Bible Commentary: Proverbs 6

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Proverbs 6

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Foolish Ways to Avoid

The first part of this chapter (Proverbs 6:1-19) presents us with four teachings—to seek freedom from unwise pledges (verses 1-5), to learn industriousness and avoid laziness by following the example of the ant (verses 6-11), to not be as the scoundrel (verses 12-15) and to hate the things God hates (verses 16-19).

“The four warnings of Proverbs 6:1-19 are separate from the instructions on adultery; without this section, that theme would continue uninterrupted in chapters 5-7. Remembering that evil deeds ensnare the wicked (Proverbs 5:22), we might read Proverbs 6:1-19 as an [inserted] exposition of that theme. The excursus also reminds the reader that not all enticements to folly come from women” (NIV Application Commentary, note on 6:1-19).

Regarding pledges, verses 1-5 “warn against putting up surety (see Proverbs 11:15), or cosigning a loan. This does not mean we should never be generous or helpful if we have the means, only that we should not promise what we cannot deliver. In Solomon’s day, a cosigner who could not pay could lose all he had and be reduced to slavery besides. Even though laws differ today, inability to pay a debt is still a form of bondage and can be a serious problem. Modern conditions are different than in Old Testament times, but the warning still applies” (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 1-5).

Another serious entrapment is laziness. Thus we are directed to the example of ants. They have work to do and get it done (verses 6-8). Verses 9-11 are not telling us to avoid needed sleep. Rather, unless health prevents us we must not “sleep the day away.” We all have much to do—and only so much time to do it in. Laziness and lack of industry can ultimately leave us materially impoverished—but even worse, it can keep us from spiritual responsibilities such as prayer and Bible study, leaving us spiritually impoverished and in danger of drifting from God.

In verses 12-15, the “scoundrel and villain” (NIV) is “a troublemaker. Unlike the sluggard, whose only desire is another place to nap, the troublemaker cannot wait to cause more problems or to get into more mischief. Unlike the sluggard (see v. 6), he is too busy, though he is doing the wrong things. He delights in bringing dissensions. But like the sluggard, he does not realize that calamity awaits him” (note on verses 12-15).

Verses 16-19 then present wickedness more generally. “This passage is a numerical proverb (see Proverbs 30:15-31) that describes seven things that the Lord hates. The use of numerical progression—six, even seven—in these proverbs is a rhetorical device that embellishes the poetry, provides a memory aid, and builds to a climax. It gives the impression that there is more to be said about the topic” (note on verses 16-19). Commentator Tremper Longman says, “Such a device is a way of saying that there are a number of different examples of the phenomenon, only a few of which are given” (How to Read Proverbs, p. 45). He also points out that such language was used in surrounding ancient cultures: “Compare Proverbs 6:16-19 with a passage from a Ugaritic myth and from the Ahiqar text [mentioned in our introduction]…. ‘Truly (there are) two sacrifices Baal hates, three the rider on the clouds [rejects]—a sacrifice of shame and a sacrifice of meanness and a sacrifice where handmaids debauch.’ (KTU 1.4. III. 17-21). [And] ‘There are two things which are good, and a third which is pleasing to Shamash: one who drinks and shares it, one who masters wisdom {and observes it}; and one who hears a word but tells it not.’ (lines 92-93a)” (p. 76).

“In a list of this type, the last item is the most prominent” (Nelson, note on verses 16-19). In both the characteristics of the scoundrel (verses 12-14) and the seven things God hates (verses 16-19), the last item listed is sowing discord—causing trouble between other people, especially between brothers, those who would otherwise be close. God views this as utterly despicable. How much worse it is today when people cause divisions between His spiritual children in His Church. God desires the unity of His people (see Psalm 133:1).

The latter part of chapter 6 constitutes the sixth exhortation of the prologue (verses 20-35), a further warning against the danger of adultery. Verses 27-29 emphasize cause and effect and the absolute inevitability of bad consequences of any immoral actions. Verse 32 deserves reflection. It seems to say that immorality is the most self-destructive of all sins—destructive of one’s “soul”—his life and being—even when there are no apparent physical penalties. The apostle Paul may have been referring to this verse when he said in 1 Corinthians 6:18: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.”

The statement in verse 30 about a hungry person stealing to satisfy himself not being despised is not meant to condone theft. Indeed, it is immediately followed by the fact that if he is caught he will be forced to make restitution. The point of this statement here is that theft in such instances is at least understandable as a means to survival and because it is possible to rectify. Sleeping with another man’s wife, on the other hand, never makes sense as it is just the opposite of a means to survival—it is the pathway to death, especially from a jealous husband who cannot be appeased.