Much of the Bible is written down for us by unnamed people, but a good deal of it is written down by named authors, some of whom we know quite a lot about. Many of the New Testament books are written by familiar names: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James – all people whose characters and life stories we get to know even as we read. Old Testament prophets pen letters or oracles to us: Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel – books named about their authors. Similarly, many of the psalms have headings (‘a psalm of David’, ‘a psalm of Asaph’ and so on) which anchor them to real people and real-life stories, real situations which formed the impetus and shape of these prayers. All the ‘dirt and noise of ordinary life’ (Eugene Peterson) is contained in the Bible.

Proverbs was largely written by Solomon (son of David, king of Israel, who famously asked God for wisdom when offered all he wanted by God (1 Chronicles 1)), but Proverbs 30, we are told, is ‘the sayings of Agur son of Jakeh’. ) We know nothing of this person, yet I find it tremendously reassuring to read these words, for they anchor Scripture to real people and real events. Wisdom does not exist in a vacuum. It is lived experience. There is a saying ‘wisdom is the product of survivable mistakes.’ It certainly results from choices and results in careful living.

The chapter starts by looking at those who do not believe in God. Like the fool in Psalm 14 or 53, the chapter starts with an ignorance of God: “I am the most ignorant of men; I do not have a man’s understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.” (Prov 30:2-3) .The believer does not accept the conclusion that there is no God, however. “Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov 30:5). The believer’s prayer is for falsehood and lies to be kept from him (Prov 30:8). He understands that our hearts are prone to wander and therefore asks for daily bread: sufficiency, not want or abundance, either of which may lead us astray (Prov 30:8-9).

We understand that we can be pure in our own eyes and yet remain filthy (Prov 30:12) and therefore we need God’s help on this journey through life. As we list things we need or reflect on things that please or displease God, we will learn wisdom and therefore can turn away from folly.