Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Gatherer, &c., or, as it is in the Latin, Congregans, the son of Vomens. The Latin interpreter has given us in this place the signification of the Hebrew names, instead of the names themselves, which are in the Hebrew, Agur, the son of Jakeh. But whether this Agur be the same person as Solomon, as many think, or a different person, whose doctrine was adopted by Solomon, and inserted among his parables or proverbs, is uncertain. (Challoner) — Vomiter may denote David, who delivered many excellent canticles; Eructavit cor, Psalm xliv. De Dieu translates, “The words of him who is recollected the son of obedience.” The author styles himself foolish, and asks for neither beggary nor riches, (ver. 2, 8.) which seems not to agree with Solomon; though there can be no doubt but this chapter is inspired. (Calmet) — In effect, that great king might form this petition, being mindful of the instability of human greatness, and confess that of himself he was foolish. — Vision. Hebrew massa (Haydock) generally implies something disagreeable, but here it is put for a collection of moral sentences. — With, &c. Hebrew also, “to Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal,” (Protestants; Haydock) friends of Agur, (Calmet) or his children, (Menochius) or rather Solomon speaks to all the faithful. We never find Agur mentioned as a canonical writer; and if he were, he would have been placed after Solomon. (Worthington)
Ver. 2. With me. He speaks of what he could claim of his own, abstracting from the prophetic light. (Calmet) — In his humility, he supposeth that others are more perfect. The wisest know best their own defects. (Worthington)
Ver. 4. Descended. How then could I acquire such a sublime science? (Deuteronomy xxx. 11.) (Calmet) — Christ alone could impart it, (John iii. 13.; Haydock) who is the perfect wisdom. (Worthington) — Hands. Septuagint, “breast.” (Haydock) — It is no less difficult to fathom the designs of Providence. Some understand the “spirit” of prophecy to be here meant. — Son. Septuagint, “children.” But many Greek copies, and all the interpreters, have Son, which the Fathers explain of the second person of the blessed Trinity, specified [in] chap. viii. 22. (Calmet)
Ver. 5. Is fire-tried; that is, most pure, like gold purified by fire. (Challoner) (Psalm xvii. 31., and Jeremias xxiii. 29.) — It cannot deceive.
Ver. 6. And not any thing contrary, Deuteronomy iv. 2., and xii. 32. — Liar. Our Saviour condemned the false explanations of the Pharisees, as his Church does those of all heretics.
Ver. 8. Words, which are so opposite to thine, ver. 5. — Riches. The former often prompts men to deceive, the latter to grow proud and forget God.
Ver. 10. Accuse. Septuagint, “deliver not” to an idolater, Deuteronomy xxiii. 15. (Rabbins) — Servant. Add not to his affliction. (Worthington) — We must suppose that the accusation is frivolous or false. (Lyranus) — A servant may do a person much injury: but this ought not to deter the other from performing what justice and charity require.
Ver. 15. The horse-leech: concupiscence, which hath two daughters that are never satisfied, viz., lust and avarice. (Challoner)
Ver. 16. Womb. Septuagint, “the love of a woman,” (Haydock) a harlot, or rather Hebrew, “a barren woman.” — Enough. The more fuel, the brighter the flame. These four similitudes may denote cruelty, lust, avarice, and prodigality; (Calmet) or the first and last may be understood (Haydock) of envy and ambition. (Worthington)
Ver. 17. Labour. Septuagint, &c., “old age.” Hebrew, “the obedience or admonition.” Those who cursed their parents, were sentenced to death, Leviticus xx. 6.
Ver. 19. Youth. Hebrew, “a virgin.” The “conception of a mighty man (the Messias; Haydock) in a virgin,” is fitly compared to the flight of an eagle in the air, which leaves no trace behind, and is the most difficult to comprehend. See Jeremias xxxi. 22.; Univ. Hist. iii. p. 144, note. Isaiah vii. 14.; Parkhurst in alm. (Haydock) — Some of the Jews have admitted this explanation. (Cornelius a Lapide) — Others understand that the marks of virginity are equivocal; (Bossuet, &c.) or, if we stick to the Vulgate and Septuagint, the difference betwixt a child and a young man is extremely great, and almost incomprehensible. (Calmet) — Young people who follow their carnal appetite, can no more give an account of their actions than of the course of an eagle, &c. (Worthington) — His wanderings are manifold. The Hebrew seems to contain a prophecy of Christ’s conception.
Ver. 23. Mistress, and is married to her master. She will generally prove insolent; like slaves on the throne, Regnabit sanguine multo ad regnum quisquis venit ab exilio. (Suetonius, Tib. 59.) (Calmet)
Ver. 27. Bands, like an army. When one rises or falls, all do the like. They are so numerous in the East, as to darken the sun and spread destruction, Joel i., and ii. (Calmet)
Ver. 28. The stellio. A kind of house lizard, marked with spots like stars, from whence it has its name. (Challoner) — Hebrew semamith. (Haydock) — It probably provides food against the stormy season, like ants. (Bochart) (Calmet) — Others understand “the spider,” (Kimchi) or “monkey.” (Vatable, &c.)
