Surety Definition

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What is surety? Why are we warned to avoid it in Proverbs? How is it related to the New Covenant offered to humanity?

Surety, in the King James translation, is recorded 10 times where it is not used as an affirmation as in Genesis 15:13, 18:13, 26:9 and Acts 12:11. Eight of these ten occurrences, found in the Old Testament, are derived from the Hebrew arab (Strong's Concordance #H6148). In these verses, surety means to take a pledge or become security for someone else.

Another occurrence of surety, found in Proverbs 17:18, is translated from arubbah (Strong's #H6161) which means roughly the same as arab. The last Biblical mention of the word, derived from the Greek egguos (Strong's #G1450), is recorded in Hebrews 7.


Pledge for a person

The sons of Jacob, in order to purchase food in Egypt during a famine, were forced to leave Simeon there (Genesis 42:1 - 20). The demand of the Egyptian Governor (secretly Joseph) that they return with their youngest brother was initially rejected by Jacob (verses 33 - 36). After the food runs out, however, Judah guarantees the safe return of Benjamin in order that more grain could be bought. Jacob then finally permits his youngest son to travel to Egypt.

I (Judah) will be surety for him (Benjamin); of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever (Genesis 43:9, see also 44:32).

Innocence proclaimed

Job, during his suffering, asks God to be his surety. He requests a guarantee that, in the future, his innocence is not only made known but also acknowledged by the Lord (Job 17:3). King David will, years later, make a similiar request. His petition is for the Lord to promise to defend him against his oppressors (Psalm 119:121 - 122).

Loan warnings

The book of Proverbs offers stern advice regarding surety and business loans. Solomon warned that the rash and foolish guaranteeing of loans, even to a friend, should be avoided. Those finding themselves in such a situation should do whatever is needed to free themselves of this obligation (Proverbs 6:1 - 5).

He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it . . . (Proverbs 11:15, see also 17:18).


Who pays first?

One Jewish tradition for who is responsible to pay back money borrowed that is guaranteed is the following.

"Though the surety (person guaranteeing loan) be fully bound, the creditor must demand payment from the principal debtor before demanding it from the surety; and if the former has any property, this should be exhausted (first) . . .

"But when the principal debtor has property only in another country, or when he is a man of violence, who will not submit to the judges, or will not appear in court, the creditor may satisfy his claim out of the surety first, and leave him to contest the matter with the debtor" (1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article on suretyship).

Guaranteed salvation

The Apostle Paul, in the book of Hebrews, reveals a facet of Jesus' sacrifice that is both profound and encouraging.

By so much was Jesus made a surety (egguos) of a better testament (Hebrews 7:22, KJV).

A more modern translation of the above is, "By such a greater measure then, Jesus was made the Guarantor of a superior covenant" (Hebrews 7:22, HBFV). The Lord, out of perfect love, was willing to pledge his own divine existence so that the New Covenant could be offered to us. He thus became the surety that its promises of life eternal will be fulfilled!

List of terms in
Dictionary of Biblical Words

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