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Proverbs 30a: How Many Words are Agur’s?

Proverbs 30 begins with the words: “The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle” (ESV).  We spent quite a bit of time in the sermon dealing with the phrase that follows, whether it refers to people (Ithiel and Ucal) or Agur’s emotional state (“I am weary, O God”).  But one thing I cut from the sermon was how much of Proverbs 30 should be associated with Agur.

            Most of Proverbs consists of proverbs written by or collected by King Solomon.  So Proverbs 30 gives us at least a few verses of another individual separate from Solomon that had inspired wisdom to share.

            “The oracle” (30:1a) could refer to just verses 1-4.  I found several commentators (Clifford, Proverbs, Old Testament Library; Longman, Proverbs, Baker Exegetical) that argue just the few verses are Agur’s.  This fits with the singular and articular use of “oracle” – the oracle, not “the oracles.”  However, the singular could also refer to more than just the first unit in the chapter.  The entirety of the chapter could be the oracle.

            The more common view is to attribute 30:1-14 to Agur.  Verse 15 begins a different kind of proverb – called a “numerical saying.”  Read a few and you’ll soon find out why!  This may give an indication that verses 1-14 are one unit in the text, and verses 15-33 are another.  The Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX) divides the chapter here and puts it in two different places in Proverbs.

            Personally, though, I think that Agur’s words extend through the whole chapter.  Although verse 15 does seem to indicate a new unit in regards to style, it doesn’t have any sort of the introductory verses that we’re used to by now in reading through Proverbs.  In other words, it doesn’t tell us that the words of Agur have ended and/or someone else’s proverbs have begun.

            The problem of style isn’t solved by attributing verses 15-33 back to Solomon.  Yes, these verses sound different than verses 1-14, but they also sound different than Proverbs 1-29!  We have here a concentration of numerical sayings, unlike any other section of this book.                   So because of the absence of a new introductory statement and the presence of one beginning chapter 30 and chapter 31, I consider all of Proverbs 30 to be Agur’s words.  Either way, whether Agur’s words end in verse 4, verse 14, verse 33 or somewhere else, it is all inspired Scripture and useful for our maturity and growth.

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