INTRODUCTION – V.1
Here is another new section in Proverbs – The Words of Agur. Which goes for at least the first 9 verses, if not the whole chapter. There does seem to be a consistent theme that runs through the whole chapter: anti-arrogance.
Agur was born to, or studied under an “oracle” named Jakeh.
And Agur speaks to Ithiel and to Ucal (NASB). (Which might also be translated in a few other ways, including being weary and worn out; see ESV.)
In the Bible, oracles are divinely uttered phrases. Balaam (Numbers 24) and David (2 Samuel 23) both speak oracles. The situation with David and Agur are similar in that they are something of a final word, before death.
“… these verses are a coherent, orthodox confession of faith by a humble man aware that he is approaching death” (Lucas, 186).
The first words are Agur’s introduction of himself (vv. 2-4). He introduces himself, counterintuitively, as the stupidest person and furthest from the wise man or seer who has been to the heavens and back. Agur speaks of himself as the lowest of the low. This is the theme of the Proverb: stature, exaltation, size, etc.
“The word for ‘stupid’ in v. 21 … is a strong one, meaning a person ‘who does not have the rationality that differentiates men from animals’” (Lucas, 187; quoting NIDOTTE).
These first four verses are “a vivid expression of the sense of limitations of human knowledge that is to be found elsewhere in Proverbs” (Lucas, 188; following Franklyn).
In this section, our attention should be draw to Christ, who explicitly uses this language of Himself in the Gospel of John. Jesus is the wise one, who knows more than any other even by virtue of His heavenly origin:
“He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true.” (John 3:31-33)
This is also the language used of the Law in Deuteronomy 31, as Lucas points out:
“It is notable that in Deut, 31:11-12 Moses makes the point that God’s Law is readily available; no one needs to ascend to it (v. 6a echoes Deut. 4:2a; 12:32…, pretending that they have true wisdom independently of God” (Lucas, 188).
This makes for a good transition to the next verses:
Vv. 5-6 are about the sure nature of God’s words. Agur is “stupid,” but God’s words are a shield and must not be added to.
(Comparable the language Agur uses to that of Job 38-39 and Isaiah 40:12-14.)
“… in these verses, ‘Agur dramatically states that only God can give him heavenly knowledge, and that knowledge is contained in reliable words from God’” (Lucas, 188; quoting Clifford).
(V 5 is similar to 2 Sam 22:31 and Psalm 18:30.)
THE SOURCE OF OUR KNOWLEDGE TODAY
These days we have a complicated relationship with knowledge that comes from “above”. We first some experts and are suspicious of others. Quite differently from Agur, we often feel that true knowledge is only discernible as we humans come to discover it. Many don’t believe that there is a God who makes knowledge of Himself readily available. Perhaps this is one of the biggest hurdles that Christians face these days.
How did Agur justify his faith and why do we often have trouble giving a reason for ours?
Vv.7-9 seem to be about getting “daily bread” and no more; or about being satisfied and content with what one has. If he has too much, he is afraid he would deny God; and, if too little, he would slander God by doing wrong things. He wants neither poverty nor riches, but only his portion day by day.
He wants to live by faith, and as if he were walking along the Israelites in the desert. He desires bread from heaven day by day. (Our attention is again drawn to the Gospel of John.)
“Verse 7-9 are the only prayer in the Book of Proverbs. It is a fitting conclusion to Agur’s words, expressing his dependence upon God, even for his daily bread. The ideas of balance and moderation that it expresses is a theme which recurs in Proverbs (see on 25:16)” (Lucas, 188).
“Moore sees in the Words of Agur, with their allusions to the last words of Moses in Deuteronomy and of David in 2 Samuel, a linking of the wisdom tradition to Israel’s two major covenant traditions – the Sinai and Davidic covenants – and to the traditions of the Torah and the prophets” (Lucas, 188-189).
Here, perhaps, are some more clues for a link between how Creation, the Law, and the Messiah/Wisdom Incarnate might be discussed within Proverbs itself.