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Here begins another section or division of the book, variously numbered by the annotators. It consists of only this chapter, and is the most enigmatical and difficult portion of the book. It is generally considered an example of the חידת , ( hhidhoth,) “dark sayings” riddles and things to be guessed at promised in Proverbs 1:6. On this account some parts of it, and more especially the first few verses, have been the subjects of wonderfully diverse translation and interpretation. The limits of this work not allowing of entering largely into these criticisms, we refer those who wish to pursue the subject further than our plan permits to Clarke, Stuart, Lange, Conant, and Miller.
Some critics have believed that this section of the book is the production of Solomon, the names, Jakeh, Agur, etc., being fictitious or enigmatical, representing David, Solomon, etc. But the greater number of interpreters consider it a supplement, or appendix, annexed by “the men of Hezekiah,” or by some other inspired editor. The word “Agur,” is commonly supposed to be from the root אגר , ( agar,) and to signify a collector or compiler, though Miller derives it from גור , ( gur,) to turn aside, to fear. The greater number of expositors take all these words, “Agur,” “Jakeh,” “Ithiel,” and “Ucal,” as they stand in our Authorized Version, for proper names, representing some ancient persons concerning whom we know nothing, except what we find here. (The name “Ithiel” occurs Nehemiah 11:7.)
1. The prophecy המשׂא , ( hammassa,) the utterance, the oracle oracular saying or discourse. It may also mean parable or proverb. It is the word occurring so often in the prophets rendered “burden.” Hitzig, followed by others, throwing away the Masoretic points, takes Jakeh out of the category of proper names and puts Massa into it, reading, “the son of her who was obeyed in Massa,” or whose domain is Massa. The name Massa is found among the children of Ishmael, (Genesis 25:14,) and as Massa and Dumah are mentioned together, both there and in 1 Chronicles 1:30, his supposed that the country of Massa adjoined that of Dumah, where there was probably a colony of Israelites of the tribe of Simeon. Comp. 1 Chronicles 1:41-43.
Ithiel Separated into two words, לאי תיאל , lei thiel, issupposed to make the sense, I have toiled for God, or after God, or, “to God with me.” Miller.
Ucal By a little change of points this word becomes, I have ceased, desisted from, or ended, (my toil,) or, according to Miller, “I am able.” Those who take Ithiel and Ucal to be proper names, believe them to be the pupils of Agur, and it is conjectured that the different parts of Agur’s discourse is in answer to questions proposed by these pupils, after the manner of the ancient schools “hearing them, and asking them questions.” Luke 2:46.
2. Brutish Stupid, lacking intelligence, as compared with many others. Psalms 73:22.
3. Knowledge of the holy קדשׁים , ( kedhoshim,) plural, holy ones, which is understood by some as meaning holy persons; saints or persons divinely illuminated, that is, inspired. Others take it as a plural of intensity, and translate Most Holy, that is, God. Comp. Proverbs 9:10. Proverbs 30:2-3 may be understood as expressing the author’s unaffected sense of his own deficiencies, intellectual and moral. We must, however, make allowance for the Oriental mode of expression, which is, perhaps, stronger than we would feel warranted to use.
4. Ascended up The object of this passage is, probably, like that of many similar ones, to impress the mind with the incomprehensible greatness of the divine Author of all existence, his majesty, his omnipotence, his omniscience, his inscrutable perfections, and his unapproachable glory. So in Job 11:7-8: “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.” So, also, Paul, in Romans 11:33-35: “Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?” There are also many similar passages in the Psalms. It is the language of the emotions, of poetry, labouring to express rather, feeling utterly incompetent to express the glory of the divine character, and giving up in despair. Compare Job 15:8; also the whole of Job 37, 41, and Job 38:4; Psalms 104:3; Isaiah 40:12; Jer 23:18 ; 1 Corinthians 2:16.
