Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
In Proverbs 6, Solomon offers five items of advice. These five protective measures encompass everything from financial decisions to sexual purity.
In verses 1-5, Solomon advises his sons not to take on someone else’s debt. Please remember that this is not a reference to the compassion God expects from His people. This guidance isn’t even about assisting a family member in need. The crucial distinction occurs in the second verse. According to Solomon, this is an example of speaking before thinking. The victim fell into a trap he created with his own words. One can only speculate why someone would make such a hasty pledge. It could be for appearances or because you believe the other person will do something good for you in the future.
This warning makes me think of what Paul told the young preacher Timothy. “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Timothy 5.22 NASB1995). We should remember that if we praise someone before we know what kind of person they are, they may hurt our reputation if they turn out to be less than good. “Guilt by association” is something that a lot of people think is true. Think about the damage that someone else’s debt can cause. If they don’t pay, you’ll be on the hook for a debt you never owed in the first place! The person who doesn’t do what he needs to do could ruin your finances.
Solomon says to go immediately and ask the other party to remove you from the pledge. It would be best if you didn’t go to sleep until the other person lets you out of the promise. Solomon even says that if you have to, you should beg. Then, even though it’s unpleasant, you deliver yourself like a prey escaping the hunter. (This part of Proverbs 6 makes me want to talk about the “entitlement mentality” and how helping others isn’t always best for their personal growth, and how they should live within their means, but I’ll be good and stay on task.)
In verses 6 through 11, we are told not to be lazy. In this passage, Solomon tells us to look at the ant. Solomon praises the ant’s tenacity in the absence of a leader. Even though ants have a queen and use pheromones to talk to each other, this doesn’t change Solomon’s point. If you’ve ever watched ants, you know that they don’t need taskmasters to watch over them all the time. The ants take charge. Whatever the queen tells them to do, they do it right away. The bigger ant doesn’t crack his whip to make the smaller ones work harder. Even the Greek Aesop noticed this, using an ant as the main character in one of his stories. The ant worked hard to prepare for winter, while the grasshopper (originally a cicada) preferred to play. When winter came, the ants were happy, but the grasshopper came to ask for food. (It’s important to note that the ant showed no kindness in the early versions of the story. The grasshopper, or cicada, got to “reap what he had sown.”)
Again, the New Testament has a cousin to our text. Paul tells the people of Thessalonica that people who don’t work shouldn’t be allowed to eat (2 Thessalonians 3.10). Laziness creates poverty. Solomon says that if one is “twiddling his thumbs,” poverty appears as a “vagabond.” As an American, I prefer to use the term “hobo” rather than “vagabond” because it conjures a more familiar image for my fellow citizens. I don’t know if hobos still exist today, but there were many of them during the Great Depression. Trains took these (mostly) men all over the country. They would never “hit a straight lick with a crooked stick.” They even made a hieroglyphic language that they left for other hobos. These symbols told you which houses would give you food, which would share food in exchange for work, and which places would give you food if you talked about religion. (In some respects, I cannot help but compare this to the recent “Great Resignation. The hobos decided to take advantage of the economic downturn to abandon society. In some ways, the same is true of those who choose not to report to work after COVID-19 disruptions.)
In verses 12–15, Solomon tells us to look out for bad people. Solomon says you can find “tells” about these people if you look for them. Most of the time, we use the word “tell” in the context of poker. If someone gets a good hand, he might make a specific face. In the same way, other players know when he has a good hand. The same is true for his facial expressions or body language when he gets a bad hand. The wicked’s body language may show they want to do bad things. Their offensive language can also show who they are. As another implication, tells can also be used to talk to a partner. For example, a bad guy might communicate to a partner how to best ambush you. Solomon has already said we should avoid these situations at all costs.
Now we get to the part of Proverbs 6 that most of us know: the seven things that God hates (6.16-19). These sins are interesting because they start in the heart and take over the sinner’s actions. A haughty expression means more than just arrogance. It means that a person thinks he or she is better than others. And if he is better than other people, his will comes first. Even his whims are more important than what you need. So, his pride, shown by his eyes, comes out in his lying tongue. People who lie do it to get the upper hand in a situation or avoid getting in trouble if caught. See how arrogance leads to lying! Because people often tell lies to save their necks, the sinner shows that he cares more about himself than his neighbors. So, if he has to shed the blood of innocent people to help his cause, he will.
Once a sinner gets to this point, he plans to do bad things and is willing to put in whatever effort is needed to make them happen. After that, he will tell any lie, even if it means lying about someone else. Lastly, this sinner is ready to ruin other people’s relationships to get what he wants. You’ve probably heard that all seven of these sins were done by those betraying Christ, giving Him to the Romans. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Can you think of Caiaphas? He said that Jesus should die instead of the entire nation of Israel (John 11.47-53; 18.14). Caiaphas, Judas, and the religious leaders of the Jews all do things that are on the list of seven things that God hates. It may take more thought to put the pieces together, but I’m sure other sins will follow the same pattern (e.g., abortion).
The remainder of Proverbs 6 is devoted to sexual immorality. We’ve already said that young men like the thrill of new experiences that a “strange woman,” like a prostitute or an adulteress, can give them. Solomon spends some time here explaining why adultery is the more expensive of the two encounters. Although he does not condone illicit relationships with prostitutes, adultery is worse than those relationships. Adultery is a sin against God, the lawful spouse, the adulterous woman, and oneself. Prostitution is a sin against God, the prostitute, and oneself. (Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6.18-19 that sexual immorality is a sin against oneself. We don’t always think of ourselves as people who could be hurt.) “Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned?” (6.27). Of course, this is not true. Any sexual sin will hurt him.
But the young man pays a different price for his extramarital sex. Most English translations use awkward language in verse 26, making it hard to understand what Solomon meant. “…for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life,” says the English Standard Version. In other words, a meeting with a prostitute is a transaction, meaning one exchanges goods or money for “services.” Solomon says that the prostitute will only cost you a loaf of bread, by comparison. But how can you make things up to the man whose wife you slept with? Sadly, the answer is that you cannot. The Law said that if the young man stole property, he had to pay back the total amount. But he can’t compensate for what he stole by sleeping with another man’s wife. Maybe this is why God made adultery a crime punishable by death in the Law.
In chapter seven, Solomon warns his sons about “Lady Folly.” We’ll look at this chapter again next time, Lord willing.