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God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ the surety of a better testament (Hebrews 7:22).

Let’s take a look at this unique verse and see what we can learn about our surety, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 119:122a:  Be surety for thy servant for good….

“Surety” is the Hebrew word, arab, used 22 times in the Old Testament, and is translated eleven different ways.  “Surety” translates arab nine times while “meddle,” “mingled,” and “pledges” occurs twice with “becometh,” “engaged,” “intermeddle,” “mortgaged,” “occupiers,” “occupy” and “undertake” occur only once.  With such variation in translation and such a wide range of meaning it’s hard to pinpoint an exact meaning.

Other translations render Psalms 119:122a

“Pledge me Thy word for good…” (Smith & Goodspeed)
“Pledge Thy word to succour me…” (Moffatt)
“Guarantee your servant’s well-being…” (Complete Jewish Bible)
“Give your servant a pledge of good…” (English Standard Version)
“Ensure your servant’s well-being…” (New International Version)

“Pledge Thy Word” is an interesting translation considering the occurrence of the many synonyms for the Word used in the psalm.  I believe a “pledge,” “guarantee” or “assurance” is at the heart of the meaning of arab.  A surety is “one who undertakes to pay another’s debt; or who pledges his own character, possessions, or life, to secure another man’s liberty or life.”  (James Large, Two Hundred and Eighty Titles and Symbols of Jesus, p. 516.)

The first two occurrences of arab give us a visual example that serves as a type of Christ as our surety.  Let’s look at those two occurrences in Genesis.  The first occurs when Judah pledges to be surety for his younger brother Benjamin to his father, Israel.  The second occurs when Judah tells Joseph of this pledge to his father.

Genesis 43:9:  [This is Judah speaking to Israel, his father.]
I [Judah] will be surety [arab] for him [Benjamin]; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee [Israel], and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:

Joseph guaranteed his father that he would bring Benjamin home or forever bear the blame for failing to do so.

Genesis 44:32:  [This is Judah speaking to Joseph, his brother.]
For thy [Joseph’s] servant [referring to himself] became surety [arab] for the lad [Benjamin] unto my father [Israel], saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.

Arab is used here in the sense of security or pledge for a person.  This means that one person may become security for another, that such a one will do a certain thing at a time in the future.  Judah was “surety” to his father Jacob that Benjamin would safely return from Egypt (Genesis 43:9).  He pledged his life that the younger brother would return safely.  He tells Joseph (Genesis 44:32) how he had become surety for Benjamin, and offers to become Joseph’s slave for the sake of safe return of his brother.

The third occurrence is in Job 17:3.

Job 17:3:
Lay down now, put me in [in the sense of “provide for me”] a surety with thee; who is he that will strike hands with me?  [Who is it going to be?]

Job desired God to provide a surety for him with.  The striking of hands [handshake] refers to the action or gesture by which the surety or pledge was publicly manifested and thus ratified.  Job here beseeches God to provide a surety for him, to pledge to him that some time in the future He will cause Job’s innocence to be made known.

In Isaiah 38:14 Hezekiah says, “O Lord, I am oppressed, be thou my surety.”  He wishes God to give him a pledge of some kind, to provide security for him in such a way that he will surely be saved out of his sickness and distress.  Jesus is called “the surety (enguos) of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22).  Jesus is the pledge or surety that through Him we may obtain the assurance and certainty that a more excellent covenant has been established by God, and are assured also of the truth of the promises connected with it.

It is used to describe the practice of providing security for another by striking hands with that person and becoming responsible for money or any object loaned.  The Book of Proverbs unhesitatingly condemns the practice.  No mention is made of it in the Mosaic Law, as if the custom were then practically unknown.  The Book of Proverbs makes no distinction between a stranger and a neighbor; the person who does such a thing is likened unto an animal caught in a trap.  He is exhorted to sleep no more until he has got out of the trap, or freed himself from this obligation.

Proverbs 6:1-5:
My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, 2 Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. 3 Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend. 4 Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids. 5 Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter, and as a bird from the hand of the fowler.

The wisdom of such advice has been abundantly verified by experience.  If you co-sign a loan you better be prepared to pay it.  However there may be special cases, where the practice may be justified.

Here are some other verses that also warn of the danger.

Proverbs 11:15:
He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretiship is sure.

Proverbs 17:18:
A man void of understanding striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend.

Proverbs 20:16: [Same as Proverbs 27:13]
Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman.

Proverbs 22:26:
Be not thou one of them that strike hands, or of them that are sureties for debts.

Types are figures or examples of something future, and are prophetic in nature.  Their value is found in helping us understand God’s sovereignty and His work throughout history.  The Genesis 43 account was not only a wonderful story about Judah’s pledge to save his brother and bring him safely home, but also an illustration of how Jesus our surety from the tribe of Judah would do the same.  God wanted to show us how a surety acted because Jesus Christ would ultimately do the same for us.  The presence of types is an indication that God (Who knows the beginning from the end) is at work in history and that He inspired the Old Testament writers to record these typological events.

Types occur most frequently in the Pentateuch, but are found, more sparingly, elsewhere.  The antitype, or fulfillment of the type, is found generally in the New Testament.  Scofield says two warnings are necessary:  (1) nothing may be insisted upon as a type without explicit New Testament authority; and (2) all types not so authenticated must be recognized as having only the authority of analogy or spiritual congruity.  (Bible note on Genesis 2:23 in the Scofield Study Bible.)

The phrase “shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 8:5; 10:1) also shows the function of these types.  They foreshadow the truth they are designed to illustrate.  That’s what we have in Psalms 119:122.  The longing the psalmist describes for a surety displays his concern for being able to do all he knows he should do.  He wants God to provide someone to intercede should he fall short or fail.

A surety is in effect for the sake of a debt.  It is a confirmation or guarantee of payment.  Christ has become a surety in our place.  He took on the debt that mankind could not pay and completed the transaction with the Father.  God has appointed and accepted the suretyship of His son our lord.  God will not and cannot punish those who comply with His will in availing themselves of the gracious provision.