What Does the Proverb Mean?
Four Things That Are Cause for Meditation
Among “the words of Agur the son of Jakeh, the weighty message,” we find the following proverb: “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden.” (Prov. 30:18, 19, Revised Standard Version) What element is common to all four cases here?
The eagle, a large and heavy bird, can raise itself and soar through the air with the greatest of ease, but it leaves no visible track by which to trace its flight, or to tell that it had passed by. When on sand or in grass a serpent leaves a trail. But, though having no feet, he can somehow climb to the top of a bare rock, yet leaves no trail thereon. A ship sailing on the trackless sea nevertheless finds its way and, after it passes, its wake soon is dissipated and one cannot tell that a ship has passed.
All these things are likened to “the way of a man with a maiden.” The proverb evidently has reference to sexual intercourse, particularly that which is kept secret. The man and the maiden lead up to illicit intercourse, impelled by their natural desires, and using devious, specious reasoning to justify their course. Once they get to a certain point, they go ahead, throwing the consideration of consequences to the wind. Afterward, there is no visible evidence of their act. Of course, a later pregnancy or a medical examination could reveal that the girl had been violated. But, otherwise, before humans the act can be masked and kept covered. Only the Almighty God sees and knows, and judges, and he may cause it to come to light if those involved are members of the Christian congregation.
Things That Can Never Be Satisfied
With a warning to us Proverbs 27:20 reads: “Sheol and the place of destruction themselves do not get satisfied; neither do the eyes of a man get satisfied.”
Proverbs 30:15, 16 contains a fuller statement of similar ideas: “The leeches have two daughters that cry: ‘Give! Give!’ There are three things that do not get satisfied, four that have not said: ‘Enough!’ Sheol and a restrained womb, a land that has not been satisfied with water, and fire that has not said: ‘Enough!’”
The writer had just previously spoken, in Proverbs 30:14, about those that “eat up the afflicted ones off the earth and the poor ones from among mankind.” Such ones are like leeches, which are bloodsuckers and which continue to expand as they gorge themselves with blood. These persons always demand more money, more power. The grave, likewise, is open always for more victims of death. The barren womb ‘cries out,’ as it were, for children. Rachel said to Jacob: “Give me children or otherwise I shall be a dead woman.” (Gen. 30:1) A drought-stricken land drinks up the rain that falls on it and soon appears as though no rain had fallen. Fire, when it has devoured what is thrown into it, licks out its flames at further combustibles, and will continue to burn as long as it is fed.
All these comparisons seem to be used as illustrations of the insatiableness of greed—the fact that greedy persons never find satisfaction or rest, but are goaded on endlessly by their selfish desire, consuming anything or anyone who stands in their way.