THREE RULES FOR WORKING SMART

 

Week of June 8, 2008

 

Bible Verses:  Proverbs 6:1-15.

 

Biblical Truth: Biblical wisdom teaches God’s people to be wary of foolish entanglements, to work diligently, and to avoid dealing wickedly with others.

 

Be Wary of Foolish Entanglements: Proverbs 6:1-5.

 

[1]  My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, have given a pledge for a stranger, [2]  if you have been snared with the words of your mouth, have been caught with the words of your mouth, [3]  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. [4]  Give no sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids; [5]  deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter's hand and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.  [NASU]

 

[1]  Surety involved becoming responsible for the debt of another person, should they become unable to pay. The person involved is described both as your neighbor and a stranger. The former is a general term that may mean something like ‘anybody,’ not referring necessarily to the person who lives next door. The latter word refers to someone unknown to you. Taken together, they seem to point to a rash financial decision made out of pity for one about whom you know very little. You do not know them, their financial standing or their ability to repay the loan they are asking you to guarantee. All the information you have is what they have told you. Before entering into such an arrangement, one should always carefully study the person’s character and survey their plan for repayment as well as one’s own ability to take on the financial burden, if necessary.

 

[2]  The metaphor is that of an animal caught in a trap. Both verbs (snared and caught) prepare for the concluding verse of this section in verse 5. The metaphor is apt, given the overwhelming calamity, if suddenly faced with obligation for a debt one is not in a position to repay. Twice the phrase the words of your mouth is used. Far from being redundant, it underscores the power of a man’s verbal agreement. A wise person would not sign a legal document without reading the fine print. Likewise, the person of wisdom is careful not to rashly make a promise he might find difficult to keep at a later time.

 

[3]  Now comes the resolution to the series of conditional statements made in verses 1-2. Making yourself responsible for the debt of another is of the utmost seriousness. You are trapped and need to deliver yourself. You have come into the hand of your neighbor. Your financial standing, security and future are no longer under your own control. You have become the slave of another and are at their mercy. The word then implies that action must be undertaken immediately. No personal pride should stand in the way of obtaining release from the obligation. To humble yourself meant to crush, tread upon or demean yourself. No social reserve should limit you in your attempt to free yourself. The word translated importune is strong, and meant ‘to storm at’ another person or to be boisterous, arrogant and even, perhaps, to bully the other until you get your way. Perhaps the idea of making yourself obnoxious until they release you best represents the meaning. The call to such action points neither to acceptable social graces or God-honoring business practices, but to the serious nature of the bondage you have allowed yourself to slip into. The neighbor twice mentioned here could be either the debtor you pledged to cover or the creditor they owe the money to. Either one could ruin you, one by defaulting on the loan and the other by pressing you for payment in such a case. It is likely that the reference is to the debtor you have pledged to cover. On a purely practical level, however, a final decision about which is intended here is probably not necessary, since either one might be able to release you from the hasty obligation you entered into.

 

[4-5]  No delay is acceptable. Hesitancy may spell ruin. No personal need is more urgent than the requirement to free yourself from this unwise commitment. Time will not cure this problem nor make it disappear, but can only hasten the potential destruction. Not one night should pass before you exhaust every attempt to extricate yourself from this pledge. Solomon now employs two “like” (similes) statements to heighten the arguments made to this point. The imagery used here harkens back to the verbs of verse 2 and helps to bring closure to the matter. Would not a gazelle caught in the hunter’s hand exhaust every means to free itself? Would a bird grasped in the hand of the fowler sit quietly by as its life was weighed in the balance. Free yourself! Your life depends upon it!

 

Be Wise in Your Work Ethic: Proverbs 6:6-11.

 

[6]  Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, [7]  which, having no chief, officer or ruler, [8]  prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest.

[9]  How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? [10]  "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest"-- [11]  Your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man.  [NASU]

 

[6-8]  We are confronted with another path to destruction: laziness. Foolish business practices may ruin you [1-5], but so can sloth. The theme of the sluggard will surface again often. The word sluggard describes one who is sluggish and lazy. But, it is also set in contrast to the upright [Prov. 15:19] and the righteous [Prov. 21:25-26]. Such a person is to observe and reflect upon the ant. Such reflection will yield a new work ethic which prioritizes self-motivation, industry, diligence and planning. Embracing such a work ethic will cause one to be wise. Wisdom is not some esoteric, other-worldly rhetoric. Wisdom is practical success in the real world. Hard work lies in its path. What is here stated as absolute fact is actually an observation derived from simple reflection. The ant appears to have no leader and no overt organization. Instinct compels them to work industriously, in order to lay up in store for lean times. They do not need an authority figure standing over them. The ant, by all appearances, is a self-starter. Even more than being a self-starter, the ant is a team player. While, to the human eye, there appears to be no leader among the ants, there is a well-ordered precision and coordination to all they do. However, wisdom is found not simply in activity, but in the foresight of labor. The two lines of verse 8 are parallel, the second restating the point of the first in order to underscore its message. The timing is all-important, summer and harvest being terms which indicate the right time for gathering provision for more lean times. Foolishness only labors when the stomach growls. Wisdom labors because it knows the stomach will growl.

 

[9-10]  Once again, the sluggard is addressed directly. The goal of the two questions is to shame him into action and responsibility. The first question, how long, reveals that his sloth has become an established pattern. All he can think of is how little he can get by with doing. The second question asks when his appetite for sleep will be satisfied. Verse 10 appears to be a mocking quotation of the rationalization of the sluggard. The more the lazy man rests, the more rest he craves. Legitimate leisure becomes consuming laziness. His rationalization is thinly veiled as he hits the snooze button one more time. His delay and procrastination set him up for poverty and want.

