My son, if you have put up security for your neighbour, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, 2 you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth. 3 So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbour’s hands: Go– to the point of exhaustion– and give your neighbour no rest! 4 Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. 5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler. 6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! 7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, 8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. 9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest– 11 and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. (Prov. 6:1-11 NIV)
The Teacher gives out some very practical advice. The first involves the practice of offering to be the guarantor for someone else’s loan. That means if they fail to pay back what they have borrowed that you have guaranteed to pay that loan for them. The Teacher is not disapproving of the practice, he is just advising that we get ourselves released from that kind of liability as soon as possible. Wisdom should teach us that our livelihood is at risk when we undertake to guarantee the debts of another. The Bible contains quite a lot of comment about lending and borrowing money. In OT times when someone got into debt, they could sell their labour to someone, but that would only last until the next year of jubilee so that they were not indebted for the rest of their life. There are many payday loans that charge interest rates of over 1000%. Many people who live in poverty become trapped in a cycle of loans to pay off loans and are trapped indefinitely in debt. It is this entrapment that the Teacher is warning against. The category can also include highly speculative investment with the hope of high rewards. There is a saying that the money of widows and orphans should not be invested in the stock market. Wisdom should teach us not to invest the value of the family home in a financial venture. If it goes wrong, then you stand to lose the roof over your head.
The message of these verses is to extract ourselves from financial liability as quickly as possible.
V6 seems to suggest that the Teacher had in mind in the first 5 verses risky investment where the person is seeking to make financial gain through speculation. It is not that investment is wrong, but this seems to be ‘get rich quick’ schemes that he has in mind. He turns our attention to the ant, a little creature that works hard to make provision for the future. The sluggard exemplifies folly. The ant has no commander, no one to tell it what to do but it is wise in working hard to provide for the future. It is this kind of hard work that the Teacher is pointing to. Whatever job we find ourselves in, we are likely to have a boss who guides, instructs or directs our work. But as Christians it shouldn’t be down to the fact that we have a supervisor of a boss watching over us to incentivise us to work, we should work hard because it is the right thing to do.
Laziness is a terrible folly. The Teacher warns the young person about the danger of lying around, sleeping our life away. The danger is that through the lack of work, poverty will creep up on the person.
We should be careful not to dismiss the advice of this chapter as if it is not really spiritual. The beginning of this kind of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. As we work, and fear the Lord as we go about our daily work, then that should govern how we work. We do all that our hand finds to do for the glory of God.
Heavenly Father, help us to live our lives in the workplace, or in the home, or in our neighbourhood in a way that brings glory to the Lord Jesus Christ because we ask this in His name. Amen.