Wealth and poverty are from God, says Solomon (Ecclesiastes 5:19). However, that’s no reason for us to handle our things carelessly. All the more reason, since God has graciously given them to us and will require an explanation for our use of them on the last day.
There are times when love moves us to give what we have to others without thought of return or reward. At other times, we depend on others to give or lend to us. And then there are other times still when we will go guarantor for the one in need.
These last two, going guarantor for someone else’s debt, and looking to others to provide for us, are the main focus of Proverbs 6:1-11.
First, going guarantor.
My son, if you have put up security for your neighbour, have given your pledge for a stranger… then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbour: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbour. Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber… (Proverbs 6:1-4)
As kind as it might be, the problem with going guarantor for someone is that you effectively put your assets under their control. If they fail to pay the debt, your assets are now on the chopping block. That does not mean that’s it’s wrong to go guarantor. But it does mean that you should weigh up the potential loss before you act as surety for someone else.
The principle is: Be very careful about entrusting other people with the responsibility of your own finances.
If you are going to give, give generously and let that be the end of it. But if you are going to lend or become a guarantor, then understand what you are getting yourself into.
To “give your pledge,” is literally “to strike hands.” It’s where we get the idea of striking a deal by shaking hands.
Here, Solomon pictures a deal where you went guarantor for someone—agreed to cover the debt if they should fail—and then suddenly realise the risk to your own future.
If you’re going to act as security for someone else’s loan, the question is, will you still be able to keep a roof over your own head and keep food on the table for your own family should the borrower fail and the creditor come after you?
If not, “save yourself!” says Solomon. Give yourself no rest until you have taken the management of your assets back into your own hands. Get yourself out of the snare before you ruin both yourself and your family.
From here, Solomon may appear to change the subject, but I don’t think he is. “Go to the ant you sluggard!”
What kind of man is likely to casually enter into such a lending arrangement and then fall in a heap when he sees the hazard? The same kind of man who is likely to leave his provision in the hands of others.
The lazy man.
Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? (Proverbs 6:6-9)
Ants manage to maintain the health and prosperity of their communities without a chief (lit. judge), an officer (lit. a lawgiver) and without a ruler (lit. a king). They just get on with the work of feeding themselves and securing their future.
The lazy can’t get out of bed. He sees the poverty he is heading for and does nothing. Like the guarantor who carelessly puts his current assets into the hands of someone else, the sluggard puts his future provision in the hands of someone else.
Rather than put his hand to the plough, the lazy man puts his hand out for free pennies and pounds.
Solomon cautions his son (and us) by saying that, just as you ought to be thoughtful when putting your assets into your neighbour’s hands, so you ought to avoid the kind of laziness that makes you dependant on someone else’s handouts for your daily bread.
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber and want like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:10-11)
The man who carelessly shakes hands with a borrower, along with the man who shakes hands with a lender, are both one and alike, subject to disaster.
The wise man will give thought to who actually manages his bread and from where his bread is coming. And he will labour, lend and spend, in a way that avoids being enslaved by either.