Question: "What is the meaning of "give me neither poverty nor riches" (Proverbs 30:8)?"

Answer: The author of Proverbs 30 is an unknown contributor named Agur. In humble prayer, he asks the Lord, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread” (Proverbs 30:8). As he prays against the extremes of abundance and want, the heart of Agur’s prayer is to be content with the portion God provides.

“For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name” (Proverbs 30:9, NLT). With these words, Agur acknowledges his weakness and dependence on God for strength to overcome temptation. He is acutely aware of his human tendency to forget God when life is too comfortable and blessed with abundance, or turn away from God and dishonor Him when life is full of hardship.

In saying, “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” the sage asks the Lord for just enough to meet his day-to-day needs. His prayer sounds very much like the Lord’s Prayer when Jesus says, “Give us each day our daily bread” and “lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:11, 13; Luke 11:3, 4).

In Agur’s prayer, “riches” represent an exalted state. He sees the pursuit of wealth as empty and unsatisfying and asks God to remove him from this snare. He has learned that the rich are easily seduced by pride and independence and cannot see their need for God (Deuteronomy 8:11–14; Matthew 19:23; Mark 10:23; Luke 18:23–25). The writer of Hebrews warns, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). God, and not money, is our greatest need.

Agur considers both extremes—poverty and riches—to be equally seductive. The snare of poverty is its tendency to lead a person away from a life of morality and integrity. Agur fears that he “might have nothing and steal” (Proverbs 30:9, CSB).

Our “daily bread” that Jesus prays for in Matthew 6 refers to just what we need to satisfy our needs. Our “daily bread” is the individualized portion that God sees fit to give us each day to feed both our bodies and souls. If we have God’s best for our lives, for our bodies and souls, then we have what is truly best. We need nothing more and nothing less.

The apostle Paul taught that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). With simplicity and humility, Paul told Timothy, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:8–10).

Paul never prayed, “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” but he experienced both conditions: “I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13, CSB).

Paul discovered how to be content no matter what situation he faced, and he encouraged other believers to do the same: “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NLT). Whether enjoying a feast or enduring a famine, Paul depended on God for everything. His absolute trust and reliance on God formed the secret to his contentment. Like Agur, Paul humbly recognized his need for God, who could keep him from the temptations of self-sufficiency, pride, immorality, and every other threat.

Today, Agur’s prayer, “give me neither poverty nor riches,” might sound something like this: “Lord, I don’t desire wealth, nor do I seek to live in poverty. My only desire is to have what You know is best for me. Please give me only what is pleasing, best, and necessary—just enough for today—and it will suffice as everything I need.”