New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Pro 30:1
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, the oracle-
In identifying Agur, we must give full weight to the statement in Prov. 1:1 that this book of wisdom sayings compiled by Solomon is all the wisdom of Solomon. I will suggest on Prov. 31 that the "Lemuel" is Solomon. And so likewise here. "Agur" means "the collector", and Solomon is clearly the collector or compiler of this work. The mention of his father makes little sense if he is totally unknown; so I suggest this is a code for "David".

The man said to Ithiel, even to Ithiel and Ucal-
These names are not attested as Hebrew personal names at the time, and so as noted above, we can understand them to be symbolic persons. The relevance of the meanings of their names may have been more apparent to the original readership than it is to us. But the text is hard to understand, and can be rendered "God is not with me, God is not with me, and I am helpless" (GNB); "The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out" (ESV).

Pro 30:2 Surely I am the most ignorant man, and don’t have a man’s understanding-
LXX "For I am the most simple of all men, and there is not in me the wisdom of men". The style of these words of Agur / Solomon is different to the Proverbs generally. But this doesn't mean it is not by Solomon. It may be that this chapter is Solomon's reaction to the gift of wisdom he was given (see on :8), and the rest of the Proverbs are his transcription, with editing, of that wisdom. Or parts of it. He may here be reflecting as in :3 that he had not attended any school of wisdom, as was common for an oriental wise man. All his wisdom, therefore, was a direct gift from God.

Pro 30:3 I have not learned wisdom, neither do I have the knowledge of the Holy One-
As noted on :2, Solomon had not attended any school of wisdom, as was common for an oriental wise man. All his wisdom, therefore, was a direct gift from God. Hence LXX "God has taught me wisdom, and I know the knowledge of the holy". This could as well be "the holy ones". He has a place amongst the holy ones, the sages, although a young man; because God had given him wisdom.

Pro 30:4 Who has ascended up into heaven, and descended? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has bound the waters in his garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name, if you know?-
This is very much the language of the book of Job. The conclusion there, as here, is that no man has done these things. Only God, and not even Moses, despite his ascents and descents to God in Sinai. And that God had given that wisdom to His spiritual child Solomon. Hence GNB "Have any ever mastered heavenly knowledge? Have any ever caught the wind in their hands? Or wrapped up water in a piece of cloth? Or fixed the boundaries of the earth? Who are they, if you know? Who are their children?".

It is tempting to see in this verse a prophecy of the Lord Jesus. The language of ascending and descending is that of God manifestation and theophany. And this theophany comes to its ultimate revelation in the Son of God, whose name was not then known. For He is made of God "wisdom" to us (1 Cor. 1:24).

 Pro 30:5 Every word of God is flawless. He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him-
"Every word of God proves true" (ESV). This is very much the sentiment of David in Ps. 119, expressing faith that his promised kingship would come about because God's word would come true. And Solomon likewise saw his kingship as due to the fulfilment of the word of God promised to David. Hezekiah likewise saw his kingship and survival as king as the fulfilment of God's word to Isaiah. The fulfilment of those prophetic words had involved God being a shield to those who trusted in His prophetic word.

Pro 30:6 Don’t you add to His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar-
This is alluded to in Rev. 22:19. Solomon may have in mind those who might try to add to the promises to David in order to justify their power grabs or taking of his throne from him. Always in Proverbs Solomon seems to use God's truths to bolster himself and his position of power, just as can be done today.

Pro 30:7 Two things I have asked of You; don’t deny me before I die-
LXX "take not favour from me before I die". This could imply that Solomon felt he as David's Messianic son [as he liked to imagine himself] was covered by grace / Divine favour all his days. And this led him to behave in the unspiritual way he did in his private life.

Pro 30:8 Remove far from me falsehood and lies. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food that is needful for me-
Even if Agur isn't Solomon (but see on :1), the words of Agur were selected by Solomon for inclusion in his anthology. Solomon is here alluding to the way that he did not ask for riches, but wisdom (see on :2); and was rewarded with the gift of riches. But this is but false humility. For he boasts about his riches in Prov. 14:24 "The crown of the wise is their riches, but the folly of fools crowns them with folly". It was Solomon who was the king and wore the ultimate crown in his society. And he implies that his fantastic riches were a result of his wisdom, and that his pattern should be followed by others. But he fails to remember that his desire for wisdom was recognized by God in that He gave Solomon riches. Those riches were a gift from God, by grace, and not acquired or generated by his own application of wisdom (1 Kings 3:13). He therefore misused his possession of wisdom and experience of grace to justify himself, and present himself as a self made man; when he was not that at all.

