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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 6

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Discourse 6. The Naive, The Fool And The Scorner Illustrated. The First Addressed As ‘My Son’ Is To Avoid Acting As A Security For Others, The Second Addressed As ‘You Sluggard’, Is To Shake Off Laziness, And The Third Unaddressed, Is A Worthless Person And A Troublemaker (Proverbs 6:1-19 ).

The discourse opens in the usual way as addressed to ‘my son’, but then takes a different course from previous ones. There is no opening appeal to obtain wisdom and understanding. This might suggest that all three are seen as being at fault. It can be seen as three calls on his ‘son’ to avoid 1). acting as a security for another, 2). being lazy, and 3). being a troublemaker, a worthless person. On the other hand many would argue quite reasonably that ‘my son’ only refers to the first subsection, and that the address in the second subsection is to ‘you sluggard’, with the worthless man unaddressed as beyond appeal. This second subsection demonstrates that there is still hope for the person in question, (he can shake himself out of his laziness), but he is nevertheless seen as a layabout, and as not as coming under Solomon’s instruction. The third is then not addressed because he is not seen as worthy of being so. He is seen as a hopeless case and simply used as an object lesson. This would tie in with the lack of an opening appeal to listen to wisdom and understanding. The worthless person would never listen to such an appeal.

There is a possible connection between the three subsections in that in the first the neighbour may, because he has been given a surety, slacken off his efforts and not work hard as he should, like the sluggard in the second subsection, or even deliberately renege on his obligations, ‘winking with his eye’, like the worthless man in the third subsection (he may well ‘devise wicked imaginations’ - Proverbs 6:18). Thus to act as surety for someone might have been seen as tempting them to become a sluggard or a worthless person. But it is far more likely that it was seen as something to be reprimanded, and as a foolish thing to do. The first and second subsections are also connected by the command to ‘go’ (Proverbs 6:3 b, Proverbs 6:6), by the words ‘sleep’ and ‘slumber’ (Proverbs 6:4; Proverbs 6:10), and by the illustration drawn from nature (Proverbs 6:5-6). The three together are illustrations of the naive, the fool and the scorner (Proverbs 1:22). They exemplify those to whom wisdom speaks. All three are threatened with judgment coming on them, the first indirectly. The surety is living under the threat of judgment being brought against him, bringing him to bankruptcy and bondage; the sluggard is living under the threat of poverty; the troublemaker is living under the threat of being broken. It will be noted that for the first two there is hope. They can escape if they act wisely. For the third there is no hope. Calamity will come suddenly upon him (compare Proverbs 1:27).

The theme of poverty, threatening both the surety and the sluggard, and the calamity facing the worthless man, continue the same idea as is found in Proverbs 5:10-11.

Verses 1-5

If His Son Has Become Surety For Another He Should Seek To Obtain Release From His Obligation At All Costs (Proverbs 6:1-5 ).

To become a surety is to guarantee to pay someone else’s debts if that person fails to pay. A surety is usually a man of some worth. The idea here must be that the surety has committed himself to more than he could afford, because he was so sure that he would not be called on to act upon it. He would hardly need to go to all this trouble about something that he could well afford. The thought is that he has put himself under an obligation that could ruin him, and is therefore to make every effort to obtain his release before it is too late. This is in accordance with the words of Proverbs 22:26, ‘do not be of those who strike hands, or of those who are sureties for debts, if you do not have the wherewithal to pay, why should he take your bed from under you?’

Solomon was very much against the idea of acting as a surety. As he says in Proverbs 11:15, ‘he who is surety for a stranger will smart for it, but he who hates suretyship is secure, and in Proverbs 17:18 it is ‘a man void of understanding’ who ‘ strikes hands, and becomes surety in the presence of his neighbour.’ It is, of course, a different matter when a father acts as surety for his own son’s debt, where he is in a sense thereby guaranteeing the household debt.

The fact that he has put himself in the stranger’s (or the neighbour’s) power (Proverbs 6:1) is reminiscent of putting himself in the strange woman’s power in chapter 5. Both no doubt used assuring words to him. And both are using their influence, one sexual the other commercial, in a way which could bring him down. Of both we could argue ‘beware of the subtleties of strangers’. It is not anti-stranger as such. Israel were to welcome strangers among them. It is a reminder that ‘strangers’ see things in a different way from Israelites. They have no Torah.

Note once again the chiastic structure. He has snared himself by his promises (Proverbs 6:1-2) -- he must therefore seek to deliver himself from the snare (Proverbs 6:5). He is to deliver himself (Proverbs 6:3) -- he is to deliver himself (Proverbs 6:5). Centrally he is to make every effort to obtain release (Proverbs 6:3-4).

Proverbs 6:1-2

‘My son, if you have become surety for your neighbour,

If you have struck your hands for a stranger,

You are snared with the words of your mouth,

You are taken with the words of your mouth.’

The passage commences with ‘my son, ‘if --.’ Compare for this construction Proverbs 1:10. Here Solomon follows it up by declaring that to make yourself surety for another person’s debts is to unconsciously have entered into a trap which could spring at any moment. It is to enter into a time of uncertainty, for no one can be sure of what the outcome will be. By this means many good-hearted persons have ruined themselves. Of course if it is for an amount that the surety can easily afford to lose there is no problem. The problem occurs when the surety has committed himself beyond his means because he expected never to be called on to pay. The giving of assurances (the words of his mouth) and the striking of hands was the method of sealing the contract.

There are two possible scenarios here. The first is that the neighbour is the one he has become surety for, as an act of compassion, and the ‘stranger’ or foreigner is the one to whom the obligation will have to be paid, the one who has given the loan. In this case it would necessarily be a foreigner because Israelites were expected to lend to the poor without security (Deuteronomy 15:1-11). The other is that the surety is given to the neighbour (fellow-Israelite) on behalf of the stranger, on a commercial basis. This would tie in with Proverbs 11:15, and explain better why he has to plead with his neighbour. In this case it would have been a commercial transaction in the sense that the one who gave the surety was doing so in return for a commission. This may well have been somewhat high which would help to explain why the surety is classed with the sluggard, as wishing to obtain wealth without working for it, and with the worthless man as an extortioner.

