Proverbs 6:2

Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.

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Your words or name can get you in financial trouble. Be careful! Think soberly before opening your mouth or signing your name. The lesson here is foolishly cosigning for a friend to a stranger (Pr 6:1-5). There are two parts – financial prudence and guarding your speech and signature. Both issues can be costly. Both issues give the proverb great value.

Solomon warned his son several times about suretiship, which is guaranteeing the performance of a friend to a third party, often a creditor (Pr 6:1-5; 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26-27; 27:13). The modern activity is cosigning a loan at a bank for a friend. Since Solomon was a king, there would be many parasites seeking favors from the royal prince.

Cosigning, or suretiship, is an easy way to show kindness and influence. Just a word, a handshake, or signature will do it. Your friend is indebted to you, and your pride of life revels in your financial power. But paying off such debts, if your friend does not perform, could cost you dearly. Solomon warned that a creditor may take your bed (Pr 22:26-27)!

In business, potential financial debts are called contingent liabilities – meaning, if certain things do not work out just right, there will be obligations to pay. A prudent man is very cautious about potential risks. He avoids cosigning, except in emergencies or necessities; he insures himself wisely; he invests cautiously; he analyzes “business opportunities” skeptically; he signs contracts reluctantly; he never bets the farm on any idea; he keeps reserve funds; he seldom uses debt to operate; and he keeps an excellent credit rating.

Such wisdom is rejected today. Instead of paying cash, most borrow for a car, or even worse, they lease it. What happens if you lose your job and cannot make the payments? You owe more than the car is worth. You are stuck! You are trapped! How about buying a house with nothing down, financing it with an interest-only loan, and getting an equity line to 125% of value? What happens if housing prices drop 5% and you need to move?

The financial wisdom of this proverb is great. Prudent men commit to contracts and obligations only with great sobriety and only after skeptical analysis. Financial liquidity and personal freedom are very important to wise men. They hate debts! But there is more wisdom in the proverb. You need to guard your speech in all matters, and you need to be a man of your word. One way to accomplish both is to be very slow in commitments.

David and Solomon warned about keeping vows, which is helped by vowing reluctantly (Ps 15:4; 24:4; Eccl 5:1-7). Backbiting, slandering, talebearing, and whispering are all avoided by diligently guarding speech about others (Pr 11:13; 20:19; 25:9-10). Fewer words are better (Pr 10:19; 17:27-28), and slowness in speech is righteous (Jas 1:19-20).

To be a man of integrity, only make commitments you can easily keep. If you promise to be somewhere at a certain time, be there early. Do not promise hastily, because once you have spoken, you are bound to keep your word. Performance may be based on diligence; punctuality may be based on time management; but both can be helped by only making commitments and promises with great care and leaving some room in your estimates.

Fools and wicked men blast off and make promises they cannot keep (Pr 12:13; 18:7). Their lips trap them in trouble. Consider Herod and his oath to Herodias’s daughter (Matt 14:3-11). If words have been uttered and a trap set, Solomon’s remedy is to do whatever it takes to undo your commitment and make your friend surety for himself (Pr 6:3-5).

There are two rules of wisdom to remember about suretiship and promises in general. First, suretiship is allowed for necessity and charity (Pr 18:24; 19:17; Ps 112:5; Philemon 1:18-19). The proverb condemns rash or excessive commitments. Second, a promise made in good faith is not binding if the other party’s intentions were not in good faith and/or the consequences would be sinful or dangerous (I Kgs 2:12-25). The limitations should be understood by both parties if possible, or you may revert to God as your Judge.

But what of God Himself? The LORD Jehovah opened His mouth and cannot go back. He promised eternal life before the world began (Titus 1:2). He is not like a man – He cannot lie or change His mind (Num 23:19). His justice demanded full payment. No man could pay. So His own arm brought salvation. Jesus Christ became the Surety of His people to pay the necessary price for them. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!