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Proverbs 30:1. Agur. There have been many conjectures about this person. Many consider that it is a figurative name, and some have adopted the old Jewish tradition that it is an allegorical designation of Solomon. “The name,” says Delitzsch, “means ‘the gathered’ ” (see chap. Proverbs 6:8; Proverbs 10:5), also “the collector,” or the word might mean, perhaps, “industrious in collecting.” The son of Jakeh, etc. Stuart and Zöckler adopt here the reading of Hitzig and others, and read “The son of her who was obeyed in Massa (or the princess of Massa): I have toiled for, or wearied myself about, God, and have ceased.” For their reasons the student is referred to their commentaries, where the subject is discussed at great length. Ithiel and Ucal signify respectively “God with me,” and “the son of the mighty,” and the common opinion is that they were Agar’s disciples. From the great differences between the language and style of the last two chapters of the book, and those which have preceded them, most scholars believe that they were written outside the land of Palestine. Zöckler thinks that “Agur and Lemuel might very properly be regarded as Arabian-Israelitish shepherd-princes or kings of a colony of Israelites of the tribe of Simeon that had emigrated to northern Arabia.” (See 1 Chronicles 4:38-43; Micah 1:15; Micah 2:8; Micah 2:10.) Delitzsch suggests that they were “Ishmaelites who had raised themselves above the religion of Abraham, and recognised the religion of Israel as its completion.”
Proverbs 30:2. Brutish, i.e., without reason.
Proverbs 30:10. Stuart and Zöckler here read “Cause not a servant to slander his master.” Delitzsch agrees with the English version.
NOTE.—The following is Miller’s unique translation of the first four verses of this chapter with his reasons for the same, and the teaching which he sees in the passage. “It struck us that we would take the simple Hebrew and inquire its meaning. We would accept nothing as a proper name till we found it destitute of sense; and, following no intricate conceits, we would fail of a directer meaning before we went off into anything more difficult. It is astonishing how facile the result. We believe that all was the work of Solomon. We believe that there was no such man as Agur, except the great man Jesus Christ. We believe there was no such king as Lemuel. We believe everything is the work of Solomon as much as any other proverb. If it appear Arabic or extra-Hebraic no matter. Solomon gathered his materials over a wide surface. We believe it is distinctly what it says, The prophecy. We count it as all finished in the four first verses, and Jakeh and Ithiel, and Ucal and Muel in the next chapter (Proverbs 30:1-4). We would be quite willing to read that way, if, like Lo-ammi in the prophet, or Lo-ruhamah, words confessedly significant (Hosea 1:8-9), it were thought euphonious or wise to give them without a translation. But what the Hebrews saw why not our people see? Certain it is that the words to a Hebrew were about as follow:—
1. Words of I-fear, Son of the Godly: The Prophecy:—
“The Strong Man speaks to God-with-me, to God-with-me and to I-am-able.
2. Forasmuch as I am more brutish as to myself, than a man of the better sort,
“and have not the intelligence of a common man.
3. and have not been taught wisdom and yet know the knowledge of holy things.
4. who has gone up to heaven and come down?
“who has gathered the winds in his fists?
“who has bound the waters in a garment?
“who has set firm all the extremities of the earth?
“what is his name, and what is his son’s name? Because, Thou knowest.
“Let us examine, first, the language, and then the result as to the sense. I-fear. This is the very simplest Hebrew. It actually occurs in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:27). The verb is the familiar one בוּר, which means primarily to turn out of the way. And this turning out of the way for danger is a prudent and innocent character of fear. Agur therefore, or I-fear, with the light we get afterward, marks himself as the Strong Man of the next clause; the Son of the Godly, because descended out of the loins of the Church (see Revelation 12:5); and the Man—just as Muel (chap. Proverbs 31:1) is God and man—contemplating the low humanity of Christ, which is about to express its wonder at its amazing knowledge. Godly; from a root meaning to venerate: Jakeh is in the singular, and means the pious one; which keeps in view what is too often forgotten, that Christ was not the son of the abandoned, but, as His mother expresses it (chap. Proverbs 31:2), the son of my vows. The Prophecy; not needfully prediction, as in the present case, but an oracle, vision, or inspired elation of any kind. The words that follow constitute the prophecy for though the speech of the Man-Christ does not begin till the second verse, the very names in the next clause are predictive; and the most vitally so of the whole of the vision. The Strong Man; strong, though weak; strong because he sees in himself such wonderful conditions. The word strong is implied