A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Proverbs 30:1."The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh — an oracle. This man declared to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal."
Agur was honored, like Obadiah and Jude, to write a very small portion of the Holy Scripture — but every part of the Word of God is precious, however small. The words of Agur are called an oracle or burden, for they were indited by the Holy Spirit, and are profitable for our correction and instruction in righteousness. This oracle is added to the proverbs of Solomon, because they treat on the same subjects, and are written in a like form.
The name of Agur is not given to a distinct book of the Bible — but his memorial shall be everlasting, for he was furnished with that wisdom which is from above. We can give no historical account of this wise man; we only know the name of his father, and his two chief disciples, who were doubtless men of credit in their generation — but their names only live in our days, for the current of time swallows up the names of the greatest part of men, and leaves little or nothing but the names of the rest. It is an honor to these men that their names are mentioned in the book of God as the disciples of Agur. If we are diligent learners at the school of Christ, and of those men who were inspired by the Spirit of Christ, although our names be not recorded in this blessed book — yet we may rejoice that they are written in Heaven.
In this oracle, Agur expresses his humble sense of his own ignorance, and tells us what need we have of a divine teacher to explain the glories of God to us. He recommends the Word of God to us, and calls us to the exercise of that faith for which we have a foundation in the Word of God. He directs us by his own example how to pray. He warns us against several dangerous sins, and makes several instructive observations on the characters of men, and the nature and qualities of many of God's creatures. These are perhaps a summary of what he spoke to Ithiel and Ucal while he lived; and although he is now dead, he speaks them to us.
Proverbs 30:2."Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man."
One of the best proofs of wisdom, is a sense of our own ignorance and folly. Pythagoras would not allow himself to be called a wise man — but a lover of wisdom. Socrates, who far exceeded him in wisdom, said, that he knew nothing — but that he knew nothing. Agur goes still further, and calls himself a brutish man.
All men are naturally brutish in respect of spiritual things — and Agur calls himself more brutish than any man. He was well acquainted with the fallen and degenerate condition of men, and deeply affected with his own particular share in it. Man is born like a wild donkey's colt; and a humble man is ready to acknowledge that there is none to whom this debasing comparison can be so justly applied as to himself.
But did Agur speak truth, or was he sincere in speaking so humbly of himself? No doubt he uses very strong language — but he was perfectly sincere in it. For he thought about God and eternal things — but felt so much difficulty in understanding them, he found himself naturally so much indisposed to the most important duties, and was filled with such grief at the darkness of his mind, and the perverseness of his heart — that he could not find words strong enough to express his inward sense of his own vileness and darkness.
It is a literal truth concerning the wisest of us, that we are more brutish in relation to the noblest objects that can occupy our minds, than any man is about the affairs of life. Men have retained their wisdom about things of small consequence — but surely every man is brutish in his knowledge if divine things, until his mind is opened by the Holy Spirit to receive the knowledge of them.
"Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place where gold is refined;" and men have found methods of forcing their way through mountains and rocks, that they may fetch out these shining metals; and bring out to the light of day, the stores of darkness.
"But where is wisdom to be found, and where is the place of understanding? Man knows not the price thereof, neither is it found in the land of the living." None are so ignorant, and so likely to continue so, as those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight. None are so wise, and so likely to increase in wisdom, as humble souls who are deeply conscious of their folly and ignorance. They will open their mouths, and pant for God's commandments. They will rejoice to hear that Christ is made of God unto us wisdom, and will sit at the feet of Jesus, and receive from him the words of eternal life.
Proverbs 30:3."I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One."
Perhaps Agur means the same thing with Amos, when he says, "I was not a prophet, neither was I a prophet's son." He was not trained up in the schools of the prophets — but God lays up sound wisdom for the righteous, and dispenses it with or without the ordinary means, as he pleases. For although he has required us to make a conscientious use of these means — yet he has not restricted himself to them in the distributions of his favor.
Paul was of the same humble temper with Agur. He counted himself less than the least of all saints; and Agur accounts himself inferior in divine knowledge to other saints. The spirit of Diotrephes is in those men who court the pre-eminence among the brethren — but the lowly temper of a true saint will dispose us in honor to prefer one another.
When Elihu began to speak, in the dispute carried on between Job and his friends, he prefaces his discourse with high, though just praises on the wisdom that God had bestowed on him. Agur introduces his discourse with confessions of his own ignorance — but their situations were very different. Elihu was afraid that his friends would despise him for his youth, and lose the benefit of his speech. Agur thought he had reason to be afraid of the contrary extreme. When Ithiel and Ucal applied to him for instruction, they revealed a high opinion of his understanding.
We ought not to affect too great a name for knowledge and learning, nor to encourage men to expect too much from us, lest they should be disappointed to our own shame. Or lest they should place too great a dependence upon us, and too little on the Author of wisdom. A good name is valuable — but a great name is dangerous; and a wise man would rather decline than desire it.
"As the refining pot for silver, and the furnace for gold — so is a man to his praise." A fool swells with vain conceit, if he finds his wisdom admired. A wise man is humbled to find how far he falls short of the opinion that is entertained of him. A fool, when he is praised, seeks more praise — for the wind after which he hungers cannot fill him. But a man of Agur's spirit will endeavor to moderate those high opinions which are entertained to his advantage.
Herod was destroyed by worms, for the vain joy which he felt in the ungodly applause given to his wisdom and eloquence. Agur is recorded in Scripture as a pattern of humility to those men whose wisdom is admired. As Agur himself was insufficient to satisfy his friends' thirst of knowledge, so he directs them to look above all men for instruction.
