The key to reading such a strange passage might be to step back and adopt a reflective stance. What key themes or ideas seem to hold all this together? Where do I see the brokenness of humanity? Where do I see the character and the grace of God?
Proverbs 30 is one of the more puzzling passages in Scripture. Not because we find its truths hard to accept, or its statements bottomless and profound, or its portrait of God unsettling or offensive. No, Proverbs 30 is just plain weird. It offers enigmatic claims, non sequiturs, and material that has no obvious theological or ethical application for our lives.
If you encounter this text on an annual reading plan, it might draw you into a few minutes of bemused contemplation, but then—look at the clock—it’s time to start breakfast, wake the kids, and head for the (home) office. And Proverbs 30 lodges somewhere in a mental junk drawer with a Post-it: What am I supposed to do with this? How is this Scripture? How does this connect to Christ?
The key to reading such a strange passage might be to step back and adopt a reflective stance. What key themes or ideas seem to hold all this together? Where do I see the brokenness of humanity? Where do I see the character and the grace of God? When read this way, Proverbs 30 yields a central concern: Agur mocks and reviles pride and greed, while also vindicating and commending humility and contentment.
Mocking Pride and Greed
Right from the start, Agur dramatically rejects the idea that he is wise (vv. 2–3). There may well be a touch of hyperbole here. Although he will teach us wisdom, he considers himself stupid enough to be subhuman (cf. Ps. 22:6; Job 25:6).
His withering rhetorical questions humble everyone, similar to the way God rebukes Job from the whirlwind (v. 4; cf. Job 38–40). By rejecting human knowledge, Agur clings entirely to God’s Word (vv. 5–6). This leads him to offer a short prayer that asks for contentment in order to safeguard his relationship with God (vv. 7–9).
Agur turns next to lambast pride and greed. Young people without respect for their elders (v. 11) are pictured as ravening beasts, deluded by their sense of grandeur (v. 13) so that they exploit the vulnerable (v. 14). But like barnyard animals, they are caked in their own excrement (v. 12). Like the leech that follows, this portrait is mockery that should shock and disgust us (v. 15).
Pointing out how revolting and incongruous this is might leave us with a wry smile. The strange numerical sayings are a rhetorical device that reframes how we see our world by asking us to puzzle over clever and unexpected lists. We’re drawn in to muse on the mysterious movement of an eagle, snake, and ship—and the sexual pairing of man and woman (vv. 18–19).