Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 30

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

A. The introduction of Agur 30:1

Scripture does not refer to either Agur or his father (or ancestor) Jakeh elsewhere. At least one writer felt he may have been a contemporary of Solomon. [Note: Kidner, p. 178.] An "oracle" is a weighty message from God (cf. Zechariah 9:1), and the Hebrew word, massa, may refer to a place. [Note: Ross, p. 1119.] Ithiel and Ucal may have been Agur’s sons.

Verses 1-33


Chapters 30 and 31 form a distinct section in Proverbs, because neither Solomon (Proverbs 1:1 to Proverbs 22:16; chs. 25-29), nor the unnamed sages (Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34), wrote them. Two other wise men, whose names the text records, did. Some expositors speculate that because these men’s discourses occur at the end of the book, the writers probably lived later than the men of Hezekiah. [Note: E.g., Toy, p. 517.] Nevertheless who Agur and Lemuel were, as well as when and where they lived, remain mysteries.

The most distinctive features of Agur’s proverbs are his numerical style of grouping similar items, his picturesque speech, and a unique phrase he used. This phrase, "There are three things . . . even four," occurs with minor changes five times (Proverbs 30:15; Proverbs 30:18; Proverbs 30:21; Proverbs 30:24; Proverbs 30:29; cf. Proverbs 30:11-14).

"The purpose of such a device may be simply to indicate that the list is not exhaustive, though specific (see Amos 1:3; Amos 1:6). Or the purpose may be to emphasize the fourth item on the list." [Note: Jensen, p. 105.]

Verses 2-4

Behind this ironical section, one can perhaps imagine Agur’s sons claiming to be wiser than their father. Agur confessed his own limited understanding, while at the same time making it clear that those he addressed knew no more than he did.

If wisdom is essentially a proper orientation to God, how could Agur say he had not learned wisdom but he knew God (Proverbs 30:3)? In view of the context (Proverbs 30:2; Proverbs 30:4), he probably meant that he had not reached a high level of wisdom. "Wisdom" in Proverbs means understanding as well as godliness (e.g., Proverbs 1:1 b; Proverbs 2:2; et al.). Agur humbly regarded his own discernment as limited, but he did not claim to be a fool.

The only Person who meets Agur’s qualifications in Proverbs 30:5 is God (cf. Job 38-41; Proverbs 8:24-29). He is the only One with perfect understanding. "What is His name?" implies, "Do you fully understand Him?" In the ancient world, knowledge of a god’s name implied understanding of his characteristics, power over him, and closeness to him. The question about His Son’s name evidently means, "Has He imparted His nature or attributes to any other who may in any sense be called His Son?" [Note: Perowne, p. 180.] In the fullness of time, God sent His Son to reveal His character and nature more completely than anyone had known them previously (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Verses 2-9

B. Wisdom about God 30:2-9

Agur began with three declarations. The subject of each is God.

Verses 5-6

Agur treasured the revelation that God had given. "Tested" means "smelted," purified (cf. Psalms 12:6). It was trustworthy. Agur correctly regarded the aim of revelation to be the promotion of trust in God, not just knowledge (Proverbs 30:5 b). Agur warned against adding to God’s revelation because that is a serious offense (Proverbs 30:6; cf. Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18).

Verses 7-9

Agur asked God not to lead him into temptation (Matthew 6:13). He had more concern for his purity before God than about his place among people. Poverty and wealth both bring with them certain temptations that the middle-class citizen does not face, at least as strongly. Abundance tempts us to feel unrealistically self-sufficient (cf. Deuteronomy 8:11-14; John 15:5). Need tempts us to stop trusting God and to resort to acts that harm others.

"Agur’s exemplary prayer in Proverbs 30:7-9, the only prayer in Proverbs, continues his autobiography and functions as a janus [transition] to his numerical sayings." [Note: Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. 478. R. W. Byargeon, "Echoes of Wisdom in the Lord’s Prayer," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:3 (September 1998):353-65, noted similar structure and theology in the Lord’s Prayer.]

Verse 10

It is unwise to meddle in the domestic affairs of other people. The case in point in this couplet is falsely accusing a slave to his master. Probably "he" (Proverbs 30:10 b) refers to the master. The slave might never discover that someone had slandered him, but it is more likely that the master would investigate the charge and discover it false.

Verses 10-33

C. Wisdom about life 30:10-33

Though his view of and awareness of God are very much behind what Agur said in the rest of this chapter, his counsel deals primarily with practical prudence from this point on.

Verses 11-14

Agur sketched four verbal pictures and simply placed them side by side in these verses to illustrate the folly of arrogance. He had demonstrated humility himself (Proverbs 30:2-4; Proverbs 30:7-9). Each thing listed begins with dor ("generation") meaning a class or group of people (cf. Matthew 11:16). [Note: Ross, p. 1121.] The numerical sequence creates a cumulative effect, namely, a feeling of growing intensity. [Note: J. J. Glück, "Proverbs xxx 15a," Vetus Testamentum 14 (1964):368.]

Verses 15-16

Here the warning is against greediness.

"’Give! Give!’ [Proverbs 30:15] can be taken as the names-with more pointed wit than as the cries-of these identical twins, who are made of the same stuff as their mother-other people’s blood." [Note: Kidner, p. 180. F. S. North, "The Four Insatiables," Vetus Testamentum 15 (1965):281-82, argued that the two daughters are the two suckers on the leach.]

Greediness is not just silly (Proverbs 30:15), it is dangerous ("Sheol" and "fire," Proverbs 30:16) and pathetic (being childless and parched, Proverbs 30:16). Sheol ever yearns to end life, and the barren womb ever yearns to produce it. [Note: Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. 487.]

Verse 17

Disrespect for one’s parents is as bad as arrogance and greed. Agur’s graphic descriptions visualize the terrible consequences of this folly. Whereas we should obey our parents as long as we live under their authority, we should honor them all our lives. We should do so simply because they have given us physical life, if for no other reason. This proverb warns that severe punishment awaits those who disrespect their parents.

Verses 18-19

These four "ways" (Heb. derek) have several things in common that make each of them remarkable. All are mysterious (inexplicable), non-traceable, effective in their element, and aggressive. "The way of a man with a maid" refers to the process by which a woman comes to love a man. The point of these four snapshots seems to be, that in view of remarkable phenomena such as these, arrogance is absurd and humility only reasonable (cf. Job 38-41).

Verse 20

The mention of the woman in Proverbs 30:19 seems to have triggered this pigtail comment about another unexplainable phenomenon. That is, how some women can commit adultery as easily as, and without any more remorse than, they can eat a meal. The sage could have said the same of some men.

Verses 21-23

These are four more pictures of arrogant folly. They picture upside-down social situations. One writer saw Adolph Hitler as an example of the kind of servant who became a king that the writer envisioned (Proverbs 30:22 a). [Note: Greenstone, p. 324.]

Verses 24-28

In contrast to the arrogant, here are four examples of humble creatures functioning as God created them to, each remarkably effective and successful. Animals (Proverbs 30:24-28) are sometimes wiser than humans (Proverbs 30:21-23). The small are often more effective than the large. The basic contrast, however, is between humility and arrogance.

Verses 29-31

To keep us from concluding that little is always better than big (in view of Proverbs 30:24-28), Agur produced four more illustrations of stately noble behavior. He showed the balance between groundless pride (cf. Proverbs 30:21-23) and false humility (cf. Proverbs 30:24-28). These stately things demonstrate that proper bearing in life comes neither from exalting nor from depreciating oneself. It comes from functioning as God created one to function (i.e., to be oneself, sincere).

Verses 32-33

These verses call for personal application of this counsel as necessary. Peaceable behavior manifests humility, the key virtue in this chapter.

". . . the intent of this concluding advice is to strive for peace and harmony through humility and righteousness." [Note: Ross, p. 1126.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Proverbs 30". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/proverbs-30.html. 2012.
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