Ecclesiastes 5 – Reverent Worship
A. Worshipping God reverently.
1. (1-3) Come to the house of God more to hear and to obey than to speak.
Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil.
Do not be rash with your mouth,
And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth;
Therefore let your words be few.
For a dream comes through much activity,
And a fool’s voice is known by his many words.
a. Walk prudently when you go to the house of God: Solomon here brings good advice that does not contradict his under the sun premise. Even apart from eternity, it would be wise to honor God and walk prudently when you go to the house of God for the sake of this life alone.
b. Walk prudently when you go to the house of God: The Preacher will explain more of what this means in the coming lines. Yet generally we can say that it means to show care and think about consequences when we come to meet God.
i. “Fruitful and acceptable worship begins before it begins.” (Maclaren)
c. Draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools: The sacrifice of fools is the hasty speech mentioned in the next lines. Solomon counsels us the come to the house of God to hear more than to speak without thinking.
i. To hear: “Has the double force in Hebrew which it sometimes has in English: to pay attention and to obey. So this saying is close to the famous words of Samuel, ‘to obey (literally to listen) is better than sacrifice’ (1 Samuel 15:22).” (Kidner)
ii. “They who fall into the faults condemned are ‘fools.’ If that class includes all who mar their worship by such errors, the church which holds them had need to be of huge dimensions; for the faults held up in these ancient words flourish in full luxuriance to-day.” (Maclaren)
iii. Sacrifice: “The zebah was an offering killed in sacrifice and then used for a meal, in contrast to the whole burnt-offering (ola) which was totally consumed in sacrifice. As Delitzsch points out, it is the zebah which could degenerate into thoughtless festivity, or worse.” (Eaton)
d. Do not be rash with your mouth . . . for God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few: Solomon rightly described the human tendency to speak without thinking before God and others. Even with an under the sun premise, it is foolish to speak too much and hear too little in God’s presence.
i. “When we come before God, our minds are full of our own business rather than with the worship of God. When we talk too much, we usually talk like fools. This can be especially bad in the house of God.” (Wright)
ii. The priests of Baal prayed hard and long on Mount Carmel; Elijah prayed short and sweet, and full of faith to the living God. God heard and beautifully answered Elijah’s prayer (1 Kings 18).
iii. J. Edwin Orr used to advise brief, earnest prayers, especially in prayer meetings. He said that when one prays in a meeting, for his first three minutes everyone prays with him. Should he continue a second three minutes, everyone prays for him. Should he continue for a third three minutes, the others start to pray against him.
iv. “For as it is not the loudness of a preacher’s voice, but the weight and holiness of his matter, and the spirit of the preacher, that moves a wise and intelligent hearer, so it is not the labour of the lips, but the travail of the heart that prevails with God.” (Trapp)
e. A dream comes through much activity, and a fool’s voice is known by his many words: The thought in this line is probably well represented by the Living Bible: “Just as being too busy gives you nightmares, so being a fool makes you a blabbermouth.”
i. “As personal and business cares produce dreams, which are unsubstantial things; so many words produce foolish and empty prayers.” (Wright)
2. (4-7) Keep your vows and fear God.
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it;
For He has no pleasure in fools.
Pay what you have vowed—
Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God.
a. When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it: Even with an under the sun premise, it is both honorable and wise to honor God by keeping one’s word to Him. It would be better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
i. “God does not take broken vows lightly. A broken vow may incur his judgment upon our endeavours. One who ‘swears to his own hurt and does not change’ pleases God (Psalm 15:4).” (Eaton)
ii. A commonly overlooked and unappreciated sin among God’s people is the sin of broken vows – promising things to God and failing to live up to the vow. Those who honor God:
· Will not be quick to make vows to God.
· Will be serious about fulfilling vows made.
· Will regard broken vows as sins to confessed and to be repented of.
b. Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say . . . that it was an error: The Preacher rightly observed that it was important for God’s people to regard their failure to keep vows as a serious matter, and that great effort should be put into keeping vows and not regarding the failure to keep them as simply an “error.”
i. Say before the messenger of God that it was an error: “Hebrew draws no distinction between messenger and angel, so several interpretations are open to us here.” (Eaton)
c. Fear God: Solomon counseled reverence and honor towards God, but in his under the sun perspective the value is found in the here-and-now, not unto eternity.
i. “Most certainly, he that fears God need fear nothing else. Well may an upright soul say to Satan himself, I fear God; and because I fear him, l do not fear thee.” (Clarke)
B. The vanity of wealth and materialism.
1. (8-9) The enduring fact of oppression and injustice.