The striking of the hand to act as surety is elsewhere described as the action of a man lacking in understanding (Proverbs 17:18), and as something to be avoided (Proverbs 22:26). Solomon may well have presided over many cases where sureties were bankrupted and sold with their families into bondage.

Proverbs 6:3

‘Do this now, my son, and deliver yourself,

Seeing you have come into the hand of your neighbour,

Go, humble yourself,

And importune your neighbour,

Note the repetition of ‘my son’. This demonstrates that it was not Rehoboam or another natural son in mind. Solomon with all his wealth would hardly have seen his natural sons as being in danger for acting as a surety. Nor would they have needed to do so. He points out that a person who has entered into such an obligation is to seek to escape from it at all costs. If he has given the surety on behalf of his neighbour, then he has in fact put himself totally at the mercy of his neighbour, for now his neighbour can renege on his obligation leaving him to pick up the debt. He can simply not bother to work it off, because he knows that his surety will pay up (he can be a sluggard), or even deliberately act deceitfully towards his surety (he can be a worthless person). He should therefore go immediately and humble himself before his neighbour, pleading with him and importuning him to work hard to pay off the loan. Note the command to ‘go’ (compare Proverbs 6:10). He is not to hang about or slumber and sleep, but to act decisively, just as the sluggard is advised to do the same (Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 6:11).

In this scenario the neighbour is in no position to cancel the surety (only the creditor can do that), so presumably the idea is that he importunes him to work hard to pay of his debt as soon as possible. In other words he pleads with him not to be a sluggard.

In the second scenario he is pleading with the neighbour to release the security, and possibly offering him payment in order to persuade him to do so. This seems to fit the sense better. If he succeeds he will be much worse off, but at least he will not be facing ruin.

The point behind all this is in order to bring home the lesson of not acting as someone’s surety. It is to point out that it could lead to many sleepless nights, and even to ruin, and possibly indicates Solomon’s (and God’s) disapproval of obtaining wealth by this means.

Proverbs 6:4-5

Do not give sleep to your eyes,

Nor slumber to your eyelids,

Deliver yourself as a roe from the hand,

And as a bird from the hand of the fowler.’

The situation is so urgent that he must not sleep or give himself to slumber (as the sluggard does - Proverbs 6:10). He must not be a sluggard. Rather he must put every effort into escaping from the trap into which he has fallen. He has to seek to escape with the desperation of a roe/gazelle escaping ‘from the hand’, that is from the hunter who is trying to capture him (compare ‘the hand of your neighbour - Proverbs 6:3. The simple ‘from the hand’ emphasises the comparison), or like a terrified bird escaping from the hand of the fowler. And the only way that he can do that is by ensuring that the neighbour does not renege on his debt, or alternatively by buying off his liability to his neighbour.

An alternative interpretation is to see ‘the neighbour’ and ‘the stranger’ as the same person, and therefore the creditor, but that is not to take the obvious meaning of the words. Nor is it clear how someone who has lent on security can be persuaded to relinquish that security before the debt is paid, especially if he is ‘a stranger’. It would, however make sense if it was to be achieved by a commercial payment. This would necessarily be less than the amount assured as the lender would still hope to recover the debt. What he was losing was the security.

Verses 1-35

Prologue To The Book (Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 9:18 ).

It was common throughout the 3rd to the 1st millenniums BC for collections of wisdom saying to have a prologue preparing for the ‘sayings’ that would follow. Those sayings would then be introduced by a subheading. Proverbs thus follows the usual precedent in having such a prologue in Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 9:18, followed by general sayings in Proverbs 10:1 ff headed by a subheading (Proverbs 10:1). It was also common for such a prologue to be addressed to ‘my son’, or similar, with constant references being made to ‘my son’ throughout the prologue. And this is interestingly a feature of Proverbs 1-9, where it occurs fifteen times. One difference, however, lies in the fact that the ‘son’ was usually named in other wisdom literature, something which does not occur in Proverbs. Indeed, in Proverbs ‘my son’ is sometimes replaced by ‘sons’ (Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 5:7; Proverbs 7:24; Proverbs 8:32). It is addressed to whoever will hear and respond.

The Prologue consists of ten discourses, and divides into two. It commences with five discourses, each of which follows a similar pattern, an opening appeal followed by two further subsections, and closing with a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous, the wise and the foolish. We can compare how there are five ‘books’ to the Torah, and five books of Psalms. Five is the covenant number. Each of the subsections is in the form of a chiasmus.

From chapter 6 onwards the pattern changes. Initially we find a description of three types, whom we could describe as the naive, the foolish, the wicked (Proverbs 6:1-19), and this is followed by Proverbs 6:20 to Proverbs 9:18 which are centred on the contrast between the seductive power of the strange woman, and the uplifting power of woman wisdom, all continually urging the young man to turn from the enticements of the world and choose wisdom.

The prologue may be analysed as follows;

The Five Discourses.

1). Discourse 1. Addressed To ‘My Son’. Those Who Seek To Walk In The Fear Of YHWH Will Listen To The Instruction Of Godly Authority, And Will Avoid The Enticements Of Sinners Motivated By Greed. Wisdom Is Then Depicted As Crying Out To Be Heard, Longing For Response, Promising Inculcation Of Her Own Spirit, And Warning Of The Consequences Of Refusal (Proverbs 1:8-33).

2). Discourse 2. Addressed To ‘My Son’. The Source Of True Wisdom Is YHWH, And Those Who Truly Seek Wisdom Will Find YHWH Himself, And He Will Then Reveal His Wisdom To Them. This Wisdom That God Gives Them Will Then Deliver Them From All Who Are Evil, Both From Men Who Have Abandoned The Right Way, And From The Enticements Of Immoral Women (Proverbs 2:1-22).

