The Words of Agur Ben Yakeh

God? Who Needs Him?

30 1-2 The skeptic swore, “There is no God!
    No God!—I can do anything I want!
I’m more animal than human;
    so-called human intelligence escapes me.

3-4 “I flunked ‘wisdom.’
    I see no evidence of a holy God.
Has anyone ever seen Anyone
    climb into Heaven and take charge?
    grab the winds and control them?
    gather the rains in his bucket?
    stake out the ends of the earth?
Just tell me his name, tell me the names of his sons.
    Come on now—tell me!”

5-6 The believer replied, “Every promise of God proves true;
    he protects everyone who runs to him for help.
So don’t second-guess him;
    he might take you to task and show up your lies.”

7-9 And then he prayed, “God, I’m asking for two things
    before I die; don’t refuse me—
Banish lies from my lips
    and liars from my presence.
Give me enough food to live on,
    neither too much nor too little.
If I’m too full, I might get independent,
    saying, ‘God? Who needs him?’
If I’m poor, I might steal
    and dishonor the name of my God.”

* * *

10 Don’t blow the whistle on your fellow workers
    behind their backs;
They’ll accuse you of being underhanded,
    and then you’ll be the guilty one!

11 Don’t curse your father
    or fail to bless your mother.

12 Don’t imagine yourself to be quite presentable
    when you haven’t had a bath in weeks.

13 Don’t be stuck-up
    and think you’re better than everyone else.

14 Don’t be greedy,
    merciless and cruel as wolves,
Tearing into the poor and feasting on them,
    shredding the needy to pieces only to discard them.

15-16 A freeloader has twin daughters
    named “Gimme” and “Gimme more.”

Four Insatiables

Three things are never satisfied,
    no, there are four that never say, “That’s enough, thank you!”—

        hell,
        a barren womb,
        a parched land,
        a forest fire.

* * *

17 An eye that disdains a father
    and despises a mother—
that eye will be plucked out by wild vultures
    and consumed by young eagles.

Four Mysteries

18-19 Three things amaze me,
    no, four things I’ll never understand—

        how an eagle flies so high in the sky,
        how a snake glides over a rock,
        how a ship navigates the ocean,
        why adolescents act the way they do.

* * *

20 Here’s how a prostitute operates:
    she has sex with her client,
Takes a bath,
    then asks, “Who’s next?”

Four Intolerables

21-23 Three things are too much for even the earth to bear,
    yes, four things shake its foundations—

        when the janitor becomes the boss,
        when a fool gets rich,
        when a prostitute is voted “woman of the year,”
        when a “girlfriend” replaces a faithful wife.

Four Small Wonders

24-28 There are four small creatures,
    wisest of the wise they are—

        ants—frail as they are,
            get plenty of food in for the winter;
        marmots—vulnerable as they are,
            manage to arrange for rock-solid homes;
        locusts—leaderless insects,
            yet they strip the field like an army regiment;
        lizards—easy enough to catch,
            but they sneak past vigilant palace guards.

Four Dignitaries

29-31 There are three solemn dignitaries,
    four that are impressive in their bearing—

        a lion, king of the beasts, deferring to none;
        a rooster, proud and strutting;
        a billy goat;
        a head of state in stately procession.

* * *

32-33 If you’re dumb enough to call attention to yourself
    by offending people and making rude gestures,
Don’t be surprised if someone bloodies your nose.
    Churned milk turns into butter;
    riled emotions turn into fist fights.

Speak Out for Justice

31 The words of King Lemuel,
    the strong advice his mother gave him:

2-3 “Oh, son of mine, what can you be thinking of!
    Child whom I bore! The son I dedicated to God!
Don’t dilute your strength on fortune-hunting women,
    promiscuous women who shipwreck leaders.

4-7 “Leaders can’t afford to make fools of themselves,
    gulping wine and swilling beer,
Lest, hung over, they don’t know right from wrong,
    and the people who depend on them are hurt.
Use wine and beer only as sedatives,
    to kill the pain and dull the ache
Of the terminally ill,
    for whom life is a living death.

8-9 “Speak up for the people who have no voice,
    for the rights of all the misfits.
Speak out for justice!
    Stand up for the poor and destitute!”

Hymn to a Good Wife

10-31 A good woman is hard to find,
    and worth far more than diamonds.
Her husband trusts her without reserve,
    and never has reason to regret it.
Never spiteful, she treats him generously
    all her life long.
She shops around for the best yarns and cottons,
    and enjoys knitting and sewing.
She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places
    and brings back exotic surprises.
She’s up before dawn, preparing breakfast
    for her family and organizing her day.
She looks over a field and buys it,
    then, with money she’s put aside, plants a garden.
First thing in the morning, she dresses for work,
    rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started.
She senses the worth of her work,
    is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.
She’s skilled in the crafts of home and hearth,
    diligent in homemaking.
She’s quick to assist anyone in need,
    reaches out to help the poor.
She doesn’t worry about her family when it snows;
    their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear.
She makes her own clothing,
    and dresses in colorful linens and silks.
Her husband is greatly respected
    when he deliberates with the city fathers.
She designs gowns and sells them,
    brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops.
Her clothes are well-made and elegant,
    and she always faces tomorrow with a smile.
When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say,
    and she always says it kindly.
She keeps an eye on everyone in her household,
    and keeps them all busy and productive.
Her children respect and bless her;
    her husband joins in with words of praise:
“Many women have done wonderful things,
    but you’ve outclassed them all!”
Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades.
    The woman to be admired and praised
    is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.
Give her everything she deserves!
    Adorn her life with praises!

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