Proverbs 30
Benson Commentary
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,
Proverbs 30:1. The words of Agur — Who this Agur was no one has ever yet been able to show: it is probable, however, that both he and Jakeh, his father, were well known in Israel at the time this chapter and the next were added to the preceding parts of the proverbs. Jakeh is thought to have lived either in Solomon’s time or soon after, and to have been famous in his generation for wisdom and piety; even the prophecy — The prophetical instruction; for as prophets were public preachers as well as foretellers of things to come, so their sermons, no less than their predictions, are commonly called their prophecies. Ithiel and Ucal — Two friends and cotemporaries of Agur, who desired his instructions.

Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
Proverbs 30:2-3. Surely I am more brutish, &c. — This he utters from an humble and modest apprehension of his own ignorance. I neither learned wisdom — I have not been taught in the schools of wisdom; nor have the knowledge of the holy — Hebrew, קדשׁים, of holy persons, namely, of the holy prophets. I have not such divine inspirations as prophets, strictly so called, have received.

I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?
Proverbs 30:4. Who hath ascended, &c. — What mere man hath ascended into heaven to learn the mind of God, who dwells there? None have. And descended — To teach men below what he had learned above. No man can fully know and teach us these things unless he hath been in heaven, and sent down from thence to the earth for that end. Who hath gathered the wind in his fists — To hold them in, or let them out at his pleasure? And none but he who made and governs all creatures, can know and teach these things. The waters — Those above, the clouds, and those below, the sea, which God keeps as it were within doors, and the waters which he shuts up in the bowels of the earth. The ends of the earth — The whole earth, from one end to another, which God upholdeth in the air by the word of his power. If thou canst tell — If thou thinkest there be any man who can do these things, produce his name; or, if he be dead, the name of any of his posterity.

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
Proverbs 30:5. Every word of God is pure — You must not expect the full knowledge of divine mysteries from me, nor from any man, but from the word of God, which is a certain rule, both for your faith and practice, because every part of it is holy, and true, and good, and there is not the least mixture of falsehood or folly in it, as there is in all the words and writings of men. He is a shield unto them that trust in him — Which supposes their knowledge of him by his word, Psalm 9:10, and implies their reliance on his promises, joined with obedience to his commands.

Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
Proverbs 30:6. Add thou not unto his words — As the word of God is pure, do not thou corrupt it, by adding to it thine own or other men’s inventions, or opinions; lest he reprove thee — By words or deeds; by discovering thy folly, and bringing thee to deserved shame and punishment; and thou be found a liar — Delivering thy own fancies and notions in the name, and as the truths of God, and thus being guilty of the worst of forgeries.

Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Proverbs 30:7-8. Two things have I required of thee — I do most earnestly and especially desire: deny me them not — Hebrew, אל תמנע ממני, withhold them not from me; before I die — That is, while I live, as being things of great and continual necessity, for thy honour and service, and my own good. Remove far from me — From my heart, and from the course of my life: vanity — That Isaiah , 1 st, All false and vain opinions, namely, concerning God and things divine; all unbelief, idolatry, and superstition: and, 2d, Vanity of heart and life; a vain conversation, or the love of the vain things of this world; and lies — All falsehood and deceit in my words and actions, and in my conduct toward God or men. This is the first of Agur’s petitions. Give me neither poverty nor riches — This is his second request, which may seem to have some reference to the former, poverty being commonly an occasion of, or temptation to, the sin of lying; and riches being the great occasions of, and enticements to, vanity. Thus, as his first petition was against the sins themselves, so this latter is against the occasions of them. Feed me with food convenient for me — Moderate and suitable, both to my natural necessities and to that condition of life in which thou hast placed me. And this mediocrity of condition is so amiable, that it has often been desired by wise heathen as more eligible than a state of the greatest plenty and glory.

Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
Proverbs 30:9. Lest I be full, and deny thee — By trusting to riches, which is a denial of God, and by un-thankfulness for, and the abuse of his mercies. And say, Who is the Lord — That I should obey or serve him? I do not need him: I can live without him. Lest by degrees, I should arrive at downright atheism or infidelity, which is most incident to rich and great men, as is manifest from experience. Or lest I be poor and steal — Lest, being in a state of poverty, I be under a strong temptation to dishonesty, and become injurious to others for my own relief; and take the name of my God in vain — Use false oaths, either to vindicate myself when I am suspected or accused of theft, and my oath is required according to the law, Exodus 22:8-11; or to gratify others for filthy lucre, as poor men frequently do.

Accuse not a servant unto his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty.
Proverbs 30:10. Accuse not a servant unto his master — Without sufficient cause, for otherwise, in some cases, this may be a duty. As if he had said, A servant’s condition is in itself mean and miserable, and therefore thou shouldest not make it worse without great and apparent necessity. Lest he curse thee — Desire God to punish thee, which, though it might be sinful in him, yet, being deserved by thee, thou wouldst have reason to fear and expect; and thou be found guilty — By God, who is always ready to plead the cause of the afflicted.

