Matthew Poole's Commentary
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,Agur’s prophecy, Proverbs 30:1; wherein he acknowledgeth his own ignorance, Proverbs 30:2,3. The purity of God’s word, with the happiness of them that trust in him, Proverbs 30:5. He dehorts from adding to the Scriptures, by the danger of it, Proverbs 30:6. The two points of his prayer, with their reason, Proverbs 30:7-9. Four wicked generations, Proverbs 30:10-14. Four things insatiable, Proverbs 30:15,16. Parents not to be despised, Proverbs 30:17. Four things hard to be known, Proverbs 30:18,19. The way of an adulterous woman, Proverbs 30:20. Four things intolerable, Proverbs 30:21-23. Four things little, but wise, Proverbs 30:24-28. Four things stately, Proverbs 30:29-31.
Agur the son of Jakeh; a person so called, as appears from the designation of his own and his father’s name, who lived either in Solomon’s time, or rather afterwards, and was famous in his generation for wisdom, and piety, and prophecy; and therefore his proverbs were thought fit to be added to those of Solomon, either by those men of Hezekiah, mentioned Proverbs 25:1, or by some other. But that this should be meant of Solomon may easily be supposed, but cannot be proved; nor is it probable, as being contrary both to the style of the whole chapter, and to the matter of some part of it, as Proverbs 30:7-9, which agrees not to Solomon; and to the laws of good interpretation, one of which is, that all words should be taken in their most natural and proper sense, when there is no evidence nor necessity of understanding them improperly and figuratively, which is the present case.
The prophecy; the prophetical instruction; for as the 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.
Unto Ithiel and Ucal; two friends, or disciples, and contemporaries of Agur, called by those names, who having a great and just opinion of his wisdom, desired his instructions. Others, concerning Ithiel and Ucal; which they understand of Christ, called
Ithiel, which signifies God with me, and answers to Immanuel, which is God with us; and
Ucal, which signifies power or prevalency. But if he had meant this of Christ, why should he design him such obscure and ambiguous names, as if he would not be understood? Why did he not call him by the name of Shiloh or Messiah, or some other Scripture title belonging and ascribed to him? Besides, this interpretation agrees not with the contents of this chapter, wherein there is only a short and occasional mention of Christ, but the chapter consists in a manner wholly of counsels and sentences of a quite other kind.
Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.You come to me with a great opinion of my wisdom, and you expect that I should inform and instruct you in all things, yea, even in the greatest mysteries: but you are much mistaken in me; I am as ignorant and foolish as other men generally are, yea, more than many others; which he utters either,
1. From a deep sense of the common corruption of human nature, and of the blindness of men’s minds in things concerning God and their own duty, and of the necessity of instruction from God’s word, and of illumination from his Spirit, without which they can never understand these matters. Or,
2. From a modest and humble apprehension of his own ignorance, which hath extorted such-like expressions even from heathen philosophers; whence Pythagoras rejected the title of a wise man when it was ascribed to him; and Socrates, though reputed the wisest man of his age, professed that he knew nothing but this, that he knew nothing.
I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.I neither learned wisdom; I have not been taught in the schools of wisdom, as the sons of prophets were, but must own myself to be an unlearned man, as the prophet Amos was, Amos 7:14,15. Or, I have not learned it, neither by my own understanding and study, nor by the help of other men.
Of the holy; either,
1. Of the holy angels, who are called holy by way of eminency, as Deu 33:2 Job 15:15 Daniel 4:13,17,23 8:13. But it was vain to deny that angelical knowledge to be in him, which no man imagined to be in him, and which was not in Adam fix the state of innocency. Or,
2. Of the holy prophets. So the sense is, I have not such Divine inspirations as prophets strictly so called have received, whereby I should be enabled to know or explain those great mysteries wherein you desire information from me. Or,
3. Of holy things, of the mind and will of God concerning man’s salvation, and the way which leads to it; not that he denieth that he had any knowledge of these things, but only a full, and comprehensive, and perfect knowledge, which they falsely supposed to be in him.
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?Who? what mere man? None at all; and therefore I may truly say, that I have not that which no mortal man ever yet had.
Hath ascended up into heaven; there to learn the mind of God who dwells there, and that wisdom which is from above.
Or descended; or rather, and descended, to teach men below what he had learned above. The meaning of the place is, No man can fully know and teach us these things unless he hath been in heaven, and sent down from thence to the earth to that end; whence our Saviour Christ justly applies these words to himself, John 3:13, and appropriates this work of declaring God’s nature and will to men to himself, upon this account, that he alone was in his Father’s bosom, John 1:18.
