“The words of Agur
Son of Jakeh
Who is this Agur? Agur was the compiler of this collection of proverbs that bears a great similarity to the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40. This Agur might be another name for Solomon. Another explanation is that Agur means someone brave in the pursuit of wisdom. It is highly unlikely that these two Hebrew terms refer to personal names since the names of Agur and Jakeh are not seen anywhere else in the Bible or in any other Israelite document. The lack of parallel language elsewhere makes it difficult to settle on a particular meaning. Perhaps Agur is a foreign sage from the East since sometimes this oracle is translated as Masa, a land east and outside of Israel. Either this was a real person, or as some have suggested, it was a fanciful or symbolic name for Solomon.
“These are other proverbs of Solomon
That the officials
Of King Hezekiah,
Of Judah copied.”
Now we are back to another collection of King Solomon’s proverbs. However, these are the ones found or copied by the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah. Who was King Hezekiah? King Hezekiah (735-687 BCE) was the 13th ruler of Judah, a descendant of David. During his reign, the northern Israelite kingdom fell. However, he enacted many religious reforms in Judah. The prophets Isaiah and Micah were around during his rule. More information about his rule can be found in 2 Kings, chapters 18-20, and 2 Chronicles, chapters 29-32. There are also a number of non-biblical sources about the reign of Hezekiah. He also had an influence on the book of Deuteronomy, and the codification of the Torah. Thus these proverbs might be older than the ones earlier. On the other hand, they might have been added to the collection as it seems here.
“These also are sayings of the wise.
Partiality in judging is not good.
He who says to the wicked,
‘You are innocent’
Will be cursed by their people.
They will be abhorred by the nations.
But those who rebuke the wicked
Will have delight.
They will have a good blessing come upon them.
Whoever gives an honest answer,
Gives a kiss on the lips.”
Apparently this is another small collection of wise sayings that was not associated with the preceding collection. This section seems to be aimed at judges and how they judge people since they should not be partial. In particular, they should not let the wicked go free. They will be cursed by their own people. Furthermore, in an international outlook, other nations will also abhor them. However, if they judge correctly against the wicked ones, they will delight in this life with blessings coming to them. An honest answer is like giving a kiss on the lips.
“Happy are those
Who do not follow the advice of the wicked.
They do not take the path that sinners tread.
They do not sit in the seat of scoffers.
Their delight is in the law of Yahweh.
On his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
That are planted by streams of water.
They yield their fruit in its season.
Their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do,
Psalm 1 is considered a preface to the collection of psalms or praises. There is no attribution to this psalm. It may have been the biblical editor’s choice. This psalm emphasizes the two ways, much like the later 1st century CE Christian Didache. This is, in fact, a wisdom psalm. The happy or blessed ones are the people who do not follow wicked advice. They receive blessings. They are the prosperous or the righteous people. They do not walk down the way of sinners or scoffers. Their delight and happiness is in the law of Yahweh. They are like the strong trees planted by streams of water as they always yield their fruit in the correct season. Their leaves never wither. Everything that they do is prosperous because they are sustained by the water. They meditate day and night on the Torah that was given by Yahweh, the God of Israel, via Moses. They are much like Christian contemplatives or Buddhist monks. The happy blessed one is the one who follows the law. This psalm sets the tone for all the psalms to follow.
“Judas Maccabeus also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver. He sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he was not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”
Judas Maccabeus took up a collection from each man so that he had 2,000 silver drachmas, about $50,000 USA. He sent this money to Jerusalem for a sin offering. This is where the text becomes interesting. This biblical author accounts for the resurrection. This is a clear indication that he or they believed in the resurrection of these dead soldiers. Why pray for the dead if they do not rise? If you fall asleep in godliness, they will have a splendid reward. In fact, they made atonement for the dead so that they could be delivered from sin. This is the only text that indicates that you can affect the dead after they have died. This is often viewed as a justification for purgatory since something can happen to the dead before they are fully resurrected. The Latter Day Saints, Mormons, also believe that people can be saved after their death. Clearly this is a prayer or atonement for a person who has died, not a living person. Here is the mention of the resurrection a little over 100 years before the time of Jesus of Nazareth.