acts and legal measures that were designed to aid the poor in their distress…The precariousness of existence made falling into debt a constant danger. In Israel, as in the rest of the ancient Near East, the accumulation of debt could eventually lead to debt slavery, where children (Ex. 21:7-11; cf. 2 Kings 4:1) and even heads of households would be sold to pay off a debt. The sabbatical manumission laws set the limit for such a arrangement at six years and laid down guidelines for the pardoning of debts and release from servitude which could help the individual be reincorporated into civil society (Ex. 21:1-11; Deut. 15:1-18).
We will deal with more the other verses in Proverbs that relate to these topics later on when we encounter them in the course of this study.
Wisdom is needed regarding this topic and God gives us such guidance in the book of Proverbs. Even in this mundane area, God is Lord of our lives. We must use what God has given us very wisely. Our use of money, whether old or young, reveals the nature of our hearts. Will we act with wisdom or in foolishness? The Christian must not be so “liberal” with his money that he is easily manipulated nor should he be so tight that he fails to be generous and full of charity. Wisdom must guide us in this matter.
 “Modern commerce is essentially based on interests on loans, a practice not known in the ancient Near East.” (Waltke, 330)
 Bridges appeals to Reuben and Judah for Benjamin to be the rare exception. Gen. 42:37; 43:9; 44: 32-33. But this is an improper use of the account. Reuben was putting up himself and his family as security for what he wanted to do. It was not his asset for someone else. Besides, it is not a financial issue; it was a life and death situation.
 The Message (a paraphrase version) has, “It’s stupid to try to get something for nothing, or run up huge bills you can never pay.” The point is well made but that is not the point of this verse.
 The Hebrew is virtually the same.
 “Wealth and Poverty,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch.