10 Do not slander a servant to his master,
lest he curse you, and you be held guilty.
11 There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers.
12 There are those who are clean in their own eyes
but are not washed of their filth.
13 There are those—how lofty are their eyes,
how high their eyelids lift!
14 There are those whose teeth are swords,
whose fangs are knives,
to devour the poor from off the earth,
the needy from among mankind.
15 The leech has two daughters:
Give and Give.
Three things are never satisfied;
four never say, “Enough”:
16 Sheol, the barren womb,
the land never satisfied with water,
and the fire that never says, “Enough.”
17 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.
18 Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
19 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.
20 This is the way of an adulteress:
she eats and wipes her mouth
and says, “I have done no wrong.”
21 Under three things the earth trembles;
under four it cannot bear up:
22 a slave when he becomes king,
and a fool when he is filled with food;
23 an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.
24 Four things on earth are small,
but they are exceedingly wise:
25 the ants are a people not strong,
yet they provide their food in the summer;
26 the rock badgers are a people not mighty,
yet they make their homes in the cliffs;
27 the locusts have no king,
yet all of them march in rank;
28 the lizard you can take in your hands,
yet it is in kings’ palaces.
29 Three things are stately in their tread;
four are stately in their stride:
30 the lion, which is mightiest among beasts
and does not turn back before any;
31 the strutting rooster, the he-goat,
and a king whose army is with him.
32 If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
or if you have been devising evil,
put your hand on your mouth.
33 For pressing milk produces curds,
pressing the nose produces blood,
and pressing anger produces strife. – Proverbs 30:10-33 ESV
In this next section, Agur shifts the focus of his proverbs from his relationship with God to the need for wisdom when it comes to human interactions. Agur knew that a strong bond with God was essential to having healthy relationships with all those around him. He stresses the need for integrity and honesty. There is no place for slander or false accusations among the godly. Even if someone spread malicious rumors concerning a slave, their lies would only come back and expose them.
And worse yet is the sin of hypocrisy or disingenuous. He gives the example of someone who outwardly curses his father and displays ingratitude toward his mother, all the while considering himself pure in his own eyes. This individual ignores his own inner impurity and, filled with a false sense of pride, looks down on others in disdain. These kinds of people “have teeth like swords and fangs like knives. They devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among humanity” (Proverbs 30:14 NLT). In other words, they have no regard for the less fortunate. Viewing themselves as superior, they see nothing wrong with despising and even taking advantage of the poor and needy. Because they have no understanding of God and His ways, they develop a false view of their own self-importance and treat all others with disdain.
Agur describes their appetite for self-gratification as insatiable, comparing them to a blood-sucking leech.
The leech has two daughters:
Give and Give. – Proverbs 30:15 ESV
The inference behind this verse is that greed is contagious. In a sense, it is hereditary and is passed down from one generation to another. The leech has two daughters who share the same name: Give. Their desire has become their identity. And Agur goes on to describe the sad reality of a life marked by avarice and gluttony. He uses four familiar illustrations to accentuate the futility of a life marked by dissatisfaction and greed.
There are three things that are never satisfied—
no, four that never say, “Enough!”:
the barren womb,
the thirsty desert,
the blazing fire. – Proverbs 30:15-16 NLT
Sheol or the grave is never satisfied. Its gates never close and there is always room for more. A barren womb never experiences the one thing it most desires: A child. So, it remains unfulfilled and dissatisfied with life. A parched and barren desert will never receive enough rain to transform it into a garden. And a blazing fire will continue to consume wood as long as someone feeds its flames.
With these two verses, Agur introduces an interesting literary device. Five different times, he introduces one of his proverbs with some variation of the phrase:, “There are three things . . . even four.” It seems that Agur is stressing that these lists are not to be considered complete or exhaustive. He could add an endless number of entries to each one. It is almost as if he is inviting the reader to come up with their own illustrations so that they might better understand the message he is attempting to convey.
