Proverbs 30 The Burden of AgurJul 23rd, 2009 | By admin | Category: Proverbs, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)
Proverbs 30 The Burden of Agur
Prov. 30:1 The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,
The Masoretic uses “burden” instead of “prophecy”; both are correct.
Agur was the son of Jakeh. Hence they were two individuals, but Ithiel and Ucal were not.
The heading of many Psalms is small print with such words as “To the chief musician.” Sometimes the name of a particular musician, singer, or instrument was also suggested by David. In a similar manner, “The words of Agur, the son of Jakeh, the prophecy,” is a superscription or heading for Proverbs 30. (The word “even” is supplied.)
Elsewhere in the Book of Proverbs, the statement at the beginning of a proverb is “The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David.” It is proper to identify the author, and that is how Proverbs 30 begins. Agur was the author, and Solomon recognized Agur’s sayings as being wise enough to use as an addendum for his own proverbs. The fact that Agur’s words have a different cadence than Solomon’s proverbs proves different authorship. The point is that Agur was a literal individual, and he lived in the days of Solomon.
Proverbs 30 is the burden, prophecy, or proclamation of Agur. Just like Solomon, he was telling about his own experiences and observations in life.
“The man spake unto … Ithiel and Ucal.” The logical conclusion would be that Agur was talking to these two scholars, disciples, or friends, but based on the context, that is not the case. “Ithiel” means “God is with us.” “Ucal” means “I am strong.” In other words, Agur is saying, “God is with me, and I am speaking in His strength.” The superscription or heading indicates that Agur is giving an important message: a prophecy, a burden. “God is with me, and I am strong because of that. Therefore, the message is not mine but God’s.”
The account of Balaam in Numbers 24:3–5 is similar. “And he [Balaam] took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!” Balaam calls this a parable, and Agur calls his message a prophecy. Try to think of Balaam’s and Agur’s words from the standpoint of a Jew or an Asian, not an American. Balaam was a prophet of God but not a Jewish prophet.
Nevertheless, God occasionally spoke through Balaam, and that is why King Balak summoned him and wanted his assistance. When Balaam was hired to curse Israel, the words that came out of his mouth were overruled to be a blessing. He was on a mountain looking down on the camp of Israel on the plain below in the desert. With his eyes open he started to speak, and out of his mouth came a prophecy. Notice the repetition in the account: “And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: He hath said.” Four times we are told Balaam “said.”
Notice the last: “the man … said.” Balaam was referring to himself, but it was as if he were detaching himself. Proverbs 30:1 uses the same technique: “the man [Agur] spake.” Balaam is saying that when he was about to pronounce a curse upon Israel, he was put in a trance, and power from on high came upon him so that he heard the words of God, saw a vision, and spoke God’s message. He became the mouthpiece of a blessing instead of a curse.
Balaam was forced to speak God’s words almost like the ass earlier. In other words, the power of God came upon him as it had come upon the ass.
Of course Agur’s motive was completely different from Balaam’s. Since God had revealed a message to him, Agur felt a sense of responsibility to proclaim it. Obviously the message impressed Solomon.
Prov. 30:2 Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
Prov. 30:3 I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.
Before uttering the message, Agur said, “This message is not of me.” This reminds us of the Apostle Peter’s words: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:20,21). Agur continues, “This message is not the product of my own capability. In fact, I am not an educated person.”
Incidentally, despite the various translations, Agur was not saying he was ignorant. To the contrary, he was profound. In fact, a farmer may be as wise as any other man, but he just lacks erudition and the degrees. The world is impressed by PhD’s, and instead of analyzing the sense of what is being said, they ask, “What is your educational background?” Sometimes humble people have a tremendous amount of wisdom without the formal training and schooling. And that is exactly what Agur was saying. “If you judge me by other men, I am not much.” Agur’s humility reminds us of Amos, the shepherd.
“Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah [the priest], I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel” (Amos 7:14, 15). Amos was saying, “I have no credentials and no ulterior motives. I am just a herdsman, an ordinary person. While I was following the flock, God told me to deliver this message for Him, and I am trying to obey.”
Agur said, “I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy [the Holy One—RSV, NIV].” “The holy” is in the plural, signifying the majesty of God. The statement in Genesis “Let us make man in our image” is also the plural majesty of God alone; ie, Jesus is not being referred to.
Proverbs 9:10 also uses “holy” in the plural for the Holy One: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning [principle part] of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy [the Holy One] is understanding.”
