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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Proverbs 30

 

 

Verses 1-33

V. THE SUPPLEMENTS

Chaps30,31

First Supplement: The words of Agur

Chap30

a) Introduction: Of God’s word as the source of all wisdom

Proverbs 30:1-6

1 Words of Agur, the son of the princess of Massa.

The man’s saying: “I have wearied myself about God,

wearied myself about God—then did I withdraw!

2 For I am a beast and not a Prayer of Manasseh,

and the understanding of a man I have not;

3 neither have I acquired Wisdom of Solomon,

nor gained knowledge of the Holy.

4 Who hath ascended to the heavens and descended?

who hath grasped the wind in his fists?

who hath wrapped the waters in a garment?

who hath fixed all the ends of the earth?

what is his name and what is his son’s name, if thou knowest?

5 Every word of God is pure;

a shield is He to them that trust in Him.

6 Add thou not to His words,

lest He rebuke thee and thou be made a liar.”

b) Various expressive numerical Proverbs, relating to the golden mean between rich and poor, to recklessness, an insatiable disposition, pride and arrogance, etc

7 Two things have I entreated of thee,

refuse me not, before I die:

8 Deceit and lies keep far from me;

poverty and riches give me not;

cause me to eat the food allotted me;

9 lest I, being full, deny (God)

and say: Who is Jehovah?

and lest I, having become poor, steal

and take the name of my God in vain.—

10 Cause not the servant to slander his master,

lest he curse thee and thou suffer (be destroyed).—

11 (There is) a generation that curseth their father,

and doth not bless their mother;

12 (there is) a generation that are pure in their own eyes,

and are not washed from their filthiness;

13 (there is) a generation, how haughty are their eyes,

and their eyelids are lifted up;

14 (there is) a generation whose teeth are swords, and their jaw-teeth knives,

to devour the poor from the earth, and the needy from among men!—

15 The leech hath two daughters: give, give!

there are three (things) that are not to be satisfied;

four say not: enough!

16 The world of the dead, the barren womb;

the earth (which) is not satisfied with water,

and the fire that saith not: enough!—

17 An eye that mocketh at its father,

and despiseth obedience to its mother,

the ravens of the valley shall pluck it out,

and the young eagles shall eat it.—

18 Three things are too wonderful for me,

and four I do not comprehend;

19 the way of the eagle in the heavens,

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.

20 Thus is the way of the adulterous woman:

she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith:

I have done no iniquity!—

21 Under three things doth the earth tremble,

and under four can it not stand:

22 under a servant when he ruleth,

and a fool when he is satisfied with bread;

23 under a hated (rejected) woman when she is married,

and a maid when she succeedeth her mistress.

24 Four are the little things of earth,

and yet are they wise, quick of wit:

25 the ants, a people not strong,

that prepare in summer their food;

26 conies, a people not mighty,

that set their dwelling among rocks;

27 no king have the locusts,

and yet they go forth organized all of them;

28 the lizard layeth hold with her hands,

and dwelleth in kings’ palaces.—

29 There are three that make stately their walk,

and four that are comely in going:

30 the lion, mighty among beasts,

and that turneth not before any:

31 the greyhound, slender in its loins, or the goat,

and a king with whom there is no resistance (possible).—

32 If thou art foolish in exalting thyself,

and if thou devisest evil—(put) thy hand on thy mouth!

33 For the pressing of milk giveth forth cheese,

and pressing the nose giveth blood,

and pressing wrath giveth strife.

GRAMMATICAL AND CRITICAL

Proverbs 30:6.—[In תּוֹסְףְ we have the single instance in which daghesh lene is omitted after a silent sheva. See Green, § 22 b; 66 (2), a; Bött, § 325.—A.]

Proverbs 30:10.—[In אֲדֹנָו the suffix is of the form appropriate to the singular, as is not uncommon with pluralia tantum; Bött, § 886, 1, δ. In יְקַלֶּלְךָ the verb has the sense of a subj. pres. in a negative or final clause; Bött, § 981, 2.—A.]

Proverbs 30:15.—[The noun הוֹן, as a sort of independent accusative, becomes virtually an Interjection. Böttcher, § 510, 5, d.—A.]

Proverbs 30:17.—[לִיקְּהַת for לִיִקְהַת has a daghesh dirimens in the ק, the long Hhiriq being shortened; Green, § 14, a; 24, b; 57, 2, (3) a; Bött, § 399, b, 3; 458, 1, d.—A.]

Proverbs 30:25.—[נְמָלִים, a fem. noun construed as masculine; Green, § 200, e; Bött, § 715, e.—A.]

Proverbs 30:29.—[מֵיטִבֵי, where it occurs the second time, drops the characteristic as superfluous; Bött, § 171.—A.]

Proverbs 30:31.—[For אוֹ Bött. would read תְּאוֹ, the wild goat or antelope.]