Hath gathered the wind in his fists, to hold them in, or let them out, and rule them at his pleasure. Where is there a man that can do this? And none but he who made and governs all the creatures can know and teach these things. The waters; those above in the clouds, and those below, the sea, which God keeps as it were within doors, and in a garment and swaddling-band, as it is expressed, Job 38:8,9; and the waters which he shuts up in the bowels of the earth.
All 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, and secureth from the rage of the sea, by the banks and shores wherewith he hath begirt it for that purpose.
What is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell? The sense is either,
1. Seeing it is apparent that no man hath this power, and consequently this knowledge, but that this is the prerogative of the great God, declare, if thou art able, his name, i.e. his nature and perfections, and the eternal generation and the perfections of his Son. Or rather,
2. If thou thinkest there be any such man who can do these things, I challenge thee to produce his name; or if he be long since dead, and gone out of the world, the name of any of his posterity that can assure us that their progenitor was such a person; which because thou canst not do, I must conclude that none can thoroughly understand this matter but the blessed God, and his Son Christ, and they to whom God shall reveal it by Christ.
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.Every word of God is pure; and therefore you, Ithiel and Ucal, 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 of your belief and practice, because every part and parcel of it is holy, and true, and good, and there is not the least mixture of falsehood and folly in it, as there is in all the words and writings of men.
That put their trust in him; which supposeth their knowledge of him by his word, Psalm 9:10; and contains their reliance upon his promises, joined with obedience to his commands.
Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.And as the word of God is pure, do not thou corrupt or abuse it, by adding to it thine own or other men’s inventions and opinions, and delivering or receiving of them in the name and as the words of God. He here forbids only adding to it, not diminishing from it, which yet is equally forbidden, Deu 4:2 12:32, because the Israelites then and always were, and others are, more prone to add than to diminish, because it is more easy to add under colour of interpreting, and because it is more agreeable to the humour of mankind, which is much delighted with its own inventions, as the experience of all ages showeth. Lest he reprove thee by words or deeds; by discovering thy folly, and bringing thee to deserved shame and punishment.
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:Have I required; I do earnestly and especially desire Deny me them not before I die, Heb.
withhold them not from me before I die, i.e. whilst I live, as things of great and continual necessity for thy honour and service, and my own good.
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:Remove far from me; from my heart, and from the course of my life. This is the first of Agur’s petitions.
1. All vain and false opinions concerning God, or the things of God; all unbelief, idolatry, or misbelief. Or,
2. All vanity of heart and life; a vain conversation, an affectation of the vain things of this world, as riches, pleasures, or honours, the bewitching power and sad effects whereof he had observed in others, and feared in himself, as the following request implies.
Lies; all falsehood and deceit in my words and carriage towards God or men.
Give me neither poverty nor riches: this is his second request, which may seem to have some reference to the former, poverty being commonly the occasion and temptation to the sin of lying, and riches being the great occasions and enticements to vanity. Thus, as his first petition was against the sins themselves, so this latter is against the occasions of them.
Food convenient for me; moderate, and suitable both to my natural necessities, and to that estate and condition of life in which thou hast put me, and to that work and service which thou hast for me to do. And this mediocrity of estate is so amiable, that it hath been oft desired by wise heathens, as more eligible than a state of the greatest plenty and glory.
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.Deny thee, by trusting to riches, which is a denial of God, Job 31:24-28, by unthankfulness for and abuse of his mercies, and by rebellion against him, and divers other courses and common practices of rich men, whereby God is denied in truth and in works, even when he is owned in words and in show.
Who is the Lord, that I should obey or serve him? I do not need him, I can live of my own 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.
Take the name of my God in vain; use false oaths, either to vindictate 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.Accuse not a servant, to wit, maliciously, rashly, or without just and sufficient cause; for otherwise, in some cases, this may be not only lawful, but a duty, as when a servant lives wickedly, or robs his master, or the like,
A servant; whose condition is in itself mean and miserable, and therefore thou shouldst not make it worse without great and apparent necessity.
Curse thee; desire God to curse and punish thee, which though it may be sinful in him, yet being deserved by thee, thou hast reason to fear and expect.
Be found guilty by God, who is ready to plead the cause of the afflicted, and upon strict search shall find thee guilty, and punish thee accordingly.
There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.A generation; a sort of men, abominable both to God and men; which is implied concerning these and the following kinds of sinners, Proverbs 30:12-14.
Their father, and mother too, as it follows; ungrateful and unnatural monsters.
There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.Who not only pretend to others, but conceit within themselves, that they are truly religious persons, when they live in the course of wickedness.
