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Paul Koptak: There are five numerical sayings in this section, all list “four” items. Four use a “three plus one” pattern. The numerical sayings are early examples of reflections on nature and society, distinct from the numerical lists in chapter 6 and elsewhere. The sayings draw together observations on life and nature to illustrate various aspects of wisdom. The point of the comparison is not always easy to discern, and so each numerical saying works like a riddle. There is an alternating pattern between numerical sayings and seemingly unrelated single sayings (30:15, 17, 20).


A.  (:15a) Prologue — Demanding Parasite

The leech has two daughters, ‘Give,’ ‘Give.’

Richard Clifford: The leech is a bloodsucking worm (of the hirudinea class) that typically has a sucker at each end. The theme of nonsatiety links this verse to the next verse just as v. 20 is linked to vv. 18–19 by the theme of “way.”

Paul Koptak: Coming on the heels of the “generation” sayings in 30:11–14, the leech’s twin daughters, “Give! Give!” (perhaps inspired by the two mouths, one at each end of the leech), are repulsive and sobering metaphors for a greedy generation.

Tremper Longman: The first numerical proverb in the series starts with a rather interesting monocolon before the proverb itself actually begins.  It describes the two daughters of the leech.

  • Why a leech?  In the first place, the leech is something that sucks the blood of its host and does so until it appears overfull.  The leech does not seem to become satisfied.  Even today, we use the term “leech” to refer to people who attach themselves to others in order to drain them of their resources.
  • Why daughters?  Perhaps daughters, even more than sons, were known to be consumers, so the daughter of a leech would be particularly demanding.
  • Why two daughters?  The answer here might be found in the introduction to the numerical proverb, which will begin with three and go to four.  Thus we see the “two” leech daughters, resulting in a two, three, four sequence.

Allen Ross: one point that could be made is that greed, symbolized by the leech, is as insatiable as these other things.

George Mylne: Agur had been speaking of the dreadful effects of the lust of covetousness, which still cries, “Give, give!” Some think that he intends, in the two following verses, to represent the insatiable nature of this lust, by comparing it with the most craving and unsatisfied things which men are acquainted with.

B.  (:15b-16) 4 Insatiable Entities

  1. (:15b)  Introduction

There are three things that will not be satisfied,

Four that will not say, ‘Enough’:

  1. (:16)  List

a.  The Grave


Richard Clifford: In this saying, the underworld (Sheol) is not so much the place where the dead live a shadowy existence but a force that eventually draws all the living into it, which is the meaning it has in 27:20; Isa. 5:14; and Hab. 2:5. The underworld in this sense is always at work.

Tremper Longman: Sheol is here personified as an entity that is never satisfied.  There is always room for one more dead person.  Death never stops, and its insatiability means that everyone inevitably will be found in the grave.

b.  The Barren Womb

and the barren womb,

Richard Clifford: Another example of insatiable power is the unfruitful womb. By metonymy, it stands for a woman unable to bear children. Such a woman will never be fully satisfied as long as she is in that state, like Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 and Rachel in Genesis 29–30.

c.  Land Demanding More Water

Earth that is never satisfied with water,

Tremper Longman: Palestine is a land where rainfall is minimal, and large areas are wilderness.  Rain on parched ground soaks up the available water and never seems to get enough.

d.  Fire Demanding More Fuel

And fire that never says, ‘Enough.’

George Mylne: The fire is more greedy than any of these things. Lay on fuel as long as you please, it will soon make an end of it, and seek for more. There is a fiercer flame in the corrupt hearts and tongues of men, kindled from Hell, and sufficient to set on fire the course of nature!


The eye that mocks a father, And scorns a mother,

The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it.

Richard Clifford: A nonnumerical saying in which contempt for one’s parents is depicted as so unnatural that nature itself carries out the punishment—death at the hands of wild beasts.

Lindsay Wilson: Since part of the role of parents is to instruct their children in wisdom (1:8), this includes rejection of the wisdom shaping (“obedience of a mother” = to obey a mother, ESV/NRSV) that they were seeking to impart.  This failure to honour parents has real consequences, described (hyperbolically) as having their eye gouged out (“pecked out”, NIV/NRSV; picked out, ESV) and eaten by predators such as ravens and vultures/eagles.  The graphic nature of the image highlights that this is a serious matter, even a deadly one.

