Agur's confession of his faith. The two points of his prayer. The meanest are not to be wronged. Four wicked generations. Four things insatiable. Parents are not to be despised. Four things hard to be known. Four things intolerable. Four things exceeding wise. Four things stately. Wrath is to be prevented.
Proverbs 30:1. The words of Agur, &c.— According to the signification of the original terms, this might be rendered, The words of him who has recollected himself, the son of obedience. The generality of the fathers and ancient commentators will have it that Solomon describes himself under the name of Agur, the son of Jakeh; others conjecture that Agur, as well as Lemuel, in the next chapter, were wise men who lived in the time of Solomon, and were his interlocutors in the book of Proverbs; an opinion without the least show of probability. This book is nothing like a dialogue. It is most probable that Agur was an inspired author, different from Solomon, whose moral and proverbial sentences (for such is the import of the word rendered prophesy) it was thought most convenient to join with those of this prince, because of the conformity of their matter; for what could ever have obliged Solomon to disguise his name in this place? For what reason could he have changed his style and manner of writing in this chapter only? for it is certain, that this chapter is penned in a way very different from the rest of the book. Besides, could it become Solomon to speak as this author does in the second verse, or to address himself to God as he does in the eighth? Certainly these words are not consistent with the situation of a king like Solomon. But who then was this Agur? When and where did he live? This is what no one yet has ever been able to tell us. See Calmet, and Bishop Lowth's 18th Prelection.
Even the prophecy, &c.— This may be rendered, The man spake a prophesy or sententious discourse to Ithiel, and Ithiel to Ucal. These two persons are supposed to have been scholars and friends of Agur, who came to him to be instructed in the principles of true wisdom. He begins with modestly declaring his own insufficiency for so great an undertaking (I am more dull than the rest of men, and void of human prudence); and recommends, as the foundation of all useful knowledge, an humble temper of mind, sensible of all the natural weakness of human understanding, and of the imperfection of its highest improvements; which he argues, Proverbs 30:4 from our ignorance of the works of nature. (See the parallel passages in the Book of Job:) And therefore in the two following verses he advises his two pupils to make it their principal study to understand the will of God, which is of all knowledge the most important, and of the greatest use in human life; and in all their inquiries of this kind, to confine themselves to what God has revealed. See Foster's Sermons, vol. 1 serm. 8: and Deuteronomy 30:11-14.
Proverbs 30:6. Add thou not unto his words— That is, "Do not any thing contrary to what he commands." See Deuteronomy 4:2-32, &c.
Proverbs 30:8-9. Give me neither poverty, &c.— These words are introduced in the form of an address to God, in answer, perhaps, to some question which the disciples had proposed to Agur about the duty of prayer. What Agur prays for is, such a proportion of the good things of this world, as may best answer the end of living. It must be observed, that the terms poverty and riches are relative, and not absolute. They are relative to the particular state and circumstances in which each person is placed; so that what is riches to one will be poverty to another of higher station; on the contrary, what is poverty to one, will be riches to another in a meaner condition. This prayer, therefore, is not a prayer for a middle state of life, absolutely; as it has been often understood to be; but it is a prayer for a sufficiency, for a due measure, a fit and just proportion of things necessary and convenient for us, in whatever station we are; without want, without excess. And in this view the prayer is an universal prayer, and may with equal propriety be used by the high and the low; just as both high and low and all men universally pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." If we consider the prayer in the other light, as a request for a middle station of life absolutely, then it is evidently impossible that it should be universal; it being not possible to suppose that the middle station can be the lot and condition of all. The danger which attends a state of great riches and superfluity is expressed thus, Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? To deny God, is to act and live as if there were no righteous Governor and Judge of mankind to whom we are accountable, as well as directly to disown his being and providence; or, in a more confined sense, it implies irreligion and prophaneness, a disregard and contempt of Providence, and other crimes which are committed more directly and more immediately against God himself. As truth may be denied by actions, as well as by words, this is declared atheism. He who lives as if there were no governing Providence, however he may admit in theory the existence of a First Cause, yet in practice he denies that Being to be God: for the notion of God, in the moral and religious sense, is always relative to servants or subjects, and signifies not barely the absolute perfection of nature, but dominion and sovereignty, and the moral government of the world. The temptations to which poverty is exposed are, stealing, and taking the name of God in vain. The latter clause certainly means more than common swearing, because there does not seem to be a greater connection between that vice and poverty, than riches; it therefore probably signifies perjury, to which poverty and distress are great temptations. See Foster's Sermons, as above, and Harvest's 5th Sermon.
Proverbs 30:10. Accuse not a servant unto his master— Do not abuse any poor slave, whose condition is wretched enough; and therefore rather excuse than aggravate his fault to his master, who perhaps is too rigorous; and be sure never to load him with unjust accusations, lest, being wronged by thee, and not knowing how to right himself, he appeal to the Lord, and pray him to punish thee; and thou, being found guilty, feel the heavy effects of his vengeance. See Bishop Patrick.
Proverbs 30:11-14. There is a generation, &c.— These verses seem to contain cautions against keeping company with certain persons;
1. Those who are ungrateful to their parents;
2 dissembling hypocrites, Proverbs 30:12;
3 supercilious proud men, Proverbs 30:13;
4 cruel and uncompassionate men; tyrants, extortioners, calumniators, &c.
Proverbs 30:15. The horse-leach hath two daughters— This passage seems in my judgment, says Bishop Patrick, to be an answer to some such question as this (which the scholars had propounded to Agur, after the manner of enigmatical discourses), What is most unsatiable? which he chooses to give an account of in this place, the better to represent the nature of those wicked men of whom he had spoken before; especially the two last, the proud and the tyrannical, or extortioner; whose desires are a gulph which can never be filled. At first he seems to have thought but of two things; namely the grave, and the barren womb, which might properly be called the daughters of the horse-leach: but he presently adds another; nay, and a fourth came into his mind, as no less insatiable: this he expresses after the mariner of the Hebrews, who, intending to mention four things, or more, separate them at first, and begin with a lesser number, and then proceed to all that they designed. We have an example hereof in the 18th and 21st verses; in chap. Proverbs 6:10.; and in Amos 5:9. The LXX, in the Roman edition, read: The horse-leach hath three beloved daughters, and these three are never satisfied; and there is a fourth, which saith not, it sufficeth: and the unlearned reader will remark, that in our translation a number of words are thrown in, which being taken away, would very much assimilate ours to the translation of the LXX. See Scheuchzer on the place.
Proverbs 30:17. Despiseth to obey his mother— Despiseth the old age of his mother. "They who are guilty of such enormous ingratitude to their parents, shall come to an infamous end, and their dead bodies shall be exposed for a prey to the ravens which frequent the brooks that run into the vallies, and to the young eagles, who shall pick out those eyes in which their scorn and derision of their parents was wont to appear."
Proverbs 30:19. And the way of a man with a maid— See Isaiah 7:14. I would just observe upon this passage, that some have understood it as a reference to the incarnation of the Word in the Virgin Mary. The word עלמה almah, rendered maid, signifies a virgin strictly speaking; and גבר geber, rendered a man, may signify the man, or great one, by way of eminence; but for more on this text the reader is referred to Schultens' very accurate discussion of it. Houbigant thinks that the sacred writer here refers to the human conception, which is, indeed, truly miraculous and incomprehensible.
Proverbs 30:20. Such is the way of an adulterous woman— The wise man adds, that this also is another of the things which he cannot understand. As idolatry is frequently expressed in Scripture by adultery, some commentators think that the adulterous woman here means an idolatress, who, having eaten of the sacrifice offered to an idol, wipeth her mouth, in order to conceal her crime, and afterwards audaciously persists in asserting that she is innocent. The plain meaning, however, seems to be, that it is difficult to conceive how a woman who is an adultress can so openly and impudently deny herself to be so, when there are the most manifest and indubitable proofs of it.
Proverbs 30:21-23. For three things the earth is disquieted— We have here an answer to another enigmatical question, What things are most intolerable? Which he tells us are, 1. A slave who bears rule; 2. A fool over-fed; 3. A vicious wife in a family; 4. A servant-maid become mistress of the house. This is very clear, and but too well confirmed by experience. A slave, or a man of an obscure condition, and of a mean servile soul, who domineers over others, is a subject of vexation and pain to them. If it be difficult to endure a master, even of illustrious birth, what must we think of a man who is lifted from servitude to a throne? he must have many degrees of excellence above another, not to be looked upon with jealousy and pain; and, unless endued with great grace, will be more cruel, and more insolent than another:
——————Regnabit sanguine multo Ad regnum quisquis venit ab exilio.
He will not be sparing of blood who, from a state of slavery, ascends to a throne.
A slave high-fed, and too much at his ease, very often despises his master. Solomon has informed us before, (chap. Proverbs 29:21.) that he who brings up his servant too delicately from his childhood, will soon see him insolent and disobedient. The same prince has frequently painted the inconveniences and disagreements of an ill-suited marriage, and the company of a quarrelsome, and not beloved wife. It is as a house which continually disgusts, and is open to every wind. Though the law allowed of repudiating this kind of wives, it rarely happened that this liberty was made use of, on account of other considerations of decorum, family, and the difficulties which were expressly urged in the courts of justice against the execution of the law. Lastly, a servant who has taken the place of her dead or repudiated mistress, commonly becomes insupportable to the whole house, and particularly to her husband's other wives; for we must suppose polygamy in Palestine among the Jews. The jealousy of wives against wives is as it were an unquenchable fire. Witness the case of Hagar, the servant of Sarah, Genesis 16:5.
Proverbs 30:26. The conies— The mountain-mice—the rock-rats. See Leviticus 11:5.
Proverbs 30:27. Yet go they forth all of them by bands— Yet go they forth sharing all amongst them. See Boch. tom. 1: Proverbs 15.
Proverbs 30:28. The spider— The lizard. Schultens, &c.
Proverbs 30:31. A greyhound, &c.— Houbigant renders it, A cock who erects himself in his walking; a he-goat, who marches before the flock; a king, who goeth forth, his retinue attending. See his note.
Proverbs 30:33. Surely, the churning of milk— This verse is connected with that preceding, and may be thus paraphrased: For from little things there is an easy progress unto greater; and just as you see milk is first pressed out of the cow's udder, and then, being agitated in the churn, is forced into butter; and as the nose, being wrung, though at first it only purify itself, yet if it be harder pressed, issues forth blood; so words passing to and fro raise a heat, and that, if continued, stirs up anger, which frequently ends in broils and irreconcileable quarrels." Patrick.
REFLECTIONS.—Who this Agur was, is immaterial for us to inquire; it is enough that he wrote under prophetic inspiration, either directing his discourse to Ithiel and Ucal, his children or his disciples; or speaking concerning Ithiel and Ucal; (as many suppose) names applicable to the great Messiah, God with me, and the mighty one, able to save to the uttermost; or addressed to him as the Saviour and Deliverer of his faithful people, who hears their prayers, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
1. He humbly confesses his sin and ignorance. Surely I am more brutish than any man, or a brute rather than a man; such blindness and ignorance is in man's fallen nature, such perverseness and corruption in his heart: and they who have the deepest knowledge of themselves, discovering more of the folly and sin of their own hearts, than they can possibly see in others, will adopt with deepest sensibility the confession; and have not the understanding of a man, of Adam in innocence, or of men in general. I neither learned wisdom by any power of my own, nor can I understand it unless taught of God; nor have the knowledge of the holy ones; for imperfect are the highest attainments of knowledge respecting the divine Being and his glorious perfections; and the things of God can no man know but by the Spirit of God.
2. He exalts the glory of the great Creator and Redeemer of men: none but he ever could reveal the deep things of God, who came down from heaven, and is ascended thither, John 3:13. By his power the stormy winds are restrained, the clouds are wrapped up as in a garment, the deep in swaddling-bands: the earth, founded upon the flood, spoken into being at his word, and upheld by his providence: but who can declare his generation, whose hands have made all these things? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell? We are lost the moment we set ourselves to the inquiry; for who by searching can find out God, his nature, perfections, the divine paternity or filiation, and all the other mysteries hid in the triune God? Here we must bow and silently adore.
3. He commends the excellence of God's word. It is pure, without the least human mixture or adulteration, and tending to produce purity of heart and life in all who receive the scriptures in the light and love of them: it is faithful, none ever trusted the promises and were disappointed; but they, who, according to his word, have made God their refuge, have ever found him their shield to ward off every danger: it is perfect, incapable of improvement; it were daring presumption in man to add thereto, and such arrogance would provoke God's rebukes, and issue in the confusion of those who should pretend to set up their traditions or fancies on a level with the revelation of God.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Proverbs 30". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent