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Paul Koptak: The introduction to the “sayings of Agur” asks a series of four rhetorical questions, followed by one person’s despair at finding wisdom and God. In a sense, the “oracle” is actually a prayer in two parts, first for knowledge of God and second for a life lived before him in wisdom. The importance of proper speaking runs throughout this section.

George Mylne: In this oracle, Agur expresses his humble sense of his own ignorance, and tells us what need we have of a divine teacher to explain the glories of God to us. He recommends the Word of God to us, and calls us to the exercise of that faith for which we have a foundation in the Word of God. He directs us by his own example how to pray. He warns us against several dangerous sins, and makes several instructive observations on the characters of men, and the nature and qualities of many of God’s creatures.


Richard Clifford: The speech of Agur begins in v. 1 and ends in v. 5. He confesses he is exhausted, a beast, subhuman, without heavenly wisdom, and unable to attain it because no human being can go to heaven and bring it down. The self-abasement of vv. 1–3 is Semitic hyperbole, like Ps. 73:21–22. . .  These are examples of “low anthropology,” self-abasement as an expression of reverence.

A.  (:1) Characterization of the Author

  1. Identification = Agur

The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, the oracle.

Tremper Longman: We simply have no real idea of who this individual is.  He is not mentioned in biblical or extrabiblical texts.  We also do not know the identity of his father, Yaqeh.  We are perhaps on a bit more solid ground with the phrase “Massaite,” because this seems related to the name of a tribe in Arabia related to the Ishmaelites mentioned in Gen. 25:14 and 1 Chron. 1:30.

  1. Mindset = Exhausted in Search of Wisdom

The man declares to Ithiel, to Ithiel and Ucal:

Tremper Longman: Suggested translations of this difficult phrase:

  1. Prophecy of this man for Ithiel, for Ithiel and for Ucal (traditional, NJB, NIV).
  2. I am not God; I am not God, that I should prevail (NAB, Murphy).
  3. I am weary, O God, I am weary, O God, and I am exhausted (NLT, NRSV, REB, Clifford, Longman).

Though it too has its criticisms, the third interpretation requires the least emendation and seems to fit into the context. . .  The resultant translation fits in well with the rather depressing continuance of the speech.

Caleb Nelson: The translation here is very murky. Literally, it appears to say “to Ithiel, to Ithiel and Ucal.” But why would Ithiel be named twice if the word is supposed to be a proper name? It could also be the phrase “I am weary,” as many modern translations render it. I believe that this is likely the correct translation: Agur testifies to the weariness induced by the search for truth.

Alternative View:

Charles Bridges: The two concluding chapters of this book are an appendix to the proverbs of Solomon.  Nothing definite is known about the writers, and it is vain to speculate where God is silent. . .

Agur was doubtless one of the wise men found in many ages of the Old Testament church.  His words were an oracle – that is, divine instruction.  This teaching was given to Ithiel and to Ucal, but especially to Ithiel.  These were probably two pupils of Agur.  We know nothing further about them.

B.  (:2-4) Self Deprecation

  1. (:2-3)  Devoid of Wisdom

Surely I am more stupid than any man,

And I do not have the understanding of a man.

3 Neither have I learned wisdom,

Nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One.

Charles Bridges: The nearer our contemplation of God, the closer our communion with him, the deeper will be our self-abasement before him.  Unless a man stoops, he can never enter the door.  He must become a fool, that he may be wise.  There is a fine ray of wisdom in that consciousness of ignorance that led Socrates to confess, “I only know one thing, that I know nothing.”  And when a person is humbled in his shame, then he can see the house of his God in its breadth and length (Ezekiel 44:5), enjoying clearer and panting still for clearer manifestations of the incomprehensible God.

Lindsay Wilson: He considers himself foolish, more like a brute beast than a person, and limited in his understanding (v. 2).  In particular, he has not learned wisdom, a key goal of the book (1:2), nor does he have knowledge of the “holy ones”.