Proverbs 30:4."Who has gone up to Heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!"
It is just as impossible for men, without divine illumination, to discover God — as to ascend into Heaven, or descend from it; to bind up the waters in a garment, or to gather the winds in their fists, or to establish all the ends of the earth. Has any man ever been able to achieve such wonders? Where did he live? What was his name? What is the name of any man who has the honor to spring from such a wonderful ancestor? If you can tell me the name of such a man as this, or his son, then I will confess that he is possessed of treasures of wisdom sufficient to supply all your needs, and to satisfy all your desires of knowledge.
The God, whose name is beyond our comprehension, and whose Son's name is Wonderful, does all these things. Heaven is his throne, and the clouds are his chariots, and the earth has often felt his solemn presence. "God alone understands the way to wisdom; he knows where it can be found, for he looks throughout the whole earth and sees everything under the heavens. He decided how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall. He made the laws for the rain and laid out a path for the lightning. With him is wisdom and strength; he has counsel and understanding!" And from him, the Father of lights, every ray of useful knowledge comes.
It deserves to be observed that our great Teacher makes use of the truth delivered in this verse to prove his absolute perfection as our instructor. "No man has ascended up to Heaven," to fetch down the knowledge of God to men — "but he who came down from Heaven, even the Son of man who is in Heaven." He showed his mission, by issuing forth his commands to the winds and the waves, which instantly obeyed him. He establishes all the ends of the earth, and by him all things in Heaven and in earth are held together. "He is the Lord our God, who teaches us to profit." Let us therefore acknowledge with Agur that we have no knowledge of our own, and wait for his instructions as the earth for the latter rain. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are laid up in him, and these treasures are not sealed up — but spread before us in the word of Christ, which we ought to read with an humble dependence on him for his light and truth, that we may learn to set our hope on God.
Proverbs 30:5."Every Word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who put their trust in him."
There are no superfluities in the Word of God, as we are too ready to imagine. Every Word of God is useful and holy, righteous and true. When we hear the words of men, our reason must try them, as the mouth tastes food — for any man may be a liar, or deceive us by his own misapprehensions. But the words of God are all worthy of himself. As the power of the Creator shines in all the works of his hands — so his inviolable truth and untainted holiness, give dignity and credit to everything that he speaks. The Bible has the same impression of divinity upon it that appears in the sun and the stars.
Because the Word of God is very pure, we ought to love it, and to believe it with all our hearts, and to trust in God, as he is revealed to us in it. For it reveals him to be forever possessed of all those infinite excellencies which make him the proper object of confidence to creatures, of all that mercy and grace, and plenteous redemption, which are sufficient to encourage the confidence of guilty creatures. Blessed are all those who put their trust in him.
The world is full of harm and miseries sufficient to destroy or embitter our lives, and of invisible enemies, who seek to destroy our souls — but those who trust in the Lord, are completely safe and happy. His mercy is their refuge from condemnation, through Jesus' sin-atoning sacrifice which his word reveals. His power will shield them from every enemy, and they shall be kept in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him, because they trust in him.
"Fear not," said the Lord to Abraham, I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward." All who walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham, enjoy the benefit and comfort of this promise. They shall travel in safety through armies of enemies, and at last inherit the better country, where the father of the faithful now dwells. But our trust must be in the name of the Lord, as it is represented to us in the Word of God — the ground of our faith in him. To alter or to add to it is very dangerous.
Proverbs 30:6."Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar."
It is strange — but true, that men have been often disposed to add to the words of God, by establishing some rule of faith beside the Scripture, or intruding into the secrets of God, and devising religious doctrines not taught in the Scripture; or means of divine worship, which never came into God's mind. Surely such presumption shall be reproved and punished by the Most High. Princes would require the blood of those daring subjects who presumed to insert some additions in their laws — and God will add unto those who add to his words, all the plagues contained in the last and most dreadful book of the Scripture.
To add to the true meaning of the Scripture, in order to accommodate its doctrine to our own prejudices or taste, is a sin of the like kind. If we do so, we shall be reproved by God, and found liars, by saying that God has taught things which he never taught. Errors and sin are incident to man in his corrupted state — but we ought to guard against the former as well as the latter, by perusing the Bible with diligence and humility, and praying for that unction from the Holy One, which is truth, and will effectually preserve us from every dangerous mistake.
Proverbs 30:7."Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die."
Agur has taught us faith in God. He now teaches us by his own example, to pray, although he does not mention, by name, the object of prayer. He never dreamed that any person who professed to believe the Word of God, would think of any other object of prayer than God himself. But, since his days, men have found means to jumble together, in their systems of religion, the most incompatible truths and errors.
Two things comprised the objects of his petitions. David had one thing that he chiefly desired, and our Lord sums up every necessary request in six petitions. The great blessings that we need from God should be habitually present to our minds, that when we have occasion to appear before the Lord, without time to premeditate, we may, in our requests, present the meditations of our heart in the words of our mouth.
The wisest of the heathens were at a great loss to know what blessings they should ask from God — but God in mercy has instructed us what we should pray for, and has promised the Spirit to help the infirmities of our understandings and souls, in this duty. When we observe the directions of the Scripture about our prayers, we know to ask things agreeable to the will of God. The gracious Hearer of Prayer never said unto any of the seed of Jacob, "seek me in vain;" and he will not refuse hearing to those prayers that are dictated by his own Spirit.
But when we pray, we must pray in faith, nothing doubting. This holy man used great boldness at the throne of God. He insisted for these two things, and requires them, and pleads against a denial.
