Proverbs 30:18

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:
– Proverbs 30:18

Verses 18-20 give another numerical list saying where the list items are related in some way. This list is in the common form of three and four. It is unique in that verse 20 seems to give a fifth item, but it isn’t a fifth item. Verse 20 is a conclusion that explains the reason and function of the list in verse 19.

The word for wonderful means causing wonder and the sense is being too difficult to understand, which is further highlighted by the indication of not knowing at the end of the verse. The point of the list is the observance of things beyond the comprehension of the ponderer.

Proverbs 30:17

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.
– Proverbs 30:17

This saying continues the theme of the proud and rebellious generation in this collection. The image is vivid and grotesque. The eye is personified as an arrogant disrespectful youth being plucked and eaten by ravens and vultures. The Torah promised long life to those who honor their parents (Exodus 20:12), and here the curse is being cut off and fulfills the “eye for eye” justice demand of the old covenant law (Exodus 21:24). Being food for the carrion birds likely assumes the penalty for incorrigible children has been carried out (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

Proverbs 30:16

The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.
– Proverbs 30:16

Verse 16 lists the four mentioned in the previous verse that are never satisfied. The common link is insatiability, or persistent hunger that is never satisfied. The grave refers to the place of the dead, which never turns a corpse away because it is full (Proverbs 27:20; Isaiah 5:14; Habakkuk 2:5). The barren womb cannot be satisfied apart from bearing children, which it cannot do (Genesis 30:1). In a dry land, the rain is never enough, and fire will burn as long as it has any fuel at all.

The saying forms a warning against uncontrolled appetites, echoing the many wisdom warnings in the book (Proverbs 11:28; 15:27; 20:21; 28:22, 25). The connection with verse 15 and the previous generation sayings also gives the warning to reject the greed of the previous generation. This sort of warning is echoed in the prophets in their warnings to Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 16:44-45).

Proverbs 30:15

The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough:
– Proverbs 30:15

Verses 15-16 return to the numerical sayings of this collection, with five of the six sayings contained in verses 15-31. These sayings present mostly in the form of three, then three plus one, or four. This numerical device is a compositional structure that gives a representative rather than exhaustive list. The listed items may seem to be unrelated, but they share some important connection.

The saying opens with a figure of the leech, or particularly the horseleach, that has two daughters. The precise meaning of this figure has been debated for centuries. Why two daughters? Does two indicate twins? Is Give, give the names of the daughters or what they say, since there is no word for crying in the underlying Hebrew Masoretic text? Sometimes, wisdom sayings work by ambiguities and trying to button up every detail could miss the point.

The second part of the saying makes the point of the figure clear. The point is to illustrate never being satisfied, never having enough. The leech is a parasite that consumes insatiably and does not produce. We also see a subtle connection to the generation sayings previous to this one, because the figure is not just a leech, but the daughters of a leech. The sayings prior to this have condemned pride and greed within generations, and here the warning goes both ways. We can be quick to point out the faults of the younger generations to us, but wisdom bids us remember that the older generations produced the younger, and so they are a reflection. To the younger generation, the warning is to be aware and careful not to repeat the follies of the older generations.

Proverbs 30:14

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.
– Proverbs 30:14

The final saying of this group continues to build off the root sin of pride. The teeth of this generation are as weapons, which is a common figure for oppressive speech. These weapons are set against the poor and needy to devour them and cut them off from the land (Proverbs 22:28; 23:10). The image of eating up the poor is a common charge in the prophets and even in the Psalms (Psalm 14:1-4). Proverbs consistently warns against oppressing the poor and needy (Proverbs 14:31; 22:16), as does the law and the prophets.

Verses 11-14, with the repeated use of generation, reveal the common struggle of every generation that faces prevailing sins of their time. Wisdom recognizes the current of the times flowing around them and the particular sins that hold sway. These four verses have shown a culture of arrogance, disrespect, rebelliousness, self righteousness, and disdain and disregard for others. The sayings form a warning for every generation to discern the prevailing worldview of the day and go rather in the way of wisdom, righteousness, and life.

Proverbs 30:13

There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up.
– Proverbs 30:13

This saying continues the general denunciation of pride in this group of sayings. The eyes and eyelids of a proud generation are high, meaning they despise, or look down on others around them. Such pride is the first item listed of what God hates (Proverbs 6:16-17). Of course, it is a sin, an affront against God (Proverbs 21:4).

Proverbs 30:12

There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.
– Proverbs 30:12

Verses 12-14 of this group, beginning with verse 11, all use metaphoric references—eyes, eyelids, teeth, and jaw. The generation, or group, in this saying are guilty of self-justifying pride (Proverbs 20:9; 21:2). The word for pure means clean and can refer to cleanness in a physical, moral, or ceremonial sense. The word for filthiness is a strong word that can refer to excrement (2 Kings 18:27). The saying depends on a contrasting parallel of people proclaiming their own cleanness while they are covered with dung. The imagery is shocking and even disgusting, but it reflects the true view God has of our own cleanness (Proverbs 16:2; Isaiah 64:6).

Proverbs 30:11

There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.
– Proverbs 30:11

Verses 11-14 are a group of sayings with the general theme of pride and arrogance. The word for generation can refer to an age, as in a period of time, or the people living in that age. Here it refers to a class or group of people characterized by dishonor to parents, or rebellion. The saying uses parallelism to state the sinful folly negatively and positively. Cursing and not blessing are the sins of commission and omission, both prohibited by the law (Exodus 20:12; 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 27:16) and wisdom (Proverbs 19:26; 20:20; 28:24; 30:17). The Pharisees neglected this command in their parents’ old age by teaching the practice of Corban (Mark 7:9-13). Paul later wrote that such a one denied the faith (1 Timothy 5:4, 8).

Proverbs 30:10

Accuse not a servant unto his master, lest he curse thee, and thou be found guilty.
– Proverbs 30:10

Verse 10 begins the more proverbial section of Agur’s words. Consistent with wisdom sayings, Agur focuses on the tongue and is rooted in Dueteronomic code (Deuteronomy 5:11-21). The word for accuse can range from neutral to malicious, and here the idea is of slander. The law did provide protections for slaves, such as in Deuteronomy 23:15-16. The result of such slander will be a curse and punishment for being guilty.

This wisdom saying has two primary applications. We are not to despise someone of inferior station, as if false accusation doesn’t matter when against the lowly. Also, we are not to meddle in the affairs of others, such as the business between a slave and master. Paul applied wisdom this way to the churches in Rome in Romans 14:4 over the matter of judging one another in areas of Christian liberty. Paul also applied such Torah wisdom to the church at Corinth and their divisive judging and comparing of preachers (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).

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