Seven Things I Learned From The Wisdom Of Agur

Today I am going to talk about one of the most obscure people in the entire Bible responsible for writing a chapter. Unlike the last time I looked at an obscure person in a message, Heman the grandson of Samuel, we know very little about Agur. We do not know about who he was, nor are we even sure where he lived, though we will guess. What we do know is that this extraordinary man provides us with wisdom that we can still learn from today some 3000 years after he lived. We may not know much about who Agur was, but what he said still matters today.

Lesson #1: Agur Knew More About The Nature Of God Than Most Jews (And Christians) Know Today

Today we will spend most of our time in Proverbs 30, so let us turn there now. Let us first read Proverbs 30:1-4. Proverbs 30:1-4 is famous for two things, being notoriously difficult Hebrew, and for containing one of the Bible’s most straightforward (and yet least often quoted) messianic prophecies. Instead of reading from my usual New King James Bible, I will read from the English Standard Version because I think it makes the very difficult Hebrew in this chapter a little more easily understood. It reads as follows: “The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle. The man declares, ‘I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name? Surely you know!”

Well, I hope we would know the answers to these questions, and yet many do not. Agur was possibly from Massa, in Northwestern Arabia, if “the oracle” is to be translated as a place name. Other than this chapter, we know nothing about this man from the Bible or from history. Nonetheless, this man knew something about God that a lot of people today do not understand, people who think they know God well. Agur saw himself as foolish and lacking understanding, and yet he knew that God was both Father and Son, something that many people today do not understand. The Jews think they know God well, and yet they denied His Son Jesus Christ when He walked this earth as the Son of Man. And yet Agur, an obscure “heathen” from the deserts, knew that God was Father and Son. How humbling is that? The first thing I learned from Agur is that this obscure man knew more about God than many supposed wise men today. Sometimes it is better not to pretend to be wiser than you are.

Lesson #2: When Your Mouth Gets You In Trouble, It’s Best To Shut Up

Let us continue on in Proverbs 30 to Proverbs 30:5-6. Proverbs 30:5-6 reads as follows: “Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar.” Let us now read Proverbs 30:32-33. Proverbs 30:32-33 reads as follows: “If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth. For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife.”

What is Agur saying here? First, he is saying that while God’s words are true and serve as our shield against the attacks of our enemies, those who add to God’s words by claiming their own words as divine oracles will be exposed as liars and will be punished by God. Nor is lying the only sort of language we should avoid. If we have been plotting evil, it is best to stop before we start fights that are going to lose. If you’re spouting off rubbish, put your hand over your mouth, or tie your hands together so that you can no longer print libels on your keyboard. Because if you keep on pressing in foolishness you will make the righteous angry at you and give yourself a bloody nose and raise a big stink in the process. The second thing I learned from Agur is that when your mouth gets you in trouble it is best to be quiet and stop digging the hole deeper. Following this lesson isn’t easy for any of us though. Certainly not me.

Lesson #3: Even 3000 Years Ago, It Was Best To Be In The Middle Class

To find out our third lesson from the wisdom of Agur, let us go to Proverbs 30:7-9. Proverbs 30:7-9 reads as follows: “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

Here we see one of my own personal requests to God, a request that has not yet been fulfilled. I too have asked God to remove liars and scoundrels from me, but I have found them all around in my life so far. I have also, like Agur, asked God for enough food (but not too much) lest I be so wealthy and full that I forget that God is the source of my daily bread [1], or lest I be so poor that I have to steal to eat, and in so doing profane the God whom I worship. I too, like Agur, have desired to be neither fantastically wealthy nor to be poor, but rather to be a respectable member of the middle classes. The third thing I learned from Agur is that even three thousand years ago it was best to be in the middle class.

Lesson #4: Do Not Ignore Small Things

The fourth lesson we learn from Agur we learn in a couple of ways. First, let us look at Proverbs 30:10, which reads as follows: “Do not slander a servant to his master, lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.” Let us also look at Proverbs 30:24-28. Proverbs 30:24-28 reads as follows: “Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.”

