BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 14
Copyright 1990, Biblical Horizons
11. There is a type of person [a generation] who curses his father, And does not bless his mother. 12. There is a type who is pure in his own eyes, Yet not washed from his filthiness [manure]. 13. There is a type — oh how lofty are his eyes! And his eyelids are raised [in arrogance]. 14. There is a type whose teeth are swords, And his jaw teeth knives, To devour the afflicted from the earth, And the needy from among men.
The words of Agur the Sojourner in Proverbs 30 reflect on the theme of humility and arrogance. Here is a description of the arrogant man. The verses each begin: "A generation who," which is a general way of speaking in Hebrew. We could paraphrase it this way, "There are people around who curse their fathers, etc." I have rendered it "There is a type of person who, etc."
This proverb is a set of four descriptions arranged climactically. The first three are seemingly "minor" or at least private offenses, but they describe the normal behavior of this type of person. The fourth is the punch: This kind of person destroys the lives of the poor and helpless. This kind of person is much more horrible than appears at first glance.
First, this is the kind of person who dishonors his parents. The word for "curse" here is the same as in verse 10, and it means "dishonor, degrade, cut down." This kind of person calls his father "the old man" and his mother "the old lady" in a disparaging tone of voice. He treats them lightly, dishonoring them. If we let our children get by with this — if fathers allow children to degrade their mother — they will grow up with teeth like swords.
Those who went too far in "cursing" their parents were to be put to death in Israel (Ex. 21:17). The Bible gives two examples of this, one in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and the other in Mark 7:9-13. As I put it in my book The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (photocopy available from Biblical Horizons for $19.50), "Repudiating parents could mean a settled, publicly manifest disposition to reject Godly household rules. It could mean a refusal to care for them in their old age. It could mean reviling and cursing them. For the death penalty to be applied, however, there would have to be evidence that would stand up in court. The small boy who wants to appear tough to the fellows may call his parents `the old man’ and `the old lady.’ He is not guilty of a capital crime, though he is in sin nonetheless." (Law of Covenant, p. 107.)
Secondly, this kind of person is pure in his own eyes. He won’t take criticism. He knows it all. He’s never wrong. Yet the proverb says that it is apparent to others that he smells like dung. He has not cleaned himself after using the bathroom, is what the proverb literally says. Self-righteous people often stink to others, even if they smell like "pure" incense to themselves (Ex. 37:29). If we let our children grow up without driving this kind of attitude out of them, we raise them to have jawteeth like knives.
Third, this kind of person has lofty eyes, with eyelids raised in arrogance. In the Bible, the eyes are a seat of judgment. This begins in Genesis 1, where repeatedly God "saw" what He had made and pronounced it good. Seeing is judging. The same is true of eyelids. As Psalm 11:4 puts it, "The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord, His throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men." The man with lofty eye and eyelids is a man who has set himself up as judge of other people. He looks down on them. He divides the world up into good guys and bad guys, and is ruthless towards those he dislikes.
These three verses describe a type of person very visible during the Viet-Nam war era in the United States, a time when I was in college (1967-71) and when I constantly saw just this kind of person. They had contempt for all authority, not trusting anyone "over thirty." They knew it all, and were the most self-righteous people I’ve ever come across. You could hear the self-righteousness in the whine of their voices as they talked on television every night.
Few bathed. Many of them did not use toilet paper. The New Left underground press used to have articles complaining about the stench of their communes, with humorous cartoons instructing the New Left hippies on how to use toilet paper.
They were arrogant beyond belief. With little or no knowledge of history, economics, or world affairs, they divided the world into good guys and bad guys, and were savage in their assaults on those they termed bad guys. They were a degraded generation. They were the spoiled children of liberal parents, who had failed to restrain them, and who had consequently raised a brood of vipers that cursed its parents.
Such people care only for themselves. They do not care about the poor, about history, about the future, or about anything else. Thus, they destroy society when given a chance.
Such people, says the Bible, are destructive especially to the poor and needy of the earth. Their ideological crusades work to tear down the existing organic matrices of life in the interest of new abstractions, and this wrecks the provisions that have grown up over time to protect the poor. When society is torn up, it is always those on the bottom who suffer the most.
This is the sorry truth about rebellious youth. It is not a laughing matter. It was armies of youth who tore up China in the Great Cultural Revolution, and armies of youth who massacred the population of Cambodia. Youth have always been the leaders of revolutions. The Bible says to respect age, the whited head, the elders. Those young people who respect age will grow to be wise and charitable.
I believe these verses describe Esau. This is just what Esau was like. Esau did not respect his parents, but repeatedly married pagan women, who vexed them. He was selfish and vicious. His descendants, the Edomites, described in Obadiah were the scum of the Near East, delighting to sink their sword-like teeth and their knife-like jaws into helpless and defenseless people.
A couple of comments on the Church and I’m done for this month. When I was in seminary, this anti-authoritarian trend had died down somewhat, but there was still some of it around. I saw men who did not respect tradition or age, who knew it all and who were always right in their own eyes. Some of these men have grown up to become ecclesiastical terrorists. Unfortunately, the lack of real eldership in the post-1970s churches has made it hard for such people to be dealt with as they should be.