Proverbs 20:16

Surety for a Stranger


1. Surety defined:

a. Surety is an arrangement in which one person becomes responsible for another.

b. Surety applies to a covenant.
• Christ is the surety of the better covenant (Heb. 7:22).
• Christ is the One who guarantees that all the provisions of the covenant promise will be met. He makes it “sure.”

c. Surety applies to any kind of promise.
• Gen. 43:9 – When the children of Israel were in Egypt, seeking food from Joseph (before he was made known to them), Joseph demanded that they bring his younger brother, Benjamin.
» When they came back to the land, their father did not want his son Benjamin to go. He was afraid for his life.
» Judah became a personal surety for Benjamin’s safety by promising to “take the blame” and thus pay the price for the loss if it occurred.
» He became personally responsible for the loss if anything happened to Benjamin.

d. Surety most often applied to a loan.
• One who guarantees that a loan will be paid back is “surety” for that loan. In other words, it is the one who co-signs for a loan for someone else.
• If you co-sign for a loan for someone else, if they default, YOU are responsible to guarantee that the provisions of that loan are carried out.
• That loan could be made sure by you promising to PAY the rest of loan if the one borrowing the money does not pay.
• That loan could be made sure by you putting up collateral for the loan. In that case, if the one borrowing the money does not pay, you lose your property.
• 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.

Interestingly, one of the related words to this word family is “hostage.” (The relationship is that when one guarantees the repayment for another, he is a slave or a hostage to the owner of the loan until it is paid off.)

16a Take his garment that is surety for a stranger:

1. Here Solomon gives instructions concerning taking surety.

a. Stranger:
• One not in the main cultural group in an area, and so be estranged from society.
• It can mean to go astray, to be wayward (example – the strange woman was a wayward woman—a prostitute.)
• There are a couple of other Hebrew terms often translated “stranger” in our English Bibles that mean a “foreigner or an alien.”
• That is NOT the term Solomon uses here.
• The term in 20:16 may be used of a foreigner, but that is not its primary meaning.
• This term means a wayward person… someone estranged from society… not necessarily because of nationality—usually it was because of wayward behavior.
• The term found in Prov. 20:16 is the same term used to describe the “strange woman” in Proverbs MANY times. What made her a “stranger” from society was not that she was born in Egypt or Assyria. It was her wayward lifestyle.
• This term for stranger is used of the fire offered by Nadab and Abihu—strange fire. It was not “foreign” fire (from Babylon, etc.). Rather it was fire that was not the proper kind. It was a wayward offering.

b. Solomon is WARNING his readers about loaning money or becoming responsible for a “stranger”—an irresponsible, wayward person.
• The warning is this: if you are so foolish as to loan money to a wayward, irresponsible person, be sure to get some collateral from that person!

c. He states that if a man is going to be the surety for a stranger, be sure to take his garment for collateral.
• Exod. 22:25-27 – normally this was forbidden.
» Vs. 25 – Here Moses says that if a Jew lends money to his Jewish brother, then he was not to lay usury on him. (Don’t be a loan shark!)
» Vs. 26 – if you do take his raiment for a pledge (surety) then be sure to give it back to him at night.
» Vs. 27a – the reason for giving him his cloak back at night: The poor used their outer garment as their sleeping bag at night. If you took his cloak, he would freeze all night long.
» Vs. 27b – God was gracious to the poor and took care of their needs.
» The assumption here is that the poor man is an honest, hard working poor man… not a lazy, wayward, outcast from society.

• Hence, the difference. With the lazy, wayward man, be SURE to take his garment! Keep it until the debt is paid back in full…
• But with the hard working poor man, give it back each night so that he can sleep at night.

2. In essence, this serves as a WARNING against loaning money to a wayward person.

a. If the person is unknown to you… or if his character and financial situation is unknown to you, it is quite foolish to loan him money.

b. If you are so foolish as to do so, make SURE that you get a pledge or collateral to cover your loss… because the chances are REAL that you will suffer loss.

