WISDOM IN THE HOUSE OF GOD
This chapter presents something of an interlude. Up to this point, the Preacher has been merely giving his observations. But now, he give a series of exhortations. So far, he has only showed us the way the world IS. Now he tells us what we are to DO on the basis of how the world is.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WORSHIPING RIGHTLY
Solomon takes us to the house of God. This is the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a part of Solomon's building program. It served to replace the Tabernacle as the place where God's people came to worship.
Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. (Ecclesiastes 5:1).
The Preacher begins this section with a warning concerning worship. This seems out of the ordinary to our modern culture. We have warnings about sin and temptation and unbelief. But a warning about how to worship?
Our problem is that we do not take worship seriously enough. We tend to think that as long as we ARE worshiping the Lord, it does not really matter HOW we worship. But the Scriptures teach otherwise. And the Preacher warns us to guard our steps - literally, "to guard our foot (watch your step)."
How are we to watch our step when we come into the presence of God? The Preacher gives us the answer. He says that we are to LISTEN. Notice that there were one of two possible activities taking place within the house of God.
Offer the Sacrifice of Fools
You will always do one of these two when you come to worship the Lord. Either you will worship Him in your own way, or you will listen to Him and worship Him in the way He has commanded.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the Lord seeks people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. It is not the outward form that is so crucial to worship, but the inward reality.
THE DANGER OF SPEAKING QUICKLY
Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. (Ecclesiastes 5:2-3).
We ought to worship God thoughtfully, taking care what we say to Him in our prayers. How would you act if you were to be granted an interview with the president of the United States? Would you plan your words ahead of time? We should be no less careful when we come to meet the God of the universe.
For God is in heaven and you are on the earth. These words serve as a reminder that there is a great difference between us and God. He is OTHER than us. This "otherness" is what we call His "holiness."
Do you remember the time Jesus was with His disciples in a boat on the middle of the Sea of Galilee? It had been a long day and Jesus had gone to sleep in the back of the boat. The wind whipped up on the lake and a sudden storm struck with gale-force winds. The fishing boat was close to sinking. The disciples tried everything, but to no avail. One of them said, "Let's wake up Jesus!" So they woke up Jesus and He rebuked them for their lack of faith and then He turned to the wind and the waves and said, "QUIET!!!" And the wind and the waves became quiet. And the disciples became afraid. But instead of being afraid of the storm, they were now afraid of this One who was with them in the boat who had the power to command the wind and the waves - this One who was OTHER than any mortal man. Why were they afraid? Because they had come in contact with the holiness of God.
We would pray better if we were more aware of God's holiness. And so, the Preacher reminds us that we are praying to the God of the galaxies - the God who is in heaven.
Warns us of hearing too little
Warns us of talking too much
For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. The Preacher points out a common phenomenon. When you are busy and your mind is filled with concerns, those concerns are often expressed in busy dreams. I've seen this in my wife who will be planning events for her classroom to the point that she is talking about it in her sleep. Using this phenomenon, the Preacher draws an analogy.
When much effort takes place...
When many words are spoken...
It is manifested in busy dreams
It gives evidence that a fool is speaking
The point is that you ought to be careful how you speak. When in doubt, remain silent.
THE RISK OF VOWING CARELESSLY
When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.
Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7).
A vow is a promise made to God. Vows in the Bible were always made to God. There were several reasons why a person might make a vow to the Lord.
1. As part of a bargaining process with the Lord.
Jacob vowed that he would make the Lord his God and that he would tithe a tenth of all of his possessions if the Lord would provide for him on his sojourn (Genesis 28:20).
2. As part of a consecration unto the Lord.
The Nazarite vow was made as a consecration of a person to the Lord for a period of time (Numbers 6:2) During this period, the one making the vow would be separated unto the Lord. Indeed, the word "Nazarite" comes from the Hebrew , "to separate."
Words are important. They bind us and they direct out paths. When Isaac blessed Jacob, that blessing stood firm, even though it had been obtained deceitfully. The treaty of the Israelites to the Gibeonites was observed, even though it had been obtained under false pretenses. God always keeps His word. And He expects us to do the same.
It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay (5:5).
You are never commanded in the Scriptures to make a vow. Indeed, the Scriptures specifically state that you are NOT obligated to make a vow in the first place.
When you make a vow to the Lord you God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you.
However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you.
You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised. (Deuteronomy 23:21-23).
It is acceptable to refrain from entering into a vow. But once you have made a vow, you are bound by that vow. This brings us to a question. How are we to understand the words of Jesus regarding vows?
"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.'
"But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes' or ‘No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil." (Matthew 5:33-37).
Is Jesus changing the Law? Deuteronomy says that it permissible NOT to make a vow. But Jesus seems to be says that it not permissible TO make a vow. Is this the case?
Jesus is specifically speaking to the practice of swearing by some object. When people made an oath, they would bind it on some person or object. The idea behind this practice was that, if the oath proved to be false, then you were calling for the destruction of that on which you had sworn.
If you swore on the life of your children, you were wishing for the death of your children if that oath was not fulfilled. Likewise, if you swore by God, then you were wishing for the destruction of God if that oath were broken. Thus, an oath was a curse which you placed on the thing by which you swore if the conditions of the oath were not fulfilled.
This is what the book of Hebrews is saying when it tells us that God made His promise to Abraham. "Since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself" (Hebrews 6:13).
The problem was that the Jews had come to use this as a legal form of lying. They would say, "I don't have to keep my promise to you because I only swore by the throne of God and not by God Himself."
Jesus says that it is better not to make an oath at all. In this, He is saying the same thing as Ecclesiastes. It is better not to vow a vow - it is better not to swear an oath than to vow or to swear and not to fulfill it.
The problem with Christians today is that we have a credibility gap. The world has seen Christians who lie, cheat and steal. It is no wonder that they do not believe us.
The solution is not for us to strengthen our vows. The solution is to present a life before the world that is true. And when you DO make a vow, make absolutely certain that you keep it.
When a couple get married, it is traditional for them to exchange wedding vows. I believe this to be a good and acceptable practice. But they should NOT exchange such vows unless they are fully intending on keeping those vows. To go back afterward and claim, "It was a mistake! We shouldn't have gotten married in the first place" is no excuse. The words of the Preacher are directly applicable to such an instance: Do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake (5:6).
The Preacher closes with a final injunction to fear God (5:7). This is the reason we have problems in our vows. It is the reason that there are so many Christian divorces. It is that there is so little fear of God.
What does it mean to fear God? It means more than a mere healthy respect. All too often, we have been satisfied with a watered-down version of what such a fear really ought to be.
Jesus said that we should not be afraid of those who were only able to kill the body, but that we SHOULD fear Him who has the power to cast both body and soul into hell (Luke 12:4-5).
Fearing God creates a fear of sin. When you stop fearing God, you will stop fearing sin. But when you DO fear the Lord, it will drive you to the Cross where you can find release and forgiveness. That doesn't mean that we see God as "safe." God is great and awesome. He is beyond my understanding. And if I ever come of the point of thinking that I have "figured Him out," I have moved away from a proper fear of the Lord.