Proverbs 17:18

A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend.

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Impulsive risk takers are fools. Without thinking, they make financial commitments they should not make. Puffed up by pride, they want to appear wealthier than they are. Shortsighted, they cannot see that promises made today may be more than they can pay tomorrow. In order to impress friends, they co-sign loans or guarantee performance in other ways. Wise men seek to reduce risk, but these pompous fools do not understand.

Striking hands was the custom of shaking hands to confirm a man’s commitment, though often it was simply clasping or gripping another’s hand. The striking or shaking verbs are extraneous to the act – a hand of one person is touched solidly to the hand of another person to establish a transaction or promise an intention. In the context of this proverb, the hands are clasped to guarantee financial backing for a friend with poor credit.

A surety is a guarantor. The fool guaranteed his friend’s debts by shaking the creditor’s hand and promising to pay if the friend does not. Though the lender would not accept the friend’s assets or character, the financial fool boldly flaunted his economic power to complete the deal. Many wives and children have learned too late that family assets and future income were promised to another in just such a hasty moment of financial folly.

Helping a friend in need with a little financial backing is one thing. Over-committing by taking on excessive contingent liabilities is another. An appeal from a lazy friend and proud thoughts of closing a deal can form a powerful temptation. Solomon warned his son about losing his bed from such deals (Pr 22:26-27). He told his son to get out of such commitments with the desperation of a deer trying to escape from a hunter or a bird from a fowler (Pr 6:1-5). Co-signing is a great financial danger (Pr 11:15; 20:16; 27:13).

Many politicians and governments violate this simple rule. Wise men reduce financial risk and minimize contingent liabilities. But men running for office are sorely tempted to promise great things. How else can they buy votes? Since they cannot bribe each voter, they instead promise future benefits to each voter, even though the total cost of such benefits is financially and/or politically impossible. They are either run out of office for not keeping their promises, or they resort to deficit spending to fulfill their obligations.

The lesson is simple. Do not co-sign loans, unless the amount is small, the situation desperate, and it is for a real need. Other lessons are evident. Hate debt. Reduce risk. Stay insured. Avoid contracts. Fear leases. Limit promises. Love cash. Hate credit. Exalt savings. Maximize your credit rating. Warn your friends against borrowing.

Consider the greatest story of a surety (guarantor) in the universe. God was the creditor. Sinners were the debtors, and they could not pay or buy their freedom. God’s holy nature required they each die and spend eternity in the debtor’s prison of the lake of fire. But a Prince stepped forward and promised to pay for them. Did He mean it? Yes! How? By dying for them! “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament” (Heb 7:22).

Reader, you are a sinner deep in debt to Almighty God. If Jesus is not surety for you to guarantee your righteousness to God, then you will pay for your sins in eternal torment (Rev 20:10-15). Run to Jesus Christ and beg for Him to be your surety by repenting of your sins, believing on Him as the Son of God and only surety for sinners, and doing what He requires to make your salvation sure (Matt 7:21; II Pet 1:5-11; I Thess 1:2-4).