“The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” (Proverbs 30:28) Simple as that.
I actually like spiders. If you don’t, I understand. Would it make you feel better if I told you that most versions translate “spider” as “lizard”? That is what the Hebrew word is. A lizard. There, that’s not so bad. But then other versions go on to translate the rest of the verse away, saying something to the effect: “You can catch a lizard with your hands, and it’s in king’s palaces.” That…really doesn’t make any sense to me. I suppose if I looked up the actual word. Let’s see here. Ah. Okay, the Hebrew word meaning “lizard”, translated as “spider” in the King James, is semamith. That word has its root and connotation in such descriptors as stun, devastate, stupefy, destroy, etc. All of which lend themselves to the poisonousness of spiders, or (some) lizards (like a Gila monster whose saliva actually is poisonous or a monitor lizard whose mouth is so full of bacteria it may as well be…?). It makes me wonder if the translators of the King James Version decided to use the word spider to help with the understanding of what the verse is actually saying. Because translating it along the lines of lizard, doesn’t really do the verse, or the idea expressed therein, justice. At least not in the western hemisphere. Not to me.
What do you think of when you think of spiders? I’m sure the usual symbols come to mind. A web. A trap. Deceit. Poison. “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” says Sir Walter Scott. Imagine some gruesome multi-appendaged thing hiding in a dark corner with its eight eyes tracking your every move. Ready to strike from the shadows, “[take] hold with her hands”, wrap you in its silken thread (stronger than titanium, really), inject its venom into you, then imbibe your liquefied innards. I don’t know why it pronouns* it as “her”. Plenty of male “spiders” out there.
Now imagine a human with these negative qualities living and working under the King in his palace. If said individual were to ever be found out, he’d be sentenced to death. Immediately. Palace intrigue! And when Agur, the writer of the Proverb speaks of the lizard, or spider, it’s in the list of “exceeding wise” (verse 24) animals. He speaks of the ants’ industriousness (verse 25), the “conies”, or rock badgers, and their homes in the craggy cliffside (verse 26). He talks of the locusts who operate as one, in spite of having no leadership (verse 27). And then there’s the spider/lizard and its audacity and deceit in that supercharged atmosphere.
I suppose it’s the same “wise”-ness that Jesus speaks of in Matthew (10:16). “Be ye therefore wise as serpents…”. He doesn’t stop there, “…and harmless as doves.” Without that “harmless” part, we are apt to fall under the shadow of Psalm 10:2, which says: “The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.” (emphasis mine) See, honor and integrity meant so much more back then than they do now. We can change this.
“All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live…” (Esther 4:11) This is referring to King Ahasuerus in the book of Esther. Esther was his wife, and the same rule applied to her (5:2). If this custom was common among the kingdoms of the Ancient Middle East, then it’s understandable why Agur would express such astonishment at the lowly spider and its palace hijinks, to put it politely.
And in God’s kingdom, those qualities are not tolerated, either.
In the book of Acts (5:3-5), the fledgling church dealt with maintaining its purity in spite of deceivers in its midst: “But Peter said, Ananias, why hath satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” What happens next is eye-opening and scary. “And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.” It would seem that Ananias had no intention of seeking forgiveness for weaving that tangled web.
*not an actual verb