Pro 30:9 lest I be full, deny You, and say, ‘Who is Yahweh?’, or lest I be poor, and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God-
But this is what happened to Solomon, as it did to Hezekiah. When he was "full", his wives turned his heart away from Yahweh, and he wrote the denial of true faith which we have in Ecclesiastes.

Pro 30:10 Don’t accuse a servant along with his master, lest he curse you, and you be held guilty-
This may be a reference to Rehoboam, Solomon's trusted servant who then turned against him. This is why the Proverbs have much to say about servants. Solomon would be asking that the exiled Rehoboam not be seen as representative of himself. And he threatens that he as the master will then curse any who did so. But LXX has simply "Deliver not a servant into the hands of his master". This would be tacit admission that there were unreasonable masters, and an abused slave had the right to run away.

Pro 30:11 There is a generation that curses their father, and doesn’t bless their mother-
Solomon may be alluding to his half brother Absalom and others in the family who had revolted against David their father, and who were against Solomon's kingship. This means that Solomon is here using Divine truths with a subtext of justifying his own rulership and lineage through David. And this is always a temptation to any who have God's truth; to use it for their own justification. LXX "A wicked generation" is a phrase quoted by the Lord Jesus about the Israel of His day and the last days. Attitudes to family life and parents are seen as the litmus indicator of wickedness.

Pro 30:12 There is a generation that is pure in their own eyes, yet are not washed from their filthiness-
LXX "A wicked generation"; see on :11. The idea of being washed from their filth is alluded to by Peter in 2 Pet. 2:22. Solomon ended up abusing his people, whipping and beating them because he considered them fools (1 Kings 12:11). He seems to imply here that his generation were impure, filthy and therefore worthy of such treatment. The heart that bleeds for sinners will be ever seeking to save them, not categorizing them in various compartments of wickedness and then mocking and judging them, as Solomon does in the Proverbs. 

Pro 30:13 There is a generation, oh how proud are their eyes! Their eyelids are lifted up-
"A proud look" is exactly what Solomon's father David didn't have (s.w. Ps. 131:1). He is justifying him, and the word for "lifted up" is a theme here (:13,21,32). It is that used to refer to the various attempted coups against David and Solomon (e.g. 2 Sam. 18:28; 20:21; 1 Kings 11:26). But :32 uses the same word for "lifted up" and appears to offer the chance of repentance and forgiveness to such people, which is not typical of Solomon, who generally condemns all opposition to him or David.  

This however is the language used in Song of Solomon of the eyes of his illicit Gentile girlfriend (Song 4:1,9; 7:4); indeed he was overcome by her eyes (Song 6:5). 

Pro 30:14 There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and their jaws like knives, to devour the poor from the earth, and the needy from among men-
Even if Agur isn't Solomon (but see on :1), the words of Agur were selected by Solomon for inclusion in his anthology which is the book of Proverbs. The language here is very similar to that used by David about his persecution by Saul. Solomon may be implying that that "generation" continued, it was the same group who opposed his kingship. 

Pro 30:15 The leach has two daughters: ‘Give, give’. There are three things that are never satisfied; four that don’t say, ‘Enough:’-
LXX "The horse-leech had three dearly-beloved daughters: and these three did not satisfy her; and the fourth was not contented so as to say, Enough"; GNB "A leech has two daughters, and both are named "Give me!"". The leach was a blood sucker. But Solomon's criticisms of animals in :19 (see note there) are because he likens bad women to them. He appears to have in mind a particular woman, perhaps one he codenames Aluqah [translated "leach"], who he found insatiable, along with her daughters. See on :16. Solomon had over 1000 wives, and slept with whom he chose. But he finds this particular woman and her daughters have broken his heart and irritate and anger him because they are so insatiable. Solomon, the apparently powerful over women, becomes ensnared by them, as he laments in Ecc. 7:26.  


Pro 30:16 Sheol; the barren womb; the earth that is not satisfied with water; and the fire that doesn’t say, ‘Enough’-
Solomon's 1000 wives would not have seen much of him. He slept with a girl he fancied, and she became his wife, shut up in the harem and perhaps never called for again. And so she was left without children, a barren womb being like a parched land, with an ever burning fire of resentment against him which as it were burnt to the grave, sheol. Solomon, the apparently powerful over women, becomes ensnared by them, as he laments in Ecc. 7:26.  

Pro 30:17 The eye that mocks at his father, and scorns obedience to his mother: the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, the young eagles shall eat it-
We will read in Prov. 31 of Bathsheba's commands to Solomon about women and wine. But he scorned obedience to this. 

