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Proverbs 30:2-4

Context

30:2 Surely 1  I am more brutish 2  than any other human being, 3 

and I do not have human understanding; 4 

30:3 I have not learned wisdom,

nor do I have knowledge 5  of the Holy One. 6 

30:4 Who has ascended into heaven, and then descended? 7 

Who has gathered up the winds in his fists? 8 

Who has bound up the waters in his cloak? 9 

Who has established all the ends of the earth? 10 

What is his name, and what is his son’s name? 11  – if you know!

1 tn The particle כִּי (ki) functions in an asseverative sense, “surely; indeed; truly” (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 73, §449).

2 tn The noun בַּעַר (baar) means “brutishness”; here it functions as a predicate adjective. It is followed by מֵאִישׁ (meish) expressing comparative degree: “more than a man” or “more than any man,” with “man” used in a generic sense. He is saying that he has fallen beneath the level of mankind. Cf. NRSV “I am too stupid to be human.”

3 tn Heb “than man.” The verse is using hyperbole; this individual feels as if he has no intelligence at all, that he is more brutish than any other human. Of course this is not true, or he would not be able to speculate on the God of the universe at all.

4 tn Heb “the understanding of a man,” with “man” used attributively here.

5 sn The construction uses repetition to make the point emphatically: “I do not know the knowledge of the Holy One.” Agur’s claim to being “brutish” is here clarified – he is not one of those who has knowledge or understanding of God. C. H. Toy thinks the speaker is being sarcastic in reference to others who may have claimed such knowledge (Proverbs [ICC], 521).

6 tn The epithet “the Holy One” is the adjective “holy” put in the masculine plural (as in 9:10). This will harmonize with the plural of majesty used to explain the plural with titles for God. However, NRSV takes the plural as a reference to the “holy ones,” presumably referring to angelic beings.

7 sn To make his point Agur includes five questions. These, like Job 38–41, or Proverbs 8:24-29, focus on the divine acts to show that it is absurd for a mere mortal to think that he can explain God’s work or compare himself to God. These questions display mankind’s limitations and God’s incomparable nature. The first question could be open to include humans, but may refer to God alone (as the other questions do).

8 sn The questions are filled with anthropomorphic language. The questioner is asking what humans have ever done this, but the meaning is that only God has done this. “Gathering the wind in his fists” is a way of expressing absolute sovereign control over the forces of nature.

9 sn The question is comparing the clouds of the heavens to garments (e.g., Job 26:8). T. T. Perowne writes, “Men bind up water in skins or bottles; God binds up the rain-floods in the thin, gauzy texture of the changing clouds, which yet by his power does not rend under its burden of waters.”

10 sn The ends of the earth is an expression often used in scripture as a metonymy of subject referring to the people who live in the ends of the earth, the far off and remote lands and islands. While that is possible here as well, this may simply be a synecdoche saying that God created the whole world, even the most remote and distant places.

11 sn The reference to “son” in this passage has prompted many suggestions down through the years: It was identified as Israel in the Jewish Midrashim, the Logos or demiurge by some of the philosophers and allegorical writers, as simple poetic parallelism without a separate identity by some critical scholars, and as Jesus by Christian commentators. Parallels with Ugaritic are interesting, because Baal is referred to as a son; but that is bound up within the pantheon where there was a father god. Some of the Jewish commentators exhibit a strange logic in expressing what Christians would say is only their blindness to the full revelation: There is little cogency in this being a reference to Jesus because if there had been such a person at any time in the past he would have left some tradition about it through his descendants (J. H. Greenstone, Proverbs, 317). But Judaism has taught from the earliest times that Messiah was preexistent (especially in view of Micah 5 and Daniel 7); and the claims of Jesus in the Gospels bear this out. It seems best to say that there is a hint here of the nature of the Messiah as Son, a hint that will later be revealed in full through the incarnation.



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