1#Scholars are divided on the original literary unit. Is it vv. 1–3, 1–4, 1–5, or 1–6? The unit is probably vv. 1–6, for a single contrast dominates: human fragility (and ignorance) and divine power (and knowledge). A similar contrast is found in Jb 28; Ps 73; Is 49:1–4. The language of self-abasement is hyperbolic; cf. 2 Sm 9:8; Ps 73:21–22; Jb 25:4–6. Agur: an unknown person. Massaite: from Massa in northern Arabia, elsewhere referred to as an encampment of the Ishmaelites (Gn 25:14). But Heb. massa may not be intended as a place name; it might signify “an oracle,” “a prophecy,” as in Is 15:1; 17:1; etc. The words of Agur, son of Jakeh the Massaite:
The pronouncement of mortal man: “I am weary, O God;
I am weary, O God, and I am exhausted.
2I am more brute than human being,
without even human intelligence;
3#Agur denies he has secret heavenly knowledge. The purpose of the denial is to underline that God directly gives wisdom to those whose conduct pleases him. Neither have I learned wisdom,
nor have I the knowledge of the Holy One.
4Who has gone up to heaven and come down again—
who has cupped the wind in the hollow of the hand?
Who has bound up the waters in a cloak—
who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is that person’s name, or the name of his son?”#The Hebrew text has the phrase “do you know?” at the end of v. 4, which is supported by the versions. The phrase, however, does not appear in the important Greek manuscripts Vaticanus and Sinaiticus and spoils the sense, for Agur, not God, is the questioner. The phrase seems to be an addition to the Hebrew text, borrowed from Job 38:5, where it also follows a cosmic question.
5#Verse 5, like the confession of the king in Ps 18:31 (and its parallel, 2 Sm 22:31), expresses total confidence in the one who rescues from death. Agur has refused a word from any other except God and makes an act of trust in God. Every word of God is tested;#Ps 12:7; 18:31.
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6Add nothing to his words,#Dt 4:2; 13:1.
lest he reprimand you, and you be proved a liar.
7#A prayer against lying words and for sufficiency of goods, lest reaction to riches or destitution lead to offenses against God. Two things I ask of you,
do not deny them to me before I die:
8Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
9Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, “Who is the Lord?”
Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.
10Do not criticize servants to their master,
lest they curse you, and you have to pay the penalty.
11#Perverted people are here classified as unfilial (v. 11), self-righteous (v. 12), proud (v. 13) and rapacious (v. 14). There are some who curse their fathers,
and do not bless their mothers.#Prv 20:20.
12There are some pure in their own eyes,
yet not cleansed of their filth.
13There are some—how haughty their eyes!
how overbearing their glance!
14There are some—their teeth are swords,
their teeth are knives,
Devouring the needy from the earth,
and the poor from the human race.
15#Here begins a series of numerical sayings; the pattern is n, n + 1. The slight variation in number (two and three, three and four) is an example of parallelism applied to numbers. The poetic technique is attested even outside the Bible. Two daughters: “Give,” and “Give”: the text is obscure; as the leech (a bloodsucking worm) is insatiable in its desire for blood (v. 15), so are the nether world for victims, the barren womb for offspring, the earth for water, and fire for fuel (v. 16). Sheol: here not so much the place of the dead as a force (death) that eventually draws all the living into it; cf. 27:20; Is 5:14; Hb 2:5. Land
fire: land (especially the dry land of Palestine) always absorbs more water; fire always requires more fuel. The leech has two daughters:
“Give,” and “Give.”
Three things never get their fill,
four never say, “Enough!”
16Sheol, a barren womb,#Prv 27:20.
land that never gets its fill of water,
and fire, which never says, “Enough!”
17The eye that mocks a father,
or scorns the homage due a mother,
Will be plucked out by brook ravens;
devoured by a brood of vultures.
18#The soaring flight of the eagle, the mysterious movement upon a rock of the serpent which has no feet, the path of the ship through the trackless deep, and the marvelous attraction between the sexes; there is a mysterious way common to them all. Three things are too wonderful for me,
yes, four I cannot understand:
19The way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent upon a rock,
The way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a woman.
20This is the way of an adulterous woman:
she eats, wipes her mouth,
and says, “I have done no wrong.”#This verse portrays the indifference of an adulterous woman who casually dismisses her guilt because it cannot be traced.
21#Shaking heavens are part of general cosmic upheaval in Is 14:16; Jl 2:10; Am 8:8; Jb 9:6. Disturbances in nature mirror the disturbance of unworthy people attaining what they do not deserve. Glutted with food: someone unworthy ends up with the fulfillment that befits a wise person. Unloved woman: an older woman who, contrary to expectation, finds a husband. Under three things the earth trembles,
yes, under four it cannot bear up:
22Under a slave who becomes king,
and a fool who is glutted with food;#Prv 19:10; Eccl 10:6–7.
23Under an unloved woman who is wed,
and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.
24#The creatures may be small, but they are wise in knowing how to govern themselves—the definition of wisdom. Badgers: the rock badger is able to live on rocky heights that provide security from its enemies. Locusts: though vulnerable individually their huge swarms are impossible to deflect. Four things are among the smallest on the earth,
and yet are exceedingly wise:
25Ants—a species not strong,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
26Badgers—a species not mighty,
yet they make their home in the crags;
27Locusts—they have no king,
yet they march forth in formation;
28Lizards—you can catch them with your hands,
yet they find their way into kings’ palaces.
29#Four beings with an imperiousness visible in their walk. Only the lion is described in detail; the reader is expected to transpose its qualities to the others. Three things are stately in their stride,
yes, four are stately in their carriage:
30The lion, mightiest of beasts,
retreats before nothing;
31The strutting cock, and the he-goat,
and the king at the head of his people.
32#The same Hebrew verb, “to churn, shake,” is applied to milk, the nose (sometimes a symbol of anger), and wrath. In each case something is eventually produced by the constant agitation. The wise make peace and avoid strife, for strife eventually harms those who provoke it. If you have foolishly been proud
or presumptuous—put your hand on your mouth;
33For as the churning of milk produces curds,
and the pressing of the nose produces blood,
the churning of anger produces strife.