Prayers are rare in the book of Proverbs. Several pithy statements about prayer appear, but developed conversation with God appears only in Poverbs chapter 30, among the sayings of Agur, a king unidentified elsewhere in the Bible. I’m going to concentrate on verses seven through nine, but the first six verses reveal their writer as a humble man who respects the power, integrity, and wisdom of God. Verse 5 praises the reliability of God: His word, depending on the English translation you read is pure (KJV), pure (NRSV, ESV), or flawless (NIV). He is the creator of all whose knowledge exceeds ours.
Agur has two requests that he brings to God in his prayer. Those requests stem from his humility and self-awareness. He knows his weaknesses and what temptations might distract him. He fears God and wants to honor him. He prays:
“Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9).
Agur fears that he would respond in desperation to poverty by stealing. He suspects that he would become arrogant if wealthy. He prays then that God will give him what he needs,, not more nor less. He wants to be faithful in his confession of God and so to live in a manner that glorifies God.
His prayer resembles the Preacher of Ecclesiastes’ exhortation to in chapter 9, verses 7-10, of that book to enjoy what God has given you and do what you do with all your might. He foreshadows the Model Prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples,
“This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one'” (Matthew 6:9-13).
Agur’s prayer speaks to people tempted by luxury and wealth; it also sounds a note of caution that our ethics should not change in times of desperation. Most importantly, in my opinion, this prayer challenges us to know what tempts us and to address that temptation in our prayers by seeking ways to escape rather than opportunities to engage our sin. Prayer should consider whether we control our possessions or whether they possess us. Reflection on how our desires confess our faith in God and how acting on them brings honor (or shame) to God should be a vital part of our preparation for prayer.
- Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011
O God who sees, Give us brutally clear vision of our strengths and our weaknesses. Help us to know what tempts us and to recognize when you provide a way of escape from temptation. Give us the courage to confess you and to live with integrity. You are the LORD who provides. May you be praised and glorified because of the choices we make. In Jesus’ name, amen.