3). Discourse 3. Addressed To ‘My Son’. The Young Man Is To Trust In YHWH, To Fear YHWH And To Honour YHWH, And In View Of Their Great Value Is To Find YHWH’s Wisdom And Obtain Understanding Which Will Be His Protection And Will Through YHWH’s Chastening Activity Restore Him To Man’s First Estate. In View Of Them He Is To Observe A Series Of Practical Requirements Which Will Result In Blessing For The Wise (Proverbs 3:1-35).

4). Discourse 4. Addressed to ‘Sons’. Wisdom And Understanding Are To Be Sought And Cherished, For They Produce Spiritual Beauty, and Lead Those Who Respond Unto The Perfect Day (Proverbs 4:1-19).

5). Discourse 5. Addressed To ‘My Son’ (and later ‘Sons’). He Is To Avoid The Enticements Of The Strange Woman Whose Ways Lead To Death, And Rather Be Faithful To His True Wife (Proverbs 4:20 to Proverbs 5:23).

A Description Of Three Contrasting Failures.

6). Discourse 6. The Naive, The Fool And The Scorner Illustrated. The First Addressed To ‘My Son’ Is A Call To Avoid Acting As A Surety For Others, The Second Addressed To ‘You Sluggard’, Is A Call To Shake Off Laziness, And The Third, Unaddressed, Concerns A Worthless Person And A Troublemaker (Proverbs 6:1-19).

A Contrast Between The Strange Seductive Woman And The Pure Woman Wisdom.

Discourse 7. Addressed To ‘My Son’. He Is Urged To Observe The Commandment And The Torah Of Father And Mother, Avoiding The Enticement Of The Adulterous Woman, And Being Aware Of The Wrath Of The Deceived Husband (Proverbs 6:20-35).

Discourse 8. Addressed To ‘My Son’. After Appealing To Him To Observe His Words Solomon Vividly Describes The Wiles Of A Prostitute And Warns ‘Sons’ Against Her (Proverbs 7:1-27).

Discourse 9. The Call of Ms Wisdom As The One Who Seeks Response, Gives Men True Instruction, Ensures Good Government, Enriches Men Physically and Spiritually, Was Present With God During Creation, And Blesses Men And Brings Them Into Life So That They Find God’s Favour (Proverbs 8:1-36).

Discourse 10. The Appeal Of Woman Wisdom Contrasted With The Allure Of Woman Folly (Proverbs 9:1-18).

Verses 6-11

A Warning To The Lazy (Proverbs 6:6-11 ).

The urgency required of the surety in dealing with his problem in Proverbs 6:1-5, and the possibility that he might be slack in doing so, may well have raised in Solomon’s mind the dangers of laziness. For whereas the ants are also urgent, the sluggard is the very opposite. He puts off his problems and goes to sleep. And the consequence will be that instead of having food stored up for the winter he will be in poverty and need. So as he will not listen to Solomon’s wisdom what he should rather do is learn wisdom from the ant.

It will be noted that this subsection consists of two contrasts, on the one hand the ant which is not under anyone’s instructions and yet works hard, and consequently ensures that it has sufficient provision, and on the other the sluggard who listens to no one’s instructions and slumbers and sleeps, and who will thus will find himself in poverty and want.

Proverbs 6:6-8

‘Go to the ant, you sluggard,

Consider her ways, and be wise,

Which having no chief,

Overseer, or ruler,

Provides her bread in the summer,

And gathers her food in the harvest.

Instead of addressing this man as ‘my son’, he addresses him as ‘you sluggard’, and calls on him to consider the ant. (Note ‘my son -- my son’ (Proverbs 6:1; Proverbs 6:3) as compared with ‘you sluggard’ -- you sluggard’ (Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 6:9)). This is an admonition rather than an entreaty. He does not see him as a ‘son’, eager to learn from him, but as someone who has to be stirred up and cajoled. Sarcastically he indicates that as he will not listen to Solomon, he should listen to the ant. He wants him to watch ants scurrying this way and that, and learn a lesson from them. The ant is one of the ‘creeping things’ of which Solomon spoke (1 Kings 4:33). It was probably the harvester ant, which stores grain within its nest, and is found in large quantities throughout Palestine.

And it taught a salutary lesson, for this ant, without any admonition or overlordship, works away busily all through the summer in order to provision its nest. It never stops. It makes use of both summertime and harvest time. The busyness of the ant is proverbial. Arguments as to whether ants are under leadership are irrelevant. Insects do not give instructions to each other in order to be obeyed. They simply respond to their natural conditioning.

Proverbs 6:9-11

How long will you sleep, O sluggard?

When will you arise out of your sleep?

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,

A little folding of the hands to sleep,

So will your poverty come as a robber,

And your want as an armed man.

The sluggard sleeps and slumbers (compare Proverbs 24:33), just as the surety was warned not to do (Proverbs 6:4). He sees it as ‘a little sleep’ no matter how long it lasts. He deceives himself. And paradoxically he dreams of wealth and plenty (Proverbs 13:4). But the consequence will be that poverty creeps up on him like a robber, and want like an armed man (compare Proverbs 24:34). This armed man could be an armed robber, or a soldier seeking spoils. Thus poverty and want both creep up on a man, and can equally be violent. They wrest his goods from him. They take his goods by stealth or force (as indeed would the creditor in the first illustration).

Verses 12-15

The Worthless Man (Proverbs 6:12-15 ).

This first part, defining the worthless man, may be seen chiastically,

A A worthless person, a man of iniquity (Proverbs 6:12 a).

B Is he who walks with a perverse mouth (Proverbs 6:12 b).

C Who winks with his eyes, who scrapes/stamps with his feet, who makes signs with his fingers (Proverbs 6:13).

D In whose heart is perverseness (Proverbs 6:14).

C Who devises evil continually (Proverbs 6:14 b).

B Who sows discord (Proverbs 6:14 c).

A Therefore will his calamity come suddenly, suddenly he will be broken, and that without remedy (Proverbs 6:15).

In A the man is a worthless and iniquitous person, and in the parallel he is therefore doomed to calamity. In B he walks with a perverse mouth, and in the parallel he sows discord. In C he makes rude and deceitful gestures with eyes, feet and fingers, and in the parallel he devises evil continually. Centrally in D his heart is perverse.

