26 ¶ Be not thou one of them that strike hands, or of them that are sureties for debts. 27 If thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away thy bed from under thee?
Remember the song from the 80’s “Don’t worry. Be Happy?”
“Ain’t got no place to lay your head, Somebody came and took your bed, don’t worry, be happy.”
Job 17:3 Lay down now, put me in a surety with thee; who is he that will strike hands with me?
Apparently, striking hands was like shaking hands in that you agreed to a deal. In this case, it is doing what God in Proverbs has repeatedly said not to, which is to guarantee someone else’s debt. In the following verses the son is told to not sleep until the debt is paid.
Proverbs 6:1 ¶ My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, 2 Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. 3 Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend. 4 Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids. 5 Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.
In Genesis 43:9 and 44:32, one definition of surety is a guarantee provided by one party to ensure something for another. When you go to the dictionary it is listed as a promise on the part of one to ensure the debts of another, sort of like co-signing on a loan. This starts out telling the young man not to be surety for his friend by indebting himself to a foreigner. I would say that our mishandling of money is one of the ways we become enslaved to the world. Money is a tool and should never be your master.
A simple rule here would be to never co-sign for anyone. The more complicated principle is to make sure you know the person and the situation very well before you enter into such a relationship. Truthfully, if you can’t afford to loan the money to your friend then you certainly aren’t prudent for putting yourself in the hands of a stranger, unknown to you, such as a bank, on his behalf. A friend will feel far less concern about letting you help pay part of his loan than he would skip on a bank payment.
I would ask, is my friend a believer? Does he have a good record of being responsible with money? Why does he need me as surety? What are his prospects of paying the loan back? John Gill, who pastor- ed C.H. Spurgeon’s church before him, implies that it means, when it says, “make sure thy friend”, that you would be better off to be a reference for your friend than to take his debt load on your own back. He also says not to rest until that loan that you have made yourself responsible for is paid back.
However, for the Christian, Paul makes this statement about debt;
Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
Debt is a trap. Putting yourself on the line and in debt for someone else is a bigger trap. Anyone over thirty, though, knows that. You have either been hammered for someone else’s sake by a loan someone tried to collect from you or you have been the person who had a loan guaranteed by a friend or family member and found yourself unable to pay it back. If your child needs you to co-sign a loan for him or her to get a car, you should ask yourself how much money has that child saved before he had the chance to drive a car? Is he or she responsible enough to take this commitment seriously? Honestly, though, folks, Christians don’t take the promise to pay back a loan very seriously at all these days. With mortgage help, bankruptcy, and other things available to us by law we tend to more easily walk away from a promise made by our mouths and signed by our hands. This harms our testimony greatly.
Often, your most consistent witness is how you pay your debts. I have had Christians ask me if it was so important to tithe that you should do it even if you were to poor to pay your bills. This has been more of a case in this recession where people older than 50 are having a hard time getting reemployed at a living income and lose their home, cars, and hope. If you are over 50 and have a job be thankful and keep that job no matter what a pain it is because you might find yourself competing with a 20 year old for the opportunity to ask if someone would like fries with their burger.
But, Christians can find themselves in a very desperate situation these days. Paying your debts is a very important testimony before the world. Since you can’t unbreak an egg let me just say then to the younger people just starting out. Don’t borrow money unless you have no choice and or if you have the possibility to make money from the money you borrow, as in starting your own business or buying a serviceable used car with which to get to work. But never, ever co-sign for anyone unless they’ve proven to you that they have the capacity to pay the loan back and the track record to show they will make every attempt to do so.
Remember, banks don’t as a standard practice loan money to someone based on their good name. They loan money based on certain conditions such as place of employment, income, length of employment, current bills, and credit history. The bank isn’t going to say to you or the person you’ve cosigned for, “oh, well the conditions under which you borrowed the money have changed. You’re not employed now or are making half the money you were, so we’ll just give you a year or two to make a payment.” No, they’re still going to want their money.
Proverbs 22:7 The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.