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“Holding forth the Word of Life” Philippians 2:16
“Holding fast the Faithful Word” Titus 1:9
My text is Proverbs 30:5–6, “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”
When will men heed Wisdom’s first as well as final word on God’s inspired Words? In Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32 we read this first word of warning “moved and seconded:” “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you … What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.”
In Revelation 22:18–20 this warning is finalised and fixed forever: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Furthermore, does not that warning re-occur repeatedly throughout the pages of the Scripture? We recall the Apostle Paul’s final words to his successor Timothy: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). Here Paul calls the Holy Scriptures nothing less than ta hiera grammata, not just sacred words, but “the sacred letters,” reminding us of Dean Burgon’s “every letter,” for do not sacred letters result in sacred words?
There is also Wisdom’s final word in the Book of Proverbs on how men should treat the Word of God. What we have in these verses, in germ, is expounded more fully elsewhere, as for instance in Psalm 12, where the polluted words of the wicked (verses 2–3) are contrasted with the pure words of God. God’s Way is perfect, and God’s Word is also perfect (Ps 18:30). It is not tainted with the deceit and flattery, the dross and perversion, of sinful men!
Consider the context of Proverbs 30:1–9. The last two chapters in the book of Proverbs seem to be an appendix to the whole Book. Generally speaking, the context, when expounding the individual proverbs, does not affect their meaning; each of the proverbs mostly stand alone, or in pairs, or in small groups. There are places, however, where the context does have significance, and we suggest the verses in Proverbs 30:5–6 appear to be so.
In the phrase, “the knowledge of the holy” (v3), where holy is plural, is there not an allusion to a certain plurality in the divine nature? This is understood by many as a name for God Himself (cf “the holy [One],” Prov 9:10). It was certainly used by Isaiah as a favourite designation for God, when he spoke of the holy one of Israel, and which he used some 30 times. Our God is the Thrice Holy One before whom the Seraphim covered their faces and feet, and before whom Isaiah fell in deepest conviction and confessed his own and his nation’s utter uncleanness! With Moses, let us put off our shoes from off our feet, for we are standing upon holy ground.
Who Agur was no one can say for certain. Is it a name of one person, or are there four “unknown” men referred to here? The name “Agur” means “to gather” (6:8, 10:5), thus Agur may simply refer to someone who “gathered or collected” wise sayings. Agur is also referred to as ben Jakeh, the son of Jakeh. The root of Jakeh means “to preserve” from evil or fear, or to be pious, so is Agur “a pious son” who preserves proverbs? Some (Jerome and others) have conjectured that Agur was another name for Solomon himself, like Qoheleth, “collector,” “preacher,” or Lemuel, meaning “devoted to God,” who is generally supposed to be Solomon himself. Undoubtedly, Solomon was a consummate collector or gatherer of all sorts of knowledge (Eccl 1:1, 2, 13, 16; 2:8). “It is well known that Hebrew names are always significant, and therefore it is not surprising that such an ambiguity should occur.”1 Derek Kidner also noted: “The ancient versions likewise eliminate the proper names here. It [their meaning] remains an open question.”2 Yet undoubtedly, whoever speaks here does so as a man of God, endowed with the gift of prophecy (Hebrew hammassa, the burden of the Lord!), and his purpose is to teach us some valuable lessons.
The meaning of the names Ithiel, which literally means “with me is God” or simply “God is,” and Ucal which means “an able one,” have also been disputed. The RV (1881, marg) changed these names into verbs, but in this context may they not be taken as veiled references to Christ, the Son of God, with whom their meanings so well agree, for it is the Son’s name, as well as the Father’s, that is here inquired after: “What is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?”
And who can tell? Yes, there is a Son in the Eternal Godhead, begotten from all eternity (cf Prov 8:22–30). Jesus Himself declared: “No man knoweth the Son but the Father” (Matt 11:27). Though for a while the Son’s Name was secret (Judg 13:18; John 3:2,13), and He was referred to as “the seed of the woman” and “of the seed of Abraham,” He had many names in the OT. He was “Shiloh,” “Immanuel,” “Wonderful,” “the Man,” “the Branch,” “the Lord Our Righteousness.” His Name, which is the expression of His Godhead, was not known by the light of nature, but only by “special” revelation (Job 11:7–9). “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son” (Gal 4:4). His name is “Jesus,” “the Messiah (Christ),” “the Son of God,” “the Word of God,” “the Creator,” “the King of kings and Lord of lords,” “Ho Erchomenos.” Man could never have guessed the answer to the question: What is his son’s name, but God Himself sent us the Answer in His Son! “The hinge of history was on the door of a Bethlehem stable!” (Ralph W Sockman).
C H Spurgeon said: “Agur passed the greatest censure upon himself, that his hearers might not suffer their faith to stand in the wisdom of men.”3 Could Solomon have uttered Agur’s words? Yes, for is not one of the marks of true wisdom an honest awareness of one’s own ignorance, especially in the presence of the God of the Bible? How brutish is man’s knowledge now compared to that of an un-fallen Adam (Ps 73:22). Before Agur would speak of such a God as he here describes, he must abase himself (Prov 15:33; Matt 23:12). Amos said, “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son,” but what a prophet he was (7:14)! Should we not all do the same, and lie in the dust before Him whose understanding is infinite (Ps 147:5)?
So Agur, though his language is very strong, may simply have meant: “I did not learn wisdom, for I have knowledge of the holy” (marg “know”), and, as we know, “action is the proper fruit of knowledge.” Insufficient by himself, Agur humbly points us to the Creator God, the One who controls the heavens, the winds, the seas and the earth. It is, therefore, none other than this God whose every word is perfect (vv5–6). It is none other than this God before whom Agur can truly acknowledge his brutishness and ignorance, and what God is to one saint He is to every saint. It is, therefore, none other God than this God whose every word is pure and can be trusted implicitly. Such, then, is the contextualisation of Proverbs 30:5–6, but there is more.
Yes, there is an inquisition in progress here as recorded in verse four. “Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?
It has a familiar ring to it. It reminds us of the questions God put so forcefully to Job (38–41), and also as He announces the coming redemption of His people (Isa 40:12–14, 18–28). This inquisition was intended to remind “man” of his puniness and proneness to forget who he is, on the one hand, and to counter the prevailing practice of forgetting who God is, on the other. Here, then, is the challenge to remember who controls the heavens, the winds, the waters, and the earth. Who has established all these things? What is his name, and what is his son’s name, if you can tell? Again, we ask, Who can tell? The answer is obvious. None but the Mighty-Creator-God of the Scriptures, and His Almighty Son, can resolve “the riddle” of Life. Jesus clearly referred to this passage when he said to Nicodemus: “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13). Did He not command the winds and the waves to obey Him, and did not the disciples cry out in amazement and fear, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Matt 8:27).
It is in this context and of this God, the God of Creation and Redemption, that we can now properly consider the Word of this God that is set before us in Proverbs 30:5–6. Will we trust the pure Words that this God has been pleased to preserve for us, or will we choose to follow the “guessing game” of those who will be reproved by this God and found to be liars (v6)? Let us now consider the Words of Him who holds the World, and all who are in it, in His unseen but omnipotent Hands.