Bound the waters in a garment Some expositors understand this of the waters “above the firmament,” (Genesis 1:7;) that is, in the atmosphere. Others, with more plausibility, of the waters of the ocean, which are in sundry places presented under the idea of being straitened, confined within their appropriate limits, by divine statute. Compare Proverbs 8:39. The assertion is gratuitous, that the inspired Hebrew writers regarded the רקיע , ( rakia’h,) the expanse, improperly rendered by the Greek στερεωμα , stereoma, and the Latin, firmamentum, as a solid pavement by which the waters were held up. Figurative expressions, such as “the windows of heaven,” do not prove it, any more than similar forms found in our own literature would prove to a reader a thousand years hence that we had the same idea.
Established all the ends of the earth אפסי ארצ , ( aphse-arets,) ends, extremities, or boundaries of the earth, that is, of the land as distinguished from the waters. The two clauses may be translated thus: Who hath folded up (compressed) the waters in the mantle? Who hath constituted (ordered, ordained) all the boundaries of the land? An allusion, probably, to Genesis 1:9; “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.” It is remarkable that יקוו , ( yikkavu,) gathered together, has the same radical meaning as the above, namely, that of being bound up or folded together. (See Gesenius on the word קוה , ( kavah.) There is a reference in the verse, first, to the visible heavens, or what the Hebrews called the second heavens the place of the heavenly bodies, sun and stars; secondly, to the first heavens the atmosphere, the region of the air, wind, which he gathers in his hand, or controls; thirdly, to the water and land as being adjusted and bounded by his ordinance the sea, to which be has given its decree that the waters should not pass his commandment, limit.
The earth Land, to which he has appointed the foundations. Now follows the great question,
What is his name Tell me, that is, according to a well-known Hebraism, What is He, who is He, what must He be, who performeth such wonders in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, and in the waters that are under or within the earth? Or, if thou canst declare to me nothing of himself, knowest thou the name of any one related to him, as for instance, a son, of whom we may inquire? As if he had said, If thou knowest any way or means by which we may attain to a knowledge of this ineffably glorious Being, tell me, O tell me!
Thus the majority of expositors understand this remarkable language. The sense is a good one, and yet, perhaps, it is scarcely satisfactory. A mind having somewhat the same yearnings as are here expressed may still ask: Is there not something more in it? May there not be also under these anxious interrogations, made under the divine afflatus, a foreshadowing of the glorious Son of God, the יהוה , or יהוה , ( Yehovah, or Yahveh,) the coming one, for whose appearing, as the revealer of God, (John 1:18,) so many prophets and righteous men of ancient times intensely looked as the hope of humanity: “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify.” Thus much, at least, the passage may show; that the idea of divine relations I will not say persons, but relations of paternity and filiation, does not seem to have been altogether foreign, nor appeared wholly absurd, to the mind of ancient sages like Agur, who is nevertheless clearly monotheistic in his conceptions of the great Author of our being. And if the expression should mean all that some interpreters, both ancient and modern, believe, it would seem to find a corresponding voice in the words of the Deliverer himself. Compare a few passages: “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. “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”
Matthew 11:27. To the same purport are the words of the Baptist: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” John 1:18. Nor should it be forgotten that David had, probably before Agur, in an ode unquestionably Messianic, used the word, בן , ( ben,) son, and its equivalent, בר , ( bar,) “Thou art my Son.” Psalms 2:7. “Kiss the Son.” Psalms 2:12. His son’s name Most of the ancient Versions correspond to the Hebrew here; but the Septuagint has the plural sons, and the Arabic has, “What is the name of his father.”
5. Every word of God is pure אלוה , ( eloah,) God. In the unquestioned Solomonic portions of this book, the word JEHOVAH, (Authorized Version, LORD,) is used almost invariably; אלהים , elohim, the plural form, only a few times; eloah, a form of the singular, never. Agur uses all three as the name of the divine Being.
