Safeguard Your Name
A MAN who designs beautiful buildings makes a name for himself as an expert architect. A young woman who excels scholastically becomes known as a brilliant student. Even a person who does nothing may make a name for himself as a sluggard. Emphasizing the value of making a favorable name, the Bible states: “A good name is more desirable than great riches, a good reputation than silver and gold.”—Proverbs 22:1, An American Translation.
A good name is developed by many small acts over a period of time. All that is needed to spoil it, though, is one foolish act. A single incident of sexual misconduct, for example, can sully a fine reputation. In the 6th chapter of the Bible book of Proverbs 6, King Solomon of ancient Israel provides a warning against attitudes and actions that can spoil our reputation as well as damage our relationship with Jehovah God. Among these are thoughtless pledges, laziness, deceit, and sexual immorality—essentially things that Jehovah hates. Giving heed to this advice will help us safeguard our good name.
Deliver Yourself From Foolish Pledges
The 6th chapter of Proverbs opens with the words: “My son, if you have gone surety for your fellowman, if you have given your handshake even to the stranger, if you have been ensnared by the sayings of your mouth, if you have been caught by the sayings of your mouth, take this action then, my son, and deliver yourself, for you have come into the palm of your fellowman: Go humble yourself and storm your fellowman with importunities.”—Proverbs 6:1-3.
This proverb counsels against getting involved in the business dealings of others, especially of strangers. Yes, the Israelites were to ‘sustain their brother who had grown poor and become financially weak.’ (Leviticus 25:35-38) But some enterprising Israelites got involved in speculative business ventures and obtained financial backing by convincing others to ‘go surety’ for them, thus making them liable for the debt. Similar situations may arise today. Financial institutions, for example, may require a cosigner before approving a loan they consider risky. How unwise to make such a commitment hastily in behalf of others! Why, it may entrap us financially, even giving us a bad name with banks and other creditors!
What if we find ourselves in the predicament of having taken an action that seemed wise at first but upon closer scrutiny appears foolish? The advice is to set aside pride and “storm your fellowman with importunities”—with persistent requests. We must do all we possibly can to set matters straight. One reference work points out: “Leave no stone unturned until you have agreed with your adversary and compromised the matter, so that your bond may not come against you or yours.” And this should be done without delay, for the king adds: “Do not give any sleep to your eyes, nor any slumber to your beaming eyes. Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand and like a bird from the hand of the birdcatcher.” (Proverbs 6:4, 5) Better it is to withdraw from an unwise commitment when possible than to be entrapped by it.
Be Industrious Like the Ant
“Go to the ant, you lazy one; see its ways and become wise,” admonishes Solomon. What wisdom can we gain from the ways of a little ant? The king answers: “Although it has no commander, officer or ruler, it prepares its food even in the summer; it has gathered its food supplies even in the harvest.”—Proverbs 6:6-8.
Ants are marvelously organized and remarkably cooperative with one another. Instinctively, they gather food supplies for the future. They have “no commander, officer or ruler.” True, the queen ant is there, but she is queen only in the sense that she lays eggs and is the mother of the colony. She gives no commands. Even with no foreman to drive them or supervisor to check on them, the ants keep tirelessly at their work.
Like the ant, should we not also be industrious? Working hard and striving to improve in our work is good for us whether we are being monitored or not. Yes, in school, at our place of employment, and while sharing in spiritual activities, we should do our best. As the ant benefits from its industriousness, so God wants us to ‘see good for all our hard work.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:13, 22; 5:18) A clean conscience and personal satisfaction are the rewards of hard work.—Ecclesiastes 5:12.
Using two rhetorical questions, Solomon tries to awaken a slothful one from his indolence: “How long, you lazy one, will you keep lying down? When will you rise up from your sleep?” Mimicking him in speech, the king adds: “A little more sleep, a little more slumbering, a little more folding of the hands in lying down, and your poverty will certainly come just like some rover, and your want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-11) While the lazy one is supine, poverty overtakes him with the speed of a bandit, and scarcity attacks him like an armed man. The fields of a sluggard quickly become full of weeds and nettles. (Proverbs 24:30, 31) His business enterprise suffers losses in no time. For how long would an employer tolerate an idler? And can a student who is too lazy to study expect to do well in school?
Outlining yet another type of behavior that ruins a person’s reputation in the community and his relationship with God, Solomon continues: “A good-for-nothing man, a man of hurtfulness, is walking with crookedness of speech, winking with his eye, making signs with his foot, making indications with his fingers. Perverseness is in his heart. He is fabricating something bad all the time. He keeps sending out merely contentions.”—Proverbs 6:12-14.
This description is that of a deceiver. A liar usually tries to conceal his untruthfulness. How? Not merely “with crookedness of speech” but also with body language. One scholar points out: “Gestures, tone of voice, and even facial expressions are calculated methods of deception; behind a facade of sincerity lurks a perverted mind and spirit of discord.” Such a good-for-nothing man is fabricating evil schemes and is causing contentions all the time. How will things turn out for him?
“That is why suddenly there will come his disaster,” answers the king of Israel. “In an instant he will be broken, and there will be no healing.” (Proverbs 6:15) When he is exposed, the liar’s reputation is ruined instantly. Who will trust him again? His end is indeed disastrous, for “all the liars” are listed among those who will suffer everlasting death. (Revelation 21:8) By all means, let us “conduct ourselves honestly in all things.”—Hebrews 13:18.
Hate What Jehovah Hates
Hatred for badness—what a deterrent that is from committing acts that damage our reputation! Should we not then cultivate an abhorrence for what is bad? But exactly what should we hate? Solomon states: “There are six things that Jehovah does hate; yes, seven are things detestable to his soul: lofty eyes, a false tongue, and hands that are shedding innocent blood, a heart fabricating hurtful schemes, feet that are in a hurry to run to badness, a false witness that launches forth lies, and anyone sending forth contentions among brothers.”—Proverbs 6:16-19.
The seven categories that the proverb mentions are basic and cover virtually all types of wrongs. “Lofty eyes” and “a heart fabricating hurtful schemes” are sins committed in thought. “A false tongue” and “a false witness that launches forth lies” are sinful words. “Hands that are shedding innocent blood” and “feet that are in a hurry to run to badness” are wicked deeds. And especially hateful to Jehovah is the type of individual who takes keen delight in kindling strife among people who otherwise would dwell together peacefully. The increase in the number from six to seven suggests that the list is not intended to be complete, since humans ever keep multiplying their evil deeds.
Indeed, we need to develop a loathing for what God hates. For instance, we must shun “lofty eyes” or any other display of pride. And harmful gossip is certainly to be avoided, for it can easily cause “contentions among brothers.” By spreading unkind hearsay, unjustifiable criticism, or lies, we may not be “shedding innocent blood,” but we surely can destroy another person’s good reputation.
“Do Not Desire Her Prettiness”
Solomon begins the next segment of his counsel by saying: “Observe, O my son, the commandment of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother. Tie them upon your heart constantly; bind them upon your throat.” The reason? “When you walk about, it will lead you; when you lie down, it will stand guard over you; and when you have waked up, it itself will make you its concern.”—Proverbs 6:20-22.
Can a Scriptural upbringing really safeguard us from the snare of sexual immorality? Yes, it can. We are assured: “The commandment is a lamp, and a light the law is, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to guard you against the bad woman, against the smoothness of the tongue of the foreign woman.” (Proverbs 6:23, 24) Remembering the counsel of God’s Word and using it as ‘a lamp to our foot and a light to our roadway’ will help us resist the smooth invitations of a bad woman, or a bad man for that matter.—Psalm 119:105.
“Do not desire her prettiness in your heart,” admonishes the wise king, “and may she not take you with her lustrous eyes.” Why? “Because in behalf of a woman prostitute one comes down to a round loaf of bread; but as regards another man’s wife, she hunts even for a precious soul.”—Proverbs 6:25, 26.
Does Solomon refer to an adulterous wife as a prostitute? Perhaps. Or it could be that he distinguishes between the consequences of committing immorality with a prostitute and those resulting from adultery with another man’s wife. The one having intimacies with a prostitute can be reduced to “a round loaf of bread”—to extreme poverty. He may even succumb to painful and crippling sexually transmitted diseases, including deadly AIDS. On the other hand, the one seeking intimacies with another’s marriage mate would be in greater immediate danger under the Law. An adulterous wife endangers the “precious soul” of her illicit partner. “More than the shortening of life by dissipation . . . is intended,” says one reference work. “The sinner is liable to the death penalty.” (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22) In any case, regardless of her physical beauty, such a woman is not to be desired.
‘Do Not Rake Fire Into Your Bosom’
To emphasize the danger of adultery further, Solomon asks: “Can a man rake together fire into his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned? Or can a man walk upon the coals and his feet themselves not be scorched?” Explaining the meaning of the illustration, he says: “Likewise with anyone having relations with the wife of his fellowman, no one touching her will remain unpunishable.” (Proverbs 6:27-29) Such a sinner will surely be punished.
“People do not despise a thief just because he commits thievery to fill his soul when he is hungry,” we are reminded. Even so, “when found, he will make it good with seven times as much; all the valuables of his house he will give.” (Proverbs 6:30, 31) In ancient Israel, a thief was required to make payment even if it took all he had.* How much more worthy of punishment would be an adulterer, who has no excuse for what he has done!
“Anyone committing adultery with a woman is in want of heart,” states Solomon. A man in want of heart lacks good judgment, since he “is bringing his own soul to ruin.” (Proverbs 6:32) Outwardly, he may appear to be a reputable person, but the inner man is seriously lacking in proper development.
There is more to the fruitage that an adulterer reaps. “A plague and dishonor he will find, and his reproach itself will not be wiped out. For the rage of an able-bodied man is jealousy, and he will not show compassion in the day of vengeance. He will have no consideration for any sort of ransom, neither will he show willingness, no matter how large you make the present.”—Proverbs 6:33-35.
A thief can compensate for what he stole, but an adulterer can make no repayment. What compensation could he offer an angry husband? No amount of pleading is likely to win the wrongdoer compassion. In no way can the adulterer make restitution for his sin. The reproach and dishonor heaped upon his own name remains. Moreover, he can in no way ransom himself or buy freedom from the punishment he deserves.
How wise it is to stay clear of adultery as well as other conduct and attitudes that defame our good name and may bring reproach upon God! May we, then, be careful not to make foolish pledges. Let industriousness and truthfulness adorn our reputation. And as we endeavor to hate what Jehovah hates, may we make a good name with him and our fellowman.
According to the Mosaic Law, a thief was required to pay back double, fourfold, or fivefold. (Exodus 22:1-4) The term “seven times” likely denotes a full measure of penalty, which could be many times more than what he stole.
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Be cautious about cosigning a loan
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Be industrious like the ant
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Guard against harmful gossip