Proverbs 30:1-33

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Nothing is known about “Agur,” to whom the “words” that follow are attributed. He is identified as the “son of Jakeh,” a man concerning whom nothing else is known. The Hebrew word massá’ may designate the territory of Massa in northern Arabia where descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael are thought to have lived. (Genesis 25:12-14) If Massa is the name of a location, Jakeh was from there. It is also possible that, in this context, massá’ is not a proper noun but indicates the “words of Agur” to be an “oracle, a “pronouncement,” a “declaration,” or a “message.” They may have been the words that the “man” Agur spoke to Ithiel and to Ucal. There is no way to determine whether Ithiel and Ucal were sons or disciples of Agur or what their relationship to him may have been. (30:1)

Translations that do not follow the vowel points of the Masoretic Text in this case, do not render Ithiel and Ucal as proper names. “The pronouncement of mortal man: ‘I am not God; I am not God, that I should prevail.’” (NAB) This is the great man’s very word: I am weary, God, I am weary and worn out.” (REB) The Septuagint includes no mention of Agur Jakeh, Ithiel, and Ucal. (30:1; see the Notes section.)

Using hyperbole, Agur represented himself as basically knowing nothing (less than any other man), particularly as his knowledge related to God. He referred to himself as if he lacked the reasoning faculty of a man and did not have the “understanding of a man.” According to the Septuagint, he spoke of himself as the “most senseless of all men” or people and not having the “understanding of men” in him. (30:2) Agur said that he had not learned “wisdom” and did not “know the knowledge of the Holy One.” The thought may be that the knowledge of God, the “Holy One,” is incomprehensibly great and went beyond anything that Agur felt he knew, and what he did know was so limited that he referred to himself as not having learned “wisdom,” the capacity to use knowledge effectively. (30:3; see the Notes section.)

To indicate just how limited his knowledge was, Agur raised rhetorical questions for which he had no answer. “Who has ascended to the heavens and come down? Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of his hands [bosom or the upper fold of his garment (LXX)]? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends [or the boundaries] of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son, if you know [what name (is given) to his children that you may know (them) (LXX)]?” The thought appears to be that anyone who would have done the things to which Agur’s questions related must have been known by name and must also have had an outstanding son, and so the final question related to his name and that of his son (children [LXX]). The Contemporary English Version is more explicit in conveying this basic meaning than is the Hebrew text. “If you know of any who have done such things, then tell me their names and their children’s names.” (30:4)

“Every saying of God is refined.” It is pure, not tainted with error in any way and, therefore, always trustworthy. Those who rely on him and what he has revealed or promised, taking refuge in him like a secure fortress, will find him to be like a protective shield in their time of need. The Septuagint says that God is the one who shields those who venerate or revere him. (30:5)

With every revelation, promise, or declaration that originates with God being “refined” or pure, his words should not be altered with additions or in any other way. One doing so would put himself in line for God’s “reproof” and being found a “liar.” (30:6)

Agur petitioned God for “two things,” asking that they not be denied him before he died. According to the Septuagint, the request was, “May you not remove my favor [the favor that had been divinely bestowed] before I die.” (30:7)

The two things pertained to (1) his being honest or truthful and (2) having enough in resources to meet his needs. He asked that “falsehood and lying” (a “vain and false word” [LXX]) be put far away from him and that he not be given (or not placed in a position of being in) poverty and not be given riches. He just wanted to be nourished with the food that he needed (the things “necessary and sufficient” for him [LXX]). (30:8)

Agur wanted to be protected from the moral risks that poverty and riches could pose. With riches, he could be satisfied to the point of forgetting about his need for God. He could deny God, ceasing to look to him as the one whose help and guidance he desired and even say dismissively, “Who [is] YHWH?” The Septuagint indicates that, with riches, his being filled could lead to his becoming a “liar” and saying (as one not accountable to God), “Who sees me?” Poverty could lead him to steal to obtain necessities and to profane the name of God, blaming God for his destitute state and crying out against him. (30:9)

After the admonition not to “slander a servant to his master,” the probable result is set forth, “lest he curse you and you be held guilty.” The one pronouncing the curse would likely be the slandered servant. A number of translations are specific in indicating this in their renderings. “Don’t tell a slave owner something bad about one of his slaves. That slave will curse you, and you will be in trouble.” (CEV) (30:10)

The next sayings relate to four groups of people, with each being called a “generation” (“evil offspring” or “evil generation” [LXX]) and whose distinguishing traits are bad. One “generation” has no regard for parents. These are individuals who curse their father and do not bless the mother who gave birth to them and cared for them in their most vulnerable period of life. (30:11) Another “generation” is “pure in its own eyes [judges itself righteous (LXX),” but the persons in this group are defiled in their thoughts, words, and actions, and they are likened to individuals who have not been cleansed from the filth or excrement clinging to them (30:12) An arrogant “generation” is described as having exceptionally “lofty” eyes and eyelids that are “lifted up.” They look down disdainfully on all whom they regard as far beneath them. (30:13) The “generation” of oppressors who deal with lowly ones like vicious beasts are portrayed as having “teeth” like “swords” and “incisors” like “knives” and using these to “devour the poor from off the land and the needy from among the people” (literally, “man” or the “earthling” [a collective singular]). (30:14)