The revelations of the New Testament give us greater encouragements than Agur had, to exercise boldness in the presence of God, and to plead with unceasing earnestness until we obtain the blessings that we need. God sits on a throne of grace, and we have a great High Priest, who is passed into the heavens, and there appears in the presence of God for us. Therefore let us come boldly to the throne of grace. This great High Priest is also our instructor, and teaches us to pray always, and not to faint, assuring us that our importunity shall at length prevail.
The most glorious name of any mere man spoken of in the histories of the world, was obtained by such importunate supplications. Jacob wept and made supplication at Bethel; yes, by his strength, he had power with the angel and prevailed, and his name was called Israel, because as a prince he had power with God, and received the blessing for which he wrestled.
Agur prayed to God with proper impressions of his frailty and mortality upon his mind. He spoke like a dying man to the eternal God, and requested that he might enjoy the blessings of God while he lived. Spiritual blessing were the grand object of his wishes; and if we duly considered the uncertainty of our lives, and the approaches that death is constantly making to us, we would never ask these blessings with such coldness as if we desired a denial. Thoughts of death should inflame our desires after heavenly things, and moderate our exorbitant desires for the blessings of the present life.
Proverbs 30:8."Keep vanity and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread."
Agur's first petition is for deliverance from sin. Whether he means particularly the sins usually known by these names, or the sin of idolatry, or sin in general — he no doubt desired freedom from all sin. The holiest of men need preservation from the worst sins, for they are conscious that they might fall into the deepest mire of iniquity — if God withheld his mercy. "Hold me up — and I shall be safe!"
But all kinds of sin may be justly called vanities and lies, because all sin is empty and unprofitable, and imposes the most mischievous falsehoods upon men, promising them pleasure and gain — and giving them nothing but disappointment and damnation. An impression of the unprofitableness and danger of sin would make us very earnest in our prayers for the removal of it from us. "O Lord, the Gentiles shall come unto you from the ends of the earth, and shall say: Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit."
The removal of sin includes in it both pardon and sanctification, and therefore the petition may include both the fifth and sixth petition of the Lord's prayer.
When God pardons sin, he removes it far from us as the east is from the west, and casts it into the depth of the sea! When he sanctifies a soul, he removes sin from its throne, and gradually drives it out of its residence in the soul. Both these blessings are absolutely necessary for us. They are to be the subject of our most earnest petitions, and we have great encouragement to plead for them, because they are graciously promised in his word. These rich promises are yes and amen in Christ, who purchased them for us by his blood, and gives us all possible assurance of obtaining them from God.
We are not only to pray for the removal of sin — but for the removal of it at a great distance from us. "Keep vanity and lies far from me!" As God removes it far away in pardon, the soul that abhors sin desires to have it far removed from the heart and life.
Our Lord teaches us not only to pray against sin — but against temptation. For there is a strong inclination in the hearts of men to comply with temptations when they are presented to the soul. If a man has a bag of gun-powder in his hands, he will certainly wish to keep at a distance from the fire.
We must seek first the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof — but we are not forbidden to seek also those things that are needful for the body. We are forbidden to seek great things for ourselves — but directed to seek daily bread. And accordingly, Agur prays for it in these words, "Give me neither poverty nor riches."
Poverty is a very disagreeable thing to all men, and none will wonder that Agur prays against it. Yet our Lord, for our sakes, endured extreme poverty. If Providence should appoint poverty to us as our lot, we ought to be content with that situation in which Christ himself lived among us. Yet such is the kindness of God to us, that we are warranted to pray against it, as a state of sore temptation.
Had Agur prayed against poverty only, we would have all joined with him — but few men would choose to have him for their chaplain, because to poverty he adds riches, as a thing equally undesirable to him. Riches are the desire of all men — except for those who know the weakness of their own hearts, and believe what our Lord tells us of the danger of riches. Riches are good if they are rightly used, and have been the instrument of much good when they were in the hands of very godly and wise men — but there are few even of the saints who have a sufficiency of wisdom and grace, for using, without abusing them.
Agur desired to have nothing, however agreeable to the natural and ordinary wishes of men, if it might prove injurious to his soul.
What then would this godly man have from God, if he desires neither poverty nor riches? He prays that God would feed him with daily bread; bestowing on him whatever was needful for his support and convenience, and suitable to the station in which he was placed. Having food and clothing, and all that is commonly included under the name of bread in Scripture language — he would be content and thankful, and ask no more.
Agur teaches us, in this account of his prayers, to look upon God as the dispenser of the good things of life, who gives riches or poverty at his pleasure; from whom we receive our food and clothing; on whom we ought to depend for the supply of all our necessities; to whom we should pray for every good thing, and render thanks for every blessing.
We are taught likewise to offer our most fervent petitions for the blessings of God's salvation. Agur did not think that vanity and lies could be removed too far from him — but he thought that poverty might soon be too far removed. How opposite was his spirit to the spirit of the world!
The greatest part of men seek earthly blessings with all the desire of their hearts, and the blessings of salvation with more moderate desires, and only so far as they may consist with the main objects of their affection. But Agur desires outward conveniences for the good of his soul, and only in such a measure as might consist with his best interests.
Proverbs 30:9."Otherwise, I may have too much and deny you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."
