Judges 3, Jeremiah 49, Proverbs 17:15-28

Read Judges 3, Jeremiah 49, and Proverbs 17:15-28 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 17.

One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge and puts up security for a neighbor.

Proverbs 17:18

When I was in seminary, I was a volunteer assistant pastor at a small church in Lansing. There was a woman who was a member of the church and her brother also attended. The woman was married and had several children; her brother was single. For some reason that I can’t remember, he became unemployed. He didn’t have a lot of expenses except for a $700 a month payment for a new truck he had purchased. It turned out, though, that his sister and her husband had co-signed the loan for that truck so, when he couldn’t pay, they became responsible for those high monthly payments.

My guess is that this couple wanted to do something kind for the woman’s brother. She was older–maybe she’d always mothered him a little bit. Maybe he really wanted that truck and had enough income to afford the monthly payment but was too much of a credit risk for anyone to extend him an auto loan. Instead of saving the money to buy it, he asked or convinced or guilted his sister and brother-in-law into helping him get the financing he couldn’t get for himself. I don’t really know what the backstory is but I do know that the husband and wife in this situation made a decision to help her brother that they later regretted.

That’s what is going on here in Proverbs 17:18. When verse 18 says, “One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge…” it is describing a third party (like the woman and husband in my story) who promises to guarantee someone else’s loan.

The idea is that Fred the Farmer wants to buy a new plow for his field. After the next harvest, he’ll be able to pay for it but he wants it now for this year’s planting. Peter, the Plow Salesman, agrees to let him have the plow in May with full payment due sometime in November but Peter insists that he has someone else guarantee payment. Fred the Farmer comes to you and says, “I can totally pay for this myself after the harvest. You’re at no risk. Would you mind putting up your mule as collateral for this loan?”

Proverbs 17:18 says you have “no sense” if you do that. The final phrase in that verse, “and puts up security for a neighbor” makes the same point. If you guarantee someone else’s debt, you are making an unwise decision.

Usually there is a good reason why someone like Pete the Plow Salesman wants a third party to guarantee payment. Maybe Fred the Farmer is already deeply in debt and Pete the Plow Salesman doesn’t want to be the last creditor to be paid. Certainly Fred the Farmer is broke, otherwise he’d have saved the money and paid for the plow in cash. But you and I might not think about those risks when someone asks us to help them, especially if that someone is your mother or father-in-law or sister or son or nephew or close friend from way back in high school. We tend to trust people we love and our love for them makes us want to help. So it is hard to say no when someone asks you to put your finances at risk.

But Solomon warns us here not to let our desire to be liked and to be helpful deceive us into a bad situation.