EXEGETICAL

1. Preliminary Remark. If our reading and explanation of the superscription in Proverbs 30:1 is correct (see what is said immediately below, under No2), the contents of this Supplement, like that of the one following ( Proverbs 31:1-9), can be accepted neither as from Song of Solomon, nor from Hezekiah. For aside from the fact that it is quite as impossible that “Agur” as that “Lemuel” in Proverbs 31:1 is some allegorical substitute for the name of Song of Solomon, as many of the olden commentators claim (e.g., Stöcker, J. Lange, etc., [so Jerome, Rashi, etc., earlier, and Wordsw, etc., more recently]), the name Massa clearly points to a land beyond the bounds of Palestine as the dwelling-place of the author or collector. The name must belong to the Massa mentioned in Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30 with Duma, as the name of a district or tribe in northern Arabia,—which from the direction of Jerusalem (according to Isaiah 21:11) was beyond Seir, and therefore in any case south-easterly from Palestine, and which we shall be obliged to regard as an Ishmaelitish kingdom, or an Israelitish founded by members of the covenant people of the Old Testament who had wandered from home. Delitzsch holds the former view (Article Sprüche Salomo’s in Herzog’s Real-Encyclopädie). His reasons are, that both sections, the “words of Agur” and the “words of Lemuel” contain numerous traces of an origin outside the Hebrew while yet Semitic (e.g., the insatiable “Aluka” or blood-sucker, Proverbs 30:15; the Divine name אֱלוֹהַּ, Proverbs 30:15; the expressions יִקְהָה, Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 30:17; הוֹן “enough,” Proverbs 30:15-16; בִּר (בְּרִי), Proverbs 31:2; אֵין=אֵי, Proverbs 31:4; בְּנֵי עֹנִי, Proverbs 31:5, etc.); and because the reception into the canon of the prophecies of Balaam, and yet more that of the discourses of Job, a dweller in the land of Uz, which notoriously was never inhabited by Israelites, furnish proofs sufficiently weighty of the possibility of a transplanting into the soil of the sacred national literature of Israel, of the products of a religious literature originating beyond the bounds of Israel. The second of the views above mentioned Hitzig has endeavored to present as probable in his treatise on “the kingdom of Massa” (1844), already cited in § 12of our Introduction, and likewise in pp310 sq. of his Commentary; and he has done it with arguments which we must deem more weighty than those adduced by Delitzsch, and whose decisive weight is admitted by Bertheau also. These arguments for the Israelitish character of the land of Massa, and of its rulers Agur and Lemuel, whose wise maxims are before us in our two Supplements, are briefly the following1) Agur confesses expressly in Proverbs 30:9 his faith in Jehovah the God of Israel2) The introductory words in Proverbs 30:1-6, as well as the utterances in Proverbs 30:7-8; Proverbs 30:14; Proverbs 30:22; Proverbs 30:32 of the same chapter, and in Proverbs 31:8-9, breathe forth that sense of justice and that humble subjection to the hand of God, which are peculiar to the theocratic reverer of the law who is of Israel, and such as appear in numerous other passages of our Book of Proverbs, of the Book of Psalm, the Prophets, etc. 3) The Massa of Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30, is indeed in these passages numbered among the sons of Ishmael, and therefore characterized as a district inhabited mainly by Ishmaelites; but later Arabian and Jewish authors (especially Benjamin of Tudela in his accounts of the city of Telmâs see Ritter’s Arabia, II:406) describe the region of Massa and the Duma which is its near neighbor, as occupied by numerous Jews,—and already among the prophecies of Isaiah from the time of Hezekiah there is found a prophecy which relates to Duma ( Isaiah 21:11-12), a “burden of Duma” which with great probability presents Hebrews as dwelling in this region4) The passage ( 1 Chronicles 4:38-43) expressly records a migration that occurred in the days of Hezekiah to Mount Seir, and so quite into the neighborhood of Massa and Duma,—a migration of Israelites of the tribe of Simeon who had settled in the region of the remnant of the Amalekites, and therefore in northern Arabia; and moreover from Micah 1:15; Micah 2:8-10; Isaiah 28:12 there may be inferred as probable a considerable advanced movement of certain roving Israelites toward the South, as having occurred about that time. Therefore Agur and Lemuel might very probably be regarded as Arabian-Israelitish shepherd princes, or as kings (Emirs, Captains) of a colony of Israelites of the tribes of Simeon that had emigrated to northern Arabia,—and this Simeonite colony Massa, quite like Job’s “land of Uz,” should be conceived of as a district to a great extent if not chiefly occupied by kinsmen of the Old Testament people of God, who were believers in Jehovah. [Bött. in his Lehrb., has of course no occasion to enter into the details of this discussion. He does, however, § 29, 36, 37, refer to these chapters as probably largely of Simeonitish origin, and cites various words and constructions as plainly showing affinity with and the influence of the cognate Arabic and Aramaic dialects. Stuart (Comm. pp401–407) enters very elaborately into the examination of the arguments for and against the generally received conception and construction, and decides strongly in favor of Hitzig’s view, which our author adopts. Nearly every other English and American interpreter dismisses the subject with a few lines, quietly retaining the rendering of the E. V. possibly with slight modifications. Kamph. rejects this part of Hitzig’s theory while agreeing with it in many other points. Bleek admits its possible correctness.—A.]

2. The superscription to the discourses of Agur, Proverbs 30:1, according to the Masoretic punctuation is literally rendered: Words of Agur, the son of Jakeh, the divine utterance (prophetic utterance), the saying of the man to Ithiel, to Ithiel and Ucal.” Inasmuch as of the four proper names which these words include, according to this conception of them, one at least, Ithiel, appears also in Nehemiah 11:7 as an Israelitish name of a Prayer of Manasseh, and since Agur is not to be at all suspected as a Hebrew personal name, whether we interpret the word (with Herder and the majority) by “collector,” and so regard it a collateral form of אֹגֵר ( Proverbs 10:5),—or whether with Hitzig, following the Arabic, we claim for it the signification “exile, the man living in a strange land,” this interpretation of this difficult passage, which was already given in the Chaldee version, and partially in the Syriac, and has been retained by most moderns, seems to excite no suspicion, if it be assumed that we are to regard Ithiel and Ucal as sons or pupils of Agur, and are to conceive of the whole as the communication, not indeed of a dialogue of the teacher Agur with these pupils (so e.g., Döderlein), but of a didactic address, or a “fatherly counsel” given to them. But this conception is lexically impossible. And1) because neither “Jakeh” nor “Ucal” occurs elsewhere as a Hebrew proper name, nor can they even be satisfactorily explained as such (see Hitzig on this passage); [Fuerst taking Jakeh as an irregular participial form interprets it symbolically “one holding to the assembly of the wise;”—Gesen. more concisely “pious”]. 2) Because the remarkable doubling of לְאִיתִיאֵלּ can in no way be brought into harmony with the laws of the Hebrew modes of expression,—not even by the assumption of Herder and Umbreit that this is a solemn repetition produced “by the vehemence of parallelism.” 3) Because, finally, הַמַשָּׂא in the sense of “prophetic utterance, prophetic burden” would in connection with the following נְאֻם give a combination unknown in the whole prophetical literature of the Old Testament,—one to the justification of which neither Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1, nor any other passage whatsoever can be brought. [Kamph. while admitting that only a greater or less degree of probability can at the best be reached, meets this difficulty by separating the two nouns whose combination is pronounced unexampled. The first he connects with Agur, while admitting the term is elsewhere used only in strict prophecy. The second he regards as describing the “utterance” of “the Prayer of Manasseh,” some friend or stranger, whose words are given in Proverbs 30:1-4, while Agur himself begins to speak in Proverbs 30:5. He fails to find any sufficient reason for taking מַשָּׂא as a proper rather than a common noun. Stuart argues that in. Proverbs 31:1מַשָּׂא must be a genitive limiting מֶלֶךְ, no other construction being grammatical; the noun must therefore be a proper noun, the name of the kingdom, and the noun must be presumed to be the same here.—A.]

