And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. – 1 Kings 4:29-31
The proverbs penned and collected during the reign of Solomon have filled this book until now. Turning to chapter 30, we find an introduction to an “oracle” by Agur, son of Jakeh. And at the beginning of 31 we read: The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him… Who these characters are is not known with any certainty. Some trace the names to foreign sages; others parse the names as adjectives and believe they are references to Solomon himself. In any case, given the preeminence of Solomon’s wisdom that is described in 1 Kings, their inclusion here bestows a high honor.
The oracle of Agur in chapter 30 is broken into two parts. The second half, from verse 10 on, is a collection of proverbs on general subjects, which seems built around a creative exercise concerning the number four. The first nine verses are a self-contained unit – perhaps the oracle itself – built around the credibility of the LORD’s word. You have to read the entire nine verses to garner the complete idea, and it helps to remember the foundational thesis of this book.
Chapter 31, of King Lenuel, is also a production in two Acts. The first nine verses are introduced as “An oracle his mother taught him,” where she asked, and he now asks, “What are you doing, my son?” Whether its speaker is presenting his past self for rebuke, or a present subject, is unclear – and likely beside the point. It sounds like instruction that is in accord with the LORD’s design that a young ruler should hear.
The second Act of Proverbs 31 is an acrostic poem – where each of the 22 verses begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet – about an excellent wife. Even though its creative style is only evident in the original Hebrew, I point it out because this influences how the lines are phrased. As elsewhere in Proverbs, treat these as observational and descriptive. Take into account the whole context of the poem without elevating one favored line above the rest. And allow verses that resonate to simmer for a bit, not because they are more important, but because there is something about them that connects to your own moment.
Our verse for this week is Ephesians 6:12: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Proverbs 30 through 31. Now let’s read it!
Proverbs 30 - 31
30:1 The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.
The man declares, I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God, and worn out.
Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is his son's name?
Surely you know!
Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Do not slander a servant to his master,
lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.
There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers.
There are those who are clean in their own eyes
but are not washed of their filth.
There are those—how lofty are their eyes,
how high their eyelids lift!
There are those whose teeth are swords,
whose fangs are knives,
to devour the poor from off the earth,
the needy from among mankind.
The leech has two daughters:
Give and Give.
Three things are never satisfied;
four never say, “Enough”:
Sheol, the barren womb,
the land never satisfied with water,
and the fire that never says, “Enough.”
The eye that mocks a father
and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
and eaten by the vultures.
Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a virgin.
This is the way of an adulteress:
she eats and wipes her mouth
and says, “I have done no wrong.”
Under three things the earth trembles;
under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.
Four things on earth are small,
but they are exceedingly wise:
the ants are a people not strong,
yet they provide their food in the summer;
the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
the locusts have no king,
yet all of them march in rank;
the lizard you can take in your hands,
yet it is in kings' palaces.
Three things are stately in their tread;
four are stately in their stride:
the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
and does not turn back before any;
the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
and a king whose army is with him.
If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
or if you have been devising evil,
put your hand on your mouth.
For pressing milk produces curds,
pressing the nose produces blood,
and pressing anger produces strife.
31:1 The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
your ways to those who destroy kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.
Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant;
she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night
and provides food for her household
and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household,
for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates
when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.