in the noun that is selected. Speaks; oracularly. It is the solemn, poetic, and in fact, rare expression. To-God-with-me. That the Man-Christ should address the Deity has innumerable precedents. If it were necessary, we could imagine the Human Nature as addressing the Divine Nature; for that really occurs in high Eastern vision, in the Book of Zechariah (chap. Proverbs 3:4; Proverbs 3:6-8). In lofty texts, like this, it is perfectly admissible. Christ speaks of His Divine Nature (John 3:13); and speaks of it as being where the Man Christ Jesus was not, viz., in Heaven. But the fourth verse of this chapter mentions both Father and Son; and therefore in this, which is so near it, it is not necessary to distinguish. The Strong Man speaks to the God which was with (Him), and calls Him Ucal, which means I-am-able. There was a powerful Divinity in Christ, and that He was wondering about. His mother repeats the wonder in the after case (chap. Proverbs 31:2). The whole is a grand Prophecy of Christ in the form of a grand inquiry. Agur makes it of Ithiel, That is, the Man, I-fear, goes searching into the God-with-me. There is an I-fear part and an I-am-able part, of His one Grand Person; and these parts speak even in the New Testament with the humility (John 5:19) and with the splendour (John 8:58) that belong to each. Forasmuch as; the simple particle because. I am more brutish, i.e. more the mere untaught animal. As to Myself, i.e. as to my human self; for it is the Strong Man that speaks. The emphasis is laid by the mere expression of the pronoun. Than a man of the better sort; than an educated, refined man, which Christ was not. And have not the intelligence of a common man. That is, he had not the education usually given to the more lowly. The commonness of the humanity is expressed again by the noun. And have not been taught wisdom. Here the emphasis is on taught. And yet know the knowledge of holy things. The meaning of the whole is, that he has singular light. He confronted the doctors in the temple, and, as a little child, was a miracle. Whence came this? This is what the prophecy represents as a surprise. Who has gone up to Heaven and come down? Somebody has. The Strong Man addresses this appeal to the God-with-me; and ends it significantly;—Who is it? Because Thou knowest. One word back in the third verse:—know the knowledge. We have not altered this, nor said have the knowledge, which would be better English, because this seems the intentional form. The words that Christ gave to His disciples, God gave to Him; and Christ, in saying so, would include all senses; the outer word; the inner word; the outward blessed revelation, and the inner teaching. He knew the knowledge; i.e., He discerned in perfect ways what the Spirit without measure was there to impart. Going up to heaven, gathering the wind, binding the waters, and setting firm the extremities of the earth, were the work of a Divinity. Some Divinity had been at work upon Him. He applies to the Able One, to the God with Him, to explain a low man’s wonderful knowledge, and then adds, as significant of the reply, Because Thou knowest.”
This extract is given here, not because we agree with Miller’s view of the passage, but as affording a specimen of the mode of interpretation which he adopts throughout the book.
MAIN HOMILETIC OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 30:1-9
THE SOURCE OF TRUE HUMILITY
I. In proportion as men know God they confess they know Him not. A child looks above his head at the midnight sky and he concludes that the stars that he sees are only so many shining points which have no use beyond that of beautifying the heavens and giving a little light to our world. He does not think that there is any more to know about the stars, but this conclusion of his is based upon complete ignorance. How different is the attitude of the astronomer in relation to the stars. He has good reason to believe that each one is a sun like unto that which makes the centre of our own system of planets, and this enlarged knowledge enables him to form some idea of how much he has to learn about them, and so draws from him such a confession of ignorance as a child would never utter. He realises that what he knows is nothing in comparison with what there is to know, and it is his increased knowledge which makes him feel thus. So men who never reflect upon the nature or character of God have no conception of the height and depth of the knowledge of the Infinite, and hence have no conception of their ignorance concerning Him. It is only the man who has in some degree apprehended the greatness of his Maker that has any idea of how far he is from comprehending Him, and his consciousness of ignorance increases with his growth in the knowledge of God. Agur, who here declares that he has no “knowledge of the Holy,” and is “without understanding” on the highest and deepest subjects, was evidently a man who had endeavoured by searching to find out God, and his confession is the result of his knowledge and not of his ignorance. But what he knew only served to show him how much remained unknown.
