Illustrations of Four Things
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Proverbs, chapter 30, that portion of the Word of God that we are studying together. We would remind you that chapter 30 represents the first of two supplements with which the book closes. Chapter 30 contains what we have referred to as The Words of Agur . In the portion that we are considering, Agur is using a phrase with which we have become familiar: “There are three things, yea four,” emphasizing certain truths by way of illustration.

We now want to consider that portion of the chapter which begins with verse 21 and follows through the conclusion of the chapter:

Proverbs 30:

21 For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:
22 For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat;
23 For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.
24 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
25 The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;
26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;
28 The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.
29 There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:
30 A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;
31 A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.

We are going to stop our reading there because the two proverbs with which the chapter closes are not related to the series of fours which we are considering at the present time.

If we were going to look together in a way of summary concerning this passage of Scripture which we have read together, we might list the series of fours which we have read about in an individual fashion so that we would have noticed first: four intolerable things as they emphasize how utterly unbearable insolence is in our relationship one to another.

Then we would have noticed four little things as they are chosen by Agur to indicate to us how precious wisdom is in all of our activities.

Then we would call to our attention four comely things to which Agur referred, which emphasize the kind of behavior that is becoming to the children of God. You will recall when we first began our study of the book of Proverbs that Solomon said that the purpose of the book was that we might learn how to walk in wisdom, and we have these simple little illustrations in order to emphasize some very important truths along this line.

The First Series of Four

I am going to suggest that we notice together the four intolerable things which were brought to our attention when we read in verse 21:

Proverbs 30:

21 For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:

I have used the word intolerable to describe these four things because of the word disquieted . This word disquieted comes from the Hebrew word ragaz , which is translated by the word provoke . For example, in the book of Job, chapter 12, verse 6, you will notice that this word ragaz is translated by the word provoked , Notice:

Job 12:

6 The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly.

This is an observation of Job in the midst of his depression, and what it was saying was that it looked like it paid to do evil. “It is better to do evil than it is to do good. Evil prospers.” Of course, Job was proven wrong about this, as we know, but we called to your attention the verse that you might notice the word provoke . These robbers, these ungodly people provoked God to anger by their very actions, and this is the meaning of the word disquieted . Four things that are brought to our attention disquiet the earth. They provoke people on the earth because they are difficult to bear.

Go back to Proverbs, chapter 30, verse 21:

Proverbs 30:

21 For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:

This word bear suggests the idea of groveling under a terrific burden, a burden that presses down and presses the life out of the individual who has to deal with it. What is that burden? It is not mentioned in the illustrations but the illustrations themselves enable us to know that he was talking about the subject of insolence, as we pointed out to you when we gave you the little summary.

An Insolent Ruler

Look at verse 22 as he brings to our attention the first of the four things which provide insolence which is insufferable: “For a servant when he reigneth…” The picture here is of a servant who becomes a ruler. An individual who has the qualities of being the servant, suddenly thrust into places of authority, has an insolence about him that is unbearable.

An illustration of such an insolent ruler is found in the book of Nehemiah, chapter 2. Nehemiah and his compatriots were going back to the land to build the walls of the city of Jerusalem. They had no might and they had no power, and it was considered a foolish thing for them to even want to think about doing it. Quite a bit of fun was made of them. An illustration of the insolence of some of the people is given in verse 19:

Nehemiah 2:

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?
20 Then answered I [Nehemiah] them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.

Emphasis is placed upon the scorn and insolence of Tobiah, for if you were to read the story of Tobiah in the book of Nehemiah, you would discover that he was one of the lowest of servants, but he had inveigled his way into the favors of the king and had been made a lieutenant in the governing of the Israelites captive in this city. He, forgetting his place as a servant, was scornfully insolent even of the Word of God.

There is another suggestion in this very book that we are studying of how devastating and unbearable the insolence of servants can be when those servants are given the place of authority and a place of leadership. Proverbs, chapter 28, verse 3, reads:

Proverbs 28:

3 A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.

You will recall that when we were studying this particular chapter in detail, we found that the poor man here is a poor man who suddenly is elevated to a place of authority. He is a greater oppressor of the poor than even the rich could be, and he is like a sweeping rain or flood that leaves no food behind it.

