Proverbs 30:1 – Textual Variants

At the start of this passage is a difficult textual problem.  If you have the NIV translation (or one of several others) you will read this:

The sayings  of Agur son of Jakeh—an oracle :

This man declared to Ithiel,

to Ithiel and to Ucal


            I am preaching today from the English Standard Version, because it reads verse one this way.

The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle.

The man declares, I am weary, O God;

I am weary, O God, and worn out.

            When the Hebrew of the Old Testament was first written down, they wrote down only the consonants, not the vowels.  And further, they did not put spaces in between words.  Paper, animal skins and stones were hard to come by, so they used up all the space.  Later, scholars put in the spaces and added vowels to help people read the text.  However that could lead to different understandings.  Don’t get me wrong, almost all the time, the sense of the text is clear, but sometimes you can get more than one reading.

            A traditional reading was that Agur spoke to a man named Ithiel, and Ithiel spoke to someone named Ucal.  (Ucal is the only person in the bible to be named after an American university.)

            Along with many scholars, I prefer the reading in the ESV.  I do so because the traditional reading makes no sense – we don’t know who these people are!  The ESV reading fits the text well.  Agur is a scholar at the end of his endurance.

The man declares, I am weary, O God;

I am weary, O God, and worn out.

            Why was Agur so weary?  We will see in the text.  Basically because he was a seeker of wisdom, and he had been looking – not just for knowledge, but for wisdom that explained life and gave it meaning.  He had been seeking, but he had not found.  No mater how far he ran, or walked or crawled, he could not get to this place of wisdom. Look at Proverbs 30:2-3

Surely I am too stupid to be a man.

I have not the understanding of a man.

 I have not learned wisdom,

nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.

            This is the irony of human life.  On the one hand we are created in the Image and Likeness of God.  We are “a little less than the heavenly beings.”  On the other hand, we are always seeking, but never finding.  In the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11

    He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

            Despite his search, Agur could not discover wisdom and further he could not acquire knowledge of the Holy One.

            This is the history of human understanding.  We have discovered and created many things.  The grand total of human knowledge increases daily and no one person can understand even 1% of it.

            However, the more we know, the less we are certain about the meaning of life, or when life begins, or what happens after someone dies.  Further, philosophers have argued for the existence of a Designer, a First Cause, a Prime Mover, but none of them have been able to find God.

            So at the end of what we know, there is a question mark surrounded by a cloud.


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