In this one chapter are proverbs by an unknown sage, named Agur. The first verse tells us all we know about his parentage.
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy: the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal [Prov. 30:1].
None of these named are people whom we know. Agur is an unknown seer and unknown writer. The proper names here are like all Hebrew names in that they do mean something. “Agur” means gatherer and “Jakeh” means pious. Some versions translate the names as common nouns: “The words of a gatherer, the son of the pious.”
Who 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? [Prov. 30:4].
It is interesting to note that these are some of the questions God asked Job. Who is able to answer such questions? The Lord Jesus said, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13). This is why I constantly say that the Lord Jesus is the only authority on this matter of creation and the origin of the universe. Very candidly, I don’t think any of us has the correct explanation of the origin of the universe. Scientists do not—the very fact that they come up with the evolutionary theory means that they do not have the answer to origin. The reason that we spent so much money to go to the moon was to get rocks so that we might find out about the origin of the universe!
The first verse of Genesis tells us that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. That is how it all began. But then the next verse: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2) is considered by some to describe the act of creation. My friend, I don’t think that God has told us how He did the creating. I believe this second verse suggests the gap theory—that God created the heaven and the earth and then there followed a space of time. Something happened to that original creation. The earth became without form and void. I recognize that this theory has been largely abandoned, but I still hold it in spite of what these sharp young men are writing today. My contention is that God has not told how He created. We just don’t know—neither scientist nor theologian knows. I like the question God asked Job: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? …” (Job 38:4). That is a question which God can ask every individual. No one has the answer.
Also I like the question Agur asks. “Who hath gathered the wind in his fists?” Just think—God holds the winds just like we might hold some article in our hand. What a picture that is! Man knows very little about these things. In that same passage where the Lord Jesus said He was the One who came down from heaven, He also said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth …” (John 3:8). This is a tremendous thought.
Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him [Prov. 30:5].
Nothing will clean you up like the Word of God. Every Word of God is pure. It is better than any soap; it is a miracle cleanser.
Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar [Prov. 30:6].
This should make us cautious in our handling of the Word of God. God doesn’t mind calling a man a liar if he is one.
Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die:
Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me:
Lest 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 [Prov. 30:7–9].
“Remove far from me vanity and lies” means I don’t want to live among those who are vain and are flattering and are lying. It is like living in a rattlesnake den to live with folk like that. And then he says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” Let me take the middle of the road. I don’t want to be an extremist either way.
There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness [Prov. 30:12].
There are some church members who are like that. They are pure in their own eyes. They feel that they don’t need a Savior. They are just religious.
Also there are people who are high up in business and politics who feel that they are pure—they are not guilty of wrongdoing. Even the down-and-outer may be pure in his own eyes. But none of them is washed. The only way that any of us can be clean is to be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.
There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough [Prov. 30:15].
Now he goes on to list four things that are never satisfied:
The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough [Prov. 30:16].
First is “the grave.” You and I live in a funeral procession. All of us do. It began outside the Garden of Eden with the death of Abel, and it has been coming down through the centuries. This old world on which we live is a great big cemetery. The grave is never satisfied.
“The barren womb” There are so many women who cannot have children for one reason or another. (I think they would make such wonderful mothers of adopted children.) They are never satisfied. Such a woman wants that precious little one to put his chubby arms around her neck and call her mother. And the same holds true for fathers.
“The earth that is not filled with water.” We don’t ever get enough rain out here in California. We need more rain.
“The fire that saith not, It is enough.” We have too much fire and not enough rain. I sometimes wonder when we are going to burn off all the mountains of California. I thought we would have run out of burnable mountains long ago, but they still burn every summer.
The 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 [Prov. 30:17].
Terrible judgments are pronounced against those who turn against father and mother. God have mercy on the young people today who have turned against their parents who are believers in Christ.
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
The 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 [Prov. 30:18–19].
Agur, the writer, didn’t understand these things, and I don’t either. Have you thought of this when you watch an eagle fly? Have you been intrigued by a serpent on a rock? Then there is the way of a ship at sea. I went across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary many years ago, and it was a wonder to me how that great ship of iron could float. And then the way of a man with a maid. Today we hear so much about sex; yet in spite of that, have you noticed how awkward the young boy is when he meets a girl? They are both a little embarrassed when they meet.
