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God’s Word for You

Proverbs 30:10-14 One generation

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, April 9, 2021

10 “Do not slander a servant to his master,
    or he will curse you, and you will be held guilty.”

This proverb does not fit in with the rest of the ‘numeric proverbs’ unless it is the introduction to verses 11-14. It can stand on its own. In Israel, servants were usually slaves who had little or no means of defending themselves. The proverb doesn’t forbid telling a master that his servant or slave has sinned, but if it isn’t your place, “never make trouble for trifles” (Bridges, Commentary on Proverbs). Paul told Titus to teach people “to slander no one, to be peacable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all” (Titus 3:2). Bringing a false accusation (slander) against someone who is not in a position to stand up for himself is only a way of bringing a curse down on yourself. We need to keep this in mind when we are tempted to gossip about anyone. And the modern proverb, “Do not speak ill of the dead,” has much to commend itself. We must watch our words always. The Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Nahum 1:3).

11 “One generation curses its father
    and does not bless its mother.
12 One generation is pure in its own eyes
    and yet its filth is not washed off.
13 One generation’s eyes are haughty,
    its glances are so disdainful.
14 One generation’s teeth are swords.
    With fangs like knives
    to devour the poor from the earth,
    and the needy from among mankind.”

A priamel is a short poem made up of brief, sometimes seemingly unrelated statements, which are brought together with an often brilliant conclusion. Jesus speaks one about himself: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Here, the four items conclude with the savage goal or end, the devouring of the poor and needy. In Hebrew, each part begins with the word dor, “generation.” This is the word we find in phrases like “a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9), “that whole generation” (Judges 2:10), and “in every generation” (Esther 9:28). This passage fits in with the other ‘numeric proverbs’ since each generation is in the singular: “One generation does this, one generation does that.” The reader is led to think that past generations were sometimes this way and sometimes that way, but the generation the reader lives in is all of these.

Perhaps the list is meant to climb, like a family of thugs trying to climb the social ladder from one generation to the next. First, a group of spoiled brats who hate their parents. Next, a snooty brood who are too stupid to cover up their crimes. They’re followed by a power-mad bunch who live off the wealth of the previous generation’s crimes and look down on everyone else. Finally, a vicious generation mad for blood, hurting, killing, destroying wherever they please. If they have any children, the cycle will begin all over again. We might find ample examples in the book of Judges, or the generations surrounding Saul, David and Solomon. Let’s take a brief look at each part:

    One generation curses its father
    and does not bless its mother.

The Law of Moses says, “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death” (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9). This was also touched on in Proverbs 20:20. We must remember that for a child, the Fourth Commandment stands in place of all the other Commandments until God’s Word is learned. Although the Bible never speaks about a so-called “age of accountability’ (which many modern churches like to hold up as if it were part of the Law of Moses), the very first command for every child is love for parents and obedience to parents. This is how a child shows his love for Christ.

    One generation is pure in its own eyes
    and yet its filth is not washed off.

David condemned the wicked man: “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he had ceased to be wise and to do good” (Psalm 36:2-3). Such a man does not wash off his filth in repentance. “He does not reject what is wrong” (Psalm 36:4). We can’t remember every sin we commit, but no one is forgiven if they claim to be without any sin at all. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

    One generation’s eyes are haughty,
    its glances are so disdainful.

Jeremiah condemned an entire generation of Moab: “He is very proud. He is haughty, he is conceited, he is proud, and his heart is arrogant. I know his insolence, says the LORD. It is empty. And so are his deeds” (Jeremiah 48:29-30). Arrogance is an attempt to lift oneself up over everyone else without deserving it in the least. Luther said, “Everyone strives after that which is above him, after honor, power, wealth, knowledge, a life of ease, and whatever is lofty and great. And where such people are, there are many hangers-on; all the world gathers round them, gladly yields them service, and would be at their side and share in their exaltation” (Luther’s Works, vol. 21 p. 300). The haughty think that because they have wealth or power or prestige, that they can get away with disobeying the law. The law will catch up with them.

    One generation’s teeth are swords.
    With fangs like knives
    to devour the poor from the earth,
    and the needy from among mankind.”

Finally we come to the generation with swords for teeth and knives for fangs. We don’t have to be experts at figurative language to understand that Agur means that they want to ruin everyone who is weaker than they are. These are the sort of people who always want to talk about there being “only two kinds of people in the world,” and then divide the world into, what? Sheep and wolves. Sharks and shark food. Hunters and hunted. Well, in a sense they’re not wrong, but they have it backwards. Jesus will divide everyone in the world into just two groups in the end, but not predators and prey. “He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). The generation that loves to pick at everyone, coveting everything, devouring everyone, taking everything in the worst possible way, and belittling anyone who is different—they will be held accountable for their sins before God in the Judgment.

Luther’s brilliant little explanations of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments put our neighbor’s well-being above all: “We do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house… We do not force or entice away our neighbor’s spouse, workers, or animals, but urge them to stay and do their duty.” And to the Ninth, he also included the moral compass about our neighbor’s belongings or house: “We do not obtain it by a show of right, but do all we can to help him keep it.” It isn’t enough to refrain from destroying your neighbor’s life. You should help him when he needs it. Lend if he asks. Point out if he overlooks. Be patient if he differs. Rebuke if he sins. Rejoice if he repents. This is not only how God provides for us (Luke 12:6-7, 15:7), but it’s how God wants us to live within his world and carry out some of his provision for the people around us, lifting up the poor and needy among mankind, because Christ lifted us from death to life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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