As we consider Agur’s fourth and final animal illustration, we must wrestle with an unusually enigmatic proverb.
As we consider Agur’s fourth and final animal illustration, we must wrestle with an unusually enigmatic proverb. We typically encounter this problem whenever a statement depends heavily upon a shared cultural experience that no longer exists. For example, the American expression “He came to me with his hat in his hand” depends heavily upon the shared experience of the Great Depression. During those desperate years, a cash-strapped man might have no other choice than to approach a group of friends for a donation. It was a humiliating experience for him to hold out his hat in the desperate hope they would drop a few precious coins into it.
Very few people today know the meaning of this expression because they never witnessed this practice—and very few men even wear hats today! Anyway, at the risk of adding one more possible interpretation of Proverbs 30:28 to an already long list, I would suggest that the author intends to illustrate the wise virtue of being helpful.
The Hebrew word rendered “lizard” in most translations is semamit, a word that appears only this once in the Old Testament. Most experts believe it refers to a kind of gecko. A similar word in Arabic denotes a species of lizard, leading many to suggest it is a common house lizard that feeds on insects and other pests. While one can easily “grasp with the hands” a lizard and kill it, most people tolerated them—in fact, gave them the run of the house—because the creatures did little harm and actually helped to solve a problem.
The application should be relatively obvious. Being small and vulnerable, house lizards are welcome in every home, including the palaces of kings, because they cause no harm and, in fact, improve their environment. The same can be said of wise people. Despite any weaknesses, disabilities, or disadvantages, everyone can find a way to be helpful. Even cruel, selfish people will show favor to someone who causes them no harm and finds ways to be beneficial.