Is pure Like refined gold; so in Psalms 119:140, “Thy word is very pure;” and in Psalms 12:6, “the words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, seven times.” From the consciousness of man’s ignorance (Proverbs 30:4) comes a sense of the preciousness of the revealed word.
6. Add thou not unto his words Similar warnings are found elsewhere. Comp. Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32. The writer seems familiar with the older Scriptures. Compare also Revelation 22:18-19. These are solemn admonitions to which all teachers do well to take heed, and none more so than expositors, lest they make God say more or less than he has said, or something different from it, and thus be found liars before God falsifiers of his truth. In vain may fallible man hope to escape all error in interpretation; but every one should bring to the work an honest mind to search after truth, and firmness sufficient to set forth his honest convictions.
7, 8. These verses contain a direct address to God, although he is not named till towards the close of the prayer.
Two things They might seem at first sight to be three, but the last two clauses are substantially one:
Let me be neither poor nor rich.
Vanity and lies Deceptive and false things.
Food convenient for me “Sufficient for me.” Muenscher. “My allotted portion.” Stuart. My rations, or daily bread. The conception is given as that of a child at the family table, waiting to receive from the hand of the parent his “piece,” or allotted part of the loaf or cake of bread. He asks submissively for just as much as the wise and benevolent parent judges to be good for him necessary for his wants nothing more. The unleavened bread of the Orientals, baked usually every day, or meal, was broken or torn to pieces. Hence the original is, “Tear or break off (for me) my allotted portion of bread.” Comp. Matthew 6:11.
9. Deny thee Hebrew, simply deny; fail to render suitable acknowledgments. Abundance too commonly begets pride, sensuality, and forgetfulness of our obligation to the great Giver. “Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked.” Deuteronomy 32:15. Poverty tempts to stealing and other illicit practices to supply our wants. Furthermore, the poor are apt to repine and murmur against Providence, and in their heart to accuse the divine Being of partiality. This is supposed to be the meaning of take the name of my God in vain violate the name of God, by assailing or impugning the divine character. Some understand it of false swearing, or perjury, to which the thief is tempted in order to shield himself from punishment. See note on Proverbs 29:24.
10. Accuse not a servant… master It is not entirely certain that our Authorized Version gives the sense here. Stuart, Zockler, and others render: “Thou shalt not cause a servant to slander his master, lest he should curse thee,” etc. Literally rendered, the first clause might read, Do not incite a servant to tongue (be-tongue or tongue-lash) his master.
Lest he It cannot be determined from the construction whether this refers to the servant or to the master. Conant translates “Slander not a servant to his master,” and refers the latter clause to the master. Miller: “Give not tongue service, as a servant to his master;” giving it, of course, a spiritual sense, as does also Ewald. The word translated accuse is found only once elsewhere, Psalms 101:5, and is there read slandereth. The Septuagint has, “Deliver not a servant to his master, lest,” etc.
11-14. The four classes here mentioned Agur assumes will at once be disapproved. To describe them is enough. They need no formal condemnation.
Generation Race, class.
Doth not bless Does not respect or speak well of. It is implied that they do the reverse.
Pure in their own eyes In their own estimation perfect without blemish or fault.
Not washed from their filthiness From that which goeth out from them, excrements. Of course the expression is figurative, and the figure is crude but very pungent. Matthew 15:11.
Eyelids are lifted up Comp. Proverbs 6:17; there are outward signs of inward pride. We would, perhaps, say eye-brows, to express the same idea. The mention of these classes of evil-minded and evil-doing persons is equivalent to a precept prohibiting the several vices pertaining to them; as if Agur had said, “I mention these that ye may avoid their ways.” It will be noted that the words “there is” in each of these verses, are supplied in italics. The passage would be more forcible without them; “A generation that curseth their father and blesseth not their mother,” etc. Comp. Proverbs 25:19; Psalms 52:2; Psalms 57:4.