The “leech” is mentioned as an example of greed. Its “two daughters” possibly designate the two suckers, one at each end of the leech’s body. Their greedy desire for blood appears to be represented by the cry, “Give, give.” The Septuagint refers to “three daughters” of the leech that were loved with love, “and these three did not fill her.” The “fourth” daughter was not satisfied so as to say, “Enough.” In the Hebrew text, the mention of “three things” and then “four” appears to function for emphasis. “Three things are not satisfied; four do not say, ‘Enough.’” (30:15)

The four things are (1) “Sheol” (“Hades” [LXX]), or the realm of the dead, (2) “restraint of a womb” or a womb from which no babies are born, (3) “land not sated with waters” or arid land that is always in need of water, and (4) “fire” that does not say, “Enough.” A raging fire will continue to burn, consuming everything within its path. In the Septuagint, the listing is different and is not limited to four things. “Hades and love [or passion] of a woman and Tartarus and land not filled [or satisfied] with water; and water and fire” that would not say, “It is enough.” (30:16)

The “eye” that mocks a father” is the eye of a person who looks down with disdain upon a father and makes light of him. This “eye” is also referred to as scorning obedience (or refusing the obedience that is owing) to a mother. The eye belonging to such a ridiculer or scorner is portrayed as becoming food for “ravens of the wadi” and being eaten by “eagles” or “vultures.” In this manner, the individual is depicted as an unburied corpse from which ravens peck out the eyes and on which eagles or vultures feed. (30:17; see the Notes section.)

As in verse 15, the stylistic expression “three things” and “four” appears in this verse, with the apparent objective being to emphasize the number. Agur referred to “three things” as “too marvelous,” too extraordinary, too difficult, or “impossible” for him to comprehend (LXX), and “four” things (the “fourth” one [LXX]) he did not “know” or understand. (30:18)

The “four” things are (1) the “way of an eagle in the heavens” or in the sky, (2) the “way of a serpent on a rock,” (3) the “way of a ship in the heart [or the midst] of the sea” or on the high seas, and (4) the “way of a man with a maiden.” An eagle soars effortlessly in the sky, not leaving any evidence where it has flown. No trace remains of the movement of a serpent on a rock. Likewise, once a ship has passed a certain point in the sea, there is nothing to indicate where it previously traveled. The “way of a man with a maiden” may refer to the manner in which he wins her affection and ultimately seduces her to become intimate with him. Afterward no trace remains of the process that eventually led from their first meeting to his intimate relationship with her. (30:19; see the Notes section.)

The “way of an adulterous woman” is portrayed in terms of eating. It is as if she views her sexual practices as no different than eating and then wiping her mouth, with no trace remaining of her seduction. Afterward she claims, “I have done no wrong.” In the Septuagint, the reference to her adulterous course is more direct than it is the Hebrew text. After she has engaged in the adulterous act, she will wash herself and say that she has done nothing improper. (30:20)

As in previous verses, the stylistic expression “three things” and “four” appears again. The “three things” set the “earth” or land in upheaval, and then “under four it cannot endure.” (30:21)

The “four” things are (1) a “slave when he rules as king” (a man with a slavish disposition who is unqualified to administer royal affairs and, therefore, unjust and oppressive), (2) a senseless person who is filled with food, becoming intolerably arrogant on account of his prosperity (30:22), (3) a “hated” or hateful “woman” when she gets a husband (a “good man” [LXX]), for she will make his life intolerable, and (4) a maid when she supplants her mistress (with her haughtiness bringing much grief and pain to the one she displaced in the husband’s affection) (30:23; see the Notes section.)

The next four things are described as “small” on “earth” or on the land and exceptionally wise (literally, “wiser than the wise”). What these creatures do instinctively appears wise. (30:24)

In relation to humans and many other creatures, ants are very small. Living together in colonies, these small insects are appropriately called a “people not strong.” What appears wise is their “preparing their food in summer,” or gathering and storing it when it would otherwise be hard to find (as in winter). The reference is probably to harvester ants (Messor semirufus). They are known to gather a large supply of grain during the spring and summer. (30:25)

The Hebrew noun shaphán is thought to designate the “rock badger” or “hyrax” and has been classified as Procavia syriaca or Heterohyrax syriacus. Hyraxes look somewhat like large rabbits but have rounded and much shorter ears, practically no tail, and short legs. The four toes of the front feet terminate in hooflike endings, as do the three toes of the hind feet. In their native habitat, numerous hyraxes may be found in rocky areas. Described as a “people not mighty,” these animals instinctively display what appears as wisdom when making their home “in rock” or in a rocky area where they can readily find safety from predators. (30:26)

