God’s Word for You
Proverbs 30:21-23 a bellyfull
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, April 16, 2021
21 “Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: 22 a servant who becomes king, a fool who is full of food, 23 an unloved woman who is married, and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.
Remember that in these numeric proverbs, the “three… four” pattern does not tell us that three of the items in the list are one thing (“bad”) but the fourth is another (“worse”). The pattern emphasizes the number four and the main comparison among all the items in the list. Permit me to show this by taking them in reverse order in this case.
Fourth: A maidservant who displaces her mistress. This is not a servant who marries a man after his wife has died, but a servant who displaces her own mistress while the mistress, the man’s wife, is still alive. The Sixth Commandment is a sin against God, but it is also always a sin against a spouse. Her anguish cannot be measured. Her grief will turn this way and that way, from shame to rage to despair, again and again. A person who drives a wedge through a marriage is guilty of a very serious sin.
Third: An unloved woman who is married. This is also a sin against the Sixth Commandment, but less clearly so to some than the fourth example. The sentence shows that she remains hated by her husband for their whole marriage. Not only is he not attracted to her physically and sexually, but he is actually repulsed by her. She wants to befriend him, but he despises her. He will not tolerate her company, he won’t treat her with respect or even with any kind of human decency. He has abandoned her even as he has married her. Today we would understand that she would have grounds for divorce, since he is being unfaithful to his vow to her. But in ancient times it was a terrible truth that a bad marriage was better than no marriage, as we see in the example of Abigail and Nabal (1 Samuel 25:2-3). Love in a marriage is a choice we make. A man, in this case, who chooses not to love what he has vowed to love, is guilty of a very serious sin both against God and against his wife.
Second: A fool who is full of food. By coincidence, the Hebrew word for “food” is also the name Nabal (1 Samuel 25:25). When a fool has his fill, he doesn’t give any thought to how he got what he has or who gave it. This is what Agur our author prayed about earlier in the chapter when he said, “Give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I might become poor and steal, and dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9). In Proverbs, a fool is someone who does not put his faith in God, who has no repentance, and who will not be saved. His very serious sin is unbelief.
First: A servant who becomes king. This is an intriguing and almost provoking statement. If Agur lived after Solomon’s time, even by just a few years, he would have seen this very thing take place. Solomon’s servant Jeroboam distinguished himself and was placed in charge of the labor force building the ‘millo’ or supporting terrace between the lower city and the Temple mount (1 Kings 11:27). Because of the sins of Solomon, a prophet was commanded by God to tear his cloak into twelve pieces and to give Jeroboam ten of them. He said, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for the Lord says, ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes’” (1 Kings 11:31). Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but he fled to Egypt to Pharaoh Shishak. Jeroboam returned after Solomon’s death, and this servant became king of the ten tribes north of Judah. He chose not to be faithful to God by introducing goat and calf idols north and south, and appointing his own priests to serve at those shrines (2 Chronicles 11:15). His sin was also a very great sin. He personally committed idolatry, but because he was king, he led many of the people away into idolatry as well. This made the stink of his sin all the worse before the Lord.
All four of these things show someone who has something that they shouldn’t have: An unwarranted crown, an undeserved full stomach, a bad marriage, an adulterous affair that wrecks a marriage. These sins attack the foundation of God’s plan for the world and for his people. When we have a gift, we should cherish it, and use it to God’s glory and to the best of our ability. Someone who is married should think, am I working hard to make my marriage a paradise for my spouse? Someone who has authority should ask: Do I understand that I don’t deserve this, but that I need God’s help to do it right? Someone who is attracted to a married person must ask: How can I bear this test? How can I help their marriage? Should I remove myself completely from the life and circle of this God-pleasing couple? And someone who foolishly disregards God’s holy word must be shown his sin and the gospel of forgiveness through Jesus. Whatever my gift, my test, or my challenge, may I always put God’s will ahead of my own. This is the First Commandment, and even though it can hurt to carry such a cross, it is always for my eternal good.
Pastor Timothy Smith