There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.
Proverbs 30:11-14. There is a generation — A sort of men, abominable both to God and men, which is implied concerning these and the following kind of sinners, mentioned in these verses; that curseth their father — And mother too, as it follows; ungrateful and unnatural children. There are those that are pure in their own eyes — Who not only pretend to others, but sincerely think within themselves, that they are truly religious persons, and in all respects such as they should be; and yet are not washed from their filthiness — Not delivered from the guilt or power of their sins; not saved by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, Titus 3:5; not justified, not sanctified, in the name of the Lord, the Messiah, and by the Spirit of our God, 1 Corinthians 6:11. Reader, is this thy case? There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! — With what disdain do they look upon their neighbours! At what a distance do they expect every body to keep! A sort of men that are proud and insolent, advancing themselves, and despising all others in comparison of themselves, and showing the pride of their hearts in their countenances and behaviour. There is a generation whose teeth, &c. — Extortioners, and cruel oppressors, who grind the faces of the poor.

There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.
There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up.
There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.
The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough:
Proverbs 30:15. The horseleech — An insatiable creature, sucking blood till it be ready to burst; hath two daughters — The following things, which resemble the horseleech in their insatiableness, nothing being more common than to call those persons or things the sons or daughters of those whose example they imitate. And whereas it is objected that they are not only two, but three, yea, four, as is said in the next clause, the answer is easy, that though he begin with two, yet he proceeds from thence to three and four, all which are said to be the daughters of the horseleech, if the words be rendered properly, as they are in the Hebrew, as we shall presently see. Crying, Give, give — Never filled, but always craving, and ready to receive more and more. There are three — It should rather have been rendered, Yea, three, or they (namely, the daughters of the horse- leech) are three; that are never satisfied — This is added to explain the former clause, Give, give, and to show the cause of that excessive desire of more, namely, they are not contented with what they have. Four things — Or, yea, they are four; which say not, It is enough — Hebrew, הון, it is wealth, it is abundance. Those are never rich that are always coveting.

The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.
Proverbs 30:16. The grave, and the barren womb — As the Israelitish women did generally and vehemently desire to have many children, for divers reasons elsewhere mentioned, so those who were barren among them were most eager in those desires, as we see in Rachel, Genesis 30:1. And, as in all other cases, persons most prize and thirst after those good things which they want. The earth — Which, when it is dry, thirsts for rain, and in a little time sucks up great quantities of water, and gapes for more. And the fire — Which continually burns, as long as there is any combustible matter left for it. “Some commentators compare certain vices with these four insatiable things: the desire of revenge to the grave; libidinous desires to the barren womb; covetousness, or rather drunkenness, to the thirsty earth; and ambition to the devouring fire. It is easy to show how fitly all these are resembled to the horseleech; it being the vulgar saying, that harlots, for instance, are the horseleeches of young men; and the servant in Plautus, when he was about to rob the chests of two old men, says, Jam ego me vertam in hirudinem, &c. ‘Now will I turn myself into a horseleech, and suck out their very blood.’” — Dodd.

The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.
Proverbs 30:17. The eye that mocketh at his father — He that scorneth or derideth his parents, though it be but with a look or gesture, and much more when he breaks out into opprobrious words and actions; the ravens of the valley shall pick it out — “They who are guilty of such an enormous ingratitude to their parents shall come to an infamous end, and their dead bodies shall be exposed for a prey to the ravens which frequent the brooks that run in the valleys, and to the young eagles, which shall pick out those eyes in which their scorn and derision of their parents were wont to appear.”

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
Proverbs 30:18-19. There be three things too wonderful for me — The way whereof I cannot trace; the way of an eagle in the air — Either, 1st, The manner of her flight, which is exceedingly high, swift, and strong: or, rather, 2d, The way, or part of the air through which she passes, without leaving any print or sign in it. The way of a serpent upon a rock — Where it leaves no impression, nor slime, nor token which way it went. The way of a ship in the sea — In which, though at present it make a furrow, yet it is speedily closed again; and the way of a man with a maid — The various methods and artifices which young men sometimes use to slide into the hearts of young virgins, and win their love, that they may persuade them either to honourable marriage or to unlawful lust. “I would just observe upon this” last clause, says Dr. Dodd, “that some have understood it as a reference to the incarnation of the Word in the Virgin Mary.” The word עלמה, rendered maid, signifies a virgin, strictly speaking; and גבר, rendered a man, may signify the man, or great one, by way of eminence. But for more on this text the reader is referred to Schultens’s very accurate discussion of it. Houbigant thinks that the sacred writer here refers to the human conception; which is indeed truly miraculous and incomprehensible.