I well remember my first date when I was about fourteen, before I was saved. I didn’t want to miss anything so I started to date early. I was walking with this girl, taking her to a movie. In those days men wore garters to hold up their socks. Well, mine came loose, and it was dragging. Oh my! You talk about embarrassment! I never was so embarrassed in all my life. I didn’t have sense enough to just stop and step aside to fix it. I just went down the street dragging that garter. After a while a crowd followed us, and that made it even worse. The girl got red in the face, and I got red in the face. I don’t think we said anything to each other for a couple of hours after that happened. The way of a man with a maid. Agur says that he doesn’t understand these things, and I don’t understand them either.
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness [Prov. 30:20].
We are living in a day when this has come to pass. There are those who are living in sin, and they will argue that they are not living in sin. I understand one little girl born out of wedlock was given a name that means purity. Well, in the first place the child was not pure because all children are born with a sinful nature. In the second place, the name of the child would not change the fact that her mother was an adulteress. God says that adultery is sin, and God has not changed His mind. He hasn’t learned anything new from this generation. God knew the sins that our generation would commit, and He has already written about them in the Book of Proverbs.
For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:
For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat [Prov. 30:21–22].
“For a servant when he reigneth”—that was Jeroboam who was a servant and became the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Then “a fool when he is filled with meat” is typified by the rich fool our Lord told about who built bigger barns. With financial success like that, he was eating gourmet food, of course. He was a fool and he was “filled with meat.”
The third thing is—
For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress [Prov. 30:23].
“For an odious woman when she is married” doesn’t require a comment—I think we all get the picture.
“And an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.” Sometimes a very poor person, who has been walked on, suddenly becomes rich. There is no one who is more overbearing than such a person.
Now we are going to visit a zoo to look at some of the animals there. Did you know that animals have a message for us? God created them for His many purposes. One of those purposes is to give a message to us.
There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise [Prov. 30:24].
God says we can learn from the animal world. The first group is made up of small creatures, little bitty animals. In fact, the first is an insect, the ant.
The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer [Prov. 30:25].
Now we are going to find two groups of animals listed here. The first group is an illustration of the way to God for the sinner. The second group is an illustration of the walk of the saints before God.
Those little creatures, the ants, are wise, and we can learn from them. We have already seen in Proverbs 6:6–8: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise; Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” Ants do gather grain. I have seen them do it in Texas and in Palestine. A little ant will carry a grain of wheat or oats that is bigger than the ant. They store up food during those brief and bright days of harvest. The ant is an example to us of wisdom in preparing for the future with material things.
Some people think that Christians should not have insurance but that they ought to trust the Lord for their future. Friend, I think we should have everything that is available to us. If the Lord has given us means of caring for our future, we should have insurance and a savings account and a home, if it is possible. We should make a will to provide for the future of our loved ones. That is what the ant teaches us. He takes out insurance for his future by storing his food in the time of harvest.
There is a deeper message here. There are so many people who make no arrangement beyond death. They may go to the undertaker and arrange for their funeral. I saw the advertisement of an undertaker which read: “Lay away plan: pay now and go later.” That is not the kind of arrangement beyond death that I mean. I am speaking of eternity. We are here for a few fleeting moments of time, and then there will be the endless ages of eternity. Isn’t it foolish to care for the physical body and neglect the soul? Isn’t it foolish to make no preparation for eternity?
The wicked emperor of Rome, Hadrian, said something like this when he was dying: “No more crown for this head, no more beauty for these eyes, no more music for these ears, and no more food for this stomach of mine. But my soul, oh, my soul, what is to become of you?” It is a certainty that we shall die. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). It is possible to live for this life only, to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. A person can spend his time building bigger barns, but God tells us to be prepared to meet our God.
The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks [Prov. 30:26].
Now the conies are the next animal we visit. The “conies” are not to be confused with the conies of England, which are actually rabbits. These “conies” are the hyrax syriacus. They have long hair, a short tail, and round ears. They are “feeble” and defenseless. They are not able to burrow in the ground, which makes them vulnerable little creatures; so they hide in the rocks to find a place of safety. They are included in the Leviticus list of unclean animals.
The coney has a message for man. Like the coney, man is poor, helpless, and unclean. We are sinners, and we need to recognize our pitiful plight. This is why David prays, “… Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2). We sing this in the hymn “The Rock That is Higher Than I” by E. Johnson:
Oh, then to the Rock let me fly,
To the Rock that is higher than I.