Tremper Longman: I believe we are to understand the language of these two verses as hyperbolic.  The truly wise know just how ignorant they are.  Those who think they are wise do not think they have to put any further effort into the acquisition of insight.

Allen Ross: The “Holy One” in this section is in the plural (qedōšîm), as in 9:10.

Matthew Henry: Before he makes confession of his faith he makes confession of his folly and the weakness and deficiency of reason, which make it so necessary that we be guided and governed by faith. Before he speaks concerning the Saviour he speaks of himself as needing a Saviour, and as nothing without him.

  1. (:4)  Rhetorical Questions Highlighting the Unique Supremacy of God

Who has ascended into heaven and descended?

Who has gathered the wind in His fists?

Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?

Who has established all the ends of the earth?

What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know!

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 4 indicates that his lack of knowledge is particularly about God’s running of the world, in terms reminiscent of Job 38 (e.g. “surely you know”, Job 38:5).  These are a series of impossible questions, with the implied answer: “Only God.  He alone knows and has done all this.”

Caleb Nelson: We have this saying: “God only knows.” You have to say it just a certain way, with a puff of disgusted air, to indicate that no human being knows and you most certainly don’t know. And brothers and sisters, that is the obvious answer to the questions of v. 4. As at the end of the book of Job, the questions are designed to highlight the reality that human beings could not possibly do any of the things mentioned. No one has ascended into Heaven and come down. No one can hold the wind, wrap the water, spin the earth — at least, in Agur’s day, no human being had done so. God only knows who could do these things. No normal human being could! And of course, that is the point. You and I have not gone up to heaven and come down. We don’t know what God knows, for He alone is the one who is in heaven yet spins the earth.

Most of us have accepted our human limitations. We think we can get along just fine without the ability to gather the wind in the hollows of our hands. But read in light of Agur’s previous claims to be subhuman in his stupidity and ignorance, v. 4 takes on a sinister cast. If you don’t know the Holy One, and failing to know Him makes you subhuman, and yet one can’t know him because He’s so exalted, what’s the point? This admission of failing to know God would seem to also be an accusation leveled against the rest of us, who thought we were content with mere human knowledge of earthly things. Agur seems to suggest that in actual fact, to fail to know God is tantamount to failure to know anything worthwhile. If you don’t know who has gone to Heaven and come back down, if you don’t know who controls the winds and waters and spins the earth, then you don’t know what a human being needs to know.

George Mylne: The God, whose name is beyond our comprehension, and whose Son’s name is Wonderful, does all these things. Heaven is his throne, and the clouds are his chariots, and the earth has often felt his solemn presence. “God alone understands the way to wisdom; he knows where it can be found, for he looks throughout the whole earth and sees everything under the heavens. He decided how hard the winds should blow and how much rain should fall. He made the laws for the rain and laid out a path for the lightning. With him is wisdom and strength; he has counsel and understanding!” And from him, the Father of lights, every ray of useful knowledge comes.

C.  (:5-6) Exaltation of the Word of God

  1. (:5) Value of God’s Word

Every word of God is tested;

He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.

Richard Clifford: The reference to “word” in Prov. 30:5 brings the movement full circle from Agur’s opening statement of exhaustion and ignorance to the word of God. Agur dramatically states that only God can give him heavenly knowledge, and that knowledge is contained in reliable words from God.

Paul Koptak: The questions imply that God acts to create and maintain a world, but God also speaks (30:5). “Every word of God is flawless.” “Flawless” or fire-tested (ṣerupah; cf. 27:1) here does not mean hardened like steel but rather that the quality of the metal has been “proved,” so that all dross is removed. That pure word shows that God is a “shield” to those who take refuge (30:5), the phrase a near verbatim citation of David’s song of praise (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 18:30).

The next verse in David’s song answers the question, “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God?” (2 Sam. 22:32; Ps. 18:31). The theme of that song is deliverance from his enemies. So also in Proverbs 2:1–7, Yahweh, who gives wisdom, knowledge, and understanding from his mouth, is also a shield; thus, perhaps here is an encouragement to keep these promises in mind as an answer to Agur’s despair.

Caleb Nelson: What does it mean to take refuge in God? It is a spiritual metaphor taken from the physical practice of hiding inside some kind of fortified building. David hid from Saul in a cave.  Cities in the ancient world hid themselves behind walls that would keep would-be attackers out.  The Christian, similarly, takes refuge in God. We do this not by going to a physical location and locking ourselves in, but by committing ourselves into the hand of God and His providence. We exercise faith in Him, trusting that He will care for us, provide for our needs, and protect us from our enemies so far as it serves His glory and our own good.

  1. (:6) Sufficiency of God’s Word

Do not add to His words

Lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar.

Lindsay Wilson: His words are not to be swamped and distorted by adding other wors that lead away from truth and towards lies.  Adding half-truths to what God has said undermines the solid foundation that God’s words provide for those who take refuge in him.

Charles Bridges: The Word of God is not only pure and unable to deceive.  It is also sufficient, and therefore, like tried gold, it needs no addition for its perfection.  Hence to add to his words, stamped as they are with his divine authority, will expose us to his tremendous rebuke and cover us with shame.  The Jewish church virtually added their oral law and written traditions (Mark 7:7-13).  The attempt in our own day to bring tradition to a near, if not to an equal, level with the sacred testimony is a fearful approach to this sinful presumption.  A new rule of faith is thus introduced, adding to the divine rule and creating coordinate authority.  Never indeed was it so important to clear from all question the momentous controversy of what is and what is not the Word of God.


A.  (:7) Preface to Agur’s Prayer

Two things I asked of Thee,

Do not refuse me before I die:

Richard Clifford: The prayer prays against two great dangers to fidelity: unjust conduct in the law court (šāw’, “falsehood,” can refer to false oaths sworn before Yahweh) and extremes of wealth or poverty that could lead to infidelity. It asks for only the necessities of life. The prayer expresses a dread of offending God and a desire to remove all incentives to evil behavior.

B.  (:8-9) Two Prayer Requests

  1. (:8a) Protection from Unjustice

Keep deception and lies far from me,

Charles Bridges: Is not this the atmosphere of the world?  Falsehood is its character, lies its delusion, promising happiness, only to disappoint its weary and restless victims.  Everything deadens the heart and eclipses the glory of the Savior.  A soul that knows its dangers and its besetting temptations will live in the spirit of this prayer of the godly Agur.

George Mylne: All kinds of sin may be justly called vanities and lies, because all sin is empty and unprofitable, and imposes the most mischievous falsehoods upon men, promising them pleasure and gain and giving them nothing but disappointment and damnation. An impression of the unprofitableness and danger of sin would make us very earnest in our prayers for the removal of it from us. “O Lord, the Gentiles shall come unto you from the ends of the earth, and shall say: Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit.”

The removal of sin includes in it both pardon and sanctification, and therefore the petition may include both the fifth and sixth petition of the Lord’s prayer.

  1. (:8b-9) Provision of Just the Necessities of Life

Give me neither poverty nor riches;:

Feed me with the food that is my portion,

9 Lest I be full and deny Thee and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’

Or lest I be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.

Lindsay Wilson: Being satisfied to have only our bread for the day will lead to contentment, making us responsible and generous with any excess, and patient and trusting when we experience a shortfall.  Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:6, 8-10; some also see echoes in Matt. 6:9-13).


Do not slander a slave to his master,

Lest he curse you and you be found guilty.

Lindsay Wilson: Behind this proverb is the idea found elsewhere that even the poor are valuable because God has made them (14:31; 17:5; 22:2), and the way we treat the poor matters to God (e.g. 19:17; 22:22-23).  Servants would have no means of defending themselves from a false accusation, and would be easily dismissed by a master (see Gen. 39:6b-23).  A servant who was forced into poverty in such a way would easily meet a tragic end (hence the slanderer is held guilty) and could curse the wrongdoer.  The fundamental mistake was to treat others – even if “only a servant” – as if they do not count.  That is a failure of character.

Caleb Nelson: It’s important to note that the verse is particularly talking about untrue accusations, though I think it applies with almost equal force to true ones. Don’t exploit the power differential to get what you want! If you do, you’re not humble. You’re arrogant. Failure to honor your social inferiors by using your influence with their master or boss to get them disgraced is the kind of behavior that invites a curse on your head. And this is a curse that God will honor. He will hear their curse, which is a kind of prayer, and He will exact the consequences from you for your despicable behavior.

Do you honor your social inferiors? Are you afraid to use your power to harm those beneath you on the social scale? Or do you casually deploy that power whenever it suits you? Brothers and sisters, how you treat the flunky who’s talking to you from a call center in India matters. How you interact with the cashier and the janitor matters. How you speak to and about your children and your employees matters. Arrogant fools will suffer their inferiors’ curse if they don’t pay attention to this, the first commandment of humility.

Charles Bridges: Cruel, therefore, would it be without good reason to heap degradation on a lowly fellow creature, for whom the Mosaic law prescribed kindness and protection (Deuteronomy 23:15).


Richard Clifford: A literary unit is formed by anaphora, the repetition of words at the beginning of successive phrases or sentences. Each line begins with the Hebrew word dôr, “circle, generation, breed (so JPSV), sort, type.” It is linked to the preceding verses by “curse” in v. 10. . .

The portrait of vv. 11–14 moves outward from the home (parents) to the public arena (attack on the poor). It is a story of cruel persons, the sort who disdain their parents’ advice, overprize their own state (v. 12), display arrogance (v. 13), and treat the lowly with viciousness.

Lindsay Wilson: The strong negative or mocking tone of each verse, and the cumulative effect of all four juxtaposed, make this a strong description of the wicked.  We are meant to evaluate them in the light of the previous critiques of the ungodly and fools.

Charles Bridges: Adored indeed be the grace of God if we are not among these groups of people!  However, let us remember that we used to be like them, but we have been washed from our filthiness.  So it is most profitable to reflect from what we have been raised, and to whom we owe all that we have and are for God’s service.

A.  (:11) Disrespect for Parents

There is a kind of man who curses his father,

And does not bless his mother.

Richard Clifford: Honoring parents is commanded in the Decalogue (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5.16), and cursing them carries the death penalty (Ex. 21:17; Deut. 27:16) and draws a curse upon the curser (Prov. 20:20).

B.  (:12) Self-Delusion / Self-Righteousness

There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes,

Yet is not washed from his filthiness.

Allen Ross: There is a group of people who may observe all outer ritual but pay no attention to inner cleansing (see Isa 1:16; Mt 23:27). Such hypocrisy is harmful in every walk of life.

C.  (:13) Arrogance

There is a kind– oh how lofty are his eyes!

And his eyelids are raised in arrogance.

Allen Ross: The eyes of the proud are “high” (rāmû; “haughty,” NIV) and their eyelids “disdainful.” These expressions refer to their arrogant attitude—the lofty view of themselves and the corresponding contempt for others (see also 6:17; Ps 131:1).

D.  (:14) Vicious Oppression of the Poor

There is a kind of man whose teeth are like swords,

And his jaw teeth like knives,

To devour the afflicted from the earth,

And the needy from among men.

Paul Koptak: Verse 14 is twice as long as the others, four lines illustrating arrogance that oppresses. These mouths not only speak evil, they eat unjustly. They devour the poor, a motif used often by the prophets but also by the psalmist, speaking of fools who devour the people like bread (Ps. 14:1–4).

Allen Ross: The imagery of the first half of the verse captures the rapacity of the power of this group of people—their teeth and their jaws are swords and knives. The second part explains that they devour, like a ravenous and insensitive beast, the poor and the needy (see 31:8–9). Those who exploit and destroy other people are beasts.