advice

Proverbs 6:1-19

Happy Saturday; let’s read Proverbs 6:1-19.

When you go to a baseball or a softball diamond, behind home plate there is always some kind of fence or net. That’s a backstop; it keeps a baseball from flying and then rolling off the baseball field. It stops the ball whether that ball is a bad pitch, an errant attempt to throw out a runner who is trying to score, or a foul ball.

Most of the time a backstop isn’t needed. The pitcher may throw more balls than strikes, but usually the catcher can grab each pitch or dig it out of the dirt. So the backstop sits there, unneeded and unused, pitch after pitch, play after play. Usually.

That’s what someone who co-signs a loan for someone else or who obligates himself on someone else’s behalf thinks. “My brother is a good guy,” he thinks. “He’s down on his luck for the moment, but he’ll make all the payments on that F-250.”

Or, “these five other people seem like hardworking, dedicated folks. We can all be equal business partners” or “I can put my name on the electric bill for everyone who rents this house with me.” We think of ourselves like a backstop for someone else’s integrity. Since we expect them to act with integrity, there seems to be no cost to us for being a friendly, helpful person and signing that personal guarantee so they can get a loan or a lease or whatever. The ball almost never gets to the backstop in baseball, so I don’t have to worry about bearing all the responsibility if someone else fails to do what they said they would do.

You and I might talk ourselves into a situation like this. We want to be friendly, helpful people, so we take on what seem like minor risks to help someone else.

Solomon, however, think’s we’ve made a foolish decision. When we choose to backstop someone else, we will end up having stop a financial pitch that they can’t handle. That’s why Solomon says that if we’ve co-signed a loan for someone else, or agreed to do something that protects a stranger, “you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth” (v. 2). If your brother needs a guarantor to get a loan for his truck, he almost certainly can’t handle the payments. If he had a financial track record of paying the bills, he wouldn’t have any problems completing the sale or getting financed for it.

Before the trap is sprung on us, however, Solomon commanded us to find a way out of the commitment (v. 5: “Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter”). We tend to think that amending a commitment is breaking that commitment but Solomon told us that a re-negotiated commitment is not a broken commitment. So his advice for us, when we make a bad decision or commitment, is to find a way out of it as quickly as possible: “Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbor no rest! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter....”

Be careful about what you promise to do, even as a backstop. If you make a foolish commitment to be someone else’s backstop, get out of it as soon as you can. Your future and your responsibilities will be hard enough to keep in this life; don’t foolishly vouch for someone you barely know. Also, don’t take on direct, legal responsibility for someone else’s integrity or lack of it. These are foolish moves that you will regret, so avoid them and extricate yourself from them as soon as you can.

Not being on the hook for someone else’s plan is genuine wisdom. Have you made any promises you can’t keep? Have you promised to backstop anyone who is in over his head? These are foolish decisions that can cause big problems for you in the future. So think about what you are committed to carefully and, when you make a bad decision, get out of it as quickly as you can.

2 Kings 14, 2 Timothy 4, Hosea 7, Psalms 120–122

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 2 Kings 14, 2 Timothy 4, Hosea 7, Psalms 120–122. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read 2 Kings 14.

2 Kings 13 focused on the kings of Israel but here in chapter 14 our attention is directed to Judah again. In 2 Kings 12 we read about Joash, a 7-year old kid king (2 Ki 11:21) who turned out to be one of Judah’s best, at least as long as he followed the instructions of Jehoiada the priest (2 Ki 12:2). His life was cut short prematurely, however, when he was assassinated by some of the officials in his government (2 Ki 12:17-21).

Here in 2 Kings 14, Joash’s son Amaziah became king. Like his father, he was king who ruled righteously (v. 3) but did not remove the idolatry from Judah (v. 4). In addition to worshipping the Lord, Amaziah saw to it that the men who conspired against his father received justice for their treason (v. 6). But Amaziah’s execution of this justice was in obedience to God’s word (v. 6). He also experienced some initial success with his military, defeating a large army of the Edomites (v. 7). When he challenged the king of Israel to battle, however, he received a proverb and a rebuke (vv. 9-10). The king of Israel compared him to the nerdy kid from high school who asks out the prom queen (v. 9). Actually, the image is much stronger than that. A weed in the woods tried to marry the daughter of one of the grand, majestic cedars of Lebanon but before he could be laughed out of the forest, an animal came and trampled him. That was the proverb; the application to Amaziah and Judah came in verse 10: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”

The king of Israel’s reply was insulting, but it was also true. Judah had no business attacking Israel and was miserably defeated when they tried (vv. 11-14). It was pure hubris, not the Lord’s will or a desire to please him, that led Amaziah to attack. Although Jehoash king of Israel was an ungodly man, Amaziah would have been wise to take his advice. As Christians we should not allow our thoughts to be conformed to the pattern of this world or let the morals of unbelievers influence our perception of what is right or our tolerance for what is wrong. But there are many areas of life where we would do well to listen to wise counsel, even if it comes from an unbeliever. An unbeliever might be the best person to treat your medical condition or to repair the foundation of your house or to write a will or create a financial plan or give you legal advice or manufacture your breakfast cereal. At times, the rebuke of an unbeliever for a sinful act or attitude in your life might be just what you need to keep you from pursuing a sinful or foolish action. Amaziah’s defeat reminds us to watch our ego; godly people can overreach, so consider yourself whenever anyone offers you rebuke or correction or instruction that is wise.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.