“Every word of God is pure” (v5a). This reminds us of Paul’s, “All scripture,” and most surely includes every word, Old Testament as well as New Testament, without exception. The word “pure” refers to a process whereby precious metal is refined or smelted in a furnace to remove every particle of dross, thus producing the purest gold or finest silver. Psalm 12 says, “The words of the Lord ... purified seven times.” Seven is the number of completion, of perfection, and means that God’s Words are and can be nothing less than the purest perfection. There can be no misgivings or doubts about their purity. “Of what other book in the world can this be said? Where else is the gold found without alloy? The word is tried. It has stood all the trials, and no dross has been found in it. ‘Having God for its Author, it has truth without any admixture of error for its matter.’”4 Another old commentator agrees: “There are no superfluities in the word of God. Every word of God is useful and holy, righteous and true … Because the word of God is very pure, we ought to love it, and to believe it with all our hearts, and to trust in God, as he is revealed to us in it. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”5 Why then should there be any misgivings, or any doubt as to their reliability, or any need for their “improvement” by the unholy hands of men? “To reject therefore one ‘jot or tittle is a sufficient demonstration,’ as Dr. John Owen admirably observes—‘that no one jot or tittle of it is received as it ought.’”6
“He is a shield …”. Does “shield” here (v5b) refer to God or to God’s Word? The Hebrew, we suggest, could be rendered either way, though most commentators treat it as referring exclusively to God. Certainly, there are many verses where God is called a shield to His people, but we take the primary reference here to be every word of God. Is not God’s Word just another way of referring to God Himself, Himself revealed, who is behind His every word? When we believe that every word of God is pure, that Word acts as a shield to them that put their trust [seek refuge] in it, that is, in His Word (in Hebrew “word” is masculine gender thus giving rise to “he”). It is the word of faith (Rom 10:8) to be believed, the faithful word to be held fast (Tit 1:9), and it is that Word that holds firm the one who trusts in it too! “Yes—if the word of God be pure, it must be a sure ground of trust.”7 Without his shield, would not the soldier, in the thick of battle, be in deadly peril from arrows or sword? Do not many Christians admit that those times of breakdown in their testimony were due mainly to their failure to use this divinely provided shield, the Pure, Preserved and Preserving Word of God?
“[It] He is a shield to them that put their trust in him [it].” Many evangelicals while paying lip service to verbal inspiration have difficulty with verse 6. A Hebrew professor of Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary states: “Verses 5 and 6 clearly go together, linked by God’s ‘words’, yet verse 6 is difficult to explain or even to accept, especially by people who write commentaries.”8 “Difficult to explain or even to accept,” says this Hebrew professor, and no wonder, for these verses contain another clear and fearful warning not to tamper with God’s words. Our Lord Jesus said in His encounter with the Devil in the wilderness, “It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). The critics omit “but by every word of God” from this text. Why? Certainly it is not because it is “difficult to explain or even to accept,” but because of “the presuppositions” by which these textual critics operate. They prefer to trust a perverted minority text rather than the text that is supported by the vast majority of the manuscript evidence. They wilfully disregard God’s repeated warnings not to mix the pure gold of God’s words with the dross of human conjecture, for, in spite of all their claims to have superior manuscripts and the latest scholarship on their side, it all comes down in the end to “human conjecture” which is just a covert way of saying “man’s fallible guesswork.” “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold, but the Lord trieth the hearts” (Prov 17:3). Yet this removal of God’s inspired words is still going on in most modern versions. May we not say “all” modern versions?
Many insist on separating inspiration from preservation, leaving them free to add to or subtract from the Words of God. The historic Confessions all affirm that God “by His singular care and providence kept pure [His Words] in all ages.” If it is not inspired “it does not matter if the Bible has been preserved ... It also follows that if the Bible has not been preserved, it does not matter how it was inspired” (Dean Burgon Society on “Preservation”).
“Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” “In certain parts of America the woodpecker is known by the name of sapsucker. We beg the honest woodpecker’s pardon for the liberty we take in applying the term spiritual sapsuckers to those who drain the Church’s vitality nowadays by preying on its very pith and marrow, the life-giving Word of the Lord.”9 Beware of these spiritual sapsuckers!
