Sureties for a Debt
1. This is the third of thirty wise sayings in this new section of Proverbs that began in verse 17.
2. In this proverb, Solomon is speaking about the danger and consequences of debt.
3. As a wealthy king who observed the aristocracy and the wealthy land owners, he must have had ample illustrations in real life which goaded him to write this proverb.
4. And unfortunately, we also have way too many illustrations of this principle in our day and age.
1. Striking the hands
• Strong’s: To blow; clap; strike; to strike or pledge oneself.
• Dictionary of Biblical Languages: The striking of hands in a pledge; i.e., a non-verbal signal which communicates that a promise will be kept.
• Theological Workbook of the Old Testament: Striking hands with someone else (serving a function similar to our handshake) signified pledging oneself as a collateral in a business arrangement.
• Most translations include the idea of striking hands, but some “interpret” that expression.
• It is similar to what we would call a gentleman’s agreement in a business deal which was sealed with a handshake. (striking of hands)
• Exactly how they “struck” hands we don’t know… but that’s not the point.
• The point is that it was a means in the days of Solomon of entering into a covenant or deal of some sort.
b. Various translations:
• Be not one of those who give pledges.
• Don’t be one of those who enter agreements.
• Don’t promise to pay what someone else owes.
• Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge.
• Don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt.
• The translators are obviously divided on the exact meaning.
» One group related it to a man who was taking out a personal loan and the borrower put up his own collateral to cover for it.
» The other group related it to a man who was guaranteeing another person’s loan. (Like co-signing for a loan for a minor or someone without good credit.)
» One translation that interpreted the expression was neutral on this point and just said, “Don’t be one of those who enter agreements.”
» However, it is probably best to do what the KJV translators did and just recorded exactly what the author wrote without trying to interpret it for us. (strike hands)
c. I am inclined to interpret this expression (strike hands) as synonymous for the “sureties for debts” in the next phrase.
• The word “or” makes it sound like Solomon is warning against two different things: (1) striking hands OR (2) being a surety against a debt.
• However, the word “or” does not appear in the original.
• Thus, it seems better to understand the second phrase (surety for debt) to stand in apposition to the first expression.
• This is just a grammatical way of saying they both refer to the same thing.
• Being a surety for a debt amplifies and further defines what he meant by striking hands.
• One translation recorded it this way: “Don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt.”
• I think that is the correct interpretation—however, I much prefer the KJV translation because it does NOT interpret it for us. It leaves the interpretation to the reader—not the translator.
d. Solomon warns us NOT to do this!
• Don’t be quick to strike hands.
• Don’t be quick to enter into an agreement.
• And certainly don’t be quick to co-sign for a loan for a friend or relative. Don’t guarantee the loan of another person.
• This person might be a sweet talker. He may have an incredible sob story designed to pull at your heart strings. He may be able to make it sound like you’re not really taking a risk.
• He may have been buttering you up for months before approaching you about the loan.
• He might be your nephew… or
• Solomon says, “Don’t do it.”
• Prov. 17:18 – Solomon tells us that the man who is quick to strike hands is “void of understanding.”
» Void = lacking; without; empty;
» It is not a wise move. It is not recommended.
» Don’t do it. It is foolish.
1. Surety for a debt defined
a. Surety is an arrangement in which one person becomes responsible for another.
b. A surety can apply to a promise or a covenant, but usually it applies to a financial loan.
c. The one who guarantees that a loan will be paid back is “surety” for that loan. He guarantees that if the borrower defaults on his payment, the one who is surety for the debt is responsible to pay.
d. It was like co-signing for a loan or putting up collateral for a loan.
e. In those ancient arrangements, the money or property (or even persons) was surrendered up front… and held in surety until the loan was paid in full.
2. This expression stands in apposition to “striking hands.”
a. This is a further explanation of what KIND of deal into which you were entering.
b. Solomon tells his readers not to be quick to “strike hands” (sign on the dotted line) in order to co-sign for a loan for someone else.
3. Don’t be one of them who DO this sort of thing. It’s dangerous.
1. If you DO become surety for the loan of another person, and they default on the loan, then you will be responsible to pay his loan in full.
a. What if you are unable to keep up with all your own bills PLUS pay his debt?
b. If he defaults and you are unable to pay his debt, then you may not have a place to sleep at night.
c. You could lose your bed… or perhaps the house your bed is in!
2. Prov. 11:15 – “He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretiship is sure.” (there are painful consequences)
3. If a friend is in financial trouble and pleads with you to sign a loan, he usually tries to pluck your heartstrings with his sob story. Far better is it to show some grace and compassion by giving him a onetime gift than to BIND yourself to his loans.
a. Compassion is good, but it needs to be balanced with some good old fashioned common sense. You cannot bail everybody out of their debt.
b. You may feel sorry for his condition and for the fact that his wife and children are hungry, but don’t put your OWN family and finances at risk to cover for him. Then you end up with TWO families in financial disaster instead of one.
4. Why should you lose your home and bed and have your family homeless and broke because of a neighbor or friend who got himself in a financial bind?
a. When a man finds himself in such debt that he has to plead with others to sign a loan for him or to put up collateral for him, it is often (not always but often) the result of mismanagement of his finances, living above his means… foolishly buying more than he can pay for.
5. Continually bailing out a person like that is not the best thing for him.
a. You could be encouraging irresponsibility on his part…
b. He may have to learn the hard way that there are consequences of living above one’s means.
c. Sometimes parents find themselves continually bailing out their adult children out of the financial messes they created.
d. If you continually bail them out they will not learn the value of money.
e. They may never learn to manage their finances. They may always assume that when they are in a deep hole they dug for themselves, that someone will bail them out.
6. Prov. 22:7 – “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
a. Hence, taking on the responsibility for someone else’s debt is not very wise.
b. You could end up poor and have someone RULING over you for a loan that isn’t even yours!
7. Prov. 6:1-5 –
a. Solomon presents a hypothetical situation before his son and tells him what to do in such a situation.
b. The hypothetical situation is this:
• “IF” he ever becomes a surety for a friend…
• And he finds himself snared because of a big mouth…
c. Solomon is obviously NOT encouraging his son to BECOME a surety for a friend. Rather, he is warning his son about the DANGERS of such action.
d. He is saying, “If you ever find yourself in such a bind… then follow my instructions.”
e. Solomon gives his son three steps to take in order to DELIVER himself from that financial trap:
• Humble yourself before your friend…
» Maybe he felt like a rich big shot by promising to pay for his friend’s debts if he couldn’t pay… (pride)
• Make sure your friend
» This expression means to “plead with.”
» Make your case before this person… admit that you spoke rashly… tell him you really aren’t able to follow through… you don’t have the resources to be surety for another man…
» In short—plead for mercy! (Cf. Matt. 18:25)
» In Old Testament times, this sometimes worked. It probably won’t work with a large financial institution like a bank today.
• Deliver yourself!
» Here Solomon tells his son that this situation is much like a bird caught by a fowler. (Have you ever seen a man try to hold a wild bird?)
» In other words, do whatever you can to get OUT of that situation.
» Don’t sleep until you are free!
» Solomon knows the severe consequences of being caught in a financial trap like that.
» You could lose your shirt… your bed… your house…
8. Knowing the severity of the consequences will often cause us to think twice about entering into such an agreement in the first place.
a. We have been WARNED by Solomon… many centuries ago.
b. Perhaps we should send a copy of the book of Proverbs to our congressmen and senators…
c. These principles work for an individual, for a family, and for a country!