Worst-Case Scenario

Proverbs 6:1-5
April 22, 2018
Abraham Hong

 

Sometimes “bad things happen to good people.” But there is usually a way out of it. As long you know what to do, you can save yourself from danger or disaster. And if you get a hold of David Borgenicht and Joshua Piven’s book The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, then you can be ready for almost anything that life throws at you.

For example, let’s say that you are caught passing a note in class. What should you do in this worst-case scenario? According to the book, this is what you should do to save yourself. “Swallow the note immediately. Do not give the teacher a chance to grab it and read it out loud. You are already in trouble for passing a note - there is no point in adding humiliation of having it read to the class.” Worst-case scenario solved!

Or let’s say that an affectionate costumed mascot is coming your way and you need to thwart this affectionate costumed mascot. What should you do in this worst-case scenario? According to the book, this is what you should do to save yourself. “Keep a bench or child between yourself and the mascot. Shout ‘No!’ and the mascot’s name, if known. If unable to escape, crouch low to the ground, as the heavy plush fur of the mascot’s suit may prevent him from bending down.” Worst-case scenario solved!

Or let’s say that your tongue is stuck to a pole and the moment of fun has clearly passed and you just want to go home now. What should you do in this worst-case scenario? According to the book, this is what you should do to save yourself. “1. Do not panic. 2. Do not pull the tongue from the pole. Pulling sharply will be very painful. 3. Move close to the pole. Get as close as possible without letting more of the tongue’s surface area touch the pole. 4. Warm the pole with your hands. A tongue will stick when the surface of the pole is very cold. The top few layers of the tongue will freeze when the tongue touches the pole, causing bonding. Place your gloved hands on the area on the pole closet to the tongue. Hold them there for several minutes. 5. Take a test pull. As the pole warms, the frozen area around the tongue should begin to thaw. Gently pull the tongue away from the pole. You may leave a layer or two of skin on the pole, which will be painful, but the tongue will quickly heal.” Worst-case scenario solved!

Sometimes “bad things happen to good people.” But when such people are faced with a worst-case scenario, there is usually a way out. As long as they know what to do, they can save themselves from danger or disaster.

In the opening chapters of the book of Proverbs, we see a father speak to his son about how to be a good and wise king for Israel. And here in chapter six, the father talks about a very serious and real worst-case scenario: what to do when you are a surety who is in trouble.

A surety (spelled s-u-r-e-t-y) is basically a person who has someone else’s back. And it usually involves money. For example, let’s say that John Doe has to borrow money and go into debt. If you say to John Doe, “I promise to take responsibility for your debt if you can’t pay it off yourself,” then you are John Doe’s surety. You’ve got John Doe’s back. Or let’s say that you have a daugther in college who is applying for her first and very own credit card. More often than not, you will have to co-sign her application. As a co-signer or guarantor, you legally guarantee that your daugther’s credit card balance will be paid off if she can’t pay it off herself. If you do this, then you are your daugther’s surety. You’ve got your daugther’s back.

The concept behind being a surety is profound. Think about it. If John Doe falls into trouble, then his surety will fall into trouble. If your daugther cannot give payment, then you will have to give payment. This is profound. The concept is really about safety and security. It’s about certainty and assurance.

And in the Old Testament times, the concept behind being a surety was serious. There was no such thing as bankruptcy protection back then. If you were a surety and you your neighbor’s debt was too much for you to handle, then you could lose all of your possessions and perhaps even become a slave. And if you scaled this concept up to the level of international politics, if you were a king and your neighbor was not an individual but rather an entire foreign nation, then being a surety would be a matter of national security. This is serious stuff.

With all of this in mind, it makes sense that the father would give his son such a strong and urgent command if he were a surety who was in deep trouble. What should the son do if he is caught in a promise of security for a neighbor? What should the son do if he is snared or trapped in a word of pledge for a stranger? What should he do in this worst-case scenario? According to the father, this is what the son should do.

He is to save himself. He is to go quickly to his neighbor and plead urgently with him. He is to put everything down and resolve the issue as his top priority. In fact, he is not even to sleep or rest until he can get out of the mess. Like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter or a bird from the hand of the fowler, the son is to escape with swift energy and urgent willpower. He is not to think about it. He is to act immediately. For the wise thing to do here is to get out of the surety agreement - and to get out now. If the son does this, then he can save himself.

