The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,
Verses 1-33. - Part VII. FIRST APPENDIX TO THE SECOND COLLECTION, containing "the words of Agur." A short introduction, teaching that the Word of God is the source of wisdom (vers. 1-6), is followed by apothegms on different subjects (vers. 7-33). Cornelius a Lapide offers the following opinion concerning this appendix, which no one can hesitate to say is well founded, if he attempts to give it a spiritual interpretation, and to discern mysteries under the literal meaning: "Quarta haec pars elegantissima est et pulcherrima, aeque ac difficillima et obscurissima: priores enim tres partes continent Proverbia et Paraemias claras, ac antithesibus et similitudinibus perspicuas et illustres; haec vero continet aenigmata et gryphos insignes, sed arcanos et perdifficiles, turn ex phrasi quae involute est et aenigmatica, tum ex sensu et materia, quae sublimis est et profunda." Verse 1. - The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy. This seems to be the correct rendering of the passage, though it has been made to bear very different interpretations. It is plainly the tide of the treatise which follows Wire Agur and Jakeh were is utterly unknown. The Jewish interpreters considered that "Agur son of Jakeh" was an allegorical designation of Solomon - Agur meaning "Gatherer," or "Convener" (see Ecclesiastes 1:1; Ecclesiastes 12:11); Jakeh, "Obedient," or "Pious," which thus would indicate David. St. Jerome somewhat countenances the alle gorical interpretation by translating, Verba Congregantis, filii Vomentis, "The words of the Collector, son of the Utterer." But what follows could not apply to Solomon; he could not say, "I have not learned wisdom" (ver. 3), or ask blindly after the Creator (ver. 4). Many have endeavoured to find Agur's nationality in the word that follows, translated "the prophecy" (חַמַשָּׂא, hamassa). Massa "burden," is usually applied to a solemn prophetical speech or oracle, a Divine utterance (Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 15:1, etc.), and as this designation was deemed inappropriate to the character of this appendix, it has been thought that allusion is here made to a land of Massa, so called after a son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:14), who dwelt in the country of Edom or Seir, and whose inhabitants were among those children of the East whose wisdom had become proverbial (1 Kings 4:30). Others find Massa in the Hauran, or on the north of the Persian Gulf. The Venetian Version gives, Λόγοι Ἀγούρου υἱέως Ἰακέως τοῦ Μασάου. But we have no satisfactory account of a country thus called, and its existence is quite problematical; therefore the ingenious explanations founded on the reality of this terra ignota need not be specified (see Introduction, pp. 21, etc.). Gratz has suggested that in place of hamassa should be read hammoshel, "the proverb writer;" but this is a mere conjecture, unsupported by any ancient authority. If, as seems necessary, we are compelled to resign the rendering, "of Masse," or "the Massan," we must fall back on the Authorized Version, and consider the term "oracle" as applied loosely and abnormally to these utterances of wisdom which follow. That they are not of the nature of Divine communications can be seen at once by consideration of their contents, which are mainly of human, and not of the highest type, and, though capable of spiritual interpretation, do not possess that uniqueness of purpose, that religious character and elevation of subject, which one expects in the enunciations of an inspired prophet. This view does not militate against their claim to be regarded as Holy Scripture; their place in the canon is secured by other considerations, and is not affected by our suspicion of the inappropriateness of the term applied to them; and, indeed, it may be that the very human element in these utterances is meant to be unsatisfying, and to lead one to look for the deep spiritual truths which underlie the secular surroundings. Agur is some poet or moralist, well known in Solomon's time, probably one of the wise men referred to in Proverbs 24:23 (see below). The rest of the paragraph is of greater obscurity than the former portion. The man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal. According to this rendering, the man is Agur, who is introduced as uttering what follows in ver. 2, etc., to Ithiel and Ucal, two of his sons, pupils, or companions. The name Ucal occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament; Ithiel is found once, in Nehemiah 11:7, as the name of a Benjamite. Wordsworth regards the names as symbolical of the moral character of those whom the author designs to address, explaining the former as equivalent to "God with me," and the latter as denoting "consumed" with zeal, or "strong," "perfect." It is as if the writer said, "You must have God with you; yea, you must have God with you, if you are to be strong. You must be Ithiels, if you are to be Ucals." He refers to 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Philippians 4:13. That the Masorites regarded these words as proper names is evident; אֻכָל, indeed, can have no other application. The Syriac takes this view of the words; to the same opinion lean, more or less, the Jewish translators Aquila and Theodotion, Aben Ezra, Vatablus, Pagninus, and others, and it is the simplest and easiest solution of the difficulties which have been seen in the clause. But many modern commentators have declared against it; e.g., Hitzig, Zockler, Detitzsch, Bottcher, Nowack. The repetition of Ithiel seems unmeaning; one sees no reason why it should be repeated more than Ucal. The second verse begins with כִּי, which, as Hebraists agree, cannot stand abruptly at the commencement of a discourse, but rather establishes something that has preceded. But if we take the words in dispute as proper names, no statement to be confirmed has been made. We are, then, constrained to take them in another sense. St. Jerome translates them, writing, Visio quam locutus est vir, cum quo est Deus, et qui Deo secum morante confortatus. The LXX. (which in troduces vers. 1-14 of this chapter after Proverbs 24:23) gives, "Those things saith the man to those who believe God, and I cease;" τοῖς πιστεύουσι Θεῷ being the translation of the doubled Ithiel, equivalent to "God with me," and ואכל (παύομαι) being considered to be a formation from the root כלה. Ewald takes the two words to be the name of one man, equivalent to "God with me, so I am strong;" in his own language, Mitmirgott - sobinich stark; but his idea of a dialogue between the rich mocker (vers. 2-4) and the humble believer (ver. 5-14) is not well founded, though a late editor, Strack, agreeing, considers that the only possible interpretation of these verses (2-4) is to make the speaker utter them as the outcome of his unbelief and scoffing, to which Agur answers in ver. 5. Under all circumstances, it has seemed to many scholars best to surrender the notion of proper names, and, altering the vocalization, to interpret, "The oracle of the man, 'I have wearied myself, O God, I have wearied myself, O God,'" or, as others say, "about God." The utterance commences here, and not at ver. 2. The repetition forcibly expresses the laborious and painful investigation of the seeker after truth. The final word, vocalized וָאֵכִל, is rendered, "And I have withdrawn;" or, as Bickell, quoted by Cheyne, gives, v'lo ukal, "I have not prevailed." We arrive thus at this interpretation: first comes the superscription, "The words of Agur," etc., "the oracle of the man;" then begins the utterance, which opens with the melancholy avowal that, though he had longed and striven to know God, his nature, his attributes, his working, he had failed in this object, and expended his labour in vain. Both Agur, and Lemuel who is named in Proverbs 31:1, seem to have been persons not of Israelitish nationality, but dwelling in the neighbourhood of Palestine, and acquainted with the religion and sacred literature of the chosen people (see ver. 5). It is by no means unlikely that they were of the race of Ishmael, from which stock many wise men had risen, and where wisdom was so cultivated as to have become proverbial (see Jeremiah 49:7; Obadiah 1:8). In what follows Agur shows himself as a philosopher and a critic, but at the same time a firm believer.
Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
Verses 2 and 3 confirm what is said in ver. 1 concerning the fruitlessness of the investigation there mentioned; the more he sought and studied, the more conscious he became of his own ignorance and of God's incomreprehensibility. Verse 2. - Surely I am more brutish than any man "Surely" (ki) should be "for" (see note on ver. l). Cheyne, "I am too stupid for a man;" I am a mere irrational beast (comp. Proverbs 12:1; Psalm 73:22). And have not the understanding of a man. I am not worthy to be called a man, as I possess not the intellectual faculty which a man ought to have. This is not ironical, as if he did not desire the statement to be taken in its full sense, and meant to say, "Of course it is my own stupidity that is in fault;" but it is a genuine confession of incompetence to investigate the subject matter, which is too mysterious for his mental powers to penetrate. Thus Solomon acknowledges that he is but a little child, nod prays for an understanding heart (1 Kings 3:7, 9; comp. Wisd. 9:5; Matthew 11:25).
I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.
Verse 3. - I neither learned wisdom. With all my eager longing and striving I did not attain to such wisdom, that I should have the knowledge of the Holy One (Revised Version margin); k'doshim, plural of "excellence," like elohim (Proverbs 9:10; Hosea 12:1 (Hebrew); see note on Proverbs 1:20; and comp. Ecclesiastes 5:8; Ecclesiastes 12:1). The knowledge of the all holy God was beyond his grasp (Job 11:7, etc.). Theology is a higher science than metaphysics, and cannot be reached by that ladder. The LXX. gives an affirmative sense to this verse, "God hath taught me wisdom, and I know the knowledge of the holy (ἁγίων)."
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?
Verse 4. - The questions contained in this verse are such as compelled Agur to acknowledge his ignorance and nothingness before the thought of the glory and power of the great Creator. We may compare Job 38, etc. Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? Who is he that hath his seat in heaven, and doeth works on earth? Who is he whose universal providence is felt and experienced? Where is this mysterious Being who hides himself from human ken? Christ has said something like this, "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 St. Paul (Ephesians 4:9). In biblical language God is said to come down from heaven in order to punish, to aid, to reveal his will, etc. (Genesis 11:7; Psalm 18:9, etc.); and he returns to heaven when this intervention is finished (Genesis 17:22; Genesis 35:13). Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? Who hath the control of the viewless wind, so as to restrain it or release it at his pleasure? (Psalm 135:7; Amos 4:13). Septuagint, "Who hath gathered the winds in his bosom (κόλῳ)?" Who hath bound the waters in a garment? The waters are the clouds which cover the vault of heaven, and are held, as it were, in a garment, so that, in spite of the weight which they contain, they fall not upon the earth. As Job says (Job 26:8), "He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them." And again (Job 38:37), "Who can number the clouds by wisdom? or who can pour out the bottles of heaven?" So the psalmist, "Thou coveredst it [the earth] with the deep as with a vesture" (Psalm 104:6). (See above, Proverbs 8:27, etc.) Who hath established all the ends of the earth? Who hath consolidated the foundations, and defined the limits, of the remotest regions of the earth? (comp. Job 38:4, etc.). The answer to these four questions is "Almighty God." He alone can order and control the forces of nature. What is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell? or, if thou knowest. It is not enough to acknowledge the power and operation and providence of this mysterious Being; Agur longs to know more of his nature, his essence. He must have personality; he is not an abstraction, a force, a quality; he is a Person. What, then, is his name, the name which expresses what he is in himself? Men have different appellations for this Supreme Being, according as they regard one or other of his attributes: is there one name that comprehends all, which gives an adequate account of the incomprehensible Creator? The question cannot be answered affirmatively in this life. "We know that if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is" (1 John 3:2). The further question, "What is his son's name?" has given some difficulty. The LXX. has, "What is the name of his children (τοῖς τέκνοις αὐτοῦ)?" as if there was reference to Israel, the special children of God. But the original does not bear out this interpretation, which is also opposed to the idea of the enigma proposed. The inquiry might mean - Are we to apply to the Supreme Being the same notion of natural relationship with which we are familiar in the human family? But this seems a low and unworthy conception. Or the "son" might be primeval man (Job 15:7) or the sage; but the answer would not be satisfactory, and would not tend to solve the great question. There are two replies which can be made to Agur's interrogation. Looking to the marvellous description of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22, etc., we may consider Wisdom to be a denotation of the Son of God, and the inquirer desires to know the name and nature of this personage, of whose existence he was certified. Or he may have arrived at a knowledge of the only begotten Son of God, as the idea of the Logos is more or less developed in the Book of Wisdom, in Philo's treatises, and in the Alexandrian school; and longs for more perfect knowledge. This, indeed, is hidden: "He hath name written, which no one knoweth but he himself" (Revelation 19:12). It is useless to put such question to a fellow man; no human mind can fathom the nature of the Godhead, or trace out its operations (Ecclus. 18:4, etc.).
