In Australia we know how insatiable land and fire are. The land seldom seems to have enough water and the fire devours vegetation and buildings. Land and fire never say: Enough! The land cries out for rain and the fire devours and yet craves ever more fuel. This summer already we’ve seen hundreds of homes and several lives lost to fires. But land and fire are not the only things that are never satisfied. The barren womb cries out to be satisfied, but never is. Many women (despite murderous abortions) are desperate to bear children but simply cannot. And then there is the grave. It too is never satisfied. Though millions of bodies are fed to the grave daily, it never cries, ‘Enough!’ Yes, these four things are never satisfied.
That is the reality that confronts us. It also confronted Agur, the Spirit-directed writer of Proverbs 30 and collector of wise sayings.[i] He writes:
The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry.
There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’
(Proverbs 30:15, 16)
Give! Give! Like the leach – that insatiable bloodsucker that clings to the skin – there are things that continually demand more: the grave, the barren womb, the land and fire. These things Agur has observed and written for our instruction.
We live between the womb and the tomb. As soon as we emerge from the first we head for the other, to that insatiable grave which, never satisfied, continues to cry: Give! Give!
Whereas the womb is characterised by the lust for life, the grave – consequence of our fall into sin – distinguishes itself by the lust for death[ii]. Yet the latter is dependent on the former; the grave needs the womb to feed it. The sexual urge implanted in people helps ensure that the womb continues to give birth.[iii] And when it doesn’t, it too cries out: Give! Give!
We heard it in the cry of Rachel to Jacob: ‘Give me children, or I die.’ One or the other. If I can’t have children I may as well be dead. We detect the cry for children in the prayer of Isaak for Rebecca (Gen. 25:21), in the weeping of Hannah (1 Sam. 1), and in Abimelech’s fear that his people would die out because the Lord had closed up the women’s wombs (Gen. 20:3,17).
Yes, we stand between womb and grave. The frequency of death and its looming inevitability for each (unless the Lord returns first) is a constant reminder of the brevity of life[iv]. People of the world try to shut out this reality by saturating their lives with entertainment. Others accept it stoically, saying: let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die (1 Cor. 15:32). Still others are determined heroically to accept what they see as the absurdity of a life that ends in death. They conclude that, since there is no God to give meaning to life, and no heaven or hell awaiting us, it’s best to ignore society’s morals and live instead like beasts to satisfy our senses. [v]
Apart from the barren womb and the grave there are two other opposites. On the one hand there is the earth which keeps soaking up the rain in order to sustain plants, animals and human life; and on the other hand there is the devouring fire that ever seeks more fuel to stay alive. Like the barren womb the earth seeks to give life, and like the grave the fire seeks to take it.
That’s the reality the Spirit-inspired writer of Proverbs observed with his eyes. He draws attention to what we, too, can observe.
But here’s the comfort: the Spirit did not stop with Agur’s observations. He took us further along on the history of salvation. The Spirit, using other inspired Bible writers, speaks also of the Christ and teaches us to compare Scripture with Scripture. We learn of the reality we don’t see with our eyes, the reality that God in Christ rules over all, that His Word is the Truth and that He gives life and perspective and hope for all who believe. He reveals in His Word that there are times when He does say: ‘Enough!’
He did say ‘Enough!’ when He stopped the rain that destroyed the unbelieving world with The Flood but saved, for the sake of the coming Christ and thereby for our sakes, the believer Noah and his family.
He will say ‘Enough!’ to the womb when Christ comes on the clouds of heaven and takes all His chosen ones with Him into eternal glory.
He has said ‘Enough!’ when He forced the grave to give up Christ after three days and thereby provided us with a guarantee of our blessed resurrection. And He will say ‘Enough!’ to the grave on Judgment Day, even though there will be many who, in terror of God, seek the grave and ‘say to the mountains, “Cover us!” and to the hills, “Fall on us!”’ (Hosea 10:8).
He will say ‘Enough!’ to the fire on earth when He has cleansed this world with the refining fire of Judgment Day and creates a new heaven and a new earth for all those who have placed their trust in Christ alone.
Only the Gospel can give meaning to the observable things in nature. There are indeed, as the Spirit says through Agur, four things that never say, ‘Enough!’ and that can appear so insatiable to the natural eye as to make us despondent. But there is Good News for those endowed with faith: the recurring cycle of life and death are not meaningless but have been given meaning in Christ Jesus.
The Word gives comfort to the owner of the barren womb. ‘For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labour! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband”’ (Gal. 4:27).
The Word gives comfort in the face of the insatiable grave, for through the Spirit one is ‘born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the Word of God which lives and abides forever’ (1 Peter 1:23). Our dying to sin becomes the death of death.[vi] Our physical, corruptible body will ‘put on incorruption’ and our mortal body will ‘put on immortality’. Then will be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:54).
The Word gives comfort with its assurance that God will renew the earth. God will say ‘Enough!’ to the earth’s insatiable appetite for more water. Droughts will have died and God will usher in His eternal paradise.
The Word gives comfort in the knowledge that the greedy fire, used to warm people in cold weather and to warn people by its catastrophic destructions to turn to God (Rev. 9:21), will be a spent force on earth, though continue unquenchable in hell. When God has cleansed the world with the fire of judgement and created a new heaven and a new earth He will say ‘Enough!’
Yes, there are four things which never say ‘Enough!’ – the barren womb, the grave, the earth and the fire. But in the light of God’s entire Word we confess that God so governs everything that ‘rain and drought, fruitful and barren years […] indeed all things, come to us [believers] not by chance but by His fatherly hand’. God looks in love upon His people for the sake of His Son our Saviour and grants us, through His Spirit and Word, to see beyond what we observe with our eyes – to our constant comfort and for His great glory.
[i] R Bredenhof in a sermon on Proverbs 30, preached in the Free Reformed Church, Mt Nasura, 31-1-2016.
[ii] K Schilder, “Niet te Verzadigen”, in Licht in de Rook, Meinema, Delft, 1923 (rev. 1951), p. 326.
[iii] K Schilder, P. 326.
[iv] See also Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90.
[v] Secular existentialists such as Albert Camus. See, for example, his novelette The Outsider (aka The Stranger).
[vi] K Schilder, p. 331.