Do Not Take on Impossible Tasks[b]
1 My son, if you have guaranteed the debt of your neighbor
or the bond of a stranger,
2 you have been trapped by the utterance of your lips,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
3 To extricate yourself from this situation,
this is what you must do, my son.
Since you have fallen into his power,
go directly to your neighbor and plead with him.
4 Give your eyes no sleep,
your eyelids no slumber.
5 Break free like a gazelle from a trap
or like a bird from the grasp of a fowler.
Contemplate the Ant, You Sluggard[c]
6 Contemplate the ant, you sluggard;[d]
observe its ways and gain wisdom.
7 Even though it has no chief,
no governor or ruler,
8 it stores its provisions throughout the summer
and gathers its food at the time of harvest.
9 How long do you intend to lie there, you sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest,
11 and poverty will overtake you like a robber,
and scarcity like an armed man.
Portrait of a Scoundrel[e]
12 A scoundrel,[f] a villainous man, is he
who specializes in crooked talk.
13 He winks with his eyes,
gives signals with his feet,
and makes gestures with his fingers.
14 His perverted heart is ever bent toward devising evil
as he constantly sows discord.
15 Therefore, disaster will strike him suddenly;
in an instant he will be crushed beyond recovery.
Six Things That the Lord Hates[g]
16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are abhorrent to him:
17 haughty eyes,[h] a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,[i]
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness[j] who spews out lies,
and one who sows dissension among brothers.
The Wiles of a Seductress[k]
20 Observe your father’s command, my son,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching.
21 Bind them forever in your heart;
tie them around your neck.
22 When you walk, they will guide you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
when you awaken, they will instruct you.
23 For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light,[l]
and the corrections of discipline point the way to life,
24 to preserve you from an immoral woman,
from the seductive tongue of an adulteress.
25 Do not lust after her beauty in your heart
or allow her to entice you with her eyes.
26 For if a prostitute seeks a loaf of bread,
the adulteress endangers your very life.[m]
27 Can a man kindle a fire in his bosom
without burning his clothes?
28 Or can a man walk on red-hot coals
without scorching his feet?
29 So it is with the man
who consorts with his neighbor’s wife;
no one who touches her will escape punishment.
30 People attach little blame to a thief
if he steals only to satisfy his hunger.
31 However, once caught, he must pay back sevenfold[n]
and hand over all his household possessions.
32 But the one who commits adultery lacks sense;
only someone who wants to destroy himself does so.
33 He will get nothing but beatings and contempt,
and his disgrace will never be wiped away.
34 For jealousy inflames a husband’s anger,
and he will be merciless in taking revenge.
35 He will not consider any compensation,
and he will reject even the most lavish gifts.
- Proverbs 6:1 Every civilization has maxims based on observation of life. Here are some of them—very ancient morsels mislaid in this prologue that they interrupt.
- Proverbs 6:1 People are to preserve with prudence the fruit of their work and not undertake impossible tasks. This is a popular and cautious wisdom that is found under all skies. For example, a guarantor is exhorted to urge the debtor to make payment, since otherwise he, the guarantor, will have to pay.
- Proverbs 6:6 Before the French writer La Fontaine, Job too was entranced by the life of animals. Here the ant becomes a teacher of virtue.
- Proverbs 6:6 Sluggard: an idler who refuses to work (see Prov 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16).
- Proverbs 6:12 Moralists readily cultivate the art of portrait-making so that they may better fashion the sentiments of their hearers or readers.
- Proverbs 6:12 Scoundrel: a wicked man of little worth (see Jdg 19:22; 1 Sam 25:25; Job 34:18). Crooked talk: see Prov 2:12 and note; 19:28.
- Proverbs 6:16 This is the first “numerical proverb”; it reflects a popular way of coining incisive maxims that are easy to remember and imitate, being a kind of conundrum. Here the description of the deceitful and liars is rendered more realistic by the enumeration that evokes the different parts of the human body.
- Proverbs 6:17 Haughty eyes: they are usually the outward sign of a proud heart, and both will incur the judgment of God (see Prov 21:4; 30:13; Pss 18:28; 101:5). Lying tongue: see Prov 2:12 (and note); 12:19; 17:7; 21:6. Hands that shed innocent blood: see Prov 1:11, 16; 28:17.
- Proverbs 6:18 A heart that devises wicked schemes: see Prov 1:31; 24:2; Gen 6:5. Feet that are quick to rush into evil: see Prov 1:16.
- Proverbs 6:19 False witness: Proverbs sets forth the harm caused by the false witness (see Prov 12:17-18; 25:18); see also note on Ps 5:10. It also indicates the punishment that awaits him (see Prov 6:15; 19:5, 9; 21:28). Spews out lies: see Prov 14:5, 25. Sows dissension: by false accusations he foments distrust, which leads to alienation and strife (see Prov 18:6).
- Proverbs 6:20 The exhortation resumes and we soon rediscover the theme of the perverse woman whose frequentation is more dangerous than commerce with prostitutes. The author knows how to describe the behavior of a seductress. Like a magician, she weaves a spell over the naive man so as to catch him in her nets. In order to escape her clutches, it is not enough for a man to see clearly. He needs to be modest and humble, not presume on his strength, and take to flight rather than confronting the seductress and becoming lost in situations from which no one can emerge unscathed. It is at least good psychology in the context of the morals of that time. Nonetheless, in the background of this picture sketched by the moralist with its warnings and threats, we see the lofty idea that our author has of conjugal fidelity.
- Proverbs 6:23 Lamp . . . light: similar to the theme of the psalmist: “[The word of God] is a lamp for my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105; see also Ps 19:9).
- Proverbs 6:26 Both a prostitute and an adulteress hold no good for a man. However, the adulteress is more dangerous, for she can cost him his whole life (see Deut 22:22-24) while a prostitute demands only a wage.
- Proverbs 6:31 Pay back sevenfold: Exodus (Ex 22:8) provides for a double payment in restitution. The number seven is an indefinite number, signifying “much more.”