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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Proverbs 6

 

 

Verse 1

This chapter has a number of independent warnings against:

(1) being surety for the obligations of others (Proverbs 6:1-5),

(2) against laziness (Proverbs 6:6-11),

(3) against wicked men (Proverbs 6:12-15),

(4) against seven things which God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19), and

(5) against both harlots and adulteresses (Proverbs 6:20-35).

Keil, combining warnings (3) and (4) here labeled warnings 1,2, 3, and 5 as "The ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth discourses in this first section of Proverbs (Proverbs 1-9).[1]

Some scholars, noting that the first four of these warnings are sandwiched in between two longer sections on sexual misconduct, have regarded them as an interpolation;[2] but Keil observed that, "There are many marks of identity of authorship" that are common to both passages, concluding that the present arrangement, "Does not therefore warrant critical suspicion."[3] Also, "This arrangement occurs in all of the Ancient Versions."[4]

WARNING AGAINST BECOMING SECURITY FOR OTHERS (THE NINTH DISCOURSE)

Proverbs 6:1-5

"My son, if thou art become security for thy neighbor,

If thou hast stricken thy hands for a stranger;

Thou art snared with the words thy mouth,

Thou art taken by the words of thy mouth.

Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself,

Seeing thou art come into the hand of thy neighbor:

Go humble thyself, and importune thy neighbor;

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."

"If thou hast stricken thy hands for a stranger" (Proverbs 6:1). "This is the equivalent (in modern terms) of co-signing your neighbor's note."[5] "This was the procedure for concluding a bargain. It is like our expression, `to shake hands on it.'"[6] "The warning here is against lightly risking irreparable harm. If through careless words, or vanity, one has done so, no time is to be lost in obtaining a release from the agreement, which (from the context here) has been apparently agreed to but not yet carried into effect."[7]

In ancient times, the careless assumption of another's financial obligations could bring vast damages upon those thoughtless enough to do it; and, even today, there are examples of very extensive harm that can result from it. This writer knew a great Christian brother in Sherman, Texas, who co-signed a note for a kinsman; and when the kinsman defaulted, the brother sold his home and his farm to pay the bank.

"The earnest eager tone here suggests that the writer has observed the very predicament that he describes -- it is a business man's advice to his friend."[8] No better advice was ever given.

"With the words of thy mouth" (Proverbs 6:2). "The repetition of this phrase is intentional to give greater force to the fact that such entanglements are the result of one's own indiscretion."[9]

"Do this now ... deliver thyself ... importune thy neighbor" (Proverbs 6:3). The message here is, "By all means, get out of that arrangement at once!" "In Hebrew, the word importune means `rage against,'"[10] "The word importune is hardly a strong enough word here."[11] "The refusal to be surety for a neighbor's debt does not mean heartless indifference to his needs."[12] If one is able to help his distressed neighbor, let him do so willingly and generously; but to guarantee the payment of his debts is not only unnecessary, but exceedingly foolish. It was so when Proverbs was written, and it is true now.

"Guaranteeing to pay someone else's debt may even be an unintended disservice to the recipient by exposing him to temptation, perhaps causing him to continue to live beyond his means."[13] But even apart from that, being surety for another's obligation is contrary to the Word of God. It can, and often does, bring great sorrow and damage upon them that do it; and every Christian should heed this admonition.

"It should be remembered in this connection that the risks involved in the assumption of such liabilities in ancient times were very great. Terrible poverty and even slavery could result."[14] Although today we have such things as bankruptcy laws to protect certain debtors, there are still grave and totally unnecessary risks involved in one's obligating himself to pay others' obligations.


Verse 6

THE WARNING AGAINST LAZINESS (THE TENTH DISCOURSE)

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard;

Consider her ways, and be wise:

Which having no chief,

Overseer, or ruler,

Provideth her bread in the summer,

And gathereth her food in the harvest.

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 a robber,

And thy want as an armed man."

"The ant is mentioned only here and in Proverbs 30:35 in the Old Testament."[15] "The ant figures in most of the ancient and proverbial literature as the type of provident thrift and industry."[16] Aesop's fable regarding the ant and the grasshopper is an example of this. We reject the conceited inference in the comment that, "Modern investigations shows that ants do have an intricate organization,"[17] the inference being that "Modern man is so smart that he is above such an erroneous notion as that which we have here."

