Chapter 30 (Handout)

Sayings of Agur

The Septuagint (LXX, the Jewish translation of the Old Testament into Greek, around 200BC) moved this chapter (with parts of 29 and 31) to the end of chapter 24. Although the LXX was the only Bible read by Greek-speaking Christians for perhaps a thousand years or more, and was often quoted in the New Testament, it deviated in numerous places from the Hebrew text, and it is not usually considered authoritative in those places.

My NIV breaks this chapter into 15 paragraphs of varying lengths -- from five verses (24-28) down to a half verse (two paragraphs comprising the first verse). The Hebrew text makes eight paragraphs. I will divide it up somewhat differently for pedagogical purposes [read v.1-3]

Like King Lemuel in chapter 31, we know nothing at all about the person Agur except what is here in verse 1. The same spelling of the word occurs in Deut.32:27, where the NIV translates it "I dreaded..." but the primary meaning of the verb is to "sojourn" (live as a foreigner). My dictionary says the root of this name actually means to "collect" and is used for letters (collected thoughts) and (collections of) small coins, which might therefore a descriptor of the chapter, a collection of sayings of the son of Jakeh. 'Jakeh' is Hebrew and Arabic for "venerate" or "pious" (worthy of veneration). For what it's worth.

The Hebrew root of the word 'massa' translated here as "oracle" means to "lift" and often gets translated as "carry" so this is what is carried, a burden. It's often used of what this or that prophet has to say in the sense that a preacher might say "the burden of my heart is..." like God has laid on him this heavy load, and he must "get it off his chest" by delivering the message. Perhaps Agur or the son of Jakeh feels burdened by this message because he feels ignorant and unqualified (verses 2-3) to say such "heavy" stuff.

Ithiel, according to my dictionary means "there is a God," not all that different in style from other Hebrew names, except this occurs only here. The preposition translated "to" in the NIV can mean a variety of things, most generally "with reference to," as in "belonging to" (many Psalms are attributed to David or Asaph or the Sons of Korah using this preposition) or direction of speaking (and the NIV translators assumed here) or even simply "somehow relevant."

Finally "Ucal" means "and eaten or consumed" (there is no preposition "to" in the Hebrew, the NIV translators assumed it here), so this second line might credibly also be translated "this guy (warrior) declared that God exists, and was consumed" [perhaps "the idea ate him up"]. It doesn't make a lot more sense than the usual translation, but that doesn't make much sense either.

Sowhat does he have to tell us? [read v.4-6]

Back in the 60s or 70s I had a hippie friend who was the hardware tech I worked with. He would use the word "Heavy!" in a stand-alone sentence like that to express his opinion that it was a deep subject, perhaps beyond his ability to fully understand it. That's the flavor of verse 4. All this is what God alone does -- except the first question (Who has gone up to heaven?) has the going up before the coming down, but Jesus did it the other way around. But Agur wrote this hundredsof years before that happened, he couldn't know (except by the revelation of God, which (I suppose) is easily garbled.

Verse 5 repeats two ideas we find elsewhre in Scripture, the perfection of God's Word [for example, Matt.5:18] and God as a protector ("shield") multiple times in the Psalms [for example, 3:3].

Verse 6 is interesting, because this warning occurs three times in the Bible, with the additional warning not to delete anything twice near the beginning [Deut.4:2, 12:32] and again once at the end [Rev.22:19], and then here alone in the middle. God does not take kindly to people messing with His Words. Don't leave anything out, and especially don't add anything to it.

So much for the "Heavy!" stuff. Now we have some things that read more like pithy sayings (proverbs) [read v.7-10]

God is a God of Truth, He cannot lie [Heb.6:18], and He won't be allowing liars into His Heaven [Rev.21:8], so Agur's first request is quite reasonable. The second is rather more subtle, so he gives us reasons for not wanting to be either poor (duh!) or rich. Notice the reasons are not his own comfort, as it might be if you or I made that request, but these are about the Honor of God. It's all about God, always was, always will be. Agur gets it, we often do not.

Verse 10 looks like a stand-alone, but actually I think it's part of the Truth thing. Slander is saying false and defamatory things about somebody. A servant is particularly unable to defend himself -- he must do what his master has paid him to do (which probably does not include self-defense) -- and slander could get him fired. What can he do? Cry out to God! And God listens in those cases! You don't want to be the guy God has an issue with.

Counted Lists

The rest of this chapter is devoted to six, maybe seven, counted lists of ideas grouped together for a reason, some quality they share. The first of them doesn't tell you that there are four in this list, but there they are. It also doesn't say what their common thread is, maybe you can guess it [read v.11-14]

Compare Ex.20:12 for verse 11, Matt.23:25 for verse 12, Prov.8:13 for verse 13, and Psa.35:10 for verse 14. Each of these opposes the way God wants things done.

I'm not sure how the leech or the ravens fit into this, but between them in a verse and a half, a numbered list of four things that never stop [read v.15-17]

Then four things Agur does not understand, followed by another verse that doesn't fit [read v.18-20]

I guess the next four could be the category "Bad Things Happen" [read v.21-23]

This next list of four small but smart things doesn't start out as three [read v.24-28]

The last of the three-becomes-four each make a good parade [read v.29-31]

Finally, one last list of three that is not numbered, following another verse that doesn't fit thepattern (but still good advice) [read v.32-33]

So what do you think is the unifying category for the three ideas in verse 33?

We have a modern proverb (less than 250 years old, compared to the age of what we just read, more than ten times that) "Better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." I think there's a verse in the Bible about the same, but I didn't find it. Verse 32 is more about clamming up after you said or did something stupid, still a good idea.

Next time: (some of) The Proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah collected.

Tom Pittman
2022 November 2