Proverbs 6:12-13

‘A worthless person, a man of iniquity,

Is he who walks with a perverse mouth,

Who winks with his eyes, who scrapes/stamps with his feet,

Who makes signs with his fingers.’

Note that he describes the man without addressing him. He does not expect any response from such a man, for he is ‘a man of belial’, a worthless person. Such ‘worthless men’ seek to lead others into idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:13). The sons of Eli were ‘sons of belial’, worthless sons who defiled the worship of YHWH (1 Samuel 2:12). Those who imagined evil against YHWH counselled worthlessness (belial) (Nahum 1:11). Those who rejected YHWH’s chosen king and despised him were called ‘sons of belial’ (1 Samuel 10:27; 2 Samuel 20:1). Those who bore false testimony against Naboth were characterised as ‘men of belial, and were chosen because they were ‘sons of belial’ (1 Kings 21:10; 1 Kings 21:13). ‘Sons of belial’ demanded the right to have homosexual relations against his will with the Levite in Judges 19:22. So a man of belial is totally worthless, takes no account of YHWH, despises justice, and sinks to the lowest level of deed.

The characteristics of this ‘worthless man’ are now described. In his walk he speaks perversely. As he goes on life’s way he has a perverse mouth. A perverse mouth was something which Solomon in Proverbs 4:24 had told his ‘son’ to put away. Nothing such a man says can be relied on (he has ‘a lying tongue’- Proverbs 6:17). Thus he will happily bear false testimony on oath (Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 19:28; 1 Kings 21:10). He uses his words to cause dissension and trouble (he ‘sows discord among brothers’ (Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 16:27-28). He is a troublemaker and peace disturber.

‘He winks with his eyes.’ Winking with the eye is an indication that he is involved in deceit, and wants others to know it, apart possibly from his victim. (This is not ‘a cheeky wink’). He is someone not to be trusted. Even his actions are deceitful. Thus elsewhere we learn that a man who winks with his eye can be relied on to cause sorrow (Proverbs 10:10). He is one who is confident that he will get away with his misdeeds (Psalms 35:19). In early Jewish tradition he who winked with the eye was seen as ‘a contriver of evil things’ ( Sir 27:22 ).

‘He scrapes/stamps with his feet.’ (The meaning of the verb is uncertain. The Targum translates as ‘stamped’, but elsewhere it indicates scraping). Like the wink with the eye the scraping of the feet was intended to be a rude or threatening gesture, possibly not noticed by the person whom he was insulting. (In the list of abominations the feet are swift in running to mischief - Proverbs 6:18). He was thus an insolent and unpleasant man. Middle easterners regularly used their feet as indicators. Thus, for example, they use them to point the way, in the same way as we would point with the finger. The scraping of the foot may well have indicated that he wanted to humiliate the person and grind him into the ground. Or stamping the foot may have indicated displeasure or an intention to do harm. Coming immediately after ‘eyes’ the idea may also be that ‘he reveals his insulting and deceitful nature from eye to foot’, in other words with every part of his anatomy.

‘Who makes signs with his fingers.’ His fingers too were used for making secret but insulting, and possibly threatening, gestures which were intended to be seen by others but not the person in question. He was deceitful, unpleasant and possibly dangerous.

With regard to these signals we should notice that, in contrast to the list of abominations, there is no specific suggestion in this part that the worthless man is violent. And yet previously violence has been seen as a prominent sin (Proverbs 1:11-12; Proverbs 3:25; Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 4:17). This might be seen as indicating that these signals in some way indicated violence.

Proverbs 6:14-15

‘In whose heart is perverseness,

Who devises evil continually, who sows discord.

Therefore will his calamity come suddenly,

Suddenly he will be broken, and that without remedy.’

Not only is his mouth perverse, but his heart is too. And this is revealed by the way in which he continually plans evil. He is without scruples. And one of the ways in which he does this is by sowing discord, stirring people up to rebel against authority, or against each other. But like those who refused to hear the voice of wisdom in Proverbs 1:22-27, calamity will eventually come upon him, and he will be broken in such a way that there will be no remedy. One point being made in all these examples is that the way of the transgressor ends up in judgment.

Verses 12-19

The Worthless Man (Proverbs 6:12-19 ).

We now come to the third person in the triumvirate. The first one committed as a surety what he did not have. He was naive. The second was too lazy to do anything to provide for himself. He was a fool. But this third is a scorner. He is totally untrustworthy. He is called ‘a man of belial’, a ‘man without profit’, a man in whom there is no good, thus a worthless man. It will be noted that Solomon makes no appeal to him. He sees him as a hopeless case to be warned against. He simply describes him and his end.

The subsection divides into two parts, the first defining the worthless man, the second listing seven things which YHWH hates. There is considerable overlap. The worthless man has a perverse mouth, insolent and untrustworthy eyes, threatening feet, fingers which indicate unpleasantness, and a perverse heart which devises evil continually. He sins with every part of his anatomy. The seven things which YHWH hates include a lying tongue, haughty eyes, feet swift to run to mischief, hands which shed innocent blood, and a heart which devises wicked imaginations.

Verses 16-19

Seven Things Which YHWH Hates (Proverbs 6:16-19 ).

We now have listed seven thing which YHWH hates. The ‘six things -- yes seven’ was a technique saying ‘more than six’ (double completeness) and emphasising the seven (divine completeness), thus stressing the divine completeness of the list. Compare the ‘three things -- yes four’ found three times in Proverbs 30:15-33 (four times if we include ‘for three things -- and for four’). Again the thought is of being over and above completeness’. Compare in Amos his use of ‘for three transgressions -- and for four’ (occurring eight times in Amos 1-2) emphasising that there were more than the three transgressions, a number which would have indicated completeness, and itself would have deserved judgment. But they had exceeded even that. They had gone beyond the bounds. They had sinned excessively

This part is also constructed chiastically:

A There are six things which YHWH hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to him (Proverbs 6:16).

B Haughty eyes, a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:17 a).

