29 “There are three things that are stately in their stride,
four that move with stately bearing:
30 a lion, mighty among beasts,
who retreats before nothing;
31 a strutting rooster, a he-goat,
and a king secure against revolt.
32 “If you play the fool and exalt yourself,
or if you plan evil,
clap your hand over your mouth!
33 For as churning cream produces butter,
and as twisting the nose produces blood,
so stirring up anger produces strife.”
This is Agur’s final list of four things, from which the discerning can learn wisdom. Each is an example of confidence, though the lesson is in their differences. The lion is “mighty among beasts,” his confidence comes from superiority. The strutting rooster is easily outmatched, yet he is audacious. The ram’s poise is due to his surefootedness, he leads his flock through the most treacherous terrain. But a king’s security does not come from superiority, audacity or physical ability – but from the relationship he has with his people.
Genuine confidence is not an easy thing to attain. The king who is devoted to security is given to anxiety, but the one who devotes himself to wisdom is secure. He does not maintain order by threats and brute force, instead relying on “discernment and knowledge.” He “hates ill-gotten gain,” knowing there is always more at stake than meets the eye. He does not “lean on his own understanding,” instead establishing his plans “by seeking advice.” In short he is gentle but not weak, forthright but not naive, humble but not docile. He is the exemplar of good leadership, secure because he is loved.
“If you play the fool and exalt yourself, or if you plan evil, clap your hand over your mouth! For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.” Agur’s final piece of advice emphasizes the importance of three things. The first is self-restraint. As soon as you recognize folly within, waste no time in opposing it! The second is prudence. Folly’s destination is no mystery, consider the consequences before you act! Paired with this is humility, without which the cautions of prudence are ignored. No one is exempt from the consequences of sin, even one as cunning as yourself. Do not suppose you can get away with folly, or you will be trapped before you know it.