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
Verse 5. - Every word of God is pure. "Word" is here imrah, which does not occur elsewhere in our book, which is the case also with Eloah, the term used for "God." Every declaration of God in the inspired record, the Torah, is pure, as if refined in the fire (Psalm 18:30). Vulgate, Omnis sermo Dei est ignitus; Septuagint, "All the words of God are tried in the fire (πεπυρωμένοι)." God's words are true, sincere, with no mixture of error, certain of accomplishment (comp. Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:140). He is a shield. He is perfect protection to all those who, relying on the word of revelation, fly to him for refuge (see on Proverbs 2:7). The knowledge of God is obtained in two ways - by his revelation in his Word, and by the experience of those who trust in him.
Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
Verse 6. - Add thou not unto his words. God's will, as announced in revelation, is to be simply accepted and acted upon, not watered down, not overstrained. This injunction had already been given in the old Law (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32); it is repeated in the New Testament with awful emphasis (Revelation 22:18, 19). No human speculations or traditions may be mingled with God's words; the glosses and explanations and definitions, affixed by rabbinical ingenuity to plain enactments, and proved to be false in morality and fatal to vital religion, are a commentary on the succeeding sentence, Lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. The reproof is found in the consequences of such additions; the results to which they lead are such as show that no who asserts that these things are contained in the Word of God is a liar.
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Verses 7-9. - A mashal ode, containing two requests, and a rationale of the latter. The matter of the two prayers connects it with ver. 6, whether we consider that the limitation of man's desire follows naturally the limitation of his knowledge (Plumptre). or that the warning against being reproved as a liar is corroborated by the prayer against vanity and lies (but see below, on ver. 9). It is the first of Agur's numerical proverbs. Verse 7. - Two things have I required of thee. The personal pronoun applies to God, who, according to our interpretation, has been invoked in ver. 1; otherwise it stands without reference to anything preceding. Deny me not before I die; i.e. grant me these two things for the rest of my life. Septuagint, "Take not grace (χάριν) from me before I die."
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Verse 8. - Here is the first request: Remove far from me vanity and lies. Shay, "vanity," is inward hollowness and worthlessness, and "lies" are the expression of this in words. The prayer might indeed be taken as an entreaty against being polluted with the companionship of the evil, like "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;" but it is best taken subjectively, as a supplication for personal truthfulness and sincerity in all relations both towards God and man. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Both extremes are deprecated: the mean is the safest and the happiest, Horace, 'Carm.,' 3:16. 424
Desunt multa; bene est, cui deus obtulit
Parca, quod satis est, manu."
"The 'ever craving' is Want's slave and thrall;
The gods most wisely thus their gifts accord,
Giving 'enough,' they amply give to all."
(Stanley.) Theognis, 'Patron.,' 1155 -
Οὐκ ἔραμαι πλουτεῖν οὐδ εὔχομαι ἀλλὰ μοι εἴη
Ζῇν ἀπὸ τῶν π᾿λίγων μηδὲν ἔχοντι κακόν
"I want not wealth; I only ask to live
On frugal means without corroding care." Feed me with food convenient for me; literally, give me to eat the bread of my portion; that which by God s providence is determined for me (comp. Genesis 47:22, which speaks of the portion assigned for the support of the priests; Job 23:14; and below, Proverbs 31:15). It is natural to refer to τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν ἐπιούσιον of the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:11); but the idea is not the same. In the latter, bread for the needs of the coming day is meant; in our passage it is more indefinite, a casting one's self on the Divine love, in readiness to take what that love assigns. "Having food and covering," says St. Paul (1 Timothy 6:8), "we shall be therewith content." Septuagint, "Appoint for me what is necessary and what is sufficient (τὰ δεόντα καὶ τὰ αὐτάρκη)."
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.
Verse 9. - The reason for the latter prayer follows, unless, as some consider, the prayer is one, as if Agur asked, "Take from me riches which lead to vanity, and poverty which leads to lying and deceit." In this case the ground of the request would embrace both parts of the petition. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord (Jehovah)? Great wealth and temporal prosperity tempt to forgetfulness of God, to self-confidence and practical unbelief in Divine providence. Like Pharaoh, the haughty rich man asks with scorn, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" (Exodus 5:2; comp. Deuteronomy 8:12, etc.; Job 21:14, etc.; Psalm 14:1). Septuagint, "Lest being filled I become false, and say, Who seeth me?" Or lest I be poor, and steal; lest my necessities lead to dishonesty. And take the name of my God in vain. The verb taphas means "to grasp at, seize violently, handle roughly," and the sin intended may be either false swearing in denial of his theft and to escape punishment, or the arraignment of God's providence which has allowed him to fall into such distress. Titus Isaiah 8:21, "They shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry; and it shall come to pass that, when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God." In view of the proverbs that follow, the clause seems to be best taken of the blasphemy attending on impatience and want of resignation to God's will (comp. Proverbs 19:3).
Accuse not a servant unto his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty.
Verse 10. - Accuse not a servant unto his master. Calumniate, slander not; μὴ καταλαλήσης, Theodotion; μὴ διαβάλης, Symmachus. Do not secretly bring a charge against a man's slave, and make his master suspicious of him; have a kind feeling for those in lowly condition, and do not render their lot more unbearable by insinuating false or frivolous accusations against them. Ewald and others would render, "Entice not a servant to slander his master;" but there is no need so to take the expression, as the hiph. of the verb is used in post-biblical Hebrew in the sense of "to calumniate." The Septuagint has, "Deliver not a servant into the hands of his master," which seems to refer to the treatment of runaway slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15). Lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty, and have to atone for it. The slandered slave imprecates a curse on his slanderer, and, as the latter has incurred vengeance by his word or action, the curse will not fall harmless (Proverbs 26:2); God's righteous retribution will overtake him, and he shall suffer for it.