Will not many textual critics of the pure words of God be proved to be liars in the Day of Judgment! Why, we may well ask, do these clever, highly trained, textual critics still refuse to heed the repeated warnings and to bow before God’s Pure-Preserved-Preserving Words? Why do so many pastors in “evangelical” pulpits glibly assure their congregations that “one version is as good as another,” that is, “all except that archaic KJV!”? No wonder that multitudes of “Christians” rush out to buy the latest version hot off the presses? Does not the reason for this mishandling of the Bible lie in the widespread indifference to truth in academia today, and in our society at large today? It has been well said that “the hallmark of modern humanity is its relentless emasculation of truth.” What is called modernity, that is, this so-called more enlightened age of ours, now determines our value-systems. David F Wells, no friend of Dean Burgon Society, pointed out that ours is “the therapeutic age” where preaching has been “psychologised,” and where the meaning of the Christian faith is now “privatised.” Belief in God or the Bible or Truth has become simply a matter of “what makes me feel good about [my]self.” Yes, North America is “self-absorbed,” but “the self is a canvas too narrow, too cramped, to contain the largeness of [the] Christian truth ... His [God’s] Word becomes intuition, and conviction fades into evanescent opinion. Theology becomes therapy, righteousness is replaced by a search for happiness, holiness by wholeness, truth by feeling good about one’s self … All that remains is self … And when people are no longer compelled by God’s truth, they can be compelled to believe anything, [even] the lure of the novel or the illicit.”10
How, then, are we to communicate in our time with those who openly reject ultimate authority, who ridicule the sacred, and who debunk absolutes?! Yet it is to such a people, to such an age as this, that we are called to proclaim “It is written!” Jacques Ellul, commenting on this present scene, observed: “Anyone wishing to save humanity today must first of all save the word [of man].” How much more must we save the inspired, inscripturated Word of God.
Listen to this reminder from Louis Gaussen on the importance of a single word of God. “But above all the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, even in their smallest parts, is attested by Christians who have experienced their power, first in their conversion, and afterwards in the conflicts that followed. They bear one unanimous testimony. When the Holy Scripture, overmastering their conscience, made them lie low at the foot of the cross, and there revealed to them the love of God, what seized hold of them was not the Bible as a whole, it was not a chapter, it was a verse; ay, a word, which was at the point of the sword wielded by the very hand of God. It was an influence from above, concentrated in a single word, which may yet become for them, ‘as a fire, saith the Lord, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces’. In the moment of their need that Word seized their conscience with an unknown, sweeping, irresistible force. It was but a Word, but that Word was from God, and they knew it to be the call of the Lord Jesus Christ.”11
The story is told of a young man defending his doctoral dissertation before a panel of academicians. When reprimanded for the number of allusions he had made to hearsay evidence, and challenged on the weakness of such a defence, he facetiously said, “Just because something is written does not make it any more certain, does it?” The chairman had a brilliant comeback. “All right then,” he said, “I just want you to know that we will be granting you the degree, but it will not be in writing. You can just take our word for it.” The candidate quickly complied with the documentary evidence demanded.
Luther wrote words that became “the battle hymn” of the 16th century Reformation, and they still carry power to this very day in which we live.
And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of darkness grim, We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure, For lo his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
Our Lord “felled” the Devil with “every word of God” still extant! Luther “felled” the Devil with “one little word” still extant! What if, from your “Bible” that “little word” was no longer extant?!
“Every word of God is pure; he [it] is a shield unto them that put their trust in him [it]. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.”
Let this be our prayer: Lord, bow down our minds and hearts before Thy Pure, Preserved and Preserving Words to humbly receive them, believe them, and strive to live them, for they are “the Scriptures of Truth.”
1 William Arnot, Studies in Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1875), 561.
2 Derek Kidner, Proverbs (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1964), 178.
3 C H Spurgeon, Proverbs, in The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph Exell, (London, 1887), 669
4 Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1846, reprinted 1983), 593.
5 George Lawson, Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1829, reprinted 1984), 837.
6 Bridges, Proverbs, 594.
8 Robert L Alden, Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 208, italics added.
9 S M Houghton, ed., Truth Unchanged, Unchanging (Wiltshire: Bible League, 1984), 127
10 David F Wells, No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 101, 183.
11 Louis Gaussen, “Theopneustia,” Trinitarian Bible Society Quarterly Record (July 1965).
Rev Denis Gibson was an Instructor in Hebrew and Greek at Toronto Baptist Seminary for five years. He later became pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Brampton, Ontario, Canada, remaining there for 25 years, and retiring in 1997; he is the author of a commentary on the biblical book of Proverbs; he was also a regular contributor to the international devotional guide, “Read, Pray and Grow” (RPG). Over the years he has presented papers at the Annual Meetings of the Dean Burgon Society (DBS) of which he is a member of the Executive Committee. The above paper was presented at the 27th annual meeting of the DBS held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, July 20–21, 2005.
– Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 12 Number 1, January 2006.