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the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 30

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,

Agur - a figurative name, perhaps; the collector, from Hebrew, 'aagar (H103), to collect. Son of Jakeh - akin to Hebrew, yikqah, 'obedience.' That Agur was inspired, appears from the expression,

The prophecy - Hebrew, masaa' (H4853); the oracle (cf. Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible' for Hitzig's strange theory and translation, 'son of the queen of Massa' (Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30; 1 Chronicles 4:41-43).

The man spake (Hebrew, neum, spake by inspiration) "unto Ithiel and Ucal-Agur's disciples. The names, according to Ewald, are symbolical, meaning 'God with me, and I am strong' (from yacol, he was strong).

Verse 2

Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.

Surely I (am) more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. Agur refers to the corruption and blindness of man's nature, in divine things, as contrasted with the knowledge of God which man possessed before the fall, as also with the purity of the Word of God (Proverbs 30:4-6). As one who, though otherwise keen-sighted, is yet dazzled and dim-sighted if he tries to look at the sun; so he who is keen enough in comprehending human things, is yet stupid and brutish (Job 11:12; Psalms 49:20; Jeremiah 10:14) in respect to contemplating the mighty Creator, His Son, and His works. Compare a similar avowal of natural incapacity on the part of Amos, when he is proceeding to utter the inspired Word of the Lord, Amos 7:14-15.

Verse 3

I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.

I nether learned wisdom, nor have (know) the knowledge of the holy - naturally. As in Proverbs 30:2 he disclaimed original knowledge, so in this verse he disclaims humanly acquired knowledge of the deep mysteries of God. A man must first "become a fool that he may be wise" (1 Corinthians 3:18). So long as he thinks he knows, he is unfit to be a vessel of the knowledge received from above (1 Corinthians 8:2; Isaiah 6:5). "The holy" (note, Proverbs 9:10), either all that concerns the holy God, or the holy God; qªdoshiym (H6918). Plural, as 'Elohiym (H430).

Verse 4

Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?

Nor is it any wonder that I have not the knowledge of the Holy; for:

Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? - so as to understand what is being done there, so as to tell mortals what he hath seen. We Christians can tell of such a one (John 3:13). Though we have not ascended into heaven, or descended into the depth; still, in all that is vital to know, we have 'the word nigh' to us (Romans 10:6-8; Deuteronomy 30:12-13.)

Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? - firmly grasped.

Who hath bound the waters in a garment? - (Isaiah 40:12.) As Israel bound the dough in their clothes (Exodus 12:34).

Who hath established all the ends of the earth? - the boundaries of land and sea, and of the several distinct kingdoms. None except God. Therefore He alone knoweth thoroughly the deep mysteries of the universe.

What (is) his name, and what (is) his son's name? The Hebrews designate a man by not only his own name, but by his relations. In allusion to this usage, but with a designed reference to the mystery of the everlasting generation of the Son of God, the Spirit puts this question into Agur's mouth, Can you tell His name (i:e., His nature) and His Son's? (Proverbs 8:22-31.) None can; therefore, naturally, none can "have the knowledge of the Holy" One (Proverbs 30:3; Matthew 11:27; Matthew 16:17). The name of God, and that of His Son, are here joined, as both alike ineffable and incomprehensible. Co-existence and omnipresence (by the ascent to heaven and descent), creative and all-sustaining omnipotence are ascribed to both. The Son is represented as distinct from the Father in personality, yet one in essence and operation.

Verse 5

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.

Hence, (Proverbs 30:4) we must rest in the divinely revealed doctrine, which is pure and saving to all who trust in its Almighty Giver and Object.

Every word of God (is) pure - literally, melted in the fire like silver, so as to be purified of all dross of human error, impurity, deceit, or superfluity. The Word of God supplies the defect of human understanding which Agur complained of (Proverbs 30:2-4).

He is a shield - by His Word and His Spirit foiling the thrusts of Satan (Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7; Matthew 4:10).

Verse 6

Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

Add thou not unto his words - "above that which is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6), with a view of completing the divinely revealed doctrine with human glosses. Rome, by adding to the written Word, oral tradition and the Fathers, transgresses this precept (Isaiah 8:20).

Verses 7-9

Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:

Two prayers, followed by single sentences, (Proverbs 30:10, etc.) One prayer concerns the soul, the other the body.

Deny me them not before I die - when I shall exchange prayer for praise. Fervent desire is implied.