There are many varieties of ants; and, "Some of these lay up provisions ... The agricultural ant of Texas, which resembles the ant of Palestine, not only stores up food, but even prepares the soil, kills the weeds, and finally reaps the harvest."[18] And, as for the proposition that ants indeed do have overseers, governors, etc., "All objections on this subject are based upon insufficient data, and have been completely answered by recent observations."[19] Any careful observation of ants certainly reveals that countless numbers of them carry on their activities without any "bosses" or supervisors of any kind!

"No chief, overseer or ruler" (Proverbs 6:7). "Although three words are used here, they are used as synonyms."[20] The meaning is that the ants work without any boss to oversee and command their labors.

"So shall come thy poverty ... and ... thy want ... as an armed man" (Proverbs 6:11). Laziness is destructive, and the failure by men to engage diligently in work is a violation of the Word of God. The same Bible which says, "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy, also says, "Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work." God's plan has no promises and no benefits in store for the idler. The New Testament admonition still stands that, "If a man will not work, don't let him eat." It appears to this writer that our current society may believe that they have graduated from this injunction; but God's Word has a habit of always winning at last.


Verse 12

WARNING AGAINST DECEITFUL MEN; THINGS GOD HATES (THE ELEVENTH DISCOURSE)

"A worthless person, a man of iniquity,

Is he that walketh with a perverse mouth;

That winketh with his eyes, that speaketh with his feet,

That maketh signs with his fingers;

In whose heart is perverseness,

Who deviseth evil continually,

Who soweth discord.

Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly;

On a sudden shall he be broken, and that without remedy.

There are six things which Jehovah hateth;

Yea, seven which are an abomination unto him:

Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,

And hands that shed innocent blood;

A heart that deviseth wicked purposes,

Feet that are swift in running to mischief,

A false witness that uttereth lies,

And he that soweth discord among brethren."

"A worthless person, a man of iniquity" (Proverbs 6:12). Beginning here and through Proverbs 6:15 we have a description of a wicked and deceitful man; but it is not revealed just what was meant by the various winks, signs, gestures and other bodily movements by which he made evil signals, communicated with confederates, or in other ways hoodwinked, deceived and conspired against his victims. The picture of this evil person that emerges here is that of an underhanded deceiver who concealed his true intentions by these `signs' and `signals.' "There is a similar description of a corrupt person, with a prediction of his coming to a bad end in Proverbs 26:23-26."[21]

THE SEVEN THINGS THAT THE LORD HATES

Here again we encounter a popular memory verse. Both Harris and Delitzsch consider these seven sins as climactic, the seventh, "sowing discord among brethren" being considered as the most serious of the seven.[22] It appears to this writer, as Driver expressed it that, "All these things belong together,"[23] giving a number of characteristics of the same person, a person revealed here as totally evil. Note that his eyes have a proud look; his tongue tells lies; his hands murder the innocent; his heart is full of wicked purposes; his feet run quickly on evil errands - all of these are parts of one man! The last two abominable things are the composite product of all this, namely, that person who by lying speeches sows discord among brethren. In that sense, of course, we may view these as presenting a climax in the seventh. However, "It is the heart that underlies the seven vices which are an abomination to God; and it occupies the central position here,"[24] because it is the fountain from which all evil flows.

Another significant thing here is the fact that, "This passage reflects an acquaintance with the Old Testament,"[25] especially the Pentateuch. The Law of Moses gave specific prohibitions against all of the things mentioned here.

It has been noted that there is an amazing resemblance in the thought of these verses as compared with the Beatitudes of Matthew 5, particularly in the first and last of the two lists. "`The Lord hates a proud look,' is practically the equivalent of, `Blessed are the poor in spirit'; and, `He that soweth discord among brethren,' is the exact converse of, `Blessed are the peacemakers.'"[26]


Verse 20

WARNING AGAINST THE HARLOT AND THE ADULTERESS (THE TWELFTH DISCOURSE)

"My son, keep the commandment of thy father,

And forsake not the law of thy mother:

Bind them continually upon thy heart;

Tie them about thy neck.

When thou walkest, it shall lead thee;

When thou sleepest, it shall watch over thee;

And when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.