The allegorizing interpretations are however likewise untenable, which have been attempted in various forms, taking the four proper names as either wholly or partially appellative. This was early done by the LXX and Vulg, the former of which appears to have regulated the text in a way wholly arbitrary, while the latter follows the text more closely, and renders Agur by congregans, Jakeh by vomens, Ithiel by cum quo est Deus, and Jucal by confortatus. Of modern expositors Ewald has taken at least the last half of the ver. in a similar way: Thus does the man speak to God-with-me, to God-with-me and I- Amos -strong. The אֻכָּל according to this view stands for אוּכָל, and in combination with the appellative Ithiel composes a single name. Instead of נְאֻם however we should need to read נַאַם. Since the objections expressed above, especially those which relate to the name Jakeh, and the doubling of the name Ithiel are not removed, and still others are added to them, there is nothing left but to alter the reading of the verse thoroughly. Of the various emendations which are possible and have been in part already attempted, that of Hitzig commends itself most strongly, which we have made the basis of the version given above.

According to this we should in the first place read בֶּן יְקָהָהּ מַשָּׂא “Son of her whom Massa obeys,” or again בֶּן יְקָהָהּ מ׀ (which is equivalent to בֶּן יִקְהָתָהּ מ׀) “Son of her whose dominion is Massa,” which in any case gives as the result “son of the ruler, the princess of Massa” (comp. No1.)

Furthermore we must then read twice לָאִיתִי אֵל, “I have labored, have wearied myself upon, about, with God,” i.e., have sought with difficulty and effort to conceive and comprehend Him in His nature (comp. נִלְאָה in Isaiah 26:12; and also passages like Job 9:7; Acts 17:27, etc.) Finally the concluding word ואכל must either be pointed וָאֵכַל, “and have become dull, am wearied,” i.e, in seeking after God (thus Hitzig); or, which seems to be lexically easier, וָאֵכֶל (from כלה, evanuit) “and have withdrawn, have become faint” (comp. Psalm 69:4; Psalm 84:3; Job 19:27, etc.), which latter reading is the one followed by Bertheau [Kamph, S, etc.]. It Isaiah, indeed, true that even by these emendations the difficulties of the passage are not removed; and yet the meaning thus resulting for the second half of the Verse agrees admirably with the further utterances of the Introduction, especially with Proverbs 30:3-4. Moreover the οὐ παύομαι of the LXX which corresponds with the ואכל at the end confirms on the whole the interpretation given to that obscure expression (and that of Hitzig as well as that of Bertheau, which besides are not essentially different). And as respects the expression, which Isaiah, it is true, somewhat harsh, בן יקהה מ׀, an indirect confirmation of this appears in the fact that the rare word יִקְהָה “obedience” (comp. Genesis 49:10) occurs again immediately below in Proverbs 30:17.

3. Proverbs 30:2-6. Continuation and conclusion of the Introduction.—For I am a beast and not a Prayer of Manasseh, etc. To the confession given at the outset, that he has wearied himself in vain in fathoming the divine nature, there is here appropriately added the admission of the author’s ignorance, and his natural incapacity for higher spiritual knowledge. His vexation in view of the fact that his wisdom has come to shame in connection with God and things divine, finds vent for itself in strong expressions, which remind us of Psalm 73:22; comp. also remarks above on Proverbs 12:1.—בַּעַר מֵאִישׁ is probably not “more stupid than any man” (as is commonly rendered, Ewald, Bertheau [E. V, De W, H, N, S, M, W, K.] etc.), but “brutishly stupid, unlike (away from) a Prayer of Manasseh,” and so “a beast and not a man” (Hitzig). [We see no reason for preferring this to the common comparative rendering of מִן. A].

Proverbs 30:3. Nor gained knowledge of the Holy. For this last clause comp. remarks on Proverbs 9:10.

Proverbs 30:4. Who hath ascended to the heavens and descended? For the form of words here employed comp. Genesis 28:12; also John 3:13; Romans 10:6-7. The ascending to heaven and descending thence, is like the “grasping the wind in the fists,” the wrapping up the waters, etc, an activity belonging exclusively to God, and characteristic of Him in His supermundane nature. That there is an activity of this sort, ruling the world and upholding the world, on the part of the invisible God, he knows; but who the in visible divine Ruler of all Isaiah, and how constituted, this has hitherto remained hidden from his view, and it is to this that his amazed inquiries relate, reminding us of Job 26:14; Isaiah 40:12, etc.—Who gathereth the wind in his fists?—so that he can at his pleasure restrain it and let it blow. בְּחָפְנָיו, lit. “in his two fists;” an expression employed probably because there are always two opposing currents of wind, of which now the one and again the other blows (comp. Ecclesiastes 1:6.) [There seems to be no occasion for going beyond the fact that fists usually exist in pairs, to find in the remoter facts of nature an explanation for a very natural phrase.—A.]—Who wrappeth the waters in a garment? The water is the upper mass of waters, wrapped in the clouds of heaven as in a capacious garment, and so kept back from pouring down upon the earth. Comp. Job 26:8; Psalm 104:6 : and above, notes on Proverbs 8:28.—Who fixeth all the ends of the earth? By this is probably intended the bounds of the continents against the sea ( Jeremiah 5:22; Job 33:10-11.)—What is his name, and his son’s name, if thou knowest? In this question is contained the idea: No one knows God adequately in His inmost nature; none is able to attain a genealogical knowledge of Him and His family, in such way as may be done among men; especially is the question, what is true of His Song of Solomon, veiled in inscrutable mystery. That God has no son at all is plainly not implied in this remarkable question, which is left unanswered (in reply to Hitzig); but only this, that no one knows the name of this Song of Solomon,—that his nature and his relation to the other manifestations of God’s nature, e.g., to His hypostatic wisdom ( Proverbs 8:22 sq.) is known to none. Agur therefore confesses here with sufficient distinctness the defectiveness of his knowledge of God the Song of Solomon,—a fact which serves to confirm in the most welcome way our remarks on the passage Proverbs 8:22 sq. concerning the incompleteness, the embryonic imperfection of the doctrine of the Logos (or the Christology) of the proverbs in general. Both Geier who identifies the “Son” of our passage without qualification with God’s hypostatic Wisdom of Solomon, and J. D. Michaelis, who finds here ascribed to God with the clearness and precision of the New Testament an only Song of Solomon, go too far and intermingle foreign ideas. [So Stuart: “To think of the Logos here, under the name of בֶּן would be ‘travelling very far out of the record.’ ” And yet we may well go as far as J. Pye Smith (Scripture Testimony, etc., I:469) when he says: “The concluding clauses of this energetic passage are rationally and easily interpreted, if we admit that the ancient Jews had some obscure ideas of a plurality in the divine nature.” The objections to as much of an inference as this are forced and feeble. It is possible that the meaning may be only this: We know neither himself nor his,—while in human relations the man and his genealogy are objects of eager inquiry and extensive knowledge. But I the Messianic Psalm had already spoken of “the Song of Solomon,” mysteriously, perhaps, and yet enough to supply germs of knowledge as well as of faith. See Holden, etc.—A.]—Strangely insipid and rationalizing is Umbreit’s view [held by Noyes, etc.], that by the Son is here intended the pupil of the philosopher who understands all the mysteries of the world and the world’s government!—Furthermore the LXX instead of בְּנוֹ must have read בָּנָיו for they render το ὄνομα τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτοῦ.

