The author of this proverb, Agur, begins by belittling his understanding. The irony is that his words hold great wisdom. He is not bragging about his knowledge and understanding. He is declaring the LORD our God as unfathomably great. He asks six questions, five of which identify the power of God. The sixth is prophetic of the yet unborn son of God, Jesus. Additionally, his understanding of the perfection of God’s word and the refuge it provides us is astounding. This is a man of great wisdom who humbly recognizes his insignificance before God which in itself makes him all the more wise.
He then focuses on two requests of God; honesty and contentment. He asks that falsehoods and lies be kept far from him. He provides a variety of ways in which lies and deception can bring curses down upon our heads. They destroy our relationships and cause us to spiral ever further from the God who loves us. Entwined in these illustrations are lessons of being satisfied with what we have. Appreciating that our needs are met and being content with that is not easy when there is often so much more that we want. God provides for our needs, the author acknowledged this. Everything beyond our needs comes from our desires which are, more often than not, borne of our sinful natures.
Agur then contrasts contentment with greed. First pointing to leeches which will gorge themselves beyond their needs. Then he personifies four things which are never satisfied. Two of these are actually life-giving; the womb and land. These are bookended by destructive examples; the grave and fire.
Verse seventeen seems oddly out of place and more than a little disturbing. It actually goes with the theme of honesty. The person suffering such a creepy fate has been dishonest in action and words with their family, and likely with everyone else in their life. Ultimately they will be alone and everything they had will be scattered among the people around them.
How do the eagle, snake, ship and couple fit together? Is this what Agur did not understand? I doubt it. Each of these examples can be seen as somewhat mysterious in what path they will take. The eagle is not limited in the great expanse of the sky just as there are few obstacles that the snake could not overcome. Without a rudder and someone to steer, the ship would be tossed at the whim of the sea just as the whims of men and women often make courtship, that is dating for all those not familiar with the term, tumultuous. So how does this fit in with what Agur is trying to convey? It goes back to his self-proclaimed ignorance of, well, everything but specifically of God’s ways and will.
And then we get back to a verse that makes us scratch our head. The mention of the adulteress is actually an example of someone who is neither content with their relationship or dealing honestly with others. Additionally, she is completely without remorse as she sees nothing wrong with her actions. My prayer is that none of us would get caught up in this specific type of behavior but even more so that we would be remorseful of any actions that we take or words that we use which hurt others.
Up until verse 21, Agur has been consistent with themes of God’s power and majesty, honesty, and contentment. Somewhat enigmatic but consistent nonetheless. Beginning with verse 21 though he expands his words of wisdom. First to include the injustices of the world or what he refers to as four things by which the earth cannot bear. Of the four examples the first and last are of one who is raised to a higher position, likely without the benefit of knowledge or understanding of their responsibilities. This type of unfair promotion can lead to disaster in most cases. It is not uncommon though to see someone with little knowledge of how to manage situations or how to lead people placed in a high position. Additionally it is a warning to us not to seek after something we are not prepared or equipped to handle. I guess that goes back to one of the main ideas as well, contentment.
Agur then reminds us that wisdom and understanding are not reserved for anyone. Young and old, big and small may seek after these great treasures. His specific examples are of course of the small creatures and the wisdom found in how they act. The contrast however is of larger creatures and their “stately bearing.” The imagery used is of pride and arrogance. Perhaps a reminder of humility in our own positions, whatever they may be. Given how this proverb concludes that would certainly seem to be the final lesson.
So what have we learned from Agur, other than that he has a pretty cool name? Humility is greatly valued, especially in light of our amazing God’s power. He was in awe of the gift of God’s word that has been given to all men. He esteemed honesty and contentment as the greatest gifts to request from God. And he reminds us that it is not our age or size that matters but our willingness to seek after wisdom that counts.
To be continued…