Fulfill Your Vow to God
5 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.
2 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.
3 A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 6 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? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
These verses about approaching God to worship. The teacher recognised that ritual, religious sacrifice was meaningless without the heart intent to draw near to God and listen to him.
Verses 2-3 are about prayer. The teacher observed that careless words and too many words can be spoken in the presence of God. To walk with God means to walk with authenticity not religiousness. Jesus himself taught us that there is no need to say a lot in prayer (Matthew 6:7).
Verses 4-6 are a reminder to be serious about the decisions we have made. To not be too quick in making a decision but to be thoughtful about the implications. We are free to make any decision before God to do or not do something. The teacher effectively states that our integrity is more important than making an impressive decision. God want’s authenticity not religiousness.
This is all summarised in verse 7 – Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Fear God. …very simply but beautifully stated.
Riches Are Meaningless
8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
Verse 8 deals with the issue of bureacracy and in particular how it effects the poor and is weighted against them. The field might be a poor man’s livlihood but the officials don’t care about that. They will do their job and receive their pay and won’t care how it effects the poor person. The teacher says don’t be surprised about this unfairness. It is everywhere.
The Hebrew text in verse 9 is not clear. These are three common explanations of this verse. I am not particularly convinced by any of them but I do not really understand the linguistic issues.
1) The people’s work was agriculture. Perhaps it was better to have a king and his officials. This was true, even if some officials were unfair.
2) Some people think that these words praise a king like Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:10).
3) A king exists to protect the country. This should benefit everyone who lives there.
10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
11 As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.
There are three reasons why money cannot satisfy its owner.
1. People who have a lot of money often want more money. The pursuit of money and material wealth is an unquenchable thirst. It is never going to satisfy.
2. Money attracts other people who want a slice of the action, a cut of the pie. Then the wealthy people have extra responsibilities and there are more demands on the money. Managing the wealth to protect becomes a cost in time and more money. The money itself produces more work which either costs the person time or even more money as he has to outsource to others to manage his affairs. He cannot enjoy his wealth, because extra costs use all his money. The accumulation of stuff has the same impact. It steals time and energy in looking after the stuff and erodes our time from looking after ourselves and those entrusted to our care.
3. The poor man sleeps well at night after his hard work. Whether he has had enough to eat or not, he is free from anxious thoughts. But the rich man rarely sleeps with peace. He is preoccupied with his money, his stuff and his responsibilities.
13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
14 or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
there is nothing left for them to inherit.
15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
16 This too is a grievous evil:
As everyone comes, so they depart,
and what do they gain,
since they toil for the wind?
17 All their days they eat in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.
We come into the world with nothing and we leave with nothing. Anything we gain in our lifetime can be lost by our own stupidity or misjudgment or by some misfortune. Our money, our wealth, our property is all a bit of an illusion really. We don’t actually own anything. We are merely borrowing it and can experience it for a time. As soon as our mind says we own it or our heart becomes attached to it we are in slavery to it and that’s a pretty miserable existence. Better to count my blessings, accept them as blessings for the moment and remind myself that they are out on loan. After all its “hevel” and I don’t want to spend my life chasing after the wind. I have done enough of that already.
18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.
I love these verses. They are all about gratitude but even more than gratitude. They are about present moment living. To walk with God every day, to stop and smell the roses, to enjoy the blessings he has given us and to live in these moments seems to minimize the need to worry or be anxious. As Paul wrote to the Philippians “I have learned the secret of being content in all circumstances”.