II. Therefore humility is the great sign of high attainments in Divine knowledge, and those who know most will be the most able and willing to be taught more. Humility is the effect of the most thorough acquaintance with any subject, and of the most profound meditation upon it. When men utter their opinions in the spirit of self-conceit, and are lifted up by their acquirements, we must ascribe it to their ignorance and not to their knowledge. Those who have learned most are the most teachable scholars and the first to welcome instruction from whatever source it may come. If we were to tell a savage of the wonderful capabilities of electricity he would most likely look upon us with contempt, and refuse to believe our statements; but if we were to speak to an experienced electrician about some new theory or discovery in relation to it he would not turn from us in disdain simply because he was unacquainted with it, but would gladly welcome any new light upon the subject. This is pre-eminently the case in the knowledge of all that relates to the Divine Being. When He becomes the object and subject of study and contemplation—when a creature who had no existence a few years ago seeks to know Him who is God from everlasting to everlasting he finds himself embarked upon an ocean without a shore, and is compelled to exclaim: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is high, I cannot attain unto it.” (Psalms 139:6.) His humble reverence will always be in proportion to the progress that he has made. He who knew as much about God and His dealings as any man who has ever lived, gave, as the result of his researches, that “His ways are past finding out,” and was led by it to ascribe to Him “glory for ever” (Romans 11:33-36); and all who have trodden the same path, either before or after him, have arrived at the same conclusion, and have acquired the same spirit of humility. And this is the spirit which makes a man willing and therefore able to receive a higher and deeper revelation. Because he knows that he has not “already attained”—that there is no comparison between what he knows and what there is to know—his mind is ever open to receive new instruction, and be welcomes any means by which he can advance a step nearer to that “light which no man can approach unto” and catch a fresh glimpse of Him “whom no man hath seen or can see.” (1 Timothy 6:16.)
III. The unsearchableness of God is no hindrance to practical godliness. If Agur could not know all that he desired about God, he knew enough to trust Him, and enough to make him desire to serve Him. He could from experience testify that God had spoken to men, and that His word was to be depended on, and that there was a reward to those who kept it. If God is unknowable in some aspects of His nature, godly men in all ages have found him a shield in danger, and a rock of certainty, upon which it is safe to rest. Although Agur could not ascend into heaven and read the secrets of the other world, he felt that he could strive to walk with God in this world, and the effect of a real conviction of the greatness and majesty of God is not to drive men from Him but to draw them near in holy living as well as in humble adoration.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 30:2. This was true humility, that like true balm ever sinks to the bottom, when hypocritical, as oil, swims on the top … He that looks intently on the sun hath his eyes dazzled; so he that beholds the infinite excellencies of God, considers the distance, cannot but be sensible of his own naughtiness, nothingness. It is fit the foundation should be laid deep, where the building is so high! Agur’s humility was not more low than his aims lofty: “Who hath ascended up to heaven?” It is a high pitch that he flies, for he knew well that godliness, as it begins in a right knowledge of ourselves, so it ends in a right knowledge of God.—Trapp.
Proverbs 30:4. The discourse is philosophically accurate, as well as religiously devout. It is through the mutual relations of air, earth, and water, that the Supreme Ruler gives or withholds the food of man (Proverbs 30:8). These three, each in its own place and proportion, are alike necessary to the growth of grain, and consequently to the sustenance of life.… The earth is the basis of the whole operation … Alike in its creation and its arrangement, its material and its form, the final cause of the earth has obviously been the growth of vegetation and the support of life. But the earth could not bear fruit at any portion of its surface without the concurrence of water; and how shall the supply of this necessary element be obtained? “Who hath bound the waters in a garment?” Again the clouds and showers, the springs and streams, with one voice answer, God. So wide is the dry land, and so low lies the water in its ocean storehouse, that we could not even conceive how the two could be made to meet, unless we had seen the cosmical hydraulics in actual operation from day to day and from year to year. Here lies the earth, rising into mountains and stretching away in valleys, but absolutely incapable, by itself, of producing food for any living thing. There lies the sea, held by its own gravity helpless in its place, heaving and beating on the walls of its prison-house, but unable to rise and go to the help of a barren land.… In this strait—when the land could not come to the water and the water could not come to the land—a Mediator was found, perfectly qualified for the task. “Who hath gathered the wind in His fists?” The air goes between the two, and brings them together for beneficent ends. The atmosphere softly leans on the bosom of the deep, and silently sucks itself full. The portion so charged then moves away with its precious burden, and pours it out partly on the plains but chiefly on vertebral mountain ranges. Thus the continents are watered from their centres to the sea.—Arnot.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 30:5-6
THE WORD OF GOD
I. God has given man a knowledge of His character and will. Although, as we have just seen from the preceding verses, God is so great and incomprehensible in His nature, there is a knowledge of Him which is possible to man and which he possesses. This seems reasonable before experience. If a man built a vessel which he intended to send his son to navigate across an unknown sea, we should conclude beforehand that he would put a compass in the vessel. And we should likewise conclude before experience that a just God would not build a world, and call into existence a creature like man to dwell in it, without furnishing him with a compass by which to guide his life—a revelation and a law by obedience to which he can be blest and saved. And what might have been expected has come to pass. God has spoken, and has thus met human expectation and human need. Agur recognised this fact in the days of old, and we, to whom in these last days God has spoken by His Son (Hebrews 1:1), have a clearer revelation. In answer to Agur’s question, “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended,” we can bring the words of Christ, “No man hath ascended up to heaven but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven” (John 3:13), and in the record of His life and death obtain the fullest and clearest revelation of God that it is possible for Him to give and for us to receive.