C And hands which shed innocent blood (Proverbs 6:17 b).

D A heart which devises wicked purposes (Proverbs 6:18 a).

C Feet which are swift in running to mischief (Proverbs 6:18 b).

B A false witness who utters lies (Proverbs 6:19 a).

A And he who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:19 b).

Note that in A the seventh thing is especially distinguished, and in the parallel we have the seventh thing, and it may be that ‘haughty eyes’ are also to be paralleled ‘sowing discord/rebellion’. In B we have a lying tongue and in the parallel is a false witness who utters lies. In C we have hands shedding blood, and in the parallel feet running to mischief. Central to all is the heart devising wicked purposes.

It will also be noted how many of these abominations have previously been applied to the worthless man. A perverse mouth (Proverbs 6:12) and sowing discord (Proverbs 6:14) parallel a lying tongue, a false witness, one who sows discord (Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 6:19). Perverseness in his heart, devising evil continually (Proverbs 6:14) parallel a heart which devises wicked purposes (Proverbs 6:18).

It is not, however, intended to be taken as a summary of all abominations, for there is, for example, no mention of adultery, or of hypocritical sacrifices, or of dishonesty in business. It is rather bringing out that YHWH hates the attributes of the worthless man. Elsewhere the following are specifically said to be abominations to YHWH: the perverse man (Proverbs 3:32; Proverbs 11:20); a false balance (Proverbs 11:1); lying lips (Proverbs 12:22); hypocritical sacrifices (Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 21:27); the way of the wicked (Proverbs 15:9); the thoughts of the wicked (Proverbs 15:26); the proud in heart (Proverbs 16:5); those who justify the wicked or condemn the righteous (Proverbs 17:15); weights and measures which are inconsistent (Proverbs 20:10; Proverbs 20:23).

No punishment is mentioned with regard to these abominations. God’s judgment on them is assumed. But it has in a sense already been mentioned in Proverbs 6:15. Thus the list is not complete in itself but looks back to what has been said about the worthless man.

Proverbs 6:16-19

‘There are six things which YHWH hates,

Yes, seven which are an abomination to him,

Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,

And hands which shed innocent blood,

A heart which devises wicked purposes,

Feet which are swift in running to mischief,

A false witness who utters lies,

And he who sows discord among brothers.’

The language is strong. These are things which YHWH hates and abominates. They will thus certainly one day come into judgment. Notice that they cover thought (Proverbs 6:18 a), actions (Proverbs 6:17 c, Proverbs 6:18 b, Proverbs 6:19 b), words (Proverbs 6:17 b, Proverbs 6:19 a) and attitude (Proverbs 6:17 a).

The first three in the list are taken together (the third is introduced by ‘and’). This may simply be because of the importance put on ‘threeness’. The three cover eyes, lips and hands. The first reveals attitude, ‘haughty eyes’. The next two reveal actions, a lying tongue and murderous hands. This idea of ‘threeness’ continues for it is intrinsic in the number six which is specifically introduced. But, as is reflected in the introductory words (‘six things -- yes seven’), in the final analysis one is added to the six (and to the second three) in order to bring the number up to seven This disturbing of the pattern is in order to achieve ‘seven’, the number of divine completeness.

‘Haughty eyes (‘rising eyes’).’ Compare the winking eyes in Proverbs 6:13, and the proud in heart who are an abomination to YHWH in Proverbs 16:5. The word ‘haughty’ indicates arrogance and pride, someone who thinks himself above the norm and able to do anything that he likes, as is in fact revealed by what follows. He sees himself as ‘special’, and even as being able to challenge God (compare Isaiah 10:12-15). That is why YHWH has determined a day when ‘the lofty looks of man will be brought low’ and when all that is proud and haughty and lifted up will be brought low (Isaiah 2:11-12). That is why David, in a desire to please YHWH, declared that ‘him who has a proud look and a high heart I will not put up with’ (Psalms 101:5). In Psalms 131:1 it is the one whose heart is haughty and whose eyes are ‘risen’ who exercises himself in things which are above him. But YHWH will bring down ‘risen looks’ (Psalms 18:27). For in the end such a man is simply a human being. He turns into dust like everyone else. He struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. In contrast ‘the meek will inherit the earth’ (Psalms 37:11) and YHWH dwells with the lowly and contrite (Isaiah 57:15).

‘A lying tongue.’ The word for ‘lying’ indicates lying with the intention of causing harm. The same word is used in Proverbs 6:19 of ‘false’ witness. It is regularly used of ‘false’ testimony in court, but is not limited to that for it also refers to lies told in order to damage someone’s position or reputation. Such lying brings a man into judgment for the one who tells lies will not stand in God’s sight (Psalms 101:7), and the mouth of those who speak lies will be stopped (Psalms 63:11). This is because lying lips are an abomination to YHWH (Proverbs 12:22). To lie is to be loathsome (Proverbs 13:5). A lying tongue hates those who are afflicted by it, that is, it shows total disregard for them and treats them with contempt (Proverbs 26:28). The word is regularly applied to false prophets.

‘Hands which shed innocent blood.’ This parallels ‘you shall do no murder’ (Exodus 20:13). It did not apply to killing enemy soldiers, although it did apply to unnecessary killing of women and children. Nor did it apply to the one who sought ‘blood vengeance’. In those days when there was no police force, that was the way in which justice was accomplished on murderers. The wider family were seen as responsible for bringing about the execution of the guilty party (in other words in our terms it does not apply to judicial executions where the case is proved). The emphasis is on innocent blood. Compare Proverbs 1:11-14 for an example of shedding innocent blood. The cities of refuge were set up to preserve the lives of men who slew another accidentally, lest their innocent blood be shed by avengers of blood (Deuteronomy 19:10). But they would not preserve someone who had deliberately killed. The slaying of another in peace time, except in self-defence or blood vengeance, or after fair trial, was to take innocent blood. Murder has always been abhorrent to God. From the time of the Flood onwards the principle was that ‘He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’, for to kill a man without good cause is to violate God (Genesis 9:6).

