Biblical References: Proverbs 30
Leading Question: ”On what basis can one claim an exalted status for oneself?”
As noted earlier (lesson #9), those who want to see the whole book of Proverbs as coming from Solomon, want to argue that Agur is simply another name for Solomon. Most scholars, even very conservative ones are now able to see it as the name of a wise man who is otherwise not known in Scripture. He could be from anywhere.
What is particularly striking about Proverbs 30 is that it features not only the most deeply religious part of Proverbs, namely, two prayers, the only prayers in the book, but also the part of Proverbs that is arguably the most secular. After the second prayer ends in 30:9, a cluster of more playful proverbs follow, bracketed by proverbs with explicit moral implications (30:10-14, 30:32-33). But after the prayer ends, no more references to God appear in the chapter.
The title of this lesson, “The Humility of the Wise,” reflects a theme explored in lesson nine. In this chapter it comes out with particular force in the two prayers. Note the first one, given here in the NIV translation.
30:1 “I am weary, God, but I can prevail. 2 Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. 3 I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. 4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!
This prayer echoes lines from Job 38. That’s where Job scored zero out of eighty-four in the “examination” God gave him. Here, Agur’s humility almost seems to slip into depression. But in any case, he clearly is in awe before the mysteries of God.
The second prayer is more practical, revealing the struggles of an honest man in his desires to be faithful to God. Here is the NIV translation:
30:7 “Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: 8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. 9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
Bracketing the playful proverbs. The following proverbs, while not mentioning the divine, clearly emphasize solid, moral values. And the first section contrasts the proud with the humble. And the closing lines of the chapter also emphasize the importance of humility: Here they are in the NIV translation:
30:11 “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; 12 those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; 13 those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful; 14 those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among mankind.
30:32 If you play the fool and exalt yourself, or if you plan evil, clap your hand over your mouth!
The playful proverbs? Perhaps in a subtle way, the clever observations about nature in 30:15-21 could also be seen as pointing to humility. These are playful mysteries that don’t emphasize explicitly either human greatness or the importance of humility. They simply describe the mysteries of the world. That could also be seen as an appropriate role for one who models in his life the humility of the wise. And given what the historical books tell us about Solomon, they present a tantalizing challenge in the collection of proverbs that are associated with his name.