II. The word of God is what of necessity it must be. The sun is in its nature light, and therefore rays of light must proceed from it. That which flows from it must of necessity be of the same nature as the sun whence it comes, and the fountain of natural light being pure the streams which flow from it must be pure also. When human words are a reflection of the human soul, and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34), the spoken word must be of the same nature and character as the inward feelings. The purity of the outward word will be in proportion to the purity of the inner life. God is moral light—“In Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5)—therefore, rays of moral light must flow from Him; all that proceeds from Him must be, like Himself, perfectly free from all shadow of moral imperfection.
III. Because the word of God is what it is, it must be carefully preserved from human additions. It is manifest that nothing that man can add to what God has said can make His word more fitted to a man’s needs, any more than any intervention of man can make the sun more perfectly adapted to human vision. It is therefore a criminal act for any creature to add to the Divine Word by putting his own ideas on an equality with the revealed thoughts of God, and most foolish for him to expect them to have the same power on the heart and conscience as Divine words have. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalms 19:7), and man must not tamper with its perfection. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The fact that it comes from God is a guarantee that blessing will come from seeking to understand and obey it, and condemnation by seeking to improve it by human addition.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
It is the saying of Tertullian, “This is the first thing which we believe, that there is nothing beside God’s word to be believed.” … At least it must not be taught or received, as added to His words, either as of equal authority with them, or as supposing any defect in them.… He therefore that addeth to God’s words, shall add unto his own words the just and sharp reproof of God upon them; and whatsoever any may think to find by the doing of it, he shall himself therefore be found a liar. Search them thou mayest to find the depth of them, explain them thou mayest that others may be able to find the meaning of them: but in searching, in explaining, let nothing be added that is contrary to them.… For what can he be but a liar that opposeth truth itself?—Jermin.
The learner is far in advance of his starting-point now. He set out in quest of knowledge to gratify a curious intellect; he ends it by finding rest for a troubled soul. He addressed himself successively to the air, and the water, and the earth; but they were all dumb. They sent back to him only the echo of his own cry. Turning next to the Scriptures, he finds what he sought and more. His darkness vanishes, and his danger too. No sooner has he learned that the word is pure than he learns that the speaker is gracious.—Arnot.
There is, perhaps, in the expression here a more immediate reference to the unmingled truth of God’s word. This suits the connection with what follows:—“He is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.” Scepticism and infidelity unsettle the mind. They leave it without confidence and without security. The mind under their influence is like a vessel that has drifted from its moorings, and has been left to drive out to sea, without rudder and without anchor,—unmanned, and at the mercy of the winds and waves and currents:—or, to keep nearer to the allusion in the verse under comment, it is like a soldier in the thick and peril of the battle without a shield, in danger from every arrow that flies, and every sword that is raised against him. They make their unhappy subject the sport and the victim of every delusive theory and every temptation of Satan. Hence such expressions as that of Paul to the Ephesians:—“Over all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” God is the “SHIELD” of all who trust in Him. And it is the trust,—it is the firm faith in God,—that imparts the feeling of security. So, what is here said of God himself is said of His truth or faithfulness:—“His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” God could not be “a shield,” though His power be almighty, unless He were faithful. It is His faithfulness that renders Him the object of trust. And when this view of God’s faithfulness is such as to impart perfect trust—the spirit, calm and tranquil, feels as if it were under the protection of an all-covering shield.—Wardlaw.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 30:7-9
THE MIDDLE WAY
I. A desire that our circumstances should be favourable to our godliness reveals a soul alive to the meaning of existence. The man who values his health more than his raiment, and is more anxious to keep his body in a fit condition to work than to clothe it in purple and fine linen, reveals that he rightly estimates the comparative value of the two, and values most that which is worth most. But no man attains to a right estimate of the comparative worth of all that belongs to him until he values his character more than all things else, and is willing to suffer the loss of all his other possessions in order to preserve that. He is a wise man who, in the choice of clothes, considers first what will conduce to health; but the highest wisdom is that which leads a man in choosing—so far as he is able—his position in life, to consider first of all what will be favourable to his soul’s welfare. Such a man reveals that he has made the all-important discovery that the chief end of man is to glorify God, and that he can do this only by a holy life. He therefore makes it the aim of his life to say in deed as well as in word “Hallowed be thy name;” for he has learned the lesson of the text, that anything less than perfect dependence upon God is a denial of Him, and any act of doubtful integrity is “taking His name in vain.”