Locusts have no “king” or leader to follow in their forward movement as a swarm and which movement is comparable to the advance of an organized army. What looks like an organized advance of groups of locusts as part of a huge swarm, although instinctive, appears as if it were a manifestation of wisdom. The Septuagint refers to the locust as marching in an orderly manner at “one command.” (30:27)

The Hebrew word semamíth and the corresponding noun in the Septuagint (kalabótes) are commonly understood to designate a kind of lizard and, more specifically, the gecko. Although one can grasp this creature in one’s hands, it is able to get into the “palaces of a king.” The implied aspect of its seeming wisdom is its ability to make its way into royal palaces, locations that would be inaccessible to most humans and many other animals. In the Septuagint, the expanded wording of the text refers to the lizard as supporting itself with its hands, being easily caught, and [yet] dwelling in the “fortresses of a king.” (30:28)

This is the final use of the combination “three” and “four” that appears to function as a stylistic idiom of emphasis. Three things are described as “doing well” in their “march” or “pacing” and “doing well” in their “going” or “stride.” (30:29)

The four remarkable creatures in their movement are: (1) a lion (a “young lion” [LXX]), the “strongest among beasts” and which “does not turn back” before any creature (literally, “before the faces of all”). (30:30; see the Notes section), (2) an animal that cannot be positively identified (zarzír mothnayím, “girded loins”), (3) a “he-goat” (leading a flock of goats [LXX]), and (4) a “king” with a “band of soldiers” (a king addressing a nation [LXX]). (30:31; see the Notes section)

The admonition for one who has been foolish by exalting himself and by devising (or in scheming to do bad) is for him to “put [his] hand on [his] mouth.” To put the hand on one’s mouth appears to be an idiomatic way of saying to stop what one was doing. The Septuagint expresses a different thought. “If you should let yourself go [or abandon yourself] in merriment and stretch out your hand for a fight, you will be dishonored.” (30:32)

The reason for stopping the wrongs referred to in the previous verse is illustrated by the effects that certain actions produce. “For churning [literally, pressing] milk produces butter” or curds, and pressing [twisting or hitting] the nose produces blood [or causes it to bleed], and [or so] the pressing out of [or giving vent to] anger produces quarreling.” In the Septuagint, the wording is somewhat different. “Churn [literally, milk out or squeeze out] milk, and there will be butter, and if you squeeze the nostrils, blood will come out, and if you draw out words [or incite provocative speech], legal disputes and fights will erupt.” (30:33)

Notes

In the Septuagint, the words of chapter 30, verses 1 through 14, are found after verse 22 of chapter 24 of the Hebrew text. These words are followed by verses 23 through 34 in chapter 24 of the Hebrew text and then by verse 15 through 33 of chapter 30. The introductory words of verse 1 of chapter 30 differ significantly from the wording of the extant Hebrew text. “Son, my words fear [or hold in high regard], and repent upon receiving them. Thus says the man to those who believe [or trust] in God, and I cease [speaking].”

Verse 3 in the Septuagint expresses a meaning of the words that is the opposite of that in the extant Hebrew text. “God has taught me wisdom, and I know [or am in possession of] the knowledge of holy things.” In the Hebrew text, the noun “holy,” which is commonly understood to refer to God as the “Holy One” or the “Most Holy One” is plural and regarded as a plural of excellence or majesty. While “knowledge of the Holy One” could refer to knowledge about God, the expression could also refer to knowledge of which he is the ultimate source. Another possibility is to follow the Septuagint rendering (“knowledge of holy things” [or “holy ones” (men having exceptional wisdom; sages)]).

In verse 17, the Septuagint refers to the eye as “dishonoring the old age of a mother.” This is also the rendering found in a number of modern translations. “The eye that mocks a father or scorns a mother’s old age will be plucked out by the ravens of the valley or eaten by young vultures.” (REB) “The eye that mocks a father, or scorns an aged mother, will be plucked out by the ravens in the valley; the young eagles will devour it.” (NAB)

In verse 19, the Septuagint does not mention a “maiden” but refers to the “ways of a man in youth.” The four things mentioned are used as illustrating an aspect of the “way of an adulterous woman.” (Verse 20)

In verse 23, the Septuagint reverses the third and fourth descriptions as contained in the extant Hebrew text. The Septuagint refers to the female servant as casting out her mistress.

In verse 30, the Septuagint adds that a young lion does not fear any beast or animal.

The Hebrew words zarzír mothnayím (verse 31) have been linked to a variety of animals. One animal thought to fit the description of being “girded in” at the “loins” or hips is the greyhound on account of its slender lumbar region and its ability to run swiftly. Other conjectural identifications, often on the basis of cognate languages, include the “horse,” “zebra,” “starling,” and “cricket.” The Septuagint rendering is aléktor (“rooster”), with the rooster being described as “confidently” or proudly moving among hens (literally, “females”).