He prays for daily bread, that he might not be led into temptation; and for the same reason he prays against riches. If his riches increased, he was afraid that, through the depravity of his nature, they would tempt him to the dangerous sin of luxury — to impiety, presumption and arrogance. Such are the effects of riches upon men of corrupt minds. "When I fed them — they were satisfied. When they were satisfied — they became proud; then they forgot me." Hosea 13:6
Riches are the gift of God — but they are too often used to the harm of the giver; and those who receive those common gifts in the greatest abundance, are generally the most ungrateful of all men, to him from whom every good gift comes. They do not perhaps deny the Lord in words, or say with their tongues: Who is the Lord? But deeds speak louder than words. When men willfully transgress the laws of God, they say in effect, "Who is the Lord, that we should serve him?" When they neglect prayer to God, they say that they are their own masters, and will no more come unto God. Such was the practical language of a great part of rich men in former ages, and it is the same at this day.
"They spend their days in wealth," says Job, "Therefore they say unto God: Depart from us — what is the Almighty that we should serve him? What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?"
But are real saints ready to be snared into such sins by the influence of riches? Saints have flesh as well as spirit — and riches are a powerful temptation to them as well as other men. It requires more than a Solomon's wisdom and grace, to preserve men from the corrupting influence of prosperity. Job was the best as well as the richest man in the East. But where is the saint who has received such rich communications of grace as Job? God grant that we may never be so rich as Job, unless God is pleased to make us as good and upright.
Some people think they are in no danger of making a bad use of riches, if they could but obtain them, because they feel no disposition to make a bad use of anything they have. "But he who trusts in his own heart is a fool!" Is there a greater fool in the world, than the man who thinks himself wiser than Solomon or Agur, or Christ himself — who tells us that it is hard for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God?
A wise man will not choose to leave a country of ordinary fertility, for another whose soil is far richer — but the air very pestilential, although his constitution of body is at present very healthful. Nor will he choose to walk in a flowery path where there are secret pits, and where the country is infected with robbers — if he can find another path, which is less pleasant and more safe.
But poverty is not without its temptations also. Pinching necessity may tempt a man to use unlawful shifts for his subsistence, and even to steal. And therefore this wise man prays that he might be kept from poverty as well as riches, for he had no confidence in his own heart, which he knew to be so foolish and treacherous.
But what made him so much afraid of stealing? Did he think he would be disgraced and punished for it? That was not the thing for which he chiefly abhorred stealing — but he knew that this sin brings a great guilt, and a deep stain on the soul — and besides is a snare to the soul, which brings it into the devil's power, and gives him advantage for drawing on men to sins of greater guilt. One sin needs to be supported by another sin, and lying and perjury are the common refuges to which thieves have recourse for screening themselves from shame and punishment.
Agur abhorred all sin — but the sin of profaning the name of the Lord was one of the most dreadful wickedness in his apprehension, because the Lord was his God. He believed in God and loved him with all his heart, and he earnestly wished to be kept at the utmost distance from everything hat might lead him to dishonor or profane the name of his God.
Proverbs 30:10."Do not accuse a servant to his master — or he will curse you, and you will pay for it."
Agur teaches us not only to keep a good conscience in the things that relate immediately to the worship and service of God — he enjoins us, likewise, to exercise ourselves to have a conscience void of offence towards men, not excepting the lowest of them. We must not hurt the lowest slave on earth. For although he is not able to revenge the injury — yet God will do it with severe justice. As we must do no hurt to a poor servant, so we must not tempt any other person to hurt him. Agur forbids us to accuse him to his master, lest we should expose him to severe treatment at his hands.
But is accusing a servant to his master in every case unlawful? Did not Abraham accuse the servants of Abimelech to their master for robbing him of his wells? He did — but there was no danger in that case, for Abraham knew that Abimelech was too selfish a man to punish his servants because they exceeded the bounds of justice in their zeal for his service.
There are other cases in which we may lawfully accuse servants to their masters — but they are not common. Men are too ready to take too much liberty in this point; and Agur does not think it necessary to mention the excepted cases, because any man can see them, and most men would take too great a license in applying them to particular cases.
But what is the evil of accusing a servant to his master? It is inhumanity and cruelty. It is adding to the distress which we should rather relieve if it were in our power, (for servants in those days were generally slaves.) It is a sowing of discord in families; and it may provoke the poor man to curse you. And what if he does? It is his sin to curse me. It is your own sin; or if the sin is his, you are the devil that tempts him to it; and the weight of his curses, aggravated with the guilt of them, may come down from a just God upon your head. You may be found guilty of bringing a false accusation against him; guilty of the poor man's revengeful curses; guilty of his master's tyranny, through the bad opinion of his servant that you infuse into his mind.
Men by their indiscreet and sinful conduct, do often bring upon themselves the guilt of many more sins than they ever think about.
Proverbs 30:11."There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers."
Many of Agur's sayings are better remembered than many other things, by his method of classing his observations into a certain number of particulars. His petitions were two; and his observations on the manners of men, and the qualities of creatures, are four on each subject. He begins at this verse to speak of four sets of people, who deserve a particular remark on account of their extreme wickedness.
"There are those who curse their fathers." It is the disgrace of human nature that ever one man was found that could be guilty of this sin. Will a man curse the instrument of his existence? This is the next degree of guilt to that of cursing the author of it. The prophet Isaiah pronounces a woe upon him who strives with his Maker, and proceeds next to pronounce a woe against him who says to his father.
But there is a whole generation of men upon whom this atrocious guilt may be justly charged, and therefore we find a law in the writing of Moses appointing the punishment of it; and the punishment is the same which was to be inflicted on the blasphemers of God himself. Although men do not expressly make use of their tongues to curse their fathers — yet they are to be ranked with this cursed generation, if they do not bless their mothers. Mothers are to be honored as well as fathers; and the neglect of duty to parents is criminal, as well as the commission of offences against them. But perhaps you will say, "My mother deserves not to be blessed." Is she not your mother? Then she deserves your good will and tender affection, and prayers. If you cannot praise her, you have no call to say anything to her harm.
