The Riddles of Proverbs 30 (P2)
Notice Agur (and all of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes) is exceedingly practical. Why is this so important? Because the Lord designed us to live in two realms simultaneously--the spiritual and the physical. Less mature Christians wander to either extreme. The hyperspiritualists expect God to do everything, fix everything, say everything...while they simply pray, go to church, cling to a few scriptures or sermons that fit their extreme, listen to Christian music, etc. The hyperpragmatists try to do everything and fix everything themselves...while neglecting intimacy with God and depending on His active presence from moment to moment.
Wisdom reminds us that God's voice and power must be funneled into a physical matrix governed by scientific and social principles, principles that He Himself created. It reminds us that, though we long for the eternal state, we are simply not there yet. We still live in two realms simultaneously. We must become proficient and mature in both.
In Proverbs 30:15,16, Agur tells of "...three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, 'Enough!'"
In 30:18, he tells of "...three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand."
In 30:21,22, he says, "Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up."
In 30:24, he says, "Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise."
In 30:29, he tells of "...three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing."
Here in Part 2 I will decode the final two of these numerical parallelisms. And different from Part 1, I will provide applicational material here.
Four Survival & Success Habits
30:24-28 (NIV): Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer; hyraxes are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags; locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks; a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings' palaces.
In Agur's fourth numerical parallelism, he gently patronizes us with four tiny, weak, defenseless creatures that are smarter than many humans: ants, hyraxes, locusts, and lizards. The driving concept of this tetrad is, these mini-creatures have the simplest, most common sense survival and success habits that many humans (who have much, much higher intelligence) do not practice or even realize. Sometimes we need to feel dumb to change (Isa 1:3).
Ants & Patient Saving
Agur patronizes us first with ants, tiny creatures with tiny strength, who diligently store up their food over time. So how deep are your financial savings? Could you live well for six months without a job? A few years? Retire early? Travel freely? Launch or upgrade your calling without financial concerns? Launch or upgrade someone else's calling? Proverbs 13:11 says (NIV), Whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow. 10:5 says (NKJV), He who gathers in summer is a wise son...
Consistently blowing your entire paycheck, or even most of it, is reckless and mindless. A fool devours all he has, but a wise man has stores of oil and desirable treasure, Proverbs 21:20 says. My friend, let us at least match the ant's IQ. Ants offset their extraordinary vulnerability with extraordinary preparation and accumulation.
Hyraxes & Advantageous Positioning
Agur continues to gently patronize us, now with hyraxes. These adorable little critters are also vulnerable and of little power to defend themselves, so they make their home in the crags. A crag is a steep and rough part of a cliff or mountain. Hyraxes offset their lack of size and speed and muscle with advantageous positioning. They live and linger in steep, rough, rocky crags where larger predators cannot get to. Oh we could preach a million sermons on that!
My friend, you do not need the most genius mind, or the prettiest face, or any other genetic favor to succeed, if you understand advantageous positioning and use it consistently. The right locations and environments, in and of themselves, will grant you protection, nurturance, and blessing. Look at the individuals you know (or know about) who have succeeded in life. Many of them are not genetically remarkable. Some are quite ordinary and unimpressive. But, like hyraxes, they understood advantageous positioning. They discerned locations and environments that would help them. They got in them, stayed in them, and enjoyed degrees of survival and success.
What locations or environments consistently depress you or anger you or trap you or threaten you or tempt you or confuse you? Let us at least be as smart as a hyrax: get in and stay in advantageous positions.
Locusts & Organized Collaboration
Next Agur chastises us with another tiny, powerless creature--locusts--who "have no king, yet advance together in ranks". A person or a dog or even a cat can easily smoosh a locust, but if a locust swarm moves in the power dynamic completely changes.
Locusts illustrate how the smallness and weakness of one can be offset by the organized movement of many. The driving concept here is cooperation and collaboration. What are you failing at alone that you would succeed at by involving more people? This will require you to be more extroverted and team-oriented, and certainly more humble and negotiable. If you keep trying things alone and keep failing you need to learn from locusts.
Lizards & Consistent Short Bursts of Work
Agur's final riddle in this tetrad is the most cryptic. He says (AMP Bible), You may grasp the lizard with your hands, yet it is in kings' palaces.
Here in Florida lizards are everywhere. These lil fellas are pretty quick, but they can still be caught. For some reason children love to catch and play with them. I am sure this was true in Agur's day too, prompting him to use this particular visual. A lizard is tiny, weak, and catchable, he says, but shows up in king's palaces?
Lizards work in consistent short bursts. They sprint, pause, sprint, pause, sprint, pause...until they reach wherever they want to be. This method of work, Agur says, can take them to the king's palace. This is astonishingly insightful. Oh the depths of wisdom and knowledge of God! You see, not everyone can work like an ox, which is slow, steady, and constant. Some people have the nature and neurology of a lizard; they are most productive in consistent short bursts. As long as these bursts are consistent, they aggregate and take a person wherever they want to go, even the king's palace, a place of authority and privilege.
If you are a lizard, do not try to function like an ox. I know ox people and they are glorious. They can plod along for hours and hours and get something done in one or a few sessions. But a lizard struggles greatly to do that. Lizard, understand thyself! You can still reach a kingly, palatial level in any area with consistent short bursts. Consistent short bursts.
Four Creatures That Exude & Move Confidently
30:29-31 (NIV): There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing: a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing; a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and a king secure against revolt.
In Agur's final numerical parallelism, this phenomenal man presents four creatures that move confidently: a lion, a gamecock, a he-goat, and a king. But this seems frivolous, does it not? Who cares if a lion has a stately bearing and stride, much less a gamecock, a he-goat, or a king? Oh friends, this is why the Spirit of wisdom is so dazzling. The answer lies in the most literal translation of verse 29. See the underlined portion in Young's Literal Translation:
Three there are going well, Yea, four are good in going...
The Holy Spirit wants us to see that these four creatures are "good in going"--they carry themselves very, very well. They exude and move confidently. This presence and aura of unusual strength broadcasts to the environment that they are not weak or vulnerable or exploitable, but knowing and dominant. Someone urgently needs this word of wisdom.
Whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not, people relate to you according to your body language, your microgestures, how you carry yourself, your presence and aura. You may protest that this is superficial and unfair, and indeed it may be, but this is humanity's way of quickly assessing a person's value to them. If you carry yourself like prey, visibly insecure and asking to be walked on, you will unequivocally attract great white sharks that can smell your fear and hear your elevated heartrate. Learn how to become "good at going", like a lion, gamecock, he-goat, or king, and watch how you attract soldiers and loyalists instead of predators and opportunists. From the very beginning in Eden the environment was designed to respond to your presence, for better or for worse. Agur helps us with this, giving us four amazingly practical pointers on personal presence.
A Fearless Presence
All of Agur's examples in this tetrad depict a fearless presence. A lion retreats before nothing. A gamecock, an aggressive breed of game fowl, will continue fighting other cocks even when severely injured. He-goats establish dominance or the alpha male status by butting heads fearlessly with dangerous force. A king, surrounded by his army and personal guard, laughs at fear.
A fearless presence does not mean belligerent or rude or anarchistic. It is most often expressed in our everyday ways and means: walking tall and assertively, not small and fetal; looking people in the eye, not with eyes darting uncomfortably or staring at the wall or floor or distance; saying what you really feel and think, not swallowing your words or circumcising your sentences; laughing genuinely and occasionally, not constantly and awkwardly. You take it from there. How can you be more like a lion, and retreat before nothing or no one, but in a healthy Christlike way? Watch how your environment starts peeling back for you.
A Dashing Presence
All of Agur's examples depict a dashing presence. The lion's regal mane; the gamecock's mohawk and feathered train; the he-goat's eccentric horns (especially the humongous curled ones); the king's pomp-heavy garb and ambience.
A dashing presence. Some Christians struggle with this, especially fake-humble legalists who equate plainness and uniformity with humility and modesty. They are wrong in ten different ways. The omniscient Holy Spirit, writing through Agur, is pointing us to four dashing creatures for a reason.
If you want to wear beige triple-pleated Dockers every time you leave the house, no problem...as long as that is truly, genuinely you. If you want to wear Sister Agnes nurse Keds every time you leave the house, no problem...as long as that is truly, genuinely you. However, after almost thirty years of itinerant ministry, three pastoral stints, and endless hours of professional counseling, I can tell you without hesitation that most Christians wish to look different. They privately confess they want a more interesting or dynamic look, but are afraid to craft such a look for this reason or that.
Beloved, you are free in Jesus to craft the outer presentation that fits who you are. Laugh at the legalists and ignore them. Actually, invite them shopping with you and buy them a burka. Part of having that "stately bearing" and "stately stride" Agur mentioned is appropriating the dynamic look of a lion, a cock, a he-goat, and a king. Do it! Stop being so uptight and fearful of making aesthetic mistakes and experiment with the Lord. He will convict you if something is not right in His eyes.
A Fight-Ready Presence
All four of Agur's examples depict a fight-ready presence. Lions are not always fighting, hunting, or devouring. They slouch around an awful lot and seem peaceful. But let another predator enter their territory and watch what happens. They are fight-ready. Put a gamecock in a tight enclosure with another male cock and see what happens. Let another he-goat meander near the harem of an alpha male goat and see what happens. Let an army line up in battle formation on the border of a king's land and see what happens. These four have a "stately bearing" and "stately stride" because they carry themselves like they are calmly poised for war at all times.
Christians are to be ruled by the peace of Christ (Col 3:16) and constantly cultivating the fruit of peace (Gal 5:22). We are to grow in that calm contentment that only Jesus can progressively work into our emotional complex. Similarly, we are to make every effort to live in peace with others, as long as it is within our control (Ecc 9:18, Ro 12:18).
However, this emotional and social disposition of peace does not ignore a brutal reality: sometimes we must fight. Paul called this "the day of evil" (Eph 6:13), a season of conflict, pain, and warfare. The planet is fallen and sin-cursed; demons roam their spheres seeking to steal, kill, and destroy; people are imperfect, and some are shockingly wicked. You can live in denial and be a hyperpacifist peacefaker, or you can have a fight-ready side to you for when that day of evil comes. Every mature man or woman of God I have ever known, few as they are, had an intriguing fight-ready side to them. They were always calmly poised for war. They exuded a loving but subtle he-goat aura that said, "I have these horns for a reason."
A Composed Presence
Agur's final mention is of "a king, secure against revolt". The NKJV and AMP translate this phrase, "...a king when his army is with him." The idea is, a king has composure and calm confidence because he knows his power (in the form of his army).
Jesus had this incredibly attractive composed presence. No one rattled Him. He cared little or not at all about people's opinions, projections, or posturings. Matthew 22:16 describes Him this way (NIV, underline mine): ..."Teacher," they said, "we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are."
In Agur's riddle, it is the king's sense of power, him knowing how powerful he is (via his army), that gives him a kingly composure. Isn't it the feeling or perception of powerlessness that makes you awkward and rattled in social settings? Whether these impressions are real or imagined is beside the point. It is the sense and inner knowing of power, or lack of, that determines whether we move with composure or not.
Examine the inner powerlessness issue. Does it come from old, unresolved experiences in which you felt powerless? Is there a person in the present tense that makes you feel this way? Is it a situation or environment that triggers weakness and fear, instead of a kingly calm? Is it simply incorrect perceptions on your part? Agur's words are so, so, so discerning: a king moves with stately bearing and stride because he senses his very real power. Deal with the cause(s) of powerlessness in your life. Develop healthy, godly power on all levels, inside and out. You will naturally and supernaturally feel and move with more composure. Watch how your environment reacts to you when you are moving "as a king when his army is with him".