Chapter 30: Commentary

Chapter 30 (power of observation)


30:1 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an oracle: This man declared to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal;

     This is the first of 2 chapters in Proverbs (30, 31) not attributed to Solomon (see 1:1; 10:1; 25:1). The writer is called "Agur, the son of Jakeh."
      We don't know anything else about Agur or the other guys mentioned – Jakeh, Ithiel or Ucal – anywhere else in the Bible or history. That suggests they were apparently just regular guys, yet God was willing to speak to them. And He used one of them, Agur, to write one of the chapters in the Bible.
      This little verse encourages me. It reminds me that God specializes in using the most ordinary people to do the most extraordinary things. That means there's hope for me and my peeps!

30:2-9 Agur's Observations about Himself

30:2 "I am the most ignorant of men; I do not have a man's understanding.

     Supporting the idea that Agur was not an important historical person, he says of himself that he was not particularly smart or insightful – "the most ignorant of men, I do not have a man's understanding." I find that quite meaningful.
      So, not anyone special – neither rich, famous, important nor powerful – yet God chose to use him to write a chapter in the Bible. Admittedly, there were others who felt unqualified for their calling (Hosea, even Isaiah and Jeremiah), but Agur stands out as a truly unknown man.

      Our God specializes in using people no one else would consider using, and then doing the most amazing things through them. For me, that is pretty comforting. He used Agur, so He just might be willing to use me, too!

30:3 I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.

     This is the third of three verses where Agur speaks about himself - some really honest talk. Admittedly, this verse has been translated differently, but I think this one is appropriate based on the Hebrew text.
      In addition to acknowledging a lack of "understanding" in verse 2, here Agur also admits his deficiency in "wisdom" and "knowledge." With these three terms - understanding...wisdom... knowledge - Agur's words tie to the message of the whole book of Proverbs.
      Again and again, we read about these three character qualities. They're available and also tend to come as a group, like grapes in a cluster and bananas in a bunch. You get one, you get them all!
      Yet, here, at the end of the book, Agur admits it's a struggle for him. An amazingly observant guy - just see the rest of this chapter! - he doesn't pretend he's got it all together when he knows he doesn't.
      So, two final and very meaningful - at least to me! - thoughts from this verse. First, the good news for Agur and anyone else is that we don't have to stay in our deficiencies. The whole message of Proverbs is that this enlightenment is available to anyone who admits they need it and receives it.
      Secondly, such honesty is refreshing to hear, but liberating and empowering to experience and share! I know I'm just not that good or smart. Yet in acknowledging it to myself, God and others, I've been able to see things differently ("from God's point of view" - our definition of wisdom).
      My life has become so wonderfully and excitingly different as I've imperfectly practice this. It's working for me and can work for you, too. So, come on in - the water's fine!

30:4 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!

     After acknowledging his own hurts, habits and hangups in verses 2-3, Agur now offers some thoughts on Someone else who can do what Agur admits he can't do himself. This verse consists of five rhetorical questions and a declarative statement.
      I think it's pretty clear Agur isn't asking because he doesn't know. Instead, he's saying it this way because he's certain he understands and is making a point.
      He speaks of One who is beyond us - beyond our powers and comprehension. This One "has gone up to heaven and come down."
      The One of whom Agur speaks has also "gathered up the wind" in His hands, "wrapped up the waters in a cloak" and "established all the ends of the earth." This One has both powers of the earth's creation and heavenly connections.
      Finishing his thoughts, Agur challenges "what is His name" and "what is the name of His Son?" Then, he adds, "Surely you know!"
      Admittedly, Christians read this passage with a New Testament perspective. I've even given my own twist on the subject here by my capitalizing some pronouns!
      It's also been noted that Agur's thoughts demonstrate traditional lines of Christian thought. First, comes personal confession (:2-3) and, secondly, a statement of his faith (:4).
      This is the same order as Steps 1 & 2 of the 12 Steps. First, we admit our powerlessness (Step 1) and then acknowledge our belief that He can do for us what we can't do for ourselves (Step 2).
      It's always been that way! It works, if we work it!

30:5 Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

     This is one of the two chapters of Proverbs not attributed to Solomon. It contains the words of an otherwise unknown guy named Agur (:1).
      After a short discussion about his own shortcomings (:2-3) and the awesomeness of God, Agur speaks of God (:4-5) and his Word (:5-6). While we know the writer was not thinking about the Bible as we have it today, he did have a clear sense of God's message to man.
      This verse speaks of God's word being "flawless." That carries with it the idea of being "refined/ purified by fire. The writer notes that everything God says is tried and true (purified and flawless). He can back up what He says. As I learned somewhere along the way, "God can back up His talkie-talkie with His walkie-walkie!"
      Agur also adds that God, Himself, is a "shield" to protect those who need and choose to "take refuge in him." What Agur is thinking here is pretty simple and basic. When we are ready to put our confidence in what God says, He has the power and will protect and watch over us!

30:6 Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

     Since God's word is "flawless" and He is a "shield" of protection to us (:5), it would be stupid to strike out on our own with a better idea. This verse offers a warning to "not add to his words."
      There is no other source of wisdom, understanding or insight that can match up with His Word and anything else we try to incorporate will come up short and be false. Such efforts will come up short, will cost us ("he will rebuke you") and make us look bad ("prove you a liar").
      I don't believe this verse is anti-science or offers a restricted view of the world. Neither does it suggest that it is wrong to ask questions. It simply reminds us that all truth in the universe will be consistent with God's Word. Everything that is true and right out there will have a Biblical underpinning.

30:7 Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die:

30:8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.

30:9 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.

     In these three verses, the writer verbalizes a prayer to the LORD. He asks and trusts God for two things throughout the rest of his life. First, he asks that the LORD will keep away from him falsehood and lies. While it may well involve keeping liars away from him, I get the idea that his real focus is on the lying and deceit from his own mouth and heart. It seems that he understands his own shortcomings and knows he will always have it in him to think and say the most inappropriate things. The focus here is on character.
      The second thing he asked is that God would not give him poverty or riches, just his daily bread. The idea was that he didn't really want to have more than he needed in his life, just enough every day – one day at a time. While this prayer sounds pretty foreign to our culture and lifestyles, it really does make sense. Again his focus is on character, not stuff.
      His reasoning is simple: God you know me, you know how I roll. If I get too much stuff, I know I have it in me to think I have all I need and don't really need You anymore. But then he adds, also, don't let me become poor because I know I have it in me to steal from others and that would dishonor you.
      What a great thought. I have a lot of issues and I really know I have it in me to do the stupidest stuff. But, LORD, I also believe You know precisely what I need and when I need it. So I am going to trust that You will provide all I need, exactly when I need it. What a great way to live! May I get better and better at living this way, every day for the rest of my life.

30:10-17 Agur's Observations about Others

30:10 Do not slander a servant to his master, or he will curse you, and you will pay for it.

     Interference in another man's household was not well received in the ancient world – by either servant or master – whether the facts were true or not. In this case, though, the issue was "slander." The curse could come from either one of them and it will cost me.
      We need to be wise about stepping into other people's lives – even when the message is true. You have heard the stories about domestic disputes where the police were called. When they attempted to deal with one of the parties (the antagonist), the other one party (the protagonist) jumps in their defense against the police. While not quite the same, this verse is a bit like our modern proverb "blood is thicker than water."

30:11 "There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers;

30:12 those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth;

30:13 those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful;

30:14 those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth, the needy from among mankind.

     After acknowledging his own shortcoming in verses 2-9, the writer now speaks about others. These four verses are a unit. What isn't clear if these four verses refer to the same people or refer to four different groups.
      Whichever is the correct way to view the text, these four sets of characteristics describe inappropriate attitudes, words and actions. The first treat their parents improperly – those who would have invested most in their lives. The second are not honest about their own stuff – they think they are doing fine but they are not. The third think themselves superior to everyone else. The fourth are very hurtful, especially with their words – focused on those less fortunate.
      These verses describe extremely sad individuals – lack of appreciation for those who have helped them; inflated view of themselves; distain for others; and hurtful to the poor and needy. Whether we exhibit one or all of these qualities, it is bad place to be. We need to understand the truth, face it and address it in our lives. We may also need to tough love others who live this way, too.

30:15 "The leech has two daughters.'Give! Give!' they cry. "There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, 'Enough!'

30:16 the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, 'Enough!'

     These two verses offer two related wise sayings. The first is a message from the two daughters of the leech - Gimme! Gimme!
      We all know what a leech is - literally and figuratively - and you may have as hard a time dealing with them as I do. Whether the little blood-sucking critters or people I've known along the way - both always want more.
      The second wise saying is the first of five extended poetic statements about the natural world in this chapter. Each offers four examples of people, places or things relating to a particular theme. Ours discusses four things which never seem to be satisfied.
      First is "the grave." Sometimes translated "hell," it's where the dead reside. That place never seems to fill up - because people keep dying!
      Second is "the barren womb." Throughout history and across the world, women have desired to be mothers. This verse suggests it doesn't matter what else she has, it isn't enough - she wants a child.
      Third is "land, which is never satisfied with water." Especially in the Holy Land, during the rainy season, water keeps soaking in - but the land dries quickly and is always ready to handle the next rain, too.
      Finally, "fire" just keeps on burning. It never seems to have too much to material to work with!
      These four illustrations from nature were not suggested to be either good or bad - just that they're never satisfied. But they were offered for us to consider and learn from.
      A related final thought. Our HUM definition for "Contentment" -- realizing God has already provided everything necessary for my present well-being. Now that's satisfaction!

30:17 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.

     Continuing the theme of being not satisfied with things in their lives (:15-17), this wise saying discusses an apparently grown child who treats his or her parents disrespectfully. The result is disastrous.
      The verse discusses one who "mocks a father" and "scorns an aged mother." Admittedly, no one suggests this father and mother were perfect. But, as parents in the Biblical world, we can assume they loved their child and could be counted on to generally do the right thing toward him or her.
      While the word "aged" is not actually in the original text, the attitudes and actions of this person are strong terms - suggesting someone beyond childhood. Also, what happens to this dissatisfied, ungrateful, disrespectful son or daughter is extremely severe - seemingly not something that should happen to a mere child.
      What takes place doesn't come from the parents. God isn't mentioned, but He might be understood as the force behind what's described here.
      The one so disrespectful to his or her parents will have an "eye...pecked out by the ravens of the valley...eaten by the vultures." The ancients would have known such a grisly scene only too well.
      While "ravens" and "vultures" are not precise translations of the original Hebrew words, they are unclean animals - those which eat dead flesh (carrion). When checking out an animal they think is dead and won't fight back, they'll often go after the sensitive eye first. If the carcass doesn't respond to that - it's dead...and dinner is served!
      Our wise saying suggests that those to treat others, especially loved ones, the way this person did must be dead! Real people aren't supposed to act this way.

30:18-31 Agur's Observations about the Natural World (and a few more People)

30:18 There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand:

30:19 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 maiden.

     :18-19 continuing his literary device, for the 2nd time (out of 5) Agur comments about observations he has made about life and nature. In this case they are 4 things that are amazing to him and really hard to understand: 1.) the way of an eagle in the sky; 2.) the way of a snake on a rock; 3) the way of a ship on the high seas; 4.) the way of a man with a maiden.
      1.) The way of an eagle in the sky – A number of years ago, while touring the West Bank with a guide who was local Jewish believer that I had known for a number of years. He took us to a special place he liked to visit – the site of ancient Micmas (the modern village Mukhmas), 7 miles north of Jerusalem (see I Sa 14). We went and sat quietly on rocks at the edge of a steep valley, contemplating on God's goodness and greatness. As I sat there I noticed three or four large birds gliding around and around in the air currents above the valley. I had never really stopped, looked and contemplated anything like that before (although it really wasn't an uncommon sight back home) and I had the same wonderment at it all as the writer of Proverbs did. They were so big and yet they weren't flapping their wings like all the other birds have to do to stay up there. I remembered the verse (too amazing for me to understand) and had my own little God-moment, where I saw His wisdom and power displayed in those few birds.
      2.) The way of a snake on a rock – There are rocks everywhere in Israel. In fact, wide, flat, smooth bedrock can be seen on the surface in lots of places. Snakes with no feet or less can be seen effortlessly sliding and gliding right over a rock pile or along the smooth bedrock. It would have been something the average Israelite would have seen again and again. Apparently this amazing sight never got old to them, or at least not to Agur.
      3.) The way of a ship on the high seas – the ancients knew what happened when they dropped something heavy into the water-it sank to the bottom. A fully loaded and manned ship, riding on top of wave after wave, was an amazing sight. And to be able to get that ship from here to there, without even being able to see where there was also amazing. Ancient mariners became experts on the land, water and sky. But their knowledge was not book learning. They were taught by veteran "experts" and their knowledge was based on their experience. I imagine, at times, they could just "feel" what to do even before their head told them to do it. How shipping actually worked was amazing to the ancients.
      4.) The way of a man with a maiden – how often have you heard someone say, "How did a guy like him get a pretty lady like her to fall in love with him?" Pretty amazing, and I have to admit that, more than once, it has been said that this is exactly what happened to me!
      The reality of life is that there are so many amazing things going on out there that I have no idea how they actually work. Learn to see them and appreciate them. Then understand that God knows it all! Awesome!!

30:29 There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing:

30:30 a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing;

30:31 a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and a king with his army around him.

     Here the writer again makes observations about the animal kingdom (and a king). Verse 30 discusses an old lion (the only use of that term in Proverbs) who had seen and done it all. He has earned to right to stride around in a stately fashion and the whole animal kingdom around him knew it.
      Verse 31 adds two other animals which he notes stride stately – a strutting rooster and a he-goat. To be honest, the Hebrew word for "rooster" is an uncertain animal – usually translated "rooster" or "greyhound." I grew up with the modern saying "strutting like a banty rooster," which is the same idea from this proverb. We know then ancients knew roosters, not so clear about a greyhound.
      The Hebrew word for "he-goat" is also not so clear, but appears as a small, mature male mammal and he-goat seems appropriate. Anyone who has ever watched them stand around with their head and horns held high – and then watched them charge and butt any other he-goat, as well as almost anything else – can understand this wise saying.
      The final stately strider was "a king with his army around him," also a Hebrew word of uncertain meaning – generally understood as a "band of soldiers." Whatever it is, this is a collective group with a king, and apparently, it makes him feel quite secure and helps him strut around.
      The writer is simply pointing out the reality of seeing those who feel so secure and good about themselves that they can strut.

30:32-33 Agur's Final Insights

30:32 "If you have played the fool and exalted yourself, or if you have planned evil, clap your hand over your mouth!

30:33 For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife."

     In the first two verses of this chapter Agur pointed out that he's just not that smart and doesn't know that much – but then goes on to wow us with his insights about life. Now, in the last two verses of the chapter, he points out that we should not get too cocky and ahead of ourselves. The focus is on thoughts (plans) and words. This insight may well come from personal experience.
      While these two verses do not seem to go together, they were apparently connected. Verse 32 calls for honest personal evaluation. We are to determine if we have "played the fool" (acting as if there is no God – Ps 14:1) and "exalted yourself" or if we have "planned evil" (not clear if it was carried out or not!). If we have done either, we need to just stop – in particular, stop talking!
      Verse 33 goes beyond our thoughts and words to our action – in fact, each one does take some effort. It compares three things that the ancients all understood to be truisms of life. First, "churning the milk" (in the ancient world, generally sheep or goat) will produce a butter-like substance. Second , twisting someone else's nose will cause them to bleed.
      These two truths are then compared to a third – "stirring up anger" (in myself or someone else) will produce strife. While these first two statements are clear action-result statements, the idea of this verse is that the third statement (the bloody nose) is just as true as the others, although much more difficult to recognize and it can cause a lot more trouble than a bloody nose!