Against Going Surety for One’s Neighbor
1* My son, if you have become surety to your neighbor,a
given your hand in pledge to another,
2You have been snared by the utterance of your lips,
caught by the words of your mouth;
3So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s power:
Go, hurry, rouse your neighbor!
4Give no sleep to your eyes,
nor slumber to your eyelids;
5Free yourself like a gazelle from the hunter,
or like a bird from the hand of the fowler.
The Ant and the Sluggard at Harvest
6* Go to the ant,b O sluggard,
study her ways and learn wisdom;
7For though she has no chief,
no commander or ruler,
8She procures her food in the summer,
stores up her provisions in the harvest.
9How long, O sluggard, will you lie there?
when will you rise from your sleep?
10A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest—*
11Then poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like a brigand.
12* Scoundrels, villains, are they
who deal in crooked talk.
13Shifty of eye,
feet ever moving,
pointing with fingers,
14They have perversity in their hearts,
always plotting evil,
15Therefore their doom comes suddenly;
in an instant they are crushed beyond cure.
What the Lord Rejects
16There are six things the LORD hates,
yes, seven* are an abomination to him;
17* Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18A heart that plots wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to run to evil,
19The false witness who utters lies,
and the one who sows discord among kindred.
Warning Against Adultery*
20Observe, my son, your father’s command,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
21Keep them fastened over your heart always,
tie them around your neck.
22When you lie down they* will watch over you,
when you wake, they will share your concerns;
wherever you turn, they will guide you.
23For the command is a lamp, and the teaching a light,
and a way to life are the reproofs that discipline,
24Keeping you from another’s wife,
from the smooth tongue of the foreign woman.c
25Do not lust in your heart after her beauty,
do not let her captivate you with her glance!d
26For the price of a harlot
may be scarcely a loaf of bread,
But a married woman
is a trap for your precious life.
27* Can a man take embers into his bosom,
and his garments not be burned?
28Or can a man walk on live coals,
and his feet not be scorched?
29So with him who sleeps with another’s wife—
none who touches her shall go unpunished.e
30Thieves are not despised
if out of hunger they steal to satisfy their appetite.
31Yet if caught they must pay back sevenfold,
yield up all the wealth of their house.
32But those who commit adultery have no sense;
those who do it destroy themselves.
33* They will be beaten and disgraced,
and their shame will not be wiped away;
34For passion enrages the husband,
he will have no pity on the day of vengeance;
35He will not consider any restitution,
nor be satisfied by your many bribes.
* [6:1–19] Four independent pieces akin to those in 30:1–5, 6–11, 12–15, and 16–19. Some judge the verses to be an ancient addition, but the fact that the pieces differ from the other material in chaps. 1–9 is not a strong argument against their originality. Ancient anthologies did not always have the symmetry of modern collections. An editor may have placed the four pieces in the midst of the three poems on the forbidden woman to shed light on some of their themes. Verses 1–5 warn against getting trapped by one’s words to another person (the Hebrew word for “another” is the same used for the forbidden woman); vv. 6–11 proposes the ant as a model of forethought and diligence; vv. 12–15 describes the reprobate who bears some similarity to the seductive woman, especially as portrayed in chap. 7; vv. 16–19 depicts the typical enemy of God, underscoring the person’s destructive words.
* [6:1–5] Unlike other instructions that begin with “my son,” this instruction does not urge the hearer to store up the father’s words as a means to wisdom, but only to avoid one practice—going surety for one’s neighbor. The warning is intensified by repetition of “neighbor” and “free yourself,” the mention of bodily organs, and the imagery of hunting. Given your hand in pledge: lit., “struck your hands”; this was probably the legal method for closing a contract. To become surety meant intervening in favor of the insolvent debtor and assuming responsibility for the payment of the debt, either by obtaining it from the debtor or substituting oneself. Proverbs is strongly opposed to the practice (11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26–27; 27:13) apparently because of the danger it poses to the freedom of the one providing surety.
* [6:6–11] The sluggard or lazybones is a type in Proverbs, like the righteous and the wicked. Sometimes the opposite type to the sluggard is the diligent person. Other extended passages on the sluggard are 24:30–34 and 26:13–16. The malice of the type is not low physical energy but the refusal to act. To describe human types, Proverbs often uses comparisons from the animal world, e.g., 27:8 (bird); 28:1, 15 (lion); 30:18–19 (eagle, snake); 30:24–28 (ant, badger, locust, lizard).
* [6:10] This verse may be regarded as the sluggard’s reply or as a continuation of the remonstrance.
* [6:12–15] Proverbs uses types to make the point that certain ways of acting have inherent consequences. The typifying intensifies the picture. All the physical organs—mouth, eyes, feet, fingers—are at the service of evil. Cf. Rom 6:12–13: “Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons of righteousness.”
* [6:16] Six…seven: this literary pattern (n, n + 1) occurs frequently; cf., e.g., Am 1–2; Prv 30:18–19.
* [6:17–19] The seven vices, symbolized for the most part by bodily organs, are pride, lying, murder, intrigue, readiness to do evil, false witness, and the stirring up of discord.
* [6:20–35] The second of three instructions on adultery (5:1–23; 6:20–35; and chap. 7). The instructions assume that wisdom will protect one from adultery and its consequences: loss of property and danger to one’s person. In this poem, the father and the mother urge their son to keep their teaching constantly before his eyes. The teaching will light his way and make it a path to life (v. 23). The teaching will preserve him from the adulterous woman who is far more dangerous than a prostitute. Prostitutes may cost one money, but having an affair with someone else’s wife puts one in grave danger. The poem bluntly urges self-interest as a motive to refrain from adultery.
The poem has three parts. I (vv. 20–24, ten lines), in which v. 23 repeats “command” and “teaching” of v. 20 and “keeping” in v. 24 completes the fixed pair initiated by “observe” in v. 20; II (vv. 25–29, ten lines) is a self-contained argument comparing the costs of a liaison with a prostitute and a married woman; III (vv. 30–35, twelve lines) draws conclusions from the comparison of adultery with theft: the latter involves property only but adultery destroys one’s name and very self. The best protection against such a woman is heeding parental instruction, which is to be kept vividly before one’s eyes like a written tablet.
* [6:22] They: Heb. has “she.” If this verse is not out of place, then the antecedent of “she” is command (v. 20), or perhaps wisdom.
* [6:27–29] There is a play on three words of similar sound, ’îsh, “man,” ’ishshâ, “woman,” and ’ēsh, “fire, embers.” The question, “Can a man (’îsh) take embers (’ēsh) into his bosom / and his garments not be burned?”, has a double meaning. “Into his bosom” has an erotic meaning as in the phrase “wife of one’s bosom” (Dt 13:6; 28:54; Sir 9:1). Hence one will destroy one’s garments, which symbolize one’s public position, by taking fire/another’s wife into one’s bosom.
* [6:33–35] The nature of the husband’s vengeance is disputed, some believing it is simply a physical beating whereas others hold it is public and involves the death penalty because Lv 20:20 and Dt 22:22 demand the death penalty.
a. [6:1] Prv 11:15; 22:26; Sir 8:13; 29:19.
d. [6:25] Ex 20:17; Dt 5:21; Sir 9:8; 25:20; Mt 5:28.