Four things are small on the earth, But they are exceedingly wise:
The ants are not a strong people, But they prepare their food in the summer;
The shephanim are not mighty people, Yet they make their houses in the rocks;
The locusts have no king, Yet all of them go out in ranks;
The lizard you may grasp with the hands, Yet it is in kings’ palaces.
The writer of this chapter 30 in Proverbs calls himself Agur the son of Jakeh. We do not know much about him. But he tells us some amazing things about our God and the world he created.
The four verses above describe four small animals that astonish the writer. Those animal, although small, are exceptionally wise.
As mentioned in a previous post and another post, the English translation may have had difficulties in identifying the animal species properly.
Let’s check which are those animals and why did the writer choose them as examples:
This one is the easiest. There is no doubt that the Hebrew word “נְּמָלִים” (Nemalim) means ants. Another Biblical reference describing how diligent the ants are:
Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise (Proverbs 6:6)
This animal is common in the mountains throughout all of Israel. Its scientific name is Procavia capensis, and also known as Rock Hyrax.
The Shephanim – in Hebrew: שָּׁפָן, is easy to identify as it appears as one of four animals that are not “Kosher” because of their external and internal properties:
the shaphan, for though it chews cud, it does not divide the hoof, it is unclean to you (Leviticus 11:5)
In our chapter we learn that the Shephanim (Hyrax) live in the rocks, just like in Psalms:
The cliffs are a refuge for the shephanim. (Psalms 104:18)
Locust is known in the Bible as one of the 10 Plagues of Egypt.
According to its taxonomy, locust is just a grasshopper. But under certain circumstances, the locusts change to form swarm that are extremely hazardous to crops.
In our chapter, the writer is amazed by the fact that such a small insect without a leader or king becomes a big harm to humans.
There is a disagreement among interpreters whether the animal mentioned in this verse is a gecko or a spider. In modern Hebrew, Smamit – שְׂמָמִית is the name given to gecko.
In any case, it is a small animal that can walk on walls and is found in the most magnificent palaces. It enters to places where most people are not allowed, and makes it its own home.
The four verses in our chapter tell us how magnificent is our Lord when he created such small and vulnerable animals, and yet they are so strong in this world.
This whole chapter is about the wonder of our world and how it leads us to know the providence of the Lord. The speaker introduce himself as a stupid man that knows nothing, but the wonders of the world teach him a lesson.
Who has ascended into heaven and descended?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name or His son’s name?
Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4)