“Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die; Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” Proverbs 30:7-9
This is the time of year when many who read this magazine observe Prayer Day with a worship service, in which we look to God to bless us in the year ahead so that our earthly needs are taken care of. Traditionally, if we are farmers, we ask at the beginning of the planting season that God give us a good season of growing under rain and sunshine, and a good harvest in the end. And if we are not farmers, we nonetheless ask that He provide for the needs of our family, for the needs of God’s kingdom, and for the poor among us.
In light of this occasion of Prayer Day, these verses we consider are very suitable for our meditation. It is the prayer of one called Agur, and there are two requests in it. In the first request, Agur prays that God “remove from [him] all vanity and lies.” Very pointedly, Agur, like the psalmist in Psalm 31:6, is praying for idols or lying vanities to be removed from his life. Positively, he asks the one true God to give him the word of truth. Accordingly, it is with such an earnest, truthful spirit that Agur makes his second request to God. This is the main request of these verses and is our focus in this meditation.
This prayer of Agur, which includes his second request, is an urgent request. Its urgency is made known in two ways. In the first place, note the word “require” that he uses. When we speak this way among ourselves and say “I require something of you,” we are using the language of a command. When we say to our children, “I require you to mow the lawn,” or when our boss says to us, “I require you to work this Saturday,” those receiving these statements know they are receiving commands. They know who the boss is. But when the language of a command or requirement is used by a child of
God to his heavenly Father, the idea is not that we are commanding or bossing God around, but rather that we are pleading with God in great urgency. Agur’s request was a very urgent request of his God.
And the strength of his urgency is great! For, in the second place, he also says to God in his prayer, “Deny me them not before I die.” Few things make a request more urgent and solemn than when a child of God has his day of death in view. Being conscious of the limited measure of his days, he purposes to live the rest of his life without any regrets. While he is still allowed by God to continue on his earthly pilgrimage, Agur would have this request be answered by his God. “Deny me not!” he pleads. Such is his urgency that there is great intensity, even a sense of desperation in the depths of his soul that his request be heard and answered by God. Do our prayers lack intensity? We can learn from the urgency and earnestness of Agur in prayer.
But there is more. As much as emotions run deep in the heart and soul of Agur, it is not to the point where his mind is not clear as to what he is pleading for. His urgent request of God was also precise and accurate. It was very clear to Agur what exactly he would petition the Lord for. The precision of his request comes out of the formulation of his request, which is “Neither A nor B but C.” Such clarity and precision in his request to God reveals a serious contemplation as he prepared to pray. Agur was not a wishy-washy, whimsical person. He was no careless, superficial child of God who prays every now and then, prays superficially, and does not give much thought to his life and its priorities. Agur was one who, by God’s grace, lived his life consciously before his God. And what does he say to his God?
First, Agur says, “Give me neither poverty.” Poverty refers to the state of life on earth in which we are constantly finding ourselves looking for the basic necessities of life. Agur pleads with God that he not be poor. Then second, Agur continues, “Nor riches.” How many church-goers in our day will pray this? Let the Pentecostal and mega-church preachers who promote the “health and wealth gospel” and all their followers take note of this prayer! Agur’s petition is the exact opposite of what you are proclaiming! Away with that false gospel! Away with the message that “if you do what that preacher says, then God will add to your earthly wealth”! Away with the desire, zeal and goal to amass earthly riches! For Agur, under divine inspiration, says, “Nor riches.”
But this prayer of Agur is also for those who reject a “health and wealth gospel.” It is for everyone serious about his faith. Let what Agur says here speak also to you! How many times does not a child of God harbor thoughts, desires, and aspirations for himself or for his children to obtain abundant earthly prosperity? Living in our environment where we are surrounded with so much earthly wealth, materialism, and greed, do our souls share something of the prayerful desire of Agur here when he pleads with his God, “Give me neither poverty nor riches”? Are we willing to pray what Agur did?
Nor is Agur done. Moving from the negative to the positive, he continues, “Feed me with food convenient for me.” Literally, he says to God, “Feed me with the food of my portion.” This is the Old Testament equivalent of the fourth petition that Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In other words, “Give me what I need—nothing more, nothing less!” That need varies according to our circumstances: single, married without children, married with one child or with more children. But “Give me what I need” was the positive part of the request of Agur. How striking is Agur’s prayer!
As striking as his prayer is, so also striking are the reasons that Agur gives for his prayer. First, note the reason he gives not to be rich. Under inspiration, Agur gives us his reason: “Lest I be full and deny thee and say, who is Jehovah?” About this, we may say that it is certainly not sinful to be rich. There were godly men in the Bible who were rich, such as Abraham and Job. And certainly too, the sins of King Solomon were not his great riches, but rather his marriage to many wives and wives of the heathen nations. Yet, when we are rich, when we are full and have great abundance, when have so much more than we need, we are greatly tempted to deny our covenant God. Were not the Israelites warned by God that when they entered into the promised land and enjoyed the abundance of the fruits of the land, they must not forget Him (cf. Deut. 6:10-12)? And did they not forget Him, and soon after that deny Him by going after the idol gods of the heathen nations? Agur was well familiar with that history, and even more familiar with the weakness of his own flesh. Most of all, he abhorred intensely the thought of denying his covenant God.
Do you, dear reader, share that same sentiment with Agur? How true it is that all who have sought earthly riches have been ruined! The apostle Paul tells us just that in I Timothy 6:9-10, “But they will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
But just as striking is the second reason Agur gives, this time for the second part of his petition, which is that he not be poor. The reason has nothing to do with himself. It has nothing to do with the sufferings that come with being poor. But the reason had to do with God once again! Covenantal, God-centered, and deeply spiritual was the thinking of Agur! The reason is, “lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” Being poor, he will be put in a grave position in which he will be tempted to take God’s Name in vain. It could be that in his poverty he steals, and then under oath in court, he commits perjury to cover up his sin, which violates the third commandment of God. Or it could be that in his sore affliction of poverty he is tempted to take God’s Name in vain by cursing, either directly or indirectly by complaining and murmuring as God’s people did in the wilderness. Agur had no desire in the state of poverty or riches to blaspheme the Name of his God and hurt his blessed relationship of friendship with Him. Thus, he asks for neither poverty nor riches, but only for what he needs!
Having considered Agur’s prayer, let us conclude with three thoughts in the form of questions.
First, are we in the right spiritual state to make this request? If not, why? We need to ask God to search our hearts so that we are led to examine our lives carefully to determine the reasons why. May God give us grace to pray this prayer with the sincerity and urgency of Agur.
Second, what if God were to give us either poverty or riches? He might just do that! If God gives you, His beloved child, poverty, then submit to God and humbly accept that as His will for you. And then, pray mightily and constantly that you not take His Name in vain. But at the same time, do not be afraid to turn to the proper places for help: to family first, and if there is not enough there, to the deacons. God provides such care of us through them. When God gives us poverty, He also gives us deacons, whom He is pleased to use to meet our earthly needs. And if He gives you, His beloved child, riches, then also submit to Him, and accept that as His will for you. And then, pray mightily and constantly that you are a good steward of those riches, handling them so that you do not deny Him, but rather purposefully glorify Him and serve Him and His kingdom through them.
Third and finally, what was the possibility for Agur and, therefore, also our possibility for praying this prayer? Nothing else but the wisdom of the book of Proverbs, which is the wisdom of God in Christ crucified for us! In Christ we pray and grow in our hearts and lives! Trust in Christ and look to God for all your needs!