Agur now looks at nature, where many things are wonderful and at the same time “too wonderful” or incomprehensible (verse 1818There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
four which I do not understand:
). Four times it is about “the way of” as an illustration of the ways God goes in creation and with people (Rom 11:33b33Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!). Agur cites a few examples as an anthology. We know that God only includes in His Word what is important to us. So we may expect that we can learn lessons from these examples. Not that these lessons are always immediately clear to us, but that is typical of the book of Proverbs. We have to think about things, including things of which we have to say that they “are too wonderful for me” and of which we have to acknowledge “I do not understand”.
It is not easy to discover what the four things have in common (verse 1919The way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
and the way of a man with a maid.
). They are connected by the use of the word “way” and also by a sense of mystery and incomprehensibility. All four of them go a way that cannot be traced. When they have shown themselves, they disappear again without leaving a trace. Of the areas where they go their way, there are three geographical (air, land and sea) and one social (marriage relationship). The first three serve as illustrations of the fourth. The fourth is also the greatest miracle.
When we observe “the way of the eagle in the sky”, we are impressed. We can’t know in advance which way he is going. And when he has gone that way, we don’t see a trace of it again. The same goes for “the way of a serpent on a rock”. We can look at the fast and targeted movement of a reptile without feet. But we can’t predict what way he will take over the rock. When he crawls away in a crevice, he has left no trace of the way he has gone.
“The way of a ship in the middle of the sea” is just as unpredictable. There is no marked out path which makes it predictable which way the ship will go. When it has passed and the water behind it has calmed down, there is no trace left of the way it has gone. The movements of these three are beautiful to see. They focus our attention on the majestic and mysterious movements in the air, on the land and on the sea.
After covering the areas of air, land and sea, our attention is drawn to “the way of a man with a maid”. Herein we see the designation of the miracle of the attraction between a man and a woman and of unification in sexual intercourse. How a man gets love for a girl is a miracle that cannot be described in advance. And when the time comes for him to seek contact, it is also impossible to predict how that will go. Perhaps “the way of a man with a maid” is mainly about the most intimate part of the marriage relationship. That is completely cut off from any perception. It is the secret between two people, of which no one else knows anything.
We can make another spiritual application of the four “ways” described here. The way of the eagle in the sky can be connected to the coming of the Son of God from heaven to declare God on earth. It also shows His way back to heaven. This cannot be understood by the natural man (Jn 6:60-6360Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard [this] said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”61But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?62[What] then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?63It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.).
Also the way of the serpent on the rock is incomprehensible. What is the way chosen by the serpent, the devil (Rev 12:99And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.), to enter the creation created by the righteous God, Who is a Rock and free from deceit (see Deu 32:44“The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.
)? And what is the way the serpent is constantly going and moving in God’s creation? How is it possible that the evil one can constantly come into God’s presence to accuse the brethren (Rev 12:1010Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.; cf. Job 1:6-126Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.7The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”8The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”9Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing?10Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.11But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.”12Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.; 2:1-61Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.2The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”3The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.”4Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.5However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.”6So the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.”)? We also see the way of the serpent on the rock in Satan’s attempts to tempt the Lord Jesus, the Rock (1Cor 10:44and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.; Mt 4:1-111Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.2And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.3And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”4But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”5Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,6and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;
‘ON [their] HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,
SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”
7Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”8Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;9and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”10Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”11Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and [began] to minister to Him.). He left no trace in Christ, for he found nothing in Him (Jn 14:3030I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me;).
In the ship in the middle of the sea we can see the church among the nations of the world. The church has now sailed through the sea of nations (Isa 17:12-1312Alas, the uproar of many peoples
Who roar like the roaring of the seas,
And the rumbling of nations
Who rush on like the rumbling of mighty waters!
13The nations rumble on like the rumbling of many waters,
But He will rebuke them and they will flee far away,
And be chased like chaff in the mountains before the wind,
Or like whirling dust before a gale.
) for two thousand years. All this time the evil one has tried to destroy the church in order to make her suffer shipwreck. But she has been preserved in an inimitable way throughout all efforts (Mt 16:1818I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.), for God leads her. God’s way with His church is in the sea (cf. Psa 77:19-2019Your way was in the sea
And Your paths in the mighty waters,
And Your footprints may not be known.
20You led Your people like a flock
By the hand of Moses and Aaron.).
The way of a man with a maid leads us to the way of the Lord Jesus with His church. The way He has gone to possess her is inimitable. How did He take our hearts, how did we get the new life? We cannot verify this (Jn 3:88The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”), we can only conclude. His love for us brought Him into the greatest suffering, into the anxieties of Gethsemane and the horrors of the cross, especially in the three hours of darkness, when He was made sin and His God had to leave Him. We can only worship Him for that.
We neither can verify how He is constantly engaged with and for His church. We know that He does so through His Word (Eph 5:25-2725Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.), but not in a way that we can perceive. Maybe He will tell us and show us when we are with Him. Then we will know as we have been known (1Cor 13:1212For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.).
Another way is described in verse 2020This is the way of an adulterous woman:
She eats and wipes her mouth,
and says, “I have done no wrong.”. This way is in stark contrast to the way of love of the previous verse. It is “the way of an adulterous woman”. She also doesn’t leave any trace of her unfaithfulness. Here again we find the opposition that goes through the whole Book of Proverbs, the opposition between Wisdom and folly, between the faithful woman and the unfaithful woman. This contrast is also found in Revelation, between the wife of the Lamb, the church, and the great Babylon, the great harlot, the mother of the harlots (Rev 17:1-61Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,2with whom the kings of the earth committed [acts of] immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”3And he carried me away in spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.4The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality,5and on her forehead a name [was] written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”6And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly.; 19:1-81After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God;2because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.”3And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.”4And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!”5And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.”6Then I heard [something] like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.7Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride [lit wife] has made herself ready.”8It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright [and] clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.).
The latter indicates that we can also apply this verse spiritually. The verse shows that the love that Christ has revealed to the church is answered with unfaithfulness by the church. We see how Christianity, horrifyingly, is becoming increasingly unfaithful to Him Whom it confesses as its Lord. She connects herself in the most intimate way with the world by bringing in all kinds of worldly methods and adapting God’s Word to the vision of modern man.
The fact that this verse was placed immediately after verse 1919The way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
and the way of a man with a maid.
supports the idea that the preceding verse is focused on sexual intimacy in marriage. The pictures that she eats and wipes her mouth are a covered indication of sexual activity (cf. Pro 9:1717“Stolen water is sweet;
And bread [eaten] in secret is pleasant.”
). What she does in her unfaithfulness is nothing more than a dinner for her. She removes all traces of the sin she committed and continues her daily activities as if nothing had happened.
It is astonishing that people can sin and then very easily shake off a sense of guilt or responsibility. This is only possible because there is a callous indifference to what the Lord’s will is for sexuality.