There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.
The prophet Agur taught inspired wisdom for your life by sets of four things (Pr 30:11-31). He began with four kinds of people, identified by particular sins. Some people love to take advantage of others and oppress them, especially those who are relatively weak and unable to help themselves. These violent persons have no ordinary compassion or pity, but mercilessly use others in any way they wish for their own pleasure or profit.
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 violent men would hurt the poor, for all ages have such sinners. 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 temperaments to each generation, learn the sin and the corrective wisdom for each kind of person.
The fourth generation, or kind of evil person, is oppressive and cruel in word and deed, especially toward the helpless, poor, and weak. This critical and condemning brute has no pity or regard for those in need or trouble. He or she is selfish, merciless, and violent. They do not have ordinary compassion for those under them or near them, and they may rise to positions of influence or power by corrupting or destroying those in their way.
Consider the first two brothers, Cain and Abel. How could Cain kill his brother for merely doing what was right? Especially after God warned him and told him how easily he too could be accepted? How could Cain then casually hide the murder, even when God Himself inquired? Because he was a child of the devil (I John 3:12), and you show the same devilish spirit of murder when you are angry without a just cause (Matt 5:21-26).
It is easy to direct the proverb at rulers or murderers in history like Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Harold Shipman, Luis Garavito, and others. But Solomon directed his wisdom closer to home, where aggressive or violent treatment of the poor and needy qualifies, from abortion to oppressing employees to defrauding spouses to harshly crushing the spirits of children to excessively taxing the poor to paying less or charging more than fairness indicates to callously ignoring those who are in need.
David faced such men during his life, Saul, Doeg, Absalom, and others. Even his own nephew Joab had a cruel spirit of revenge far different from David’s, which caused him grief on several occasions. He wrote of his predicament with such men in these words, “My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword” (Ps 57:4).
Jesus Christ, the Son of David, had to endure cruel and hateful treatment by the Jewish leadership during His life, and they forced His crucifixion in the end, though He had done nothing to harm them or their nation. Within his own band of apostles was a heartless thief, who stole from the poor and betrayed His lord, master, and friend for a measly thirty pieces of silver. Together they fulfilled this proverb better than anyone else.
Godly men are merciful men (Matt 5:7). In fact, they love mercy (Mic 6:8). Solomon taught elsewhere that righteous men are even merciful to animals, but the men of this proverb are cruel even when mercy should be shown (Pr 12:10). It is the pure religion of Jesus Christ to kindly consider the poor and to visit orphans and widows in their affliction (Gal 2:10; Jas 1:27). Instead of picking on the less fortunate, they pick them up!
It is the duty of every parent to teach their children to be merciful, lest they grow into the selfish tyrants condemned here. Since most let their hair down at home, it is a great place to teach and require compassion and mercy in all dealings. Sibling rivalries, oppressive parenting, irreverent responses, and other such relational problems should be corrected before a monster is formed by a dysfunctional home allowing cruelty of any sort.
In contrast to these wicked men, you may cast all your cares upon the God of heaven, for He cares for those who put their trust in Him (I Pet 5:7). Even if your mother and father forsake you, which is contrary to nature, then the LORD will take you up (Ps 27:10). His mercy is everlasting, and you can trust Him even for forgiveness of heinous sins. Though He has power to condemn and punish, He will forgive those who confess (I Jn 1:9).