Two things have I required of you; deny me them not before I die:…
Agur seems to allude to the ancient custom of feeding slaves in great families. They had a certain measure of food daily allowed them. He may also have had in view the manner in which God fed the people of Israel in the wilderness with manna, of which they were commanded to gather daily a certain measure, but none for the morrow. That God would thus supply his wants from day to day was his modest petition. We should interpret the prayer of this wise man in a favourable and candid manner, as put up by one who was religious and humble, and disposed to submit his own will to the will of God. It is a prayer of choice, or a comparative prayer. Riches, poverty, and a competency — these are things which cannot be accurately fixed without reference to the state and condition of men. Food convenient for a man is such a competency as will maintain him in that order, degree, or calling in which God hath placed him. The moderation of Agur's prayer is highly commendable if we consider that he lived at a time when temporal blessings were more expressly promised, and spiritual blessings less clearly propounded, than under the gospel. A competency, or a middle state between want and superfluity, deserves to be preferred as the best and happiest condition. The wiser Gentiles were of this opinion, but their reasons are reasons of convenience; but Agur gives for his choice a religious and pious reason. If we carefully examine the political laws of Moses, we shall find that the Divine providence intended the Jewish people for that very situation between poverty and riches which was the object of Agur's wish. The means of accumulating great wealth by an extensive commerce, by circulating large sums of money upon large interests, by extending their dominions, and by planting colonies abroad, were withholden from them; and their lands, industriously cultivated, would, by the blessing of God, furnish them with the necessaries, though not the superfluities, of life. Vows of poverty are made on the basis of our Lord's counsel to the young ruler. But that was, clearly, an extraordinary case. The practice of the first Christians, who sold their lands and possessions, is alleged in favour of voluntary poverty. But there is nothing commendable in superstitious and affected poverty. Agur represents poverty as a state which exposes to the temptations of dishonesty and perjury, and prays that he may not be exposed to it, and to the temptations which accompany it. No doubt he added endeavours to his petitions. It is not unlawful to possess riches. They are of their own nature indifferent. Many good men mentioned in sacred history were rich; but none of them are said to have been desirous of riches. Agur was apprehensive lest wealth should make him irreligious. Great wealth and power and honours bring with them a variety of business, draw after them a multitude of flatterers, nourish pride and conceit, and afford continual means and opportunities of pursuing all sorts of pleasures; so that what with the cares, and what with the diversions of life, no time is left for God and religion. There is, then, a plain and good reason why God for the most part withholds a great abundance of outward things from those whom He most loves, namely, lest by enriching the man He should lose the servant. It is very imprudent, therefore, in men earnestly to pursue that which so much endangers their welfare. They to whom wealth hath presented itself, either unsought, or honestly obtained, ought to be very cautious and considerate. Their state is exposed to danger, and yet it is possible to be wise and happy and safe in it, if proper means be used.
(John Jortin, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: