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Deliver Yourself From Foolish Pledges
Proverbs 6:1-3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 My son, if you have become surety 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 Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself,
for you have come into the palm of your neighbor:
go, humble yourself, plead with your neighbor.
My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor: This is a supposed or assumed situation. “My son, suppose you have …” Become surety means to become a pledge or a guarantee, it is a person who takes responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking. The Hebrew word (ʿā·rǎḇ) means to put up a security, mortgage, make a guarantee, give a pledge. One pledges (promising to do) something as collateral, which can even include oneself, such as the case in Genesis 43:9, Judah says to Jacob, “I will be a pledge of his [Benjamin] safety,” i.e., safe return.
Neighbor: (Heb. rēaʿ) This does not necessarily refer to someone who lives next door or near another. The Hebrew noun generally refers to any countryman with a focus on local companions, friends, acquaintances, colleagues. It can be one who is of the same race, or social/geographical or someone who lives within your community. – Ex. 2:13; 22:6; 2 Sam. 16:17; Prov. 6:1.
Have given your pledge for a stranger: Pledge means a thing that is given as security for the fulfillment of a contract or the payment of a debt and is liable to forfeiture in the event of failure. The Hebrew literally means ‘to strike tour palms (hand) with a stranger.’ It is similar to making an agreement today by shaking hands on a deal. Stranger: (Heb. zār) was applied to those who forsook what was in harmony with the Mosaic Law and so were estranged from God and not necessarily as some foreigner or non-Israelite. Here it simply seems to be a contrast between someone you know (neighbor) with some you do not know (stranger). However, it is possible that the contrast could be a countryman Israelite (neighbor) with a non-Israelite (stranger). The point being made is that it is careless and unwise to make a security, a pledge, a deal with a total stranger based on a mere handshake. (Prov. 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26–27; 27:13) To make a deal with a total stranger based on a handshake alone places you at the mercy of the person you are indebted to and the neighbor. (vs. 1, 3)
If you are snared in the words of your mouth: A snare (Heb. yā·qǎš) brings an animal into captivity, harm, or death when it is caught in them; therefore, snares can represent causes of one’s loss of freedom, or calamity, harm, or death. A servant of God must thoroughly examine and be cautious about what securities, pledges, deals that he chooses to make so that he does not find himself snared (trapped) in a situation, herein the repaying of the debt, from which escape may be very difficult or essentially impossible. (Prov. 6:1-3; 20:25)
Caught in the words of your mouth: This is repeated twice. Caught is similar to snared and renders a Hebrew verb (lā·ḵǎḏ), which means to capture, seize, take that implies by force and is also used of catching something in a snare or trap.
Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself: Here the Hebrew conjunction then transitions us from the “if” clauses of verses 1-2 into the commands of verse 3. Do this is basically saying that this is what you are to do if you wish to deliver (save) yourself. Deliver yourself means to save yourself, to remove yourself, to free yourself, to flee from danger, the snare.
For you have come into the palm of your neighbor: The Hebrew word (kǎp̄) is rendered “hand” (ASV, ESV, NSSB) but it literally means “palm.” ‘In, into, or under the palm (hand) of someone’ means to be under their control, power or dominion. “you have come into the control of your neighbor.”
Go, humble yourself, plead with your neighbor: The Hebrew verb (rā·p̄ǎs) whose form and meaning seem to have the sense of tread on oneself, trample oneself down, or crush down. This means to act in a modest, unassuming way, having no arrogance and pride.
The proverb is warning the reader about being too quick to offer some kind of financial security for a stranger or neighbor that was not well known in the community, to place that kind of trust in him. It would be foolish to take such a risk with one’s finances. This warning is not to take away from the Law that exhorted them to help their fellow Israelite brother who fell on hard times, by loaning him money without interest, helping him with food, or even taking him in for a time. (Leviticus 25:35-38) However, if the new neighbor is not well known, he could be a social misfit that does not wisely take care of his responsibilities. Then, in this case, you would be naive to risk your family’s finances on such an unknown. There may have been a trustworthy Israelite neighbor, who was involving himself in a risky business venture. He may have needed more capital so he would look to his friends and neighbors to invest with him. This would be foolish too because the debt would be on those invested if the deal fell through. It is like cosigning for a house loan today. If the borrowers fail to make the payments, the cosigner is responsible for the loan.