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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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The thirtieth chapter of Proverbs begins with this title: "The words of Agur, the son of Jakeh;" and the thirty-first, with "the words of king Lemuel;" with respect to which some conjecture that Solomon describes himself under these appellations; others, that these chapters are the production of persons whose real names are prefixed. Scripture history, indeed, affords us no information respecting their situation and character; but there must have been sufficient reason for regarding their works in the light of inspired productions, or they would not have been admitted into the sacred canon.

They are called Massa, a term frequently applied to the undoubted productions of the prophetic Spirit; and it is not improbable that the authors meant, by the adoption of this term, to lay claim to the character of inspiration. A succession of virtuous and eminent men, favoured with divine illuminations, flourished in Judea till the final completion of the sacred code; and, most likely, many more than those whose writings have been preserved. Agur may then have been one of those prophets whom Divine providence raised up to comfort or admonish his chosen people; and Lemuel may have been some neighbouring prince, the son of a Jewish woman, by whom he was taught the Massa contained in the thirty-first chapter. These, of course, can only be considered as mere conjectures; for, in the absence of historic evidence, who can venture to pronounce with certainty? The opinion, however, that Agur and Lemuel are appellations of Solomon, is sanctioned by so many and such respectable writers, that it demands a more particular examination.

The knowledge of names was anciently regarded as a matter of the highest importance, in order to understand the nature of the persons or things which they designate; and, in the opinion of the rabbins, was preferable even to the study of the written law. The Heathens paid considerable attention to it, as appears from the Cratylus of Plato; and some of the Christian fathers entertained very favourable notions of such knowledge. The Jewish doctors, it is true, refined upon the subject with an amazing degree of subtilty, grounding upon it many ridiculous ideas and absurd fancies; yet it is unquestionable that many of the proper names in Scripture are significant and characteristic. Thus the names Eve, Cain, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Israel, &c, were imposed by reason of their being expressive of the several characters of the persons whom they represent. Reasoning from analogy, we may infer that all the proper names in the Old Testament, at their original imposition, were intended to denote some quality or circumstance in the person or thing to which they belong; and though many, from transference, have ceased to be personally characteristic, yet are they all significative.

As the custom of imposing descriptive names prevailed in the primitive ages, it is not impossible that Agur and Lemuel may be appropriated to Solomon, and Jakeh to David, as mystic appellations significative of their respective characters. It is even some confirmation of this opinion, that Solomon is denominated Jedidiah (beloved of the Lord) by the Prophet Nathan; and that in the book of Ecclesiastes, he styles himself Koheleth, or the Preacher. Nevertheless, this hypothesis does not appear to rest upon a firm foundation. It is foreign to the simplicity of the sacred penmen, and contrary to their custom in similar cases, to adopt a mystic name, without either explaining it, or alleging the reasons for its adoption. In the names Eve, Cain, Seth, Noah, &c, before alluded to; in the appellation Nabal; in the enigmatical names in the first chapter of Hosea; in the descriptive names given to places, as Beer-sheba, Jehovah-jireh, Peniel, Bethel, Gilgal; and in many other instances, the meaning of the terms is either explained, or the circumstances are mentioned which led to their selection. When Solomon is called Jedidiah, it is added that it was "because of the Lord;" and when he styles himself Koheleth, an explanatory clause is annexed, describing himself "the son of David, the king of Jerusalem." But if Solomon be meant by the titles Agur and Lemuel, he is so called without any statement of the reasons for their application, and without any explanation of their import; a circumstance unusual with the sacred writers, and the reverse to what is practised in the book of Proverbs, where his proper name, Solomon, is attributed to him in three different places. Nor is any thing characteristic of the Jewish monarchs discoverable in the terms themselves. Jakeh, which denotes obedient, is no more applicable to David than to Nathan, or any other personage of eminent worth and piety among the Israelites. The name of Agur is not of easy explanation; some giving it the sense of recollectus, that is, recovered from his errors, and become penitent; an explanation more applicable to David than to Solomon. Simon, in his lexicon, says it may perhaps denote "him who applies to the study of wisdom; " an interpretation very suitable to the royal philosopher, but not supported by adequate authority; and in his Onomasticon he explains it in a different manner. Others suppose that it means collector; though it has been argued, that, as it has a passive form, it cannot have an active sense, But this is not a valid objection, as several examples may be produced from the Bible of a similar form with an active signification. If such be its meaning, it is suitable to Solomon, who was not the collector or compiler, but the author, of the Proverbs. With respect to the name Lemuel, it signifies one that is for God, or devoted to God; and is not, therefore, peculiarly descriptive of Solomon. It appears, then, that nothing can be inferred from the signification of the names Agur and Lemuel in support of the conjecture, that they are appellations of Solomon. The contents, likewise, of the two chapters in question strongly militate against this hypothesis.

When all these circumstances are taken into consideration, together with the extreme improbability that Solomon should be denominated three times by his proper name, and afterward, in the same work, by two different enigmatical names, we are fully warranted in rejecting the notion, that the wise monarch is designed by the appellations Agur and Lemuel. And it seems most reasonable to consider them as denoting real persons.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Agur'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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