Verse 8. Remove far from me vanity and lies - a boon for the soul. "Vanity" - all self-deceit. "Lies" - all deceiving of others, including all sin. Vanity is all that is not what it appears; the world's vain show, gain, pleasure, idols, heresies (Psalms 119:37, note).

Give me neither poverty nor riches - a boon for the body.

Feed me with food convenient for me - Hebrew, with food of my ration, or, allowance: with food sufficient for my maintenance. The same as "our daily bread" in the Lord's Prayer [ ho (G3588) artos (G740) heemoon (G2257) ho (G3588) epiousios (G1967); Matthew 6:11 ]. Like the manna gathered, 'a certain rate every day'-Hebrew, 'the portion of a day in his day' (Exodus 16:4; cf. 2 Kings 25:30; Nehemiah 12:47; Luke 12:42; 1 Timothy 6:8).

Verse 9. Lest I be full, and (i:e., lest when I be full, I) deny (thee), and say, Who is the Lord? - what need have I to pray? I have ample sufficiency in my wealth. What have I to say to the Lord? (Job 21:15; Job 22:17-18; cf. Israel's case, Deuteronomy 32:15; cf. Isaiah 59:13.) When filled with the Lord's gifts, we are most apt to ignore the Giver: the result of which is, He at last takes back His gifts from them who withhold from Him the glory of them (Hosea 2:5-9). We learn hence:

(1) How depraved is man's nature, seeing that he so abuses God's gifts;

(2) The cause why God often denies riches to the godly;

(3) The folly of men in so keenly pursuing what is so dangerous to them (Mede).

Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God (in vain) - literally, seize on the name of my God, either by perjury or irreverent speaking, in complaint of God and His providence (Exodus 20:7). Poverty tempts to unlawful means of supplying one's needs. Then theft is concealed by perjury, to which there was the greater temptation among the Jews, as the thief was put on his oath as to whether he was guilty or not (Exodus 22:8-11; Leviticus 6:2). Hence, theft and perjury are often conjoined (Zechariah 5:3-4). Regard to our spiritual and eternal interests ought to be the regulator of our desires as to temporal things. The prayer "Lead us not into temptation" teaches us to avoid not only sins, but incentives to sin.

Verse 10

Accuse not a servant unto his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty.

Accuse not (literally, attack not with the tongue) a servant unto his master (for the servant, or slave, being already in an afflicted condition, thou wouldest be adding affliction to affliction),

Lest he (the slave) curse thee, and thou be found guilty - his curse involving thee in guilt before God. So in the case of all that are afflicted, the widow and the fatherless (Exodus 22:22-24). But when conscience requires faithfulness in exposing sin, there the servant's delinquency is to be told to the master (Genesis 21:25). It is only false or trivial charges that are censured. Love enjoins silence where faithfulness does not require us to accuse.

A generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother - to whom children owe so much, and whom they ought to honour next to God. Ingratitude and contumacy. No provocation of a parent excuses the child who curses him-a sin punished capitally, as was blasphemy toward the Divine Father (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

Verse 11

There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 12

There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. (There is) a generation ... pure in their own eyes, and (yet) is not washed from their filthiness - literally, excrement: what is "cast out into the draught" (Matthew 15:17) [ tsow'ah (H6675), from yaatsaa' (H3318), to go out]. Hypocrites and self-justifiers.

Verse 13

There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up.

O how lofty are their eyes! - (Proverbs 6:17; Psalms 131:1.)

Verse 14

There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.

A generation whose teeth (are as) swords ... to devour the poor - voracious rapacity seeking its gratification by calumny and violence, at the cost of those most calculated to move compassion, the poor and needy.

Verses 15-16

The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough:

Four insatiable things follow the four detestable offences.

The horse-leach hath two daughters, (crying), Give, give. The horse-leach is covetousness. The two words are, as it were, her two daughters, which come forth out of her. The greediness of the covetous is described in Proverbs 30:14. Not content with having once "devoured the needy," they again, a second time, return to drain out all their substance, like the horse-leach.

There are three (things) ... yea, four (things) - (cf. Amos 1:3, on the Hebrew idiom, "three yea, four.")

Verse 16. The grave ( shª'owl (H7585); cf. Proverbs 27:20); the world of departed spirits, ever craving for fresh comers from this world),

... the barren womb (cf. Rachel, Genesis 30:1);

The earth (that) is not filled with water (that is always ready to drink more rain);

And the fire (that) saith not (it is) enough - that is ready to consume any amount of fuel that you pile on it.

