30:1-31:31 OTHER COLLECTIONS OF WISE SAYINGS
The personal testimony of Agur (30:1-9)
Agur, some of whose sayings are collected here, was apparently a well known wisdom teacher in the Palestine region. He begins his instruction with a confession that though he longs to know God he cannot, because he is merely a man. No human being can do the great works God has done. Agur challenges his hearers to tell him the name of any person (or the name of that person’s son, if they prefer) who has been to heaven and returned to tell people what God is like (30:1-4). God’s words, and his only, are true, and they are always reliable. Agur has such a respect for the truth of God’s word that he does not want to teach anything that is contrary to it (5-6).
As for the comforts of life, Agur aims at moderation. He desires neither riches nor poverty, lest he be tempted to live as though independent of God (if he were rich) or tempted to steal (if he were poor). His moral values and his lifestyle were inseparable (7-9).
The wise sayings of Agur (30:10-33)
It is wise not to be hasty in reporting a person for a supposed wrongdoing. Such action could rebound with harm to the talebearer if the person is innocent (10). The arrogant despise those whom they should respect, while considering that they themselves are not only blameless, but superior to their fellows. They are merciless in their treatment of those whom they should rather help (11-14).
The expression ‘three things . . . and four’ in the proverbs that follow is a figure of speech indicating that the writer is giving only three or four examples. The complete list would be much longer. A leech’s constant appetite for blood is used as an illustration of unlimited or unfulfilled longing. Four examples are given: the place of the dead is always looking for more occupants; a woman unable to have children can never have her deepest desires fulfilled; the earth always cries out for more water; a fire will keep burning as long as it is fed (15-16). A proud person’s arrogance likewise knows no limits, till death brings it to a fitting end (17).
Skill and grace in mastering difficulties are to be admired (18-19); but the cunning that delights in seducing innocent victims is hateful, especially when the guilty person feels no shame (20). Among the most unbearable of people are those who suddenly gain power or status when previously they were nothing (21-23).
Even tiny creatures are wise. They provide for their future, secure themselves against danger, cooperate with one another through order and discipline, and reach the places of highest power in the land (24-28). Other things are commended for their impressive appearance of dignity and assurance (29-31), but a commendable appearance must be accompanied by humility, purity of heart and peace-loving behaviour (32-33).