That Rock is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands [Prov. 30:27].
The locust is a creature of destruction. Joel had a great deal to say about the locust plagues. We find locusts again in the Book of Revelation. They devour all the leaves and the vegetation. On one of my visits to Palestine, they were not having a real plague of them, but there were quite a few locusts, especially around the Sea of Galilee. They were doing a good job of destroying everything in their way. They are creatures of destruction.
“The locusts have no king.” They have no visible head or leader, yet they go forth like soldiers in their respective regiments. They move so methodically that they seem to be acting under definite instructions and strict discipline.
To us as believers they furnish an example of subjection to one another and subjection to our unseen Head in heaven. To the world the body of believers must look like disorganized, fragmented, unrelated groups of people, with no leader and no bond of union. But, my friend, we do have a Leader. Christ is the unseen Head of the church. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers: “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3:3). Not only is Christ the Head of all who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but the Holy Spirit is indwelling every believer, welding us together in one great family, “… every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). This is what the locust is teaching us.
The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces [Prov. 30:28].
The Hebrew word for “spider” is shemameth and refers to a little house lizard. Delitzsch says, “The lizard thou canst catch with the hand and yet it is in kings’ palaces.” Somehow or other it can work its way into houses, and it has an affinity for find tapestry and palatial mansions. It has fanlike feet which exude a sticky substance so that the lizard can actually hold onto a marble wall or a tessellated ceiling.
This teaches us about faith, the kind of faith that takes hold of the promises of God. It is the faith that enters into the very heavenly places. It lays hold of the fact that the Spirit of God Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the sons of God. It is the faith that says, “… I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Now we come to the second group.
There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:
A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any [Prov. 30:29–30].
The lion goes straight ahead and doesn’t detour. He is not afraid of the pussycats in the neighborhood—they don’t frighten him. A lion is known for its unflinching boldness, and this should characterize the Christian as we earnestly contend for the faith. I think of the apostle Paul who in the face of suffering and persecution said, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
I think that the curse of the church today lies in pussyfooting preachers and mealymouthed deacons.
It is said of Cromwell that he was a man without fear. When asked why, he said, “I have learned that when you fear God you have no man to fear.”
General “Stonewall” Jackson, a Christian man, got his appellation because one day in battle the men of General Cox were ready to retreat. General Cox looked over at him and then said to his men, “Look at General Jackson; he’s standing like a stone wall.” He was a man of course, like a lion. That is the way the walk of the believer should be.
The next animal is a greyhound.
A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up [Prov. 30:31].
The greyhound we are speaking of here is not the Greyhound Bus! The Christian is to be like a greyhound in that he is to gird up his loins and run with patience the race that is set before him. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith …” (Heb. 12:1–2).
The other animal mentioned in this verse is the goat. The mountain goat is a climber who lives way up in the top of the mountains. He finds both pleasure and safety in his high retreat.
The lesson is plain to see. The believer who walks on the high places, as did Habakkuk, will be able to rejoice in the day of trouble. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places …” (Hab. 3:17–19).
The final chapter of Proverbs is designated as the words of King Lemuel. A popular title would be, “Advice on how to choose a wife”
The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him [Prov. 31:1].
I believe this chapter was written by Solomon. There is no king named Lemuel. The name that God gave to Solomon is Jedidiah, which means “beloved of the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:25); the name Lemuel means “devoted to the Lord.” My guess is that this was the pet name that Bathsheba had for Solomon.
I have a notion that every man reading this can remember a pet name that his mother had for him. You would almost be ashamed to say what it was, wouldn’t you? Probably Solomon’s mother had a pet name for him, and I think it was Lemuel. Around the palace you probably could have heard her calling, “Lemuel.”
This was a mother’s advice to her son. It makes a great Mother’s Day sermon, by the way.
What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? [Prov. 31:2].
Bathsheba is asking, “What can I say to you?” She needed to say something, because she saw in this boy Solomon some of the characteristics of his father David. She well remembered the sin of David. I don’t think it was her sin; I think it was David’s sin. In the first chapter of Matthew it says, “… and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias” (Matt. 1:6). Bathsheba’s name is not even mentioned. I believe God is making it clear that it was David’s sin. She sees the temptation that Solomon faces; so she gives him words of advice. “What, my son? What can I say to you, son of my womb? You’re my precious boy, the son of my vows”—she had dedicated him to God.
Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings [Prov. 31:3].
She knew David.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:
Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted [Prov. 31:4–5].
We are told that every day in Washington there are many cocktail parties for our government officials. Republicans and Democrats both have this in common—the party membership doesn’t make any difference. It is tragic to have drinking men in high positions of government!
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more [Prov. 31:6–7].
She tells Solomon to use wine for medicine.
Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy [Prov. 31:8–9].
Oh, Solomon, be honest and just and fair!
Now she goes on to tell him how to choose a wife. This is good advice. It is God’s advice.
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies [Prov. 31:10].
“Virtuous” here means a woman of character, a woman of strength, a woman of real ability. She is not to be a shrinking violet. She is not to be like Whistler’s mother, always sitting in a rocking chair. (A whimsical story is told that Whistler painted another picture of his mother, because he came in one day and found her sitting on the floor and said to her, “Mother, you’re off your rocker”) I don’t think you will find many mothers sitting in rocking chairs. They are busy. This is the picture of a busy mother:
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil [Prov. 31:11].
She will be faithful. “He shall have no need of spoil.” She will not be a spendthrift with her husband’s money. She will be a helpmate or a helpmeet for him. God never intended woman to be a servant of man. She is to be his partner, and a real partner. When God made Eve to be a helpmeet, He made the other half of Adam. Adam was only half a man until God made Eve and gave her to him.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life [Prov. 31:12].
She is a real helpmeet.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands [Prov. 31:13].
She doesn’t mind working.
She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar [Prov. 31:14].
She looks for bargains to spend the money wisely.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens [Prov. 31:15].
She knows how to keep a house. She runs a night shift and is a wonderful mother.
I do not recall any time when I was growing up as a boy that I got up in the morning and found my mother in bed. I just thought about that the other day. Later on when she became old, it was different, of course. But when I was a boy, by the time I got out of bed, she was up, and breakfast was usually ready and on the table.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms [Prov. 31:16–17].
She is a woman of ability. She runs her household well.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night [Prov. 31:18].
She proves the adage, “Man’s work is from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.”
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy [Prov. 31:19–20].
She is a generous person.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet [Prov. 31:21].
I was remembering that my mother kept my pants patched when I was a boy.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness [Prov. 31:26].
She is both wise and kind in her advice and admonitions.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised [Prov. 31:30].
Young man, first you should look for a wife who is a Christian. Then I hope that you get a good-looking one in the bargain—it’s nice to have both together. “A woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.” This is of prime importance.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates [Prov. 31:31].
I guess this is the reason we have Mother’s Day, a day to honor our mothers. However, there are many mothers who are not worthy of the tribute given to mothers on Mother’s Day.
This Book of Proverbs has been a book for young men. Also it is a wonderful book for young ladies. In fact, we all can learn from the wisdom in this remarkable book.
(Recommended for Further Study)
Arnot, William. Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth. London, England: T. Nelson and Sons, 1864.
Bridges, Charles. An Exposition of Proverbs. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1959.
Darby, J. N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. Oak Park, Illinois: Bible Truth Publishers, n.d.
Gaebelein, Arno C. The Annotated Bible. Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1917.
Gray, James M. Synthetic Bible Studies. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1906.
Ironside, H. A. Notes on the Book of Proverbs. Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1907. (Very good.)
Jensen, Irving L. Proverbs. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1982.
Kelly, William. The Proverbs. Oak Park, Illinois:Bible Truth Publishers, n.d.
Kidner, D. The Proverbs. Chicago, Illinois: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1964.
Mackintosh, C. H. Miscellaneous Writings. Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, n.d.
Moorehead, W. G. Outline Studies in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1894.
Sauer, Erich. The Dawn of World Redemption. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1951. (An excellent Old Testament survey.)
Scroggie, W. Graham. The Unfolding Drama of Redemption. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970. (An excellent survey and outline of the Old Testament.)
Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Handbook. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966.
Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 1. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1981. (A fine summary of each chapter.)
McGee, J. Vernon: Thru the Bible Commentary. electronic ed. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1981, S. 3:102-104