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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,
See the introduction to Proverbs. According to the different reading, there noted, the inscription ends with: "the man spake," and the words that follow, are the beginning of the confession, "I have wearied myself after God and have fainted."
Spake - The Hebrew word is that commonly used of the utterance of a divine oracle.
2Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
A confession of ignorance, with which compare the saying of Socrates that he was wise only so far as he knew that he knew nothing, or that of Asaph Psalm 73:22.
3I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy.
He found, when he looked within, that all his learning was as nothing. He had heard of God only "by the hearing of the ear" Job 42:5, and now he discovered how little that availed.
The holy - The Holy One. Compare Proverbs 9:10.
4Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?
Man is to be humbled to the dust by the thought of the glory of God as seen in the visible creation.
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? - The thought is obviously that of the all-embracing Providence of God, taking in at once the greatest and the least, the highest and the lowest. The mysteries of the winds and of the waters baffle men's researches.
What is his son's name - The primary thought is that man knows so little of the divine nature that he cannot tell whether he may transfer to it the human relationships with which he is familiar, or must rest in the thought of a unity indivisible and incommunicable. If there is such an Only-begotten of the Father (compare Proverbs 8:30), then His nature, until revealed, must be as incomprehensible by us as that of the Father Himself.
5Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
Out of this consciousness of the impotence of all man's efforts after the knowledge of God rises the sense of the preciousness of every living word that God has Himself revealed, whether through "the Law and the prophets" or through "wise men and scribes."
6Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
Men are not to mingle revealed truth with their own imaginations and traditions. In speculating on the unseen, the risk of error is indefinitely great, and that error God reproves by manifesting its falsehoods.
7Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Two things - The limitation of man's desires follows naturally upon his consciousness of the limits of his knowledge.
8Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
The order of the two requests is significant. The wise man's prayer is first and chiefly, "truth in the inward parts," the removal of all forms of falsehood, hollowness, hypocrisy.
Neither poverty ... - The evil of the opposite extremes of social life is that in different ways they lead men to a false standard of duty, and so to that forgetfulness of God which passes into an absolute denial.
Food convenient for me - literally, "give me for food the bread of my appointed portion." The prayer foreshadows that which we have been taught by the Divine Wisdom: "Give us, day by day, our daily bread."
9Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
The special dangers of the two extremes. Wealth tempts to pride, unbelief, and a scorn like that of Pharaoh Exodus 5:2; poverty to, dishonesty, and then to perjury, or to the hypocritical profession of religion which is practically identical with it.
10Accuse not a servant unto his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty.
Accuse not a servant - The prayer in Proverbs 30:8 does not shut out, sympathy with those who are less favored. Even the slave has a right to protection against frivolous or needless accusation. Others, however, render the words Make not a slave to accuse his master, i. e., Do not make him discontented with his lot, lest he afterward curse thee for having made it worse than it was.
11There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.
As the teacher had uttered what he most desired, so now he tells what he most abhorred; and in true-harmony with the teaching of the Ten Commandments places in the foremost rank those who rise against the Fifth.
12There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.
The Pharisee temper (compare the marginal reference).
13There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up.
14There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.
15The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough:
Note the numeration mounting to a climax, the two, the three, the four (Amos 1:3 etc.). The word rendered "horseleach" is found nowhere else, and its etymology is doubtful; but there are good grounds for taking the word in its literal sense, as giving an example, in the natural world, of the insatiable greed of which the next verse gives other instances. Its voracious appetite is here represented, to express its intensity, as two daughters, uttering the same ceaseless cry for more.
16The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.
The grave - Hebrew שׁאול she'ôl. The "Hell" or Hades of Proverbs 27:20, all-consuming yet never full.
17The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.
18There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
Another enigma. The four things of Proverbs 30:16 agreed in the common point of insatiableness; the four now mentioned agree in this, that they leave no trace behind them.
19The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
The way of a man with a maid - The act of sin leaves no outward mark upon the sinners.
20Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.
21For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:
For four which it cannot bear - Better: four it cannot bear. Here the common element is that of being intolerable, and the four examples are divided equally between the two sexes. Each has its examples of power and prosperity misused because they fall to the lot of those who have no training for them, and are therefore in the wrong place.
22For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat;
23For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.
Odious woman - One in whom there is nothing loveable. Marriage, which to most women is the state in which they find scope for their highest qualities, becomes to her only a sphere in which to make herself and others miserable.
24There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
Exceeding wise - Some prefer the reading of the Septuagint and Vulgate: "wiser than the wise." The thought, in either case, turns upon the marvels of instinct, which, in their own province, transcend the more elaborate results of human wisdom.
25The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;
See the marginal reference note. Note the word "people" applied here to ants, as to locusts in Joel 1:6. The marvel lies in their collective, and, as it were, organized action.
26The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
Conies - See the marginal reference note.
27The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;
Compare Joel 2:7-8; the most striking fact in the flight of the locust-swarms was their apparent order and discipline, sweeping over the land like the invasion of a great army.
28The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.
Spider - Rather, the Gecko (or Stellio), a genus of the lizard tribe, many species of which haunt houses, make their way through crevices in the walls, and with feet that secrete a venomous exudation catch the spiders or the flies they find there.
29There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:
30A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;
31A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.
A greyhound - The Hebrew word occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. The literal meaning is: "one with loins girded;" and some have referred this to the stripes of the zebra, others to the "war-horse" (compare Job 39:19, Job 39:25), as he is represented in the sculptures of Persepolis, with rich and stately trappings.
A king, against whom there is no rising up - i. e., A king irresistible. Others prefer, "a king in the midst of his people," and the sense, as giving a more vivid picture, is certainly more satisfactory.
32If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.
Lay thine hand upon thy mouth - The act expresses the silence of humiliation and repentance after the sin has been committed, and that of self-restraint, which checks the haughty or malignant thought before it has passed even into words.
33Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.
Churning ... wringing ... forcing - In the Hebrew text it is one and the same word. "The pressure of milk produces curds, the pressure of the nose produces blood, the pressure of wrath (i. e., brooding over and, as it were, condensing it) produces strife."