There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up.Who 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 carriages.
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.Extortioners, and cruel oppressors, who grind the faces of the poor.
The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough:The horseleech, an insatiable creature, sucking blood till it be ready to burst,
hath two daughters; which are either,
1. The two forks into which her tongue is divided, and wherewith she sucks: but those who have more accurately observed and described the frame of that creature tell us that they have no tongue, and that they suck either by three little teeth, or several parts of the mouth gathered and compressed together. Or rather,
2. The following things, which resemble the horse leech in its insatiableness; nothing being more ordinary than to call those persons or things the sons or daughters of those whose examples 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 commodiously, and as they are in the Hebrew, as we shall presently see.
Crying, Give, give; never filled, and always craving, and ready to receive more and more.
There are three things; or, yea, (which may be understood in this, as it is in our translation of the next clause,) they (to wit, the daughters of the horseleech) are three; that are never satisfied; which is added partly to explain the former clause,
Give, give, and to show the cause of that excessive desire of more, because they were not contented with what they had; and partly to give the reason why he calls them the daughters of the horseleech. Yea, four things say not; or, yea, they (the daughters forementioned) are four, which say not.
The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.The barren womb; for as the Israelitish women did generally and vehemently desire many children, for divers reasons elsewhere mentioned; so those who were barren amongst 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.
The fire; which continually burns as long as there is any combustible matter left for it.
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.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; he shall die an unnatural, and untimely, and ignominious death, and after death shall lie unburied, and so be exposed to the birds and beasts of prey, and, amongst others, to the crows or ravens, who use to feed upon dead carcasses, and particularly to pick out their eyes, as is noted by all sorts of writers; of which see my Latin Synopsis. He saith, the ravens oft he valley, either because they most delight in valleys, or with a particular respect unto that valley near Jerusalem, which was called the valley of dead bodies, Jeremiah 31:40, from the carcasses cast out there, to which therefore the ravens resorted in great numbers, according to their manner or, as others render, the ravens of the brooks, because they are of a hot and dry temper, and therefore delight in places adjacent to the brooks of water.
The young eagle; which also preyeth upon dead carcasses and especially upon their eyes, as the ravens do, the reason being the same in both, whether it be the softness of that part which makes it more easy to them to take, or from the pleasant taste of it.
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:The way whereof I cannot trace or find out.
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.The way of an eagle in the air; either,
1. The manner of her flight, which is exceeding high, and swift, and strong. Or rather,
2. The way or part of the air through which she passeth, without leaving any print or sign in it, which though it be true of all birds, yet is here attributed to the eagle, of whom this is more true, because she flies out of sight, where neither her body nor any sign of it can be discerned.
The way of a serpent upon a rock; where she leaves no impression, nor slime, nor token where she was, as she doth in softer bodies, and as birds leave their feathers there.
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea; which though at present it make a furrow, yet is speedily closed again. The way of a man with a maid; either,
1. The various methods and artifices which young men use to entice or persuade young virgins, either to honest love and marriage, or to unlawful lust and uncleanness. Or rather,
2. The impure conversation of a man with one who goeth under the name of a maid, but is not so in truth, which is managed with so much secrecy and cunning that it can very hardly be discovered; which exposition agrees best with the foregoing. similitudes referred to it, and with the following verse.
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.Such, so secret and undiscernible,
is the way of an adulterous woman; of her who, though she be called and accounted a maid yet in truth is an adulteress: not a common strumpet, for of such the following words are not true, but one that secretly lives in the sin of adultery or fornication.
She eateth, to wit, the bread of deceit in secret, by which is understood the act of filthiness, Proverbs 9:17 20:17, which such persons do as greedily desire, and as delightfully feed upon, as hungry persons do upon bread. Thus chastely doth the Holy Ghost express the most filthy actions, to teach us to avoid all immodest and obscene speeches as well as actions.
Wipeth her mouth, as a child doth when it hath eaten some forbidden food, and would not be discovered.
Saith, I have done no wickedness; denies the fact, and avoweth her innoceney.
For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:The earth is disquieted; either,
1. The earth itself trembleth and is moved; so it is an hyperbole. Or rather,
2. The inhabitants of the earth. They do by their insolence and impudence cause great and dreadful disturbances in the places where they live.
Which it cannot bear; which are intolerable in human societies.
For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat;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 an insatiable oppressor, according to Proverbs 28:3; he is proud and imperious, and being maligned and hated by others, he is provoked to hate them, and to be injurious and cruel to them.