Pro 30:18 There are three things which are too amazing for me, four which I don’t understand-
The things listed in :19 all leave no trace of their path or movement. And they all point forward to the way of an adulterous woman (:20). Throughout Proverbs, Solomon is very hard on women and the behaviour of prostitutes and adulterous women. It's quite an obsession with him, and he expresses great bitterness at them, confessing here that their behaviour is beyond even his understanding. Yet he had every woman he fancied, with a harem of 1000 women. But he is so bitter against women who commit adultery. It was inevitable that those women became adulterous, and would hardly remain faithful to Solomon. He likely never saw most of them in the course of a year. And their adultery, as he imagine or fears it, becomes so painful for him. And yet it was the direct result of his unbridled lust in taking so many wives. He who considered himself in power over women was in fact revealed as powerless before them. 

Pro 30:19 The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent on a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maiden-
These things all leave no trace. "The way of a man within a woman" (Heb.) would refer to the sexual act. As discussed on :18, Solomon lived in fear that his many wives were adulterous but with such large numbers, he could never actually prove it. If a king slept with a woman, she became his wife, and was therefore shut up in the harem, perhaps never to be called for by the king ever again. And yet Solomon therefore lived in fear of those women, because he suspected them of adultery but could never prove it as there was no outward sign of it, just as birds, snakes and ships leave no evidence of their path. His reference to the ship in the midst of the ocean may be a wry commentary upon how his mother had described his ideal wife (Prov. 31:14).

Pro 30:20 So is the way of an adulterous woman: she eats and wipes her mouth, and says, ‘I have done nothing wrong’-
LXX "who having washed herself from what she has done, says she has done nothing amiss". There is a strange connection with Bathsheba ritually washing herself before David slept with her (2 Sam. 11:4). This may be some psychological reflection of the way Solomon continually seeks to whitewash the sin of his father David with his mother Bathsheba. "Wipes her mouth" is GNB "takes a bath". The woman has a quasi spiritual image to her, as found in the whore of Prov. 7 who likewise outwardly appears ritually obedient to the Mosaic law. In the Song of Solomon, Solomon describes his illicit Gentile girlfriend in the language of Israel and Mosaic laws; he fell for the very kind of woman he so bitterly curses here. Again we see that he comes the parade example of a man who does the very opposite of the truth he has received from God. This is a stage beyond mere hypocrisy; it is the narcissism of someone playing God, who considers themselves personal obedience to the Divine principles they teach. And this is for all time an acute temptation to those who have God's truth, especially in the area of sexuality. 

Pro 30:21 For three things the earth trembles, and under four, it can’t bear up-
The idea is that these are things which should not lifted up in the earth / eretz promised to Abraham. The word for "bear / lift up" is that used to refer to the various attempted coups against David and Solomon (e.g. 2 Sam. 18:28; 20:21; 1 Kings 11:26).

But LXX "By three things the earth is troubled, and the fourth it cannot bear". This would make the handmaid of :23 the most awful of all these scenarios.

Pro 30:22 For a servant when he is king; a fool when he is filled with food-
GNB "a slave who becomes a king". The allusions would be to Jeroboam Solomon's servant who wanted to become king (1 Kings 11:26); and to Nabal the fool. If Solomon had truly trusted in God's prophetic word to establish his throne, he wouldn't have needed to continually be fencing and defending himself by sniping at his opponents through his Proverbs.

Pro 30:23 for an unloved woman when she is married; and a handmaid who is heir to her mistress-
The allusions are to Leah, and then to Hagar and Sarah. Solomon's harem of 1000 women doubtless contained many who felt they were "unloved women". He sees truth, but lived otherwise. But LXX "or if a maid-servant should cast out her own mistress; and if a hateful woman should marry a good man".  It was the mistress Sarah who cast out Hagar the maidservant; the LXX suggests that if it were the other way around, this would have been a terrible thing. Solomon's justification of Sarah's actions seems wrong; for she was not right in what she did, even though the incident is given typical significance in Galatians 4.

Pro 30:24 There are four things which are little on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise-
LXX "Wiser than the wise". I will note on :26 that all the animals mentioned are seen by Solomon as representative of himself as a hard worker; and he sees himself as the preeminently wise one in Israelite society.

Pro 30:25 The ants are not a strong people, yet they provide their food in the summer-
Even if Agur isn't Solomon (but see on :1), the words of Agur were selected by Solomon for inclusion in his  anthology of Proverbs. This statement repeats that of Solomon in Prov. 6:6. The Proverbs contain repeated condemnation of laziness. Lack of a zealous work ethic is a rejection of wisdom, according to Solomon. As Solomon explains in Ecc. 1, he was an active person, not lazy by nature. And yet he lacked spirituality. He claimed that his service of God was due to his spirituality, but it was in reality merely a semblance of serving God when it was really just reinforcing his own personality type. His mocking of the "sluggard" or "lazy one" is so frequent (Prov. 6:6,9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16). But it is a reflection of his own works-based approach to righteousness; the 'wise' "do" good things, and the wicked don't do enough good things. Personal spiritual mindedness and relationship with God are simply not emphasized.

