Proverbs 30-31

(The More You Know)
July 9th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

- Proverbs 30:5 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

The final two chapters of Proverbs derive from three different sources and are distinctly different from the earlier parts of the book. While some of the themes serve as a final reinforcement for the whole book, the style is dissimilar and the two attributed authors are not found elsewhere.

Chapter 30 is credited to a man name Agur, for whom there is no other recognized historical record. Some Biblical experts have concluded that Agur is an allegorical name for Solomon. Consider that the word agur in Hebrew can be translated as gatherer, and Solomon was the gatherer of proverbs for this book (1).

Regardless of his true identity, Agur’s main theme in this chapter is humility. Agur begins by declaring himself ignorant, unlearned, and lacking knowledge. He then compares the extraordinary nature of good to the ordinary role of man by asking several rhetorical questions. These questions are reminiscent of God’s response to God in Job 38:1 – 41:4. For example, “Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know! ( Job 30:4 - NIV).”

In his humility, Agur asks God for two things:

    Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.

    - Proverbs 30:8 (NIV)

Agur describes what would happen if he had too much or too little and explains how either situation would pollute his soul. In the latter part of the chapter Agur presents five groups of verses, each of which uses four examples to illustrate points in humility and understanding. The topics are things that

  1. “are never satisfied (30:15)”
  2. “are too amazing for me (to understand) (30:18)”
  3. "cause the earth to tremble (30:21)"
  4. “are small yet they are extremely wise (30:24)”
  5. “are stately in stride (30:29)”

Chapter 31 has two collections of verses. The first is titled “Sayings of King Lemeul,” who is another author without any additional recorded history. This may be yet another pseudonym for Solomon. The introduction describes these sayings as ones that his mother taught him. This set of nine verses is focused on moral character of a leader, such as cautioning the son to avoid expending his strength on woman and to steer clear of alcohol so that it does not distort his judgment. In the final verses, she encourages the son-king to use his power to uplift the downtrodden: " 'Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for justice! Stand up for the poor and destitute!' (Prov 31:9 - MSG)."

The final set of verses in chapter 31 and in the entire book of Proverbs are titled “Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character” and is not credited to any specific author.

These verses describe the attributes of a wife who is noble. The characteristics described include effective management of the family’s raw materials, industriousness, good organization, and a profit-oriented yet charitable set of guidelines. Because of her, the husband and family are well respected. Her children bless her and her husband praises her. The book of Proverbs concludes by noting that wisdom is this woman’s distinguishing characteristic and she will be rewarded with the respect of the community:

    Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.

    Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

    - Proverbs 31:30-31 (KJV)

Reflection and Application

One danger of gaining wisdom is the risk of developing an inflated image of oneself. In a self-inflated state we might proclaim, “I have gained wisdom and therefore I am superior!” Agur warns us against this thinking and models for us the attitude of a truly wise man, who, because of the wisdom he has gained, is able to acknowledge how little he knows. It’s valuable for us to remember this precept when educating ourselves on any topic: The more we learn, the more we recognize what we don’t know.

Agur was wise enough to only ask for his daily bread, a phrase incorporated by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer. Agur also recognized that the son of God already existed in his time and existed before the creation of the earth.

All of the five groups of numerical sayings are worthy of study and reflection. When we read the first one, we may want to ask ourselves in what ways are we never satisfied, what is it that we crave, and what should we crave instead?

One of the most striking groups of verses is the fourth one, which denotes four things that are small but wise: The ants are so tiny that we almost can’t see them, but they work tirelessly to store food and will restore their ant hills diligently, no matter how many times we sweep them away or wash them away with water. The locusts don’t have a leader, but they fulfill their God-given objective by working together as a unit - note that there is no me in locust. The lizard is a tiny little reptile that is easily caught, but is bold enough to appear in palaces and other dwellings. Humans tower over all of these creatures, but we are wise if we stop to observe what they can accomplish – thwarting our best efforts and showing us how they accomplish their tasks despite size.

The book of Proverbs began with a definition of wisdom and the declaration that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7 - NIV).” This fundamental truth is reinforced in all of the sayings of these last two chapters and is specifically called out at the end of the last chapter, which observes that “a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” The woman or man of noble character is driven by their respect and fear for the LORD, which leads them to work diligently, treat others fairly, and discipline themselves and their offspring.

Note that the entire last chapter is focused on the female character. The first part features a mother advising her king-son and the second describes the woman of noble character. The advice to not letting a woman sap the leader’s strength is an appropriate warning given what happened to David and many leaders thereafter. Shakespeare illustrates this problem vividly in his play Othello, in which an up and coming leader becomes distracted by jealously due to fabrications created by a rival who pretended to be a friend. The golden soldier ends up ruining his career and his life. We can look to current events to find more examples of how we are yet to learn this basic lesson.

The prominence of women in this last chapter is a suitable tribute. It’s appropriate to praise the noble wife and recognize the mother of the king as the educator of wisdom because so many women are the backbone of our families and educational systems. Men can play this role too, but women are not always properly recognized.

For example, in chapter 31, the author notes that the husband is well respected at the city gates, and explains that it is the character of his wife that has enabled him to reach that status. A contemporary example can be found in the Men’s Devotional Bible (NIV), published by Zondervan. At the end of Proverbs there is an essay from Joe Gibbs, one of the most successful coaches in the history of American Football. He notes that “in the eyes of the world, (my wife Pat) is in the background…(but) what our wives do and have done is much more valuable in terms of eternity than anything we could ever do. She’s been father and mother to our boys while I spent months leaving the house early and getting home late, investing my time in a game.”

Those of us who are husbands should be as objective as Gibbs has been in recognizing the quiet unrecognized role of our wives, and should seek to ensure we praise them for all they do. If a man of his success can say that what he has accomplished is less than what his wife has, then perhaps the rest of us should consider the same comparison.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. What coach have you admired the most and why? This could be a coach in sports or other disciplines, one who coached you or with whom you are familiar.
    2. What have you realized that you don’t know as you learned more about wisdom in Proverbs?
    3. What is a verse (or two) from Proverbs on which you would like to meditate on a regular basis?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, you are worthy of our fear and respect. Help us to learn from your words and from the world you created.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns


    (1) Hocker, David, Practical Proverbs for Your Problems, Promise Publishing, Orange, CA, 1991, p, 178-179

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Ecclesiastes 1-4 (A Time For Everything)

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