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,
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.
6 Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
8 she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
12 A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
13 winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
14 with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord;
15 therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly;
in a moment he will be broken beyond healing. – Proverbs 6:1-15 ESV
Along with a warning that his sons avoid the temptations of the “forbidden woman” (Proverbs 5:3 ESV), Solomon provides them with a few additional examples of wisdom made practical. The wisdom that comes from God is highly pragmatic and able to provide its possessor with what might also be called common sense. A wise person is able to avoid the pitfalls of life because he has a kind of sixth sense that allows him to see the outcome before it happens. This awareness of the less-than-ideal consequences that can accompany a seemingly good decision can prevent a great deal of pain and heartache.
As a rich man, Solomon was well-acquainted with the pitfalls that often accompany wealth. There is little doubt that Solomon was used to having his less-affluent friends make requests for his financial assistance. Some asked to borrow money directly from Solomon, while others were more subtle and simply asked him to co-sign their loans. Either way, Solomon was being asked to put his resources at risk in order to benefit a less-fortunate brother.
In this passage, Solomon is not issuing a blanket edict prohibiting the lending of money for any circumstance whatsoever. And he is not recommending a total abstinence from co-signing on someone else’s loan. He is simply reminding his sons to be prudent when it comes to money matters.
Notice that Solomon uses a hypothetical situation to make his point.
…if you have put up security for a friend’s debt
or agreed to guarantee the debt of a stranger… – Proverbs 6:1 NLT
The deed has been done. The commitment has been made. You have signed your name on the dotted line and obligated yourself to help cover that individual’s debt. If he can’t pay, you will. And Solomon describes this kind of binding commitment in stark terms.
…if you have trapped yourself by your agreement
and are caught by what you said—
follow my advice and save yourself… – Proverbs 6:2-3 NLT
Like a bird caught in a snare, you are trapped by your own decision and are at the mercy of the borrower. He holds all the cards. If he reneges on his debt, you will be held responsible to pay back what he owes. His debt becomes yours and, in a sense, your money becomes his.
So, Solomon warns his sons that, if they ever find themselves in this kind of situation, they are to do whatever it takes to extricate themselves. They are to humble themselves and beg their friend to release them from their obligation.
…you have placed yourself at your friend’s mercy.
Now swallow your pride;
go and beg to have your name erased. – Proverbs 6:3 NLT
And Solomon provides a sense of urgency by stating, “Don’t put it off; do it now! Don’t rest until you do” (Proverbs 6:4 NLT). They were to waste no time in removing themselves from this potentially devastating situation. And, in all of this, Solomon is really warning them about ever allowing themselves to get in this kind of predicament in the first place. The one who predetermines to never lend or co-sign will never have to go through this painful and humiliating process.
In his play, Hamlet, Shakespeare penned a speech by Polonius, the chief minister to the king. The son of this powerful administrative officer was heading off to attend university in Paris, so his father gave a few parting words of wisdom.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This timeless advice echoes the words of Solomon to his sons. And it reflects the sentiments of Proverbs 22:7:
The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
Solomon, like Polonius, wanted his sons to live wisely and prudently. To do so, they would need to avoid those circumstances that might result in less-than-ideal consequences. And Solomon knew that, due to their status as sons of the king, they would find themselves the easy targets of those who would seek to use their resources to their own advantage.
Next, Solomon turns his attention to another threat to his sons’ future well-being: Laziness. As a king, Solomon knew what it was like to have all of his needs taken care of by others. He had hundreds of servants at his beck and call 24-hours a day. And he knew that this kind of around-the-clock care could produce spoiled and lazy children who grew up to be privileged and entitled adults.
This fear of raising sons who became less-than-productive adults led Solomon to warn against laziness and its companion vice, procrastination.
But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep?
When will you wake up?
A little extra sleep, a little more slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest… – Proverbs 6:9-10 NLT
Solomon, who was a student of nature, knew that there were lessons to be learned from the world around us if we would only stop long enough to look and learn. It seems that God has wired into His creation some valuable and highly practical illustrations from which we can glean insights for living. In this verse, the lazy person or sluggard, is told to wake up long enough to examine the work ethic of the ant. They’re small, apparently leaderless and lacking anyone to make them work, yet they labor hard all summer gathering food for the winter. These tiny, insignificant creatures instinctively know how to diligently sustain not only themselves, but their entire colony – through hard work. They don’t sleep in or shirk their responsibilities. Every one of them does their fair share of the work to help make the colony successful. But the lazy individual thinks only about himself, and prefers sleep over work. They just can’t seem to get out of bed in the morning. Elsewhere in the Proverbs they are described as a door on its hinges. These kinds of people attempt to get out of bed in the morning, but simply roll right back in at the thought of having to do anything productive.
It would seem to me that if God has wired the ant with a basic instinct for hard work and diligence, the same thing would be true of man. Man was created to work and to be creative. But what has gone wrong? In short, the fall. Sin entered the picture and muddied the water. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, work became drudgery. What used to be enjoyable became laborious and required sweat and effort. And because work became difficult, man began to look for shortcuts and workarounds. He began searching for a better way, an easier way. Because God had wired man to work and create, Satan began to tempt him with alternatives and to distract him with easier options. Sleeping in seems so much more appealing than getting up and going to work. A few more hours of rest beats work, hands down. But when we choose the enemy’s options, we find ourselves in rebellion against God. Just as Eve listened to the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit, in direct violation of God’s command, every time we give in to the temptations of Satan and shirk our God-given responsibility to work, we are sinning against Him.
Laziness is sin. When we fail to work, we are refusing to obey God and do what He has created us to do. But wait, you say, “I get up early every morning and put in a full day at work. I never sleep in and I work long, hard hours.” But you may still be lazy. Because when all is said and done, the work we are called to by God is to do His will. Ants are created to work hard for the colony. They are communal creatures whose soul purpose in life is to minister and contribute to the good of the whole. You don’t see ants starting side businesses or taking a well-deserved two-week vacation to Barbados. From the minute they are born to the second they die, they are laboring, not for themselves, but for the community. And all they do, they do in conjunction with others. They labor together, not individually. There is a sense of shared responsibility and corporate cooperation. Too often, our hard work is self-centered and for our benefit only. We live in a society that has lost its corporate and communal sensibility. We have become Lone Rangers, doing what we do with diligence and determination, but with little sense of our responsibility to the body.
As believers, we are called to labor for the cause of Christ within the context of the body of Christ. But many of us have become so distracted with other cares and concerns. We work hard, but we have lost sight of our mission. We spend countless hours earning a paycheck and accomplishing work that benefits primarily just ourselves. But when it comes to the work for which God created us and for which Christ redeemed us, we can become lazy, disinterested and distracted by other concerns and cares. God has work for us to do, but we are too busy doing what we want to do. We have become lazy about accomplishing the will and the work of God. And we make excuses, justifying our actions and attempting to make ourselves feel good about all we are accomplishing – for ourselves. “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise!”
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.