The reason for the father’s command is simple: it is just not wise to be a surety, ever. This command is affirmed in Proverbs 11:15, where it is written, “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure.” It is also confirmed in Proverbs 17:18, where it is written, “One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.” Why is it not wise to be a surety? I’m sure that there are many reasons why, but I’ll just give you one right now. It is not wise for anyone to be a surety because no one knows the future. No one has full control over everything in their lives. It is just not wise to be a surety, ever.

There are a few interesting things worth noting here.

First, it is interesting that the word the father uses to command the son to save himself is the same word that is famously used in the Old Testament to describe Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. In Exodus 6:6, God said to Israel, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.” Deliverance is what the Lord did for Israel. The Lord saved Israel. And deliverance is what the son must do for himself here in Proverbs 6. The son must save himself.

Second, it is interesting that there is not supposed to be mercy or forgiveness. If a surety made a promise or a covenant to back a neighbor or stranger, then the surety must be a man of his word and pay. In Proverbs 20:16 it is written, “Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger, and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for foreigners/adulteress. In Proverbs 27:13 it is written almost identically, “Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger, and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for an adulteress.” If the son were to save himself from this worst-case scenario, then he would need a miracle.

And so the stage is set and the drama of Proverb 6:1-5 is put before us. Will the son refrain from putting up security for his neighbor? Or will he have to save himself? Will the son avoid being caught in the words of his mouth? Or will he have to save himself? Will he be wise? Or will he have to save himself? This is the drama of Proverbs 6:1-5.

And this text is so beautiful for us today because it is a foreshadowing of the person and work of the ultimate son and king of the ultimate Israel. It points forward to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, before we repented and believed in Christ, we were in debt. We were in debt because of our sins. And the debt that we had to pay was eternal death. For the wages of sin is death. There is no worst worst-case scenario than this.

Sometimes “bad things happen to good people.” And when such people are faced with a worst-case scenario, there is usually a way out. As long as they know what to do, they can save themselves from danger or disaster. They can be ready for anything. 

But what if you are not a good person? What if you are a sinful human being before a holy and righteous God? What can you possibly do to escape the danger of God’s wrath? What can you possibly do to escape the disaster of eternal death? Faced with this worst-case senario, there is no way out. There is nothing that you can do to save yourself.

But there is something that the ultimate son of Proverbs 6 has done to save you.

Jesus Christ became your surety. He put up security for you. And he did this when you were not his neighbor, but rather his enemy. He gave a pledge for you. And that pledge was himself. He became a substitute and a sacrifice for you. And he paid off your debt to the Father. He took your debt, your sin, and put it upon himself. And he died for you so that you would live. You fell into ultimate trouble. But as your surety, Jesus fell into ultimate trouble instead of you. You owed ultimate payment. But as your surety, Jesus made the ultimate payment for you. This is profound. For in Christ there is ultimate safety and security. In him there is everlasting certainty and assurance. 

The foolishness of the cross was the wisdom of God’s salvation. For when the people mocked Jesus as he hung on the cross, do you remember what they said to him? They said, “Save yourself!” Matthew 27:40. “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Luke 23:37. “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

Jesus did not save himself. He did not plead urgently with Pontius Pilate. He was not like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter or a bird from the hand of the fowler. He was silent. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:7). At that moment, Jesus did not save himself. And the reason why was because he was saving you.

Christ is your surety. Or as the writer of Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 7:22, Christ is your guarantor of a better covenant. Or as the psalmist puts it, Christ is your rock, your shield, your refuge, your deliverance. And he is able to do it because he owns and controls and knows the future. Jesus can make and fulfill promises to us because Jesus is God. And he is able to pay for our debts and sins without becoming a debtor or sinner himself because he has perfect righteousness. Jesus rose again from the dead and is exalted at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

And now our debt, our payment, our condemnation, our slavery, our eternal death, our worst-case scenario - it’s all gone.

