“I am a high ranking government official in [select country of choice] I have access to $5 million of funds that don’t really belong to anyone and our government does not deserve. I want to get the money out of the county. I just need a secure bank account to transfer the money into. If you can provide me with your details, I’ll also provide you with a percentage of the funds in return for your help.”
Have you ever had one of those emails? The answer is probably “Yes!” Have you ever replied and given your details? The answer is probably “No!” So why on earth do people keep sending those sorts of emails out? Why do I get phone calls promising me all sorts of deals that are good to be true (when I’m not being told that the person can fix my computer virus?)
I guess that the conman is working on the basis that some people do respond. Some people do get taken in. And even though most of us can spot the big cons in life, there’s something g that makes all of us susceptible to temptation whether that’s the promise of a quick buck for me or even the desire to help and wish to believe the sob story I’m being told.
These verses come right in the middle of the long section on the danger of adultery. By the way, this is a big clue that the “adultery” bit is not just about sexual immorality. The issue is about how we can be tempted and distracted away from faithfulness, true friends, right paths, and godly ways. We are introduced to three types of person who sit on a sliding scale of trouble.
Meet some people
The loan guarantor (v 1-5)
This person has been asked to put up the security for another person’s loan. It could be a friend or possibly a stranger (v1). Maybe they did this because they wanted to help. Maybe they thought there was something in it for them, that the debtor would at some point have to repay them.
Solomon tells them “You’re in deep trouble now.”
“You have been trapped by what you’ve said, ensnared by the words of your mouth.” (v 2)
The idea that you have come into the hands of your neighbour, vividly reflects the ancient and modern practice of shaking or slapping hands on a verbal deal.
You’ve put your own possessions (usually a coat), maybe even your business or home at risk for the sake of someone else. You risk facing lawsuits. I guess the very fact that they need to come to you and ask them to put up the security suggests that they haven’t got a track record with money. In modern day terms, it means they probably have a bad credit rating.
If that’s the situation you are in then Solomon says “Get out of it quickly.” You shouldn’t waste time. You should go to the other person and try to extract yourself from your commitment.
Now the issue here is not about the rights and wrongs of loans and mortgages (The bible does make allowances for these). Nor is it against loving and caring for others. Again the bible clearly commands a responsibility towards the poor, vulnerable, widow, asylum seeker, sick etc. However, wisdom warns us against rash and naïve decisions. We shouldn’t make promises that we can’t keep. Think carefully, no what you are getting into. And if you’ve acted in haste and made a bad decision, if you’ve made a promise you can’t deliver on then own up to your mistake, admit that you can’t do what you said. Don’t sit quiet and hope the problem will go away otherwise it will come back to haunt you.
Lazybones (v 6-11)
Older translations have this wonderful word “sluggard.” It’s one of those words that feels like the thing it describes. Proverbs warns against laziness and idleness.
Now, we need to be careful, gentle and wise here. Our society with its long history of distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving poor is quick to identify people as feckless and workshy. Hardly a day goes by without a tabloid headline about the problems with benefits scroungers. The risk with this is that there are so many people struggling to cope, battling with ill health, struggling with emotional burdens, overwhelmed, stressed, exhausted, chronically fatigued.
If that’s you, then hear the promises and re-assurances of the rest of Scripture. We have a God who provides rest for the weary and a saviour whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. The Bible offers a balanced rhythm of work and rest, activity and sleep, day and night, weekday and Sabbath. Some of us need to learn that rhythm again.
But there are those who are just always looking for the instant solution. There are those who expect the world around them to provide for them. There are those who are always looking for the short cut, the easy way round, the opportunity to negotiate and cut a deal.
To them, Solomon says “Have a look around you.” “Look at the ant” (v 6). There’s echoes here if Jesus’ words “Consider the Lillies…” “Consider the Birds….” There’s a side point here. Scripture encourages us to learn from nature around us. This is an example of General Revelation and Common Grace. God provides lessons all around us. There’s wisdom there for anyone to see.
The ant works hard. It does not need to be cajoled into it. It doesn’t need a complex managerial system or government. It knows that it needs, to work, gather, store if it is to eat and live (v 7-8).
Solomon offers a vivid picture of the lazybones putting their feet up, clasping their arims and taking forty winks that lead to a much longer snooze (v 9-11). Poverty comes and robs them like a bandit (v12). Quite literally a lack of alertness may mean that they are not prepared for a burglar’s attack. But also a failure to work, earn and save means that you will be ill prepared for hard times ahead. If you don’t take time to keep an eye on your property you risk a big bill when those postponed repairs all become urgent at the same time.
So on a practical level we can see that hard work, diligence, honesty, attention to detail, care for others, future planning etc are wise and good things. If you are able to work, actively seek a job. Set money aside in savings, pay down your mortgage while you can, look after your property. Students don’t wait until exam time to cram. Pay attention in class, study, revise, hand your course work in on time.
Work at nurturing your relationship with others. Wives and husbands take care of your marriages.
Work hard spiritually. Take time to pray and read Scripture. Work hard in God’s harvest field. There’s a great need around us. There are spiritually hungry people. Don’t put off sharing the good news.
The Trouble stirrer (v 12-19)
Our first two people cause trouble for themselves. The third causes trouble for others. This is the person who only cares about themselves. They are proud and deceitful. They take pleasure in causing harm.
Now do you remember that old rhyme
“Sticks and stones
might break my bones
But words can never hurt me”
Well I get the feeling that Solomon would say “Not true.” Words can be terribly destructive, especially lies and false accusation. There are strong words in the New Testament for those who gossip and slander.
They are cruel people. The image in verse 13 is of the person who is making gestures behind another’s back. Winks, eye rolls, smirks, hand and finger gestures. These are all ways of undermining others.
These are people who are always plotting and scheming. They like to seek out trouble. They know how to cause disruption. They know how to benefit from others’ misfortune.
Watch out for people who play that game. When they take you into their confidence, remember that they have an agenda. They don’t really care about you. Don’t fall into the trap of passing on gossip. Don’t manipulate the facts in the hope it will benefit you.
We have a God who knows all things, who knows the secrets of the heart. He will vindicate those who have been slandered. He will expose those who tell lies.
Words, especially harsh and destructive words, especially false words can be terribly destructive in churches. Let’s seek to speak truthfully and gracefully to each other and about each other.
Conclusion –looking deeper into the heart
There’s lots of practical stuff to learn here. But one of the things that keeps coming back to me as we work through Proverbs is the deep Gospel undercurrent to the book. We can’t get by on just practical advice. Remember wisdom points us back to fearing and knowing God.
In the cold light of day, we know that these warnings describe our own failings all too well. We give up easily and grow slack. We let love grow cold. We make rash promises we can’t keep. We get taken in by a story and then react by becoming hardened to real need. We end up hurting others around us lashing out with angry words.
Well, there’s a wonderful little secret right here in the first couple of verses. When we realise the mess we are in. When we realise that we are trapped by sin, what do we do? We go to the one who can liberate us. We go to the one who will take our place and pay our debt. We go to Jesus and find rest and hope and forgiveness in him.