II. A prayer that our circumstances may be thus favourable, reveals a soul conscious of its own weakness. There can be no doubt that a man’s confidence in God ought to be so strong as to remain unshaken in the most adverse circumstances, and his spirituality ought to be deep enough to remain uninjured in the greatest temporal prosperity, but this is but seldom the case. All sincere and humble servants of God acknowledge their proneness to yield to temptation, and the more vital their godliness, the more earnestly do they put up the petition, “Lead me not into temptation.” Paul could say without boastfulness, “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound. I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:12-13), but there have been but few men who could say this with truth, and those who have been most like him in spirit have been the most ready to acknowledge the danger of being exposed to either extreme. A very robust man can keep in perfect health either in the arctic regions or in the torrid zone, but there is most safety in living in a region between these two extremes, and the wisest men acknowledge this, and unless duty calls them, prefer the latter to either of the former. So a man of God, although he hopes that he might be found faithful in any circumstances, reveals a right spirit of humility when he puts up the prayer of Agur. For he knows that the tempter of man is most skilful in using our circumstances against our godliness, and that both great wealth and extreme poverty are weapons which he can use with great skill.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 30:7. Agur re-enforces his request. It was honest, else he would never have begun it; but being so, he is resolved to follow it. So Jacob would have a blessing, and therefore wrestles with might and slight; and this he doth in the night and alone, and when God was leaving Him, and upon one leg.… When poor men ask us two things we think we deal well if we grant them one. Few are Naamans that when you beg one talent will force you to take two. But God heaps mercies on his suppliants, and blames them for their modesty in asking.—Trapp.
Proverbs 30:8. We are not only to pray for the removal of sin, but for the removal of it at a great distance from us. As God removes it far away in pardon, the soul that abhors sin desires to have it far removed from the heart and life. Our Lord teaches us not only to pray against sin, but against temptation; for there is a strong inclination in the hearts of men to comply with temptations when they are presented to the soul. If a man has a bag of powder in his hands, he will certainly wish to keep at a distance from the fire.—Lawson.
Food convenient is obviously not a fixed measure. It implies, not a bare sufficiency for natural life, but a provision varying according to the calling in which God has placed us. “If Agur be the master of a family, then that is his competency, which is sufficient to maintain his wife, children, and household. If Agur be a public person, a prince or a ruler of the people; then that is Agur’s sufficiency, which will conveniently maintain him in that condition.” Jacob when “he had become two bands,” evidently required more than when in his earlier life “with his staff he had passed over Jordan.” (Genesis 32:10.) What was sufficient for himself alone, would not have been sufficient for the many that were then dependent upon him. The immense provisions for Solomon’s table, considering the vast multitude of his dependants, might be only a competency for the demand (1 Kings 4:22.) The distribution of the manna was food convenient—nothing too much, but no deficiency—“He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that gathered little had no lack.” (Exodus 16:18.) And thus, in the daily dispensation of Providence, a little may be a sufficiency to one, while an overflowing plenty is no superfluity to another. Only let Christian self-denial, not depraved appetite, be the standard of competency.—Bridges.
Proverbs 30:9. Many in their low estate could serve God, but now resemble the moon, which never suffers eclipse but at her full, and that is by the earth’s interposition between the sun and herself.—Trapp.
For Homiletics on the subject of Proverbs 30:10 see on chap. Proverbs 24:28-29, page 689.
Proverbs 30:15. Horseleech, or “vampire, an imaginary spectre or ghost, supposed to suck the blood of children.” (Stuart.)
Proverbs 30:15-16. On these verses, Dr. Aiken, the American translator of the Proverbs for Lange’s Commentary, remarks, “As compared with the numerical proverbs which 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.… 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 afterwards, we have the “leach,” its two daughters, the three, and the four. Some have regarded the two daughters as representing physical characteristics of the bloodsucker, others as expressing by an Orientalism a doubly intense craving. Parallelism suggests making the first two of the four the two daughters; other allusions of the Scripture to the greediness of the world of the dead justify the first, while the second alone belong to human nature.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 30:11-17
FOUR MANIFESTATIONS OF UNGODLINESS
I. Children without natural affection. Parents that have the disposition and character which God intends them to possess are the best reflection of God that a child can look upon in a fallen world. A son or daughter can by no other means so well come to understand the fatherhood of God as by considering the tenderness and self-sacrifice of good human parents, and hence the Saviour in His most beautiful parable (Luke 15:0) uses this relationship to set forth the depth and strength of Divine love to sinful men. He who treats such love lightly, therefore, despises the love of Him who instituted the relationship of parent and child to minister to human happiness and to elevate human character. The man or woman who is guilty of this crime reveals a heart incapable of worthy emotion, and a conscience dead to all the claims of duty. Such an unnatural being must fail in all his other relationships—he cannot be a good husband or faithful friend, or worthily fulfil any of the more public duties of life. A man who was found wanting here, was, in the Hebrew commonwealth, regarded as rotten at the very core of his moral nature, and condemned to suffer the extreme penalty of the law (Deuteronomy 21:18-21.) Thus God puts the rebellious child on a level with the murderer and blasphemer, and the terrible threatening passed here upon one who disregards the fifth commandment is another proof of the greatness of the sin in the eyes of God. In Proverbs 30:17 such a sentence is passed upon an undutiful child as is scarcely paralleled in Scripture. Even the body which was the home of so unnatural a soul shall be exposed to ignominy and contempt.
II. Self-deceivers. This is a manifestation of ungodliness, which is in some degree common to all men whose inner vision has not been set right by Divine grace. All unrenewed men are more or less like the ancient Laodiceans, who thought they had need of nothing, but who were in reality so spiritually blind that they could not see their spiritual nakedness (Revelation 3:15). It is those who are “not washed from their filthiness” that are “pure in their own eyes,” for they are in the condition of spirit described by the apostle John—they “walk in darkness,” and “that darkness hath blinded their eyes” (1 John 2:11). But it is their own fault if they remain in this condition of blindness. A man may be born into this world with weak or impaired vision, but there may be means within his reach whereby the defect may be remedied and he become capable of seeing things as they are. By coming under the influence of those who can see well themselves and who can help him to sight also, he may be brought from a state of comparative darkness to one of light, and if with these opportunities within his reach he become worse instead of better, and at last totally blind, his blindness is a crime and not a misfortune. So, although it is true that we all come into this world with our spiritual perceptions defective and impaired, we are blameworthy in the highest degree if we do not put ourselves in contact with the moral light which God has placed within our reach, and we shall in time come to the condition of the Jewish nation in the days of the prophet and in the time of Christ (Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 13:14), “seeing, we shall see, and shall not perceive.” For “the light which lighteneth every man” (John 1:9) has come into the world; and when His word is allowed free access to man’s heart and conscience it opens his spiritual eyes as the morning sun playing upon the bodily eyes of the sleeper arouses him to life and consciousness. Self-deception, therefore, is a sin, and a sin inseparable from ungodliness.
III. The proud. This sin is the natural outcome of the one just mentioned. If a man has no sense of his state before God, he will have no right conception of his position in relation to his fellow-creatures. The eyes that cannot discern their own moral defilement will certainly look disdainfully upon others. He who thus dishonours his God will certainly despise his brother, and the less a man has to be prond of, the prouder he will be. (On this subject of pride see on chap. Proverbs 11:2, and Proverbs 13:10, pages 192 and 305.)
IV. The cruel and covetous. Man’s rapacity and selfishness are set forth in Proverbs 30:15-17 in very strong terms. His greediness and cruelty are compared to that of a creature the sole end of whose existence is to gorge itself with blood; to the ever open grave; to swords and knives, etc. We know too well that this picture is not overdrawn. Nothing that man can imagine in the form of cruelty can surpass what man has been guilty of, and such ingenuity has he sometimes displayed in this direction that one is constrained to believe that he has been inspired by a supernatural power of evil, for his deeds of darkness have seemed too black for man of himself to conceive. Some of the cruelty of man towards man may not be the offspring of covetousness, but doubtless much of it is. Men often care not who suffers, or how much they suffer, so that they satisfy their own selfish desires, and all this unnatural conduct is an evidence that there is a schism in the human race which calls for some remedy such as that of the gospel, whereby such savage natures may be transformed, and “The wolf also dwell with, the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid,” etc. (Isaiah 11:6.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
In Scripture, the word “generations” is repeatedly used to signify particular classes or descriptions of men; for two reasons, or points of analogy:—first, that as generation follows generation, so surely, in every generation, a succession of such characters is to be found;—and secondly, that they very often communicate the character to one another, and thus keep up their respective kinds,—are successive propagators of their species.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 30:11. Here a new thought begins, but probably one from the same teacher. As he had uttered what he most desired, so now he tells us what he most abhorred, and in true harmony with the teaching of the Ten Commandments places in the foremost rank those who rise against the Fifth.—Plumptre.
Solon, when asked why he had made no law against parricides, replied, that he could not conceive of anyone so impious and cruel. The divine lawgiver knew His creature better, that His heart was capable of wickedness beyond conception (Jeremiah 17:9).—Bridges.
Proverbs 30:14. Yet withal, these cruel oppressors are marked by pitiful cowardice. They vent their wantonness only where there is little or no power of resistance. It is not the wolf with the wolf, but with the defenceless lamb; devouring the poor and needy from off the earth,—“eating up my people”—not like an occasional indulgence, but “as they eat bread” their daily meal, without intermission. (Psalms 14:4.)—Bridges.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 30:18-20
DEPTHS OF WICKEDNESS
I. There are deeds of iniquity which leave no outward immediate trace. The path which the eagle opens by her wings when she soars aloft cannot be traced by the human eye. The air closes behind her as she moves, and she leaves nothing to show that she has passed that way. The vessel ploughs its way through the deep, and leaves a wake behind her for a short time. But the sea, like the air, soon resumes its former condition, and the keel leaves no lasting indication upon the water whereby the course of the mariner can be seen. So the serpent glides over the rock, and for a moment its shining scales are reflected in the sun, and then it is hidden from sight and the rock bears no footprint upon its surface. No human skill could, in any of these instances, find any evidence by which to establish the fact that either the thing without life or the living creatures had been there. So the sin to which all these comparisons are linked is one which may be concealed from the eyes of all except those concerned in it, not only at the time of its committal, but also in the immediate future. Those who come in contact with the guilty parties may see no more trace of the sin than they would do of an eagle’s course, or, to use the other metaphor, of bread that had been eaten by one who has wiped his mouth after the meal.
II. Sin is so in opposition to the voice of the human conscience that even those who love it most seek to hide it. The adulteress has sunk as low in the moral scale as it is possible for a human creature to sink, and yet she seeks to hide her shame. Men of evil deeds love darkness rather than light, and so give evidence that there is that within them that condemns their unholy deeds. The very denial of the crime is a condemnation of it. There are many crimes which are not amenable to human law which men, notwithstanding, try to hide from human eyes, and their efforts to do this are witnesses against them and in favour of the law which they have broken.
Proverbs 30:23. Odious, or unloved.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 30:21-23
BURDENS GRIEVOUS TO BE BORNE
I. It is sometimes dangerous to the peace of a community to raise a person from a low to a high position. To place a man who has never before crossed a horse, upon a high-spirited charger, is to create a source of danger both to himself and others. There is a strong probability that the unskilful rider will be thrown from his unaccustomed elevation, and so injure himself. And it is also probable that he will be the means of mischief to other travellers upon the road, whom he will overthrow in his unskilful efforts to keep his seat. It is generally as dangerous an experiment to lift a man at once from the position of a servant to that of a ruler. Although faithfulness “over a few things” is, according to the highest authority, the best qualification for rulership “over many things” (Matthew 25:21), it is not always hands used only to service are fit to hold the reins of government, either in a small or a large society. On this subject see also on chap. Proverbs 19:10, page 569.
II. Some human creatures cannot safely be trusted with even a sufficiency of this world’s goods. They are not only unfit to rule others, but so unfit to rule themselves that they cannot be “filled with meat” without becoming a centre of disturbance. Even enough of the necessaries of life suffices to make them injurious to themselves and insolent to their betters. This is especially true of men who are slaves to their bodily appetites. There are men in the world who, although peaceable and even useful citizens when they are kept in a state of comparative want and hardship, indulge in excess and immorality as soon as the restraint is removed. They will sometimes know this to be true, and yet they are so wanting in moral courage and strength as not to struggle after a higher condition of being. Such men are fools indeed.
III. The change of disposition which change of circumstance sometimes seems to work may be the result of deliberate purpose. When a servant becomes a ruler he may be the occasion of trouble simply from intellectual inability, and the fool who cannot safely be filled with meat may be only morally weak; but the woman here represented as developing into a curse after marriage suggests a person who has deliberately hidden her real character for a time in order to gain a position in which she can have more opportunities of indulging her evil propensities. This is a step farther in wickedness, and this domestic burden is often the most grievous of all burdens. On this subject see on chap. Proverbs 21:9; Proverbs 21:19, page 613.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Judge, then, how horrible it is that men should set the devil, or his two angels the world and the flesh, in the throne, whiles they place God in the footstool; or that in this commonwealth of man, reason, which is the queen or princess over the better powers and graces of the soul, should stoop to so base a slave as sensual lust.—T. Adams.
And now, just notice the comprehensiveness, in regard to the happiness of human life, of the four things thus enumerated. They begin, observe, at the throne, and come down to the domestic servant. They embrace four great sources of the social unhappiness of mankind. These are—incompetent rule, prosperous and, besotted folly, conjugal alienation and strife with its domestic miseries, and the unnatural inversion of social order.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 30:26. Conies. A gregarious animal of the class Pachydermata, which is found in Palestine living in the caves or clefts of the rocks. Its scientific name is Hyrax Syriacus.… It is like the Alpine marmot, scarcely the size of a domestic cat, having long hair, a very short tail, and round ears (Smith’s Biblical Dictionary).
