We continue the proverbs of Agur who enjoys organizing his points around short, repetitive numerical outlines. In the immediately preceding context, he has prayed for neither riches or poverty (30:7-9) and then proceeded to explore cultures and societies of pride and greed (30:11-15).
“There are three things that are never satisfied, four never say, ‘enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water – the fire never says, ‘enough!’” (30:15b-16)
This verse on the surface seems to shift topics slightly while continuing the theme of greed. But while the previous section was focused on human greed, this verse turns to “naturally occurring” greed. The hinge for that transition is the leech who has two daughters (30:15). That image combines human/natural imagery intentionally and nicely summarizes the previous section while giving an easy introduction to the four things that never have enough.
The four things that never have enough are grouped into two pairs:
The barren womb
The first two are more directly part of human life, and the second two are more general to the created order. In the first two, we note that the grave is constantly hungry to take life, and the barren womb is constantly hungry to create life. Dry ground always needs more water to sustain life, and fire is always looking for more ground to devour. Waltke points out that the four are listed in a rather chiastic order with the first and fourth in the list concerned with taking or destroying life while the second and fourth on the list are concerned with giving and creating life.
The four also answer to the initial thesis which points to those things which are never satisfied, which never say ‘enough.’ The list grows to develop this: Sheol, restrained womb, earth not satisfied, fire doesn’t say ‘enough’. And in this sense, they are all in agreement that they stand as constant reminders of the gravity of death and destruction.
“The eye that mocks his father, and scorns obedience to his mother, the ravens of the valley will pick it out, and the young eagles will eat it.” (30:17)
This recaps a previous theme, and suggests that Agur has not left his initial subject. Here we return to the primal sin of dishonoring parents (30:11), as well as locating that sin in the “eyes” (30:12-13), and devouring things (30:14).
We noted previously that people who dishonor their parents reject their provision. They are already unsatisfied with the womb that bore them, and they are not thankful for their instruction. This unthankfulness is always the beginning of idolatry, because parents are the first gifts of God and because parents are ordinarily the first presentation of God’s grace. To reject parents is to reject God and to insist upon finding another god. This is a futile mission because all other gods are tyrants and blood suckers, and this blind arrogance always oppresses the weak, sucking life from society and creation like a parasite.
But the implication of this whole section seems to be that these four “naturally occurring” insatiables are pictures of proud and greedy people. Pride and greed and idolatry create a world of pain and death and are never satisfied. People who dishonor their parents and have evil eyes devour the lives of the poor and the needy: these people have embrace a hell and a curse and therefore they only deal out hell and cursing.
But this also has to do with a big picture view of the world. Is the world governed by a loving Father who provides for all the needs of His people or is the world some sort of chaotic, survival of the fittest competition? If there is no loving, providential God, then the latter conclusion is the only logical option. If the world isn’t God’s gift, then it must grabbed and raped.
In so far as people become these life sucking forces in the world they are surrendered to that sort of culture, that sort of life. When people become living graves, they will have become friends with vultures and worms. It’s no accident that these are carrion birds; they gather wherever there are corpses. The implication of course is that children who mock their parents end up dead. People who devour the poor end up being devoured themselves.
Here the created order is teaming up with God’s justice. Ravens fed Elijah in the wilderness (1 Kgs. 17:4-6). A dove and a raven served Noah following the flood, and Jesus says that God provides for the ravens (Lk. 12:24). But this points to how we view God and the world that He created. The created order groans under the weight of our sin and curse, but it is fundamentally on God’s side. It serves Him and His purposes, and this means that even Hades and barren wombs and deserts and fire are under His perfect control and can and will be used for His good purposes.
Consider Sheol which gave back our Lord Jesus from the grave, the barren womb which has become fruitful in the virgin birth, the deserts that have become fruitful gardens, and the fire that has been tamed by the Spirit.
In Christ, all of these things have said, ‘it is enough.’