Proverbs 30:5-6. Instead of unprofitable puzzling about God and divine mysteries there is recommended the humble reception in faith of the only true divine revelation which affords light and peace, and needs no supplementing or perfecting on the part of man.—With5 a comp. Psalm 19:9; Psalm 119:140; with a and b, Psalm 18:31, where however יְחֹוָה takes the place of the divine name אֱלוֹהּ which is characteristic of our passage. In regard to this comp. above, remarks under No1.—Add thou nothing to His words. A similar warning with respect to the law as a revelation of the divine will fully sufficient in itself and adequate occurs in Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32; comp. also Revelation 22:18.

4. Proverbs 30:7-10. Prayer of the poet to Jehovah for preservation from all that is false, and from the two extremes of poverty and riches ( Proverbs 30:7-9), together with a warning against the vice of slander. This last forms with Proverbs 30:17 the sole exception to that mode of constructing the proverbs which elsewhere in the section, Proverbs 30:7-33, is consistently carried through, viz., the numerical. Comp. on these peculiar numerical proverbs or Middoth, the Introd, § 14, and remarks on Proverbs 6:16.—Two things have I entreated of thee. This double prayer Isaiah, as the 2 d clause shows, a prayer not merely once offered, but the abiding utterance to God of the desire of the poet’s heart, his importunate request from Him continued to his death.

[The idea “vanity” given in the E. V. and retained by H, M, W, etc., is a secondary meaning of the noun whose primary meaning according to Gesen. is “evil,” according to Fuerst “insecurity, or slipperiness.” It seems to be more than the unsubstantial, it is the positively deceitful that is here intended.—A.]—Cause me to eat the food allotted me, lit. “the food of my lot or portion,” i.e., the part or assignment that falls to me, so much as is intended and is needful for me, no more and no less. Comp. Proverbs 31:15; Genesis 47:22; and also the ἄρτος ἐπιούσιος, the “daily bread” of the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:11, which is equivalent at least in a general way.

Proverbs 30:9. Lest I being full deny, etc. Bold denial of the Holy One, and the mocking question “who is the Lord, or what can He do?” (comp. Psalm 73:11; Job 21:14) appears in other passages likewise as the indication of pride developed by surfeiting and luxurious enjoyment in life; see Deuteronomy 8:12-15; Deuteronomy 32:15 sq.—And lest I be poor and steal (comp. Proverbs 6:30) and take the name of my God in vain. תפּש “to lay hands upon or seize hold of something” here denotes the wicked profanation of the divine name which consists in mockery, cursing and contumely with respect to it. For such offences as these the bitter necessities of hunger and poverty may according to Isaiah 8:21 produce (comp. Proverbs 19:3), and not merely false swearing by the name of God in denying the guilt of theft, which alone is usually thought of here.

Proverbs 30:10. Cause not the servant to slander his master. Usually rendered: “betray (or slander) not the servant to his master” (Vulg, Luther, Umbreit [E. V, De W, H, N, M.], etc.). But the Hiphil cannot have the same meaning as the Poel, Psalm 101:5; it must mean “to cause one to slander, to excite one to calumny against another.” The warning is not against slander in itself, but against incitement to slander, and more specifically betraying servants into tattling and accusations against their masters (thus correctly Ewald, Bertheau, Hitzig, Elster [Kamph, S.], etc.).—Lest he curse thee, and thou be destroyed. The instigator to slander might easily hit upon the wrong person, a faithful, diligent servant, who instead of allowing himself to be misled, might rather curse the betrayer, and so bring merited calamity upon his head (comp. remarks on Proverbs 26:2).

5. Proverbs 30:11-14. An utterance expressive of execration, vehement abhorrence, concerning a people or a generation characterized by four forms of ungodliness (not quatuor genera detestabilia hominum, as J. D. Michaelis and others hold). The דּוֹר which is four times repeated, may be taken either as a vocative, “Oh generation!” (Ewald, Elster), or as a nominative, which then expresses simply the existence of a generation of the kind described, and is used in a certain sense for יֵשׁ דּוֹר (Luther, E. V, etc. “There is a generation”).—A generation that curseth their father, etc. Comp. Proverbs 20:20; Exodus 21:17; and then with respect to Proverbs 30:12; Isaiah 4:4; with reference to Proverbs 30:13, Isaiah 10:12; Psalm 131:2; Proverbs 6:17.—And their eyelids are lifted up! Hitzig finds in this exclamation, which appears at first to be only a rhetorically expanded parallel to “the loftiness of the eyes” in clause a, an allusion to the name עֲמָלֵק Amalek, which in the Arabic signifies “one looking with wide open eyes, a man with eyelids, lifted up or painted.” He therefore conjectures that the entire delineation of a reckless generation here before us refers to the people of the-Amalekites, whose deadly national hatred toward, the children of Israel (the “needy or poor,” Proverbs 30:14 b) and whose warlike love of plunder are described in Proverbs 30:14 especially. With the assumption that Agur is the prince of a colony of Simeonites, Massa, founded in the Amalekite territory (see remarks above, No1), this hypothesis would admirably agree, on account of 1 Chron4:53. And yet the conjecture is in itself too uncertain, and particularly too little established on the linguistic side.—With Proverbs 30:14 a comp. Psalm 57:5; Psalm 58:7; with b, Jeremiah 5:17; Jeremiah 30:16; Jeremiah 50:17; Isaiah 9:12, etc. [Wordsw. with his fondness for allegorizing finds in these “four evil generations” an undoubted reference to spiritual mysteries, e.g., various offences within and. against the church.—A.].

