Proverbs 30: Agur's Proverbs

People aren't really sure who Agur was, but he took the time to pen a chapter of proverbs for us. He makes mention of God's son, which is definitely something to discuss! Agur's proverbs give us concrete examples of the values and concepts he's discussing, which is helpful in understanding his point.

Introduction

The proverbs found in Proverbs 30 are attributed to Agur. In the later half of his proverbs, Agur strongly utilizes comparison to make his points, listing 4 examples of certain qualities or concepts.
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Who Was Agur?

Agur is introduced as the son of Jakeh in Proverbs 30:1. However this is the only time in the entire Bible his name is mentioned. Driven by today's customs, one would think his father, Jakeh, must have been a prominent figure in Israelite history—or at least recorded in the text somewhere for us make a connection. Yet, Jaken is also only mentioned the one time in the Bible. So who were these people and how Agur's proverbs end up in a book with knowledge from Solomon the Wise?

There have been a few theories and attempts to identify Agur. The Hebrew version of the text refers to him as Ha-Massa, which is taken to mean he was a Massaite. Not only would this have made him a gentile, his origins somewhere between Palestine and Babylonia. We don't often think of gentiles in the Old Testament unless they are the villain of a narrative, so this is definitely an interesting theory.

Another theory is that Agur is not actually a name. Remember Semetic languages don't have capital letters like English, so it's probably a little more difficult to identify a name versus a regular word. Take for instance the name Hope. If I said "Hope will prevail," you might surmise I was talking about my friend hope, whereas "hope will prevail" would indicate I was referring to the concept of hope. Many of the words in Proverbs 30:1 can be translated such that the verse is a verse denoting Solomon as the author.[1]

Whoever he is, Agur admits he has no more understanding of God than the rest of us, though that does not exclude him from being wise. Most wise people are keenly aware of how little they know in comparison to all there is to know.

Agur's Initial Proverbs

...who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?Proverbs 30:4 KJV
Agur apparently knew God had a son because he asks us for both God's name and His son's name. If Agur lived during or after the time of Hezekiah (who compiled the previous section of the book), he would have been familiar with Isaiah's prophecies of the coming Messiah. Those who follow Judaism and deny Christ suggest instead that this is a reference to Deuteronomy 14:1, in which God refers to Israel as His son.[8] Considering the fact that many biblical passages have multiple fulfillments and meanings, I think both could be true.

Agur goes on to remind us that every word of God is pure. We view His pure Words through a tainted lens, which is important to remember as we read. We should be careful not to add or subtract from God's Word. This is told to us in several places, and Agur felt the need to say it again.

Agur required two things before he died: removal of vanity/lies, as well as, a position in life between poverty and riches. Vanity and lies is lumped together likely because when we become vain, we lie to ourselves, usually without even knowing it. Agur asked to be spared from poverty because he doesn't want to be tempted to steal, but he doesn't want to fall into the pitfalls of the rich either. This is something we should be mindful of today.

Agur also discusses a rebellious generation that curses their parents. This generation justifies themselves instead of following the way of God. Each generation has been following this trend for quiet some time. We can all relate to these statements and feel that it relates to our own generation. This descent will continue until the end.

4 Things...

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Mark Tegethoff
Agur groups his proverbs in sets of four.

4 Things Never Satisfied

The first list of four focuses on things that are never satisfied. Agur gives the following four things:
  1. The grave
  2. Barren womb
  3. The earth not filled with water
  4. Fire
An interesting observation in this list is that both the grave and fire are symbols of death and destruction whereas a womb and water signify life. In Agur's example, the earth is devoid of water and the womb is devoid of a child. Thus, all four examples point toward death and the loss of life. Each of these are consequences of sin and gloated over by the devil. The devil will never be satisfied, which is why God will have to intervene to put an end to the devil's treachery once and forever. Directly after listing these four things, Agur speaks of the punish that will come to those who do not obey their parents. Proverbs 30:17 is reminiscent of Luke 17:37.

4 Things too Wonderful

Agur continues by telling us certain things are too wonderful for him to know. Each of thing listed leave little to no trace for our eyes to see. Psalm 139:6 also uses this phrasing.
Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Giovanni Calia
  1. Way of an eagle in the air
  2. Way of a serpent upon a rock
  3. Way of a ship in the sea
  4. Way of a man with a maid
For each of the above, there are many things that can be inferred—common sense tells us the eagle has been in the air and the ship has been in the sea. If we are in a rocky terrain where snakes are naive, we can assume they crawled upon the rocks. The way a man and woman exchange looks or words can be telling of a relationship as well. However, without being present at the time of event and witnessing it without our own eyes, it is hard to prove that such things have occurred. God is the same when acting in our lives. We may feel His presence, but from the outside, other will not necessarily be able to identify His presence unless they are familiar with Him.

Before moving on to another list, Agur mentions an adulterous woman, which seems to be a continuation of the description concerning a man with a maid. As I mentioned earlier, things such as rings and displays of affection in public give away a relationship. With adultery, the participants would want to eliminate suspicion and thus there would likely be no evidence of the relationship to protect both parties.