3. Prov. 6:1-5 – An extended warning against becoming surety for a loan.

a. Vs.1-2 – Once you shake hands (or sign on the dotted line) you are snared… trapped… locked in to that arrangement with no way out… like a bird in a snare.

b. Vs. 3-5 – Here’s what to do if you are ever so foolish as to be found in such a snare:
• When you are “under the hand of a friend” = (under his control – a slave to the financial arrangements you made with him.)
• Deliver yourself! Do whatever it takes to extricate yourself from that snare… from that obligation you foolishly agreed to.
• Humble yourself! (Maybe you signed for the loan so everyone would think you were great… generous… wealthy… important. Go back and humble yourself. Tell the loaner the truth: you can’t afford it!
• Make sure thy friend!
» The word “sure” here has nothing to do with suretiship.
» This word means: press one’s plea, i.e., be in a state of contention with an opponent or class or persons, with a focus on a verbal or legal strife.
» Basically he is saying, “plea for mercy to get out of the contract.”
» For this reason, some large purchases or loans often have a three day waiting period – to give time to the one obligating himself to THINK about it and change his mind if he comes to his sense!
» They didn’t have such a thing in Solomon’s day. But they could plead for mercy.
» That is Solomon advises here.

4. Prov. 17:17-18 – Warning against loaning even to a friend!

a. Vs. 17 – Speaks about the advantages of a loyal friend.
• He loves at all times—good and bad times… ups and downs.
• He is there for you in times of adversity.

b. Vs.18 – (There seems to be a connection in thought here.)
• However, Solomon presents us with a stipulation in vs.18.
• There are LIMITS to what a friend should do for a friend.
• Here Solomon teaches that we should use care and caution in our financial obligations and promises to a friend.
• Friendship and emotion can lead a person to commit himself to an obligation he might regret later.
• This is a warning against rash, thoughtless generosity that might come back to bite us!
1. Striking hands was like a “hand shake” – a sign of agreement for a business deal.
• Solomon states that it is a man VOID of understanding who does such a thing!
• That is quite a warning. It warns against loaning money to a friend in the PRESENCE of the friend. (It’s hard to say no when you are looking at him eyeball to eyeball!)
• So Solomon gives us some good advice: learn to say NO!
• Loaning money is an easy way to turn a friend into an enemy!

c. The man who loans money to his friend “in his presence” (when pressured by the moment) is not wise. It is foolish to be moved by EMOTION into doing something that you might regret later on.
• You could put your own finances at risk.
• You could lose your house.
• You could put your family’s resources at risk.
• You could put your LIFE at risk (unsavory characters are sometimes hired to deal with those who refuse to pay…)
• You could put the lives of your children at risk (sold into slavery to pay for your folly).
• What folly to risk all that for a stranger… someone you hardly know!
• P T Barnum is accredited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute!”
• Solomon warns, “Don’t you be one of them!”
Prov. 22:7 – “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
• Hence, taking on the responsibility for someone else’s debt is not very wise.

16b And take a pledge of him for a strange woman.

1. Strange woman: Harlot.

2. Here the situation seems to be a man wants to either borrow money from you so that he can visit a harlot OR he wants you to sign a loan so that he can visit a prostitute.

3. Here again the very same idea is stated: if you are so foolish as to promise surety for a loan for such a person, then make SURE you take a pledge! (Pledge = security money.)

4. If a man has so little control over his own body that he is going into prostitutes… and that he has so little control over his finances that he has borrow money to do so—what folly to loan money to THAT kind of a man!

5. This proverb is worded in the language of irony or sarcasm.

a. Solomon is certainly not endorsing this kind of behavior.

b. You might liken it to a similar comment today: “If you’re going to take up lion training, then make sure you have some good insurance—because you’re going to need it!”

c. The sarcastic manner in which it is worded actually comes across as a warning AGAINST it!

6. Both parts of this proverb serve as warnings against taking bad financial risks with irresponsible people who are likely unable to pay you back.

a. Solomon is not forbidding a person to sign a loan ever. (Son’s first car loan.)

b. But he is warning against rashly taking foolish financial risks by loaning to those who themselves may be irresponsible.

c. Don’t let the emotion of the moment cause you to do something you will regret for years to come.