Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.
Do not add to His words Lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar.
We come now to Proverbs 30:5-6. The Sojourner (Agur) has already told us that he is "more stupid than any man," and that he has "not learned wisdom." He has told us that his only hope lies in the fact that "I have knowledge of the Holy One" (verses 1-4). Now, out of his intellectual humility, he points to the Word of God as the true foundation for life.
Every word of God, he says, is tested. The Hebrew word here means that God’s word has been tried in the fire. It is pure as gold from which all dross has been smelted. This pure word forms a shield for believers, and this shield is God Himself. Those who take refuge behind the shield of God and His word will not be ashamed.
I believe that we can see a parallel to this imagery in the provisions of the Temple. 2 Chronicles 9:15-16 tells us that "King Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold, using 600 shekels of beaten gold on each large shield. And 300 shields of beaten gold, using 300 shekels of gold on each shield, and the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon."
These shields were used in ceremony to form a glory cloud of fiery appearance around the king. As man is God’s image, so an honorable man may have an image of God’s glory around him. Thus we read that "it happened as often as the king entered the house of the LORD, the runners came and carried them [the shields] and then brought them back into the runners’ room" (2 Chron. 12:11).
The Godly king wrapped himself not in his own glory, but in God’s glory. It was God’s glory that was to be his shield. When Rehoboam "forsook the law of the LORD," then God aroused Pharaoh Shishak to sack Jerusalem. "So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s palace. He took everything; he even took the golden shields that Solomon had made" (2 Chron. 12:1, 9). Notice the emphasis on the shields.
"Then King Rehoboam made shields of bronze in their place, and committed them to the hands of the commanders of the runners who guarded the door of the king’s house" (2 Chron. 12:10). Verse 11, quoted above, shows us how the shields were used: Rehoboam went into the Temple courtyard to worship, surrounded by these bronze shields. By doing this, he confessed that he had forsaken his own glory and his own sinful ways, and that he was committed to obeying God’s law and being protected by God’s glory. And so we read in verse 12, "And when he humbled himself, the anger of the LORD turned away from him so as not to destroy completely; and also conditions were good in Judah."
If we add to God’s word, we ruin our shield. God delights in our seeking new applications of His word, but He shares the ultimate authority of His word with no one. The man who adds to God’s word will find holes in his shield, and will not be able to stand in the day of battle. He is replacing God’s glory-shield with his own, and to that extent, he is left defenseless.
In order to have a fully working shield, we have to take seriously every word of God, says the Sojourner. We must not subtract any of them, just as we must not add to them. The shield is "beaten" into shape out of many small pieces, and we must have them all or else the shield will have holes in it.
The Shield of Jacob
We have taken note of the suggestion that Jacob is the Sojourner who authored this chapter of the Bible. Is there an incident in his life that illustrates this proverb? Certainly. To understand it, let’s look back at Genesis 14 and 15. Here we have the story of the war of the five kings against the four. After Chedorlaomer’s victory, Abram pursued him and defeated him in order to rescue Lot. Then Abram was afraid that Chedorlaomer would return.
God appeared to him and said, "Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you" (Gen. 15:1). How was God going to function as a shield to Abram? Through His word. God gave His word to Abram, and Abram "believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). God was Abram’s shield because Abram trusted God’s word. God’s word was this: That Abram would have a son who would fulfill the Messianic promise (Gen. 15:5 & Gal. 3:16).
Isaac was the immediate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram, in that Abram did indeed have a son. Of course, it was Abram’s descendant through Isaac, Jesus the Christ, who was the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. Isaac knew about God as shield, but there came a time when Isaac decided not to keep God’s word.
God had told Isaac and Rebekah that Jacob, not Esau, was to be counted as the firstborn son (Gen. 25:23). Isaac knew that Esau had despised his birthright and had practically given it away to Jacob (Gen. 25:34). He knew that Jacob was a "perfect" man, fulfilling God’s command to Abraham (Gen. 17:1; 25:27). Yet, because he preferred the food of Esau (cp. Gen. 3), Isaac determined not to obey God’s word.
Isaac determined to bless Esau, and he also decided to give Esau not only the double portion of the inheritance that would normally go the firstborn, but to give him everything (Gen. 27:37). God through Rebekah thwarted Isaac’s plan however, and Isaac was reproved and proved a liar. From this we see that Jacob had plenty of experience with the meaning of Proverbs 30:5-6.
God continually humiliates the Christian Church today, and these verses show why. In America we have had the scandals surrounding televangelism. We may say that we are not part of the television evangelism scene, and few of us really see ourselves as part of that community, but in fact as far as the Church’s witness in the world is concerned we are united with them. Their scandals are our scandals. The scandals within the Churches, and within parachurch movements, are our scandals.
Evangelical Christianity, which professes to hold and guard the historic faith, does not take seriously every word of God, and because of this, evangelical Christianity has added lots of new words to God’s. This is not new, of course. It did not take very long for the early Church to start adding devotions to Mary and the saints, requirements of celibacy for bishops, and other rules to God’s word. Today we have all kinds of additional words, such as prohibitions on drinking alcohol and the moderate use of tobacco. In other conservative Christian circles new words include apostolic succession through bishops and other curiosities. As a result, the Church does not have much of a shield, and she is exposed to assaults on all sides.
God knows that we cannot master the details of His Word rapidly, but He counts the will for the deed. If we seek to understand and apply, in a New Covenant fashion, all the words of the Bible, God will begin once again to act as our Shield and Defender. If we don’t, Shishak will continue to spoil us, and more and more of our gold will become bronze.
James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This article originally appeared on Biblical Horizons.
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