Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament



"These final two chapters are remarkably different from the rest of the book."F1 This chapter is composed of six paragraphs which in Prov. 30:1 seem to be ascribed to Agur, about whom we have no information. The final chapter is ascribed to Lemuel king of Masa; but nothing is known either of Lemuel, or of any country known as Masa. Some Jewish and Christian expositors have identified Agur with Solomon; but to this writer it appears to be impossible that David was ever known as Jakeh (Proverbs 30:1).

Toy subdivided the chapter as follows: "Title (Prov. 30:1a). the words of Agur (Prov. 30:1b-4), an exhortation to trust God (Proverbs 30:5-6), a prayer (Proverbs 30:7-9), an isolated maxim (Proverbs 30:10), a series of tetrads (Proverbs 30:11-31), and a sextet on pride and anger (Proverbs 30:32-33)."F2


Prov. 30:1a

Verses 1-4
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh; The oracle. The man saith unto Ithiel, unto Ithiel and Ucal: Surely I am more brutish than any man, And have not the understanding of a man; And I have not learned wisdom, Neither have I the knowledge of the Holy One. Who hath ascended up into heaven, and descended? Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? Who hath bound the waters in his garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou knowest?

Of either one of the proper names here, nothing is known; and in the LXX, no proper names at all appear here. One man's guess is as good as another's. "Some scholars argue that the words here rendered as proper names are not names at all but an Aramaic phrase."F3 It is true that there are a number of Aramaisms in this chapter; and earlier scholars like Toy dated the chapter in the second century B.C.; but the theory that the presence of Aramaisms signifies a late date has been completely exploded. (See our thorough discussion of this subject in Vol. 1 of our Minor Prophets series of commentaries, in the treatise on Jonah.)

It is not known whether "the words of Agur" may be understood as applicable to the whole chapter, or as limited to this first paragraph.

"The oracle here is the proper translation of the Hebrew; and it emphasizes the authority of what follows. The RSV and others (by an emendation) translate the word as Masa."F4 We are extremely suspicious of most of the emendations that scholars presume to make in the Hebrew text.

Prov. 30:1-4


The man saith unto Ithiel, unto Ithiel and Ucal:

Surely I am more brutish than any man, And have not the understanding of a man;

And I have not learned wisdom, Neither have I the knowledge of the Holy One.

Who hath ascended up into heaven, and descended? Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? Who hath bound the waters in his garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou knowest?"

Ithiel and Ucal
(Proverbs 30:1) We are just as much in the dark about these two names as we are of those in Prov. 30:1b. In fact, the Hebrew text here (depending upon the vocalization of the Hebrew consonants) is also legitimately translated: I have wearied myself, O God, I have wearied myself, O God, and come to an end.F5 This rendition, of course, fits the context much better than the other one.

The outstanding feature of this paragraph is the marvelous humility of the writer. His confession of almost infinite ignorance in those areas which most deeply concern humanity is a beautiful contrast indeed with the colossal conceit and arrogance which are the twin badges of our mortality. "In his own way, he affirms that reverence is the beginning of knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:2)."F6

This whole paragraph is in the same line of thought with Job 38:1-10; and the answer that thunders in our ears at the end of each of these six questions is, "No man"! The writer is speaking of the Holy One (and he used the plural [~'Elohiym] for God).

Who is his Son?
(Proverbs 30:4). This is the highlight of the paragraph, and we have taken the liberty of capitalizing the word Son, which is an evident reference to the Mediator. The writer would not have dared to ask a question like this if he had believed God to be an abstract unity rather than a compound unity.F7 Delitzsch interprets the passage, As a reference to the Mediator in creation, revealed at last as God's son.F8 Greenstone denies that the passage refers to the [@Logos], but offers no positive alternative to explain the passage.F9 Ewald also found here the idea of the [@Logos], as the first-born Son of God; and J. D. Michaelis felt himself constrained to recognize here the New Testament doctrine of the Son of God announcing itself from afar. And why may not this be possible?F10


Every Word of God is tried:

He is a shield to them that take refuge in him.

Add thou not unto his words,

Lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar."

"All of the revelation of God is free from error. As originally given, the Bible was free of any error. The alleged mistakes, errors, etc. in ancient manuscripts are insignificant. They do not affect even one percent of the text";F11 and they are of no more consequence than a flyspeck on the Washington Monument!

Verses 5, 6
Every word of God is tried: He is a shield unto them that take refuge in him. Add thou not unto his words, Lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.
(Proverbs 30:6). This commandment is expanded and made a part of the New Testament. If any man shall add unto the words of the prophecy of this book, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in the book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19). (See our comment on this passage in Vol. 12 (Revelation), of the New Testament commentaries.)


Two things have I asked of thee;

Deny me them not before I die:

Remove far from me falsehood and lies;

Give me neither poverty nor riches;

Feed me with the food that is needful for me:

Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is Jehovah?

Or lest I be poor, and steal,

And use profanely the name of my God."

The two requests are (1) that he may be kept free of falsehood and lies, and (2) that he may be spared the temptations of being either rich or poor. The first of these is a request that God will aid him in the inward purity of life, "For the removal from him of all forms of falsehood, hollowness and hypocrisy";F12 and, secondly, that God will spare him the temptations identified with two extreme conditions of life, namely, poverty and riches.


Verse 10
Slander not a servant unto his master, Lest he curse thee, and thou be held guilty.

A slander, of course, is an evil, untruthful saying against someone. Clarke noted that, "The proverb warns against bringing a false accusation against a servant, lest thou be found guilty of the falsehood, and the servant curse thee for traducing his character, and in his turn, traduce thine. A general rule also appears here, `Do not meddle with other people's servants.'"F13


(A tetrad is a wise saying with four lines or four elements.)

There is a generation that curse their father, and bless not their mother.

There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes,

And yet are not washed from their filthiness.

There is a generation, oh how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up.

There is a generation whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw-teeth as knives,

To devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men."

"In all of these sequences of three things, yea, four, it is the climactic fourth that is emphasized."F14 This was a commonly accepted teaching device among the Jews. The first two chapters of Amos are an example of this method. Harris noted that Jesus also utilized the same device, as for example, in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount,F15 where one finds two tetrads (Matt. 5:3-6; and Matt. 5:7-10). The evil character of the generation described here strongly resembles that which is described in the prophecy of Amos.

The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give.

There are three things that are never satisfied,

Yea, four that say not, Enough:

Sheol, and the barren womb;

The earth that is not satisfied with water;

And the fire that saith not, Enough.

The eye that mocketh at his father,

And despiseth to obey his mother,

The ravens of the valley shall pick it out,

And the young eagles shall eat it."

It is noted that the verses do not follow the patterns of the tetrads; and, now and then, one finds a verse (Proverbs 30:17) that is diverse from the pattern. Fritsch wrote that, "Prov. 30:17 is probably misplaced."F16 The 'eagles' are generally identified here as vultures; and the implication of the young eagles eating the eyes of the disobedient son is that, "His body was left unburied."F17

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,

Yea, four which I know not:

The way of an eagle in the air;

The way of a serpent on a rock;

The way of a ship in the midst of the sea;

And the way of a man with a maiden.

So is the way of an adulterous woman;

She eateth, and wipeth her mouth,

And saith, I have done no wickedness."

In the preceding tetrad, the concurrence of the four things was in their insatiable nature; here the quadruple likeness is that, "They leave no trace behind them."F18 Fritsch wrote that the reference in the fourth instance here was, "To sexual union, or possibly defloration";F19 but his support of that opinion was weak.

Of course, the adulteress that eats and wipes her mouth is a metaphor describing her casual immorality and has nothing to do with eating.

For three things the earth doth tremble,

And for four which it cannot bear.

For a servant when he is king;

And a fool when he is filled with food;

For an odious woman when she is married;

And a handmaid that is heir to her mistress."

The cases cited here are of people in relatively inferior positions who find themselves suddenly promoted; and the intimation of the passage is that, "They then become excessively pretentious, arrogant and disagreeable."F20 Some have discovered an element of humor in the situations mentioned here.

There are four things which are little upon the earth,

But they are exceeding wise:

The ants are a people not strong,

Yet they provide their food in the summer;

The conies are but a feeble folk,

Yet make they their houses in the rocks;

The locusts have no king,

Yet go they forth all of them by bands;

The lizard taketh hold with her hands,

Yet is she in king's palaces."

Other translations give us "badgers"F21 for `conies' in Prov. 30:26, or "rock-rabbits,"F22 "mormats,"F23 or "the rabbit."F24 Why don't we just stay with the rendition, "conies," as in the NIV?F25

On Prov. 30:28, the KJV has: "The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in king's palaces."F26 Nearly all the recent renditions give us 'lizard' here instead of spider; but, there is no doubt that this first line bears the translation, "taketh hold with her hands";F27 and that fits 'spider' a hundred times better than it fits `lizard.' Add to that the fact that `holding a lizard in one's hand' is rather ridiculous, even for men, and absolutely impossible as far as women are concerned! All in all, we overwhelmingly prefer the KJV in this verse.

We should not overlook the lesson here. Although the creatures mentioned here are very small and weak, God has endowed them with instinctive wisdom that perpetuates them. In contrast with that, man himself, who is also week and small, has been endowed with reason and intelligence; and if he would be guided by true wisdom `from God' as faithfully as these exceedingly small creatures are guided by what God gave them, the happiness and continuity of man would be prolonged.

There are three things which are stately in their march,

Yea, four which are stately in going:

The lion, which is mightiest among beasts

And turneth not away for any;

The greyhound; the he-goat also;

And the king against whom there is no rising up."

"Strutting cock"F28 replaces `greyhound' in many of the ancient versions; and the RSV has followed them. However, "greyhound"F29 and "war-horse"F30 are also legitimate renditions. A significant thing about this whole chapter is that, "There is no philosophizing or moralizing in it."F31 The graphic, well defined pictures that are presented here are loaded with spiritual implications and moral teachings; but they are not pointed out. "The theological implications are left implicit, enriching the observer's delight, if he has eyes to see, but not intruding upon it."F32


If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself,

Or if thou hast thought evil,

Lay thy hand upon thy mouth.

For the churning of milk bringeth forth butter,

And the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood;

But the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife."

"Forcing wrath" is a reference to "harping on a matter," continual complaining, criticizing, or in any other manner prosecuting another with exhibitions of one's displeasure or animosity. To do such a thing brings forth violence and strife just as naturally as churning brings forth butter, or wringing the nose makes it bleed. The antidote for this type of disaster is in the first three lines: "Lay thy hand upon thy mouth." Many an altercation, and some which have issued in fatal consequences, could have been easily avoided, if all men could learn the wisdom of keeping their mouths shut. This proverb is an eloquent plea for exactly that grace to be adopted and practiced by men.

Footnotes for Proverbs 30
1: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, Proverbs, p. 517.
2: Ibid.
3: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 580.
4: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15, p. 178.
5: Ibid.
6: Ibid., p. 179.
7: Delitzsch in C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6b, p. 276.
8: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 581.
9: Ibid.
10: Delitzsch, op. cit., p. 276.
11: George DeHoff's Commentary, Vol. III, p. 305.
12: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), Proverbs, p. 81.
13: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), Vol. III, p. 787.
14: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 581.
15: Ibid.
16: Interpreter's Bible. Vol. 4, p. 950.
17: Ibid.
18: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), Proverbs. p. 82.
19: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 951.
20: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 532.
21: The Revised Standard Version.
22: The Good News Bible.
23: Moffatt's translation.
24: The Douay Version of the Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1948).
25: The New International Version (NIV).
26: King James Version.
27: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 535.
28: The Revised Standard Version.
29: American Standard Version (1901)
30: Cross-Reference Bible (New York: Cross-Reference Bible Company, 1910), marginal alternate reading, p. 1174.
31: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 181.
32: Ibid.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 30". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.