Five sets of fours describe richly the observations and images of life according to a self-confessed sceptic; a confused person awed by all the wonders on earth, both good and evil. And we have a very personal account here, only a chapter’s jump from another such excursus; the book of Ecclesiastes.
The pleasant thing about each numerical saying is they’re phrased as never-ending lists. “Unfathomable” would be the word of Agur, concurring with Job and Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes).
Insatiables (vs. 16b-17)
Four (or more) things are never satisfied. Death swallows us whole. The barren womb cannot carry a foetus (and ‘consumes’ embryos). Deserts and harsh lands, any lands for that matter, can’t be tamed. Fire, finally, consumes all before it, indiscrimately. Add to this picture the leering look of the eye… it’ll be the death of us if we don’t manage our insatiable desires (v. 17).
Mysteries (vs. 18-19)
Some things we’ll never understand and it’s from this viewpoint that Agur ponders the wonder of the flight of the eagle, the way of a snake on a rock, a ship on high seas, and the way of a man with a woman. The journey of their paths defies explanation.
It’s good sometimes to be awed by things, and we cannot trace how these things take place... the past flight of the eagle, where the snake on a rock and a ship on the high seas have come from, and lastly, how God makes two beings one.
Intolerables (vs. 21-23)
Some things in life push even the LORD’s patience to the enth degree, like when a labourer becomes the general manager, undeservedly. Also, when a fool wins the lottery, for they’ll only squander the money and make life more miserable for themselves (and others into the bargain!).
Thirdly, when loose women or immoral men are given stature most people see it as an abomination. Lastly, when a man chooses to depose his wife with the younger girlfriend... it’s never a good result. It only brings shame on him, her, the ex-wife and all connected with the sorry affair!
Small Wonders (vs. 24-28)
We just marvel at small things that prove God’s wisdom--believer and non-believer alike. The wisdom of ants has already been profiled earlier in Proverbs 6. They diligently plan and provide for themselves. The hyrax is again a small and innocent little mammalian animal, yet it calls quite a dangerous looking place, home--the rocky outcrops called crags.
Locust plagues engender fear in humanity because they drive life from vegetation as their destruction comes to completion. Likewise, lizards are easy to catch and are seemingly at our disposal, yet they’ll make their way into our homes (and king’s palaces!) without much ado, not to mention cockroaches and spiders.
Dignitaries (vs. 29-31)
And the things that are majestic beyond words complete the sceptic’s list. The lion’s an obvious one, yet a billy goat isn’t so. A strutting rooster and a head of state in the process of their dominion are also sights to be seen.
Proverbs 30 ends with a warning. All throughout it warns of God’s power which many people choose foolishly to ignore. As is the universal law of cause and effect, the inappropriateness of action is the death of some.
“If you play the fool and exalt yourself, or if you plan evil, clap your hand over your mouth! For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife” –Proverbs 30:32-33 (TNIV)
Acknowledgement to The Message paraphrase of the Bible for the five-fold structure implicit in this article.
Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved.