Cock or King? (Proverbs 30:29-31) PDF Print E-mail
Exegetica
Written by Peter J. Leithart   
Sunday, 22 May 2011 21:28

Proverbs 30 contains seven enumerated lists, which are punctuated with shorter proverbs:

A. Agur: Stupider than any man, vv 2-4

B. The word of God, vv 5-6

1. Two requests, vv 7-9

-don’t slander a slave, v 10

            2. Four generations, vv 11-14

            3. Two/three daughters of leech, vv 15-16

                        -eye that mocks father, v 17

            4. Three/four wonderful things, vv 18-19

                        -way of adulterous woman, v 20

            5. Three/four things that make earth shake, vv 21-23

            6. Four small wise things, vv 24-28

            7. Three/four stately things, vv 29-31

A’. Stop foolish self-exaltation, vv 32-33

The seven lists subdivides the list into four groups that are arranged in a “1, 2, 1, 3” rhythm. Further, the one-verse proverbs divide the whole sequence into a 4 + 3 pattern, like the creation week itself (where the last three days are distinguished as days of “blessing,” Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3).

Though the seven lists don’t seem to correspond with the days of the creation week, we do have at least the numerical correspondence, and verses 29-31 stand in the seventh, “Sabbatical” position. Sabbath is associated with rest, completion, enthronement, judgment, and we should be alert to the possibility that this section of Proverbs 30 is ringing changes on those themes.

One immediate link with Genesis 1 is the repetition of the root “good.” The Hebrew of Proverbs 30:29 uses two different words based on the same root – yatab, “be well” and tob, “be good.” We could bring out the repetition by translating the verse literally: “three things do well in stepping, and four good in walking.” In most of the days of the creation week, Elohim pronounced the world “good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The three/four things listed in these verses are thus among the “good, very good” things of the creation. These verses are connected with the creation and Sabbath in another way as well. The climax of the list is the key to the whole: All of these images explain the “goodness” of a king, and particularly the goodness of a king in the midst of his army of people.

The sequence moves from the lion to the cock (preferable to AV’s “greyhound”) to the he-goat to the king. We move from the world outside human control to a bird that is domesticated but not sacrificial to a sacrificial animal to a king. The list moves from the creature most distant from man to man himself, specifically to the king. As the list moves toward the king, the emphasis shifts dramatically, and we end up with a sharp contrast between the animals and the king.

The lion is a mighty man (gibbor) among the beasts, and does not turn back from the face of any other beasts. Though the lion is being described as “among” beasts, he is isolated on the throne of the wild animals. Lions don’t fight in packs; he fights leo a leo. The cock is “strutting.” That word also means “loins” and is often used in contexts where the loins are being “girded” for war or work. Like the lion, the cock is ready for battle, and will face down enemies. Like the lion, the cock is a lone battler. He may have a harem of hens, but the text doesn’t mention them. There is also no reference to a flock in the reference to the he-goat. In Daniel 8:5, a he goat (Alexander the Great) bucks here, there, and everywhere until he has conquered the whole world. Alexander had an army, but Daniel’s vision depicts his conquest as the actions of a single lead goat, bursting with testosterone. In each of the first three items on the list, the lone lead animal relies on his own native strength and courage to stand against opposition.

That is not true of the king, who walks with calm stateliness only when “surrounded by his army.” Unlike lions, cocks, and he-goats, kings depend for their strength and “goodness” on others. It is not good for man to be alone; it is not good for a king to be alone. When the king has not surrounded himself with an army, a crowd of supporters, he is vulnerable, weak, “not good.”

This principle applies to all sorts of leadership in human life. Men often operate on the idiotic macho assumption that they can do everything on their own, without help or advice from friends, wife, or associates. Husbands think that being head means being the lion and the strutting cock and the he-goat of the household. Pastors think they are the stars of their churches, and act as if they believe l’ecclesia, c’est moi. Employers forget that they have no business at all without employees. Nothing is more pathetic – “not good” – than a husband who charges out to lead a family that is not with him. Nothing is weaker than a king who heads into battle, and then realizes nobody is following him. Nothing is more un-stately than a king, without the robes of his people, processing alone. When leaders find themselves isolated, they naturally blame others: That’s the Adamic way. A President who is not leading blames the people for not following; a husband who fails to lead his family blames his family for rebelling against his headship. The real problem is that the leader is acting like an ass.

How is a leader to become a king surrounded by an army, rather than a lone lion, cock, and he-goat? Fundamentally, he has to recognize that he is not alone, is not meant to be alone, and cannot fulfill his absurd wish to lead alone. He has to learn that this dependence is not weakness, but the glory of man made in the image of the Triune communion. He has to learn that his “goodness” depends on being among others, and he needs to heed the lessons of Proverbs 30 as a whole. The whole chapter is designed to answer the question raised by the final, Sabbatical section: How does a king become “good” in his walk? How does he fulfill that created calling or potential?

Proverbs 30 tells us: A king becomes stately by humility (vv. 1-4, 32-33), by listening to God’s tested word (vv. 5-6), by renouncing Mammon (vv. 7-9), by honoring parents (vv. 11-14), by refusing the adulterous Lady Folly (v. 20), by cleaving to his wife and refusing to take on a mistress, another Lady Folly (vv. 21-23), by considering himself small but by being wise (vv. 24-28). If the king does all this, then he will “do well” in his steps and “be good” in his walk.

If he follows the wisdom of Agur, he will be a king, not a cock.



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