Agur seems to be stressing that there is a created order to God’s world. There is a way in which things can and should work so that we experience peace and not chaos, calm instead of confusion. And when God’s way is either ignored or rejected, the result can be catastrophic and earth-shattering. It may seem simple and innocent enough, but when we fail to do life according to God’s terms, it never turns out well. When we depart from God’s natural order or path of wisdom, it creates a hole in the fabric of the universe.
in this Proverb, Agur uses this series of “three-four” sayings to act as warnings against life lived outside of God’s prescribed plan. At first glance, they appear somewhat humorous, but upon closer examination, it becomes evident that these sayings are intended to be sobering warnings.
In verses 21-23 we find a list of four seemingly innocent and innocuous individuals who find themselves in improved situations.
There are three things that make the earth tremble—
no, four it cannot endure:
a slave who becomes a king,
an overbearing fool who prospers,
a bitter woman who finally gets a husband,
a servant girl who supplants her mistress. – Proverbs 30:21-23 NLT
You have a slave who winds up a king, a fool who has an endless supply of food, an unloved woman who lands herself a husband, and a servant girl who ends up taking the place of her master’s wife. Each of these individuals experiences an unexpected and elevated change in their social status that is unaccompanied by a change in their character.
Agur seems to intend them to represent events that are not in keeping with God’s natural order of things. A slave is not meant to become king. If he does, he will tend to take advantage of his newfound power and authority and lord it over those under his control. A fool who refuses to work and is inherently lazy, but who finds himself with an endless supply of food, will gorge himself on it and never learn that blessing is the result of diligence. A bitter, unloved, and unhappy woman who suddenly finds herself a husband will not automatically become satisfied and content. She will continue to struggle with the same issues, driving her husband insane and, ultimately, away. A servant girl who becomes the focus of her master’s affections, even taking the place of his wife, will fail to honor the one for whom she works.
Each of these people is pictured as getting what they long for: power, prosperity, affection, and position, yet they remain dissatisfied and discontent. They have attained their new status unfairly or even unnaturally. Their circumstances have changed apart from God’s natural order of things. It is like a poor couple winning the lottery and suddenly finding themselves rich beyond their wildest imaginations. The likelihood of their situation turning out well is less than ideal. It is likely that their newfound wealth will result in unwanted, but NOT unexpected consequences.
It’s interesting that these examples of unhealthy life changes are stuck between Agur’s statements regarding the blood-sucking leech who is never satisfied and a series of four other creatures that reflect diligence, hard work, and a reliance upon God’s creative order for all things. Get-rich-quick-schemes are warned against all throughout the Proverbs. Laziness is villainized. The expectation of reward without work is discouraged. Achieving the apparent blessings of God without living according to the expectations of God can be dangerous and is to be avoided at all costs. We must do things God’s way, with no shortcuts and no compromises. It has to be His way if you want to experience His blessing.
Even a look at nature reveals that God has created an order to His creation. Within the animal kingdom, there is a clear display of the divine mandate for hard work, organization, diligence, and cooperation. The humble and seemingly insignificant ant provides a compelling illustration of how God has blessed the smallest of His creation with life-sustaining attributes.
There is no place for pride and arrogance within the heart of a man. While men and women may represent the apex of God’s creative order, they are still nothing more than the byproduct of God’s grace. He has made them what they are. He has given them life and blessed them with the capacity to know and obey Him. Unlike insects or animals, humanity has been made in the likeness of God. We have been given the right and privilege of knowing Him. We can commune with the Almighty and enjoy the benefits of His fathomless wisdom. Yet, far too often, we view ourselves with an inordinate and unjustified sense of self-worth, failing to recognize that, without God, we are nothing. Apart from Him, our lives lack meaning and a sense of purpose. And without His wisdom, we become no better off than the rest of the animal kingdom.
So, Agur gives us a parting word of advice.
If you have been a fool by being proud or plotting evil,
cover your mouth in shame. – Proverbs 30:32 NLT
May we listen to the words of Agur and respond like Job with humility and repentance.
“I know that you can do anything,
and no one can stop you.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me.
You said, ‘Listen and I will speak!
I have some questions for you,
and you must answer them.’
I had only heard about you before,
but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
I take back everything I said,
and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” – Job 42:2-6 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.