Verse 17

The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.

The eye (that) mocketh at (his) father, and despiseth to obey (his) mother, the ravens of the valley (which build their nests in solitary valleys) shall pick it out - he shall be put to a death of shame, and his carcass become a prey to ravenous birds (Proverbs 20:20; Exodus 21:15-17). The eye especially is attacked by birds of prey.

Verses 18-19

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:

There be three (things) ... yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid - as all these afford no clue to their mode of action. "The way of a man ( geber: a mighty or wanton man) with a maid," whom he is trying to seduce, is so subtle that it baffles penetration. Inexperienced females must not rely on their own wisdom and strength of resolution, as securing them from evil, when they place themselves in positions of danger. The depths of nature symbolize the depths of Satan and his agents. The eagle flies upward, without turnings. like other birds, and soars so high that the eye cannot trace his "way." The serpent, though without feet or wings, trails along the rock wheresoever it will, leaving no impression of its way. The ship, notwithstanding its bulk, speedily traverse many miles leaving no track in the water. So the man who is passionately bent on gratifying his lust after a virgin, adopts varied devices which cannot be traced out fully in detail. The movements of all four are light, gliding, without noise, quick, and the mode unknown to us. Thus the sense gives no sanction to the Jews' use of this verse to deny that halmah, in Isaiah 7:14, means a virgin: if she were not so, there would be no miracle in that passage.

Verse 20

Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.

An adulterous woman ... eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness - like one who has eaten something, and afterward having wiped his mouth, says he eaten nothing (cf. "bread eaten in secret," Proverbs 9:17; Proverbs 20:17). Note the delicacy and propriety of Scripture language in indelicate acts. As the "man" seducing the "maid" (Proverbs 30:19) uses marvelous and varied arts to deceive her, so here the "adulterous woman" uses such artifices to deceive the husband, and hide the offence against him.

Verses 21-22

For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:

For three (things) the earth is disquieted ... for a servant when he reigned (Proverbs 19:10 ); (and) a fool, when he is filled with meat - i:e., when he is in prosperity, and his appetites given loose rein to (Proverbs 30:20). Both become insolent by elevation, which they know not how to use (cf. 1 Timothy 3:6).

Verse 23

For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.

For an odious (woman) when she is married - for by her bad temper and ways she makes herself unbearable to her husband, her domestics, and her neighbours. Cartwright and Maurer explain: when a man had two wives, the one beloved, the other comparatively hated (cf. Deuteronomy 21:15), if the latter be made by her husband the beloved wife, she is sure to behave imperiously, because of the former contumely she bare. I prefer the English version.

And an handmaid ... heir to her mistress - the lower sunk in grade she was before the more insolent she will be when she has gotten a fortune. Gesenius, after the Septuagint, translates, 'an handmaid, when she has expelled; i:e. succeeded into the place of her mistress.' So the Syriac. But the Vulgate and Chaldaic support the English version.

Verses 24-25

There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:

There be four (things) ... little upon the earth (i:e., among the smallest things upon earth),

But ... exceeding wise - Hebrew, 'wise, made wise;' endowed with natural instinct for their preservation.

Verse 25. The ants - (Proverbs 6:6 , etc., notes.) ... a people - (Joel 1:4 ) not strong - as compared with man-whence the Arabs have a proverb, 'Feebler than an ant;' but most strong in proportion to their own size, as the large burdens which they carry show: whence the other Arab proverb arises, 'Stronger than an ant.' The Egyptians made the ant the hieroglyphic for knowledge; and the Arabs put one in the hand of a boy at his birth with the prayer, 'May he turn out ingenious and skillful.' Therefore none can excuse himself from labour, on the ground of having a small and feeble body.

They prepare their meat in the summer. In Zante it is well authenticated that quantities of grain have been removed from the threshing-floors to the nests of ants.

Verse 26

The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;

The conies ... feeble ... yet make they their houses in the rocks - not the rabbit, which is not found in Bible lands, but a gregarious pachydermatous animal (Hebrew, shapan (H8227)), the hyrax Syriacus, about the size of a rabbit, living in the clefts of the rocks. Not the jerboa, as Bochart thinks, since this inhabits sandy places, not stony rocks. An old male shapan or hyrax is set as sentry near their holes; if danger approach, he utters a whistle to apprise his companions. This illustrate their wisdom, here celebrated (cf. note, Psalms 104:18).