Pro 30:26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks-
"Rock badgers" (ESV), "rabbits" (LXX). To have a house in rocks was an allusion to royal palaces (Is. 33:16) and summer palaces carved in mountains. Solomon had such a palace in the Lebanon mountains, and likewise the royal palaces of Babylon (Jer. 51:25) and Edom (Obadiah 3) were houses in the rocks. Allusions to kings and their palaces continue in :27,28. The idea is that by hard work (see on :26), a man rises up from lowly beginnings to the throne and palace. This is Solomon presenting himself as having attained his throne and palaces by his hard work. But he misses the point; that he was exalted by grace, because he was David's son, and was given wealth and glory by God, and not because of his hard work.   

Pro 30:27 The locusts have no king, yet they advance in ranks-
LXX "march orderly at one command". As explained on :26, the idea is that a tiny locust works his way up to be a leader. Or just reading it as it stands, the idea may be that unity is not brought about by human leadership but by obedience to God's word; which Solomon sees as being taught by his mouth through his Proverbs.

Pro 30:28 You can catch a lizard with your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces-
LXX "is easily taken". As explained on :26, the idea is that a tiny lizard works his way up to be a king in a palace, even though earlier it would have been easy for men to catch him. But he persevered and got into the palace. This is Solomon presenting himself as having attained his throne and palaces by his hard work. But he misses the point; that he was exalted by grace, because he was David's son, and was given wealth and glory by God, and not because of his hard work.   

Pro 30:29 There are three things which are stately in their march, four which are stately in going-
"Stately" implies these animals are to be compared to kings in regal procession; and as noted on :30, Solomon clearly has himself in view, as in all these allusions to animals. 

Pro 30:30 The lion, which is mightiest among animals, and doesn’t turn away for any-
Solomon again has himself in view, seeing himself as the lion of the tribe of Judah against whom there can be no opposition as king of beasts. But this language was only finally appropriate for the Lord Jesus as the true Messianic son of David (Rev. 5:5). See on :32. Solomon assumed the promises to David were totally fulfilled in him, and he was perhaps encouraged in this by David's fantasy that this would be the case in Ps. 45,72 etc. He whitewashed in his own mind the much laboured conditional nature of those promises; he assumed he was right and acceptable before God. This is a particular tendency for some, although not for all. For some struggle to have any positive view about themselves, whereas others are over confident and arrogant in their self perceptions.

Pro 30:31 the greyhound, the male goat also; and the king against whom there is no rising up-
This is Solomon implying that revolt against his kingship is futile; there can be no opposition to him, and any such rising up against him or his father was the work of fools without wisdom (see on :30,32). LXX "a cock walking in boldly among the hens, and the goat leading the herd; and a king publicly speaking before a nation". ESV "a king whose army is with him".

Pro 30:32 If you have done foolishly in lifting up yourself, or if you have thought evil, put your hand over your mouth-
The one who exalted or 'lifted up' himself would refer to the various attempted coups against David and Solomon (e.g. 2 Sam. 18:28; 20:21; 1 Kings 11:26). "Thought evil" is the word used by David for his enemies within the camps of Saul and Absalom (Ps. 10:2,4; 21:11; 31:13; 37:7). See on :13,21. But :13 uses the same word for "lifted up"; but here in :32 there is the apparent chance of repentance [with hand over mouth] and forgiveness to such people. But this is not typical of Solomon, who generally condemns all opposition to him or David.  

On one hand Solomon condemns mirth (Ecc. 7:4; Prov. 20:32 LXX "If thou abandon thyself to mirth, and stretch forth thine hand in a quarrel, thou shalt be disgraced"). But this is exactly what Solomon did in Ecc. 2:1,2; 8:15. He refused to accept his own wisdom. It was merely a teaching position, and he felt the need to empirically find its truth. he failed to personalize the wisdom he taught, and therefore turned away in the end .

Pro 30:33 For as the churning of milk brings forth butter, and the wringing of the nose brings forth blood; so the churning of wrath brings forth judgment
GNB "If you hit someone's nose, it bleeds. If you stir up anger, you get into trouble". This is as ever true as far as it goes. But the Proverbs often seek to instill a spirit of conservatism into Israelite society, which would quash opposition, criticism of the leadership and thereby leave Solomon established in power. If he had truly trusted in the promises about the Divine establishment of David's throne, he wouldn't have needed such intrigues.