The Psalm writer wrote: Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law. As we come before a Holy God and hear his word, may we have eyes open to the wonderful and fearful things from his law. May it move us to repent and seek forgiveness, fear disobedience, and live in light of the grace we have received. This is the word of God. It is eternally true and applicable for all of life.
Proverbs 6:1-11 My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, Have given a pledge for a stranger, If you have been snared with the words of your mouth, Have been caught with the words of your mouth, Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself; Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor, Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor. Give no sleep to your eyes, Nor slumber to your eyelids; Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand And like a bird from the hand of the fowler. Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest”— Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man.
To become surety for your neighbor means to take responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking, for example their appearing in court or the payment of debt (Oxford Dictionary). The passage today serves as a warning for us to be careful in our dealings with strangers. It teaches us that making a rash oath and becoming entangled with one whom we are not well acquainted has consequences.
Chapter 22 part 3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith says:
“Whosoever taketh an oath ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth: neither may any man bind himself by oath to anything but what is good and just, and what he believeth so to be, and what he is able and resolved to perform.”
So the lesson for us today, is that there may very well be legitimate, good reasons in which we enter into a relationship with someone in a role as guarantor. That any oaths we make, any dealings we enter into with another, must be those that we are willing, and able to fulfill.
What might this look like in practice? Scripture gives us an example of someone acting as surety for another.
Genesis 43:8-15 NASB
Judah said to his father Israel, "Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame before you forever. For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice." Then their father Israel said to them, "If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double the money in your hand, and take back in your hand the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks; perhaps it was a mistake. Take your brother also, and arise, return to the man; and may God Almighty grant you compassion in the sight of the man, so that he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved." So the men took this present, and they took double the money in their hand, and Benjamin; then they arose and went down to Egypt and stood before Joseph.
Here we see Jacob hesitant to send his youngest son to Egypt, in the wake of having lost his favorite son Joseph. There is a famine in the land however, and Judah is able to convince his father of the wisdom of sending Benjamin to Egypt, with Judah himself as surety. Judah takes responsibility for Benjamin, his safety and security. He promises to bear the full weight of responsibility should some ill befall him. Jacob sees the wisdom of this, and relents. We see clearly that as it relates to becoming a surety for another, there are noble, good, legitimate reasons to do so.
The point here today is NOT “Never become a surety for another”, but rather that we use wisdom when doing so. Do I know this person? Are they reliable? Will this truly benefit the one I am guaranteeing? What if this goes south, how might I be impacted? We must count the cost of our relationships and dealings with others, and seek the glory of God, and the good of our neighbors in the process.
Perhaps your words, a rash oath, has entangled you with someone as surety. What recourse do you have? How can you be free from this unfortunate burden? The Proverb tells us that you must importune your neighbor. Importune, to ask or request for something urgently and often. Think of a dog barking at the back door, over and over again, begging to be let out to handle its business. Or of a child pestering their mother for a treat.
Enter into a rash oath which leaves you as surety for a stranger, and you may find yourself to be the one begging, at the mercy of the one whom you promised to guarantee. If this is you, be resolved to fulfill your oath, painful as it may be, and learn from it. Consider the ramifications of your words to others, let your yes be yes, and your no be no (Matthew 5:37). An arrangement such as this, in which you find yourself on the hook for the performance and integrity of another, especially a stranger, is an intimate relationship. You become bound to this person in a sense. God’s Word tells us to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, and asks “What fellowship does light have with darkness?” These are things to consider in all your dealings.
If you are able, let us kneel together in the presence of God and importune Him to forgive us of our sins.
Dear Heavenly Father, Almighty God, we come before You this morning aware that in the multitude of our words, sin is not lacking. Father, we frequently fall prey to pride in our dealings with others, making promises and guaranteeing results, while lacking the desire or ability to follow through. Rather than letting our yes be yes, or our no be no, we promise things in our haste and become entangled with strangers and neighbors, leaving us to beg for respite. Father, help us to be wise in our dealings. Help us to look to Your Son, Who became surety for us, fully able and willing to pay our sin debt. Help us to follow Christ’s example of always seeking and doing Your will, in our dealings with others. Please forgive us for rash, foolish words, unwise oaths, and entangled dealings with strangers. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Listen now to the comforting assurance of the grace of God, promised in the gospel to all that believe:
Isaiah 62: 10-12 Go through, go through the gates, Clear the way for the people; Build up, build up the highway, Remove the stones, lift up a standard over the peoples. Behold, the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth, Say to the daughter of Zion, “Lo, your salvation comes; Behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” And they will call them, “The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord”; And you will be called, “Sought out, a city not forsaken.”
To all those who thus repent and seek Jesus Christ for their salvation, your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Lift up your hearts!
(From the 9/22/19 liturgy of Sovereign King Church written by Aaron Sabie.)