God’s Word for You
Proverbs 30:15-16 Daughters of the leech
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 12, 2021
15 “The leech has two daughters: ‘Give!’ and ‘Give!’”
The number of fantasies that have been batted around over the centuries about the “leech” in this proverb are just too many to mention. Suffice it to say that in this comparison, the leech is just that, a leech, a wormlike thing that lives by sucking blood. But who are the two daughters? They are “Give!” and “Give!” We don’t need to overthink this, since it is expanded on in the very next proverb (15b-16). But anything that is like a leech (greed, covetousness, addictions of every kind, sinful habits, etc.) all say “gimme gimme gimme” and never quit. But should we only think of sinful things, wicked things, shameful things, or things that are the result of sin in the world? Is a leech a wicked thing, or simply one of God’s creatures? When the Greek translation of Proverbs was made in about the 3rd or 2nd century BC, the translator put the best construction on this, taking it in the kindest possible way, and had the leech’s daughters saying “Love” and “Be loved.” The Hebrew clearly says, “Give, give,” but it’s worth remembering that one who truly loves wants only to love more, and that one who is truly loved wants only to be loved more. It’s a wonderful little moment in the world of translation, one worth remembering—especially when you love, and are loved. Keep it up.
“Three things are never satisfied, four never say, ‘Enough!’: 16 the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’”
Here we have four things that are the result of sin in the world, but which are not sinful of themselves. The grave keeps asking and asking. The word sheol sounds very much like the Hebrew for “ask.” And the grave will not stop asking for more until Christ empties all graves on the Last Day (1 Corinthians 15:52).
The barren womb is a way of describing a woman, or more specifically a married couple, who want a child but have none, such as Isaac and Rebekah, who prayed for a child, their prayer was answered (Genesis 25:21). Once the barren couple has a child, the need is sated. If they are given more children, they will be happy, but if they have only the one child, they have a special happiness that cannot say, “The Lord did not give.” This line also reminds us that a barren womb invites prayer, and that a womb should not be kept barren as if barrenness pleases God. How many thousands, millions, of men and women have been led to believe that they should forsake marriage as if God commands them to? The Confutation (opposition) to our Augsburg Confession spat: “Let them show, if they can, where God commanded priests to marry” (Pt. II, Article II). Besides all of the ordinances about who an Old Testament priest could and could not marry, as well as the laws about the daughters of priests (Leviticus 21:1-15; Ezekiel 44:22,25), there are also the words of Paul about Christians in general and marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2-5,9) and about ministers of the gospel in particular: “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Peter?” (1 Corinthians 9:5). Ministry is not enhanced by forbidding marriage, but by promoting godly living. A chaste marriage is God’s will and a constant lifelong blessing. A failed attempt at celibacy would be a constant lifelong struggle and a continuous need for repentance, tormenting the sinner until death because of natural urges, and forcing a womb to be barren against the will of God. So when Paul says, “Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2), that is answer enough for the Confutation. It is “an express command, directed to anyone not suited for celibacy” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIII:14). If it is demanded that we show a command requiring that priests should marry, as though priests (and nuns) were not human beings, we maintain that priests and nuns should marry because whatever applies to human nature in general, applies to priests and nuns as well. The wombs of nuns should not be barren. The wombs of the women who would have been priests’ wives (and about this we will not say more, but common knowledge may speak) should not be barren, according to the will of God given to Adam and Eve at their marriage.
Land in Canaan might never say it has enough water, but there are places on earth that pray for less. Still, this is a proverb of Israel, and as such it stands as it is because of the context of Agur’s life and surroundings. The land in Israel always needs a little more water.
Fire is a special case. When fire is given fuel, it keeps burning, and it even grows. Fire can only be stopped by starving it, either of fuel or air. If fire is allowed to ask, it will never stop asking.
Agur has masterfully combined death, life, water and fire into a single string of sayings. All of these keep asking and asking. But what is God saying to us with these things? Is this law, or is it gospel? It is law, because all of these things are the result of sin. Death came through sin (Genesis 3:19; Romans 5:12). In a world without sin or error, no womb would have been barren. God’s command to be fruitful and multiply would be carried out by every couple in an ideal way (Genesis 1:28, 9:1). The land would not be parched and would bear no thorns or thistles (Genesis 3:18; Hosea 10:8); there would be water in abundance at all times and in perfect amounts (Genesis 2:6; Leviticus 26:4). And fire? Fire should be a tool, and fire would not be a weapon, nor an accident, without the curse of sin. Fire would be man’s servant and never his enemy.
As a little sermon on the law, this proverb leaves us with an additional daughter of the leech: the broken heart that is crushed by the law also calls out, “Give! Give the gospel!” The human heart can’t go on, can’t live, without the comfort of the gospel. This is proved by the ways people try to supply a substitute for the gospel when they reject Christ. They still can’t live with the law. They try to redefine what is law, or what is sin, or what the payment for sin should be. So once again we see that the difference between all religions and between almost all Christian denominations is how these two questions are answered: Who is Christ? And, what is the answer to sin? As your Christian heart cries out, “Give! Give the gospel,” don’t despair. The gospel of your forgiveness goes back to the cross. Jesus died to atone for your sin, and Jesus rose from the dead to live out the promise that we all will rise. Trust in Jesus, O daughter of the leech, and all of your longing and yearning will be satisfied.
Pastor Timothy Smith