Verse 27

The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;

The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands - literally, divided (Maurer); Joel 2:7-8; or, as the Chaldaic and Syriac, 'collected together' [ chotseets (H2686)]: from chaatsats, a pebble, or means of calculation: all in their hands as it, were according to catalogue. Gejer translates, 'they go forth like archers,' another sense of the Hebrew. But the English version is preferable.

Verse 28

The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.

The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces. The term here, sªmaamiyt (H8079), different from that in Job 8:14 `akaabiysh (H5908). Probably a lizard is meant here. [Modern Greek has the kindred name, samiaminthos, corresponding to the ancient askalabootees: a species of gecko; Latin, stellio.] On under surface of the toes there is a lamellated structure by which they can run over smooth surfaces noiselessly in an inverted position, as house flies on a ceiling. The language, "taketh hold with her hands" (anterior feet), accords with this. The wonderful and characteristic work of the spider is to weave a web, not to take hold with her hands. She is rather in the cottages of the poor than "in kings' palaces." In Leviticus 11:30 the Samaritan and Chaldaic versions translate letaah the Hebrew there for 'the lizard,' by semamitha, the same word as here. The derivation confirms this, from shamam, to stupify; or samam, poison. It catches flies ingeniously, and often is found in chinks of walls and in the small recesses of a ceiling. Compare Augustine, 'Confess,' 10:35. It and the spider (as in the case of Robert Bruce of Scotland) alike teach us what great difficulties can be overcome by skill, patience, and perseverance. Kirby ('Bridgewater Treatise,' 2: 186) says, 'The spider's claws or spinning organs serve both as hands and eyes to the animal.'

Verse 29

There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:

Three (things) ... go well ... are comely in going. As the former examples inculcated prudence and skill, so the four following inculcate stedfast and fearless progress in our right undertakings.

Verse 30

A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;

A lion ... turneth not away for any - Hebrew 'from the presence of any;' i:e., for fear of any (cf. Job 39:22). Aristotle, 'Histoire,' 9: 44, says of the lion, 'It never flees nor trembles; but though it be forced to retire because of the multitude, yet it retreats slowly, step by step.'

Verse 31

A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.

A greyhound - Hebrew, one girt in the loins. Gesenius explains a war horse with its ornamental trappings on the loins, such as are depicted in the carvings at Persepolis, 'an accoutred chariot horse' (Martial, 14: 86; Bochart, 'Hierozoica,' 1: 103; cf. Job 39:19-25). The Chaldaic, Syriac, Arabic Septuagint, and Vulgate take it, 'a cock;' not probably; as 'girt in the loins' thus has no sense. Kimchi, supports the English version, "a greyhound." having compressed loins. Maurer, 'a wrestler,' whose loins are girt up for the struggle, and whose motion in advancing is the beau ideal of grace, boldness, and firmness. Other, 'the leopard,' somewhat similarly associated with the lion and he-goat in Daniel 7:1-28; Daniel 8:1-27. The sense is doubtful.

An he-goat - the leader of the flock.

A king against whom (there is) no rising up. Pocock, Gesenius, etc., translate the Hebrew, 'alquwm (H510), from the Arabic, 'a king with whom is his people.' So the Septuagint Syriac, and Chaldaic. But these old versions doubtless read for 'against whom,' or 'with him' [ `imow (H5973)], 'his people' [ `amow (H5971)]: and though the Arabic article is found in Hebrew, kum is not found in the sense people. The authority of the Hebrew commentators supports the English version.

Verse 32

If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.

If thou hast done foolishly (or, hast been foolish) in lifting up thyself - through pride and insolence. The following clause --

If thou hast thought evil - or hast devised evil, implies that the action supposed is one begun, not completed.

(Lay) thine hand upon thy mouth - (Job 21:5; Job 40:4.) Abstain from all excuse or defense of the past; and curb thyself in silence from speaking and still more from going on to do that evil which thou thoughtest.

Verse 33

Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife. Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose ... blood; so the forcing of wrath ... strife. As constant and violent agitation of milk brings forth butter, and the compression of the nose blood, wherein is the life, so the agitation of with brings forth strife. The wise way is (Proverbs 30:32), "Lay thine hand upon thy mouth."

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Proverbs 30". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/proverbs-30.html. 1871-8.
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