We now come to the second group. Again the first in the list refers to attitude, this time attitude of heart. ‘A heart which devises wicked purposes.’ This is then followed by three actions which we will consider shortly. The heart was seen as the centre of the mind, will, emotions and knowledge of God. But a heart which devises wicked (unrighteous) purposes is revealing that it has no knowledge of God. And as we saw previously it is the worthless man whose heart is perverted and who devises evil continually (Proverbs 6:14). Now that is repeated as being something that God abominates. From within his inner being this kind of man is always planning unrighteous purposes (the word translated wicked is regularly seen as the opposite of righteous). He is evil at heart. We have already seen two of his unrighteous purposes, a lying tongue and a murderous hand. These are now added to by feet which are swift in running to evil mischief, a false witness who utters lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. He has an attitude problem.

‘Feet which are swift in running to (evil) mischief.’ He is always on the look out for some wrong that he can do, some harm that he can cause. And when he finds it he is so eager that he ‘runs’ to fulfil it. He is someone who is without scruples, and he cannot wait to do someone harm. We can compare this with Proverbs 1:16 which speaks of those whose feet run to evil. There are many today who think it funny to cause harm to people. They need to recognise that they are abominated by God.

‘A false (lying) witness who utters lies.’ In the chiasmus this parallels ‘the lying tongue’. But here the double stress on lying brings out the awfulness of the crime. He is a lying witness who lies. The crime is all the greater because it occurs within the sphere of justice. Today we would call it perjury. And there, in the very place where truth was of vital importance, the worthless man was a lying witness who lied in the sight of God and men. And he did it, not in order to defend himself, but in order to cause harm to others. In Deuteronomy 19:15-21 such a false witness was to be punished by having the same harm caused to him, as he had caused by his false witness, so that others might ‘hear and fear’.

‘He who sows discord among brothers.’ The final abomination is the one who sows discord among brothers. ‘Brothers’ could mean full brothers, relatives, or simply fellow-countrymen. In the modern day it could mean fellow-Christians. The aim of the worthless man is to bring disunity where there is harmony, in order to further his own interests. He delights to arouse antagonism and hatred. This can range from causing rebellion in the kingdom, to stimulating feuds between tribes, to arousing general animosity, to breaking up family relationships. And it is done for self-satisfaction or self-gain. The worthless man ‘sows discord’ (Proverbs 6:14). He is in direct contrast to the ‘peace-maker’ who seeks to bring harmony, thereby demonstrating that he is one of the Lord’s blessed ones (Matthew 5:9).

Verses 20-23

1). An Appeal To ‘My Son’ To Keep His Commandment And Not Forsake The Torah (Proverbs 6:20-23 ).

That Solomon sees ‘his’ commandment and torah as based on the commandment and Torah as given by Moses is brought out here by the description of the commandment as a lamp and the torah as a light. This was how Israel saw the Torah (Psalms 119:105; Psalms 43:3). It is also made clear by the technical terms used (commandment and torah were descriptions closely connected with the Torah. See for example Exodus 24:12; Deuteronomy 30:10; Jos 22:5 ; 1 Kings 2:3; etc.), and by the fact that ‘the Torah of Moses’ (Joshua 1:7-8; Joshua 8:31; Joshua 22:5; Joshua 23:6; Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11) would undoubtedly have formed a background to Solomon’s thinking, having been taught to him from an early age (his knowledge of them is assumed in 1 Kings 2:3).

This subsection follows the usual chiastic pattern:

A My son, keep the commandment of your father, and forsake not the law of your mother, bind them continually on your heart, tie them about your neck (Proverbs 6:20-21).

B When you walk, it will lead you (Proverbs 6:22 a).

C When you sleep, it will watch over you (Proverbs 6:22 b).

B And when you awake, it will talk with you (Proverbs 6:22 c).

A For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life (Proverbs 6:23).

Note than in A reference is to the commandment and the torah (law) which are to be constantly heeded, whilst in the parallel similar reference is made to the commandment and the torah which indicate the way of life. In B and parallel they give daily guidance. Centrally in C they watch over him while he sleeps.

Proverbs 6:20-21

‘My son, keep the commandment of your father,

And forsake not the law (torah) of your mother,

Bind them continually on your heart,

Fasten them about your neck.’

He was to ‘keep the commandment of his father’, that is guard it and observe it. He was ‘not to forsake the torah (law) of his mother’. These words assume a body of specific teaching passed on by father and mother which are in conformity to each other. We can contrast here Proverbs 1:8 where the exhortation was to ‘hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother’. It was the responsibility of the family heads to ensure that their children were taught the covenant law (e.g. Deuteronomy 11:19). Any instruction by father or mother would therefore inevitably involve the Torah, and in the case of youngsters this would be done by the mother. The use of torah here is therefore significant.

The same combination of commandment and torah is found in Proverbs 3:1 except for the fact that there it speaks of ‘my commandments’, and is in the plural (and has been in every reference up to this point - Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 4:4). Its primary reference there was to Solomon’s commandments, although as reflecting God’s commandments. It may be that here the aim of the singular is in order to emphasise that there is reference to a specific commandment, the commandment not to commit adultery. Or more likely it may be because ‘the commandment’ is a composite word in parallel with torah (compare Deuteronomy 17:19-20), both referring to the law of Moses as passed on by father and mother. Solomon’s assumption is that father and mother are passing on sound teaching (he can hardly be saying, ‘do whatever your father and mother tell you no matter what it is’), and in Israel that would be based on the Torah of Moses..

‘His son’ is to bind them continually in his heart (inner being). He must treasure them and consider them and respond to them continually. He is to ‘fasten them about his neck’. Like a necklace he is to make them an adornment to him. For this picture compare Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 3:22.

This verse reminds us of Moses’ instruction in Deuteronomy 11:18 (compare Deuteronomy 6:6-9; , ‘therefore you shall lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes’, but here abbreviated and altered in order to conform to the previous illustrations. This is another indication that the torah (law) of Moses is in mind.

Proverbs 6:22

‘When you walk, it will lead you,

When you sleep, it will watch over you,

And when you awake, it will talk with you.’


