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The words of Agur and king Lemuel’s mother: Proverbs 30-31

Solomon wasn’t the only wise man in the middle east (even if he was the wisest). This final group proverbs was written by Agur and King Lemuel, who wrote down his mother’s sayings. We don’t know who these people are now, but they would have been well known and respected when the book of proverbs was compiled.

It helps to break Agur’s oracle (as it’s called in some translations) into logical units.

Proverbs 30: The words of Agur son of Jakeh of Massa

The collection starts with Agur, Job-like, comparing himself to God:

30:2-6 Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son’s name?
Surely you know!
Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you, and you be found a liar.

Agur’s desire to be content with what he has:

30:7-9Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full, and deny thee,
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor, and steal,
and profane the name of my God.

A warning:

30:10Do not slander a servant to his master,
lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.

His view on where discontent (and evil behaviour in general, it seems) comes from:

30:11-17 There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers.
There are those who are pure in their own eyes
but are not cleansed of their filth.
There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift!
There are those whose teeth are swords, whose teeth are knives,
to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among men.
The leech has two daughters; “Give, give,” they cry.
Three things are never satisfied; four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb, the earth ever thirsty for water,
and the fire which never says, “Enough.
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.

A reflection back to some mysteries of life, with the last point wondering why some women fall for the hero-type:

30:18-19 Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a mighty man [or hero] with a maiden.

The ‘way of a mighty man with a maiden’ contrasts with:

30:20 This is the way of an adulteress:
she eats, and wipes her mouth,
and says, ‘I have done no wrong.’

Which leads into the disruption of social order:

30:21-23 Under three things the earth trembles;
under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved [or odious] woman when she gets a husband,
and a maid when she succeeds her mistress.

And how wisdom can be seen in the most unlikely of places:

30:24-28Four things on earth are small,
but they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people not strong,
yet they provide their food in the summer;
the badgers are a people not mighty,
yet they make their homes in the rocks;
the locusts have no king,
yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard you can take in your hands,
yet it is in kings’ palaces.

And some commentary about regal bearing:

30:29-31Three things are stately in their tread;
four are stately in their stride:
the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
and does not turn back before any;
the [one girt in its loins], the he-goat,
and a king striding before his people.

The  [one girt in its loins] has no direct translation into English. Various translations include a strutting rooster and a horse! The first is negative, the last relatively complimentary.  The he-goat might be negative, or it might not: it is a metaphor for a leader, but Daniel used it as a metaphor for a great leader that threatened the ‘pleasant land’ (Israel), which has been interpreted as the antichrist of Revelation.

With all this in mind, Agur tells his friends to think carefully about their conduct:

30:32-33 If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
or if you have been devising evil,
put your hand on your mouth.
For pressing milk produces curds,
pressing the nose produces blood,
and pressing anger produces strife.

There are some useful ideas about this chapter on the Bible Studies Courses website.