 

[11]  The logical end of the reasoning espoused in verse 10 now comes into view. The demise of the sluggard is set forth under two similes set off in synonymous parallelism. The problem is described both as poverty and need. The former becomes a familiar theme in Proverbs and refers to being utterly destitute. The latter refers simply to the lack of what is needed. The words vagabond and armed man personify such poverty. Both words are of uncertain derivation, but their general meaning is clear. The vagabond is variously seen as some kind of dangerous assailant or bandit that waylays travelers unawares. The ancient world was renowned for the bandits that would conceal themselves in the natural surroundings along a roadside and, with suddenness, attack, rob and sometimes kill unsuspecting travelers. The second term (armed man) means literally ‘a man of a shield.’ It refers to a military man of the light infantry division. The emphasis is on the fact that the man is well armed, but moves with swiftness and stealth. The point of both similes is that poverty breaks suddenly upon the lazy man with overwhelming power, leaving him defenseless. Poverty does not happen overnight. The man has been lazy for some time. But, the realization of it is sudden.

 

Be Warned About Wicked Dealings: Proverbs 6:12-15.

 

[12]  A worthless person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, [13]  who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; [14]  who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife. [15]  Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing.  [NASU]

 

[12-13]  Solomon now turns to a general description of the wicked. Every avenue of communication (mouth, eyes, feet, fingers) is employed in the service of the wicked, as they spread their guile. Such a man is called worthless and wicked. The Hebrew word translated ‘worthless’ describes a man who is more than worthless. He is wicked. The word is used twenty-seven times in the Old Testament and describes a person who has become so wicked and perverse that he is a liability to the community. The second descriptive word is ‘wicked.’ It denotes primarily one who abuses his power and position in order to harm or even kill those given over wholeheartedly to the worship of God. What power is it that the wicked and worthless use in an attempt to destroy the godly? It is the power they have to persuade others. The first avenue of communication they employ is that of their words. The wicked and worthless employ words that distort and twist reality through use of lies, half-truths, white-lies, deception and distortion. In this way they leverage themselves against the followers of God. It is not only our words which reveal the heart. It is the communication of all body language, sign language, and non-verbal cues as well. In this case, it is the perversity of the heart which is betrayed. When pressed, the wicked man could testify, “I never said that!” and feel justified in his strict accuracy. He may not have spoken the message that brought ruin, but he still communicated it clearly.

 

[14]  The man’s problem is his heart. It is the repository from which all thinking and acting arise. It is the perversity of his heart that creates the scheming and ill-will. The word perversity describes that which has turned away from what is normal and right. Often, this turning away is expressed through the mouth [2:12; 10:31-32], but only because it is already a condition of the heart [6:14] and mind [23:33], being fed by what is taken in by the eyes [16:30]. Out of his own nature he then devises evil. The word devises means ‘to plow.’ As a farmer carefully plots out his field and plows accordingly, so the wicked, out of the perversity of his heart, devises a scheme of harm against his neighbor. This has become habitual, for he does so continually. Such a heart, and such thinking, soon spreads strife in the community. The intentional spreading of dissension is a common theme in Proverbs. The strife being described is of a domestic sort, which explodes with no one left to arbitrate the dispute. Notice the progression: the heart is evil; from the evil heart spring thoughts and plans; these plans then give rise to actions, which soon draw others in as accomplices, and which bring destruction upon the victim. Heart, thoughts, action – here is the pattern for human activity. The only answer for sinful human activity is to transform the heart, which will then lead to a new pattern of thinking, which will produce a new kind of action. Thankfully, transformation of heart is exactly what God promised us in the New Covenant enacted through Jesus Christ.

 

[15]  The judgment of the wicked is deserved, swift, and final. The judgment is designated as calamity. The word can be variously translated with words such as ‘destruction,’ ‘ruin,’ disaster,’ and ‘distress.’ Often, it is combined with the Hebrew word for ‘day,’ to describe ‘the day of calamity,’ an expression of divine judgment. In such cases, it is parallel to ‘doom’ [Deut. 32:35], ‘day of wrath,’ [Job 21:30] and ‘time of their punishment’ [Jer. 46:21]. Such an end is deserved, as the Therefore makes plain, by logically connecting it to his unscrupulous ways described in verses 12-14. The very thing he plotted against others has now befallen him. Such judgment will be swift. It comes suddenly and instantly. Both words come from the same root and carry the idea of both suddenness and surprise. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the judgment befalls them. The calamity of the wicked is also final, for there will be no healing. Again, his calamity is further described as being broken. Like a shattered earthenware jar, whose pieces cannot be restored, the wicked one will be swiftly broken in the midst of his plot. No explanation can restore him or clear his name.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.          Have you ever been asked to co-sign a loan? Reconcile your desire to help someone in need with the wise instructions set forth in 6:1-5. What factors are you going to take into account before entering into a legal obligation?

 

2.          What are we meant to learn from the ant? What are the priorities of a wise work ethic? How does this work ethic bring honor to God?

 

3.          Think about how really important communication is in our relationships. We can use all the different means of communication to either encourage and build people up or to control them and tear them down. Ask God to make you aware of how and what you are communicating to others.

 

4.          Note the central importance of the heart in all of these matters. It is out of the perversity of the heart that evil comes. Therefore our heart must be changed and controlled by God if we are to please God with our thoughts, words and actions. What can you do in order to have your heart continually renewed by God?

 

References:

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.