The Insolent Rebel

Notice the second illustration of insolence in verse 22:

Proverbs 30:

22 …and a fool when he is filled with meat;

We have come across this word fool in our study of the book of Proverbs before, and we have said to you that the word fool could be translated by the word rebel , for it represents a man who is a rebel against God and against all that is right. That is the reason the Living Bible renders this particular phrase, “a rebel who prospers.” No one can be quite so insolent and unbearable in his attitude and actions as a man who has rebelled against God, and God at the moment has not dealt with him. He interprets the lack of judgment in his life as an indication that God is pleased with his actions and his activities. He becomes insolent and insufferable with both God and man.

The Insolence of an Odious Woman

If you were listening closely when we read the paragraph, you noticed that Agur used two men as an illustration—a servant who becomes a ruler, and a rebel who prospers. He used two women to illustrate how insufferable insolence can be. Look at verse 23. The world is disquieted. The world finds it very difficult to bear the activities in verse 23 of an odious woman when she is married. Notice:

Proverbs 30:

23 For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.

Two women are used as an illustration of insolence. Notice first the reference to an odious woman, as we remind you that it has nothing to do with body odor. It is not talking about a woman who smells bad after she gets married. The word odious is an interesting word. It comes from the Hebrew word sane which is translated elsewhere in the Word by the word hated . If you will look with me at the book of Genesis, chapter 29, you will see an illustration of a woman who was hated and who was scorned. This Hebrew word sane is used in this particular passage of Scripture. This verse describes the experiences of the wives of Jacob in connection with their childbearing. You are familiar with Leah and Rachel and the sad experiences they had because of the deceitfulness of their father. Leah was not able to give birth at this particular time to children, so you read in verse 31:

Genesis 29:

31 And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
32 And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.

Jacob made no secret of the fact that he loved Rachel. He had no warm feelings for Leah at all. She was scorned; she was hated, and because she was, God opened her womb that through the giving of birth to a child, she would be loved instead of hated.

We asked you to turn to this passage of Scripture that you might see an illustration of this word odious . A woman, who at one time is hated and scorned, then has the cause of hatred and scorn removed and is given a place of privilege and authority, becomes insolent in a way that is difficult to bear.

The Living Bible rendering suggests that same idea when it says: “A bitter woman when she finally marries.” The suggestion of the editors of the Living Bible is that here is a woman who has been scorned because of her maidenhood because she has not been able to have a husband. Finally, she is given a husband, and then she is insufferably insolent to all of her unmarried friends. Insolence that was insufferable.

The second woman who is used as an illustration of this insolence is found in the latter part of verse 23:

Proverbs 30:

23 …and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.

The King James translation does not give us much to think about. A rendering which I think is more significant is, “a handmaid who supplants her mistress.” When the mistress, the wife of the husband, is in her rightful place, the handmaid is treated as society would expect—as a maid; but by some means or other, the handmaid supplants the mistress and when she does, she becomes insufferably insolent to all of the other servants in the household with whom she had served as a servant.

These illustrations Agur brings to our attention in order that we might recognize that insolence is a despicable thing that makes the earth an unquiet place and places a burden upon individuals which is difficult to bear.

By way of application, we should recognize that we who are members of the family of God and are following the leadership of the Holy Spirit should not ever slip into this trap of insolence; and parents, who have a responsibility for the training of their children, should not ever permit their children, through their own carelessness, to become insolent to them as parents. If they do, they will find them insolent in every relationship they have and will have developed some unlovely people.

The Second Series of Four

We want to look at the second series of four, which we refer to as Four Little Things , in verse 24:

Proverbs 30:

24 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:
25 The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;
26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;
27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;
28 The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.

Ants as an Illustration of Diligence

You recognize that all of these creatures are miniature in size, and yet they are perfect illustrations of wisdom. You will notice that Agur said, “They are exceeding wise.” Each of them shows various characteristics of wisdom. The ants show the wisdom of diligence, for you will notice that the ants are little creatures, yet wise enough to make provision for their needs while they can. Winter will come when there is not opportunity for the ants to meet their needs, and so they diligently work during the summer.

If you wonder why we take the time to emphasize the characteristics of the ant and why the Word of God does, you should turn to Proverbs, chapter 6, where you are addressed personally there in verse 6 and asked to observe the activity of the ant in this regard. Notice:

Proverbs 6:

6 Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
8 Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
9 How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?
10 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
11 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.

