Commentary on Prov 30:5-9
Our last selection of readings from Proverbs. They give us a taste of what the rest of the book is like. Today there are two pieces of advice for us to reflect on.
Our reading today is taken from chapter 30 which is also entitled ‘The Words of Agur’. It is not known who Agur is. He is simply called ‘son of Jakeh the Massaite’. Massa is in northern Arabia and elsewhere referred to as an encampment of the Ishmaelites (Gen 25:14). However, the word may not be meant as a place name but signify ‘an oracle’ or ‘a prophecy’.
First we are urged to take refuge in the unalloyed or flawless word of God which will be our most effective security in life. When we fully assimilate that word we are endowed with a vision of life which enables us to see where real truth and goodness lie.
At the same time, we are not to play around with God’s word and distort it to suit our own convenience. Moses gave a warning to the Israelites about that long before (Deut 4:2). It is something we can do very easily, especially when we take a text out of its context, as some preachers tend to do. Don’t we say that “The devil quotes Scripture for his own purpose”? It is not at all difficult for us to do the same.
The reading ends with a prayer to God for two things. This begins a section of the chapter called ‘numerical proverbs’. Further on the author introduces sets of proverbs with ‘three things’ and ‘four things’.
“Keep falsehood and lies far from me.” In other words, the writer begs for the gift of integrity. A wholeness where there is perfect harmony between his inner self and his outward behaviour and between God’s will and the deepest desires of his heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).
Secondly, he also prays for a basic security in life, that he be supplied with his essential needs. As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us each day our daily bread” (Matt 6:11). He wants neither wealth nor destitution. Both have their dangers.
Wealth can alienate one from God. In the arrogance of wealth I may be tempted to say, “God? Who is he? What has he got to do with me? I don’t need him.” We remember the parable of the rich man with his full barns (Luke 12:13-21). Moses predicted that Israel would forget God when their food was plentiful and their herds large (Deut 8:12-17). The ever-growing prosperity of Europe has led to a parallel growth in secularism.
Destitution, on the other hand, can lead me into criminal ways in order to survive.
In our day of great material prosperity coupled with enormous areas of destitution and poverty, the Christian community can give enormous witness by the repudiation of the consumerist, hedonistic mentality in a life of decent simplicity while working hard to bring about a more equitable sharing of the enormous wealth that parts of our world are generating.
This was originally the purpose of religious life and it is still the ideal but it is not often as visible in the lives of religious as it could be partly because some religious themselves are not immune to the consumerist ‘bug’ but also because the normally simple lifestyle of the majority of religious is not seen enough by people.
In our day, lay people too can give this witness of simplicity, living according to one’s needs. A good definition of a person who is really rich: One whose needs are the least.