6. Proverbs 30:15-16. Of four kinds of insatiable things.—The leech hath two daughters; Give, give! The rare name Aluka (עֲלוּקָה) the old versions (the LXX, Syimi, the Venet, Vulg.) render by βδέλλη, sanguisuga, with which, there should undoubtedly be taken into account the fact that galulkâ or galokâ in the Indian is; the name of the blood-sucker, and that essentially the same word (عَلُو ق) is in Arabic the designation of a ghostly demon (or according to Camus, possibly of a ravenous wolf). And this is the more confirmed by the fact that the Targ. on Psalm 12:9 speaks of “an Aluka going about in a circle, and sucking from men their blood,” and by this is undoubtedly meant a vampyre-like spirit, a ghostly monster of the nature of the ghouls of the Arabs and Persians, or the Indian dakini (which congregate in graveyards, and live on the flesh and bones of the corpses). An Indian origin of the conception described by “Aluka” is indicated also by the occurrence of a proverb closely related to our own, with reference to the insatiableness of four things, in the Hitopadesa (ed. Lassen, p66): “The fire is not sated with wood, nor the great sea with the streams; nor the god of death with all the living, nor the beautiful-eyed with men.” The similarity of this Indian maxim to our passage is clearly much more significant, than that of the Arabic proverb in Meidani, III:64, where only “death not to be satisfied with creatures, and fire not to be satisfied with wood” make up the objects compared. The assumption of a derivation both of the name Aluka, and of the entire proverb in its essential substance from the old Indian literature need the less excite any well-founded suspicion, since Agur’s residence, Massa, doubtless lay quite near to the old highway of caravans leading from India and Persia to Petra and Teima, and on this Sabæan and other merchants will have brought, not only Indian articles of traffic, but Indian ideas and literary productions to the lands of South Western Asia (comp. Hitzig, p313). But the name Aluka and the proverb as a whole is conceived with substantial correctness by Döderlein and Zeigler, whom afterward Gesen, Umbreit, Hitzig, Bertheau, Delitzsch, and in general most of the recent interpreters have followed. [For illustration supplied by travellers in Palestine, see Thomson’s Land and Book, I:368, and Wood’s Bible Animals, p646.—A.]

We must reject as untenable both Jarchi’s interpretation of “Aluka” by Sheol, hell (so rendered in alleged accordance with the Arabic), and Bochart’s assertion, that the word signifies fate, μοῖρα, insatiable destiny. In this latter view there is only so much of truth, that “Aluka” does indeed appear generalized to a conception of quite a comprehensive sort, so far forth, plainly, as “personified insatiableness, craving in its highest intensity” (Bertheau) is denoted by it. Therefore, it appears also as a female spirit, and has two daughters ascribed to it. These two “daughters of the blood-sucker” are in the first instance designated by a double “give,” in accordance with their character as craving, insatiable natures, and these are also expressly mentioned by name. For it is plainly these that are meant by the first two of the four insatiable things, which are named in vs16 a as “Sheol” and the “barren womb.” Hell, or the kingdom of the dead, is also in [As compared with the numerical proverbs that follow, the complexity and the more artificial character of the one before us at once arrests attention. They all have this in common, that whatever moral lesson they have to convey is less obvious, being hinted rather than stated, and in this view they may merit the name “enigmas.” In the one now under consideration insatiable desire and the importance of its regulation seem to be the remote object. In the development, instead of the “three things” and “four things” which repeatedly appear afterward, we have the “leech,” its two daughters, the three and the four. Some have regarded the two daughters as representing physical characteristics of the blood-sucker,—others as expressing by an Orientalism a doubly intense craving. Parallelism suggests making the first two of the four the two daughters apart from other considerations; other allusions of the Scriptures to the greediness of the world of the dead, justify the first, while the second alone belongs to human nature. We can see no other reason than this for making the second the most emphatic of the four as Z. is disposed to do.—Only the most unnatural theory of inspiration can take exception to the suggestion of a possible Indian origin for the substance and the external form of this proverb, its place and form here being secured by an appropriate and adequate influence of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Proverbs applies a very severe test to some theories of inspiration.—A.]

7. Proverbs 30:17. The punishment of him who sins against his parents;—an ethical maxim introduced without any close connection into the series of the “Middoth” in our section, as Proverbs 30:10 is above. Ewald would have the insatiableness of the birds of prey, which are to execute the judgment on the wicked Prayer of Manasseh, regarded as the main idea of the proverb, connecting it with Proverbs 30:15-16. This element, however, is plainly too far in the background, and the main thought is rather his desert of curse and penalty who daringly tramples under foot the fifth commandment; and from this there is a sort of connection with Proverbs 30:11-14.—An eye.…the ravens of the valley (lit, brook) (comp. 1 Kings 17:4-6) shall pluck it out, etc. [The נחל, the Arabic Wady, Isaiah, sometimes the torrent, sometimes the valley through which it flows. See full illustrations and citations in Stanley’s Palestine, p496.—A.]—The “raven” and the “eagle” (i. e., vulture) are named here as birds that feed upon carrion; the “sons of the eagle,” i.e., the young eagles, are named because it is especially upon sons, wayward sons, it is true, that the penalty is to be inflicted. The punishment itself, however, consists in strangling and leaving the bodies unburied, so that they become food for the fowls of heaven; comp. 1 Samuel 17:44; 1 Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4, etc.—[With reference to the raven consult Wood’s Bible Animals, p445; and to the eagle or griffin vulture, p346.—A.]

