The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance.
This man’s utterance to Ithiel:
“I am weary, God,
but I can prevail.
2 Surely I am only a brute, not a man;
I do not have human understanding.
3 I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.
These next passages are by Agur (Proverbs 30) and King Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1-9). We do not know much about these men.
Solomon was not the only teacher of wisdom. The Bible mentions other wise men who lived at the same time as him (1 Kings 4:30-31). Many people studied wisdom at this time.
There are a number of extra biblical sources quoted or mentioned in the Old Testament.
The Book of the Wars of the Lord — Numbers 21:14
The Poets — Numbers 21:27
The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Media and Persia — Esther 10:2
The Book of Jashar — Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18
The Sayings of the Wise — Proverbs 22:17+
The Sayings of Agur — Proverbs 30
The Sayings of King Lemuel — Proverbs 31:1-9
The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel — 1 Kings 14:19 etc.
The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah — 1 Kings 14:29 etc.
The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel — 2 Chronicles 16:11
The Annotations of the Prophet Iddo — 2 Chronicles 13:22
The Vision of the Prophet Isaiah — 2 Chronicles 32:32
Genealogical records — Nehemiah 7, Ezra 2
The Book of the Annals of Solomon — 1 Kings 11:41
The Book of the Annals of King David — 1 Chronicles 27:24
The Records of Samuel the Seer — 1 Chronicles 29:29
The Records of Nathan the Prophet — 1 Chronicles 29:29
The Records of Gad the Seer — 1 Chronicles 29:29
The Visions of Iddo the Seer — 2 Chronicles 9:29
The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite — 2 Chronicles 9:29
The Annals of Jehu son of Hanani — 2 Chronicles 20:34
The Letter of Elijah to Jehoram — 2 Chronicles 21:12+
The Annotations of the Book of the Kings — 2 Chronicles 24:27
The Laments of Jeremiah for Josiah — 2 Chronicles 35:25
Agur had been studying hard. His pursuit of knowledge and understanding of God had worn him out!! This study weary is echoed later by Solomon in Ecclesiastes. To understand God is beyond human comprehension (1 Corinthians 1:25). The world is too complex to explain (Job 38). Now Agur was tired (Ecclesiastes 12:12).
In verses 2 and 3, Agur was being ironic. His own knowledge seemed like nothing when he thought about God. The wisdom of God is so amazing that Agur’s own thoughts seemed foolish. And the world is so complex that Agur felt stupid.
The bottom line is that for all of our pursuit of knowledge and wisdom man will not have the answers to everything. There is a great mystery to life that only God knows.
4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
Surely you know!
Verse 4 is a bit reminiscent of the kind of language in Job 38. The quest of Agur was to understand the heart of God. He knew that the world did not create itself. He was filled with wonder, he knew that the wind and the seas were not simply an accidental phenomenon. He was fascinated by nature. The supernatural intervention of God guiding the authors of scripture is evident here. The mention of the son of a God he barely knew written 1000 years before Jesus was born is remarkable, God put on Agur’s heart that indeed he would himself walk the earth manifested in human form. Agur may not have known much but he did seem to grasp something of great significance.
5 “Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.
Verse 5 literally translated is “Every oracle of God is purified.” A metaphor taken from the purifying of metals.
Every thing that God has pronounced, every inspiration which the prophets have received, is pure, without mixture of error, without dross. Whatever trials it is exposed to, it is still gold: If you put gold in a furnace, it comes out with the same lustre, the same purity, and the same weight. It loses none of it’s qualities under heat, pressure or any force that can be imposed on it.
Verse 6 continues the thought with the idea that the value cannot be increased by any addition. In the same way that you cannot add to the value of gold by adding any other material to it. Any addition will be proved by fire to be an impurity. Imagine a piece of raw material that is gold mixed with other items in the furnace. Only the gold will survive. This is how it is with the word of God and our lives.
