Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Agur's confession of faith, Pro 30:1-6. His prayer, Pro 30:7-9. Of wicked generations, Pro 30:10-14. Things that are never satisfied, Pro 30:15, Pro 30:16. Of him who despises his parents, Pro 30:17. Three wonderful things, Pro 30:18-20. Three things that disquiet the land, Pro 30:21-23. Four little but very intelligent animals, Pro 30:24-28. Four things that go well, Pro 30:29-31. A man should cease from doing foolishly, and from strife, Pro 30:32, Pro 30:33.
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh - The words Agur, Jakeh, Ithiel, and Ucal, have been considered by some as proper names: by others, as descriptive characters. With some, Agur is Solomon; and Jakeh, David; and Ithiel and Ural are epithets of Christ.
The Vulgate translates, Verba congregantis filii vomentis: visio, quam locutus est sir, cum quo est Deus, et qui Deo secum morante confortatus, ait. "The words of the collector, the son of the vomiter: the vision of the man who has God with him, and who is fortified by God dwelling with him, saith."
Coverdale makes the following words a title to the chapter:
"The wordes of Agur the sonne of Jake.
"The prophecie of a true faithfull man, whom God hath helped; whom God hath comforted and nourished."
The whole might be thus translated, keeping near to the letter: -
"The words of the epistle of the obedient son." Or,
"The words of the collector, the son of Jakeh. The parable which הגבר haggeber, the strong man, the hero, spake unto him who is God with me; to him who is God with me, even the strong God."
The visioun that a man spake with whiche is God, and that God with him, wonyng confortid. - Old MS. Bible.
From this introduction, from the names here used, and from the style of the book, it appears evident that Solomon was not the author of this chapter; and that it was designed to be distinguished from his work by this very preface, which specifically distinguishes it from the preceding work. Nor can the words in Pro 30:2, Pro 30:3, Pro 30:8, Pro 30:9, be at all applied to Solomon: they suit no part of Solomon's life, nor of his circumstances. We must, therefore, consider it an appendix or supplement to the preceding collection; something in the manner of that part which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, had collected. As to mysteries here, many have been found by them who sought for nothing else; but they are all, in my view of the subject, hazarded and precarious. I believe Agur, Jakeh, Ithiel, and Ural, to be the names of persons who did exist, but of whom we know nothing but what is here mentioned. Agur seems to have been a public teacher, and Ithiel and Ucal to have been his scholars; and what he delivers to them was done by prophesy. It was what the prophets generally term משא massa, an Oracle, something immediately delivered by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of man.
Surely I am more brutish - These words can in no sense, nor by any mode of speech, be true of Solomon: for while he was the wisest of men, he could not have said that he was more brutish than any man, and had not the understanding of a man. It is saying nothing to the purpose, to say he was so independently of the Divine teaching. Had he put this in, even by innuendo, it might be legitimate: but he does not; nor is it by fair implication to be understood. Solomon is not supposed to have written the Proverbs after he fell from God. Then indeed he might have said he had been more brutish than any man. But Agur might have used these words with strict propriety, for aught we know; for it is very probable that he was a rustic, without education, and without any human help, as was the prophet Amos; and that all that he knew now was by the inspiration of the Almighty, independently of which he was rustic and uneducated.
I neither learned wisdom - I have never been a scholar in any of those schools of the wise men, nor have the knowledge of the holy, קדשים kedoshim, of the saints or holy persons.
The Septuagint give this a different turn: yeov dedidace me sofian, kai gnwsin agiwn egnwka; "God hath taught me wisdom, and the knowledge of the saints I have known."
This may refer to the patriarchs, prophets, or holy men, that lived before the days of Solomon. That is, the translators might have had these in view.
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? - Calmet paraphrases this passage thus: "Who hath descended, etc. In order to show the truth of what he was about to say, he observes: I have not the science of the saints; for how could I have acquired it? Who is he who could attain to that? Who has ascended to heaven to learn that science, and who has descended in order to publish it? Is the science of salvation one of those things that can be apprehended only by study? Is it not a pure gift of the goodness of God? Moses, after having shown to the people the will of God, said to them: 'This commandment which I command thee this day is not hidden from thee; neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?' Deu 30:11, Deu 30:12. The person whose words we are here examining speaks a knowledge more sublime than that contained in the simple laws of the Lord, common to all the people of Israel. He speaks of the sublime science of the designs of God, of his ways, and of his secrets; and in this sense he affirms he has no knowledge."
Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? - It is as difficult for a mortal man to acquire this Divine science by his own reason and strength, as to collect the winds in his fists. And who can command the spirit of prophecy, so that he can have it whensoever he pleases?
What is his name? - Show me the nature of this Supreme Being. Point out his eternity, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence; comprehend and describe him, if thou canst.
What is his son's name - Some copies of the Septuagint have η τι ονομα τοις τικνοιο αυτου; "Or the name of his sons;" meaning, I suppose, the holy angels, called his saints or holy ones, Pro 30:3.
The Arabic has, What is his name? and what is the name of his father? him who begat him. But the Chaldee, the Syriac, and the Vulgate, read as the Hebrew.
Many are of opinion that Agur refers here to the first and second persons of the everblessed Trinity. It may be so; but who would venture to rest the proof of that most glorious doctrine upon such a text, to say nothing of the obscure author? The doctrine is true, sublimely true; but many doctrines have suffered in controversy, by improper texts being urged in their favor. Every lover of God and truth should be very choice in his selections, when he comes forward in behalf of the more mysterious doctrines of the Bible. Quote nothing that is not clear: advance nothing that does not tell. When we are obliged to spend a world of critical labor, in order to establish the sense of a text which we intend to allege in favor of the doctrine we wish to support, we may rest assured that we are going the wrong way to work. Those who indiscriminately amass every text of Scripture they think bears upon the subject they defend, give their adversaries great advantage against them. I see many a sacred doctrine suffering through the bad judgment of its friends every day. The Godhead of Christ, salvation by faith, the great atoning sacrifice, and other essential doctrines of this class, are all suffering in this way. My heart says, with deep concern,
Non tali auxilio, nec defensoribus istis,
When truth is assailed by all kinds of weapons, handled by the most powerful foes, injudicious defenders may be ranked among its enemies. To such we may innocently say, "Keep your cabins; you do assist the storm."
Every word of God is pure - כל אמרת אלוה צרופה col imrath eloah tseruphah, "Every oracle of God is purified." A metaphor taken from the purifying of metals. Every thing that God has pronounced, every inspiration which the prophets have received, is pure, without mixture of error, without dross. Whatever trials it may be exposed to, it is always like gold: it bears the fire, and comes out with the same lustre, the same purity, and the same weight.
He is a shield unto them - And this oracle among the rest. "He is the defense of all them that put their trust in him." לכל lechol, to all, is added here by nineteen of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS.; for instead of לחסים lachosim, to the trusters, they read לכל החוסים lechol hachosim, "to Every One of them that trust." Where the preposition and adjective are not only added, but the noun is written more full, and more emphatic: but a translation cannot well express it without paraphrase.
Add not thou unto his words - You can no more increase their value by any addition, than you can that of gold by adding any other metal to it. Take care that you do not any thing that this word forbids, nor leave undone any thing that it commands: for this is adding and diminishing in Scripture phrase.
Lest he reprove thee - Lest he try thy word by fire, as his has been tried; and it appear that, far from abiding the test, the fire shows thine to be reprobate silver; and so thou be found a falsifier of God's word, and a liar.
How amply has this been fulfilled in the case of the Romish Church! It has added all the gross stuff in the Apocrypha, besides innumerable legends and traditions, to the word of God! They have been tried by the refiner's fire. And this Church has been reproved, and found to be a liar, in attempting to filiate on the most holy God spurious writings discreditable to his nature.
Two things have I required of thee - These two petitions are mentioned in the next verse; and he wishes to have them answered before he should die. That is, he wishes the answer now, that he may live the rest of his life in the state he describes.
Remove far from me vanity and lies -
1. שוא shav, all false shows, all false appearances of happiness, every vain expectation. Let me not set my heart on any thing that is not solid, true, durable, and eternal.
2. Lies, דבר כזב debar cazab, all words of deception, empty pretensions, false promises, uncertain dependences, and words that Fail; promises which, when they become due, are like bad bills; they are dishonored because they are found to be forged, or the drawer insolvent.
From the import of the original, I am satisfied that Agur prays against idolatry, false religion, and false worship of every kind. שוא shau is used for an idol, a false god. Jer 18:15 : "My people have forsaken me; they have burnt incense to Vanity;" לשוא lashshav, "to an Idol." Psa 31:6 : "I have hated them that regard lying Vanities;" הבלי שוא habley shave, "vain Idols." See also Hos 12:11; Jon 2:8. And כזב cazab, a thing that fails or deceives, may well apply to the vain pretensions, false promises, and deceptive religious rites of idolatry. So Jer 15:18 : "Wilt thou be unto me as a liar," כמו אכזב kemo achzob, like the false, failing promises of the false gods; "and as waters that fail;" לא נאמנו lo neemanu, that are not faithful; not like the true God, whose promises never fail. According to this view of the subject, Agur prays,
1. That he may be preserved from idolatry.
2. That he may put no confidence in any words but those pure words of God that never fail them that trust in him.
Give me neither poverty nor riches - Here are three requests:
1. Give me not poverty. The reason is added: Lest, being poor, I shall get into a covetous spirit, and, impelled by want, distrust my Maker, and take my neighbour's property; and, in order to excuse, hide, or vindicate my conduct, I take the name of my God in vain; תפשתי taphasti, "I catch at the name of God." Or, by swearing falsely, endeavor to make myself pass for innocent. Forswere the name of my God - Old MS. Bible. Coverdale, "deny or apostatize from him."
2. Give me not riches. For which petition he gives a reason also: Lest I be full, and addict myself to luxurious living, pamper the flesh and starve the soul, and so deny thee, the Fountain of goodness; and, if called on to resort to first principles, I say, Who is Jehovah! Why should I acknowledge, why should I serve him? And thus cast aside all religion, and all moral obligation.
3. The third request is, Feed me with food convenient for me, הטריפני לחם חקי hatripheni leechem chukki; the meaning of which is, "give me as prey my statute allowance of bread," i.e., my daily bread, a sufficient portion for each day. There is an allusion made to hunting: "Direct so by thy good providence, that I may each day find sufficient portion to subsist on, as a hunter in the forest prays that he may have good speed." It is the province of a preacher to show the importance and utility of such a prayer, and dilate the circumstances, and expand the reasons, after the commentator has shown the literal sense.
Accuse not a servant - Do not bring a false accusation against a servant, lest thou be found guilty of the falsehood, and he curse thee for having traduced his character, and in his turn traduce thine. In general, do not meddle with other people's servants.
There is a generation - There are such persons in the world. In this and the three following verses the wise man points out four grand evils that prevailed in his time.
The first, Those who not only did not honor, but who evil-treated, their parents.
The second, Those who were self-righteous, supposing themselves pure, and were not so.
The third, Those who were full of vanity, pride, and insolence.
The fourth, The greedy, cruel, and oppressive, and, especially, oppressive to the poor.
The horseleech hath two daughters, crying, Give, give - "This horseleech," says Calmet, "is Covetousness, and her two daughters are Avarice and Ambition. They never say, It is enough; they are never satisfied; they are never contented."
Many explanations have been given of this verse; but as all the versions agree in render ing עלוקה alukah the horseleech or blood-sucker, the general meaning collected has been, "There are persons so excessively covetous and greedy, that they will scarcely let any live but themselves; and when they lay hold of any thing by which they may profit, they never let go their hold till they have extracted the last portion of good from it." Horace has well expressed this disposition, and by the same emblem, applied to a poor poet, who seizes on and extracts all he can from an author of repute, and obliges all to hear him read his wretched verses.
Quem vero arripuit, tenet, occiditque legendo,
Non missura cutem, nisi plena cruoris,
Hirudo. De arte poet., ver. 475.
"But if he seize you, then the torture dread;
He fastens on you till he reads you dead;
And like a leech, voracious of his food,
Quits not his cruel hold till gorged with blood."
The word אלוקה alukah, which we here translate horseleech, is read in no other part of the Bible. May it not, like Agur, Jakeh, Ithiel, and Ucal, be a proper name, belonging to some well-known woman of his acquaintance, and well known to the public, who had two daughters notorious for their covetousness and lechery? And at first view the following verse may be thought to confirm this supposition: "There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough." The grave, the barren womb the earth, the fire. What an astonishing simiiarity there is between this and the following institute, taken from the Code of Hindoo Laws, chapter 20, sec. i., p. 203.
"A woman is never satisfied with the copulation of man, no more than a fire is satisfied with burning fuel; or the main ocean is with receiving the rivers; or death, with the dying of men and animals." You can no more satisfy these two daughters of Alukah than you can the grave, etc.