Agur was saying, “What I am telling you is of God, not of me. I want you to know that I have been charged with the responsibility of giving this message, for I am nothing. I do not have the credentials that normally command respect.”
Prov. 30:4 Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?
Agur is pursuing a line of reasoning. He said first, “I am just a humble man.” Now he is saying something a little different. “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended?”
The answer, of course, is no man except Jesus—and that would be years later. Therefore, no man has firsthand knowledge of what is happening in heaven.
Moses used similar logic in Deuteronomy 30:11–14. “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, [it is] in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” Moses spoke these words just before he died. He was saying: “With all your efforts to know about God—who He is and where He is—the book is right in front of you. Can’t you discern that God has spoken to you? His commandment and Word are right there in your midst. If you are still searching in other avenues, there is something wrong with you.”
Some people speculate about the future without any solid basis for their thinking. Agur was uneducated but a profound thinker. The Deuteronomy text probably influenced him in his reasoning in verse 4. He was saying, “How can anyone tell about what is happening in heaven if he has not been there himself? Whatever is said is pure speculation and should be viewed in that light.”
Moses went up into Mount Sinai, the “mountain of the moon,” and there he saw, as it were, God. The contact he had with the Logos, who was representing God, shone on his face when he descended the mount. Paul gives clues as to the meaning. Moses’ going up into the mount pictured Christ at his First Advent. Compare Jesus’ going up into the Mount of Transfiguration and Moses’ going up into Mount Sinai. The light on Moses’ face was reflected light, but it was so bright that the people could not look at him and he had to veil his face. The light of the gospel is as the sun, in contradistinction to the moon.
The glory of God was seen in Jesus. The apostle John said of Jesus, “He acted like the Son of God, he spoke like the Son of God, and he had the characteristics of God. It is evident that he truly is the Son of God.” The glory of the Father that shone from Jesus’ face was not reflected light, for Jesus was the channel of God’s light.
We say that the Tabernacle is the shadow and the fulfillment or antitype is the reality. We say the New Testament is reflected in the Old Testament, but from God’s standpoint, the opposite is true. The Tabernacle, the shadow, the Old Testament, came first. God knows the end from the beginning; He sees in reverse fashion. There are no surprises or emergencies with God, for He knows long in advance about whatever happens.
“Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth?” These questions sound like Chapters 38–40 in the Book of Job where God speaks. In that respect, Job is the most remarkable book in the Bible.
“What is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Agur was trying to show that man, in his own wisdom, attempts to explain God. For example, according to the Big Bang theory, the universe started with a big explosion. This a dumb theory, and yet many scientists accept it. It is more reasonable to think that the universe is oscillating, developing, breathing—ie, expanding and contracting.
Q: Did Agur know that God had a Son?
A: No, it is a rhetorical question, and Agur was speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit. He had just given his “credentials,” and now he was giving pragmatic reasoning (reasoning that makes sense).
Comment: The question “What is his name, and what is his son’s name?” is startling because the Jews did not consider that God would have a Son. Jesus was called a blasphemer for saying he was the Son of God. The Holy Spirit overruled that this question would be included to show that God does have a Son. It was as if Agur was saying, “Who are you? You do not even know his name.”
Reply: We thought this point was obvious and purposely did not prolong the explanation, for dissecting or magnifying the detail too much causes us to lose the overall message. Agur spoke much like Job, and in the Book of Job there are similar miraculous expressions.
Prov. 30:5 Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
Agur was reasoning to himself: “Where does true information come from? The Word of God, and that Word is readily available. It is before us. There is no need to look elsewhere.” The same lesson applies to us. We should study the Bible more.
Prov. 30:6 Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
Agur continued: “Not only is the Word of God pure, coming from the Holy One, but it is a shield unto those who trust Him. Do not add unto those words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar.” All the information he needed was in front of him. God’s Word is here, and it is packed with information—like silver refined seven times. Proof that Agur was speaking to himself is verse 1, where he referred to himself as “the man.”
Prov. 30:7 Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Agur now did almost what Pentecostalists do. He was getting into a prayer mode. First, he said, “The Word of God is pure; God is a shield,” and the next minute he was praying. Here in verse 7 he was talking to God: “Two things I ask of thee; do not deny me before I die.”
Prov. 30:8 Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Agur’s prayer continues in verse 8 and is very instructive. “Remove far from me vanity and lies.” Vanity (self-importance, pride) is a problem for all of us, and we must fight it every day. Agur was saying, “I am a humble man and God has blessed me with information, but I am frightened lest I experience an untimely death and still have vanity and lies.” David said, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins” (Psa. 19:13).