7 “Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
A prayer of Agur is recorded in verses 7-9. It is very revealing of the human heart and our attitude towards money. He desired not to be rich otherwise he may lose sight of his need for God and not to become poor or he might lose sight of God and seemingly take matters into his own hands, stealing to survive.
My own challenges in this area are nothing to do with money per se but rather to buy freedom, autonomy, my own will. It’s a dangerous place for me to be. My idle hands will take me to some dark places. I need structure, focus and small amounts of freedom so I am not constantly a caged tiger. A job that pays a reasonable salary so that I can afford to live is what is good for me. I am grateful that I have just the right amount of freedom at work. I am not controlled or micro managed. I am able to be creative but at the same time there is a good level of accountability.
10 “Do not slander a servant to their master,
or they will curse you, and you will pay for it.
Agur wrote about how destructive slander is. Still meditating on “Perfect love drives out fear”. Slander is driven by fear. Fear breeds fear. It sells newspapers. We are addicted to slander and negativity because then we seem normal but all we are doing is compounding and snowballing fear. Agur also explained his fears in verses 11-14. Another translation of the second line is: ‘When the servant insults you, then you will suffer.’
11 “There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers;
12 those who are pure in their own eyes
and yet are not cleansed of their filth;
13 those whose eyes are ever so haughty,
whose glances are so disdainful;
14 those whose teeth are swords
and whose jaws are set with knives
to devour the poor from the earth
and the needy from among mankind.
These few verses spill out a few of the ills life in our fallen world
Verse 11 echoes Deuteronomy 5:16 and Deuteronomy 27:16.
Verse 12 shows that we are generally blind to our own sinful nature. We think we are the good guys but don’t really deal with our darkness.
Verse 13 identifies pride as a major problem of the human condition
Verse 14 alludes to a heart that is not compassionate.
These ills make the experience of life to be a miserable battle of selfishness and one upmanship.
The four verses do not make an attractive proposition of the human experience. It’s not the way that God designed life for us and is a very enslaved way to live with pride, fear, indifference. Love is the answer.
15 “The leech has two daughters.
‘Give! Give!’ they cry.
“There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
16 the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’
These verses use the horse leech to demonstrate the idea of the parasitic human unquenchable thirst for more and the sucking of life, energy through negative and destructive behaviour. Some people have thought the horseleach to be the legendary vampire!!
Agur used several lists in this chapter. The poetic use of numbers are there to emphasise as punctuation.
This is a list of things that make constant demands, like the leech:
The grave,…. Which is the first of the four daughters, or insatiable things, which resemble the horse leech: Since the fall of man, death and the grave has been the destination of every man (with one or two Biblical exceptions). The grave beckons every one of us and is the destination of all past, present and future lives and yet is never satisfied …It wants more.
The barren womb; the second daughter, that cries, Give, give, as Rachel in Genesis 30 cried, “give me children, or I die”. The desire for children from barren Israelite women was insatiable and this may also be a symbolic representation of lust, which is never satisfied.
The earth that is dry and parched, can never have enough water.
The fire that continues in its combustible state consuming everything in its way.
These are the four daughters of the horse leech which resemble the horse leech in its insatiableness.
“Some interpret the horse leech of “sheol”, or the state of the dead; and the two daughters, of paradise and hell; the one says, “Give me the righteous”; and the other says, “Give me the wicked.”
I don’t know if it is intended to be as deep as that but it is an interesting thread of thought.
The way I interpret this is that we have an unquenchable destructive thirst for things that will not satisfy that thirst or fulfill us in any way. Instead, these things are parasites that take life from us.
It may be simplistic but the Proverbs are simplistic in nature.
17 “The eye that mocks a father,
that scorns an aged mother,
will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley,
will be eaten by the vultures.
Verse 17 reflects on the disgrace of failing to honour ones parents. Proper graves and burial was a very important thing in ancient Israel. To be left to rot in the valley is a disgrace. An untimely end, and an ignominious death await those who are disdainful in life. It’s not a pretty picture.