15. The horseleech עלוקה , ( ‘ halukah.) This word occurs nowhere else in the Bible, and the critics are by no means agreed as to its meaning. Dr. A. Clarke thinks it may have been the proper name of some well-known woman of the time. Stuart thinks it means the fabled vampire, and so translates. All the ancient versions however, render it leech, or bloodsucker. But the ancients and some moderns, according to their principles of mystical interpretation, had various notions of what it symbolized. Some of the Rabbies thought it meant “destiny,” and the two daughters, paradise and sheol. The former never has enough of the righteous, the latter of the wicked. Bochart makes the two daughters, “the grave and hell.” Calmet says, ‘halukah is covetousness, and the two daughters, avarice and ambition. All this is fanciful. Alukah, the leech, is the emblem of insatiableness, and the two daughters are probably its two suckers, whose continual cry is, “Give, give.” (See Webster’s Dictionary for a description of the leech and its two suckers.) The horseleech is a less powerful leech, commonly attacking the membranes of the month and nostrils of animals that drink at the pools where it exists. It is probable, although no comparison is expressed between the leech and the following things named, that similitude is implied. So the Septuagint understood it, or made it: The bloodsucker has three daughters well beloved, and these three were not able to fill her, and the fourth was not content to say, Enough.
Three… four It was common among the Hebrews to specify a number, and then to add another, somewhat as we say three or four. See on Proverbs 6:16.
16. The grave, etc. These four things are given as examples of insatiableness. The learner is left to apply them for himself, as for instance, to the miser, the drunkard, the glutton, the debauchee. This passage is reckoned among the hhidhoth (enigmas) of the book. Compare Proverbs 1:6. Barren womb Miller renders, allowably, “The enclosure of the womb.” It is the same word elsewhere translated “ prison,” as in Isaiah 53:8. He adds: “The idea of special insatiableness in the barren seems to be a physiological fancy. Moreover the Hindus have a proverb of just these particulars in which we have nothing of sterility.” Conant says, “The natural desire for offspring (compare the only too passionate expression of it in Genesis 30:1, ‘ Give me children, or else I die,’) is certainly all that is here meant by the unsatisfied craving of the barren womb. It is not just to the sacred writer to impute to him any other thought.”
17. Eye that mocketh The expression is used to denote the “mocking” or cursing child; not merely the disobedient, but the rebellious one.
Despiseth to obey Spurns the control of. It is the same word, with the addition of a single letter marking the feminine gender, which is taken as a proper noun in the first verse and there read jakeh.
The ravens of the valley (or brook) shall pick it out We observe that in attacking a body or carcass, ravens strike first at the eye as a favourite part. Hence bodies of men or beasts left exposed where such fowls have access to them are found with their eyes picked out. The passage, therefore, may be equivalent to a declaration that such an unworthy, irreverent, and disobedient son, shall die a felon’s death, and become, as was often the case, a prey to ravens and eagles.
Young eagles Literally, sons of the eagle.
18, 19. Too wonderful As we have in the preceding verses several illustrations of the insatiable, so we have in these examples of the mysterious. The mystery of these things (as commonly supposed) is not so much in themselves as in the discovery of them afterward “the impossibility of tracing the way gone over.” Stuart. There is a various reading in the last of the four particulars the correctness of which is maintained by very respectable critics. Instead of עלמה , ( ‘ halmah,) a maid, a marriageable virgin, some manuscripts and versions read עלומיו , ( ‘ halu-mayv,) his youth, “the way of a man in his youth.” So the Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, etc. Some illustrate this passage thus: In countries where young women are kept secluded there is little opportunity of personal acquaintance, and of what we call courtship. There are few chances by which a young man can personally engage the affections of a young woman. She is not at her own disposal, and can but acquiesce in the choice of her parents and friends. “I have often been surprised,” says a certain writer, “to see with what little regret a lover, proposed to a virgin, has been abandoned by her for another, perhaps not at all better. She transfers her connexion and person with so little difficulty to the latter’s proposal, that however she might have encouraged the first, and even have adopted him as her husband elect, he appears to have left no more trace on her mind than the eagle leaves in the air.” TAYLOR’S Calmet, under Al-mah. All this may be so, but it seems to be the way of a maid with a man, rather than, as the text demands, the way of a man with a maid.