He knew that he had secret faults and that God was aware of them, but he did not want a secret fault to become a presumptuous sin, which would be the point of no return to God’s favor.
In regard to Agur’s prayer for God to “remove far from me vanity and lies,” lies take many forms, and he did not want to succumb. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines” is the principle (Song 2:15).
We should neither undervalue nor overvalue ourselves. In other words, we should examine ourselves honestly.
“Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.” In other words, “Give us this day our daily bread,” temporal and spiritual. With the higher standard of living here at the end of the age, our prayer should be for the proper spiritual food.
Comment: Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread.
Comment: The New International Version actually uses that term: “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”
Prov. 30:9 Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
“Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD?” What do “fullness of bread” and wealth bring? Pride (Ezek. 16:49). Denial of the Lord comes gradually. For instance, one who comes less and less to meetings and fellowship is slipping and gliding away, so that in time, if that tendency is not stopped, it can lead to entire separation from the Lord and to coolness. And coolness can be outright opposition, for if “the light that is in thee be[come] darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). It is a greater darkness than that of those in the world who never consecrated.
“Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” Agur was saying, “I do not want riches or poverty, but a middle ground and the food that will build me up.”
Matthew 19:23,24 tells that it is a miracle, even initially, for a rich man to respond with full consecration. “Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven…. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” When one becomes increased with this world’s good, his heart can be weaned away. And those who are stricken with poverty can start to blame providence. Later, instead of blaming providence, they blame God. The New International Version reads: “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.”
This prayer of Agur affords us a look into his inner heart. Similarly we can see into David’s heart when we read the Psalms.
Comment: Moses cautioned the Israelites not to forget the Lord when they entered the Promised Land and built their homes and were full.
Reply: One’s first love of truth—the zeal and enthusiasm when blind eyes are opened—is very difficult to retain through life.
Prov. 30:10 Accuse not a servant unto his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty.
Comment: The RSV and the NIV read, “Do not slander a servant to his master.” However, if a servant treats his master unjustly, the matter should be reported. This would also apply to the employee-employer relationship.
Reply: Yes, verse 10 is a general rule, and it does not mean that we should never, under any circumstance, speak of a wrongdoing. If a servant does something seriously wrong, the master should be informed, whereas a false accusation of a more serious nature incurs guilt.
Comment: “Lest … thou be found guilty” implies slander and thus guilt on the part of the informer. In this case the servant is innocent. If the report is needful because of wrongdoing, the informer would not be guilty.
The next four verses (verses 11–14) all start with “there is a generation.”
Prov. 30:11 There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.
Comment: The word “generation” reminds us of 2 Timothy 3:1–5, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”
Reply: Yes, God foresaw that these warnings would be necessary for Christians in the last days.
Q: Wouldn’t the characteristics of verses 11–14 apply to the generation of Jews that went into Babylonian captivity?
A: Yes, and there was a marked change in the Jews who returned to Israel from Babylon 70 years later in 536 BC. One reason is that their decision to forsake established, comfortable homes in Babylon was a proper step. In the Diaspora, with all the suffering, came a noticeable devotion to family, especially among the Orthodox.
Prov. 30:12 There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.
Comment: This sounds like the element in Jude that is not spirit-begotten. They are not consecrated but are among the consecrated, posing as such.
This element does not see the reality that we are all born in sin and shapen in iniquity.
None are righteous in and of themselves. Christians who think it is necessary to keep the Law and feel they will get life based on the works of the Law would be “pure in their own eyes” while not being “washed from their filthiness.”
Comment: A cross reference is Luke 18:11, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” This Pharisee was pure in his own eyes.
Prov. 30:13 There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up.
The NIV reads, “There are … those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful.” And that is the real thought. In other words, because of their mannerisms the haughtiness of some is apparent without their even having to say a word.
Prov. 30:14 There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.
Comment: Wouldn’t all four categories be a manifestation of pride? Even the children who curse father and mother manifest pride in not taking their advice and counsel. Also, pride is a factor in not showing compassion to the poor.
Reply: The scribes and Pharisees do not enter the Kingdom of God themselves or suffer others to enter. When Jesus was criticized, he said the Physician cannot heal those who are too proud to acknowledge they are sick members of the fallen human race and in need of redemption and salvation.
What about their “teeth … [being] as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor”?
