Chapter 6: Beneath the Surface

6:1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another,

6:2 If you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth,

      The concept of pledging/becoming security for (:1) or shaking hands to an agreement (:2) was well known in the ancient world. "Shaking hands" was a symbolic action with great significance in antiquity, much more so than it does today. This is the first of numerous references to this pledging practice in Proverbs (11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13).
      Seemingly it was a regular activity for folks in the ancient world operating without any type of money, a creative way for people to work deals to get things done. It was probably part of everyone's daily world – for the poor to just survive; for the rich maybe to make a profit. It was not an evil thing but a true gamble and most people couldn't afford to have it go wrong. We call it "cosigning" today and the practice was frequently mentioned in the Old Testament.

6:6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!

6:7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,

6:8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.

      In February 2013, at my excavation at Tall el-Hammam in the Jordan River Valley the weather is usually pleasant. It's their winter rainy season and the temperature at the site is usually in the 60's or 70's.
      On the dig site, day after day, I walked past an army of ants marching single file back and forth from the time we started in the morning till we left in the late afternoon. Because I direct things on the dig site I kept busy but always noted them as I passed.
      But one of our volunteer diggers (who paid all his own expenses from America to do the digging) wasn't quite as busy as I was and he stopped one day to watch the ants. I passed him twice – a bit disgusted that he wasn't working! Then remembered this wise saying. So, I went back and watched them, too. It was so interesting, I videoed them on my phone! MY VIDEO!!!
      Ants are a living object lesson for hard work and we can learn from watching them. They are always working and you never see one ant having to tell another one what to do next. They keep at it year round – summer and harvest – unlike sons (10:5). We always see ants showing up where food is and carrying some off to their home.
      Summer and harvest (see 10:5; 26:1) are also frequently compared in the Old Testament. Grain harvest (March/April) was primary, followed by olives ingathering (August/September) and summer fruit (July). Springtime grain harvest was the most important and both ants and sons (10:5) would logically be busy. But summer fruit harvest in the Holy Land in July would not be fun – yet also important. Ants will show up, regardless of what sons might do (10:5)!

6:31 Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

      The Law of Moses required up to a fivefold repayment to other people for stolen property (Ex 22:1-14). It speaks of varying levels (two and fourfold) for different offenses. The New Testament tax collector Zacchaeus promised a fourfold repayment for his "white collar" crime (Lu 19:8). Presumably Solomon had not created a new law of the land here, but was using the number seven symbolically. It would be a full – complete – payment.

6:34 For jealousy arouses a husband's fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.

6:35 He will not accept any compensation; he will refuse a bribe, however great it is.

      While not the same as a husband going after a man who commits adultery with his wife, honor killing is a practice both known and often condoned in the Middle East (and elsewhere today). Honor killing is the homicide of a family member due to the belief that the victim brought dishonor or shame upon the family or community. Victims of honor killings are due to being in a relationship disapproved by their relatives, having sex outside marriage, homosexual relations, becoming the victim of rape, dressing in ways deemed inappropriate, or refusing to enter an arranged marriage.
      The legal codes of both the country of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority both allow for honor killings. It's a good thing I don't mess up or mess around when I'm in either place excavating!