There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.
The prophet Agur taught inspired wisdom for your life by sets of four things (Pr 30:11-31). He began by describing four kinds of people, identified by particular sins, of which this proverb is the second of the four. Most men are foolishly self-righteous to varying degrees, but some are exceptionally haughty in personal or religious arrogance and self-confidence. They are pure in their own eyes, and yet they are not washed from their sins.
Generation here means a kind of person, for it lacks demonstrative pronouns or other modifiers for a period of time. It is not a prophecy of the future, when men would become haughty, for all ages have had such. It is not a prophecy of bad men in Christ’s time, for such a use would be unique in Proverbs and without practical wisdom for life.
The four generations are more than four temperament types – melancholy, phlegmatic, sanguine, and choleric – though each has sinful tendencies. The lesson here is beyond disposition: it is four kinds of people with specific sins. Rather than assign a temperament to each generation, learn the sin and corrective wisdom needed for each kind of person.
The second generation, or kind of person, is self-righteous about purity. He, or she, has a haughty heart toward God’s word, presuming that it seldom applies to him. Confident in his own wisdom and standard of holiness, he looks down on others as inferior and lords it over them in thoughts, speech, and conduct. He feels God is obligated to accept him and will most certainly do so. He sees little need for self-examination or personal repentance.
What is self-righteousness? It is a woman despising an adulteress, while defrauding her husband six nights a week (I Cor 7:1-5). It is a fool thinking a sermon about the tongue is for others (II Cor 13:5). It is an obese woman eating two desserts, yet condemning the use of wine (Luke 21:34). It is an odious woman refusing to learn graciousness (Pr 27:22). It is a haughty boy ridiculing a warning and denying it could happen to him (I Cor 10:12).
It is Simon the Pharisee despising the sinful woman at Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50). It is the Pharisee thanking God he is not as bad as the publican (Luke 18:9-14). It is the Jews condemning the man born blind and his parents (John 9:13-34). It is a man who will not say he is sorry, even when proven wrong. It is boasting of knowing God, but being unable to get along with others. It is saying the Spirit teaches you without the Bible.
There are lessons to be discovered by study (Pr 1:6). The world has always had haughty and self-righteous people. What should you learn? There are at least five lessons: God hates self-righteousness; He only accepts the humble; you must learn to hate this sin; you must avoid any tendency toward it; you must train it thoroughly out of your children.
God hates the self-righteous. He condemned proud Jews saying, “I am holier than thou” (Is 65:1-7). Jesus blasted the religious leaders of his day for self-righteousness (Luke 16:15; 18:9-14). They had perverted God’s law by false definitions (Luke 10:25-37), and they despised sinners (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus did not come for the self-righteous, and He expected His disciples to exceed their pitiful standards (Matt 5:20; Mark 2:15-17).
God loves the poor in spirit – those broken and contrite for their sins and sinfulness (Ps 34:18; 51:16-17; 138:6; Is 57:15; 66:2). Jesus came into this world to save sinners, and Paul admitted he was chief among them (I Tim 1:15). God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (I Pet 5:5-6). The poor in spirit are blessed heirs of heaven (Mat 5:3). If you come to Jesus Christ any other way, He will not receive you (Mark 2:17).
You must hate self-righteousness, for it is a very damning sin. Once allowed into your thinking, you will reject the very correction and instruction you need to please God, for you will believe you are free from serious faults (Pr 26:12; Gal 6:3). You will resent parents or pastors who try to correct, rebuke, teach, or warn you. You must become a fool, admit you are nothing, and despise your own heart (Jer 17:9; I Cor 3:18; Eph 3:8).
You cannot afford any self-deception in this matter. You are a sinner, with sinful desires, and sinful tendencies. Therefore, you must apply all preaching and teaching to yourself, not to others. The hypocrite who wants to remove the speck from another’s eye while having a beam in his own has a severe problem with self-righteousness (Matt 7:3-5). You must dread the very thought of hardening your heart against instruction (Pr 28:14).
Train your children to be humble, broken over sin, and contrite for faults. If you do not, they will become adults with self-righteous conceit that will destroy them. They will reject instruction, look down on others, and provoke the Lord to be their enemy. Exalt God’s holy standards and teach them self-criticism and self-examination more than self-esteem. Teach them that without God’s grace through Jesus Christ they are totally lost.
Opposite the proverb’s lesson, there is a generation very filthy in their own eyes, and yet they are washed entirely pure from all their filth – those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ – the elect of God. Jesus washed them from their sins in His own blood (Rev 1:5; 7:14; I Cor 6:11). Have you found the fountain that was opened in Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness (Zech 13:1)? It is found by faith in Jesus the Son of God (John 3:18).