The full NASB text:1
Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger; And for an adulterous woman hold him in pledge.
Another answer has thoroughly researched and catalogued the Lexicon entries related to this verse. As a potentially useful, albeit less rigorous, supplement, I thought it might be helpful to look at how Jewish translators and commentators seemed to understand these verses.
Two Jewish translations of this verse are:
Seize his garment, for he stood surety for another; Take it as a pledge, for he stood surety for an unfamiliar woman (New JPS
Take his garment because he stood surety for a stranger, and hold him in pledge for an alien woman (Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg, Old JPS
The Oxford Jewish Study Bible notes that an acceptable alternative translation would be:
Seize his garment, for he stood surety for stranger; Take it as a pledge, for he stood surety for an unfamiliar woman
This would be closer to the KJV:
Take his garment that is surety for a stranger, And take a pledge of
him for a strange woman.
(As a side note, the Septuagint appears to have been based on a completely different proto-Hebrew text, or else is a very different interpretation)2
The "Adulterous Woman"
The reference to the "strange woman" seems to hearken back to the beginning of the book:
My son, if you accept my words and treasure my commandments ... you will then understand what is right, just, and equitable ... for wisdom
will enter your mind ... [and] save you from the strange woman, from
the alien woman whose talk is smooth (Proverbs 2:1,9,10,16).
This "strange woman", which we might assume is the same one referred to in Proverbs 27:13 (and possibly Proverbs 20:16), according to Jewish interpretation, is probably not an adulteress or prostitute. Rashi comments here:
To save you from a strange woman: From the assembly of idolatry [apostasy], which is sectarianism. It cannot be said that he spoke
only of the actual adulteress, for what is the praise of the Torah,
that he says here, “to save you from a strange woman,” and not from
any other sin. Rather, this is the casting off of the yoke of all the
The 13th/14th century Spanish rabbi Bachya ben Asher comments here:
Most people suffering mental disease are victims of sins committed or are the result of such a person (mind) having believed in the wrong values. This is what Solomon referred to when he said in Proverbs 2,16: “to deliver you from the alien woman, from the strange woman whose talk is smooth.” He continues about this “strange woman” in Proverbs 5,3 “for the lips of an immoral woman drip honey;” Solomon compares beliefs in the wrong values as equivalent to an alien woman who destroys her victim in the end.”
Thus, it would seem that נכריה was understood as a metaphor for what Rabbi Bahya termed "wrong values" that came from without the Law ("strangers").
The JPS commentary in The Oxford Jewish Study Bible here explains the significance of a garment as surety:
These are the words the lender might say when a man guaranteed the loan of a stranger, who then defaulted [See 6:1-5]. The garment is a large cloak that people wore in the cold by day and wrapped themselves in by night. Its importance is shown by the fact that Torah (Exod 22:25-26; Deut 24:12-13) requires that a garment given in pledge be returned each evening so that its owner could use it.
Hence "seize his garment" refers to the lender seizing that which he had given as surety and, until now, had been required to return to the owner each night.
Rabbi Bahya comments here:
Do not enter his house to take his security for it. It is forbidden to take the collateral (it must be offered). Neither the lender nor
the court’s clerk is entitled to enter the debtor’s home for this
purpose. This is an illustration of the Torah’s concern for the
dignity of the borrower, and the efforts it makes not to embarrass him
through allowing people to search his home for utensils to take as
pledges. Another reason for this prohibition is to forestall heated
arguments which might lead to murder. The lender is permitted,
however, to enter the house of the guarantor of the loan, seeing he
has nothing to be embarrassed about. Whereas the borrower is
embarrassed about his poverty, the guarantor obviously has means,
otherwise he would not have volunteered to guarantee the loan (Baba
Metzia 115). This is what Solomon said in Proverbs 27,13: “seize his
garment, (the guarantor’s) for he stood surety for another. Take it as
a pledge for he stood surety for an unfamiliar woman” (Maimonides
Hilchot Malveh veLoveh 3,7). The reason is simple. Although logic
might have dictated that the pledge be taken from the borrower who
otherwise may be tempted to live it up instead of trying to save and
repay his loan seeing the lender will claim payment from the
guarantor, the fact is that the guarantor has nothing to be
embarrassed about whereas the borrower does. This is why the Torah
does permit the lender to enter the house of the guarantor and take a
In view of the above, I think this verse (and 20:16 like it) are entirely metaphorical and is not really some sort of practical financial advice:
- The "strange woman" represent that which leads one into apostasy - "wrong values" as Rabbi Bahya puts it
- The apostate is the one who has given "his garment" for surety
- Because of the magnitude of his wrong, he is not entitled to any quarter: Normally one providing a garment as surety would have access to it at night, but here, the Proverb states, it should be impounded outright.
In this context, "adulteress" or "seductress" might not be completely inappropriate, since the guarantor was, in fact, seduced by influences outside the Law, but this seems to be a fairly loose translation and not one embraced by Jewish interpreters and commentators.
One might also note that the female "stranger" for whom surety is provided is perhaps an antithesis to Wisdom, which is also portrayed as female (Acquire wisdom ... “Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; Love her, and she will watch over you - Proverbs 4:5-6)
1. We could also note that this is very close to Proverbs 20:16 (New JPS Tanakh): Seize his garment, for he stood surety for another; Take it as a pledge, for he stood surety for an unfamiliar woman. There is an ambiguity in this verse, though, in that there is disagreement whether the Hebrew text reads נכריה, which would correspond to "strange woman", or נכרים - "strangers".
2. ἀφελοῦ τὸ ἱμάτιον αὐτοῦ, παρῆλθεν γάρ, ὑβριστὴς ὅστις τὰ ἀλλότρια λυμαίνεται - Take away the man’s garment, (for a scorner has passed by) whoever lays waste another’s goods