Allen Ross: The point is that the eye manifests the inner heart attitude, so the contemptuous look runs deep. The punishment is talionic; the eye that mocks will be pecked out by the birds. By these images the sternest punishment is held out for one who holds one’s parents in such contempt.

Matthew Henry: Those that dishonour their parents shall be set up as monuments of God’s vengeance; they shall be hanged in chains, as it were, for the birds of prey to pick out their eyes, those eyes with which they looked so scornfully on their good parents. The dead bodies of malefactors were not to hang all night, but before night the ravens would have picked out their eyes. If men do not punish undutiful children, God will, and will load those with the greatest infamy that conduct themselves haughtily towards their parents.


A.  (:18) Introduction

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,

Four which I do not understand:

Richard Clifford: The first three examples follow the sequence of sky, earth (“rock” is parallel to earth in Job 18:4), and sea. The sequence of heaven, earth, and sea occurs elsewhere (e.g., Ex. 20:11; Amos 9:6; Hag. 2:6). “Way” in the first three instances retains its literal meaning: the effortless flight of the eagle (or vulture), the legless movement of the serpent, the progress of a ship. The medium of each course is different: air, earth, and water. The metaphorical meaning of derek, “way, course,” serves as a bridge to the fourth instance.

Paul Koptak: If all four creatures move in ways both wonderful and mysterious through God’s created order (30:18), we also see that wisdom is needed to make one’s way rightly, as the picture of the unrepentant adulteress in 30:20 makes clear.  Each of these wise travelers knows how to make its way in its part of the created order: Eagles don’t try to swim, snakes don’t try to fly, and ships that go on rocks are destroyed. Therefore men or women who despise the mystery of love and sex and move outside of its boundaries are like those who step out of their place in created order and cause the earth to tremble (30:21–23; cf. derek, “strength,” in 31:3).  Here with the adulteress, just as in 30:14–17, eating is associated with behavior that is out of bounds, this time depicting a sexual appetite that knows no restraint (cf. 7:14–18; 9:16). Finishing one’s improper eating by wiping the mouth characterizes someone who is both casual and proud in her ignorance.  The contrast between the wonder of 30:18–19 and the contempt of 30:20 is striking.

Lindsay Wilson: Part of the wisdom movement is to study and observe the world, to notice features of everyday life, and to explore how things work in an orderly way.  All four aspects mentioned in verse 19 are hard to fathom fully or describe.  The way the majestic eagle flies; what drives the actions of a snake; the many variables of sailing on the unpredictable seas; and then finally the nature of relationships between young men and women – all these are difficult to explain or outline.  The sages cannot fully comprehend how such scenarios are ordered, and yet there appears to be patterns and familiar cycles.  Life is both hard to understand, yet a wonder to explore.

B.  (:19) List

  1. Eagle Soaring in the Sky

The way of an eagle in the sky,

Allen Ross: first entry is the way of the eagle in the sky, a marvelous creature soaring with apparent ease but certain determination and purpose, all hidden from the observer.

  1. Serpent Slithering across a Rock

The way of a serpent on a rock,

Allen Ross: Here is the mysterious but smooth and efficient movement of a reptile without feet.

Matthew Henry: The way of a serpent in the sand we may find by the track, but not of a serpent upon the hard rock; nor can we describe how a serpent will, without feet, in a little time creep to the top of a rock.

  1. Ship Navigating the High Seas

The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,

Allen Ross: The way of a ship in the sea portrays the magnificent movement of a vessel through a trackless sea. All these phenomena are marvelous to observe; they focus our attention on the majestic and mysterious movements in the sky, on the land, and on the sea.

Matthew Henry: a ship leaves no mark behind it, and sometimes it is so tossed upon the waves that one would wonder how it lives at sea and gains its point.

  1. Man Making Love to a Young Woman

And the way of a man with a maid.

Tremper Longman: Since the previous three have highlighted the motion of one body moving on another (gliding, slithering, cutting), the point of reference here might be sexual intercourse: how a man’s body moves on a woman’s body.  That a sexual meaning is intended may explain why the sages places the next proverb (v. 20) after this numerical proverb.