There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.
Verses 11-31 contain six groups of four sentences each, each quaternion having a certain connection in language and concinnity of idea. First (vers. 11-14) come four generations that are evil - four being taken as the symbol of universality. The sins herein specified had become so general that they affected the whole generation. Verse 11. - There is a generation that eurseth their father. The words, "there is," are not found in the Hebrew, and the four subjects are without a predicate. Delitzsch calls the group "a mutilated priamel," which is explained to be a kind of gnomic poetry containing a series of antecedents or subjects followed by an epigrammatic conclusion applicable to all the antecedents. In the present ease the conclusion is wanting, so that we are left in doubt whether the author meant merely to de. scribe classes of men in his own time or to affirm that such are abominable. Septuagint, "A wicked generation curseth its father (ἔκγονον κακόν)," which expression is repeated at each of the four verses. The first sin is that which offends against the commandment to honour and obey parents. This was judged worthy of death under the old Law (Exodus 21:17; see Proverbs 20:20, and note there). And doth not bless their mother. This is a litotes, "not to bless" being equivalent to "to curse."
There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.
Verse 12. - A generation that are pure in their own eyes (Proverbs 20:9). The second characteristic is hypocrisy and Pharisaical self-righteousness (see Luke 18:11). And yet are not washed from their filthiness; have not cleansed their heart by complete repentance, either because they have not examined themselves and know nothing of the real state of their conscience, or because they care nothing about it and will not regard it in its true light. There is a similar expression in Isaiah 4:4. Septuagint, "A wicked generation judgeth themselves to be just, but have not washed themselves clean (τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἀπένιψεν)."
There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up.
Verse 13. - A generation, oh, how lofty are their eyes! The third sin is pride and arrogance (see on Proverbs 6:17; 21:4). "Lord," said the psalmist, "my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty" (Psalm 131:1). The prophet rebukes "the stout heart of the King of Assyria and the glory of his high looks" (Isaiah 10:12). Their eyelids are lifted up; in supercilious disdain. "Inde Proverbio dicimus," says Erasmus ('Adag.'), "attolli supercilium, fastidium indicantes" (s.v. "Arrogantia").
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.
Verse 14. - A generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives. The fourth evil is insatiable cupidity, which leads to oppression and injurious treatment of the helpless and poor, which makes men as cruel and remorseless in destroying others and despoiling them of their substance, as the very steel which they use in their operations. Similarly, the psalmist speaks of his enemies as men "whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword" (Psalm 57:4; comp. Isaiah 9:12; Jeremiah 5:17). To devour the poor from off the earth; i.e. so as to be no more seen in the world. Amos 8:4, "Hear this, O ye that would swallow up the needy, and cause the poor of the land to fail" (comp. Psalm 14:4).
The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough:
Verses 15, 16. - Having spoken of insatiate cupidity, the writer now introduces four things which are insatiable. The form of the apothegm is climacteric, mounting from two to three, and thence to four, like the famous passage in Amos 1:3, etc. (comp. Proverbs 6:16, though there is no special stress there laid on the last member of the climax; Job 5:19; Job 33:29; Ecclesiastes 11:2). Verse 15. - The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. The word "crying" is not in the Hebrew, which says, "The alukah hath two daughters: Give! Give!" The insatiable appetite of this creature is represented by two words, which are personified as daughters, whom the mother has produced and dearly loves. This word alukah is not found again in the Old Testament; but in later Hebrew and in Aramaic it means "leech" or "bloodsucker;" and so it is translated by the Septuagint, βδέλλα, and by St. Jerome sanguisuga. The word is derived from a root which in Arabic means "to adhere." There are several kinds of leeches common in Palestine, and their bloodthirsty nature is well known; as Horace says, 'Ars Poet.,' 476 -
"Non missura cutem, nisi plena cruoris, hirudo." It seems simple and quite satisfactory to accept the word thus, and to see in the voracity of the leech an example of the greed further developed in the following clauses; but commentators have not been contented with this explanation, and have offered various suggestions which are either unnecessary or inadmissible. Thus the Talmud considers alukah to be an appellation of hell, and the two daughters to be the Power of the world, and Heresy. Some of the Fathers regard it as a symbol of the devil and his dominion; others, as a personification of cupidity with its two offshoots avarice and ambition. Some moderns deem it to mean a vampire or blood thirsty demon, a ghoul, in accordance with Eastern myth. But, as we have said, such interpretations are unnecessary and unsupported by sufficient authority. The allusion to the tastes of the leech is found elsewhere. Thus Theocritus, 'Idyll.,' 2:55 -
Αι} αι} ἔρως ἀνιαρέ τί μευ μέλαν ἐκ χροὸς αἵμα
Ἐμφὺς ὡς λιμνᾶτις ἅπαν ἐκ βδέλλα πέπωκας And Plautus, 'Epidic.,' 2:2, 5 -
"Jam ego me convortam in hirudinem atque
Eorum exsugebo sanguinem,
Senati qui columen cluent." Ewald and others find traces of mutilation in this proverb, and endeavour to supply what is lost in various ways; but the text as it stands is intelligible, and needs no addition. The rest of the verse is an application of the truth first stated. The type of cupidity there enunciated is instanced and exemplified in four special cases. There are three things that are never satisfied. And then a corrective climax is addressed. Yea, four things say not, It is enough. The four in the following verse are divided into two plus two. Septuagint, "The leech had three daughters dearly beloved, and these three did not satisfy her, and the fourth was not contented to say, Enough."
The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.
Verse 16. - The four insatiable things are now named: first, the grave, sheol (Proverbs 27:20), which can never be filled with its victims. Horace talks of a man as -
"Victima nil miserantis Orci."
(Carm.,' 2:3, 24.) And Hesiod ('Theog.,' 456) of Hades as -
Νηλεὲς ῆτορ ἔχων
"A heart possessing that no pity knows." The second thing is the barren womb; "the closing of the womb," as Genesis 20:18; Isaiah 66:9. The burning desire for children, characteristic of an Israelitish wife, is here denoted, like the passionate cry of Rachel to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die" (Genesis 30:1). The barren woman, says Corn. a Lapide, " concubitus magis est avida quam ceterae tum propter desiderium habendae prolis, tum quod foecundae et gravidae naturaliter non appetant concubitum." The third insatiable thing is the earth that is not filled (satisfied) with water; the parched and thirsty soil which no amount of water can satisfy, which drinks in all that is poured upon it and is not benefited, what Virgil ('Georg.,' 1:114) calls "bibula arena." The fourth is the fire that saith not, It is enough; the "devouring element," as the newspapers term it. The more you heap on fire, the more material you supply, the fiercer it rages. Septuagint, "Hades, and the love of woman, and earth not satisfied with water, and water, and fire, will not say, It sufficeth." Cheyne and others quote from the Sanscrit 'Hitopadesa,' "Fire is never satisfied with fuel; nor the ocean with rivers; nor death with all creatures; nor bright-eyed women with men."
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.
Verse 17. - This is an independent proverb, only connected with the preceding by being founded on an allusion to an animal. The eye that mocketh at his father. The eye is named as the mind's instrument for expressing scorn and insubordination; it is the index to the inner feeling; and look may be as sinful as action. And despiseth to obey his mother; i.e. holds obedience to his mother to be a thing of no importance whatever. The word translated "to obey" (ליקהת) is rendered by St. Jerome partum; by others, "weakness," or "wrinkles," or "old age," as Septuagint, γῆρας. But etymology has led most modern commentators to give the sense of "obedience" (see Genesis 49:10). The ravens of the valley shall pick it out. Such an undutiful son shall die a violent death; his corpse shall lie unburied, and the birds of prey shall feed upon him. It is well known that ravens, vultures, and other birds that live on carrion first attack the eyes of their prey; and in our own islands we are told crows and birds of this sort will fix on the eyes of young or sickly animals. Corn. a Lapide quotes Catullus, 'Carm.,' 108:5 -
"Effossos oculos voret atro gutture corvus,
Intestina canes, cetera membra lupi."
"His eyes, plucked out, let croaking ravens gorge,
His bowels dogs, his limbs the greedy wolves." The valley, or brook, reminds one of Elijah's miraculous support (1 Kings 17:4). Young eagles. The nesher must here mean one of the vulture tribe, as eagles do not feed on carrion (but see Job 39:30). St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 18:49) applies the proverb thus: "'The eye that sneereth at his father, and despiseth the travail of his mother, lo! the ravens from the torrents shall pick it out.' For bad men, while they find limit with the judgments of God, do 'sneer at their Father;' and heretics of all sorts, whilst in mocking they contemn the preaching of holy Church and her fruitfulness, what else is this but that they 'despise the travail of their mother'? whom we not unjustly call the mother of them as well, because from the same they come forth, who speak against the same."
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
Verses 18-20. - A proverb concerning four inscrutable things, connected with the last by mention of the eagle. Verse 18. - There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not. The great point is the fourth, to which the three previous things lead up, all of them being alike in this, that they leave no trace. The facts are marvellous; Agur feels like Job, "I have uttered that which I understood not, things too wonderful for me, which I knew not" (Job 42:3).
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.
Verse 19. - The way of an eagle in the air. You cannot by any outward sign know that an eagle has passed this or that way. Wisd. 5:11, "As when a bird hath flown through the air, there is no token of her way to be found," etc. The way of a serpent upon a rock. The snake's mode of progression by the lever-like motion of its ribs might well awake surprise, but the point is still the tracklessness of its course. On sand or soft ground its movements might be traced by the impression made. but this could not be done on hard rock; it could push itself along on such a surface without leaving any track. The way of a ship in the midst (heart) of the sea; i.e. in the open sea. You can trace a ship's course while she is near land or within sight, but when she reaches the open sea, you can follow her furrow no longer. Wisd. 5:10, "As a ship that passeth over the waves of the water, which when it is gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found, neither the pathway of the keel in the waves." The way of a man (geber) with a maid (בְּעַלְמָה); Septuagint, "The ways of a man in youth (ἐν νεότητι)." So Vulgate, Viam viri in adolescentia. But this is feeble, and almah is without doubt rightly rendered "maid," "virgin." The proverb says that the sinful act to which it alludes leaves no outward sign by which it can generally be recognized; it escapes man's knowledge. This is exemplified and confirmed in the following verse. It is not sufficient to refer the saying to the insidious arts of the seducer, by which he saps the principles and inflames the passions of his victim. The sin of unchastity is signified, which demands secrecy and affords no token of its commission. Two of the above parallels, says Cheyne, are given in a quatrain of a Vedic hymn to Varuna -
"The path of ships across the sea,
The soaring eagle's flight he knows." Some of the Fathers and earlier commentators, and among moderns, Bishop Wordsworth, have not been content with the literal sense of this gnonic, but have found in it, as in the others, deep spiritual mysteries. Christ is the great Eagle (Revelation 12:14), who ascended beyond human ken; the serpent is the devil, who works his wily way in secret, and who tried to pass into the mind of Christ, who is the Rock; the ship is the Church, which preserves its course amid the waves of this troublesome world, though we cannot mark its strength or whither it is guided; and the fourth mystery is the incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord, when "the virgin (almah) conceived and bare a son" (Isaiah 7:14), when "a woman encompassed a man (geber)" (Jeremiah 31:22). We can see the greater or less appropriateness of such accommodation, but the proverb must have been received by contemporaries only in its literal sense, whatever were the inner mysteries which the Holy Spirit wished to communicate thereby.
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.
Verse 20. - This verse is a kind of gloss or illustration of the last thought of the preceding verse, and seems not to have formed an original part of the numerical proverb. It might well be placed in a parenthesis. Many commentators consider it to be an interpolation. Such is the way of an adulterous woman. What Agur had said of a man above, he now applies to the practised adulteress, whose sin cannot be traced. She eateth. This is a euphemism for the sin which she commits, "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant" (Proverbs 9:17; comp. Proverbs 5:15). And wipeth her mouth, as if to leave no trace of her illicit repast. And saith, I have done no wickedness. As she has sinned in secret, and there is no outward proof of her guilt, she boldly denies it. Septuagint, "Such is the way of an adulterous woman, who, when she has committed the act, having washed herself, says she has done nothing amiss." She forgets him who seeth in secret, and is quite content to escape detection at man's eyes, and to assume the character of a virtuous wife, which popular report assigns to her.
For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:
Verses 21-23. - Then follows a proverb concerning four things which are intolerable, examples of incongruous associations or positions - two in the case of men, two in the case of women. Verse 21. - For three things the earth is disquieted; better, under three things the earth doth tremble, as if oppressed by an overwhelming borden. The form of expression does not allow us to think of an earthquake. "The earth" is equivalent to "the inhabitants thereof." And for four which it cannot bear; or, under four it cannot stand (comp. Amos 7:10). These four evils destroy the comfort of social life, uproot the bonds of society, and endanger the safety of a nation.
For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat;
Verse 22. - For a servant when he reigneth; or, under a slave when he becometh king. This startling vicissitude was not uncommon in Eastern states; and even if the slave was not preferred to regal power, he was often advanced by unwise favouritism to high position, for which he was wholly unfitted, and which he used only to aggrandize himself at the expense and to the injury of others, This incongruity has been already noticed at Proverbs 19:10 (where see note). And a fool when he is filled with meat. "Fool" is here nabal, a low, profligate fellow, who is rich and without care. When such a one rises to high position, or has power over others, he becomes arrogant, selfish, unbearable (comp. ver. 9; Proverbs 28:12; Proverbs 29:2).
For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.
Verse 23. - For an odious woman when she is married; or, under an unloved woman when she is married. The sentence does not refer to an unbeloved wife, a Leah, becoming the favourite, a Rachel; the expression, "when she is married," can hardly have this sense; but the gnome speaks of a woman who has passed much of her life without love, having nothing about her attractive either in looks, attainments, or manner, and is consequently soured and ill-tempered. If such a one does at last win a husband, she uses her new position to vex those who formerly depreciated her, and to make them as miserable as she cam And a handmaid that is heir to her mistress. The maidservant that obtains her mistress's property, either by supplanting her or by right of inheritance, is supposed to make a bad use of it, to become conceited, arrogant, and odious to all around her. The LXX. transposes the last two members of the comparison, placing the unloved woman in the fourth place as the most intolerable of all: "And if a maidservant should cast out (ἐκβάλη, Genesis 21:10) her own mistress, and a hateful woman should obtain a good husband."
There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
Verses 24-28. - Four things small and weak, and yet wise. Verse 24. - There be four things which are little upon the earth, in contrast with the intolerable pretensions of the last group. The Vulgate has minima; but the original is not superlative, which would not be true of some of the creatures named. But they are exceeding wise; "quick of wit, wise," the participle מְחֻכִּמִים meaning "rendered wise, cunning" (Delitzsch). The Septuagint and Vulgate translate in the comparatives. "These are wiser than the wise," the instincts of these animals being more marvellous than human wisdom.
The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;
Verse 25. - The ants are a people not strong. The ant is proposed as an example to the sluggard (Proverbs 6:6, etc.). He calls the ants a people, am, because they live in a community, and have authorities which they obey, and their actions are regulated by certain definite laws. So Joel (Joel 1:6) calls the locusts a nation, and Homer ('Iliad,' 2:87) speaks of ἔθνεα μελισσάων ἀδινάων, "the tribes of thronging bees." Yet they prepare their meat in the summer. In countries where ants hybernate the object of this commended foresight is mistaken; but the statement, as that in Proverbs 6:6-8, is in accordance with the popular belief of the day, and serves well to point the moral intended. We know certainly that in Europe these insects fill their nests with heterogeneous articles - grain, seeds, husks, etc., not as stores to be consumed in the winter, but for warmth and comfort's sake. Scripture is not intended to teach science; it speaks of such matters phenomenally, with no attempt at a precision which would not have been understood or appreciated by contemporaries. But in the present case more careful observation has confirmed the correctness of the asset. tions in our proverbs. In countries where, ants do not hybernate, they do make granaries for themselves in the summer, and use these supplies as food in the winter months (see note on Proverbs 6:8).
The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
Verse 26. - The conies are but a feeble folk. The term "coney" (cuniculus) is applied to the rabbit, but this is not the animal here intended; and indeed rabbits are not found in Palestine. The word shaphan designates the Hyrax Syriacus, called by some the rock badger (see Hatrt, 'Animals of the Bible,' pp. 64, etc.). The coney, says Dr. Geikie ('Holy Land and Bible,' 2:90), "abounds in the gorge of the Kedron, and along the foot of the mountains west of the Dead Sea. It is of the size of the rabbit, but belongs to a very different order of animals, being placed by naturalists between the hippopotamus and rhinoceros. Its soft fur is brownish-grey over the back, with long black hairs rising through this lighter coat, and is almost white on the stomach; the tail is very short. The Jews, who were not scientific, deceived by the motion of its jaws in eating, which is exactly like that of ruminant animals, fancied it chewed the cud, though it did not divide the hoof, and so they put its flesh amidst that which was forbidden. It lives in companies, and chooses a ready-made cleft in the rocks for its home, so that, though the conies are but a 'feeble folk,' their refuge in the rocks gives them a security beyond that of stronger creatures. They are, moreover, 'exceeding wise,' so that it is very hard to capture one. Indeed, they are said, on high authority, to have sentries regularly placed on the look out while the rest are feeding; a squeak from the watchman sufficing to send the flock scudding to their holes like rabbits. The coney is found in many parts of Palestine, from Lebanon to the Dead Sea." In the rocks. This fact is noticed in Psalm'civ. 18. The Septuagint calls them χοιρογρύλλιοι here and Psalm 104:18, also in Leviticus 11:6 and Deuteronomy 14:7. This notion of the animal as a kind of little pig is not more accurate than that of St. Jerome, who renders the term by lepusculus.
The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;
Verse 27. - The locusts have no king (Proverbs 6:7), yet they show discipline, guidance, and order. They go forth all of them by bands; so that Joel (Joel 2:7, 8) speaks of them as a well-ordered army, as it were men of war, marching every one on his ways, not entangling their ranks, walking every one in his path. Septuagint, "The locusts are without a king, yet march at one command in good order."
The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.
Verse 28. - The spider taketh hold with her hands. Semamith or shemamith is some sort of lizard, probably the gecko. Καλαβώτης, Septuagint; stellio, Vulgate. The Authorized Version alludes either to its fanlike foot, which enables it to run up walls and to cling to ceilings, or to its power of exuding from its feet a certain poisonous humour by which it catches flies and other insects. But the above translation, as well as that of the Septuagint and the Vulgate manibus nititur, is incorrect, The first line, in accordance with the method pursued in the three cases previously, ought to give some expression denoting weakness or littleness, whereas by the above rendering it is rather strength and activity that are signified. The translation therefore should run, as in the Revised Version margin, "The lizard thou canst seize with thy hand," and yet it is in king's palaces. Small as it is, and easy to catch and crush, it is agile and clever enough to make its way into the very palace of the king, and to dwell there. Septuagint, "And the lizard, supporting itself by its hands, and being easy to catch (εὐάλωτος), dwelleth in kings' strongholds." This combines the two interpretations given above. St. Gregory takes the lizard as the type of the simple, earnest man, who often succeeds better than the clever. "Many that are quick-witted, while they grow slack from carelessness, continue in bad practices, and the simple folk, which have no wing of ability to stand them in stead, the excellency of their practice bears up to attain to the walls of the eternal kingdom. Whereas, then, 'the lizard climbeth with his hands,' he 'is in kings' palaces;' in that the plain man, by earnestness of right practice, reaches that point whereunto the man of ability never mounts" ('Moral.,' 6:12, Oxford transl.). The ancient expositors see in these verses a presentation of the Church of God, weak on its human side and despised by men, yet exceeding wise (1 Corinthians 1:27) - like the ant, laying up treasure in heaven, providing for death and eternity; like the coney, making the Rock her refuge; like the locusts, moving forward a mighty army in battle array; like the lizard, active in movement, holding the truth tenaciously, and dwelling in the palace of the great King.
There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:
Verses 29-31. - Four things of stately presence. Verse 29. - There be three things which go well (rob); are of stately and majestic carriage. Comely in going; "stately in going."
A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;
Verse 30. - A lion which is strongest among beasts. The word here used for "lion," laish, occurs elsewhere only in Job 4:11 and Isaiah 30:6. The LXX. renders it, "a lion's whelp." "Strongest" is gibbor, a mighty one, a hero. Turneth not away for any; Septuagint, "turneth not away, nor feareth any beast." So Job describes the war horse, "He mocketh at fear, and is not dismayed, neither turneth he back from the sword" (Job 39:22).
A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.
Verse 31. - A greyhound; זַרְזִיר מָתְנַיִם (zarzir mothnayim), "girt in the loins" (περιεσφιγμένος τὴν ὀσφόν, Symmachus), an expression very vague, and, as the name of an animal, occurring nowhere else in the Old Testament. In post-biblical Hebrew zarzir is found as the name of some pugnacious bird, and the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac call it here the cock. So also Aquila and Theodotion. But if the word is onomatopoetic, it would seem to apply with more propriety to one of the raven tribe; and then what is to be made of the allusion to the loins? And how comes it that amid the quadrupeds in the gnome a bird should suddenly be introduced, as one stately in going? It seems certain that some quadruped is here meant, but what? What animal has as characteristic tight-girded loins or slender or active loins? There are, indeed, many that might be so designated, but none that, as far as we know, appropriated this unique appellation. Hence various opinions are held by commentators concerning the identification. The zebra, say some, with its stripes, which may be thus denoted; the war horse, say others, comparing Job 39:19, 25, and considering the trappings with which, as we see in ancient sculptures, he was adorned; others, again, fix upon the leopard as the beast intended. But that of the Authorized Version seems, on the whole, to be the most likely rendering, the slender, agile make of the greyhound having given cause for the appropriation of the term used in the text. Delitzsch compares the German word windspiel, which designates the greyhound without the necessity of using the full term, wiadspielhund. The only points which may be considered adverse to this view are these two, viz. the ill repute in which dogs were held by the Hebrews, Scripture consistently disparaging and despising them; and the fact that, as far as we have information, the Jews did not use dogs for hunting purposes, though nowadays the Arabs keep a kind of Persian greyhound for sporting, and Assyrian monuments have familiarized us with the appearance of hounds employed in the chase of the lion and the wild ox. Agur may be referring to what he has seen elsewhere, but what was well known to these for whom he wrote. Gesenius suggests (253), "a warrior girt in the loins," which is adopted by Wordsworth, and gives a suitable idea. This would correspond with the king in the last line; but the interpretation is quite arbitrary, and supported by no ancient authority, resting on the fact that girding the loins is always spoken of human beings. The cock strutting among his hens is, as we have hinted, the idea which approves itself to many ancient translators. Thus the Septuagint, ἀλέκτωρ ἐμπεριπατῶν θηλείαις εὔψυχος. We are not disposed to adept this identification, more especially as common poultry were unknown in Palestine till long after Solomon's time. Certainly what we call cocks and hens, or barn door fowls, are never mentioned in the Old Testament. and seem to have been introduced from Persia after the rise of the Persian empire. The latest editors decide for the war horse; but the conflicting claims cannot be reconciled, and the matter must be left undetermined. An he goat also. This is a very natural comparison, as the stately manner in which the he goat (tay-ish, "the butter") heads the flock has been always observed. The LXX. expresses this, paraphrasing, "and the he goat leading the herd." "Flocks of goats are very numerous in Palestine at this day, as they were in former ages. We see them everywhere on the mountains, in smaller or larger numbers; at times also along with sheep, as one flock, in which ease it is usually a he goat that is the special leader of the whole, walking before it as gravely as a sexton before the white flock of a church choir" (Geikie, 'Holy Land,' 1:232). A king, against whom there is no rising up; Vulgate, nec est rex qui resistat ei, which ought to mean "and a king whom nothing resists," but can scarcely be compelled to produce this meaning without violence. The difficulty in the sentence arises from the word אַלקוּם, which in the above rendering is regarded as composed of the negative al, and kum, the infinitive, "to rise against, oppose." But this is contrary to grammatical usage, and would be a solecism. To some it has seemed that a proper name was intended, and they have invented a King Alkum or Alkimos, whom they suppose to have been celebrated in or after Solomon's time. Many modern commentators take the word to be an Arabic expression, consisting of al, the definite article, and kum, "people," and consider the meaning to be "a king with whom is the people," i.e. surrounded by his people or army. This is certainly a stately sight, and may well stand parallel to the hero lion among beasts, and the bold he goat at the head of the flock. Other Arabic expressions may probably be found elsewhere in this chapter; e.g., vers. 15, 16, 17, aluka, etc. Septuagint, "a king haranguing before a nation (δημηγορῶν ἐν ἔθνει)." This passage, again, has been taken in a spiritual sense as referring to Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Warrior girt with the sword, the Leader of the flock, the King of kings.
If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.
Verses 32, 33. - Agur's last proverb, exhorting to discreet demeanour. Verse 32. - If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself (Numbers 16:3). If thou hast had the folly to be arrogant, proud, and overbearing in conduct. Or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth. The verb zamam, though possibly used in a bad sense, "to devise evil," is more suitably rendered "to meditate," "purpose;" so here it is the thought of lifting up one's self that is censured, the act and the thought being contrasted. Hast thou acted arrogantly, or even only meditated doing so, restrain yourself, keep silence (Job 21:5; Job 40:4). St. Jerome gives a different rendering, enforcing another lesson, "There is one who shows himself a fool after he is raised to high position; if he had had understanding, he would have laid his hand on his mouth." Septuagint, "If thou give thyself up to mirth, and stretch forth thy hand in a quarrel, thou wilt be dishonoured." Insensate mirth and a quarrelsome disposition alike lead to disgrace. St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 30:10) applies the Vulgate rendering to antichrist, "For he in truth will be lifted up on high, when he will feign that he is God. But he will appear a fool when lifted up on high, because he will fail in his very loftiness through the coming of the true Judge. But if he had understood this, he would have laid his hand on his mouth; that is, if he had foreseen his punishment, when he began to be proud, having been once fashioned aright, he would not have been raised up to the boastfulness of such great pride" (Oxford transl.).
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.
Verse 33. - Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter. The same word, mits, is used for "churning," "wringing," and "forcing;" it means "pressure" in all the cases, though with a different application. At the present day milk is churned in the East by enclosing it in a leathern bottle, which is then suspended in the air and jerked to and fro till the butter is produced. This process could scarcely be called "pressure," though, possibly, the squeezing of the udder is meant, as the Septuagint and Vulgate take it. But most probably the reference is to cheese, the term used, chemah, being applied indifferently to curdled milk and cheese. To produce this substance, the curdled milk is put into little baskets of rush or palm leaves, tied closely, and then pressed under heavy stones. What the proverb says is that, as the pressure applied to milk produces cheese, and as pressure applied to the nose brings blood, so the pressure of wrath bringeth forth strife; the irritation and provocation of anger occasion quarrels and contentions. They say in Malabar, remarks Lane, "Anger is a stone cast into a wasp's nest." Septuagint, "Press out milk, and there shall be butter; and if thou violently squeeze the nostrils, blood will come forth; and if thou draw forth words, there will come forth quarrels and strifes." It is the third clause which is important, and to which the others lead up; and the verse must be taken in connection with the preceding, as enforcing the duty of self-restraint and silence under certain circumstances. Some of the Fathers, commenting on the Vulgate rendering (Qui fortiter premit ubera ad eliciendum lac, exprimit butyrum; et qui vehementer emungit, elicit sanguinem), apply the passage to the handling of the Word of God. Thus St Gregory ('Moral.,' 21:3), "Divine sentences require sometimes to be viewed externally, sometimes to be explored internally. For we 'press the udder strongly' when we weigh with minute understanding the word of sacred revelation, by which way of pressing whilst we seek milk, we find butter, because, whilst we seek to be fed with but a little insight, we are anointed with the abundance of interior richness. Which, nevertheless, we ought neither to do too much, nor at all times, lest, while milk is sought for from the udder, there should follow blood. For very often, persons, whilst they sift the words of sacred revelation more than they ought, fall into a carnal apprehension. For 'he draws forth blood who wringeth violently.' Since that is rendered carnal which is perceived by an overgreat sifting of the spirit" (Oxford transl.).