This chapter of Proverbs was actually written by someone other than Solomon... and as I was reading it, the number of "lists" really caught my eye... especially the first thing in each list, because often what is listed first is our priority, even when everything on the list is truly important.
What's more is that most of the "lists" are introduced by a very particular literary phrase: "There are three things that... four that..." where the three appears to be rhetorical... the actual number is four.
What are the firsts in these actual lists?
The first first is Agur's request that the Lord keep lies and falsehood far from him... and is the first thing listed of only two requests prior to death. When I initially began thinking about those words, I found them to be surprising. I can honestly say that that isn't on the top of my list when I ask the Lord for protection. So I was particularly challenged when I read the following (From Gill's Exposition of the Bible) regarding this first first: "This is the "first" request, to be preserved from sin, in general; which is a vain, lying, and deceitful thing; promising pleasure, profit, liberty, and impunity, which it does not give. Agur desires to have vain thoughts removed out of his mind, vain words from his mouth, and vain actions from his life and conversation; to have his eyes turned from beholding vanity, and his feet from walking in it; and his affections taken off from the vain things of the world, the lusts, pleasures, profits, and honours of it; as well as to be kept from all errors and false doctrines, which are lies in hypocrisy; with which men that lie in wait to deceive would, if it were possible, deceive the very elect: Agur conscious of his own weakness, and proneness to evil, desires the Lord would not lead him into temptation, but deliver him from all evil, doctrinal and practical."
Agur, conscious of his own weakness and proneness to evil... which is so different from my most-of-the-time-day-in-day-out mindset. Of course, I acknowledge my sinfulness and just how prone I am to wander when confronted or when I'm thinking about it. It isn't the attitude, however, which with I live may daily life. Instead, I tend to lean the opposite direction, assuming I'm write until proven otherwise.
The second first in this chapter? It is a sobering one because it begins a list of those things that are never satiated... never satisfied. It is the grave, or in the Hebrew, Sheol - that place, in Hebrew thought, to which people descend after they die. It is personified in several places (included here) as an insatiable monster. What is crazy, however, is that is an accurate description of our natural, deceitful and most of all selfish hearts that, but for the grace of God, seek self benefit before all else. We are right in the midst of the Halloween season, and I'm quite sure that tomorrow night, I'll see all sorts of munchkin and not so munchkin monsters wandering around as people "dress-up" to celebrate. Yet, according to Biblical teaching, that dress-up is a more accurate reflection of the reality of my heart... as my desires for myself and what I define as what I want. Sometimes I cringe inside, looking at all the horrific "costumes" I see. And it gives me just a taste, perhaps, of perspective - of what it might be like for God to look upon sinful men... sinful me...
Then, there's this third first: the way of an eagle as it glides, soars and flies - and it is something that just surpasses the comprehension of Agur as he writes this proverb. What is he saying? I think he's referring to those things that are just as impossible for him to completely understand just as it is impossible to trace the path of an eagle through the sky. There's nothing left behind to indicate where the was, where the air "parted," if you will, for him to pass through... no footprints, no marks, no traces. Some things are just too high, to untraceable, for me to feel I've grasped their implications or meanings.
The fourth first is something that so disquiets all around, is so unbearable or intolerable that sustaining through it requires endurance that is super-human. The first example given is that of a servant who becomes king. The picture here is of one who is unprepared and unpracticed being given a responsibility and authority he is unfit to carry and then becomes arrogant, starts foolishly believing he's somehow deserving of the higher position and thus becomes a tyrant, damaging all for whom he is responsible. As I thought about that, I thought how easy it is for me to become that same way when I start believing somehow that I'm a "good Christian...," that God is lucky I'm on His side... or so acting for all practical purposes.
Next comes the fifth first - a description of small creatures who, although not powerful yet enjoy great impact because of the wisdom God built into them. Number one in this list is the ant. Compared to an elephant... a donkey... a camel... even a dog... the ant has no practical "skill" to offer men. It cannot be a beast of burden, it builds its home in inconvenient places, it invades our homes, large numbers destroy swaths in some parts of the world, and some even have a very nasty bite. Yet they prepare for the future... and so in that sense are forward thinking.
Last but not least, we come to the final first of this chapter. This list is comprised of those animals, those things that have a commanding presence, move gracefully and towards which the eye is drawn just by the mere fact that they are there. The lion is listed first and as I read that, the first thought that came to mind was the fact that Jesus is called the Lion of Judah. Gill's Exposition describes the lion this way: "For what is stronger than a lion, or more courageous and undaunted? It walks with great majesty, very slowly, step by step.... it does not go out of its way for any creature it meets with; nor does it hasten its pace when pursued, nor show the lest sign of fear; nor does it turn its back to any. This creature is an emblem of Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is stronger than the strong man armed; who never turned his back to any of his enemies; nor turned aside from the way of his duty, or the work of his office, on account of any; not Herod the fox, who threatened to kill him; nor Satan, the roaring lion, when he knew he was on the march to meet him; nor any of those, who, though they had a band of soldiers, that came to take him. It is an emblem of righteous men, who are as bold as a lion; and cannot be moved from their duty by anything they meet with, but remain steadfast and constant in it.
Proverbs 30 is clearly one of those chapter that could be studied for much longer and in great depth, such are the riches of these words.
Now, if by God's grace, I can begin to apply just the lessons out gleaned out of this list of firsts!