Note the change from ‘them’ (referring either to ‘the commandment’ and ‘the torah’ or to the instructions that they contained) to ‘it’, referring to the combination of both, or to wisdom, which is, of course, an exemplification of both. If the latter it emphasises the close connection between wisdom and the commandment and torah on which the teaching of father and mother is based.

God’s wisdom, His commandment and Torah, will lead him in his daily walk, will watch over him when he sleeps, giving him peaceful sleep (Proverbs 3:24), and will speak to him when he is awake (‘when I awake I am still with you’ - Psalms 139:18). It will be to him like a shepherd, and indeed like a mother and father. It will thus affect every part of his life. It is a reminder to us that we should look to the guidance of God’s word in our daily walk, and allow it to talk to us when we first wake up, whilst through the night our knowledge of that word will give us peaceful sleep (compare Proverbs 3:24; Psalms 4:8).

Proverbs 6:23

‘For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light,

And reproofs of instruction are the way of life.’

The commandment and the torah of his father and mother, as given by God, will lead him because they are a lamp and a light. They give him light when he first wakes up. They continually illuminate his way. They show him the way that he should take, and enable him to avoid objects over which he might stumble. They guide him in the way that is pleasing to God. In the words of the Psalmist (Psalms 119:105), ‘your word is a lamp to my feet, and light to my path’. The Psalmist may well have obtained his thought from this passage.

‘Reproofs of instruction are the way of life.’ For the way of wholesome and abundant life is entered into and walked in by responding to the reproofs of disciplinary instruction, and these come from the commandment and torah. In order to enjoy life disciplinary instruction is necessary (compare Proverbs 3:11).

Verses 20-35

Discourse 7. Addressed To ‘My Son’. He Is Urged To Observe The Commandment And The Torah, Avoiding The Enticement Of The Adulterous Woman, And Being Aware Of The Wrath Of The Deceived Husband (Proverbs 6:20-35 ).

Having illustrated in Proverbs 6:1-19 the different types of people to whom wisdom speaks, the naive, the fool and the scorner, Solomon now returns to pleading with his ‘son’ to listen to wisdom, and to avoid the enticing woman who is the very opposite of woman wisdom, and is in this case his neighbour’s wife. Nevertheless she is still seen as ‘a stranger’ (Proverbs 6:24), partly because he would not normally come across her in daily life, and partly because she is operating outside the covenant.

It must be remembered that to Solomon his ‘son’ would have little to do with women whom, apart from his own relatives, he would not meet in daily life, for women in Jerusalem lived sheltered lives. Outside their family they kept themselves to themselves. His experience of life would mainly be of interaction with men. The only exception, of course, was women like the one described here, who thrust themselves on men’s attention. This is one reason why, when giving instruction concerning women, Solomon only refers to immoral women. It was not because he was anti-women. Indeed he made wisdom a woman. It was because they were not, on the whole, involved in community life.

The passage divides up into three sections (determined by the chiasms) as follows:

1) An appeal to ‘my son’ to keep his commandment and not forsake the torah (Proverbs 6:20-23).

2) A warning that giving way to the flattery and lust of a strange woman will have unpleasant consequences (Proverbs 6:24-29).

3) A warning that to commit adultery will bring on him the wrath of the offended husband (Proverbs 6:30-35).

Verses 24-29

One Intention Of The Commandment And Torah Is To Keep Him From The Adulterous Woman Who Will Seek To Lead Him Astray (Proverbs 6:24-29 ).

In contrast with ‘woman wisdom’ (e.g. Proverbs 1:20-33; Proverbs 3:13-20) is the ‘strange woman’ who will seek to lead him astray. She will speak smooth words and seek to entice him with her beauty and her eyelids. But her way only leads to poverty and judgment.

Once again note the chiasmus:

A To keep you from the evil woman, from the flattery of the stranger’s tongue (Proverbs 6:24).

B Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her take you with her eyelids (Proverbs 6:25)

C For on account of a prostitute/immoral woman a man is brought to a piece of bread, and the adulteress hunts for the precious life (Proverbs 6:26).

B Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be scorched? (Proverbs 6:27-28).

A So he who goes in to his neighbour’s wife, whoever touches her will not be unpunished (Proverbs 6:29).

Note that A refers to the evil woman, the female stranger, and the parallel identifies her as the neighbour’s wife. In B he must not burn with lust and passion, and in the parallel this is likened to playing with fire. Central is the idea of the consequences.

Proverbs 6:24-26

‘To keep you from the evil woman,

From the flattery (‘smoothness’) of the stranger’s tongue,

Do not lust after her beauty in your heart,

Nor let her take you with her eyelids.

For on account of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread,

And the adulteress hunts for the precious life.’

One of the dangers of dividing up the text under headings is a loss of continuity. The original text, of course, is continuous, as is often the thought, even though chiasms do serve to indicate the subsections. Here Proverbs 6:24 continues on directly from Proverbs 6:23. It is the commandment, the torah and reproofs which were aimed at keeping the young man from the evil woman.

In this case the evil and strange woman is in fact a neighbour’s wife (previously she has been a foreign wife, or a prostitute). But like a prostitute her aim is to inveigle the young man into wrongful sexual activity by means of her smooth tongue (her flattery), her sexual beauty, and her fluttering eyelids. She is behaving like a prostitute, and is an adulteress. Like the worthless man she has deceitful lips. To heed her is to play with fire (Proverbs 6:27-28). It is an interesting lesson that in Proverbs the only other reference to a woman’s beauty, as opposed to her sexual attractions (Proverbs 5:18-19), is of it as ‘as nothing, vain’. What is seen as far more important is that she fears YHWH (Proverbs 31:30)

‘For on account of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread, and the adulteress hunts for the precious life.’ The opening clause is literally ‘on account of/by means of a harlot unto/around a loaf of bread’. There are a number of possible interpretations:

1) On account of a prostitute the victim is reduced to poverty, having as a result of his extravagances only a loaf of bread left of all his possessions (compare1 Samuel 2:36; 1 Samuel 2:36 where an impoverished priest humbles himself for ‘a piece of silver or a loaf of bread’, a minimum requirement for survival). Compare Proverbs 5:10-11 which supports this.

