Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,XXX.
8.THE PROVERBS OF SOLOMON END HERE. THE REST OF THE BOOK IS COMPOSED OF THREE APPENDICES: (a) THE WORDS OF AGUR; (b) THE WORDS OF KING LEMUEL; AND (C) THE PRAISE OF A GOOD WIFE (Proverbs 30, 31).
(1) The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy.—Jewish interpreters have seen in these titles (but apparently without a shadow of reason) a designation of Solomon himself, the “convener” and instructor of assemblies (Ecclesiastes 1:1; Ecclesiastes 12:11), son of the “obedient” man after God’s own heart. But they in all probability belong to some otherwise unknown sage, whose utterances were thought not unworthy of being joined with those of the wise King of Israel himself. In support of this view 1Kings 4:30 may be adduced as a proof of the estimation in which the wisdom of foreign nations was at this time held. The book of Job also, which possibly now was added to the canon of Scripture, is certainly of foreign, probably of Arabian, origin. Some light may be thrown upon the nationality of Agur by the words translated in the Authorised version “the prophecy” (massâ). This is the term constantly employed to express the “utterance,” or, more probably, the message which a prophet “bore” to his hearers, often one of gloomy import (Isaiah 13:1, etc.). But the term is not very appropriate to the contents of this chapter, nor to the “words of King Lemuel,” in Proverbs 31, and the expression, “the prophecy,” standing quite alone, with no other words to qualify it, is very singular. For these reasons it has been proposed to translate the beginning of the verse thus: “The words of Agur the son of Jakeh the Massan,” i.e., a descendant of the Massa mentioned in Genesis 25:14 as a son of Ishmael. This would place his home probably in North Arabia, and Lemuel would be king of the same tribe.
The man spake.—The word translated “spake” is most frequently used of the revelation of God to prophets, rarely (Numbers 24:3 and 2Samuel 23:1) of the utterances of inspired prophets; never of the words of ordinary men.
Unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal.—These most probably were disciples of his. As their names may mean “God with me,” and “I am strong,” a fanciful delineation of their characters, in the style of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” has been attempted by some writers. And a mystical interpretation of them, “You must have God with you, if you are to be strong,” may be found in Bishop Wordsworth’s Commentary. It has been proposed also, as is possible with a slight change in the pointing, to translate these words thus: “I am weary, O God, I am weary, and am weak,” or, “have made an end,” and to make them an introduction to Proverbs 30:2, which supplies the reason for this weariness, “For I am more brutish,” etc. Thus is described, it has been thought, the sinking at heart of one who has sought after God, and the more he has realised the divine excellence, has become the more conscious of his own nothingness. But this rendering is unnecessary, as the Authorised version gives a good sense.
Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.(2) Surely I am more brutish than any man.—Rather, than that I can be called a man, one “formed in the image of God.” (Comp. Psalm 73:22.)
I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.(3) The knowledge of the holy—i.e., the Holy One, God. (Comp. Proverbs 9:10.)
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?(4) Who hath ascended up into heaven . . .—The reason of Agur’s sadness is here declared. He feels himself far off from possessing anything that may be called knowledge of God or of His works. (Comp. Galatians 4:9; 1Corinthians 13:12.) The questions in this verse are intended to bring out the nothingness of man as compared with the might of the Creator of the Universe; they resemble Job 38-41, and Isaiah 40:12 sqq.
What is his name?—We may call Him the Self-existing (Jehovah), Powerful (Shaddai), Strong (El). Awful (Eloah) Being; we may describe Him as merciful, gracious, etc. (Exodus 34:5 sqq.), but no words will describe Him adequately, for not till the next life shall we see Him as He is (1John 3:2), and He has been pleased to reveal Himself only partially to us.
What is his son’s name?—See the description of wisdom in Proverbs 8:22 sqq., and the notes there.
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.(5) Every word of God is pure.—Comp. Psalms 19, where first (Proverbs 30:1-6) the glories of God as revealed in nature are described, and then (Proverbs 30:7 sqq.) the excellence of the revelation of Himself in His word is extolled. Every word of God is “pure,” i.e., tested and proved in the furnace of experience; e.g., His promise to be a “shield” (Genesis 15:1) to those that trust in Him. (Comp. Psalm 18:30.)
Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.(6) Lest he reprove thee.—Or, convict thee of thy falsehood.
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:(7) Two things have I required of thee.—The commencement of a series of numerical proverbs. (See above on Proverbs 6:16.)
Before I die—i.e., while life lasts.
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:(8) Vanity.—Falsehood either towards God or man.
Food convenient for me.—Literally, bread of my portion, such as is apportioned to me as suitable by the care of the heavenly Father. Comp. “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) in the sense of “proper for our sustenance.”
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.(9) Lest I be full, and deny thee.—For “pride and fulness of bread” were among the sins which brought destruction on Sodom (Ezekiel 16:49). (Comp. Job 21:14-15.)
And take the name of my God in vain.—Literally, handle it roughly, irreverently; particularly in finding fault with His providence.
Accuse not a servant unto his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty.(10) Accuse not a servant—i.e., a slave, thus making his already hard life still more intolerable.
And thou be found guilty before God of having wronged him, and so have to bear the punishment.
There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.(11) There is a generation . . .—The words “there is” are not in the Hebrew, so it is left in doubt what is the predicate of these four evil “generations,” whether Agur means by them to describe the men of his own time, or to say that such are unbearable. (Comp. Proverbs 30:21.) The same characters are to be found in the description of men of the “last days” (2Timothy 3:1 sqq).
The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough:(15) The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give.—The word “crying” is not in the Hebrew. The leech is here chosen as the emblem of insatiable greed; if it could speak, its “daughters,” i.e., the words it would utter, would be “Give, give.” So it forms an introduction to the quartette of “insatiable things” which follow.
The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.(16) The grave.—See above, on Proverbs 15:11, where it is translated “hell.”
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.(17) The ravens of the valley shall pick it out—i.e., the rebellious son shall die of a “grievous death” (Jeremiah 16:4). The propensity of ravens to attack the eyes is well known.
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:(18) Too wonderful for me.—The wonder in Agur’s eyes seems to be that none of the four leave any trace behind them. (Comp. Wisdom Of Solomon 5:10 sqq.) For a spiritual interpretation of these and other passages in this chapter, comp. Bishop Wordsworth’s Commentary.
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.(20) Such is the way of an adulterous woman.—As there is no proof of her guilt, she flatly denies it.
For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat;(22) For a servant when he reigneth.—The mischief done by Oriental favourites at court, who often began life as slaves, was proverbial.
A fool (nābhāl).—See above, on Proverbs 17:7. It is only when he has to work hard for his living that he will behave himself decently; if he gets a little money, it will soon be wasted in idleness and self-indulgence.
For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.(23) For an odious woman when she is married.—She pays off, with interest, the slights which she had formerly to endure from her married friends.
An handmaid that is heir to her mistress, and who is nervously anxious to preserve her newly-acquired dignity.
The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;(26) The conies are but a feeble folk, being only about as big as a rabbit, with nails instead of claws, and weak teeth. Its Hebrew name (shāphān) signifies a “hider,” from its habit of living in clefts of the rocks; its scientific name is Hyrax Syriacus. The translation “coney,” i.e., rabbit, is a mistake. In general appearance it resembles a guinea-pig or marmot.
The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.(28) The spider taketh hold with her hands.—The lizard, rather than the spider, seems to be here intended. As each first line of these four verses is an expression of weakness, it has been proposed to translate thus: “The lizard thou canst catch with the hands, and yet,” etc. (Comp. for this praise of wisdom, Ecclesiastes 9:14 sqq.)
A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.(31) A greyhound.—It is very doubtful what animal is meant here as being “girt [i.e., slender] in the loins.” Several have been suggested, e.g., the horse, zebra, cock; but the rendering of the Authorised Version is as probable as any.
A king, against whom there is no rising up.—Who marches with resistless force, trampling on his conquered foes. (Comp. the description of the march of the Assyrians, Isaiah 37:24 sqq.; comp. also Isaiah 63:1 sqq. and Joel 2:2 sqq.) It has been proposed to translate these words also as “a king with whom is [i.e., followed by] his people,” in much the same sense.
If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.(32) Lay thine hand upon thy mouth—i.e., be silent. Agur deprecates two things which may easily lead to a quarrel, arrogance and malice. He explains this in the next verse.
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.(33) Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter. . . .—The same word is used in the Hebrew for the three which appear in the Authorised Version, “churning,” “wringing,” and “forcing.” The sense will be, “For (as) pressure on milk produces butter, and pressure on the nose produces blood, (so) pressure on wrath (violence towards a hot-tempered person) produces anger.” (Comp. Proverbs 15:1.)