18 “There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.
20 “This is the way of an adulterous woman:
She eats and wipes her mouth
and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’
Agur is filled with wonder about the eagle, the snake, the ship. None of these leave any trace or evidence of where they have been. They move without leaving a trail and yet we can see them majestically moving but when they are gone the ground, the sea or the sky remembers them no more.
The next verse is a bit of an obscure continuation. There are some who have understood it as a reference to the incarnation through the Virgin Mary.” The word עלמה, rendered maid, signifies a virgin, strictly speaking; and גבר, translated as man, may signify “the man”, or “great one” .
Other commentators think this simply refers to the human conception; which is also miraculous and beyond comprehension. Whatever it is it creates a sense of “Wow …how did that happen?”
Verse 20 then brings the bombshell after all this amazement… such is the way of the adulterous woman, she carries on as though nothing has happened, leaves no trail of evidence and denies it, even covering up with innocent behaviour.
21 “Under three things the earth trembles,
under four it cannot bear up:
22 a servant who becomes king,
a godless fool who gets plenty to eat,
23 a contemptible woman who gets married,
and a servant who displaces her mistress.
Each person in this list has suddenly become powerful. But they lack the skills that they need for their new situations. They may become proud. Their characters do not match their new situations. These events may disturb observers.
· The slave does not know how to lead anyone. He has obeyed other people’s instructions for his whole life. But now he is the king, and he must lead the entire nation without training or preparation.
· The fool is an evil man. He does not deserve a good meal. But this fool eats plenty. And he is still greedy. He has no sense. He is proud. He does not know when he should stop.
· A hateful woman has just married a man. But after she marries, she is still hateful. Her attitudes are wrong. She is a bad wife for her husband. And she will be a poor mother to her children.
· The master’s original wife deserves her husband’s love. But he does not care about her. We soon discover why her husband does not love her. The woman’s own servant girl has become the master’s new love. The husband chooses his servant girl, instead of his wife. This is a recipe for disaster. The two women will despise each other. (See Genesis 16:1-6.)
24 “Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
26 hyraxes are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;
27 locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;
28 a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces.
Each of the animals are wonders of creation. Agur’s observation is that they are small but wise.
· Ants store food for the winter.
· Conies (hyrax) are vulnerable animals. They live together in small groups, and they appoint one animal as a guard to watch for the large birds that may attack them.
· Locusts march like an army but without a commander. Locusts work together instinctively.
· Lizards are smart. They can avoid the guards and live in palaces.
29 “There are three things that are stately in their stride,
four that move with stately bearing:
30 a lion, mighty among beasts,
who retreats before nothing;
31 a strutting rooster, a he-goat,
and a king secure against revolt.
Verses 29-31give us some impressive scenarios. They are impressive because of the boldness.
· A lion has great strength and fears nothing. It is respected by all of creation.
· A mating rooster does not have the strength and prowess that a lion may have but it will stop at nothing to impress it’s pursued female and will be relentless and single minded in doing so.
· A male goat is bold to the point of stupidity. It will attack anything. A goat attacks even when it does not need to attack and is in great danger. The sensible thing would be to retreat and try to escape but the goat does not give up.
· A king is merely a man like you and I. He is vulnerable like you and I. He can only be King of the will of the people allow this. He can afford to be bold if he has people around him and an army to defend him against an uprising or revolt.
This poem illustrates wonder in creation. The previous verses were about small but clever creatures and these verses all illustrate boldness.
32 “If you play the fool and exalt yourself,
or if you plan evil,
clap your hand over your mouth!
33 For as churning cream produces butter,
and as twisting the nose produces blood,
so stirring up anger produces strife.”
In these closing verses of chapter 30, Agur gives us a very direct outcome of playing the fool and plotting evil. The law of cause and effect comes into full focus. We twist a nose and it will bleed, churning cream will result in butter, stirring up anger produces strife. We reap what we sow. He warns the fool to be silent, his words will inevitably cause trouble.