Proverbs Lesson 11


Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World

Lesson 11 | August 21, 2016

Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD

Another Numerical Saying

In our previous lesson, we saw a variety of proverbial forms. This included instructions, admonitions, numerical sayings, “better than” sayings, comparative sayings, abomination sayings, beatitudes, Yahweh sayings, and contrary proverbs.

We examined one of the numerical sayings found in Proverbs 6:16-19. In this lesson, we will look at a proverbial numerical saying found in Proverbs 30:7-9.

Falsehood, Lies, Poverty, and Riches

Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches – Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God (Prov 30:7-9).

                At first glance, the title of the subheading above may seem to emphasize negative things (falsehood, lies, poverty) and minimize positive things (riches). A closer reading of the context shows, however, that all four items – including riches – are seen in a negative light. Agur does not want any of them.

Agur’s wish to be delivered from falsehood and lies is clarified by the immediate context of these verses. Proverbs 30:5-6 reveals that God’s words are pure (i.e., true) and that those who add to them are liars. Thus, Agur does not want to be involved in anything other than or in addition to God’s words.

A bit earlier in the context, in what appears to be an ironic response to a claim by Ithiel and Ucal that Agur[1] lacked wisdom, he said:

Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One (Proverbs 30:2-3).

In this case, as a kind of continued reflection on this accusation, Solomon prays to be removed from falsehood and lies or, in other words, from stupidity and from a lack of understanding, wisdom, and knowledge of God. Another way of saying this is that Solomon prayed for understanding, for wisdom, and to know God. These qualities would remove him from falsehood and lies.

Agur prayed also that he would be neither rich nor poor, but that he could live simply, with his basic needs met. The reason for this request is clear: Riches bring unnecessary temptation to trust in wealth and so to forget God. This danger is also described in the New Testament.

The Rich Young Ruler

An encounter between Jesus and a rich young man illustrates the danger of trusting wealth rather than following Jesus. When we consider all three accounts of this story, significant points emerge.[2]

  1. As a “ruler,” he may have been a member of the Sanhedrin.[3]
  2. He thought it was possible to earn eternal life by doing good things.
  3. He claimed to have kept the commandments Jesus mentioned from his youth.
  4. When confronted with the invitation to follow Jesus, he rejected the opportunity.

It is not possible to gain eternal life by keeping the law of Moses.[4] Why, then, did Jesus respond to the young man’s questions by referring to commands from the law? First, notice that although the young man had asked about eternal life, Jesus did not say one could enter into eternal life by keeping the commandments. He simply said one could enter into life by doing so.[5] The Law of Moses offered no promise of eternal life. There are promises of life in the Law of Moses, but they refer only to long life in the Promised Land. Paul points out that the first of the Ten Commandments with promise is the command to honor one’s parents, and the promise is only for long life on the earth (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Apparently the young man had not kept all the commandments perfectly, for Jesus said he lacked one thing that could have been fulfilled by selling what he had and giving the proceeds to the poor. The young man’s unwillingness to do this indicates that he did not love his neighbor as himself. But even if the young man had been willing to do this, there was still one more thing he would have had to do to enter into eternal life. He would have had to obey Jesus’ invitation: “Come, follow Me.” In other words, even if he had perfectly kept all of the commandments in the Law of Moses – all 613 of them – he still would not have eternal life if he refused to follow Jesus.

The young man’s response to Jesus revealed that he trusted his riches (Mark 10:24). He was unwilling to release his trust in riches and to trust instead in Jesus.

Jesus’ disciples were astonished when Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25-26). The reason for their astonishment is that the Law of Moses promised wealth to those who kept all of the commandments. For this reason, first century Jews thought wealth was a sign of God’s blessing for perfect obedience. (See Deuteronomy 8:18.)

Jesus did not say, however, that it was impossible for a rich person to be saved. He said it was hard. In response to the question, “Who then can be saved” (Mark 10:26), Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). Even though it is difficult for the rich to do so, if they will give up their trust in wealth and follow Jesus, they can be saved.

Another Warning about Riches

Paul warned Timothy, a young pastor, about the dangerous desire to be rich. (See I Timothy 6:6-11.) Texts like these underscore the validity and importance of a prayer like that found in Proverbs 30:7-9. Although those who are poor may be tempted to steal, those who are rich may be tempted to deny the Lord out of a false sense of self-sufficiency and trust in riches.

Not all who are poor will steal. Neither will all who are rich deny the Lord. But it is wise to be willing to ask God to do whatever needs to be done in one’s life to avoid attitudes or behavior that would endanger one’s relationship with Him.

[1] It has been suggested that the names Agur, Jakeh, Ithiel, and Ucal may refer to Solomon, David, and two of Solomon’s sons. Agur may mean “collector of wise sayings.” Jakeh means “the obedient one.” Ithiel means “God is with me.” Ucal means “I shall be completed.” (See Daniel L. Segraves, Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World [Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1990], 299.)

[2] See Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30.

[3] The Sanhedrin was a Jewish council responsible for final decisions in legal disputes. See Arthur G. Patzia and Anthony J. Petrotta, Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002), 103.

[4] See, for example, Acts 13:39; Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:11, 16; 5:4.

[5] Matthew 19:17;