The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.
Proverbs 30:20. Such — So secret and undiscernible; is the way of an adulterous woman — Of one that secretly lives in the sin of adultery. As “artful men insinuate themselves into the affections of young women, and seduce them to their ruin, by an almost infinity of stratagems, which can never be all unravelled, so also the adulterous wife uses much ingenuity to impose on her husband, to shun detection, and to escape shame and punishment, by schemes and devices which cannot all be enumerated. Every new crime intended, or committed, gives rise to some new artifice; as the ship, in some degree, deviates every time from the course which it steered before. The object of the seducer is to prevail over his prey, and that of the adulteress to conceal her guilt; and the whole extent of their subtlety and ingenuity is employed to effect those purposes.” — Scott.

For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:
Proverbs 30:21-23. For three things the earth — That is, the inhabitants of the earth; is disquieted — By their insolence and impudence they cause great disturbances in the places where they live; for four it cannot rest — They are intolerable in human societies. For a servant when he reigneth — When he is advanced to great power and dignity; for such a one is ignorant and unfit for his place, and therefore commits many errors; he is poor, and therefore insatiable; he is proud and imperious, and usually injurious and cruel; and a fool — A conceited fool, or an obstinately wicked man; when he is filled with meat — When he is over fed, his meat and drink heating his blood, and stirring him up to many insolences: or, when he abounds in wealth, which, in that case, is like a sword in a madman’s hand, being an instrument and occasion of many acts of wickedness and mischief. For an odious woman — Proud and perverse, and full of other offensive qualities; when she is married — For then she displays all those ill humours which before she concealed. And a handmaid that is heir — Which great and sudden change transports her beside herself, and makes her insufferably proud and scornful.

For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat;
For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.
There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
Proverbs 30:24-28. There be four things little, &c., but exceeding wise — Comparatively to other brute creatures, they act very wisely and providently, through the direction of Divine Providence, which secretly influences them to do those things for their own preservation which are most agreeable to the rules of wisdom. The design of this observation Isaiah , 1 st, To commend wisdom to us, and to teach us to imitate the providence of these creatures, as we are excited, Proverbs 6:6, to imitate their diligence; 2d, To keep us from being proud of our own wisdom, because we are either equalled or exceeded therein by brute creatures, in the wise conduct of their affairs; and, 3d, To direct us to whom to apply for wisdom when we want and desire it, even to that God who inspires such wisdom even into irrational animals. The ants are a people — Which title is often given to insects, and other inferior creatures, both in the Scriptures, (see Joel 1:6; Joel 2:2,) and in Homer, and Virgil, and divers other authors; yet they prepare their meat in the summer — Of which see on Proverbs 6:6-8. The conies are but a feeble folk — Rather, the rock-rats, or mountain-mice: see on Leviticus 11:5. Yet make their houses in the rocks — In the holes of rocks, where they secure themselves against their too potent enemies. The locusts have no king — To rule and order them; yet they go forth all of them by bands — In great numbers, in several companies, and in exact order, as is observed in Scripture, and in other authors. The spider taketh hold — Of the threads which she spins out of her own bowels; with her hands — With her legs, which he calls hands, because they serve her for the same use to do her work, to weave her web, and to catch gnats or flies. And is in kings’ palaces — Is not only in poor cottages, but many times in palaces also.

The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;
The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;
The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.
There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:
Proverbs 30:29-31. There be three things which go well — That walk decently, and with great alacrity and courage, or whose motion is majestic; A lion, which turneth not away for any — Doth not flee from his pursuers, whether men or beasts, but walks away with a slow and majestic pace, as is observed by Aristotle, and many others; A greyhound — Called in the Hebrew זרזיר מתנים, girt in the loins, either because its loins are slender, and, as it were, girt up into a little compass, or because of its great agility and swiftness; for the girding of the loins was used for expedition, in going or working. The word is rendered by some, a horse, namely, a war- horse, having his armour girt about him, and marching to battle, which he does with great majesty and courage, as God himself observes at large, Job 39:19, &c. A he-goat also — Which marches at the head of the flock in a grave and stately manner, conducting them with great courage and resolution, and being ready to fight for them, either with beasts or men that oppose him. And a king — Hebrew, a king and his people with him, a king when he hath the hearts and hands of his people going along with him in his undertakings.

A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;
A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.
If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.
Proverbs 30:32. If thou hast done foolishly — “If thy pride or thy passion hath engaged thee in some foolish action, whereby thou hast disgraced thyself; or made thee contrive and endeavour any thing that is unwarrantable, do not add one fault to another, by excusing it, or blaming any body but thyself for it, much less by quarrelling at those that admonish thee of it, and reprehend thee for it; but stop at the first motion to this, and silently acknowledge thy error.” — Bishop Patrick.

Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.
Proverbs 30:33. Surely the churning of milk — This verse, which is connected with that preceding, is thus paraphrased by the last-mentioned author: “For from little things there is an easy progress unto greater. And just as you see milk is first pressed out of the cow’s udders, and then, being shaken in the churn, is forced into butter; and as the nose, being wrung, though at first it only purge itself, yet, if it be harder pressed, there comes out blood; even so words, passing to and fro, raise a heat, and that, if continued, stirs up anger, which frequently ends in broils and irreconcileable quarrels.”

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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