We are prone to think of servants as unimportant. And yet a wise master listens to his servants [2]. You may think servants unimportant, but a wise man understands that the way you treat servants is the way you really are as a person. Additionally, Agur is wise enough even to learn from little animals, how lizards are clever enough to make their homes in palaces, how locusts do not need kings or strong leaders to be disciplined and united (this is a lesson we human beings sometimes have a hard time understanding), how little ants can store up food in the summer, and how the feeble rock badgers can carve their homes out of the cliffs. Agur is wise to learn from the small. By refusing to think himself above paying attention to little things, he shows himself an exceedingly wise man. We would do well to follow his example. The fourth thing I learned from Agur is always to pay attention to the small if one wants to understand the great.

Lesson #5: The Good Old Days Never Were Good

To learn the fifth lesson we have to spend a great deal of time reading about very unpleasant matters that were true in Agur’s time and that remain true today. Let us look at several of these passages now. First, let us look at Proverbs 30:11-14. Proverbs 30:11-14 reads as follows: “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers. There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift! There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from the earth, the needy from among mankind.” Let us next turn to Proverbs 30:17. Proverbs 30:17 reads: “The eye that mocks a father and that scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.” Let us skip down next to verse twenty. Proverbs 30:20 reads: “This is the way of an adulteress: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, “I have done no wrong.” And finally, for this lesson, let us continue on reading verses twenty-one through twenty-three. Proverbs 30:21-23 reads: “Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up [3]: a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.”

This fifth lesson has to do with wickedness. Let us understand that the same wickedness that Agur complains about was a problem in the time of Christ. Christ too had to deal with the Pharisees refusing to honor their parents, in Mark 7:11. Christ had to deal with those who were proud and puffed up, having the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees, as in Matthew 16:5-12. And Christ also had to deal with the religious and political leadership of the time exploiting the poor—devouring widow’s houses and making a pretense of righteousness by making long prayers, as Christ says in Luke 20:47. Likewise Jesus also had to address those who looked all righteous on the outside but inside were rotten like men’s tombs, as Christ condemned the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:27. And Christ too had to deal with adulterers and adulteresses (such as James condemns in James 4:4), including adulterers who wanted to trap Jesus Christ by having him condemn an adulteress to death in John 8:2-11. The same sins that Agur laments are the same sins that Jesus Christ had to address when He was on the earth.

And all of these problems still exist today. Unloved women still marry, having bitter marriages. Slaves of sin regularly become corrupt and wicked leaders. Maidservants have long tried to usurp their mistresses, and fools love to eat, drink, and be merry without any thought for the future. Adultery is still common, respect for parents is in a terrible state, the rich and powerful still regularly exploit the poor, seeking to starve them out or cheat them out of wages at every step along the way, and people still pretend to be righteous while being full of loathsome sins. These were problems in Agur’s day, problems in Jesus’ day, and they are problems in our day. The fifth thing I learned from Agur is that there never have been any good old days—mankind has always fallen prey to the same sorts of social evils.

Lesson #6: Some Things Never Can Be Understood Or Satisfied

For the next lesson, let us look first at Proverbs 30:15-16. Proverbs 30:15-16 reads: “The leech has two daughters: give and give. Three things are never satisfied, four never say, “Enough” [4]: Sheol [the grave], the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, “Enough.” Let us drop now down to verses eighteen and nineteen. Proverbs 30:18-19 read: “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand [5]: the way of an eagle in the sky; the way of a serpent on the rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.”

I have to admit that like Agur I too am puzzled by the same things. Leeches still want more and more blood or money. The grave, the barren womb, the desert, and the fire are still unsatisfied. They still want more and more without ever receiving enough. We still do not understand the secrets of flight for great birds like eagles, or how serpents slither so rapidly on the rocks. The way that ships survive the tempest tossed seas is still amazing, and the way of a man with a virgin is something that I do not understand at all. If I did, perhaps I would not be single. But the sixth thing I learned from the wisdom of Agur is that just like him, there is a lot in this world that I simply don’t understand, and a lot that I’m simply not satisfied with.

Lesson #7: A King’s Majesty Is In His Army

For our final lesson today from the wisdom of Agur, let us look at Proverbs 30:29-31. As we are approaching the Feast of Trumpets this lesson is particularly relevant to us today. Proverbs 30:29-31 reads as follows: “Three things are stately in their tread; four are stately in their stride [6]: the lion, which is mightiest among beasts and does not turn back before any, the strutting rooster, the he-goat, and a king whose army is with him.”