Comment: This is strong language. The teeth are real weapons.
Reply: Yes, the net effect of the front teeth (the biters) and the back teeth (the grinders) is complete mastication.
Spiritually, the continual dunning for money by the nominal churches is a form of devouring the poor. It is wrong to try to manipulate the consciences of others, making them feel duty-bound to contribute, and this can be done from the pulpit. An example of another improper approach would be to preach evangelism as the only type of service that is worthwhile, and even to embarrass others into selling more books. There are many types of needful service.
The fact that there are four statements beginning “There is a generation” is characteristic of Agur. He is given to quatrains, ie, groups of four. He may say, “There are three things” but then amends the number to four. It is interesting that to a certain extent, when the prophet Amos came along later, he also used quatrains (Amos 1:6,9,11,13).
Prov. 30:15 The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough:
Comment: Leeser’s reads, “Insatiability hath two daughters. Give, give. There are three things which are never satisfied, yea, four things never say, Enough.”
The word “horseleach” is correct. Does anyone have any thoughts on the horseleach?
Comment: It has been suggested that the horseleach is Satan and that the two daughters are Sin and Death.
Comment: This would be a leech that is attached on the inside, not on the outside. It would be more like a parasite sucking the nutrients.
Reply: The horseleach is a bloodsucker that is peculiar to horses. These parasites float on stagnant water. When horses drink, they submerge their noses in the water, and the horseleach attaches itself to the sensitive membranes in the nostrils. The parasite drinks more and more blood from the horse until it is so full that it can no longer remain attached to the membrane. Meanwhile the horse suffers untold agony. When finally full, the horseleach drops off. However, the horse still does not get any relief because the leech keeps multiplying. For every leech that drops off, two more appear. Eventually the horse (the victim) gets emaciated.
“The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give.” In other words, the two daughters are never satisfied. For every leech that leaves, there are two replacements.
Q: Could the horseleach be defined as Satan?
A: Yes, in the sense that he is never satisfied. He wanted to be like Jesus.
Q: If the horseleach is interpreted as Satan, would the two daughters be Sin and Death?
A: That application would fit in principle. Satan wants more and more and never feels he has enough.
Comment: He is also behind the dissatisfaction of man. Satan promotes the multiple distractions.
Reply: And with the distractions, Satan makes the people more and more his own personal slaves and servants. It is miraculous indeed that without affecting the free moral agency of man, and just by the power of suggestion, God can miraculously transform an individual into Christlikeness. The more noble worldly minded people say, “Before I die, I want to become a great musician or a great scientist or make a great discovery that will benefit mankind.” They want to leave a significant contribution behind and will sacrifice much time, money, and effort toward that end. If only their efforts were devoted to the Lord, they would get the greatest reward: the permanent reward of the prize of the high calling. We should appreciate that God has called us with that hope.
Prov. 30:16 The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.
Again there is a quatrain, and a moral is usually inserted in these quatrains.
(1) No matter how the population increases, the grave is never satisfied. Increasing numbers of people continue to die, and there is enough room to bury them.
(2) In regard to the barren womb, in Old Testament times the women hoped to be of the promised seed to bring forth Messiah. Hence they hoped not merely for a child but for a male child. The inherent desire to have progeny as a namesake has permeated other cultures and religions as well.
(3) “The earth that is not filled with water” refers to the cycle of rain and evaporation. Rivers empty the rains into the oceans, water is evaporated from the oceans, clouds form, rain falls, etc., etc. Even when floods occur, terrible as they are with their destruction, the water subsides in due time, empties into the ocean, evaporates, and falls again as rain.
(4) Fire too is never satisfied. As long as fuel is supplied, the fire keeps burning.
These four subjects may seem to be simple, but when they are considered with some depth, lessons are forthcoming. Common to all four subjects is the observation “It is not enough.” The grave is seemingly unending. Regarding the barren womb, the desire of women to have children has been basic to life and security. (Current values are askew and are peculiar to our day where women want to pursue careers, couples decline to have children under the guise they cannot afford them, etc.)
The lesson for the Christian regarding insatiable desire is summed up with the Scripture “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).
This proverb of Agur, Proverbs 30, is properly called a “burden.” Today’s society is plagued with discontent. The attempts of people to drown themselves in such things as rock music, sports, sex, money, and gambling are all forms of discontent. People will try everything except to go to God, the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).
Prov. 30:17 The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.
This verse ties in with the first quatrain pertaining to pride. The destiny of those who have a mocking eye is Second Death. NIV: “The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.”
Comment: The principle is “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
When vultures attack a carcass, the eye is a juicy morsel. It is like the pearl of the oyster, the real prize. The raven and the eagle are both birds of prey.
Prov. 30:18 There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
Verse 18 introduces another quatrain. Each of the four observations in this grouping begins with “the way.”
Prov. 30:19 The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
The four are “the way” of an eagle, a serpent, a ship, and a man.
“The way of an eagle in the air.” What are the characteristics of an eagle? It is a heavy bird with relatively small wings, but its strength compensates for the weight. In a hurricane or other tempestuous weather, the eagle continues to fly, which is unusual. An eagle is a bird of prey, but it differs from vultures in that it prefers to eat live prey. Vultures circle above a dying animal, often in groups, whereas the eagle does not. An eagle is known for its swiftness of flight. The way the eagle pounces on its prey is distinctive. With keen eyesight, the eagle can see prey two or three miles away. Once an eagle starts toward its prey, it proceeds in one glide to the target. Just before the unsuspecting animal is seized, the eagle opens its wings for a twofold effect: (1) The open wings slow the eagle down lest it hit the ground and get injured. (2) A shadow is created. On a sunny day the eagle flies in the sunbeam to obscure its flight. As a result, little animals on the ground looking toward the sun are not able to see the eagle.
Comment: The eagle has tunnel vision and hence can see only a narrow band of degrees straight ahead. Without peripheral vision, the eagle must turn its head in order to see to the side. In fact, that is why it can rotate its head almost 180 degrees.
Reply: This characteristic will become important later in the study.
“The way of a serpent upon a rock.” The snake’s method of locomotion is unusual. How a serpent can travel without feet is a marvel, particularly on rock. The sidewinder snake can move at tremendous speeds on sand by rippling its body, but the illustration here in Proverbs 30 would be of the species that moves on rock with assumed fair rapidity.
Agur observed these phenomena in nature. Remember, he said in the beginning of the proverb that he was not an educated man, but one does not have to be educated to be wise.
“The way of a ship in the midst [or heart] of the sea.” Think of a ship in Agur’s day. Sails were the primary means of locomotion along with a rudder and a tiller. In a strong sea, the rudder and the keel were not adequate, so the setting of the sail was very important. Bro. Roy Mitchell, Sr., gave an impromptu talk in Paterson many years ago that included a poem about the sails of a ship. The direction of the wind and the gale that blew did not deter the vessel from its goal, for its course depended on the set of the sails. The curve of properly set sails could thrust the wind in such a way that the ship would go forward in the intended direction even against the strong wind of a storm.
It isn’t the gale,
But the set of the sail,
The path to the goal.
Of course the navigator had to be skilled.
“The way of a man with a maid.” The Hebrew word almah translated “maid” implies a virgin. There is another word in the Hebrew (bethulah) that actually means “virgin,” but because a virgin can be of any age, old or young, that word would not have been correct to use here. In the Old English, “young maiden” was the translation, and years ago this meant a young, naive, innocent virgin. Therefore, Isaiah 7:14, which reads, “The LORD himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin [almah—young maiden] shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” indicates that the Virgin Mary was very young and Joseph was very old. The point is that the proper translation here in verse 19 is “the way of a man with a young maiden.”
Comment: Wouldn’t the marvelous thing about a man and a maiden be child bearing?
Reply: The mystery of procreation is one of about four interpretations. To have beings come forth with capabilities of reasoning, reverence, etc., is truly a miracle. But the thought here seems to be otherwise.
When we consider all four things—the eagle, the serpent, the ship, and the man—what do they have in common? All are impressive, but in what way? In verse 18 Agur said they were too “wonderful” for him to understand. But what did he mean by the word “wonderful”? The eagle is an unclean bird, and yet it can be considered favorably. The serpent usually has an evil connotation, but on the other hand, Jesus said to be wise as serpents. A man with a maid can be either sinful or innocent. The dilemma is to determine whether a favorable or an unfavorable context is intended with the four. One thing common to all four is “the way.” Now consider verse 20, which has an unfavorable connotation: “Such is the way of an adulterous woman.”
Prov. 30:20 Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.
At the very least, verse 20 is related to the man with a maid. Actually verse 20 applies to all four: the eagle, the serpent, the ship, and the man. The statement “the way” is important. “Such is the way of an adulterous woman,” etc. The common theme is the prey—how the prey is regarded and/or treated. From afar, the eagle’s entire focus of attention is on the intended victim. Its power of concentration and lack of deviation are noteworthy. With the serpent its prey is also the center of attention. Generally speaking, the prey of a snake is much more fleet, but the snake is stealthy and has a hypnotic gaze.
When it focuses its eyes on the victim, the penetrating gaze is mesmerizing. Meanwhile, the snake slides along, shortening the distance to the victim, until it can uncoil and strike. Thus both the eagle and the serpent have a remarkable power of concentration. With the ship, the navigator’s focus of attention is getting the vessel to its destination whether there is no wind or much wind, whether there is calm or storm or favoring gale. How the ship could be made to go to different ports was a marvel to Agur. The man with a young maiden, a young virgin, had an ulterior motive. Some men want only virgins; they delight to despoil a young woman. Hence the innocent maiden is the victim. These conclusions are further buttressed by verse 20: “Such is the way of an adulterous woman.”
She fixes her gaze on the unsuspecting victim and has intercourse in mind. She has a way of attracting her victim to within striking distance, and there he loses control because of the weakness of the flesh. Having just had an illicit relationship, “she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.” She feels no guilt, has no remorse.
The eagle, the serpent, the ship, the man, and the adulterous woman all have a purpose in mind in regard to their victim, and thus they focus their attention on that victim or purpose. What do all five (four in the quatrain plus the adulterous woman as the fifth) have in common as “the way”? When an eagle strikes its victim, no one can trace the path it traversed in getting its prey. When a serpent goes after prey, it does not take an established route. When a ship reaches port, one cannot exactly or accurately trace its route. “The way” of this man is that he has had much experience, and he suits his way of seducing young virgins according to the circumstances of each situation. He focuses his attention on the innocent young maiden and studies her weaknesses so that he can victimize her. One technique is flattery. When he has accomplished his purpose of despoiling the young maid, one cannot trace the nebulous method(s) he used. In other words, there is no one established procedure or technique. Feeling no guilt, the adulterous woman continues on as though nothing has happened—especially if the acts are done secretly.
What about the word “wonderful” in verse 18? In perhaps 95 percent of the cases, the word has a favorable connotation, but not always. Consider the following unfavorable uses:
“And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?” (Dan. 12:6). The “wonders” were the persecutions of faithful Christians by Papacy for 1,260 years.
“And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go” (Exod. 3:20). The “wonders” were all plagues.
“Then the LORD will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance” (Deut. 28:59). The plagues in the Book of Revelation are presented from the standpoint of those upon whom they are inflicted.
“And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people” (Dan. 8:24). This is a reference to Papacy.
“And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done” (Dan. 11:36). This is a reference to Napoleon, who tried to exalt himself above God.
He humiliated the pope by removing the papal crown and putting it on his own head. Therefore, all five observations of Agur are “wonders,” peculiarities. Nuances are displayed in nature and by man in various ways that are difficult to trace, but they are a “way” of accomplishing something.
Prov. 30:21 For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:
Here is another quatrain. The Hebrew word for “is disquieted” means “quakes”: “For three things the earth quakes.” This is a tongue-in-cheek expression, for the earth does not literally shake when a servant reigns, etc. We use similar meaningful expressions, such as “If so-and-so heard what you just said, he would turn over in his grave.”
Prov. 30:22 For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat;
The earth is disquieted “for a servant when he reigneth.”
Comment: When the oppressed, the common people, get the reins of power, there is a tendency for them to become crueler than the ones they are replacing. Communism and the French Revolution are good examples.
Reply: That is true of a servant who gets power he is unaccustomed to having. He can become very oppressive.
The servant lacks the necessary qualifications, training, breeding, contacts, etc. Of course today’s standards and conditions are different from what they were for thousands of years.
The scandal with the royal family in England would not have occurred in the past. An incident earlier in this century was the love of an heir to the English throne for the Simpson woman, who was a divorcée, but because there was a proper sensitivity and decorum, the heir did the right thing by voluntarily abdicating the throne and marrying her. Superficial righteousness is better than blatant unrighteousness. Some sense of shame at least leads to discretion.
The next disquieting occurrence is “a fool when he is filled with meat.” Imagine a fool who has just eaten a big dinner.
Comment: He is energized to act the fool even more.
Reply: In addition to being energized, he feels that a measure of approbation has been extended to him by the host and that the host is encouraging him to speak his mind. The food would embolden him to prattle more and express his views. Thus it is unwise to recognize a fool in an official capacity.
Comment: The common denominator for this quatrain seems to be the acquisition of power, honor, and/or recognition and the fact that the party cannot handle it well.
Prov. 30:23 For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.
Next is “an odious woman when she is married.” The Revised Standard Version has “an unloved woman when she gets a husband.” Literally the Hebrew word for “odious” is “hated,” which is the meaning in most Scriptures, but there are times when the word is to be used in an accommodated or modified sense. An example is Esau. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13). Instead of the word “hated,” “loved less” should be used. A distinction was being made between two parties, and the one with the lesser honor was very sensitive to being slighted. Leah and Rachel are another example. Jacob loved Rachel but was fraudulently given Leah by Laban.
Comment: A New Testament example of the same principle is Luke 14:26, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
Q: How was the “odious” quality disquieting?
A: With Hagar, the household was so disquieted or disrupted that Sarah wanted her to be thrust out. Abraham, seeing the logic, agreed to Sarah’s request.
Q: This third example does not necessarily mean another woman was involved, does it?
A: No, but it can refer to such a situation. A feeling of enmity or being slighted could occur if there were more than one wife. In fact, the word “slighted” can be inserted: “For a slighted woman when she is married.”
The fourth example in the quatrain is “an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.”
Comment: The NIV suggests rivalry and ulterior motives: “a maid when she succeeds her mistress.”
Comment: It is like a servant who becomes a king.
The word “heir” can also be taken literally in connection with the death of the mistress, and this would seem to be more the thought.
When the quatrain is considered as a whole, what are some obvious observations? (1) People at the bottom of society receive positions of honor. (2) Two are males and two are females, showing that this principle operates in both man and woman.
Comment: Ecclesiastes 10:5–7 is an interesting cross reference: “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.”
Reply: Yes, that is the principle of those on the bottom suddenly being put on top. Those who gain sudden riches are not like those who are born into wealth. The latter tend to be more philanthropic. An example of the former would be black athletes who receive millions of dollars but basically squander the money and do not contribute much, if anything, to people and causes of their own race.
Prov. 30:24 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
The next quatrain pertains to ants, conies, locusts, and spiders.
Prov. 30:25 The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;
Ants prepare ahead for future necessities, and they are industrious: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov. 6:6).
From the ant’s perspective, the insect is exceedingly strong, lifting many times its own weight. But from the human standpoint, the pragmatic viewpoint, the ant is insignificant and weak; we can step on it or squash it with a finger.
Prov. 30:26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
The “cony” is the rock badger, which makes its home like a fortress in the rocks. This animal is feeble in the sense that it lacks weapons of offense, but the rock badger’s fortresslike rock home counteracts its helpless condition.
Comment: The wisdom of the rock badger is that it has a permanent home in the rocks, as opposed to a temporary hole in the ground or a nest.
Prov. 30:27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;
Locusts have no leader, yet they go forth in formidable swarms. From the locusts’ standpoint, they have awesome mandibles, yet a human can squash a locust in his hands.
For their size their legs have great strength.
Comment: The wisdom of the locusts would be that despite their great numbers, they do not fly into each other.
Reply: They are in battle array, as it were. They have ranks and order in the air even though there is no commander or leader. If a locust plague is awesome, imagine what it would be with a king or leader.
Prov. 30:28 The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.
Leeser reads, “The spider thou canst catch with thy hands, and yet she is in the palaces of a king.” Most spiders can be held with the hands.
The spider lives in “king’s palaces” in the sense of dwelling in an elaborate, intricate web.
In other words, its web is likened to the palace of a king.
Comment: A spider’s web is remarkable and awesome, especially when the light shines on it in a certain way.
Reply: As with the snowflake, there is complexity and diversity in the spider’s web. The spider dwells in a web, the rock badger lives in rocks, the ant’s home is a storehouse for food, and locusts go forth in bands to obtain food.
Comment: The spider’s tiny brain has been genetically coded to make intricately patterned webs.
Though little, all four—the ant, the rock badger, the locust, and the spider—give lessons in wisdom. Mankind can benefit from watching them.
There are seven quatrains in this chapter. Six are negative, and this one seems to be the exception. Everything is instructive and constructive in this quatrain.
Q: Would this quatrain be related to the previous quatrain about the servant, the fool, the odious or slighted woman, and the maid? (1) The ant prepares its food for winter, but the fool who is filled with food doesn’t think about the next day. (2) The cony has a safe house in the rocks, but the odious woman, in being slighted or hated, does not have a quiet home. (3) The locusts have no king, but they cooperate and have order. The servant, when he becomes a king, has no order. (4) The spider lives in the king’s house and minds its own business, whereas the heir to the mistress has ulterior motives and is plotting mischief.
A: That is a novel comparison, and it fits to a certain extent.
Prov. 30:29 There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:
“Comely in going” would mean “comely in their walk or way.”
NIV: “There are three things that are stately in their stride; four that move with stately bearing.”
Prov. 30:30 A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;
A lion is strong among beasts, but not the strongest.
Prov. 30:31 A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.
“Greyhound” should be (war) horse. The war horse is disciplined and does not fear anything (Job 39:19–25). When well trained, it will obey just the knee movements of its rider. The war horse manifests confidence and is even delighted at the prospect of a battle. In fact, stateliness, anxiety, and pleasure are all manifested in the attitude of the animal facing battle. Horses in the cavalry are chosen for strength of limb.
The “he goat” is the wild mountain goat. The stateliness of its stance suggests confidence.
Comment: Daniel 8:5–8 mentions the he goat from a spiritual standpoint as being Alexander of Greece, who defeated the ram of Media Persia and smashed its horns, so the he goat must be powerful.
“A king, against whom there is no rising” is a king secure against revolt. In other words, the army following behind is united in purpose with the king, supporting him 100 percent. The king manifests great confidence because he knows the soldiers will fight to the death for him. An enemy who would see them approaching would be in awe and fear, especially if the enemy had an undisciplined army.
Q: Would a lesson for this quatrain be that a feeling of invincibility leads to pride? The Scripture comes to mind “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7). We could feel that we are so protected under the Lord’s watch-care that we act recklessly. A: Yes, pride and self-confidence are the dangers.
Prov. 30:32 If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.
Prov. 30:33 Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.
Verses 32 and 33 are also a quatrain: laying the hand upon the mouth, churning milk, wringing the nose, and forcing wrath. “Forcing of wrath” means to aggravate or stir up wrath, to produce wrath.
Verse 32 is saying to think twice before criticizing. An evil thought should be nipped in the bud. If entertained, it will lead to something detrimental to self as well as to others. When an evil thought enters the mind, clamp the hand on the mouth lest it be uttered and stir up strife.
“If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, … lay thine hand upon thy mouth.” Sometimes we can nip something in the bud; this is preferable lest it produce untoward results. Other times something is foolishly said or done that we regret. The instant the unwisdom is recognized, it should be stopped and retracted as soon as possible.
The whole chapter, with its seven examples of advice, can be considered from the standpoint of the new creature. The chapter “Foes and Besetments of the New Creature”in the Sixth Volume tells about different problems in the family, in the ecclesia, etc.
Although Proverbs 31 is not all foes and besetments, it gives many lessons for the new creature to consider regarding spiritual welfare and development. For example, “the horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give” (verse 15). This verse refers to the literal bloodsucker, particularly the one that affects horses. But the expression “Give, give” should be “Wealth, wealth,” which does not seem to make sense at first. Four things never say, “It is enough.” While we went through the natural detail, the lesson for the Christian is that certain dangers beset him. Of course the adulterous woman is one danger. A further lesson is that the love of money is the root of much evil; in addition, the love of popularity, of power, of influence, etc., is a danger. The expression “love of mammon” embraces these other thoughts and would include worldly desires that are ingrained in the fallen human nature and that can be detrimental to the new creature: a larger home, a bigger car, better clothes, etc. Those who desire these things are never satisfied; they never say, “I am wealthy.” On the other hand, one who is in poverty and then suddenly wins a million dollars is usually content and does not look for another million. And he usually tries to benefit others with some of the money. But a miser is never satisfied; he keeps saving and accumulating. Sometimes a miser even lives in spartan conditions just so he can keep on saving.
The point is that each of the quatrains should be considered either in a destructive or a constructive sense for the new creature. Spiritual lesson upon spiritual lesson can be drawn. A study of the Book of Proverbs is very beneficial for the new creature. Other religions have wise sayings, such as Confucianism, but the sayings in the Book of Proverbs were included in Holy Writ because of their benefit for the new creature. Anyone who pants after God’s Word as the hart pants for water brooks does not need to be told to study Proverbs, for he will do so of his own initiative. In fact, he will study the whole Word as best he can under his given circumstances and as opportunity affords. The faithful Christian will search the Scriptures daily, not just the Volumes that others have written.