If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them. Moreover the profit of the land is for all; even the king is served from the field.
a. If you see the oppression of the poor, and the violent perversion of justice . . . do not marvel at the matter: The Preacher spoke realistically about life under the sun. There is much oppression and perversion of justice. It should surprise no one.
i. “For all his hatred of injustice, Qoheleth pins no hopes on utopian schemes or on revolution. He knows what is in man.” (Kidner)
b. For high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them: Solomon was especially aware of how bureaucracies can bring oppression.
c. Moreover the profit of the land is for all; even the king is served from the field: Even with a complex (and possibly corrupt) bureaucracy, everyone depends on what comes from the farmer’s field – even the king. The Preacher seemed to delight in these ironies of life.
i. “Without the field he cannot have supplies for his own house; and, unless agriculture flourish, the necessary expenses of the state cannot be defrayed. Thus, God joins the head and feet together; for while the peasant is protected by the king as executor of the laws, the king himself is dependent on the peasant; as the wealth of the nation is the fruit of the labourer’s toil.”
ii. “Some read it thus: Rex agro servit, The king is a servant to the field.” (Trapp)
2. (10-12) Dissatisfaction in the accumulation of wealth.
He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver;
Nor he who loves abundance, with increase.
This also is vanity.
When goods increase,
They increase who eat them;
So what profit have the owners
Except to see them with their eyes?
The sleep of a laboring man is sweet,
Whether he eats little or much;
But the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.
a. He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver: Of all people, Solomon knew that the gathering of riches did not satisfy. He knew, this also is vanity.
i. “If anything is worse than the addiction money brings, it is the emptiness it leaves. Man, with eternity in his heart, needs better nourishment than this.” (Kidner)
b. When goods increase, they increase who eat them; so what profit have the owners: Solomon knew that as one’s net worth increased, so did ones expenses – and the expectation of others.
i. “Servants, friends, flatterers, trencher-men, pensioners, and other hangbys that will flock to a rich man, as crows do to a dead carcase, not to defend, but to devour it.” (Trapp)
c. The sleep of the laboring man is sweet . . . the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep: Solomon indulged an envy of the laboring man, who has so much less to worry about. The rich man has greater worries and less sleep.
i. We may suppose that Solomon found little sympathy from the laboring man.
3. (13-17) The uncertainty of wealth.
There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun:
Riches kept for their owner to his hurt.
But those riches perish through misfortune;
When he begets a son, there is nothing in his hand.
As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return,
To go as he came;
And he shall take nothing from his labor
Which he may carry away in his hand.
And this also is a severe evil—
Just exactly as he came, so shall he go.
And what profit has he who has labored for the wind?
All his days he also eats in darkness,
And he has much sorrow and sickness and anger.
a. A severe evil . . . riches kept for their owner to his hurt: Solomon then observed that wealth does not bless the life of every wealthy person. Especially those who keep their riches with an ungenerous, clenched fist, they are riches kept for their owner to his hurt.
i. “Rather, preserved by the possessor, hoarded and guarded, only to bring their lord added grief when by some reverse of fortune he loses them, as explained in what follows.” (Deane)
b. But those riches perish through misfortune . . . he shall take nothing from his labor: This shows further the foolishness of holding on to wealth in an ungenerous way. Wealth can disappear suddenly through misfortune; yet we lose all wealth in death. Solomon knew that despite the burial wishes and customs of the pharaohs, one cannot take their with wealth with them after death.
i. “The riches were suddenly and catastrophically lost, whether in foolish gambling, in a misguided venture, or in a sudden reversal of circumstances.” (Eaton)
c. Just exactly as he came, so shall he go: Solomon understood that great wealth ultimately means nothing under the sun. Man comes with nothing into the world and leaves the same way.
i. The New Testament gives a more hopeful picture, taking us beyond the Preacher’s under the sun premise and telling us that we can lay up treasure in heaven. You can’t take your wealth with you when you die; but you can send it on ahead by generous giving to God’s work.
d. All his days he also eats in darkness, and he has much sorrow and sickness and anger: With a sympathetic touch, Solomon tells us the loneliness, sorrow, and anger there is even for the very wealthy.
4. (18-20) Making the best of a bad situation under the sun.
Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor – this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart.
a. It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun: We sense that Solomon – still very much with the premise of under the sun – simply hoped to make the best of a bad situation.
b. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth . . . this is the gift of God: Though the Preacher knew that riches did not bring true meaning to life, he was no fool. He understood that it was better to have wealth than to not have it, and under the sun, one should enjoy both wealth and the capacity to enjoy it as the gift of God.
i. “Indeed, the very care of wealth becomes a reason for restlessness. In view of all these things there is but one attitude, which the preacher advises: Do not hoard anything, but enjoy it.” (Morgan)
c. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart: This was Solomon’s counsel to the wealthy man who finds no ultimate meaning under the sun. Simply, try not to think about it and keep yourself busy.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission