1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
2 you have been trapped by what you said,
ensnared by the words of your mouth.
3 So do this, my son, to free yourself,
since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands:
Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest!
4 Allow no sleep to your eyes,
no slumber to your eyelids.
5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
like a bird from the snare of the fowler.
Have you ever made a promise you can’t keep? Regardless of the details, two things hang in the balance: your freedom and your reputation. Having made a pledge, you are now bound by your word. Break it and your reputation will suffer. Be very careful in making commitments, and in following through on them. Freedom and reputation are not easily restored.
There is wisdom in the way this warning is given. It does not say “never make a pledge.” This advice is much more nuanced. What should you do if you find yourself caught in a promise? Expecting these situations to happen, the father prepares his child to deal with them.
The wise child develops competence, able to benefit from commitments and able to handle them when things change unexpectedly. The child who is told never to commit misses out on two things: the benefit of commitments and the confidence learned through adversity.
How do you free yourself from a commitment you cannot keep? The key is humility. Go to the other person and humble yourself. Explain that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Apologize for your failure to follow through. Do it as soon as you can!
You can maintain your freedom and your reputation. Humility may even enhance your reputation. But you must sacrifice your pride. Or you can maintain your pride and sacrifice your reputation, but you now know better than that. What good is pride anyway, if it’s the only thing you have?