Brothers and sisters, let us praise the Lord! He is our surety. And we have been shown mercy and forgiveness.

Brothers and sisters, let us cherish the Word of God and be unashamed of our salvation in Christ. The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to those who do not understand the ultimate meaning of Proverbs 6. But to us who are being saved, it is the power and the wisdom and the salvation and the glory of God. Those who are perishing get wise with human-made handbooks of survival. Their motto is “We can save ourselves!” But those who are being saved have a handbook of survival that was written by God. And their motto is “We have a surety!”

Brothers and sisters, let us not collect debt from each other. It does not make any sense to keep a record of wrongs when believers have been imputed with Jesus record of righteousness. If a brother or sister in Christ comes to you and pleads urgently with you, be merciful. Show forgiveness.

Brothers and sisters, let us be wise in our generosity and responsibility. Proverbs 6:1-5 does not mean that we shouldn’t help others who may be in need. But it does mean that we should not help others who are foolish and who may need a firm “No.” If you daugther is not ready to have her own credit card, then it might be wise as a parent not to co-sign that credit card application. That doesn’t mean that you don’t love her. It might mean that you actually do love her, and that you love her in a very wise way.

Brothers and sisters, let us be humble. You do not know the future. You do not control much that happens in your life.

Finally, brothers and sisters, let us maintain a proper perspective on life. It is indeed unpleasant if you get caught passing a note in class. It is troubling to see an affectionate costumed mascot coming right at you. And getting your tongue stuck on a pole can seem like a very unsavory experience. It is easy to complain about bad things that happen to us. But remember that Jesus Christ resolved your worst-case scenario. And remember that Jesus Christ has resolved your best-case scenario.

End


Summary of Sermon

In Proverbs 6:1-5, the father speaks to the son about a worst-case scenario: what to do when he is a surety who is in trouble.

The concept behind being a surety was profound and serious. And the father gives the son a strong and urgent command.

The son is to save himself. He is to go quickly to his neighbor and plead urgently with him. He is not to sleep or rest until he can get out of his mess. He is to escape with swift energy and urgent willpower.

There is so much drama to this text. First, it is just not wise to be a surety. People do not know the future. We do not have control over everything in our lives. Second, the saving of yourself would be akin to the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Third, mercy or forgiveness is not to be expected for a surety who was in trouble.

But even more so, the text is a beautiful foreshadowing of the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate son of the ultimate Israel.

Jesus became our surety. He paid for the wages of our sin. And in doing so, he resolved the ultimate worst-case scenario that we deserved.

Jesus shed his blood and died on the cross for us because we cannot save ourselves. He did not save himself. And the reason why was because he was saving us.

In Christ, we have safety, security, certainty and assurance. He is our guarantor of a better covenant. He is our rock and our shield, our refuge and our deliverance.

Christ can be our surety because he owns and controls and knows the future. He can make and fulfill promises to us because Jesus is God. He can pay for our debts and sins without becoming a debtor or sinner himself because he has perfect righteousness.

Jesus rose again from the dead. And now our debt, our payment, our condemnation, our slavery, our eternal death, our worst-case scenario - it is all gone.

Let us praise the Lord! Let us cherish the Word of God and be unashamed of our salvation in Christ. Let us forgive one another and not collect debt from each other. Let us be wise in our generosity and responsibility. Let us be humble. And let us maintain a proper perspective on life and remember that Christ has resolved both our worst-case scenario and our best-case scenario.

Questions for Discussion & Sharing

Share a memorable worst-case scenario that you were able to escape from or resolve with speed and urgency.

In your own words, what does it mean for Jesus Christ to be your surety? What aspects of his person and work bring thankfulness and love in your heart?

"Save yourself!" This is the fundamental motto of any kind of false religion or way of live apart from Christ. In what ways do non-believers try to save themselves? What do you think it is that they are trying to save themselves from?

In what ways do we make unwise decisions because of our belief that we know the future and have full control over our lives? In what areas of life can we be more humble and fear the Lord?

In what ways does the reality of Christ as our surety change the way that we relate to others?

Jesus Christ has resolved and secured the best-case scenario for us. What is that scenario? And how does it change the way that you live as you wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ?