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Deliver Yourself From Foolish Pledges
Proverbs 6:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor,
have given your pledge for a stranger,
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 (עָרַב arab) means to put up 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: (רֵעַ rea) This does not necessarily refer to someone who lives next door or near to another. The Hebrew noun generally refers to any countryman with a focus on local companions, friends, acquaintances, colleagues. It can be one of the same race, 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 (כַּף kaph) 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: (זָר 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 is that it is careless and unwise to make a security, pledge, or 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)
Surety for your neighbor was one of the kindest acts one could offer to another. However, in later times, there were fraudulent practices. Jewish or Phoenician moneylenders (the “stranger”) were prepared to make loans to the extravagant, reckless, wasteful persons. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary,
A frequent theme covered by Proverbs is advice pertaining to the giving of loans or the securing of debts (11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13). The teaching is consistent: Don’t give loans or secure debts.
To understand this teaching, we need to put it in a broader context. First, interest-bearing loans to fellow Israelites were forbidden (Ex. 22:24). It was possible to give such loans to foreigners, but if “another” here in Proverbs 6:1 (Heb. zār, “stranger”; see tniv) implies foreigner here, then even these types of loans are discouraged. The problem with a loan is that often they are given in contexts where the lender cannot afford to lose the money.
Ancient law collections of Eshnunna and Hammurabi regulate the giving and receiving of loans. Ancient Egyptian wisdom literature gives advice to borrowers and lenders alike:
Borrow money at interest and put it in farmland.
Borrow money at interest and take a wife.
Borrow money at interest and celebrate your birthday.
Do not borrow money at interest in order to live well on it.
Do not lend money at interest without obtaining a security.
Do not be too trusting lest you become poor. (Ankhsheshonqy 16,10–12, 21–22)
Do not provide money at interest in order to provide plenty of food with it. (Insinger 26,16)
► The “Strange” and “Foreign” Woman
The father often warns the son to avoid the “strange” woman (“adulteress” in 5:3, 20; 7:5; 22:14) and “foreign” (“wayward wife/woman” in 6:24; 7:5; 20:16; 23:27; 27:13). But what makes the strange woman strange, the foreign woman foreign? The two Hebrew words, “strange” (zārâ) and “foreign” (nokrîyâ) may be understood in a variety of ways. However, it is unlikely that “foreign” in parallel with “strange” indicates a non-Israelite woman. The strangeness of this woman is seen in her willingness to operate outside the bounds of moral, legal, and customary restraints—an idea developed further in the following chapters.
This lack of restraint is described in 2:17 as a failure for the strange woman to honor her commitments to the intimate relationship of her youth as well as to the covenant of her God. The first colon of this verse thus accuses her of not sustaining her marriage vows, since the words “partner of her youth” refer here to her own marriage. By committing adultery, therefore, she is breaking her covenant with God. The fact that she is described as having been in a covenant with God is further support for the view that this woman is an Israelite temptress, not an ethnically foreign one.A-7 And a temptress she is. Her primary strategy for seducing the man is through her flattering speech and secondarily through physical attraction. For ancient Near Eastern admonitions to avoid dubious women, see the sidebar “Adultery.”
The point seems to be to avoid borrowing for excess, but only in order to invest or take care of the necessities.
A text that specifically warns against becoming surety or a guarantor of another is found in the Instructions of Shuruppak (l. 19): “Do not guarantee (for someone), that man will have a hold on you.”
 John H Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): The Minor Prophets, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 477–478. See also, Alster, Instructions of Shuruppak, 35.