The Wisdom of Agur – Proverbs 30

Read the Passage: Proverbs 30

Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Proverbs 30

Source of Wisdom (30:1–9)

In our first week of study, we noted that Solomon wrote most of the proverbs in this book. Yet, the book itself identifies other authors who contributed to the text, including: Hezekiah’s servants, Agur, and Lemuel. Proverbs 30 is the section of this book written by a man named Agur. Nothing else is known about this man, for he appears nowhere else in Scripture and little biographical information is given. From this chapter we can deduce that Agur was a wise sage, likely being a contemporary of Solomon (cf. 1 King. 4:30–31). In beginning his proverbs Agur displays great humility, as he declared, “I am more stupid than any man” (Prov. 30:2). Note humility is a mark of good leadership. At Prov. 30:4 Agur asks five rhetorical questions to illustrate the point that divine wisdom must come from God, for God and His Word are the only sources of wisdom (cf. Prov. 1:7; 15:33).

After confessing his own ignorance in Prov. 30:2–3, and discussing man’s inability to know God apart from divine revelation in Prov. 30:4, at Prov. 30:5 Agur focuses upon the only source of true wisdom as he declares, “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.” Moreover, Agur warns his readers, “Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18–19). Next, Agur expresses two related prayer requests in Prov. 30:7–9. In his brief prayer Agur asks that God would give him neither too much, nor too little. Clearly, Agur knew that the extremes of wealth and poverty can hinder the attainment and the expression of wisdom. To elaborate, being too wealthy can cause man to neglect God (cf. Matt. 19:24), while extreme poverty dishonors the Lord if it causes man to steal in order to meet his needs.

Generations of Fools (30:10–14)

Prov. 30:10–14 begins with a warning about not maligning a servant to his master. The idea here is not that we should overlook sin or cease to report law-breaking to appropriate authorities. Rather, the teaching here is that before escalating a rebuke or grievance, we must first talk personally with the erring brother or sister (cf. Matt. 18:15–20). Moreover, if we share the sins of another with a higher authority, it must be done with the right motive (cf. Matt. 7:1–6). Note that in Prov. 30:11–14 Agur uses the phrase “There is a generation” four separate times. The purpose in this passage is not to highlight generational differences, or to emphasize the superiority of a given age group. Rather, Agur’s intent here seems to be to show the pervasiveness of sin in society and to emphasize that sin is not just a localized, time-bound problem; rather, it is a universal, timeless issue.

Lists of Wisdom (30:15–33)

Prov. 30:15–33 is an interesting section of this book in that here Agur gives six different lists of proverbs, each of which applies wisdom to a different area of life. These lists are unique in that they utilize sequential numbers (i.e., x and x+1). Although brief numbered lists are cited elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Job 5:19; Amos 1:3), apart from one list at Prov. 6:16–19, Agur’s style is unique in the book of Proverbs. The first two lists deal with greed. After referencing the insatiable parasitic greed of a leech in Prov. 30:15, at Prov. 6:16 Agur lists four things that are never satisfied—the grave, a barren womb, the earth, and fire. The point of these verses is neither to condemn nor to condone the items mentioned; rather, Agur is highlighting the inability of the world to satiate man. In contrast, Paul writes, “Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim. 6:8).

The wisdom lists in Prov. 30:18–33 speak to the following four topics: mysterious things are addressed in Prov. 30:18–20, societal roles are addressed in Prov. 30:21–23; natural instinct is addressed in Prov. 30:24–28; and majesty is addressed in Prov. 30:29–33. The first list, dealing with hypocrisy, cites four things that are invisible, leaving no mark or trail, thus they are mysterious in nature. The second list, dealing with general societal roles, cites four instances of role or result inversion that trouble social order. The third list, dealing with natural instincts, cites four creatures who model survival because of their instinct and wisdom, not their strength. The fourth list, dealing with displays of majesty, cites four creatures who are stately in their appearance because of their position, design, and context. Observe that each of these numbered lists contains wisdom that is available to all mankind in the created order.

Application Questions:

  1. Is it problematic that portions of Scripture were written by individuals about whom little else is known apart from their names?
  2. Does Agur’s brief prayer about wealth and poverty coincide well with your own beliefs and prayers about the material world (cf. Matt. 6:11)?
  3. Why do members of a given generation sometimes refer to times past as “the good old days”? Is this a biblically faithful category?
  4. Are you content? If not, what types of things cause discontentment in your life? What can believers do in order to cultivate contentment?
  5. How do Agur’s comments about an adulterous woman in Prov. 30:20 relate to his preceding teachings in Prov. 30:18–19?

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David W. Jones

David W. Jones is a professor and author working in the field of Christian Ethics. You can following him on Twitter @ethicist.