By Randy Dillon
The final two chapters of the book of Proverbs brings us to something quite different from the previous scriptures. Chapter 30 presents wise saying of Augur and chapter 31 is a compilation of wise saying from King Lemuel. Both of these wisdom teachers seem to come from the Northern Arab region known as Massa. Augur may be a subject of Lemuel’s kingdom. While Augur’s lineage is noted as “son of Jakeh,” the only reference to Lemuel’s family is that his “mother taught him.” Both are spoken of as bringing “prophecy” which is not so much foretelling the future as it is exposing scripture or wisdom to others. In the case of Augur he is said to bring his wisdom to Ithiel and Ucal. It seems probable that these are two God-fearing men who are believers in Yahweh or at least familiar with Jewish culture.
Augur’s words of wisdom begins with his admission that what we know of God is beyond human understanding with an humble statement of his own ignorance of divinity (vv 2-3.) Verse 4 seems to belong in some manner to the ultimate reasoning found in the book of Job in which the eternal nature of God is not able to be fully known, which is then followed in verses 5 and 6 with what man can acknowledge about God. These statements are followed in verses 7 – 10 with pleas for God to shield him from too much or too little. This recalls Paul’s desire to be content with whatever God supplies. It is also related to the probverbs in many areas. Arriving at verse 11 there begins a series of wise sayings which can be divided into 6 sets of wisdoms each containing 4 units of examination. Verses 11-14 speaks of generations of people who have neglected Godly behavior in favor of the things of this world.
Verses 15, 18, 21, 24, and 29 speak of “three things . . . yea, four” which are unusual in our language and grammar. These are sometimes mocked, but the meaning is actually easy to understand. The phrase simply means that there are many other things which could be added to the list; too many in fact to be inclusive, so these are simply a few examples. Verses 15-17 speaks of insatiable things or things which are never satisfied in the heart of man. Verses 18-19 refer to wonderful things. Verses 21-23 refers to unbearable types of people. Verses 24-28 point to small but wise things. Verses 29-31 call attention to stately things, Finally, Augur calls for self-restraint in speech and not allowing anger to lead to violence.
Chapter 31 are the words of wisdom from Lemuel which were taught to him by his mother. Verses 1-3 are warnings against lust. These follow the warnings throughout Solomon’s proverbs regarding illicit sexual interactions. Verses 4-7 are warnings for leaders against drinking wine and strong drink which in quantity might pervert their judgment. Rather it is better meant to those with illness or those who are burdened with grief. Verses 8-9 are an admonition for rulers to rule justly and “plead the cause of the poor and needy.”
The closing portion of this chapter, verses 10-31, are one of the most often cited verses in the Old Testament. They portray the truly good wife, the virtuous woman. While the mid-east culture was dominantly patriarchal in nature, the good wife presented in these verses stands out as an affirmation of the equal nature of the sexes in God’s eyes. While duties and roles may not be the same, the importance of each marriage partner is equal. Notice a few of her more remarkable qualities: she is trusted; she works with her hands; she rises early and works late; she works the garden for family food; she makes sound financial decisions; she helps the poor and needy; she clothes her family; she brings a good repute upon her husband, she does not embarrass or dishonor him; she engages in business and merchantry; she is wise and kind; her children and husband honor and praise her. Then a final summation: “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.”