‘Two things have I required of Thee; deny me them not before I die: remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.’
The manner and the matter of this prayer are alike full of instruction.
I. The manner.—(1) Agur’s prayer was definite, precise, specific, plain, and simple. He knew what he wanted, and he asked for that. So he went and spread these two things before the Lord. Is there not a lesson for us here? People speak of ‘saying their prayers,’ ‘saying grace.’ It is still considered a decent thing among professing Christians to say their prayers night and morning, and to say grace before meals. But when a man repeats a form of prayer without really desiring anything from the Lord, that is not prayer.
It is not only the men of the world who sin against God in this matter. How often do all of us draw near to God with our bodies, and honour Him with our lips, when our hearts are far from Him! We do not come to God because we feel our need of the blessings He has to bestow, but because the time has come round for our devotions, and we must occupy the time somehow, though it should be with well-worn phrases, become so familiar that they cease to have any meaning for us as we use them.
(2) Another thing to be noticed about Agur’s prayer is that he is in downright earnest. This Agur is a bold beggar. He says he requires these things, and he therefore comes to God for them. He appears rather peremptory about it. We suspect and dislike an importunate beggar. God loves such a one.
Agur had his reasons for this importunity of his. He was soon to die, and therefore he asked that his petitions should be granted without delay. ‘Deny me them not—before I die.’ The time is short, I cannot afford to wait.
(3) Observe, again, that Agur prayed first for spiritual blessing. He asks that vanity and lies be removed from him before he speaks of his daily food. That is the due order. It is in harmony with the model prayer which Christ taught His disciples: ‘Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done’—before asking, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’
II. The matter.—Let us now look at the petitions themselves. They are said to be two. At first sight they appear to be more than two. A little consideration will remove this difficulty.
The petition for temporal blessings is soon found to be one. Agur says he does not want poverty, he does not want riches, but he does want food convenient for him; that is the one thing he requires there.
Then with regard to the first branch of the prayer, in whatever sense we take it, its unity will appear on reflection. If we suppose that it refers to personal vanity, that is inseparable from lying. The vain man cannot speak without lying. His theme is himself, and his own glory, prowess, wisdom, or goodness; and how can man who is a worm glorify himself in the language of truth?
But it is probably more correct to take the words in the sense in which they are used by Solomon in the Ecclesiastes, and by others of the sacred writers; and then we shall see that vanity and lies are regarded as identical. ‘Surely,’ says the Psalmist, ‘mean men are vanity, and great men are a lie’; where vanity and lies are used as synonymous terms. The meaning there evidently is, that neither mean men nor great men are to be trusted. If we put our trust in them, we shall be deceived, we shall find them liars. This does not necessarily imply that these men deliberately tell lies for our ensnaring, but that great men and mean men, even should they desire to befriend us, cannot be trusted. God, and God alone, is a sure refuge and portion for us.
Oh that we had the wisdom to accept the experience of the wisest of men as sufficient for us! Nobody could have tried the experiment of securing happiness upon earth under more favourable conditions than Solomon. Let us not be so arrogant as to imagine that we can succeed where he so disastrously failed.
‘Give me neither poverty nor riches.’ There is not much difficulty in praying the first part of this prayer. We can all appreciate the discomforts of poverty.
Agur did not greatly concern himself about the painfulness to flesh and blood which poverty brings with it. What he feared was that poverty should tempt him to the breaking of God’s law,—‘Lest I be poor, and steal.’
‘Give me not riches.’ It is not so easy to pray this prayer. We are all willing to admit, in a general way, that riches are dangerous; and yet, for our own part, we think they would not be dangerous for us. At any rate, most of us are quite willing to take the risk.