2) On account of/by means of a prostitute the victim himself is reduced in value to that of a loaf of bread. That is all he can be seen as worth.

3) On account of having/by means of a prostitute the victim has to pay the cost of a loaf of bread. This is based on a suggested meaning for be‘ad as ‘cost, price’, or as meaning ‘exchange for’ (compare Job 2:4), but indicates a very low charge for a prostitute. It may, however, be seen as unlikely that someone who could say what Solomon has said previously about prostitutes (Proverbs 2:18-19; Proverbs 5:4-5) would so belittle the cost of going with a prostitute.

The question must be answered by considering the parallel that ‘an adulteress hunts for the precious life’. In other words an adulteress is pictured as hunting down, by her allurements, a man’s very life, the most precious thing of all that he possesses. And this because the sentence for adultery was death.

So the thought may be that the harlot ruins a man wealthwise, but an adulteress ruins him totally, taking his very life from him; that a prostitute lowers a man’s personal value, but an adulteress ruins him totally, because through death he ceases to have any value; or that a prostitute is cheap by comparison as the adulteress costs him, not a loaf of bread but his very existence (for the penalty for adultery was death).

Proverbs 6:27-29

‘Can a man take fire in his bosom,

And his clothes not be burned?

Or can one walk on hot coals,

And his feet not be scorched?

So he who goes in to his neighbour’s wife,

Whoever touches her will not be unpunished.

If a man holds fire against himself, probably in a pot, his clothes will undoubtedly be singed, although the thought might be to postulate an absurdity, a man actually carrying fire in his clothing (the thought being how absurd the man is who engages in adultery). A man who walks on hot coals must expect his feet to be burned. So a man who plays with fire by going in to ‘his neighbour’s wife’ (the wife of a fellow-Israelite) must certainly expect to be severely punished. It is inevitable.

‘Whoever touches her.’ A euphemism for someone who touches her sexually, and has sex with her.

Verses 30-35

To Steal A Man’s Wife By Adultery Is Far Worse And Far More Costly Than To Steal His Possessions, For Compensation Can Be Made For Stolen Possessions, But No Compensation Will Be Considered As Satisfactory For Adultery (Proverbs 6:30-35 ).

A comparison is now made between a man who is hungry and steals in order to satisfy his hunger, who in consequence has to pay a heavy price, and a man who is sexually hungry and steals his neighbour’s wife in order to satisfy his hunger. But in his case no price will be sufficient. The husband will not be satisfied by anything that he can offer. He will require the ultimate penalty.

This subsection may be analysed as follows:

A Men do not despise a thief, if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry (Proverbs 6:30).

B But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold, he shall give all the substance of his house (Proverbs 6:31).

C He who commits adultery with a woman is void of understanding, he does it who would destroy his own soul (Proverbs 6:32).

C Wounds and dishonour will he get, and his reproach will not be wiped away (Proverbs 6:33).

B For jealousy is the rage of a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance (Proverbs 6:34).

A He will not regard any ransom, nor will he rest content, though you give many gifts (Proverbs 6:35).

Note that in A men do not despise a thief who steals for good cause, but in the parallel a husband totally despises a man who steals his wife. In B a thief may have to give all that he has in reparation, but in the parallel no reparation will be satisfactory. He will not be spared. Finally in C an adulterer destroys his own life, for in the parallel he will receive wounds and dishonour, and everlasting reproach.

Proverbs 6:30-31

‘Men do not despise a thief, if he steals

To satisfy himself when he is hungry,

But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold,

He shall give all the substance of his house.’

All decent men will sympathise with a thief who is driven to stealing by pure hunger (we might translate ‘when he is famished’). Nevertheless if he is caught he will be called on to make reparation. He will restore ‘sevenfold’ is a way of saying that he will be called on to make reparation to the full extent required (compare how Cain would be avenged sevenfold - Genesis 4:15). If necessary he will have to give everything that he possesses (all the substance of his house), and become a slave, in order to make reparation.

Proverbs 6:32-33

‘He who commits adultery with a woman is void of understanding,

He does it who would destroy his own soul.’

Wounds and dishonour will he get,

And his reproach will not be wiped away.

But there can be no sympathy for a man who steals his neighbour’s wife. He is void of understanding. He has no justification. And the one who does it is not satisfying hunger, he is destroying his own life. All he can expect to received are wounds and dishonour. He may expect to be attacked physically by the husband, who may also have assisted with the death sentence, and psychologically by the whole of society. It was a crime that society looked on as heinous and unforgivable. It hit at the very root of family life. Thus his reproach would never be wiped away. If he did live (it may be that by Solomon’s time the death sentence had been replaced by a lashing), he would always be seen as the man who stole another man’s wife (compare Deuteronomy 25:10 of the one who refused to raise up seed to his brother). And if he died he would carry his reproach beyond the grave.

Proverbs 6:34-35

‘For jealousy is the rage of a man,

And he will not spare in the day of vengeance,

He will not regard any ransom,

Nor will he rest content, though you give many gifts.’

Nor would there be any relenting by the husband who had been cheated. For jealousy more than anything else inflames men’s burning rage, indeed it is regularly the source of that rage. Thus the husband will be filled with constant rage against him and will not spare him or relent in the day when he is able to obtain his vengeance. Nor will he be bought off. He will not accept any offer of ransom. Nor will he rest content and allow his rage to subside, even though he is given more and more compensation. Nothing will stop him. He will not rest until he feels that he has been fully requited through maximum judgment coming on the adulterer.

It will be noted that Proverbs 6:24-35 began with ‘you, your’ (Proverbs 6:24-25), referring to the young man, and now ends with ‘you’ (Proverbs 6:35) with the verses in between referring to an impersonal ‘he’ which refers to the ‘man’ in Proverbs 6:37. His aim is to make the young man feel involved, and take the warning personally.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 6". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/proverbs-6.html. 2013.
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