A fool, a conceited and wilful fool, or all obstinately wicked man,
when he is filled with meat; either,
1. When he is glutted with meat or drink, which dulls men’s reason, and heats their blood, and stirs them up to many insolencies. Or rather,
2. When he abounds in wealth, which in that case is like a sword in a madman’s hand, being an instrument and occasion of innumerable wickednesses and mischiefs, as appears from common experience.
For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.Odious; proud, and perverse, and full of hateful and offensive qualities.
When she is married; for then she displayeth and exerciseth all those ill humours, which before for her own ends she concealed; then she is puffed up, and imperious, and becomes intolerable to her own family, and to her relations and neighbours.
That is heir to her mistress; that possesseth her estate, either by the gift of her mistress, into whose favour she had insinuated herself by her cunning and officious carriage; or rather by the marriage of her master, which great and sudden change transports her beside herself, and makes her insufferably proud, and scornful, and injurious to all that converse with her.
There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:Comparatively to other brute creatures. They act very wisely and providently, not from any reason which they have, but by the direction of Divine Providence, which secretly guides them to do those things for their own preservation which are most agreeable to the rules of wisdom. The design of this observation is either,
1. To commend wisdom to us, and to teach us to imitate the providence of these creatures, as we are provoked to imitate their diligence, Proverbs 6:6. Or,
2. To keep us from being proudly conceited of our own wisdom, because we are either equalled or exceeded therein by the unreasonable creatures in the wise conduct of their affairs. Or,
3. To direct us to whom to resort for wisdom when we want and desire it, even to that God who is able to inspire wisdom even into the brute creatures.
The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;People; which title is oft given to the unreasonable creatures, both in Scripture, as Joel 1:6 2:2, and in Homer, and Virgil, and divers other authors.
They prepare their meat in the summer; of which See Poole "Proverbs 30:6", See Poole "Proverbs 30:7", See Poole "Proverbs 30:8".
The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;In rocky ground, or in the holes of rocks, for their safety against their too potent enemies.
The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;Have no king to rule and order them.
By bands; in great numbers, and in several companies, and in exact order, as is observed in Scripture, as Judges 6:5 7:12 Joel 1:6 2:7, and by other writers.
The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.The spider taketh hold of the thread 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 purpose, to do her work, to weave her web, and to catch gnats or flies, &c.
Is in kings’ palaces; is not only in poor cottages, but many times in palaces also, where she makes a shift to keep her abode, notwithstanding all the care and pains which is taken to sweep and cleanse it.
There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:That walk decently, and with great alacrity and courage; which are here commended to us to imitate in the management of our affairs.
A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;He doth not flee from his pursuers, whether men or beasts, but walketh away with a slow and majestic pace, as is observed by Aristotle, and many others.
A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.A greyhound, called in Hebrew, girt in the lions; either because its loins are slender, and as it were girt up into a little compass, and tight or well trussed up: or because of its great agility and swiftness; for the girding of the loins was used for expedition in going or working. Or, as it is rendered by others a horse, to wit, a war-horse, having his armour girt about him, and marching to the battle, which he doth with great majesty and courage, as God himself observes at large, Job 39:19, &c.
An he-goat; which marcheth in the head of the flock in 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; whence great captains are oft compared to he-goats, as Isaiah 14:9 Jer 1 8 Da 8:5,21 Zec 10:3.
A king, against whom there is no rising up; a mighty and victorious king, whose power none can withstand, who therefore goeth hither and thither, and proceedeth in his affairs with invincible courage and majesty. But this place, with the variation of one Hebrew point, reading ammo for immo, may be rendered, as a very learned man observes, 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.
If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.In lifting up thyself; either,
1. By rebellion or sedition against the king last mentioned. Or,
2. By anger or wrath, of which he speaks in the next verse. But this verse hath no necessary dependence either upon the foregoing or following verse. Or,
3. Through thy pride, which makes men carry themselves very foolishly, and scornfully, and injuriously, and is the root of contention, as was observed, Proverbs 13:10.
Thought evil, i.e. designed any mischief or injury against thy neighbour.
Lay thine hand upon thy mouth, to wit, to shut it. Be silent, as this phrase is used, Job 21:5 29:9. Restrain thyself, do not speak one word, much less do any thing tending to the accomplishment of it; do not open thy mouth to justify or excuse it, but silently and seriously consider the evil of it, and repent of it, and do so no more.
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.The forcing of wrath; the stirring up of wrath, either,
1. In a man’s self towards others, by giving way to passion, or by fixing his thoughts upon those things which may inflame it. Or,
2. In others by reproaches, injuries, or any other provocations.
Bringeth forth strife; is the cause of many quarrels, and much mischief among men.