Conant’s note on “difficult things” is worthy of consideration. “It matters not that these things can be philosophically explained, and that we now understand how the eagle is sustained in the air by its reacting force, and moves upward or onward by the difference of forces. So can the ‘balancings of the clouds’ (Job 37:16) be now understood. The discovery that the air has weight, and is heavier than the pellicles of vapour, has explained the mystery. But there was a time when these were wonders, and to men as wise at least as we are in matters of greater concern than the truths of physical science. We all can remember when to us, too, they were wonders; and no illustrations of truth take stronger hold of the imagination and the heart than those drawn from our earliest impressions of nature. The Bible abounds in them, and in this is one secret of its hold on the human heart.”
Not less incomprehensible is the mysterious law of reproduction in the divinely appointed relation of the sexes. In purposed contrast with what follows, we have here the case of the bridegroom and bride, and their chaste intercourse, as a type of the sanctity and purity of that relation, for by “maid” is meant a young woman of marriageable age.
20. Such כן , ( ken,) so, a particle of comparison establishing a connexion with the preceding, and expressing the similitude between the way of an adulteress and the things just mentioned. “Just as incomprehensible in a moral view is the violation of the sacredness of marital rights by the adulteress, and her hardened indifference to the guilt of the crime.” Conant.
She eateth, and wipeth Indulges her appetite, and removes all indication of guilt.
And saith By her manner, “I am innocent.” One moral of the passage may be a caution against implicit confidence in external or first appearances.
21-23. Three… four Hence follows another enigma, the four intolerable things.
The earth is disquieted The land is disturbed, thrown into commotion.
A servant when he reigneth When he becomes a ruler. Under Eastern governments slaves are sometimes promoted to office and become rulers. They are frequently the most imperious of tyrants. The same thing was, in the days of slavery, observed in this country when slaves were made overseers of their fellows, and in the West Indies, as Dr. Clarke remarks, where they were made drill masters of black regiments. This grows out of their previous condition and education, or, rather, their lack of education. (Comp. Proverbs 29:19.)
A fool נבל , ( nabhal,) an ungodly dolt; the word implies wickedness and stupidity. (Compare Proverbs 19:10.)
An odious woman A hateful and hated woman.
When she is married Literally, when she is lorded, or husbanded; that is, when she gets married. (Comp. Proverbs 29:17-18; Proverbs 31:1.)
Heir to her mistress Literally, inherits her mistress; that is, inherits her place disinherits her in the affections and honour of her husband. Comp. Proverbs 16:21.
24-28. Four things… little Here is the enigma of the four small and contemptible things, that are yet esteemed for their wisdom and other qualities.
The ants See Proverbs 6:6; and notes there.
The conies Rabbits. But the coney of Scripture the hyrax Syriacus, also called the daman is a different animal from our rabbit. “It is small, gregarious, timid, easily tamed, and lives in the mouth of caves, or clefts of the rocks.”- Baird. Compare Leviticus 11:5; Psalms 104:18.
The spider שׂממית , ( semamith;) rather, the house lizard, which is tolerated even in palaces, because it helps to cleanse them of vermin. “Its principal food is flies, and these it springs upon and grasps with both its prehensiles, as if they were hands.” Stuart. There have been various conjectures about the semamith. A writer in Calmet contends for the common house fly.
The locusts Compare Joel 2:7-8. “The most striking fact about the flight of locust swarm’s is their apparent order and discipline, sweeping over the land like a great invading army.” Speaker’s Commentary. Our Western “grasshoppers” are supposed to be a variety of the same insect.
