Proverbs 6
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger,
1. be surety] Better, art become surety, R.V.

The frequent mention of suretiship in this Book, and the strong terms of warning and reprobation in which it is invariably spoken of, accord well with what we should suppose to be the condition of society in the reign of Solomon. In earlier and simpler times it was enough for the Law to forbid usury or interest for a loan of money to be exacted by one Israelite of another; and raiment given as a pledge or security for a debt was to be returned before night-fall to be the owner’s covering in his sleep (Exodus 22:25-27; Leviticus 25:35-38). With the developement, however, of commerce and the growth of luxury under Solomon, money-lending transactions, whether for speculation in trade, or for personal gratification, had come to be among the grave dangers that beset the path of youth. Accordingly, though the writer of Ecclesiasticus contents himself with laying down restrictions to the exercise of suretiship, and even goes the length of telling us that “An honest man is surety for his neighbor” (Sir 8:13; Sir 29:14-20), our writer here, with a truer insight, has no quarter for it, but condemns it unsparingly on every mention of it (Proverbs 6:1-5, Proverbs 11:15, Proverbs 17:18, Proverbs 20:16, Proverbs 22:26-27, Proverbs 27:13). Even the generous impulse of youth to incur risk at the call of friendship must yield to the dictates, cold and calculating though they seem, of bitter experience.

In all these places the LXX. use ἐγγυᾶσθαι, ἔγγυος, ἐγγύη (comp. Hebrews 7:22); but the Heb. word here used appears as a noun in a Greek form (ἀρραβών), and is found in the LXX. only in Genesis 38:17-18; Genesis 38:20. It is employed by St Paul to denote the gift of the Spirit as the pledge or earnest of the future inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). The later history of the word is traced by Dean Plumptre in an interesting note at the end of Proverbs 6 in the Speaker’s Comm.

with a stranger] i.e. if thou hast “become surety for thy friend,” by entering for him, by the usual formality of shaking hands (Proverbs 11:15, Proverbs 17:18, Proverbs 22:26; Job 17:3), into an undertaking with the stranger to whom he is indebted, to be responsible for his debt. In favour of this rendering is perhaps the article before “stranger” (lit. the stranger, i.e. money-lender), with whom he has involved himself.

The rendering, however, of R.V. text, for a stranger, preserves the parallelism better (the preposition moreover is the same in both clauses of the verse), while it understands the “neighbour” which it substitutes for “friend” in the first clause of this verse, to be equivalent to the “stranger,” i.e. “another” than thyself. For this wide use of the Heb. word for “stranger,” comp. Proverbs 27:2; 1 Kings 3:18.

Eleventh Address. Chap. 6. Proverbs 6:1-5. The Surety

“From the solemn principle announced at the close of the last chapter (Proverbs 6:23) the teacher passes … to illustrate the truth by three examples, that of the Surety (Proverbs 6:1-5), that of the Sluggard (Proverbs 6:6-11), and that of the Worthless Man (Proverbs 6:12-19). And then because the horrors of impurity are the most striking and terrible instance of all, this subject coming up again at Proverbs 6:20, like the dark ground tone of the picture, finally runs into the long and detailed description of ch. 7.” Horton, ch. vii. p. 79.

Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.
Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend.
3. when] Rather, for, or, seeing that, R.V.

humble thyself] Lit. offer thyself to be trampled upon; prostrate thyself. Others render, stir thyself, R.V. marg.; ἴσθι μὴ ἐκλυόμενος, LXX., festina, Vulg.

make sure] Rather, be urgent upon, importune, R.V.; παρόξυνε, LXX.; suscita, Vulg.

Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.
Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.
5. of the hunter] These words, which are not in the Heb., are not necessary to the sense. The struggling roe forces itself from the hand (be it of hunter or of anyone else) that has laid hold on it.

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
6. Go to the ant] Comp. Proverbs 30:25; where however the foresight of the little insect is chiefly in view. Here its ceaseless activity, and that of its own free-will, without being set on work or kept up to it by external authority (Proverbs 6:7), furnishes the lesson to the sluggard.

sluggard] The Heb. word occurs frequently in this Book, but not elsewhere. Forms of the same root occur in Jdg 18:9, “be not slothful to go,” and Ecclesiastes 10:18, “by slothfulness the roof sinketh in.”

Twelfth Address. Chap. 6. Proverbs 6:6-11. The Sluggard

6–11. Comp. on this Section Proverbs 24:30-34.

Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
7. guide] Rather, chief, R.V. (judge, marg.) to appoint its work. LXX. ἐκείνῳ γὰρ γεωργίου μὴ ὑπάρχοντος, in keeping with “the summer” and “the harvest” of the next verse.

overseer] The Heb. word is used of the Hebrew “officers,” whom the Egyptian “taskmasters” set over the Israelites in Egypt, Exodus 5:6; Exodus 5:10; Exodus 5:14.

Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
8. The LXX. addition to this verse is interesting, both as illustrating their tendency to gloss, and also because it exhibits the bee in a favourable light, as an example of industry and wisdom, whereas, unless we regard it as latent in the use of the word as a proper name (Deborah, Jdg 4:4), that character of the insect is never referred to by the O.T. writers, who were familiar with it only in its wild state, and had no opportunity of watching its habits, but only noticed its vindictiveness in attacking men (Psalm 118:12; Isaiah 7:18).

Their addition is:—

“Or, go to the bee, and learn what a work woman she is,

And how comely she makes her work,

Whose labours kings and common people gather to them,

And she is desired and had in honour of all men for health;

And though she be weak in strength of body,

Yet through her honouring wisdom is she advanced.”

How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.
11. one that travelleth … an armed man] The figure is two-fold. The doom of the sluggard travels swiftly and is inevitable. While he slumbers inertly, Poverty is coming on apace, drawing nearer to him every moment; and when it comes, it falls upon him like an armed man (Heb. “man with a shield”) from whom there is no escape.

A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.
12. a naughty person] Lit. a man of Belial. The Heb. word Belial means, “of no profit,” “worthless,” and, according to the Heb. idiom, a man of, or a son of (Deuteronomy 13:13) Belial, is an unprofitable or worthless person. Here, however, the word “Belial” is in apposition with “man,” “a man (who is) worthless, a good-for-nothing fellow.” The word appears to have been personified by the later Jews, and is used in the form Belial, or Beliar, to denote Satan (2 Corinthians 6:15, where see note in this Series).

walketh] The R.V., following the Heb. pointing, is more abrupt and forcible:

A worthless person, a man of iniquity;

He walketh with a froward mouth.

Thirteenth Address. Chap. 6. Proverbs 6:12-19. The Worthless Person

This short section might seem at first sight to break itself into two (Proverbs 6:12-19). But the note of character, “he soweth discord,” repeated in Proverbs 6:19 from Proverbs 6:14, helps to identify the worthless person as being the subject throughout, and a closer examination exhibits the connection. Would you recognise the worthless man? Here is his description, Proverbs 6:12-14. Would you understand his end? Here is his destiny, Proverbs 6:15. Would you know what God, the Judge of all, sees in him to hate and punish? Here are the six, yea seven things that undo him, Proverbs 6:16-19. The connection is well worked out by Mr Horton, The Book of Proverbs, pp. 84–91.

He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers;
13. winketh] Comp. Proverbs 10:10; Psalm 35:19.

speaketh] Not only the tongue (Proverbs 6:12), but the eye, the foot and the hand are used to make false suggestions, and to further his deceitful designs. Comp. Proverbs 16:30. Shuffleth, R.V. marg., is a rendering adopted by many good scholars, σημαίνει, LXX.

teacheth] This is retained in R.V. marg. (διδάσκει, LXX.), but giveth signs, R.V. text, is preferable.

Attention has been called to the striking parallel of the description in the Tarentilla of the Latin poet Nævius: “alium tenet, alii adnictat, alibi manus est, alii percellit pedem.”

Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.
14. soweth) Vulg. seminat. So R.V. with “Heb. letteth loose”, in marg. Lit. sendeth or casteth forth, as was done in the hand sowing of those days and countries. Comp. ὡς ἄνθρωπος βάλῃ τὸν σπόρον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, Mark 4:26. The idea of sowing is not contained, however, in the Heb. word, and the phrase “sowing strife” may merely be chosen as the best Eng. equivalent for the Heb. phrase. Comp. Proverbs 6:19 below, and Proverbs 16:28.

Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
16. six … seven] To specify more precisely the traits that go to form the character of the man of Belial, and to lift them into the sphere of God’s judgement, that we may make a true estimate of them, they are these six, yea seven, for they are complete, and the shades of darkness, like the rays of light, are sevenfold, and Jehovah hates them, and they are the abomination of His soul.

A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
17. A proud look] Rather, haughty eyes, A.V. margin, R.V. text. Thus the enumeration in the Heb. of the parts of the body: ‘eyes,’ ‘tongue,’ ‘hands,’ ‘heart,’ ‘feet’ is preserved.

An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
19. See Proverbs 6:12; Proverbs 6:14 notes.

My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
Fourteenth Address. Chap. 6. Proverbs 6:20-35. The Evil Woman

The holy memories and sanctions of the family are invoked (Proverbs 6:20-23) to give weight to another earnest warning against the sin which destroys the purity and saps the foundations of family life (Proverbs 6:24-35).

Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.
21. heart … neck] See Proverbs 3:3, note. Perhaps there is also the idea of an amulet or charm tied round the neck. See next verse.

When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.
22. it] The change from the plural, “bind them,” “tie them,” of Proverbs 6:21, and the return to “it,” “the commandment,” “the law,” in Proverbs 6:23 (comp. Proverbs 6:20) indicate not only the substantial identity of the teaching of the father and the mother, but the source of that identity in the one law of God, of which they are both the authorised exponents (Deuteronomy 6:7).

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:
23. the commandment … the law] or, their commandmenttheir teaching, R.V. marg. The two renderings are practically the same. See on Proverbs 6:22.

reproofs of instruction] “Light” is not enough: “all effectual instruction for the sinful children of men includes and implies chastening, or as we are accustomed to say, correction:” per molestias eruditio.

To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.
24. the tongue of a strange woman] the stranger’s tongue, R.V., i.e. the tongue of another man’s wife, as what follows shews (Proverbs 6:22; Proverbs 6:29; Proverbs 6:32; Proverbs 6:34-35). See Proverbs 2:16, note.

Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.
25. eyelids] Painted probably after the Eastern fashion. Comp. 2 Kings 9:30. “They paint or blacken the eyelids with kǒhl, and prolong the application in a descending pencil, so as to lengthen and reduce the eye in appearance to what is called almond shape. The practice is extremely ancient, for such painted eyes are found in the oldest Egyptian tombs. It imparts a peculiar brilliancy to the eye and a languishing amorous cast to the whole countenance.” Thomson, Land and Book, p. 461.

For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life.
26. the adulteress] Lit. a man’s wife. It is the same woman who is contemplated in both clauses of the verse, a married woman, who has become a “whorish woman.”

will hunt] Rather, hunteth, R.V. Not only substance (Proverbs 6:31) but life itself (Proverbs 6:34-35) may be the forfeit, and a more precious substance than bodily life also. “Every sin is the precursor of spiritual bankruptcy; it is setting one’s hand to a bill, which when it comes in must break the wealthiest signatory.” Horton, p. 75.

Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?
Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?
So he that goeth in to his neighbour's wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.
29. innocent] So R.V. marg.; but as the object here is to deter from the sin by insisting on its consequences, it is better to render, with R.V. text, unpunished.

Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry;
30. despise] Some render, make light of, let go unpunished (“non impunis dimittitur fur,” Maur.). But the proper meaning of the Heb. word is to be retained with A.V. and R.V.

“The argument appears to be this: The thief, driven by hunger to steal, is regarded with pity rather than contempt, and yet is punished for the protection of society; how much more then shall the adulterer be despised as one who ‘lacketh understanding,’ and visited with a punishment for which there is no redemption.” Rel. Tr. Soc. Comm.

But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house.
31. sevenfold] This cannot refer to the legal penalty for theft, which was in no case greater than five times the value of the thing stolen (Exodus 22:1-4. Comp. Luke 19:8). It had been suggested that the case contemplated in the second clause of the verse is different from that in the first: here is a man, who so far from being driven by abject poverty to steal in order to satisfy his hunger, is able and will be required to pay more than the law demanded (sevenfold) in order to avoid the shame of exposure. It is better, however, to understand sevenfold as a general term, meaning in full measure (comp. Genesis 4:15; Leviticus 26:28; Matthew 18:21). This explanation obviates the objection that if he had to steal for bread he could not pay sevenfold, because the full measure of the law was, “if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft” (Exodus 22:3, comp. Matthew 18:25).

But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.
32. understanding] Lit. heart. See Proverbs 2:2, note.

he that doeth it destroyeth] Rather, he doeth it that would destroy.

A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away.
For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance.
34. therefore] Rather, and. Here is no question of compensation (Proverbs 6:35); the burning fire of jealousy will pursue thee unto death (Leviticus 20:10).

He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts.
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