Some of the rabbins have thought that alukah signifies destiny, or the necessity of dying, which they say has two daughters, Eden and Gehenna, paradise and hell. The former has never enough of righteous souls; the latter, of the wicked. Similar to them is the opinion of Bochart, who thinks alukah means destiny, and the two daughters, the grave and hell; into the first of which the body descends after death, and into the second, the soul.
The Septuagint gives it a curious turn, by connecting the fifteenth with the sixteenth verse: Τῃ Βδελλῃ θυγατερες ησαν αγαπησει αγαπωμεναι, και αἱ τρεις αὑται ουκ ενεπιμπλασαν αυτην, και ἡ τεταρτη ουκ ηρκεσθη ειπειν· Ἱκανον; "The horseleech had three well-beloved daughters; and these three were not able to satisfy her desire: and the fourth was not satisfied, so as to say, It is enough."
After all, I think my own conjecture the most probable. Alukah is a proper name, and the two daughters were of the description I have mentioned.
The eye that mocketh at his father - This seems to be spoken against those who curse their father, and do not bless their mother, Pro 30:11.
The ravens of the valley - Those which frequent the places where dead carcasses and offal are most likely to be found. The raven, the crow, the rook, the daw, the carrion crow, and the Cornish chough, appear to be all of the same genus. Some of them live on pulse and insects; others, the raven in particular, live on carrion.
The young eagles shall eat it - The mother eagle shall scoop out such an eye, and carry it to the nest to feed her young. Many of the disobedient to parents have come to an untimely end, and, in the field of battle, where many a profligate has fallen, and upon gibbets, have actually become the prey of ravenous birds.
The way of an eagle - I borrow, with thanks, the very sensible note of the Rev. Mr. Holden on this passage.
"The particle כן ken plainly shows that Pro 30:19 and Pro 30:20 are to be taken in connection; consequently, it is a comparison between the way of an adulterous woman, and the way of the things here described.
"The adulterous woman goes about in search of her deluded victim, like as the eagle takes its flight into the air to spy out its prey. She uses every species of blandishment and insinuation to allure and beguile, as the serpent employs its windings and sinuous motions to pass along the rocks; she pursues a course surrounded with danger, as a ship in the midst of the sea is continually exposed to the fury of the tempest, and the hazard of shipwreck; and she tries every means, and exercises all her sagacity, to prevent the discovery of her illicit enjoyments, as a man attempts to conceal his clandestine intercourse with a maid. Such is the conduct of a lewd woman, marked by specious dissimulation and traitorous blandishment; she eateth and wipeth her mouth-she indulges her adulterous lust, yet artfully endeavors to conceal it, and with unblushing countenance asserts her innocence, exclaiming, I have done no wickedness."
Chaucer's January and May is an excellent comment on such wiles and protestations.
The way of a man with a maid - בעלמה bealmah with or in a maid; but one of De Rossi's MSS. has בעלמיו bealmaiv, in his youth; and with this the Septuagint, ev neothti, the Vulgate, in adolescentia, the Syriac and the Arabic agree; and so also my own MS. Bible: - The weie of a man in his waxing youthe. Dr. Kennicott, in a sermon preached at Onsford, 1765, p. 46, has defended the reading of the versions, corroborating it by two MSS., one in the Harleian, and the other in the Bodleian library, besides that mentioned by De Rossi. See De Rossi's Var. Lect. Certainly the way of a man in his youth contains too many intricacies for human wisdom to explore. He only who searches the heart knows fully its various corrupt principles, and their productions. The common reading may refer to the formation of a child in the womb. But some have understood it of the immaculate conception. See my note on Mat 1:23 (note), where the subject is largely considered.
If we take the four things which Agur says were too wonderful for him, in their obvious sense, there is little difficulty in them.
1. The passage which a bird makes through the air;
2. That which is made by a serpent on a rock; and,
3. That made by a ship through the sea, are such as cannot be ascertained: for who can possibly show the track in which either of them has passed?
And as to the fourth, if it refer to the suspected incontinence of one reputed a virgin, the signs are so equivocal, as to be absolutely unascertainable. The existence of the hymen has been denied by the ablest anatomists; and the signs of continence or incontinence, except in the most recent cases, are such as neither man nor woman can swear to, even to the present day; and they were certainly not less difficult to Agur and his contemporaries. I shall carry this matter no farther.
For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear - This is another enigma. Four things insupportable to men. 1. A slave, when he becomes ruler. 2. An overfed fool. 3. An ill-tempered woman, when mistress of a family. And, 4. A servant maid, when the rule of the house is committed to her.
1. A slave, when he comes to bear rule, is an unprincipled tyrant. It has been often observed both in America and in the West Indies, when it was judged necessary to arm some of the most confidential slaves, that no regiments were used so cruelly in the drill, etc., as those black regiments that had black officers.
2. The overfed fool. The intellectually weak man, who has every thing at his command, has generally manners which none can bear; and, if a favourite with his master, he is insupportable to all others.
3. An ill-tempered woman, when she gets embarrassed with domestic cares, is beyond bearing.
4. A servant maid, when, either through the death of the mistress, or the sin of the husband, she is in fact exalted to be head over the family, is so insolent and impudent, as to be hateful to every one, and execrated by all.
There be four things - Of which it is said, they are very little but very wise. 1. The ants. 2. The rabbits. 3. The locusts. 4. The spider.
1. The ants show their wisdom by preparing their meat in the summer, seeking for it and storing it when it may be had; not for winter consumption, for they sleep all that time; but for autumn and spring. See the note on Pro 6:6 (note). The ants are a people; they have their houses, towns, cities, public roads, etc. I have seen several of these, both of the brown and large black ant.
2. The rabbits act curiously enough in the construction of their burrows; but the word שפן shaphan probably does not here mean the animal we call coney or rabbit. It is most likely that this is what Dr. Shaw calls the Daman - Israel; a creature very like a rabbit, but never burrowing in the ground, but dwelling in clefts and holes of rocks.
3. The locusts. These surprising animals we have already met with and described. Though they have no leader, yet they go forth by troops, some miles in circumference, when they take wing.
4. The spider. This is a singularly curious animal, both in the manner of constructing her house, her nets, and taking her prey. But the habits, etc., of these and such like must be sought in works on natural history.
There be three things which go well - Here is another set of emblems; four things which walk beautifully and with majesty. 1. The lion. 2. The greyhound. 3. The he-goat. And, 4. A king.
1. Nothing can be more majestic than the walk of the lion. It is deliberate, equal, firm, and in every respect becoming the king of the forest.
2. The greyhound. זרזיר מתנים zarzir mothnayim, the girt in the loins; but what this beast is we do not distinctly know. It is most likely that this was the greyhound, which in the East are remarkably fine, and very fleet. Scarcely any thing can be conceived to go with greater fleetness, in full chase, than a greyhound with its prey in view: it seems to swim over the earth.
3. The goat, תיש tayish. This is generally allowed to be the he-goat; and how he walks, and what state he assumes, in the presence of his part of the flock, every one knows, who has at all noticed this animal. The ram also, which some suppose to be intended, is both fierce and majestic at the head of the sheep.
4. And a king, against whom there is no risi,nv up. That is, a king whose court, counsels, and troops, are so firmly united to him, as to render all hopes of successful conspiracy against him utterly vain. He walks boldly and majestically about, being safe in the affections of his people. But the Hebrew is singular; it makes but two words; and these are they, ומלך אלקום umelech Alkum, "and King Alkum." It is a doubt whether this may not be a proper name, as Agur abounds in them; see Ithiel, Ucal, and probably Alukah, Pro 30:15. But it is said, "We know nothing of a king named Alkum." True; nor do we know any thing of Agur, Ithiel, Ucal, to say nothing of Alukah. And this might have been some remarkable chieftain, who carried his victories wherever he went, and was remarkably fortunate. If, however, we separate the word into אל al, "not," and קום kum, "he arose," we may make the interpretation above given.
If thou hast done foolishly - And who has not, at one time or other of his life?
Lay thine hand upon thy mouth - Like the leper; and cry to God, Unclean! unclean! and keep silence to all besides. God will blot out thy offense, and neither the world nor the Church ever know it, for he is merciful; and man is rarely able to pass by a sin committed by his fellows, especially if it be one to which himself is by nature not liable or inclined.
And the wringing - Who hugeli snytith drawith out blood. - Old MS. Bible. This is well expressed in homely phrase. The Septuagint have, "draw the milk, and you may have butter; if you press the nostrils you may bring out blood; and if you draw out your discourse to a great length, you may have strife and contention." Avoid, therefore, all strong excitements and irritations. Coverdale's translation of this verse is very simple: "Whoso chyrneth mylck maketh butter; he that rubbeth his nose maketh it blede; and he that causeth wrath bryngeth forth strife."