8. Proverbs 30:18-20. Four incomprehensible things.—The way of the eagle in the heavens, etc.—Besides the ease with which the eagle, a large and heavy bird, soars high above in the air (comp. Job 39:27), this circumstance is also surely an object of the poet’s amazement, that it leaves behind no trace of its course; for the same thing is also true of the progress of the smoothly gliding serpent over the slippery rock, and also of that of the ship that swiftly ploughs the waves of the sea. Of the fourth of the ways here compared, the “way of the man with the maid” (or “in the maid”), i.e., of the mysterious way in which the man in sexual intercourse has fruitful connection with the maid, this failure to leave any trace behind seems indeed to be less true. And yet the author in this connection doubtless thinks not of pregnancy and the woman’s child-bearing as later results of sexual connection, but as Proverbs 30:20 shows, at first only of this, that the intercourse leaves behind it no traces immediately and directly apparent; man and wife, adulterer and adulteress, can the night following the accomplishment of the mysterious process be convicted of it by no one; the act is as little to be detected in them both as eating in him who after table has wiped his mouth ( Proverbs 30:20, b, c). Moreover, the woman in Proverbs 30:19 is designated as עַלְמָה i.e., as virgo pubescens, as a young woman capable of sexual intercourse (comp. Genesis 24:43; Isaiah 7:14; Song Song of Solomon 6:8), undoubtedly for this reason, that she is to be put in contrast with the adulterous woman in Proverbs 30:20; in other words, the sexual intercourse between man and woman is to be described first in its pure and normal type (the first love of the bridegroom and the bride, comp. Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31-32; John 3:29), and only afterwards in its degenerate form as adultery. Furthermore, the “Alma” of our passage has been in many ways interpreted also of the Virgin Mary, e.g., by Ambrose, Lyra, Corn, a Lapide, and Fr. Grisenius (in Löscher’s “Unsch. Nachrichten,” Vol13, p503) [and also by Wordsw. in loco].—Dathe has very unnecessarily been disposed to regard Proverbs 30:20 as a spurious addition by a later hand. It is not even necessary (with Hitzig) to regard the Verse as a later addition coming from Agur himself, which he “had not originally had in view.”

9. Proverbs 30:21-23. Four intolerable things under which the earth trembles (not “the land,” as Luther, Umbreit, Bertheau, etc., render, weakening the sense). With Proverbs 30:21 comp. Amos 2:13; Amos 7:10.—Under a servant when he becometh ruler.—This is the first and most familiar example, by which the moral danger, and even the ruinous consequences of a sudden elevation of men from a depressed condition to an influential station and unwonted prosperity, are illustrated.—And a fool when he is satisfied with bread.—The “becoming surfeited” is usually attended by a becoming insolent (see Proverbs 30:9), especially in the case of a fool to whom not satiety but hunger is properly becoming ( Proverbs 13:25; Job 27:14).

Proverbs 30:23. Under a hated woman when she is married. By the “hated woman” is meant, not one who is “odious,” “worthy of hate” (Rosenm, [E. V, H, N, S, M,]), nor again a woman already married and only neglected and disparaged by her husband (Dathe, Umbreit,), but, as appears from the “when she is married, when she obtains a husband,” one who has remained waiting, the maiden (old maid) who at first could obtain no husband, but afterward when she has been married triumphs insolently, and deals harshly and contemptuously with her sisters or companions who are single (comp. Genesis 29:31; Genesis 29:33; Deuteronomy 21:15-17.) The same will be the conduct, according to clause b of a maid “when she becomes heir to her mistress,” i.e., undoubtedly, when she supplants her mistress in the favor of her husband, and so becomes his all-powerful favorite.

10. [See Thomson’s Land and Book, I:459, and also Wood’s Bible Animals, pp312–18; and for his illustration of the nature and habits of the ant of Palestine, pp616–22; for the locusts see pp596–604; and for the gecko, a species of lizard which he understands to be referred to in Proverbs 30:28 instead of the “spider,” see pp643, 534sq. A.].—For the “organized going forth” of the locusts, in Proverbs 30:27, comp. especially Joel 2:2 sq, [and Thomson, Land and Book, II:109]. Finally the lizard in Proverbs 30:28 is as its name signifies the poisonous spotted lizard (stellio, Vulg.) in regard to which the thing here made prominent is its sly entering into the interior of houses, and even into the palaces of the great. For this characteristic of the animal Bochart brings forward various testimonies, Hieroz., I. Proverbs 4:7, p1090, Frankfort Ed. [Gesenius, Fuerst, etc., favor this rendering, and Wood (ubi supra) describes and depicts the peculiar form of the feet by which the lizard, the Gecko, “layeth hold” even upon flat surfaces like the walls of apartments.—A.]

11. Proverbs 30:29-31. The four creatures that have a stately movement; three animals, and the king in his all-ruling dignity and power. The whole description really turns upon the last.

Proverbs 30:31. The greyhound, slender in its loins. This is the probable meaning of the difficult phrase זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִם (according to the Jewish interpreters, Ewald, Bertheau, [E. V, S, M,] etc.). For זַרְזִיר is plainly derived from the root זַר “to compress,” and therefore denotes a compact, slender animal; and the neighboring term seems to indicate the intention not to bring together exclusively examples of animal majesty of the high rank of the lion, but to give to the enumeration as a whole in a certain sense a ludicrous variety and an air of wit. The old versions (LXX, Vulg, Targ, etc.,) suggest the cock; with this meaning of the main noun the modifying term, however, does not at all agree, even though one were disposed to transform it into a Hithp. Part. מִתְנַיֵּם. Others, like Schultens, Gesen. (?), Umbreit, Elster, Hitzig [De W, K, Muffet, N.] take the זַרְזיִר in the sense of “that which is girded about the loins, or panoplied,” and therefore the war-horse,—a meaning however which is not surely demonstrable. [Starting with the same idea Wordsw. understands a “warrior,” and Wood an “athlete.” Fuerst’s rendering is “stag”].—And a king with whom no resistance (occurs). In this way (with the Vulg, the Rabbins, Geier, Michaelis, Bertheau, Ewald, [K, E. V, H, S, M.], etc.), we must interpret the words אַלְקוּם עִמּוֹ, although the אַל־מָוֶת of Proverbs 12:28 is a very doubtful parallel for this way of regarding אַלְקוּם as a compound of אַל and קוּם. For the identification of this noun with the Arabic اافو مْ “the people” (Castellio, Pococke, Umbreit, [De W, N.], etc.), an argument might seem to lie in the fact that the meaning so reached, “the king at the head of his people,” agrees almost literally with the δημηγορῶν ἐν ἕθνει of the LXX, and the similar version of the Syriac. But to bring in an Arabic word, especially one compounded with the article al is here quite too unnatural. Hitzig’s emendation might better recommend itself, אֱלֹהים instead of אַלְקוּם, and all the more because it gives a very pertinent sense: “A king with whom God is.”

12. Proverbs 30:32-33. Warning against pride, haughtiness and love of strife, with an indication of three forms of evil resulting from these vices.—If thou art foolish in exalting thy self(comp. 1 Kings 1:5) and if thou devisest evil. To these two hypothetical antecedent clauses, which do not present an antithesis (the foolish and rational—as Hitzig explains) but two different forms of human error: foolish self-exaltation and wicked plotting, the sentence “the hand on the mouth,” forms the conclusion, interjectional and imperative (comp. Job 20:5).

Proverbs 30:33 then justifies the warning by a significant intimation of three cases in which the foolish act of “pressing” (מִיץ) brings forth undesirable results,—strong cheese, flowing blood, sharp strife.—And pressing (forcing) wrath produceth strife. The last word supplies plainly the object of the whole discourse from Proverbs 30:32 onward. The dual אַפַּיִם stands doubtless intentionally (comp. Daniel 11:20) to indicate that it is the wrath of two whose sharp pressing upon each other leads to the development of strife. [Thomson, Land and Book, I:398, describing the Oriental mode of churning by squeezing and wringing a leathern bag or bottle that contains the milk, makes more apparent and vivid the meaning of this comparison. The dual אַפַּיִם is employed probably because nostrils usually exist in pairs, and the transition is easy from the physical organ, through the heavy breathing of passion, to the metaphorical sense “wrath.” Whether two or many are concerned in strife is not material.—A.]

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

As the confession of an Israelite, a believer in Jehovah in a strange land, one separated from his people of the ten tribes, who among Arabs and the sworn and mortal enemies of Israel, adheres firmly to the faith of his nation, this discourse of Agur is one of great doctrinal importance, and of no slight interest to the history of redemption. Its fundamental idea, which is put forward as a sort of programme, is contained in the six Verses of the introduction, and comes out most clearly in Proverbs 30:5 : Every word of God is pure; a shield is He to them that trust in Him. It is the truth, purity and saving power of the word of God alone, in contrast with the nullity and inadequacy of all human wisdom ( Proverbs 30:2-5), that forms the starting point in the instructive discourse of this poet of Wisdom of Solomon, and to which all the manifold apothegms, numerical proverbs and enigmas which he combines in a varied series in Proverbs 30:7-33, sustain a closer or more remote relation.

While it appears at the first view that the flowers and fruits from the cornucopia of Agur’s Wisdom of Solomon, original and in part so rarely fashioned, are heaped up wholly without order, yet they all agree in this, that they depict the glory and all-sufficiency of the word of God, dissuade from adding to it by any human supplements (see in particular Proverbs 30:7), and most urgently commend the fulfilling and following it by a pious life. There is hardly a single commandment of the Decalogue that is not directly or indirectly repeated and emphasized in these maxims. Observe the relation of the prayer for the hallowing of God’s name ( Proverbs 30:7-9), to the first and third commandments; the reference contained in Proverbs 30:11 and again in Proverbs 30:17 to the fifth commandment; the warnings against the transgression of the sixth commandment in Proverbs 30:14 as well as in Proverbs 30:32-33; the reproving and warning aim of Proverbs 30:18-20; Proverbs 30:23, in their bearing upon the seventh; the allusion to the eighth in Proverbs 30:9, and to the ninth in Proverbs 30:10; and finally the reference, reminding us of the tenth, in Proverbs 30:15-16, as bearing on the unsatiableness of evil desire (this “daughter of the blood-sucker” and sister of hell!). No one of these proverbs is wholly without an ethical value, not even the two numerical Proverbs, Proverbs 30:24-31, which at the first view stand apart as incidental reflections on merely natural truths, but in reality hide under their ingenious physical drapery decided moral aims. For in Proverbs 30:24-28 four chief virtues of one’s social and political avocation are specified through an allusion to a like number of examples from the animal world (comp. exeg. notes, No10), and Proverbs 30:29-31 run into a delineation of the high dignity and glory of a king by the grace of God (in contrast with the insufferable tyranny of base upstarts, Proverbs 30:21-23).

It is true that the point of view taken in the author’s doctrinal and ethical knowledge nowhere rises above the level of the pure religion of the law. The law’s doctrine of retribution he holds with inexorable strictness and severity, as is indicated particularly in the fearful threatening prediction in Proverbs 30:17 against children who are disobebedient to their parents (γονεῦσιν ἀπειθεῖς, Romans 1:30). Against those who do not belong to the people of God of the Old Testament he appears to cherish prevailingly dispositions of hate and abhorrence, as the utterance in Proverbs 30:11-14, which is probably directed against such non-Israelitish people, shows (see remarks above on this passage). With respect to knowledge in the department of theology and Christology his point of view seems in no respect more elevated than that of the author of chaps1–9; for in Proverbs 30:4 he confesses that he knows nothing of the name of the Son of God, and he nowhere makes reference to the existence and efficiency of the hypostatic wisdom of God, not even where this would have been natural enough (e.g. in Proverbs 30:4-6). He need not be charged in addition with the intermingling of impure and superstitious notions from polytheistic religions, for the Aluka with its two daughters, in Proverbs 30:15, is evidently mentioned by him only with a symbolical design, as a personification of insatiableness (an evil lust that nothing can quell), and is by no means represented as an actually existing spectre, or demoniacal nature.[FN1]

HOMILETIC AND PRACTICAL

Homily on the entire chapter:—The all-sufficient power and the fullness of blessing in the divine word in contrast with the weakness of mere human wisdom: a) in general ( Proverbs 30:1-6); b) with special reference to the glory and indispensable necessity of the Decalogue ( Proverbs 30:7-33); comp. Doctrinal and Ethical notes.—Or again: To God’s word and law man is to add nothing ( Proverbs 30:1-6), but he is also to take nothing away, not even one of its least commandments ( Proverbs 30:7-33).—Stöcker: All true wisdom comes from God alone (1–7), not from human nature, which is rather exceedingly corrupt (11–17), and whose understanding is greatly weakened (18–24).

Proverbs 30:1-6. Melanchthon: Human wisdom is able to devise no means of preservation from the ignorance and spiritual weakness which naturally belong to us. But the Church in its divine revelation possesses a light which not only reveals to it the causes of its spiritual destitution, but also points out the means for its elevation and healing. Therefore this divinely revealed truth must be listened to by us, must be received in faith as well in its threatenings of punishment as in its consolatory contents, and be guarded from all corruption and perversion.—Luther (marginal comment on ver2): Wise people know that their wisdom is nothing; fools know everything and cannot err.—Geier (on Proverbs 30:2-3): With the knowledge of himself and of the deep corruption that dwells in him the Christian must make the beginning in the contemplation of divine things.—[Arnot: It is a precious practical rule to look toward heaven while we measure ourselves.—Trapp: Godliness as it begins in right knowledge of ourselves, so it ends in a right knowledge of God.—Edwards: All true spiritual knowledge is of that nature that the more a person has of it the more is he sensible of his own ignorance].—Starke (on Proverbs 30:4-6): Whoever is engaged in the investigation and exposition of God’s word, let him take his reason captive to the obedience of faith, and not curiously scrutinize, that he may make divine mysteries comprehensible.—Stöcker (on Proverbs 30:5-6): On the glory of the divine word, especially its clearness, utility and perfectness.—Berleburg Bible (on Proverbs 30:6); How many counterfeiters there are who from their poor copper make additions to the royal gold currency of God’s word, and thereby debase it!—[Lawson: Our trust must be in the name of the Lord, as it is represented to us in the word of God; the seed and the ground of our faith in Him.—Muffet: It is treason to corrupt or falsify the prince’s coin; what high treason must it needs be then to counterfeit or corrupt the pure word of God!]

Proverbs 30:7-17. Comp. P. Gerhard’s poetical reproduction of Proverbs 30:7-9 : “Zweierlei bitt’ ich von dir,” etc. (Gesamm. geistliche Lieder, No41).—[Trapp: God heaps mercies on His suppliants, and blames them for their modesty in asking.—Arnot: Agur’s requests are specific and precise; the temporal interests are absolutely subordinated to the spiritual prosperity of the suppliant; and a watch is set against the danger to a soul which lies in extremes either of position or of character.—Bp. Hopkins: There is a seeking of worldly advantages which is not to be branded with the black mark of self-seeking; e.g. when we seek them with a due subordination to the higher and more noble ends of piety and holiness, such as that we may escape those temptations which possibly the want of them might expose us unto.—Flavel: How much better were it for thee to endure the pains of hunger than those of a guilty conscience.—Bates: To receive no hurtful impressions by great changes of condition discovers a habit of excellent grace and virtue in the soul].—Geier: Although poverty and riches of themselves can neither make us blessed nor damn us, yet both are wont incidentally and through the fault of men not rarely to bring after them consequences injurious to our spiritual welfare.—(On Proverbs 30:10): Keep thy tongue bridled, especially when it is disposed to rage against the needy and helpless; for though it is not right to curse thy neighbor, yet such curses when they have been uttered do not remain without effect, particularly if he who utters them is one who has been unjustly oppressed.—Starke (on Proverbs 30:11-14): The natural corruption of men is great; yet it is possible that they be purged from it by the blood of Jesus Christ; 1 Corinthians 4:11; 1 John 1:7.—Unthankfulness ( Proverbs 30:11), self-righteousness ( Proverbs 30:12), pride ( Proverbs 30:13), and unmercifulness ( Proverbs 30:14) are usually associated as an unblessed quartette of sisters.—Wohlfarth (on Proverbs 30:15-16): Many are the evil spirits that go about among men to spread misfortune and ruin, the cruel spectre of avarice is one of the most formidable enemies of our race. Like the vampyre which in the night attacks sleepers and sucks their blood, this demon rages in palaces and cottages, etc.—(On Proverbs 30:17): What Agur here says by way of warning of ravens and vultures, etc., has already gone a thousandfold into literal fulfilment in a horrible way on children who are wayward and in consequence of their disobedience to parents sunk in the deepest spiritual need; who were either driven to self-murder, or died on the scaffold.

Proverbs 30:18-31. Luther (marginal, on Proverbs 30:19).: Love (the mystery of love, Ephesians 5:31-32) is not to be thought out or expressed.—Geier (on Proverbs 30:18-20); As it is with adulterers so it is with flatterers; they will never allow their vicious nature to be called by the right name.—(On Proverbs 30:21-23): It always causes manifold disquiet and misfortune, when they rule over others whom it would better befit to be subject to others.—(On Proverbs 30:24-28): Despise not things that at the first glance appear small and contemptible. Under a poor garment there is often a wise man hid; Daniel 1:18-20.—(On Proverbs 30:29-31): In matters belonging to one’s office and public calling it is important to be courageous and firm, especially in times of need. It is not well then if one forsakes those over whom one is set; Sirach 10:31.—[Lawson (on Proverbs 30:20): Do not imagine that the secrecy of sin is your security from punishment: it is the snare of your souls].

Proverbs 30:32-33. Luther (marginal, on Proverbs 30:32): Be not ashamed if thou hast chanced to err, and do not defend it. For to err is human, but to defend it is devilish.—Lange: Strut not with lust of the eyes, fleshly lust and insolence. Thereby thou only provokest the wrath of God, that will come down too heavily for thee; Sirach 5:2 sq.—Berleburg Bible: He that would gladly shun strife must seek to avoid obstinacy and self-will. How many useless disputes in matters of religion might not in this way be escaped—[Edwards: Silence attends humility.—Muffet: He which falleth through pride should rise again to repentance].

Footnotes:

FN#1 - The case appears to be otherwise with the spectre of the night לִילִית mentioned in Isaiah 34:14; comp. Delitzsch on this passage.

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 30:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/proverbs-30.html. 1857-84.

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Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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