Kings throughout history have always compared themselves with animals. The lion is the king of all animals, and both Judah (in Genesis 49:9) and Satan (in 1 Peter 5:8) are compared to lions in the Bible. Likewise, the rooster struts around powerfully, and both Jesus Christ and Satan are symbolized by he-goats on the Day of Atonement, in Leviticus 16. But the real lesson from the wisdom of Agur is in the majesty of a king belonging to his army. For we too have a King who will return with His army to establish His never-ending rule over this earth. Let us look at our last scripture for the day, in Jude :14-15. Jude :14-15 reads: “It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have said about Him.” Jesus Christ is coming back to rule, and He will return with a mighty army to execute judgment on the wicked. I want to be in His army, with Agur and the rest of the resurrected saints. The last lesson I learned from the wisdom of Agur is that a king’s majesty is in his army, and that includes our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whose army all believers are volunteers and currently officers-in-training.

Conclusion

So, even though Agur was an exceedingly obscure person in the Bible about whom little is known, his wisdom is still important for us today. Let us recap the seven lessons we can learn from the wisdom of Agur. First, Agur knew that God was Father and Son, not some illogical Trinity. He knew more about God than Jews and most people who call themselves Christians. Second, Agur knew that if your mouth was getting you in trouble it was best to keep silent. Third, Agur understood three thousand years ago that it was best to be in the middle classes and neither wealthy nor destitute. Fourth, Agur knew it was important to pay attention to little things and servants, not only the high and mighty. Fifth, Agur knew that serious sins have always been found in society and that there never has been a golden age so long as mankind has been running the show. Sixth, Agur knew that some things were simply beyond his understanding, or beyond satisfaction. Seventh, Agur knew that the glory of a king was in his army. Let us learn these seven lessons today so that we may be found in the army of our coming King, Jesus Christ, when He returns to establish His rule on this earth. I hope to see you in that army.

[1] See also Matthew 6:11.

[2] We see a great example of this in 2 Kings 5, the story of Naaman the Syrian. See also: https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/divine-providence-in-the-story-of-naaman-the-syrian/

[3] [4] [5] [6] Here Agur uses a prophetic formula common in the book of Amos. See also: https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/for-three-transgressions-and-for-four-amos-on-abortion/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Sermonettes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Seven Things I Learned From The Wisdom Of Agur

  1. Rhonda says:

    Excellent study Nathan! I am always grateful for those who can change the names in the bible into real, living breathing people. I am continually amazed at how there is “nothing new under the sun” and the lessons that were valid 3000 years ago are valid today.

    Concerning Proverbs 30:7-9, I find it interesting that you interpret it as removing liars from you. I have always thought it meant to keep myself from lying. That while I cannot take myself out of the world, I need the strength and dedication not to act like them.

    See? Now you’re making me go back to study. 😉

    Thanks Nathan, I very much enjoyed this post.
    Rhonda

    • Thanks for your comments. The Tanakh has it as “Keep lies and false words far from me.” I have tended to view the previous section about a warning to keep away from lying, but verse eight as meaning to keep others from lying and saying false things about him. Of course, as is often the case in the Hebrew, there is no need for an either or distinction. Both are entirely possible.

  2. Nathan, thank you for such a good expose on the Wisdom of Agur. I found this very useful in my own reflection as we do live in perilous times, yet not much has changed when it comes to human nature and the nature of the world. For the wicked are still evil futile in their thoughts, and the just are still humble seeking God and knowing when to hold their piece. Something to remember as the Day of Trumpets is fast approaching, so is our King with his army.

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  5. My reading today brought me to Proverbs 30. The start of this chapter stopped me in my tracks. I’m reading the New Living Translation and my immediate thought was – Wow this is me speaking. As my familiarity with scripture grows, I make note of what is striking / peculiar to me for further thought. In any case, I found this blog entry and will continue my meditation on Proverbs 30 and look around your blog. Are you familiar with Victor Davis Hanson? He is a current war historian I follow.

    • I am familiar with Victor Davis Hanson. His book on Carnage and Culture was the basis of one of my graduate courses in military history. I’m glad you enjoy meditating on the wisdom of Agur. My own thoughts, as you might imagine, are not so far removed from Agur as well.

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  12. Thank you for this post!

  13. ron says:

    Great read! Are you a modalist?

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