A Survey of Ecclesiastes 2

Reverence God Always, 5:1—7

Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, there are a number of “interludes,” similar to the parenthetical passages in the book of Revelation. In that book, those pauses in the action serve to explain certain things John saw in a previous vision. In Ecclesiastes, the interludes give Solomon an opportunity to review various attempts to find the satisfying and unifying key to life and its purpose. Up to chapter 5, the Teacher has concluded that the only satisfaction comes from accepting God’s plan for one’s life, even if the sum total of that plan is not clear. Life should be marked by acceptance, not by making demands of God. In fact, the one who fears God must continually draw near to God if he is to be sensitive to his will.

1. Watch your step! Keep your mouth shut!, verses 1—3

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

The KJV renders “guard your steps” as “Keep thy foot.” The emphasis is on the individual to use control and restraint as he approaches God. Perhaps Jesus had these verses in mind when He told the story of the two who went into the temple to pray in Luke 18:9—14. Believers ought to approach God confidently, yet with the right motives. We come before God in humility as we recognize His majesty and His absolute right to our lives.

Far too many Christians approach God with a profusion of words, but without a receptive spirit. That’s what Solomon is hinting at when he writes, “Go near to listen.” As surely as we are able to talk to God, He is able to speak to us. But we need to willing to receive what He is saying to us. It is always better to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say than to be focused on telling God what we want Him to hear. Smith and Goodspeed see in the word “listen” more than merely hearing the words of God, but obeying what God says. Their translation:

To draw near to obey is better than that fools should offer sacrifice.

This notion goes along very well with 1 Samuel 15:22,

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

In coming near to God, we seek His guidance as we listen to His words. The alternative to this is to suppose that offerings can be a substitute for a God-ordered life. “The sacrifice of fools” would be any irreverent or insincere approach to God. Moffatt translates the last clause of verse 1 as:

All a fool knows is how to do wrong—even in worship.

Some commentators see this as an attempt to bribe God. See Isaiah 1:11—20. While this is possible, I see two other possibilities:

  • Sometimes it is easier to offer some sort of sacrifice to God than it is to what He tells us. Thus, we make ourselves feel better, thinking He will accept something from us in place of what He wants from us.
  • Sometimes we offer boisterous worship in place of obedience, thinking that will appease Him. We draw His attention to our worship and away from our disobedience, and we think that will make for the deficit in our spiritual lives.

And yet, we are made to communicate to God in prayer. The emphasis in verse 2 is on rashness and haste. A.F. Harper writes:

Respectful silence or reverent and thoughtful prayer is more appropriate than much speaking in patterned liturgical forms.

Early Jewish writing mirror what Solomon has said:

Always let the words of a man before the Holy One (blessed be His name) be few.

True prayer is not reciting a list as quickly as possible so you can get on other things in life. One of the best commentaries on these two verses is what our Lord said in Matthew 6:7—8,

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Verse 3 seems to be by itself, like an isolated proverb. But it is related to verses 1 and 2. How many times have you gone to bed and tossed and turned thinking about the day you just lived through? That’s what happens when your focus is inward, instead of outward. What you think about is what you dream about. Similarly, what is on your mind when you come before the Lord is what you’ll be thinking about, even when you’re praying. That is the prayer of a fool.

2. Keep your vows, or keep your mouth shut!, verses 4—7

When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

A vow is really a contract with God; it is a binding commitment made by us to Him, and as Solomon notes, its is dangerous to not keep a promise made to God. The RSV hints that the vow involves money or offerings: “When you vow a vow made to God, do not delay in paying it…Pay what you vow.” This would be in keeping with making excuses to the “temple messenger,” or preacher. However, this verse certainly applies to any kind of promise made to God, at any time. How often have we made a vow to God to do something for Him when we find ourselves in trouble? A vow made at such a time is just as binding as a vow made during a time of prayer.

Vows made to God, if kept, have power to lift us to new levels of devotion and service, but a broken promise to God jeopardizes our standing with Him.

What keeps us from keeping a vow made to God? Very often it is greed or a lack of faith. Yet a vow is much more than just a promise; it is a spiritual bond between man and God. Numbers 30:2–

When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

When we don’t keep our end of the commitment, we offend two parties:

(1) It is disrespectful of and an insult to God.
(2) It is a self-inflicted injury, for God will be recompensed (Acts 5:4).

God is not looking for for vain dreams or lofty words and big promises. He is looking for people to do His will, and that begins with keeping our word to God. Indeed, obedience IS better than sacrifice.


1 Response to “A Survey of Ecclesiastes 2”

  1. 1 Denise June 7, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Dear Mike, You may find my insights into the Book of Revelation helpful.

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