4 Things Disquiet the Earth

Some is disquieting if it causes anxiety or worry. The follow four things are meant to describe the collapse of society, highlighting people in places that they do not belong.
  1. A reigning serpent
  2. A fool filled with meat
  3. An odious woman who is married
  4. A handmaid heir to her mistress
The first is obvious: the devil and the serpent are often used interchangeably. A place where the devil is reigning supreme is definitely going to be a place of anxiety and worry. This probably also refers to crooked human leaders as well.

The second thing in the list is a bit odd, however. I'm lead to believe that meat in this verse does not mean food, but information or ammunition. A fool who has been. well fed in foolishness is dangerous. They inspire others to join their foolish thoughts and behaviors.

An odious woman is one who is unpleasant. It is definitely odd to see someone who is unpleasant married, whether the be male or female! When we stop and think about this, we must remember that in prophecy, a woman is often used to symbolize a church. Wouldn't it be concerning for an unruly church to claim unity with Christ (the husband)?

The final example speaks of a handmaid inheriting her mistress' property. My first thought upon reading this was the worry that a maid might kill her mistress before she had children. Surely a woman would leave her possessions to to any children she had, preventing anything to be left to the maid. Someone might infer it was a condemnation of servants rising above their master, but Joshua was Moses' servant before taking Moses' role as leader (Exodus 33:11 and Joshua 1:1). Scholars actually suggest that the property the maid stands to inherit is the husband of her mistress.[2] While I'm not sure how scholars came to this conclusion, it makes sense. There was a great tension between Hagar and Sarah after Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham as a wife. Although it isn't explicitly mentioned, I'm sure there was tension between Rachel, Leah, and their maids Bilhah and Zilpah who were given to Jacob as wives. Present day there are always concerns about men leaving their wives for the nanny. Therefore I can see how this would be of concern.

4 Things Little, But Wise

Next, Agur tells us about the little but wise. He mentions four animals that are very small in stature, but we could learn a lot from.
  1. Ants
  2. Conies
  3. Locusts
  4. Spider
It is well documented that ants are extremely strong and great at working together to function as a unit. Not only can ants lift ridiculous weights in comparison to their size, they can form living bridges and boats to ensure their own survival (now you know why they never die when you try to get rid of them!).[3]

Coney is another name for rabbit, but scholars assert that the coney mentioned in Proverbs 30:26 refers to the hyrax syriacus.[4] Agur tells us that despite being small and weak, these animals are able to build strong homes, which is important for safety. The hyrax is know for creating their home in rocks.[5]

Next on Agur's list of small but wise animals is the locust. Bees and ants have queens, but locusts do not have such a structure. They are able to organize the swarm without a head honcho. Although the church has a King, we must be able to organize ourselves without a physical presence, relying on the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Spiders are small and pretty much unwelcome everywhere, yet a king's palace is just as likely to have a spider building a web in it as a poor man's house.

4 Things Go Well

The final list given by Agur is of things that "go well."
  1. Lion
  2. Greyhound
  3. He goat
  4. King
Some scholars believe these examples are meant to show the art of being strong but maintaining your temper, but most interpret this list to mean things that are stately or majestic.[6]

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Gwen Weustink
The lion is regarded as the king of beasts; Agur states that lions are also the strongest. While it is known that a tiger is actually more likely to win a fight with a lion than the lion is, we must remember that a Godly definition of strength would never be based sold on physical strength. Unlike tigers, lions live in prides with their families. Their strength comes from the fact that they stick together for offensive and defensive action. So too, there are individuals who will be stronger than us, but as the church of God, we are collectively strong. Lion's have a regal and majestic demeanor which is another reason it is likely included in the list.

The KJV and NKJV list the second animal to be a greyhound, where the NIV and ESV translate the original word to rooster. Scholars have interpreted greyhound to actually mean a war horse, as well.[6] Interestingly, greyhounds and horses are both used for racing! Greyhounds have been recorded as far back as ancient Egypt,[9] so it's possible that Agur really did mean a greyhound dog. Of the three options I personally find greyhounds and horses to be more majestic than roosters. However, I have a biased opinion since I have been attacked by roosters and not by horses or greyhounds. Regardless, I will concede that roosters can be beautiful from afar as well.

He-goat, is a male goat, also known as a buck.[7] Male goats are slightly less intimidating than a ram (a male sheep), but retain the beauty and are still powerful.

The final example is a king with the support of his people. For those of us who grew up in the U.S., a president might fit the bill since we have likely never seen a king.

References

  1. J. Frederic McCurdy and Louis Ginzberg. "Agur Ben Jakeh". Jewish Encyclopedia; visited August 2017
  2. "Proverbs 30:23 Commentary". Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, via Bible Hub; visited August 2017
  3. Russell Mclendon. "11 Amazing Antics of Ants". Mother Nature Network. July 13, 2017
  4. "Coney".Bible Hub; visited August 2017
  5. The Editors of Encyclop√¶dia Britannica. "Hyrax". Encyclopædia Britannica; visited August 2017
  6. "Proverbs 30:29-31 Commentary". Bible Hub; visited August 2017
  7. "Buck". Encyclopædia Britannica; visited August 2017
  8. Gerald Sigal. "Is Jesus the son that is referred to in Proverbs 30:4? Who is It?". Jews for Judaism; visited August 2017
  9. "Greyhound Guide". Animal Planet; visited August 2017

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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