For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light;

And the reproofs of instruction are the way of life:

To keep thee from the evil woman,

From the flattery of the foreigner's tongue.

Lust not after her beauty in thy heart;

Neither let her take thee with her eyelids.

For on account of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread;

And the adulteress hunteth for the precious life.

Can a man take fire in his bosom,

And his clothes be not burned?

Or can one walk upon hot coals,

And his feet be not scorched?

So he that goeth in to his neighbors wife;

Whosoever toucheth her shall not be unpunished.

Men do not despise a thief, if he steal

To satisfy himself when he is hungry:

But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold;

He shall give all the substance of his house.

He that committeth adultery with a woman is void of understanding:

He doeth it who would destroy his own soul.

Wounds and dishonor shall he get;

And his reproach shall not be wiped away.

For jealousy is the rage of a man;

And he will not spare in the day of vengeance.

He will not regard any ransom;

Neither will he rest content, though thou givest many girls."

There is a translation problem with these verses as a glance at the Revised Standard Version (RSV) will indicate. We shall follow the RSV in portions of this section. In previous references in Proverbs to the vice mentioned here, we have already made many comments that are also applicable in this section.

We appreciate Fritsch's statement regarding the purpose of these long sections on unlawful sex indulgence in Proverbs, "It is not to titillate the passions of the reader, as so much modern literature does, but to portray the disillusionment of illicit love and its certain end in unquenchable remorse and bitter death."[27] We find it difficult to think of Solomon as an instructor of his son Rehoboam as we study these lines. As Wordsworth stated it, "The unhappy example of Solomon in his old age was more potent for evil in the life of Rehoboam than the sacred precepts of Proverbs were for righteousness. At the age of forty-one Rehoboam was a feeble libertine. The warnings of Proverbs fell flat on the ears of the royal son of the author, and Rehoboam derived little benefit from the Book of Proverbs."[28]

"Lust not after her beauty in thy heart" (Proverbs 6:25). "These words push the sin of adultery back to the heart of the sinner, even as does the New Testament (Matthew 5:28; Mark 7:21; James 1:14-15)."[29]

There are two fundamentally different interpretations of this section; and the difficult text may be so translated as to support either one of them. This writer accepts the view that there are two different kinds of sexual misbehavior spoken of in this passage, namely cohabiting with a professional prostitute and committing adultery with a neighbor's wife.

This is supported by the fact that "the strange woman" (Proverbs 6:24 KJV) cannot be applied to a neighbor's wife; and "one emendation reads for a harlot's sake," a translation that Kidner rejected on the grounds that, "The RSV shrugs off the first (harlotry) in a manner that is hardly true."[30]

We call special attention to the fact that adultery with a neighbor's wife in the latter part of this long paragraph is definitely contrasted with thievery; and it is logical to understand the first half of the paragraph as a contrast between committing sexual sin with a prostitute and doing so with a neighbor's wife.

Furthermore, the RSV does not "shrug off" intercourse with a prostitute. Proverbs has already warned against this evil in the most vigorous language; and what is said here is merely that adultery with a neighbor's wife is even a whole lot worse!

Also note the following verse as rendered in the RSV: For a harlot may be hired for a loaf of bread, But an adulteress stalks a man's very life (Proverbs 6:26). The contrast stated here is profoundly true. Terrible and deadly as the prostitute most certainly is, cohabitation with the neighbor's wife is even a greater and more foolish sin.

Driver wrote that, "All of the Ancient Versions support the view that in this passage the harlot is contrasted with the neighbor's wife."[31] We might add that the same is true of the Modern Versions: The Anchor Bible, the NIV, the new RSV, the Good News Bible, and Moffatt.

"Thus the RSV makes sexual intercourse with an adulteress far more dangerous and expensive than with a harlot."[32] This is by no means hard to understand. The adulteress has a far greater advantage than the harlot, because the wrath and vengeance of the adulteress' husband is a key weapon under her control. Also, if a man steals his neighbor's pig, he can restore the animal, but he cannot do that if he steals his wife!

"He that committeth adultery ... would destroy his own soul" (Proverbs 6:22). "The adulterer pays a far greater price than the robber, viz, his own soul"![33]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 6:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/proverbs-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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