This is the way of an adulterous woman:

She eats and wipes her mouth,

And says, ‘I have done no wrong.’

Richard Clifford: The saying is connected to the previous verse by its topic of sexuality and by the word “way,” but it speaks of the abuse of sexuality in adultery. The vivid vignette is reminiscent of the seduction scene in chap. 7, except that here the accent falls on the woman’s nonchalance rather than her cunning. There is a double meaning. In the Talmud, “to eat” can mean “to sleep with” (b. Ketub. 65.13–23), and “mouth” can refer to the vulva (b. Sanh 100a; b. Menaḥ. 98a).

Tremper Longman: The woman claims to have done no wrong, but such relationships threaten the stability of marriage.

Allen Ross: It is incredible that human beings can engage in sin and then so easily dismiss any sense of guilt or responsibility, perhaps by rationalizing the deeds or perhaps through a calloused indifference to what the will of the Lord is for sexuality.



A.  (:21) Introduction

Under three things the earth quakes,

And under four, it cannot bear up:

Richard Clifford: All the events are not so much immoral as they are instances of people attaining what they do not deserve. Earth itself rebels against such unfittingness. Cf. 26:1.

Paul Koptak: Just as the “way of an adulteress” (30:20) is out of step with the created order of wisdom, so the four items listed threaten to overturn that order. In ancient Near Eastern thinking, the earth shakes when the natural order is disturbed.  The “trembling” (30:21) of the earth is like the raging of the fool that disturbs peace in every sense of the word (cf. 29:9). Two male examples (the servant who comes to rule and the sated fool) have occurred before (19:10; cf. Eccl. 10:5–7), but not the unloved woman or supplanting maidservant.

Lindsay Wilson: The assumption of an ordered, stratified society, with everyone in their assigned place, made governing predictable and orderly.  A cohesive community was more important than individual ambition.  In such a community the righteous are rewarded and prosper, while the fools’ sufferings include material want, and hence no food.

Allen Ross: Certain people who are suddenly elevated in their status in life can be unbearable. The sage says that under these things the earth trembles and cannot bear it (v.21)—obviously using humorous or satirical hyperbole to say that these changes shake up the order of life. This observation assumes that the elevated status was not accompanied by a change of nature.

B.  (:22-23) List

  1. (:22a)  A servant Who Becomes King

Under a slave when he becomes king,

Tremper Longman: To the sage, a servant is a servant and does not have what it takes to be a ruler.  If someone with the mentality and background of a servant takes over, then who knows what havoc would be the result.

Allen Ross: But the “earth trembles” when a servant is king; unaccustomed to such dignity, he might become a power-hungry tyrant and oppressive ruler (Greenstone, 324, suggests the example of Hitler).

George Mylne: The greatest tyrants in the world have generally been those who never expected to reign such as Maximin the Roman emperor, who put to death all who knew him in his low condition, and, among the rest, those who had relieved his father and himself that he might blot out the memory of his former baseness.

Servants have not more seeds of pride in their nature than other men but they are sown in human nature, and are wonderfully nourished when the sunbeams of prosperity shine upon them with extraordinary warmth. Leave men of low condition where you found them, and they will behave in their station as well as kings. Raise kings to an unexpected height of grandeur, and they will become Nebuchadnezzars and Alexanders. This observation is of use in the affairs of the church as well as the state. Therefore Paul forbids a novice to be made a ruler in the church, lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

  1. (:22b)  A Fool Who Gets Enough to Eat

And a fool when he is satisfied with food,

Allen Ross: The second, a fool who is full of food, describes a fool who becomes prosperous but continues to be boorish and irreligious. But now he is overbearing and, worse yet, finds time hanging heavy on his hands.

Charles Bridges: Then look at the fool (not an idiot, but a willful sinner) who is full of food.  Can we wonder that he causes trouble and is a curse, since he gives full rein to his appetite and becomes even more devoid of understanding than before?

  1. (:23a)  An Unloved Woman Who Gets a Husband

Under an unloved woman when she gets a husband,

Tremper Longman: Verse 23 presents two situations involving females that are not right, according to the sages.  They are situations that will cause chaos in the social realm.  In the first place, a woman who has been hated finally gets a husband, and now that she has a position of power, she can begin her work of revenge.

George Mylne: For the like reasons, is an odious woman who is married. Women of meek and quiet spirits are a lovely part of the human race but women of fretful spirits and unbridled passions are odious. And when they are married, it would require all the patience of Job, and the meekness of Moses to bear with them! Before marriage their pride was checked by neglect, and covered with the mantle of prudence but when they come into their new state of life, they throw off every restraint, and their new situation is a means of increasing their vanity and ill-nature, until neither their neighbors, nor their servants, nor their husbands, can endure them.

  1. (:23b)  A Maidservant Who Displaces Her Mistress

And a maidservant when she supplants her mistress.

Lindsay Wilson: The final example is like the first in that it involves a crossing of normal social boundaries, and is likely to create upheaval.  A servant girl replacing her mistress is suggestive of broken-down and illicit relationships, and these often cause division within a household or community.

Allen Ross: The tension from the threat of Hagar in Genesis 16:5 and 21:10 shows how unbearable this situation could be. Such upheavals in the proper order of things make life intolerable.


A.  (:24) Introduction

Four things are small on the earth,

But they are exceedingly wise:

Richard Clifford: The examples exalt wisdom over size and power. By their wisdom, these insignificant animals ensure their own survival, they govern themselves.

Paul Koptak: There is the folly of the small pretending to be great, but there is also the wisdom of the small who use their ingenuity to do great things. So the ants make up for their size with foresight that stores up food, the coneys make use of the strength of the rocks to find a safe haven, the locusts organize themselves into a devastating power, and the lizard finds a home wherever it wants.

B.  (:25-28) List

  1. (:25)  Industrious Ants Who Act with Foresight

The ants are not a strong folk,

But they prepare their food in the summer;

Paul Koptak: It is not strength for ants, but rather foresight and preparation of provisions (cf. 6:6–8).

Tremper Longman: Definitely small, they nonetheless have an excellent strategy for survival.  They get their food ready in the summer for consumption during the winter.  Their wisdom is demonstrated in their planning for the future and their hard work at the opportune time.

  1. (:26)  Invincible Rock Badgers

The badgers are not mighty folk,

Yet they make their houses in the rocks;

Richard Clifford: The rock badger (procaria syriacus) lives on rocky heights ranging from the Dead Sea to Mount Hermon in Lebanon. It is herbivorous, about the size of a hare, possessing feet with suckers enabling it to climb on rock surfaces. Though small, its nests are in remote crags, secure from enemies.

Paul Koptak: It is not power for coneys (or badgers; cf. Ps. 104:18), but rather their ability to make a home where no one can touch them.

Tremper Longman: These are small animals (technical name is hyrax) that have small hooves with soles that are suctionlike, and thus they can climb steep cliffs.  By doing so, they keep themselves relatively safe from predators and thus show a skillful life-preserving strategy.

  1. (:27)  Organized Locusts

The locusts have no king,

Yet all of them go out in ranks;

Richard Clifford: Verse 27 probably refers to the migratory locust, which has six legs and four wings. It moves in vast swarms, capable of devastating all the plant life it encounters. Though without a king, that is, disorganized and apparently vulnerable, it nonetheless moves in serried ranks, and cannot be diverted from its course.

  1. (:28)  Ubiquitous Lizards

The lizard you may grasp with the hands,

Yet it is in kings’ palaces.

Paul Koptak: The lizard is also small and powerless; it can be caught in the hand yet it lives in the house of the powerful king.

Lindsay Wilson: Although a person can pick up a lizard (or perhaps “spider”), no-one can stop them going where they want to find food, drink or shelter.  While there is an illusion of human control, lizards can make their way even into the most impregnable of human strongholds – kings’ palaces.  These are four small and seemingly helpless creatures, but they can achieve their goals by acting cleverly.  They are described as wise (hakam), which is not confined in the OT to intellectual sharpeness, but includes living successfully.


A.  (:29) Introduction

There are three things which are stately in their march,

Even four which are stately when they walk:

Allen Ross: Leaders exhibit majestic qualities.

Richard Clifford: Just as vv. 24–28 instanced four insignificant beings of invincible survival ability, so this saying instances four beings whose imperiousness is visible in their walk. . .  In Job 39:22, the phrase “not to turn back from” signifies fearlessness. Lion and king are also associated in 19:12 and 20:2. The ancient versions could not resist expanding the lines: The cock strides fearlessly among the hens as does the he-goat in the herd, and the king takes his stand and addresses his people.

Paul Koptak: Again, power comes not from strength or numbers alone but from wisdom, especially the wisdom that fears God and acts uprightly (cf. 30:1–14). Any other view betrays its arrogance and pride, silly as a strutting rooster or billy goat.

B.  (:30-31) List

  1. (:30)  Bold Lion

The lion which is mighty among beasts

And does not retreat before any,

Matthew Henry: A lion, the king of beasts, because strongest among beasts. Among beasts it is strength that gives the pre-eminence, but it is a pity that it should do so among men, whose wisdom is their honour, not their strength and force. The lion turns not away, nor alters his pace, for fear of any pursuers, since he knows he is too hard for them. Herein the righteous are bold as a lion, that they turn not away from their duty for fear of any difficulty they meet with in it.

  1. (:31a)  Strutting Rooster

The strutting cock,

David Guzik: Waltke (along with Kidner) has strutting rooster instead of greyhound.

  1. (:31b)  Male Goat

the male goat also,”

George Mylne: An he-goat is an animal so remarkable for its strength and stateliness, when it marches at the head of the flock, that the Macedonian power which crushed the strength of the mighty Persian empire, is represented by it in the book of Daniel. The prophet Jeremiah calls the delivered captives to imitate the he-goat, by setting an example of vigor and courage to one another, in improving the merciful providence of God.

  1. (:31c)  Powerful King

And a king when his army is with him.

George Mylne: A king with his army, is another of those creatures that are stately in bearing. For the God who has given courage and strength to lions, has given majesty to kings, and stamped on them such dignity that their subjects are awed by their appearance. Kings should therefore employ their authority and influence for the service of God; and their subjects owe them reverence as well as obedience; they are ministers of God, and are entitled to honor for the sake of their master and their work, and to obedience both for wrath and for conscience sake.

Lindsay Wilson: The structure of this numerical saying (x, x + 1) suggests that the emphasis is on the fourth example, the king whose army is with him. The focus is on the appropriate stateliness of the king.


A.  (:32) Refrain from Folly

If you have been foolish in exalting yourself

Or if you have plotted evil,

 put your hand on your mouth.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 32 refers to the general category of being foolish, but also to two more specific attitudes: exalting yourself (the hitpael or reflexive stem of ns’, “to lift up”) and devising evil (strictly speaking, it only means devising or planning, but the context suggests that a wrong action or goal is in view).  It seems to refer to speech that is boastful and used to do wrong, and the solution is to put a hand over one’s mouth, thus stopping any further destructive talk (Job 21:5; 29:9).

Tremper Longman: This proverb urges the listener to be careful about mistreating others in pride and through plotting.  Verse 33 gives the motivation by suggesting that pride and plotting will lead to anger, which will result in accusations (a legal term) just as naturally as churning milk will give way to curds and pinching the nose will lead to nosebleeds.

B.  (:33) Unrestrained Anger Produces Strife

For the churning of milk produces butter,

And pressing the nose brings forth blood;

So the churning of anger produces strife.

Lindsay Wilson: The lesson seems to be that some pressing produces good outcomes, while other forms of pressing are harmful.

Allen Ross: The sage advises those who have “exalted” themselves and “played the fool” and those who have “planned deception” to cease their efforts and control what they say, viz., “clap your hand over our mouth!” (yād lepeh; cf. Job 40:4–5). The explanation for this warning is that talking about these things only causes strife.

Two similes are used in the last verse—churning the milk and twisting the nose. Both involve a pressing, the first producing butter from milk and the second drawing blood from the nose. In the same way stirring up anger (through pride and evil planning) produces “strife” (rîb). There is also a subtle wordplay here, for “nose” (ʾap) is related to “anger” (ʾappayim). So the intent of this concluding advice is to strive for peace and harmony through humility and righteousness.