Proverbs 30:28. Spider. Most commentators translate “lizard.” Delitzsch reads, “The lizard thou canst catch with the hands, and yet it is in the king’s palaces.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 30:24-28
I. Man can learn from creatures far beneath him. Herein he gives evidence both of his greatness and of his imperfection. He is often so faulty in many respects that some of the most insignificant creatures around him read him lessons of wisdom, and yet his capability of receiving instruction from them shows how superior he is to them. For creatures below man, although their actions are often marked by something that seems very nearly akin to reason, are not capable of receiving moral instruction, either from those above or beneath them, and so give proof that they lack a capacity which man possesses.
II. The lessons taught him by each of these creatures.
1. From the ant industry and forethought. On this subject see on chap. Proverbs 6:6, page 79.
2. From the coney (see Critical Notes) a prudent acknowledgment of weakness. It is one of the marks of a wise man that he knows his weakness as well as his strength, and this seems to be the lesson conveyed by the feeble folk who, conscious of their feebleness, make their abodes in the rocks. Foolhardiness may ruin a man as surely as cowardice, and it is quite a different thing from courage, though it is sometimes mistaken for it.
3. From the locust the need of unity and co-operation. The locust is in itself a small and weak insect, yet it is well known what mighty and terrible work can be accomplished by them when they unite. They stand as an example of the wonderful effect of perfect combination and unanimity in action. (See Joel 2:2-11.) They seem animated by a single purpose, and the myriads of individuals seem to become one great and irresistible monster, and thus show us what great things can be accomplished in any community when men are of one heart and mind on any subject, and are willing to lay aside personal preferences and individual interests in order to achieve a common purpose.
4. From the lizard (see Critical Notes) the results of perseverance. This little creature is constantly found in Eastern houses, and doubtless in the palace as well as in more lowly dwellings. Although hardly so good an example of perseverance as the spider, yet it owes its presence in the house to its own energy in overcoming obstacles, and its pertinacity in seeking out some means of entrance, and may therefore be regarded as worthy of man’s imitation when some task is set before him which calls for continuous and watchful effort.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
It has been remarked by some, that the four emblems express all that is requisite for the conservation and well-being of a STATE or KINGDOM. There is supply of food;—commodious and secure dwelling places;—subordination, concord, and united exertion;—and the prevalence and encouragement of the ingenious and useful arts. These are things that governors and kings should look to. And we may apply the emblematic lessons to domestic life. Before a man can prudently marry, and have a family, he should have some suitable provision made, and something like a fair prospect of being able to support them. Next is to be found a suitable dwelling, adapted to his circumstances and convenience, Then, when settled, there must be harmony, union, co-operation, in all departments of the household. And lastly, there must be the diligent, constant, persevering application of his skill and labour to his worldly calling.—Wardlaw.
The ants prepare their meat in the summer, that they may not starve in the rigours of the winter months. How despicable, compared with these insects, are the rational creatures, who suffer the thoughts of an endless duration to be pushed out of their minds by threescore and ten years? The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats, and the rocks for the conies; and has God provided no refuge for our souls? God himself is our refuge and our strength, and those that make him their habitation shall be secured from the fear of evil.—Lawson.
Proverbs 30:29. Go well, rather, “are of stately walk.”
Proverbs 30:31. Delitzsch renders the last clause of this verse:—“A king with whom is the calling out of the host.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 30:29-31
These words seem to set forth animal qualifications needed by human leaders.
I. They must be men of courage. A cowardly man in any position in society will, at some time or other, be found wanting, but what is needed in everyday life and by men in ordinary positions, is indispensable in him who has to lead others. A king in the days of Solomon was expected to be at the head of his army in the day of battle, and if he was not then an example to all beneath him in this respect, he brought disgrace and ruin upon himself and them. A king in all ages, and under all circumstances should be to his subjects what the lion is to the other beasts of the forest—a pattern of dignity and courage.
II. They must be active and watchful. Both the greyhound and the war-horse—whichever may be here meant—are characterised by swiftness of foot and great sagacity. They are ready at any moment to set forth on any errand, and are always on the alert when danger is near. The goat, also, is agile in its movements, and as sure-footed as it is fleet. All these animal qualities are symbolic of mental qualifications which must be possessed by those who aspire to lead and rule their fellow-men successfully. They must not be behindhand when called to action, but they must at the same time take heed to the dangers which may lie in wait for them. They must be ever ready at the call of duty, but they must not be rash and hasty, and so endanger much more than their own personal safety.
On the subject of Proverbs 30:32-33, see on chap. Proverbs 17:14, page 513.
REMARKS ON THE CHAPTER AS A WHOLE
While it appears at the first view that the flowers and fruits from the cornucopia of Agur’s wisdom, 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 supplement, 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 emphasised 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 references 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.… 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, 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.)—Lange’s Commentary.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 30". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany