Might you ever question whether or not your modest life can make an impact? You’re not alone.
Allow me to introduce a man I am quite confident will be a new friend, colleague, and favorite prophet. In your study of the Bible, you’ve read the chapter he authored, but probably didn’t give the man himself much thought. His name is Agur. He’s smart, funny, and quite perceptive. He loves God. He’s streetwise in a good way. And he’s not afraid to speak his mind.
Somehow, Agur’s writings made their way into the book of Proverbs. You have to give him credit for that. Three millennia ago there were quite a few word-slingers filling papyrus scrolls with inspired ruminations. Being included in the Old Testament alongside kings, prophets, and other spiritual giants is quite a coup.
Bible scholars agree that Solomon personally wrote or compiled chapters 1 through 29 of Proverbs. But how and why the last two chapters were tacked on is a bit of a mystery. No one disputes their relevance or authenticity, but very little is known about the authors.
We do know that Lemuel, author of chapter 31, was a king who received wise teaching from his mother. King Lemuel’s celebrated description in verses 10–31 of a “wife of noble character” has helped keep that last chapter of Proverbs in the limelight. The “Proverbs 31 woman” is a popular theme at women’s events.
Even less is known about Agur, author of chapter 30. As indicated in the opening words of the chapter, he was the son of Jakeh, another obscure reference, and he may have been from northern Arabia. That’s all the history we have. I suspect most readers of the Bible have never spent more than a moment considering his name, his reputation, or his single puzzling appearance in Scripture. Actually, that’s not unusual. There are quite a few historical characters who show up for a single scene or have only the briefest mention in the Bible but still leave a memorable impression. To prove the point, let’s take a quick look at three of them.
There’s Simeon, the aging prophet who met Mary and Joseph at the temple in Jerusalem when they presented Jesus soon after the fortieth day following His birth. The Holy Spirit had promised Simeon he would not die before seeing the Messiah. Taking the infant in his arms, the old man prophesied that Jesus would be a light to the world, causing the fall and rise of many people. His memorable story takes up a mere eleven verses in Luke 2.
The name Jochebed is mentioned only twice—both times in long genealogies. But we could make the case that her actions launched biblical history. The mother of three heroes of the faith— Moses, Aaron, and Miriam—Jochebed had the foresight and courage to send three-month-old Moses floating down the Nile in a papyrus basket to rescue him from Egyptian death squads (see Exodus 1–2). We may not remember her name, but she should be revered as a beacon of hope for anyone living under oppression and for mothers who love their children enough to let them go.
A third unforgettable biblical character mentioned ever so briefly is the repentant thief on the cross. On that history-changing Friday at Golgotha, one criminal hurled abusive taunts at Jesus, but the other recognized the divinity of Christ and confessed his own brokenness. We don’t know his name, but that thief’s insight at the triple crucifixion brings hope to those who come to Christ late in life, even in their final moments. In addition, Jesus’s promise to the thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), suggests there is no lag time between our time on earth and our entrance into heaven. That’s good to know.
It’s also good to know that modest lives like yours and mine can still make an impact. Can you identify with a guy who was moved to tears when he held a new baby, a mother who saw a great leader when she looked at her infant son, or someone whose eyes were opened upon meeting Jesus for the first time? Like Agur, these were real people. Simeon, Jochebed, and the thief on the cross were simply doing life.
On the other hand, the larger-than-life characters in the Bible—like Noah, Moses, Elijah, Abraham, David, Paul—can be a bit difficult to relate to. After all, God spoke to them on multiple occasions, and the Bible chronicles significant portions of their lives. That’s why, when I first came across Proverbs 30, I knew I had found an ally in Agur, a fellow humble traveler on this road of life.
I appreciate that Agur’s sayings—all thirty-three verses of Proverbs 30—made the cut. Since the chapter is included, then clearly the Bible would be incomplete without it! Which means we have a responsibility to spend time reflecting on how Agur’s words apply to our lives.
What’s more, his voice, his message, and his surprising prayer just might be exactly the plainspoken tonic we need to find peace in today’s world of universal discontentment and propensity for extremes.
Adapted from The Prayer of Agur: Ancient Wisdom for Discovering Your Sweet Spot in Life. Copyright © 2020 by Jay Payleitner. Published by Multnomah, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on June 9, 2020.