This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 20, 2012. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Prov 30A.
This next chapter of Proverbs features the wisdom of “The sayings of Agur (the collector) son of Jakeh (observant, obedient, or pious) —an inspired utterance.
This man’s utterance to Ithiel (God arrives/ is here with us):” These names are nowhere found in the OT and are likely to be symbolic. So what is the writer trying to say with these symbolic names?
What makes most sense is that the author wants us to see that, despite what he starts out saying about himself – he is a man of wisdom – brought up in obedient observance of the Law. His purpose is to give weight and authority to his words.
GOD IS MYSTERIOUS AND BEYOND OUR COMPREHENSION.
The Limitations of Human Beings: “Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One”. Why is the collector of Proverbs speaking this way – particularly after being at pains to tell us that he is a collector of Proverbs and from a pious, observant family?
He is humbling himself and modeling the attitude of wisdom. He is saying to his readers, that (A) although he is a godly person and has made a study of wisdom, that still, (B) he has not learned to be wise as he ought to have learned. Specifically he says…
~ He has studied wisdom, but he cannot even contain the vastness of human wisdom: This is, of course, true of all of us. Even those of us who have studied and become expert in some field of our discipline, must admit that we are ignorant of many other fields of wisdom. Even those of us who are experienced in one kind of skill or work are ignorant and inexperienced in other kinds of skills and work. We are overwhelmed by the vastness of human wisdom.
~ He has studied wisdom, yet he has not learned wisdom: There is a great difference between what the author knows and what the author does. This, of course, is true of all of us. We have spent a lifetime being told one thing and yet doing another. We are often not as wise in our actions as we are in our minds.
~ He has studied wisdom, and yet he has not attained knowledge of the Holy One: Notice, how his statements build – and this is the height of his point. We may study wisdom, however, though God has revealed himself, we must confess that “… now we see only a reflection as in a mirror… now we know only in part” (1Cor.13:12). We are limited in our understanding of God. What God has revealed is enough for us to know him in part, and yet we cannot fully comprehend God.
The Power and Mystery of God: In the next verses the collector drives his point home by declaring the creating and sustaining power of God. “Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth?”
These words are meant to humble our arrogance. Are we even capable of beginning to understand the kinds of forces that are required to balance a planet – the intelligence and power required to establish the distances of the solar system – the rotation of the earth – the salinity of water? Obviously these words are poetic imagery (God does not have hands per se’) but this poetic imagery describes in words we can understand a mysterious, real power and action that is far beyond our capability and comprehension. In comparison to God, the author’s words in vs.2 are true of all of us – “Surely I am only a brute, not a man; ” Our thoughts do not contain God! We do not control God. Augur drives this home – mocking the wisdom of human beings – “What is his name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know!” In ancient times, if one knew the god’s name, he might control the god – yet this would clearly be impossible with God who established the ends of the earth.
In a sense, Augur is restating the point of Genesis One: God is powerful, mysterious and good! But why does he begin with this and what do these things have to do with wisdom?
HAVE THE WISDOM TO ACCEPT BOTH THE MYSTERY AND THE REVELATION OF GOD.
Our Attempts to Fill In the Mystery Create Falsehood and Lifelessness: ”Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” Augur has confronted us with the wisdom and power and mystery of God – which is far beyond our ability to comprehend. Now he says – Do not add to God’s word. Why would we add to God’s word? We need to see that this is a warning to accept the limitations of our own understandings.
Human beings always want a system where everything can be plugged in and where everything can make sense to them. We don’t want mystery – we want to say that we fully comprehend the world – and God – because then we can maintain the illusion that we have everything under our control.
But every system breaks down. Every systematic theology – every theory that we make to take control of the universe and to be gods in our own understanding runs up against mysteries that we cannot comprehend… and we are shown to be liars. Nowhere is this more true than in theology – the study and knowledge of God. We create systems of understanding and we plug everything in, and we end up entrapping ourselves in a flat, uninteresting, lifeless universe.
God has Revealed Wisdom to Us for Our Good: “Every saying of God is refined; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (better translation).
Some translations have this as “Every word of God is Flawless”. This paraphrase is often used to say that God’s word is flawless in a kind of measurable, scientific flawlessness (the way a 20th century person would think of flawlessness). However, in this very passage there is a copy error in some Bibles in vs. 1b – “I am weary, God, but I can prevail.” These words are not in some of your Bibles because they are not in the oldest most reliable manuscripts of the Bible. Rather, a copyist, who was copying the Bible by hand wrote this on the manuscript, and a later copyist included it into the text. And of course, Biblical inerrancy (which is nowhere taught in Scripture) is part of a human theological system that seeks to prove the truth of Scripture so that faith is easier.
But if Augur is not making a case for Biblical inerrancy, what is he saying? He is saying that the sayings of God – the teachings of wisdom and the Law that God has made known to us, are refined, well thought out, and trustworthy wisdom. And this is important for us because we are limited in our understanding. God is wise and mysterious and powerful – and we are mortal, foolish and weak. We need a shield. We need protection from evil in the world and even from our own foolishness.
Do Not Create Your Own System for Understanding God: Augur is calling us to receive wisdom from God while resisting the impulse to create our own system – in essence to listen to God’s wisdom without having to figure out – in our distrust – how to package and control Him.
ASK FOR GRACE TO LIVE IN MYSTERY AND DEPENDENCE.
We Need Grace to Live with Mystery: “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying”
Notice, Augur has come to this new understanding of the mystery of God, yet he still asks, here, for God’s help. He knows that we all are drawn towards this drive to figure out God and the universe. This drive is not merely an intellectual curiosity – it is an appetite made up of pride, fear and the desire to control our world. God alone can lead us to peace with mystery.
We Need Grace to Trust God Enough to Live Dependently: “… give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for 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.
We all have our reasons for wanting to figure God out. For some of us it is about being able to say we understand – we have the answers. For others it is about controlling fear. For Augur it was about being provided for. Like so many ancient people, Augur saw wisdom and righteousness as a way to prosperity and wealth. Here he repents and, instead, asks God to be a Father in whom he can trust. This is what we all need to ask God for – the grace to believe in the One we can’t control.