Ver. 30. Meeteth. If he retreat, he looks back with disdain, till the woods conceal the turpitude of his flight. (Pliny, [Natural History?] viii. 16.)
Ver. 31. Loins. It rules, and is even terrible to lions. (Pliny x. 21.) — The terms of the original are found nowhere else, and some understand the horse, the bee, and a soldier in arms. (Calmet) — Whom. Hebrew, “and Alkum with him.” (Montanus) — But we know no animal or king of this name; and it may imply, “in the midst of his court,” or “assembly.” (Chaldean) Some Latin copies read, Et Rex, nec est qui resistat ei, (Sixtus V.) which is more conformable to the Hebrew, (Calmet) and is here translated, though the Vulgate read, Nec est rex qui, &c. These four emblems (Haydock) denote fortitude, chastity, order, and justice.
Ver. 32. Mouth. Fools ought not to govern. (Worthington) — Many might have been deemed wise, if they had continued in a lower station. (Calmet) — Hebrew, “If thou hast acted foolishly in raising thyself, and if thou hast entertained evil thoughts, put thy hand to thy mouth.” (Haydock) — Chaldean, “put not thy,” &c. Give not way to pride, or to insolent language. (Calmet)
Ver. 33. And. Hebrew, “For he who presseth milk.” (Calmet) — Protestants, “Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter,” &c. (Haydock) — Strife. Moderation is necessary, (Calmet) in all actions. (Worthington)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
1 The words of Gatherer, the son of Vomiter. The vision which the man spoke, with whom God is, and who being strengthened by God, abiding with him, said:
2 I am the most foolish of men, and the wisdom of men is not with me.
3 I have not learned wisdom, and have not known the science of saints.
4 Who hath ascended up into heaven, and descended? who hath held the wind in his hands? who hath bound up the waters together as in a garment? who hath raised up all the borders of the earth? what is his name, and what is the name of his son, if thou knowest?
5 *Every word of God is fire-tried: he is a buckler to them that hope in him.
6 *Add not any thing to his words, lest thou be reproved, and found a liar:
7 Two things I have asked of thee, deny them not to me before I die.
8 Remove far from me vanity, and lying words. Give me neither beggary, nor riches: give me only the necessaries of life:
9 Lest perhaps being filled, I should be tempted to deny, and say: Who is the Lord? or being compelled by poverty, I should steal, and forswear the name of my God.
10 Accuse not a servant to his master, lest he curse thee, and thou fall.
11 There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother.
12 A generation, that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness.
13 A generation, whose eyes are lofty, and their eye-lids lifted up on high.
14 A generation that for teeth hath swords, and grindeth with their jaw-teeth, to devour the needy from off the earth, and the poor from among men.
15 The horse-leech hath two daughters that say: Bring, bring.
There are three things that never are satisfied, and the fourth never saith: It is enough.
16 Hell and the mouth of the womb, and the earth which is not satisfied with water: and the fire never saith: It is enough.
17 The eye that mocketh at his father, and that despiseth the labour of his mother in bearing him, let the ravens of the brooks pick it out, and the young eagles eat it.
18 Three things are hard to me, and the fourth I am utterly ignorant of.
19 The way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man in youth.
20 Such also is the way of an adulterous woman, who eateth and wipeth her mouth, and saith: I have done no evil.
21 By three things the earth is disturbed, and the fourth it cannot bear:
22 By a slave when he reigneth: by a fool when he is filled with meat:
23 By an odious woman when she is married: and by a bond-woman when she is heir to her mistress.
24 There are four very little things of the earth, and they are wiser than the wise:
25 The ants, a feeble people, which provide themselves food in the harvest:
26 The rabbit, a weak people, which maketh its bed in the rock:
27 The locust hath no king, yet they all go out by their bands:
28 The stellio supporteth itself on hands, and dwelleth in kings’ houses.
29 There are three things, which go well, and the fourth that walketh happily:
30 A lion, the strongest of beasts, who hath no fear of any thing he meeteth:
31 A cock girded about the loins: and a ram: and a king, whom none can resist.
32 There is that hath appeared a fool after he was lifted up on high: for if he had understood, he would have laid his hand upon his mouth.
33 And he that strongly squeezeth the paps to bring out milk, straineth out butter: and he that violently bloweth his nose, bringeth out blood: and he that provoketh wrath, bringeth forth strife.
5: Psalm xi. 7.
6: Deuteronomy iv. 2. and xii. 32.