Proverbs 30:12."There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes — and yet is not washed from their filthiness."
No man is truly pure, unless he is washed from his filthiness. All men are naturally polluted with sin, and rendered abominable by it. Nothing on earth is comparable to sin for vileness — and no creature on earth is so abominable and filthy as man, who drinks iniquity like water. We cannot be washed from our filthiness, but by the blood and Spirit of Christ. The blood of Christ is the fountain opened by God for sin and immorality, and it is the Spirit of Christ who applies it to our souls, and purifies our hearts by the faith of it.
But there are many who are strangers to Christ — and yet reckon themselves pure. They never saw their pollution, because they are unacquainted with the law of God, or with themselves. Or they have washed with soap, and flattered themselves that they could wash away their own filthiness by it. Or they are mistaken about the way of making use of Christ, for the cleansing of their souls. Or they persuade themselves upon false grounds, that they are cleansed by his grace.
Do you see a man who is clean in his own eyes, although he is yet impure in the sight of God? There is more hope of a publican or a harlot, than for him. He says unto Christ, "Depart from me, for I am not a sinful man." He is covered like the leviathan, with scales that render him impenetrable by the sharpest pointed arrows. No sinners do worse things than those who do whatever is right in their own eyes, (Judges 18. etc.) and none are farther from righteousness than those who are righteous in their own eyes. They are a smoke in God's nostrils, and a fire that burns all the day. Christ found such self-conceited men to be his greatest enemies while he was tabernacling among us, and spoke some parables, and denounced many heavy woes against them.
Let us examine our hearts impartially, lest we should deserve to be classed with this wretched generation, which, we have reason to fear, is more numerous than the generation of those whose hands are clean, and their hearts pure. We all profess to be Christians — but Christ will deny us if we belong to this set of men. For he has declared, that unless he washes us, we have no part in him.
Men are unwilling to class themselves with the impure, lest their consciences should fly in their faces — but those who falsely pretend to purity are the people whose consciences shall lash them with greatest severity at last. Why should we seek to cover our nakedness with fig leaves? Why should we exclude ourselves from the fountain, through a pernicious shame of confessing our vileness? The promise of God stands upon record: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean." Is it best, sinners, to claim the benefit of this promise, or to allege that you have no need of it? Men are generally ashamed to be thought poor — yet who would not confess himself to be poor, if the king should offer great wealth to every poor man in the town and to none else?
Proverbs 30:13."There is a generation, O how haughty are their eyes — whose glances are so disdainful."
There is a generation of men who are swelled with pride and vanity — and yet put on the dress of humility. Such are a great number of the generation last mentioned — but God knows their hearts; and the fruits of their pride often reveal them to men. But there are some men who seem to be proud even of their pride. They do not hide their sin — but declare it as Sodom; and the show of their countenances witnesses against them. Agur was surprised how the sons of Adam, who are but worms, should put on such arrogant airs, and behave with so much insolence. Solomon likewise speaks of this race of men as a generation abhorred by the Lord. The prophets, in their predictions against Moab; and Ezekiel, in his prophecies against Tyre and Egypt, give us a striking picture of their manners, and a terrible description of the vengeance of God against such insolent despisers of God and men. For God will save the afflicted and humble people — but will bring down those with haughty looks.
Proverbs 30:14."There is a generation whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives, to devour the poor from the earth, the needy from among mankind."
By these monsters of men, the inspired writer means false accusers, extortioners, oppressors, bloody tyrants, and their wicked instruments, who are the common enemies of men, but plunder and destroy especially the poor and needy, because these cannot resist them. To what kind of creatures does Agur compare these wretches? Not to lions or tigers, for neither these nor any other kind of animals are so fierce and brutal. These men are brutes with iron teeth, sharp as knives, to cut off, and to destroy. While they grind the faces of the poor, and rob them of their means of subsistence, they do in effect eat the flesh of the poor, and flay their skin from their bones. And they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh for the caldron.
To what wickednesses are men driven, by the cursed love of gold! The horse-leech sucks until it bursts. The grave, and the barren womb, and the parched earth, and the fire, can never be satisfied — but the hearts of wicked men are still more insatiable! They are still crying, "Give, give!" Hell is evidently set forth before them, and flaming with tremendous fury; and yet the insatiable lust for wealth, drags them on to purchase for themselves one of the chief places in that burning lake — by heaping one horrid instance of inhumanity and cruelty upon another. Had Job reigned among this generation of men, he would have broken their jaws, and forced the spoil from their teeth. But punishments inconceivably more dreadful, are appointed to them by the just Lord, who will not do iniquity, nor allow it to pass unrevenged.
Proverbs 30:15."The leech has two daughters. 'Give! Give!' they cry. There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, 'Enough!'" Proverbs 30:15
Agur had been speaking of the dreadful effects of the lust of covetousness, which still cries, "Give, give!" Some think that he intends, in the two following verses, to represent the insatiable nature of this lust, by comparing it with the most craving and unsatisfied things which men are acquainted with.
He does not expressly draw any moral instruction out of the account which he gives of the four things that cannot be satisfied, only he teaches us to make observations on the works of God, and the nature of things that we see or hear of. Such observations enlarge our minds, lead us to admire the Creator, and to raise pious meditations in our minds. Besides, the Scripture makes use of such observations to illustrate the important instructions which it gives us about the things that we are to believe or do.
The leech is a blood-sucker. It will suck the blood of other creatures until it bursts — but covetous men will suck the blood of their fellow-men until they are damned! Agur calls anything remarkable for its greediness, a daughter of the leech. Covetousness of spiritual and eternal blessings, deserves to be exempted from this humiliating comparison — but a heart set upon earthly treasure, is more like the leech than any of its daughters. For there is no satisfying of a covetous man; with shame he cries, "Give, give!" And if you should give him whole rivers of blood to drink, he will still cry for more; as you see in the example of those tyrants, who gratify their lust without restraint.
Proverbs 30:16."The grave; the barren womb; the earth, which is never satisfied with water; and fire, which never says, 'Enough!' Proverbs 30:16
"Hell and destruction" says Solomon, "are never full, so the eyes of man are never satisfied." But because the invisible world is never full, it is folly to be greedy of earthly things. For the grave will soon receive us, and then what will all earthly treasures avail us? The invisible world keeps its gates wide open for us, and therefore we should be laying up our treasure in the eternal world.
If the grave were full, or if we could make a sure covenant with death, and obtain exemption from its power — then we might have some excuse for living as if we were to live always.
The barren womb is never satisfied. Rachel was led into much sin and sorrow by her passionate desire of children. Let others in the like circumstances beware of following her example. Discontentment with our lot, in any part of it, is a tormenting and a dangerous sin.
The earth, when it is parched, can scarcely be satisfied with rain. It gapes for the showers; and although it is well refreshed at present, it will soon thirst for more.
This teaches us our entire dependence upon God, who has the key of the clouds in his hand, and could soon make the rain of our land into powder and dust, and our earth as iron under our feet. As the thirsty land cries for rain, so let our souls thirst not for those blessings that spring from the ground — but for the salvation of the Lord from on high; then will he rain down righteousness upon us.
The fire is more greedy than any of these things. Lay on fuel as long as you please, it will soon make an end of it, and seek for more. There is a fiercer flame in the corrupt hearts and tongues of men, kindled from Hell, and sufficient to set on fire the course of nature!
Proverbs 30:17."The eye that mocks at his father, and despises to obey his mother — the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it."
Agur, as well as Solomon, insists much on the respect due from children to their parents. Children that disobey or despise their parents are the kindred of those who curse them, for the one sin is the natural introduction to the other. Such unnatural children were to be punished with death by the law of Moses; and Agur represents the disgrace that attends this death, to affright men from the sin.
The ravenous birds will pick out their eyes. Let children think of this, and let it be a motive to them, (if better ones are ineffectual,) to respect their parents. If human laws, or the carelessness of magistrates, free disobedient children from this punishment — God allows them, by the violation of other laws, to bring themselves to the gibbet, or at least will find means to convince offenders by fatal experience, that his laws and threatenings are not vain.
Proverbs 30:18-19."There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden."
An eagle is speedily out of our view when she soars aloft, and no trace of her flight is to be seen. A snake slides over the rock, without leaving any slime like worms, or feathers like birds. A ship leaves no mark in the waves by which you can discern its track — but the way of a man with one a maiden, is more indiscernible than all of them together. The companions in lewdness have a thousand arts to draw one another into this abominable sin, and to conceal it when it is committed.
Proverbs 30:20."Such is the way of an adulterous woman. She eats, and wipes her mouth, and says: I have done no wickedness."
"Stolen waters are sweet, says the foolish woman, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." And secret bread is so much the more pleasant, because, when it is eaten, the theft cannot be found out. She wipes her mouth, and no marks of it are to be seen upon her lips. The sweetness and the hiddenness of this sin make it very dangerous. People commit theft with fear and trembling, and they are often revealed; and the reproofs and punishments they meet with are means of conviction and repentance. But adulterous people taste a deceitful pleasure in their sin; and they have a thousand ways of concealing their guilt. And so they add one sin to another, and contract those habits which become a second nature to them. The devil entangles them in strong twisted cords of a thousand folds; and they are seldom recovered from his snares. They obtain, by their lying arts, a miserable deliverance from the means of repentance; and by degrees they almost bring themselves to think that they have escaped the watchful eye of God.
Do not imagine that the secrecy of sin is your security from divine punishment — it is the snare of your souls. By your arts to hide your wickedness, you are only hardening your hearts, and twisting thick cords for yourselves, that you may be held fast in sin, and prevented from ever enjoying the liberty of the children of God.
Proverbs 30:21-23."Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up:
a servant who becomes king,
a fool who is full of food,
an odious woman who is married, and
a maidservant who displaces her mistress."
Pride is a sin detestable to God; and its effects are such, that even men cannot bear them, especially when it is raised to an high pitch, by a sudden and unexpected rise from a low and despised condition. Therefore a wise man would not wish to be raised by God to a condition much above his present state, unless God would give him grace to bear it with moderation.
When a servant is raised to a throne, or to some high station in the government, he thinks himself almost a God; and unless everyone gives him homage, he is filled with wrath and revenge. Haman was raised so high by Ahasuerus that he became giddy; and he thought the offence of one man who would not bow the knee to him so grievous, that it required the blood of a whole nation to make atonement for it.
Joseph and David were indeed raised by God to high places, and behaved well in them — but God knew their hearts, and gave them such grace that they were still humble, when their condition was high.
The greatest tyrants in the world have generally been those who never expected to reign — such as Maximin the Roman emperor, who put to death all who knew him in his low condition, and, among the rest, those who had relieved his father and himself — that he might blot out the memory of his former baseness.
Servants have not more seeds of pride in their nature than other men — but they are sown in human nature, and are wonderfully nourished when the sunbeams of prosperity shine upon them with extraordinary warmth. Leave men of low condition where you found them, and they will behave in their station as well as kings. Raise kings to an unexpected height of grandeur, and they will become Nebuchadnezzars and Alexanders. This observation is of use in the affairs of the church as well as the state. Therefore Paul forbids a novice to be made a ruler in the church, lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
A fool, when he is filled with food, or furnished with riches sufficient to gratify his vanity and supply his extravagant desires — is another burden of the earth. A fool is troublesome at all times — but there is no bearing of him, when his lust of intemperance or greediness is fully satisfied. It is a blemish in David's character that he once broke out into such a violent rage, that he swore to destroy an innocent family — but we must remember that the provocation was given him by a fool when he was filled with food. In ordinary cases David was the meekest of men.
For the like reasons, is an odious woman who is married. Women of meek and quiet spirits are a lovely part of the human race — but women of fretful spirits and unbridled passions are odious. And when they are married, it would require all the patience of Job, and the meekness of Moses to bear with them! Before marriage their pride was checked by neglect, and covered with the mantle of prudence — but when they come into their new state of life, they throw off every restraint, and their new situation is a means of increasing their vanity and ill-nature, until neither their neighbors, nor their servants, nor their husbands, can endure them.
If you are wise, when you intend to marry a wife, let her portion be the least part of your concern — but be sure that you know her real temper, and beware of those cheats who are doves in their virgin state — and vultures the week after they are married!
A maidservant who displaces her mistress, or obtains her master in marriage, is another plague to all around her, as we may learn from the example of Hagar the Egyptian. Men should never marry their servant maids unless they are furnished with virtuous qualifications, and particularly with modesty and meekness to an unusual degree.
Proverbs 30:24."Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise."
God is to be admired in the leviathan and behemoth — and he is no less to be admired in the ant and the locust. The formation of these little creatures, and the instincts which God has given them, appear surprising to the wisest of men. They are not furnished with the noble gift of reason — and yet they have a degree of wisdom which may raise a blush in the cheeks of many who boast of the dignity of their rank in the scale of creatures.
Proverbs 30:25."Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer."
The strength of ants has been admired by wise men — but their wisdom and industry make them strong. For they are a feeble nation, from the make and size of their bodies. Sluggards make inability to do their duty one of their excuses — but let them go to the ants, and learn to be ashamed of their frivolous pretenses. These puny creatures do wonders by their exertions and perseverance; and men know not their own strength more than their weakness, until they have made a fair trial of it.
But as to spiritual things, you will say, the Scripture teaches us that we have no strength at all. That is true — but it teaches you at the same time "to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Are the ants so strong by the instincts which they receive from their Maker? What will not worm Jacob accomplish, when he goes in the strength of the Lord God? The ants prepare their food in the summer, that they may not starve in the rigors of the winter months. How despicable, compared with these insects, are the rational creatures, who allow the thoughts of an endless duration to be pushed out of their minds by three score and ten years?
Proverbs 30:26."Coneys are but a feeble folk — yet make they their houses in the rocks."
Perhaps the wise man means some other kind of creatures than those which we call coneys. He tells us that weak as they are, they find means to make habitations for themselves in the rocks. As the ants teach sluggards to provide food for themselves, these animals reprove those who are careless about providing proper houses and means of security from dangers.
Few of us lack due care about houses for accommodating our bodies — but what provision have we made for a dwelling-place to our souls? Do we build upon the sand — or on the everlasting rock? If our place of defense is not the munition of rocks — but some refuge of lies, the coneys are wiser than we, according to their kind. The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats, and the rocks for the coneys — and has God provided no refuge for our souls? God himself is our refuge and our strength, and those who make him their habitation shall be secured from the fear of evil.
Proverbs 30:27."Locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks"
The locusts, notwithstanding their weakness as individuals, are strong and terrible by their order and unity. They go forth by bands, and nations tremble, and countries are turned into desolate wildernesses. The prophet Joel speaks of the armies of locusts in the same style which other prophets use when they are speaking of armies of Chaldeans or Persians; and history fully justifies the propriety of his language. The Saracen enemies are compared to locusts, for their number and harmony, and the destructive ravages which they were enabled by these means to commit. Shall the enemies of religion join so harmoniously in the service of the devil? And shall we who have Christ and not Apollyon for our king, betray his glorious cause by breaking our ranks, and violating that beautiful order which he has appointed? When the followers of the Redeemer stand fast in one spirit, and with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, every one in his proper station — then the church is terrible as an army with banners; and the locusts that come out of the bottomless pit cannot prevail against her.
Proverbs 30:28."A spider can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings' palaces."
The spider does not say, "There are servants in the palace appointed to keep it clear from every nuisance — I shall be slain in the window!" She provides herself a dwelling in the houses of the great, as well as in the cottages of the poor, for labor and wisdom conquer every difficulty. But to the sluggish soul, every easy thing is impossible. Does God furnish these despised creatures with wisdom so admirable in their rank of being? We are surely of greater value in his esteem than they are, and he has provided treasures of better wisdom for us. Let us have recourse to him, and he will furnish us with that wisdom which is proper to rational and immortal creatures.
Our Lord seems to justify this inference, in the instructions that he draws from the providence of God in clothing the grass of the field, and feeding the birds of the air. The locusts and spiders are hateful and mischievous creatures to men — but they are not for that reason useless. Those creatures that we despise and abhor, are a part of the riches of the Creator. They read lectures to us concerning his wisdom; and if they are well considered, they will instruct us in some articles of our duty.
Proverbs 30:29."There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing."
If a heathen will not believe in Christ, he cannot deny a God. For the invisible things of God are clearly seen in the things that he has made, and in those various endowments which he has bestowed on his creatures. As a garden is rendered pleasant to the eye by the rich variety of fruits, and herbs, and flowers, which it contains — so to the eye of the mind, the world is a beautiful scene, containing such a surprising variety of creatures, every one of them possessing qualities peculiar to itself. Agur had spoken of those creatures that are remarkable for their great wisdom in little bodies, and proceeds to mention some creatures that deserve admiration for their courage and spirit, and the dignity that appears in their motions. "O Lord, how manifold are your works, in wisdom have you made them all, the earth is full of your riches."
Proverbs 30:30."A lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing"
This celebrated animal is full of courage and fire; and no danger can subdue its valor, or force it to reveal any sign of fear. God himself is pleased to use it as an emblem of that majesty and resistless power which he displays in the defense of his injured people. And Christ our king does not disdain to borrow from it one of his glorious titles. Christians are furnished with such strength from their Redeemer, that they are said to be bold as lions; and by the courage of faith the saints have sometimes stopped the mouths of lions, or slain them outright. Wicked men have reason to flee although there is no pursuer — but Christians should learn, in the cause of truth and righteousness, not to turn aside for any adversary, or any suffering. For they shall be more than conquerors through him who loved them.
Proverbs 30:31."A horse, a he-goat, and a king with his army around him."
The word, in the original, properly signifies, some creature that is girt in its loins; some take it to mean a rooster, and others a horse; which last animal has the honor to be celebrated by God himself, in the sublimest strains of poetry, and is used by the prophet Zechariah as an emblem of that conquering strength which God conveys into the hearts of those who faithfully fight his battles against the enemies of religion. "The Lord Almighty has visited his flock, the house of Judah, and has made them as his goodly horse in the battle." They are as weak as sheep in themselves — but furnished with the strength of war horses for maintaining his cause.
An he-goat is an animal so remarkable for its strength and stateliness, when it marches at the head of the flock, that the Macedonian power which crushed the strength of the mighty Persian empire, is represented by it in the book of Daniel. The prophet Jeremiah calls the delivered captives to imitate the he-goat, by setting an example of vigor and courage to one another, in improving the merciful providence of God.
Do not wonder at Agur for insisting so long in his little writing, upon the excellencies of the irrational part of the creation. The creation is a volume spread before our eyes, that we may read in it the perfections of the Creator. The Scripture is a commentary upon some parts of creation, which opens our mind to learn instruction from the rest. Great use was made of this volume before the Word of God was written, as you find in the book of Job; and the Almighty was pleased to humble Job for his unguarded complaints, by manifesting his own excellencies in a discourse upon his creatures.
A king with his army, is another of those creatures that are stately in bearing. For the God who has given courage and strength to lions, has given majesty to kings, and stamped on them such dignity that their subjects are awed by their appearance. Kings should therefore employ their authority and influence for the service of God; and their subjects owe them reverence as well as obedience; they are ministers of God, and are entitled to honor for the sake of their master and their work, and to obedience both for wrath and for conscience sake.
Proverbs 30:32."If you have played the fool and exalted yourself, or if you have planned evil — clap your hand over your mouth!"
Pride is a very bad thing when it goes no farther than the thoughts — but it is still worse when it swells and overflows by the lips. If any proud or injurious thought come into our minds, it ought to be immediately checked and suppressed. To reveal it by our words is to declare our sin as Sodom, to give indulgence to those passions that ought to be mortified, and to add iniquity to iniquity. Besides, if we do not lay our hand upon our mouth, we shall rouse the pride of other men, and kindle up rage and strife that will not be easily allayed; and thus we shall be accountable not only for our own sin, which is heavy enough of itself — but likewise for those iniquities that we occasion in others, by the temptations which we throw in their way.
Proverbs 30:33."For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood — so stirring up anger produces strife."
Strife is not only provoked — but forced by haughty and spiteful words. For such is our weakness, that we are as easily kindled into anger by the angry words that are directed to us — as one coal is kindled by another coal that is burning. We should be meek when our neighbor is angry; but, alas! we have too little of the spirit of Moses, or rather of Jesus. For Moses himself has been provoked to speak unadvisedly with his lips.
As the violent shaking of milk in the churn produces butter, as the twisting of the nose makes blood to spring forth — so when we tease our neighbors, and set their passions into a ferment by bitter and galling words, we are the authors of strife, and kindle up that destructive and devouring fire, which perhaps cannot be quenched until it has done a thousand times more harm than we dreamed off.
The command of our passions and tongues is an attainment of vast consequence to our happiness and the welfare of our souls. Many of the wise instructions of Solomon and Agur are designed to recommend this point of wisdom to our regard, and, to assist us in learning it. Our Lord Jesus recommends it to us as one of the marks of a true Christian, and an evidence of our regard to his example.
The apostles Paul and James insist very much upon it; and that love which John is forever pressing upon us, will sweeten our tempers effectually into that calmness and meekness which are so absolutely necessary to our happiness and usefulness in the world, and will gradually extinguish those seeds of wrath and contention which lie in our corrupted natures. The apostle Peter recommends the calmness and meekness which is here enjoined by motives of irresistible force — the example which Christ left us when he was bearing our sin — the pleasure that God takes in meekness, and the happiness which he graciously confers on those who govern their passions, and their tongues, according to his will.
Men of arrogant and outrageous tempers, murmurers and complainers, are condemned by Jude in his short epistle with great severity. The whole Scripture testifies loudly against the contentious and ill-natured.