Verses 7–9

After Agur’s confession and creed, here follows his litany, where we may observe,

I. The preface to his prayer: Two things have I required (that is, requested) of thee, O God! Before we go to pray it is good to consider what we need, and what the things are which we have to ask of God.—What does our case require? What do our hearts desire? What would we that God should do for us?--that we may not have to seek for our petition and request when we should be presenting it. He begs, Deny me not before I die. In praying, we should think of dying, and pray accordingly. “Lord, give me pardon, and peace, and grace, before I die, before I go hence and be no more; for, if I be not renewed and sanctified before I die, the work will not be done after; if I do not prevail in prayer before I die, prayers afterwards will not prevail, no, not Lord, Lord. There is none of this wisdom or working in the grave. Deny me not thy grace, for, if thou do, I die, I perish; if thou be silent to me, I am like those that go down to the pit, Ps. 28:1. Deny me not before I die; as long as I continue in the land of the living, let me continue under the conduct of thy grace and good providence.”

II. The prayer itself. The two things he requires are grace sufficient and food convenient. 1. Grace sufficient for his soul: “Remove from me vanity and lies; deliver me from sin, from all corrupt principles, practices, and affections, from error and mistake, which are at the bottom of all sin, from the love of the world and the things of it, which are all vanity and a lie.” Some understand it as a prayer for the pardon of sin, for, when God forgives sin, he removes it, he takes it away. Or, rather, it is a prayer of the same import with that, Lead us not into temptation. Nothing is more mischievous to us than sin, and therefore there is nothing which we should more earnestly pray against than that we may do no evil. 2. Food convenient for his body. Having prayed for the operations of divine grace, he here begs the favours of the divine Providence, but such as may tend to the good and not to the prejudice of the soul. (1.) He prays that of God’s free gift he might receive a competent portion of the good things of this life: “Feed me with the bread of my allowance, such bread as thou thinkest fit to allow me.” As to all the gifts of the divine Providence, we must refer ourselves to the divine wisdom. Or, “the bread that is fit for me, as a man, a master of a family, that which is agreeable to my rank and condition in the world.” For as is the man so is his competency. Our Saviour seems to refer to this when he teaches us to pray, Give us this day our daily bread, as this seems to refer to Jacob’s vow, in which he wished for no more than bread to eat and raiment to put on. Food convenient for us is what we ought to be content with, though we have not dainties, varieties, and superfluities—what is for necessity, though we have not for delight and ornament; and it is what we may in faith pray for and depend upon God for. (2.) He prays that he may be kept from every condition of life that would be a temptation to him. [1.] He prays against the extremes of abundance and want: Give me neither poverty nor riches. He does not hereby prescribe to God, nor pretend to teach him what condition he shall allot to him, nor does he pray against poverty or riches absolutely, as in themselves evil, for either of them, by the grace of God, may be sanctified and be a means of good to us; but, First, He hereby intends to express the value which wise and good men have for a middle state of life, and, with submission to the will of God, desires that that might be his state, neither great honour nor great contempt. We must learn how to manage both (as St. Paul, Phil. 4:12), but rather wish to be always between both. Optimus pecuniae modus qui nec in paupertatem cedit nec procul à paupertate discedit—The best condition is that which neither implies poverty nor yet recedes far from it. Seneca. Secondly, He hereby intimates a holy jealousy he had of himself, that he could not keep his ground against the temptations either of an afflicted or a prosperous condition. Others may preserve their integrity in either, but he is afraid of both, and therefore grace teaches him to pray against riches as much as nature against poverty; but the will of the Lord be done. [2.] He gives a pious reason for his prayer, Prov. 30:9. He does not say, “Lest I be rich, and cumbered with care, and envied by my neighbours, and eaten up with a multitude of servants, or, lest I be poor and trampled on, and forced to work hard and fare hard;” but, “Lest I be rich and sin, or poor and sin.” Sin is that which a good man is afraid of in every condition and under every event; witness Nehemiah (Prov. 6:13), that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin. First, He dreads the temptations of a prosperous condition, and therefore even deprecates that: Lest I be full and deny thee (as Jeshurun, who waxed fat and kicked, and forsook God who made him, Deut. 32:15), and say, as Pharaoh in his pride, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? Prosperity makes people proud and forgetful of God, as if they had no need of him and were therefore under no obligation to him. What can the Almighty do for them? Job 22:17. And therefore they will do nothing for him. Even good men are afraid of the worst sins, so deceitful do they think their own hearts to be; and they know that the greatest gains of the world will not balance the least guilt. Secondly, He dreads the temptations of a poor condition, and for that reason, and no other, deprecates that: Lest I be poor and steal. Poverty is a strong temptation to dishonesty, and such as many are overcome by, and they are ready to think it will be their excuse; but it will not bear them out at God’s bar any more than at men’s to say, “I stole because I was poor;” yet, if a man steal for the satisfying of his soul when he is hungry, it is a case of compassion (Prov. 6:30) and what even those that have some principles of honesty in them may be drawn to. But observe why Agur dreads this, not because he should endanger himself by it, “Lest I steal, and be hanged for it, whipped or put in the stocks, or sold for a bondman,” as among the Jews poor thieves were, who had not wherewithal to make restitution; but lest he should dishonour God by it: “Lest I should steal, and take the name of my God in vain, that is, discredit my profession of religion by practices disagreeable to it.” Or, “Lest I steal, and, when I am charged with it, forswear myself.” He therefore dreads one sin, because it would draw on another, for the way of sin is downhill. Observe, He calls God his God, and therefore he is afraid of doing any thing to offend him because of the relation he stands in to him.