29-31. Three… four… comely The author here adds the four things of stately or majestic gait.
A lion The most heroic among the beasts, or, at least, so popularly held, and, therefore, called the king of beasts.
A greyhound Literally, girt-of-loins, or compressed of loins. This animal has to be guessed at. Among the guesses are, the war-horse, the zebra, the wrestler, the cock, (so Vulgate.) The chief critics prefer the greyhound, which is said to be a remarkably fine animal in the East, and exceedingly fleet. In full chase he seems to swim over the ground.
A he goat Which at the head of his flock puts on as much sturdiness as an Oriental pasha.
A king, against whom… is no rising up All this has only three words in the original מלךְ אלקום עמו , melekh alkum ‘ himmo. The second word is supposed to be a compound, a very unusual thing in Hebrew: al, not, and kum, to stand, or rise up no standing against him; or, let no one rise up against him. More satisfactory is the solution of Gesenius, who derives alkum from the Arabic, meaning the people, the populace, and reads: “A king with whom is the people” in the midst of his people. Surrounded and supported by them. So, also, Conant and others. Such a king may well walk forth reliantly, having the affection and confidence of his subjects. The Septuagint has: “A king publicly speaking before a nation.”
32. Done foolishly, etc. Variously rendered: “If thou hast played the fool in exalting thyself; or if thou hast craftily devised with thy hand to thy mouth.” Stuart. This gives us a protasis in two members, but no apodosis, which he thinks may be mentally supplied, thus: Thou hast acted wickedly. The last clause is elliptical; literally, hand to mouth! and, as Conant observes, this spirited expression should not be toned down to common place tameness, by supplying lay, or put, as is sometimes done. Hand to mouth! Confess, leper-like, thine uncleanness!
33. Churning of milk, etc. Our excellent Authorized Version has here failed to give the spirit of the original. The same verbs occur in each clause of the verse, and should be translated accordingly. For as the pressing of milk bringeth forth cheese, (or whey,) and the pressing of the nose bringeth forth blood, so the pressing of anger bringeth forth strife. Miller translates the last clause: “So the pressing down of passion presses away strife.” He makes the apodosis of Proverbs 30:32, and of part of this.
Butter חמאה , ( hhemah,) is supposed to mean milk in general, sometimes curdled milk, curds, cheese; but Miller contends stoutly for whey.
The wringing of the nose Thomson ( Land and Book, vol. i, p. 373) describes the Oriental mode of churning to be by squeezing or pressing a leathern bag (the goatskin bottle of the East) containing the milk. This makes more apparent the meaning of the comparison in the last verse.
So end the חידות , ( hhidhoth,) enigmas of Agur, “in the which are some things hard to be understood.” They have exercised the ingenuity of wise and learned men for ages. We can do little more than repeat their guesses, though, by comparing one with another, we may, perhaps, make a little advance. Among the more probable of these guesses are those of Dr. Miller, who allegorizes the whole book, and this part in particular. According to him, Proverbs 30:10-14 represent sin as progressive; Proverbs 30:15-16, as insatiable; Proverbs 30:18-29, as insidious; Proverbs 30:21-23, as intolerable; Proverbs 30:24-28, how to get rid of it; Proverbs 30:29-33, the practical application. Whether the learned doctor has hit the meaning of the wise man or not, he has given good sound doctrine, put in very forcible language. That the object of these Proverbs is, as Dr. Conant remarks, moral instruction, there can be little doubt. Hence the thought that they are simply an amusing play of the fancy is to be dismissed at once.
In the Septuagint Version this chapter is split up and scattered, a part in one place and a part in another. Proverbs 30:1-14 come in after Proverbs 24:22; the remainder after Proverbs 24:37. This is followed again by the first nine verses of chap. 31. Then come in chapters 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29; the book concluding with the remainder of chapter 31, Proverbs 30:10-31.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 30". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany