29. There are three things that are stately in their march, Even four that are stately when they walk: 30. The lion is mighty among beasts And does not turn back before any, 31. The strutting cock, The male goat, And a king with his army around him. 32. If you have been foolish in exalting yourself Of if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth. 33. For the churning of milk produces butter, And the churning of the nose produces blood, And the churning of anger produces strife.
We come at last to the end of the remarks of Agur the Sojourner. These last two proverbs can be paired and considered together. They contrast the man who has proper glory with the man who is ambitious.
The four things that are stately in their march have this in common: They are enthroned and glorified by the community of which they are a part. The beasts recognize the lion as king, and none can stand before him. The cock (not greyhound) is recognized as lord of the yard by the hens. The male goat leads the flock. The king, if the people are with him, is in the same position.
Unlike the preceding proverbs of Agur, this one does not give us any indication of why these particular animals are selected as analogies. Since the proverb climaxes with the king, it seems to me that each of the animals portrays something appropriate to kingship in the human realm.
The last phrase, "a king with his army" or "militia" has also been translated "a king against whom there is no opposition." The matter of debate concerns an obscure Hebrew word. But whichever way we translate it, we get the same impression. A king surrounded by a willing people formed into an army is a king against whom there will be no opposition, and vice versa.
Such a king is like a lion. He does not need to retreat before any other beast, any other king. His presence is magnified by the support of his people. This is how it must be with King Jesus, the Lion of Judah. When His people are united in righteousness and in support of Him, no other king will be able to stand before Him.
Such a king is like a strutting cock. Modern scholars seem to be agreed that this is the meaning of another obscure Hebrew phrase, translated in older versions as greyhound or war-horse. It is appropriate for there to be ceremony around the king, so that he "struts" among his people. Such ceremony glorifies the king, and enables him to show his glory, to the delight of his people. It would be a false humility, and damaging to the nation, if the king should refuse such ceremony. So it should be with King Jesus also. Our worship should be glorious.
Finally, such a king is like a male goat. He leads the flock, and is recognized as leader by all. His power as lion and his beauty as cock enhance his leadership, and assist the people to follow him, to their own betterment. In the same way, we should follow King Jesus.
As Agur winds up his proverbs on humility and arrogance, he gives direct advice to us as sinners in verses 32-33. Like Adam, we are all prone to exalt ourselves instead of exalting the King. Like the fool who says "No God for me" (Ps. 14:1), we want to make ourselves great. We pursue glory instead of waiting for it to come to us as a result of our faithful service.
Agur says to throw away such tendencies. He warns us that no good will come to us if we are ambitious for self-glory. When other people oppose us, as they will, it will make us churn with inner anger.
There is a righteous churning, which is the desire to be useful. Such churning is like the churning of milk that produces something good: butter. There is also, however, an unrighteous churning, which is the desire to be important. The man who churns with such desires will get his nose "bent out of joint," and the twisting of the nose produces blood. In the same way, the anger that results from having our ambitions thwarted produces the blood of violence and strife.
The wise man is not like the ambitious fool. He has the attitude of Agur, which was presented at the beginning of the chapter, and which makes a fitting close to our discussion:
Surely I am more stupid than any man, And I do not have the understanding of a man, And I have not learned wisdom, But I have knowledge of the Holy One! (Prov. 30:2-3).
James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This article originally appeared on Biblical Horizons.
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