It would behoove every child of God to practice the diligence that is shown in the wisdom of the ant in making preparation for the future. That statement is of wide application. You are at liberty to apply it as you will.

Conies Illustrate Shrewdness

Notice the second little creatures which are mentioned for our attention in verse 26:

Proverbs 30:

26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;

You probably don't know what conies are, so we call to your attention that the word conies is the translation of the Hebrew word shaphan , which very literally means, “hiding” or “something that hides.” It has come to refer to the badger who learns to make its home in the rocks because it is a place of refuge. Turn, please, to Psalm 104 for a definite statement from the Word of God concerning the wisdom of these little creatures as they illustrate that wisdom by keeping refuge in a place of security. Notice verse 18:

Psalm 104:

18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and [notice] the rocks for the conies.

The wisdom of the conies illustrates the shrewdness with which wisdom blesses individuals who act as they ought to act. Conies recognize that they are not a match for everybody. They recognize that they cannot begin to fight a battle with every creature with whom they come in contact, so they are shrewd enough to make provision for themselves by finding a place of refuge. We could well emulate such shrewdness.

Locusts as an Illustration of Harmony

Turn back to Proverbs, chapter 30, and notice the third little thing that is held up for our illustration. We read in verse 27:

Proverbs 30:

27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;

The locusts are brought to our attention to illustrate that characteristic of wisdom that I have designated by the word harmony . It is all right for you to have your way. It is all right for you to go in the direction in which you wish to go. It is all right to do things your way, but if you are wise, you will find yourself surrendering a view that is not a conviction for the sake of harmony with the other members of the Body of Christ, for harmony is a very precious thing, and organization which God gives is far more important than individual, selfish desire.

The harmony of locusts is illustrated very well in the prophecy of Joel. You might like to turn there and notice God's using the locust as an illustration of invading forces of judgment. He speaks of them as moving into the land of Israel like a mighty army. Notice Joel, chapter 2, verse 25:

Joel 2:

25 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.

God compares the locusts, which have no king or general, to an army that moves like a well-trained armed force to discharge God's judgment. Agur is saying, “Would it not be wise for us to discover that same kind of wisdom and act in harmony instead of in selfishness.”

Lizards as an Illustration of Flexibility in Wisdom

Back to Proverbs, chapter 30, where you notice the fourth little thing that is brought to our attention. Notice verse 28:

Proverbs 30:

28 The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces.

As that is written, it does not convey a great deal of meaning to us, for we don't think of the spider as showing any particular sense of wisdom, so it would be wise to call to your attention that the word that is translated by our English word spider , is the Hebrew word smamiyth, which is translated elsewhere in the Scripture by the word lizard . The interesting thing that Agur brings to our attention is that the lizard is a little creature, but so flexible in its movement and in its color that it is impossible for man to control it. As a matter of fact, a better rendering than the King James is, “The lizard thou canst not seize with thy hands, yet he is found in king's palaces.”

This suggests the flexibility of wisdom. Men who are hard and are not moved by anything and refuse to budge an inch are not manifesting a God-given wisdom, for God-given wisdom is flexible, as James has said: “It is easy to be entreated.” When you feel that you must have your rights, regardless; when godly men remonstrate with you and suggest that perhaps you could be wrong in your position, but you are unyielding and unbending, you might keep in mind these four little things that are good illustrations of wisdom.

The Third of the Series of Four

Look with me at verse 29, as I call to your attention another of the three series of fours that we are considering:

Proverbs 30:

29 There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going:

We want to think with you about four comely things, and because of this first statement, we are suggesting to you that Agur has selected these four comely things as the illustration for behavior that becometh godliness. The word comely and the word well are exactly the same word. They speak of stateliness. One rendering has it: “There be three things which are stately in step, yea which are stately in their stride.”

Lion the Epitome of Courage

You will notice the word step and stride suggesting to us the idea of behavior because a man is characterized by his walk. What are the four comely creatures? Look at verse 30:

Proverbs 30:

30 A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;

Because this lion is strongest among beasts, he is the epitome of courage. The rock of believers should be characterized by a godly courage that will enable them to face the lion in the street—as we have already noticed in our study of the book of Proverbs, courage that will cause him to stand and not turn away from any. Yet many believers are hindered in their walk with the Lord because of fear of man. God giveth lionhearted courage in a day when it is so sorely needed.

A Creature Well-Girded and Strong

Notice another stately creature in verse 31—the greyhound. You look at the word greyhound , and you immediately think of swiftness and of a dog that is used primarily for purposes of racing. There is nothing particularly wrong with that thought, but in the interest of accuracy, we should mention that the word greyhound comes from the Hebrew word word mothen , which means “a creature which is well girded and a creature that is strong.” It does not mean greyhound , but when the translators of our King James text were translating and they came across this word mothen , a creature that is well girded and is known for its strength, they used the word greyhound , for that portrayed the word to them. You might want to use some other animal as an illustration of this and you would be doing no violence to the Scripture if you did, for an individual who is well-girded is going to be strong. Glance at chapter 31, verse 17, and recognize that girded loins are essential to strength. Notice verse 17:

Proverbs 31:

17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.

The Israelites were instructed when they were eating the Passover in the land of Egypt to eat the Passover with their loins girded, ready for action. Agur brings to our attention this comely creature called the greyhound and said, “You need to be like that, girded and ready for action at a moment's notice.” I think it goes without undue application that some of us, if we had to go into immediate action for the Lord, would find it somewhat difficult because of the things that we would have to do in order to get ready to act. We, as believers of this age, should avoid all entangling alliances.

Goat Characterized by Surefootedness

We call to your attention the third comely thing we find in Proverbs, chapter 30, verse 31—a he goat. It is a simple statement, and you might wonder how a he goat could have any lesson for us in connection with behavior. We suggest that if you would take the time to follow illustrations throughout the Word of God in which the he goat is emphasized, you will find that he is characterized for his surefootedness.

You will recall that we read a moment or two ago from Psalm 104, verse 18, where the wild goat made his home in the rocks. The conies made their home there too. The rocks and the hills are the natural habitat of wild goats because of their surefootedness.

What does that have to do with believers? Turn to Psalm 37 for an application of truth concerning the steps of the believer, for this is certainly the day in which the surefootedness of the believer is an essential thing if we are going to walk as we should walk. Notice verse 31, speaking of the believer:

Psalm 37:

31 The law [the Word of God] of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.

This is just a way of saying that he will be surefooted. Did you notice the reason? The Word of God is in his heart. The reason that so many of God's dear children are slipping and sliding today and have no certain sense of security is that the Word of God is not hidden in their hearts.

A King Speaks of Confidence

Turn to Proverbs, chapter 30, and notice the last comely creature that is brought to our attention. Here Agur moves from the animal world in which the lion, the greyhound, and the he goat are found and calls our attention to a king. In the last part of verse 31, we read:

Proverbs 30:

31 …and a king, against whom there is no rising up.

A king who moves out with an army against whom nobody dares to rebel, speaks to us of confidence, confidence which should mark the walk of the believer in this world below. This confidence should characterize the behavior of the believer in the midst of a world that knows very little of these characteristics which we have brought to your attention.

Think Before We Speak

In closing, I would like to mention the last two proverbs in this chapter. You will recognize that they have no connection with anything we have noticed in the entire chapter, but this is typical of the book of Proverbs. We call them to your attention, and they speak for themselves. Notice verse 32:

Proverbs 30:

32 If thou hast done foolishly in lifting up thyself, or if thou hast thought evil, lay thine hand upon thy mouth.

This simple proverb suggests that we think before we speak, and if we have a foolish idea to promote our own interests or an evil thought, before we have a chance to say it, it would be wise for us to put our hand upon our mouth and not let it get out. That might be wise for you to remember the next time you are inclined to speak hurriedly.

Forcing an Issue Will Bring Strife

This last proverb has always been an amusing one to me. Notice verse 33:

Proverbs 30:

33 Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood…

Those are two indisputable facts. If you churn milk, you are going to get butter. If you wring a nose, you are going to get your hand bloody. Those are indisputable facts. Now, the lesson:

Proverbs 30:

33 …so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.

What does that mean? Just this: Just as certainly as you force milk into butter and blood out of a nose, the forcing of an issue is going to bring forth strife. Before you force any issue, it would be wise for you to consider whether it is worth the strife that it will bring forth.

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