Proverbs 30:1-33 - Outline of Proverbs (Book Notes menu page)
The Words of Agur

We come, now, to the third and final narrative section of Proverbs (chapters 30-31). These chapters consist of the writings of Agur and also of King Lemuel. It is possible that Solomon wrote these sections, using these names of himself.

Outline of Chapter 30:
The Words of Agur --
  1. God's Word is... (v.1-6):
    1. Revealed by the Holy One, v.1-3
    2. Available to all, v.4
    3. Pure in its entirety, v.5
    4. The test of all, v.6
  2. A Short Prayer List (v.7-9)
    Personal request for adherence to God's Word.
  3. An Evil Generation (v.10-14)
    Those who disregard God's Word.
  4. Observations of "three and four..." (v.15-33)
    1. Things never satisfied (v.15-17)
    2. Things beyond understanding (v.18-20)
    3. Things out of order (v.21-23)
    4. Things small but wise (v.24-28)
    5. Things superior among their peers (v.29-33)
God's Word is Revealed by the Holy One. (30:1-3)
The men named, in v.1, are unknown. They are not mentioned elsewhere in scripture.
However, each of the names have meaning: Agur {gatherer} son of Jakeh {obedient}, who spake unto Ithiel {God is with me, or God blessed} and Ucal {consumed}.
It is possible, that these words were not intended as names. Consider these verses, as rendered in the YLT:
[30:1] Words of a Gatherer, son of an obedient one, the declaration, an affirmation of the man:
--I have wearied myself for God, I have wearied myself for God, and am consumed.
[2] For I am more brutish than any one, And have not the understanding of a man.
[3] Nor have I learned wisdom, Yet the knowledge of Holy Ones I know.
Solomon may be referring to himself as 'Agur,' the Gatherer of proverbs and of the wisdom of the sages (Ecc 12:9).
Though consumed by a quest for the knowledge of God, he has discovered that he is 'more brutish' {HB=ba'ar, a mere consumer of food, stupid like an animal, eg., 'dumb as an ox'} than any man {HB='ish}. He lacks the understanding of man {HB='adam, ie., mankind}. Human wisdom, the kind that is taught and learned is not sufficient. It does not compare to the knowledge of the Holy, ie., the wisdom which comes from God. ("The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." Pro 1:7; 9:10; Psa 111:10)
Do you think you have superior understanding?
The Gatherer of wisdom has some questions for you, which he has received from God.
God's Word is Available to all. v.4
These questions are similar to those with which the LORD humbled Job. eg. Job 38:1-7
Men have little understanding of their Creator and of the process of creation. Yet, men often hold very strong and well defined opinions, whether they are evolutionists or creationists, as to how the ends of the earth were established. The wisdom of men is inferior to the wisdom which comes from above.
The questions, posed in v.4, echo down through the ages, and through the pages of scripture:
  1. Who hath ascended... or descended...?
    • Deu 30:11-18 - Here, the emphasis is on the ready availability of God's Commandments.
      This passage is directed at Israel, who had received the Law from God, through Moses. No special ability or effort was required, of the nation or of any individual citizen, to know what the Lord required. But each and every man would be held accountable for what they did with the Law. (Likewise, we will be held accountable with what we do with God's Word.) Yet, because of our sinful fleshly condition, no man is able to keep the commandments of God. We all fall short of His standard of righteousness.
    • Joh 3:12-18 - Here, Jesus answers the question "Who hath ascended into heaven, or descended?" -
      "No man... except He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." Jesus did what no other man could do. He bridged the gulf between fallen men and the Holy God. The emphasis, in this passage, is upon the ready availability of Salvation. No superhuman ability is required upon your part. Jesus accomplished the work of Salvation, when He was lifted up to die upon the cross. He took upon Himself the deadly poison of the serpent, and died in your place so that you might live. All that remains, is for you to look to Him in faith, and live.
      This is also the message in:
      • Rom 10:4-10 - The emphasis, here, is on the ready availability of the Righteousness
        which is by faith, in the finished work of Christ (which He accomplished in His death and resurrection).
             The same Person who fulfilled the Law, and who bridged the gulf between God and sinners, is the head of the church, the body of believers who have received righteousness and life through faith in Him.
      • Eph 4:7-12 - Here, the emphasis is upon the ready availability of His provision for His own.
        He gives grace to each believer, gifting them for the benefit of the body. He gives men, whom He has graced, for the purpose of building the body and its members, toward the goal of maturity in the likeness of our Lord.
             His Word is available, His Salvation is available, His Sanctifying grace is available, for the Lord Jesus Christ has brought these things down from heaven to earth, where they are within reach of all. But... do we avail ourselves of His provision?
  2. Who hath gathered the wind in His fists?...
    Only God controls the wind. Remember how Jesus calmed the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:37-41). Only He could bind the waters in a garment (ie., in a wrapper, Job 38:8-11). The limits He has placed upon the waters are like a garment -- flexible, yet firm.
         The word for 'wind' {HB= ruach} is also the word for 'spirit.' It should be obvious that God Himself governs the moving of His Holy Spirit. He alone can and will establish His purposes in the earth. It is He who builds His church. We cannot do His work in the strength of the flesh. We need to cast ourselves upon Him who alone can meet our need (Gal 3:2,3).
  3. "What is His name? What is His Son's name, if thou canst tell?"
    Man, by searching, cannot 'find out' God (Job 11:7). We can observe obvious things. For example, the intricacy and complexity of the creation declares that there must be an all powerful Creator (Rom 1:20). But beyond that, a human 'search' for God becomes distorted by our 'imaginations.' Apart from God's self-revelation, our understanding of God's character and purposes would be hopelessly flawed. Thankfully, God has revealed Himself, in His Word. Yet, many men prefer the gods which they have imagined (Rom 1:21).
    "No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him" (Mat 11:27). The Son is called the Word of God (Joh 1:1-3,14). We meet Him in the written Word (the Bible).
    Therefore, it is essential that we listen to what He says...
God's Word is Pure in its entirety. (v.5)
"Every {ie., the whole of the} word {utterance} of God is pure {HB=tsaraf, tested, refined}..."
God's Word, tested in the fires of His Holiness, contains no trace of dross (symbolic of error, foolishness, worthlessness).
In other passages, various words are used to describe the purity of God's Word:
  • Psa 12:6 - It is pure {HB=tahowr, clean (in contrast to 'unclean' animals)}...
    ...tried {HB=tsaraf, tested, refined}, ie., trustworthy, free of dross.
  • Psa 18:30 (similar to above)
  • Psa 19:8 - pure {HB=bar, clear, sincere, cleansed, purged, free of all that is not right}
    In this verse, the parallel thought is: "The statutes of the LORD are right..."
    Because His Word is right and pure, nothing to the contrary can stand against Him. Therefore...
    "He is a shield to them who put their trust {ie., who take refuge} in Him." (Psa 84:11,12; 91:2)
God's Word is the Test of all. (v.6)
"Add thou not unto His words {HB=dabar, words, matters, business},
lest He reprove {HB=yakach, prove, decide, correct} thee, and thou be found to be a liar {ie., be proven to be a liar}."
What is this verse warning against? Some possibilities...
  1. Alteration of the content of scripture. (compare Rev 22:18,19)
    However, if this was the primary meaning, the canon of scripture would have closed with the book of Proverbs. Solomon finished writing, long before the OT was completed. The Word of the LORD to the writing prophets (eg., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel... etc.) foretold events far beyond their days, concerning Israel's dispersion and regatheirng... the Messiah's twofold coming as a suffering servant... and also as a glorious King, who will rule the world in righteousness. The NT records the fulfillment of many of these prophecies, and anticipates the completion of God's revealed purposes. (Thus, it is evident that the book of Proverbs is not God's final word to man.)
  2. Seeking loopholes to avoid obedience to God's commands. Deu 4:2; 12:32
    Neither add... nor diminish... but observe to do...
    Example: The Pharisees who laid aside the commandment of God, in favor of the tradition of men, "making the Word of God of none effect." Mark 7:8-13
  3. Substitution of man's wisdom in the place of the wisdom which comes from God.
    Example: Job's misguided counselors assumed that they knew Job's heart and God's business, and took it upon themselves to speak for God. Job 13:3-10
    [The sense of v.6 is explained by Points 2 and 3, which complement one another.]
The knowledge of the Holy Ones... (v.3)-
The Word of God has been revealed, by the God of heaven, to men on earth. It is readily available, for our benefit. The Lord holds us accountable for what we do with His provision. Luk 8:18
A Short Prayer List... (v.7-9)
Two things have I required {ie., asked, requested, begged} of thee... (v.7)
That is a manageable prayer request list. What two things are on your list?
Others in Scripture had short lists of essential requests:
  • Solomon - 1Kin 3:5-9 " understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad..."
  • Elisha - 2Kin 2:9 "...let a double portion of [Elijah's] spirit be upon me."
  • David - Psa 27:4 "One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple."
Two requests:
  1. Remove from me vanity and lies (v.8a). -
    "Vanity and lies" are translated from one word {HB=shav, emptiness, nothingness, falsehood, worthlessness}. The word is used of false gods, false prophecies, false teachings, and empty religious ritual (eg., sacrifices which have no meaning). This is the condition of the natural man (Psa 12:1,2). Such men are of no value as counselors or comforters (Psa 41:5-9). "Vain is the help of man" (Psa 108:12).
         But the prayer is not only to be distanced from the vain men, who surround me, but also from the worthlessness that is within me. The preceding verses admonish each of us against our tendency to follow the emptiness of our own wisdom, rather than placing our full confidence in the LORD and His Word (Prov 30:5,6).
         The remedy for our natural 'nothingness,' is found in the One who is full of Life and Truth. Psa 119:37; 127:1,2; Joh 1:4,16; 14:6
  2. Give me neither poverty nor riches...feed me with food convenient {ie., prescribed, apportioned} for me...(v.8b)
    • ...lest I be full and deny thee... (v.9) -
      We have a foolish tendency to put our confidence in the vanity of wealth and physical provision (Deu 8:11-18; Luke 12:16-21).
           Our true need is to recognize our complete dependency upon the LORD, as He taught the Israelites in the wilderness, through His daily provision of manna, and as Jesus taught us to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread" (Mat 6:11), and to "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..." (Mat 6:33).
    • ...lest I be poor and steal and take the name of my God in vain.-
      Poverty can drive a man to violate the LORD's commands, and thus, to bring dishonor on His name. Pro 6:30,31; 1Pet 4:14-16
    The second request brings us back to the first... that my confidence would always rest in the LORD.
    See Psa 62:1-12. Observe, in v.9-10 of the Psalm, the 'nothingness' of men (low or high, alike), and of their treasures (whether gained legitimately or by plunder).

The first six verses of this chapter, considered the Word of God which came down from heaven to us, both in the words of revelation through the prophets, and in the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. We are counseled to give heed to God's Word, and cautioned against displacing it with our own wisdom. Apart from God's revelation, man has no answers to basic questions of life (v.4-6).

The next three verses constituted a brief prayer (v.7-9). The request is to be delivered from that which is empty and false, whether in the form of external pressures to conform to worldliness, or in the form of my own internal tendency to forsake God's Word and way, to follow the emptiness of my own foolish way.

The passage confronts us with the truth that "vanity and lies" are characteristic of all men, including myself.

Which brings us to...
An Evil Generation (v.10-14) -
The word 'generation' {HB=dowr, period of time, generation, habitation; (from the root word HB=duwr, to heap up, to dwell)}, refers to 'a class of people with common characteristics.' This is a generation characterized by 'vanity and lies' (v.8) -
  • Accuse {ie., slander} not a servant unto his master... (v.10)
    The Master is the judge. You and your accusations may be turned against you as a "curse" {HB=qalal, something that is of little account, a trifling annoyance}, with the result that you are found to be the guilty party, who as the source of injury deserves to be punished. Rom 14:4
         Jesus condemned the "evil and adulterous generation," who not only slandered the Master's Servant (Himself), but also the Holy Spirit by whom He was empowered (Mark 8:38; Mat 12:31-40). They sought a sign, but the only sign they would be given would be the vindication of the slandered servant, through His resurrection by the power of the Spirit (Rom 1:4).
  • There is a generation that curseth father and mother... (v.11)-
    This is the same word for 'curse' as in v.10.
         There is a class of people who are so full of themselves, that they curse their own parents (disregarding them as of little account, and a trifling annoyance). If they treat their parents that way, how much more will they slander others?
         The LORD, who is the Master, to whom parents are accountable for the way they bear and raise their children, will hold rebellious children accountable, for dishonoring their parents. Pro 30:17; 20:20; Mat 15:4-6 (which refers to Lev 20:9 and Deu 21:20,21; 27:16)
  • There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes... (v.12) -
    There is a class of people who regard themselves as the standard of right, but do not recognize how wrong they are. They think themselves to be clean {HB=tahowr}, but they are not cleansed of their own filth {HB=tsowrah, excrement}. Pro 21:2; Psa 36:1-4; Luk 11:39,40; 16:15; 1Joh 1:8-10
  • There is a generation that is... lifted up (v.13) -
    There is a class of people who regard themselves as far above {superior to} all others. (The Lord hates this attitude. Pro 6:16-19; 21:4; Psa 101:5). A proud heart was the downfall of Satan (Isa 14:12-17; Eze 28:2,8). The LORD will humble the proud (Isa 2:11). How much better to be humbled before Him, before that day (Jam 4:10).
  • There is a generation whose teeth are as swords... (v.14)
    There are those who would destroy the poor and needy (ie., the humble) with the sharp slander that proceeds out of their mouths (Pro 12:18; Psa 57:4). But the LORD will settle accounts in due time (Psa 14:4-7; 12:5). In Christ's Kingdom, the poor in spirit... the meek... those who are persecuted for His sake... will be blessed (Mat 5:3-12).
Additional characteristics of the natural man are identified in Rom 1:29-32 and 2Tim 3:1-5.
Before we met the Lord, we were just like them.
But now, as a wise son of God, what do you do when confronted by members of this evil generation?
King David's son, Absalom, was one who slandered and cursed his father. Absalom was lifted up with pride and self-righteousness. He displaced David from his throne and would have pursued and killed him.
     What did David do? He prayed. His prayer on that occasion is recorded in Psa 3:1-8. The LORD delivered David. The LORD dealt with Absalom. Likewise, we can trust Him to deliver and bless His people, though they are presently opposed by an evil generation, who do not know the LORD or His Word, and who are immersed in the emptiness of worldly wisdom.
Observations of "three and four..." (v.15-33)
These descriptions, of 'the way things are,' seem mostly self-explanatory.
The formula "there are three and four..." is intended to emphasize the subject matter, rather than to treat it exhaustively.
  1. Things never satisfied (v.15-17) -
    • The leach sucks blood... so much the more, when her offspring join her. They never have enough.
    • Likewise, there is no end of dead people to fill graves. There is no end to a barren woman's sorrow. The crops in the field always need more water. A fire will burn forever, as long as it has fuel.
    • At first glance, v.17 (cp. v.11) seems out of place, in this grouping... until you understand that the judgment of sinners is unending (eg., Mark 9:44). Likewise, as permanent blindness results from pecked out eyes (v.17), those who reject the light of God's Word will never enjoy it (eg., Mat 8:12).
  2. Things beyond understanding (v.18-20) -
    • Verse 19 pictures things of grace and beauty, which cause the worshipping heart to wonder at the wisdom of the Creator. Beyond the visible beauty of physical design, His tender and loving nature is also displayed in the intimacy of the marriage relationship.
    • In v.20, the picture is distorted by a selfish heart which thinks nothing of dishonoring God's design for marriage.
  3. Things out of order (v.21-23) -
    • a servant ruling - Ecc 10:7, In some cases, a man's character is not appropriate to his role in life.
    • a full fool - Nabal is a perfect illustration. 1Sam 25:25 (Nabal's name means 'fool.' His character is on display in the whole chapter.)
    • an odious {ie., hateful, bitter} woman - Pro 21:9,19; 27:15
    • an handmaid who is heir {ie., set to dispossess} her mistress - This is illustrated in the rivalry of jealousy which troubled the polygamous families in the OT (eg., Gen 16:1-5).
  4. Things small but wise (v.24-28) -
    • the ants - Pro 6:6-8
    • the conies {small burrowing mammals} - which live in communities. (Comparable to prairie dogs in the western USA.)
    • the locusts - Locust plagues are often compared to advancing armies, and frequently used in prophetic passages, to depict enemy invasions (eg., Joel 1:4-7; Joel 2:7-11).
    • the spider - weaves webs with intricate designs which rival the ornamentation of kings' palaces.
    This sampling is obviously not exhaustive.
    The Creator has endowed many creatures, small and large, with remarkable skills of organization and schemes for survival.
  5. Things superior among their peers (v.29-33) -
    • a lion - for its strength, and fearlessness, compared to other animals.
    • a greyhound - for its speed.
      [The Hebrew words for greyhound could apply to several slender and muscular animals that are fleet of foot.]
    • an he goat {ie., ram}- for sure footedness, or because you would not want to butt heads with him.
    • a king - A man would also be foolish to butt heads with a king, because of his superior position of power. Pro 16:14; 20:2
      The authority of kings is granted by God, to control evil. Ecc 8:4; Rom 13:1-4
      You would be wise to avoid offending him. If otherwise, be prepared to pay the consequences.
      Those, who are prone to contending against authority, give themselves a bloody nose. v.33; Pro 26:21; 28:25; 29:23

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