There is a Generation of Cruel, Greedy Ones
There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords,
and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth,
and the needy from among men.
Introduction: In verses 11-14, Agur describes certain segments of society.
1. There is a generation of disrespectful rebels. (vs. 11)
2. There is a generation of self-righteous hypocrites. (vs. 12)
3. There is a generation of proud and arrogant ones. (vs. 13)
4. There is a generation of cruel, greedy ones. (vs. 14)
There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives
1. The first part of this proverb speaks of teeth and jaws.
2. Agur likens these teeth and jaws to swords and knives.
a. Obviously, this is figurative language. The use of the word “as” indicates a simile.
b. The point is that in some way the teeth and jaws are “sword-like” and “knife-like.” They cut, pierce, and destroy like a sword or a knife.
3. The mouth is that part of the body where the teeth and jaw are located.
a. For this reason, some commentators have likened the meaning of this proverb to other passages where the mouth is likened to swords and knives.
b. When used in this figurative way, the mouth is used figuratively of SPEECH.
• Prov. 12:18 – “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword.”
• Prov. 25:18 – “A man that beareth false witness against his neighbor is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.”
• Ps. 52:2 – “Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.”
• Ps. 57:4 – “My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.”
• Ps. 59:7 – “Behold, they belch out with their mouth: swords are in their lips.”
• Ps. 64:3 – “Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words.”
• It is a common figure in the poetic books to use the words “mouth, tongue, lips, etc.” to represent speech.
• Some commentators have interpreted this proverb along those lines, namely, that Agur is describing things in the area of the mouth (teeth; jaw) to represent speech.
• And thus, connecting this figure with swords and knives would refer to cruel speech (perhaps slander, gossip, lies), because this kind of speech is painful—like being pierced with a sword.
4. While that interpretation would certainly be in harmony with many other passages in the poetic books, the second part of the proverb seems to militate against that view.
5. One thing we know for sure from the first part of this proverb is that Agur is describing the teeth and jaws instruments of cruelty and destruction—weapons used against someone.
a. There is a generation that is cruel.
b. And they take out their cruelty on others—like a soldier killing his enemy with a sword or a knife.
c. The word for “knife” is defined as a butcher knife, or a large knife used in cutting up sacrifices.
d. Strong’s lists only two other usages of this term for knife:
• Abraham using a knife to kill his son Isaac.
• The man in Judges 19 who gave his concubine to the men of Belial who surrounded his house. The evil men abused her all night and she was found dead on his doorsteps. The man then got a “knife” and cut up the concubine and sent her body parts to the 12 tribes of Israel.
e. This was not a dainty little knife used for spreading jam on toast. It was a large knife used for destruction.
To devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men
1. The use of teeth and jaws:
a. In the first part of the proverb, though the jaw and teeth are found in the mouth, imagery does not lend itself very well to “speech.”
b. The tongue and lips are good imagery for speech, as we saw in the passages above.
c. But the teeth and the jaw (jaw teeth) DO lend themselves well towards “devouring,” as described in the second part of the proverb.
a. This term means to eat; feed.
b. It is used figuratively to mean “destroy; ruin; consume; spend.”
c. Agur tells us that the teeth and jaw are used to devour – to consume… to gobble up.
3. Agur’s use of jaw and teeth is not to describe speech.
a. Rather his point is that the teeth and jaw devour—like swords and large destructive knives.
b. Whatever it is that this generation devours, it does so with great destruction and violence.
c. Cruel greedy men are often spoken of as DEVOURING the poor.
d. Ps. 14:4 – “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD.”
e. Amos 8:4 – “Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail.”
4. And we are told WHO they devour: the poor and needy.
a. POOR: this term refers to those who are poor or afflicted.
• It speaks of those who are poor and suffering.
• It is often used of those who are poor because of oppression.
b. NEEDY: This term is used as a synonym for “poor.” The two terms appear together often.
• Ps. 9:18 – “For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.”
• Ps. 40:17 – “But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.”
5. The point of our proverb is that there has always been a segment of society that is cruel and greedy.
a. Usually this refers to the wealthy land owners who take advantage of the poor.
b. They seem to have an insatiable appetite to gobble up the poor and devour them.
c. They are powerful and wealthy, but that’s not enough. They feel compelled for MORE—even if they have to devour the poor to attain more wealth.
d. And note that they obtain the wealth by sword-like teeth and knife-like jaws. They chew up the poor with their teeth and devour them with their jaws.
e. There is a generation like this. It is human nature. And if the roles were reversed, the poor would oppress the wealthy.
6. What a contrast to the way God treats the poor and needy!
a. Job 5:15 – “But he saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty.”
b. Jer. 20:13 – “Sing unto the LORD, praise ye the LORD: for he hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evildoers.”
c. Ps. 12:5 – “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.”
d. It’s pretty clear in the Bible that we should have a soft spot in our hearts for the poor and afflicted who are oppressed.
7. Agur gives us a sad but accurate picture of the fallen heart of man.
a. There is a generation of disrespectful rebels. (vs. 11)
b. There is a generation of self-righteous hypocrites. (vs. 12)
c. There is a generation of proud and arrogant ones. (vs. 13)
d. There is a generation of cruel, greedy ones. (vs. 14)
e. Our generation is no different. Man’s nature has not improved.
f. Nothing but regeneration can effect a cure.