Agur has a wonderful capacity for observation. He sees with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, yet his observations are mature and insightful. He is a keen observer of life, and invites us to reflect with him. Today, we look at some of Agur’s ″lists″ in Proverbs 30.
In verse 15, he warns us about the insatiable appetite of greed, aptly illustrated by the leech whose two daughters live off others’ blood and yet are never satisfied. This theme leads us to the observation of four other things that are never satisfied (v. 16): the grave’s hunger for the dead; the womb that is created to carry children but remains empty; the arid land that needs more water; and fire, which never stops its search for combustibles. While two of these examples have to do with destruction (death and fire) and two with the giving of life (birth and water), they illustrate the principle that there is always a desire that can never be satisfied.
In verses 18-19, Agur gives another list, this time of four things that mystify him: How does the eagle stay up in the sky? How does the snake move so quickly even though it has no legs? How is a large ship able to float when a small pebble sinks? How does one account for love between a man and a woman? The mystery and wonder of these four things-especially the last, of love between a man and woman-form a stark contrast with the blatant, unrepentant ways of the adulteress (v. 20). Her casual approach to sex outside marriage, and her loss of all moral awareness, invoke horror rather than amazement.
Continuing on this theme, Agur goes on to list four injustices that upset the order of things and lead to dire consequences (vv. 21-23): a servant who rules even though he is unfit; a fool who is rewarded despite his godlessness; an unlovable woman who marries-and who will probably wreak terror on her husband; and the maid who by some means takes over her mistress’ position. These examples involve the rewarding of foolishness and vice, and upsetting of the natural order of society.
Next, Agur lists four small creatures that exemplify wisdom (vv. 24-28). Wisdom is not necessarily tied to physical strength or size. Here are four small animals-ants, hyraxes, locusts, and lizards-that live wisely and successfully. Ants plan for their future, hyraxes ensure their security, locusts organise themselves, and lizards know the best place to live.
This list is followed by another list of four stately animals or men (vv. 29-31): the lion, the rooster, the goat, and the strong king.
Agur concludes his observations with this warning in verses 32-33: evil schemes and stirring up anger will lead to strife as surely as butter emerges from milk and blood from a twisted nose. Bible commentator Derek Kidner sums up Proverbs 30 as a call by Agur for humility through reverence (vv. 1-9), restraint (vv. 10-17), wonder (vv. 18-31), and peaceable behaviour (vv. 32-33).13
Close your mouth, give up your petty scheming, and seek the wisdom of the One who is all-wise. Wonder at His creation and His wisdom in sending His Son to open the way to the new creation!
13Derek Kidner, Proverbs, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964).
Reflect on Agur’s observations on greed, and think about your own desires, needs, and wants, and how they can be satisfied. How can you apply Agur’s lessons to your life?
What kind of petty scheming might we be involved in? How can we examine our thoughts, plans, and intentions in the light of God’s Word?