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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 5

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-7


“Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God; for to draw nigh to hear is better than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they know not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter anything before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. For a dream cometh with a multitude of business, and a fool’s voice with a multitude of words. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou vowest. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands? For in the multitude of dreams there are vanities, and in many words: but fear thou God.”

We find a dramatic switch here from Solomon’s `I’ passages to a series of admonitions to one addressed as, “thou.” As we have frequently noted, Solomon was very good at telling other people what to do! We find a brief summary of this whole paragraph in the Living Word Paraphrase: “As you enter the Temple, keep your ears open, and your mouth shut.”(F2)

“Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God” Recent versions render this: “Guard your steps, as you go to the house of God,”(F3) or, “Go carefully when you visit the house of God.”(F4) The `house of God’ here is a reference to Solomon’s Temple; and `keep thy foot’ is an idiomatic expression standing for one’s entire pattern of behavior. This declares that acceptable worship in God’s sight is not merely an outward observance of religious duties, but also includes a pattern of life honoring God’s commandments.

“The sacrifice of fools” “Be not rash with thy mouth” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). These verses reflect Solomon’s views as stated in Proverbs. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Jehovah (Proverbs 15:8).” “He that refraineth his lips doeth wisely” (Proverbs 10:19). Not only is the worship of wicked men an abomination of God, so also is the worship of any person who engages in it without regard to the proper understanding and intention of it. As Jesus stated it, “They that worship Him must worship him in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

“And a fool’s voice with a multitude of words” The author is still dealing with the problem of rash speech. The world is still suffering under the curse of countless words regarding religion that are totally without any value.

“Better is it that thou shouldest not vow… etc.” Hannah, Jonah and Jephthah are among those whose `vows’ are mentioned in the Word of God. See comments in Numbers 6:1-21; Jonah 2:9; 1 Samuel 1:19-28; and Judges 11:29-40. Jephthah is often cited as an example of one who made a rash vow; and Jonah’s prayer indicates that he had made vows without paying them. Christians today are not sinless in this matter of keeping our promises to God. Our very baptism is “a holy vow” to love and serve God through Jesus Christ; and any failure to do this falls under the condemnation cited here. 2 Pet. 2:20:22, with reference to the Christian who, in a sense, “vows to serve God in Christ,” and then turns back, declares that it would have been far better for such a person, “not to have known the way of righteousness.” This is very nearly the same thing that is here stated with reference to the making of vows, i.e., that it would be far better not to vow than to vow and then not perform it.

“Neither say thou before the angel that it was an error” The word `angel’ here is used in the same sense as in Revelation 1:20, namely, as a messenger of God; and in this case it is a reference to the priest or other functionary in the Temple in whose presence a vow might have been pledged.

“Fear God” In a word, this is the message of the whole paragraph. The worship and service of the holy and righteous God is no flippant or casual business. It is weighted with eternal meaning and significance. Furthermore, we must not write this paragraph off as some outmoded example of Old Testament harshness. The New Testament also even more urgently warns us in the same manner (Matthew 7:21 ff; Matthew 23:16 ff; and 1 Corinthians 11:27 ff). “No amount of emphasis upon the grace of God can justify taking liberties with God. The very conception of grace demands gratitude; and gratitude can never be casual.”(F5)

Verses 8-9


“If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and the violent taking away of justice and righteousness in a province, marvel not at the matter; for one higher than the high regardeth; and there are higher than they. Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.”

“The Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes 5:9 has been damaged; and the translation is little more than a guess at what might have been meant.”(F6) As the verses stand, they appear to be an apology, or justification, for the pyramidal hierarchy of the ancient system of taxation, in which, “These officials were watching, not, as a rule, that justice should be done to the poor, but to squeeze revenue out of the lesser officials under them. Each official was an oppressor; and there is no wonder that the poor peasant, the lowest stratum of the heap, should be squeezed.”(F7)

“Marvel not at the matter” Something of the heartlessness of Solomon appears in this flippant remark. It means, simply, “Think nothing of it”! Regarding the mention here of “the one higher than the high,” “This is perhaps an impersonal reference to the king.”(F8)

Verses 10-12


“He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance, with increase: This also is vanity. When goods are increased, they are increased that eat them; and what advantage is there to the owner thereof, save the beholding of them with his eyes? The sleep of the laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much; but the fullness of the rich man will not suffer him to sleep.”

“He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver” Solomon in these lines appears to be envious of the peaceful sleep of an ordinary laboring man; and there is a confession here by the richest man of all antiquity that wealth had brought him no satisfaction, but only more responsibility, more anxiety and sleeplessness.

“They are increased that eat them” This, of course, is just another way of saying that, “as people make more money, their expenses also increase.” It is even true in the physical sense of the human body itself. It requires much more to feed a fat man than a lean one.

Verses 13-17


“There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept by the owner thereof to his hurt: and those riches perish by evil adventure; and if he hath begotten a son, there is nothing in his hand. As he came forth from his mother’s womb, naked shall he go again as he came, and shall take nothing for his labor, which he may carry away in his hand. And this also is a grievous evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that he laboreth for the wind? All his days also he eateth in darkness, and is sore vexed, and hath sickness and wrath.”

“There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun” Poor old Solomon. Here he is grieving his heart out that he can’t take any of it with him! The sad fact of there never having been any kind of a U-Haul attachment for funeral coaches was viewed by the great wise man as “a grievous evil.” The apostle Paul may have remembered this passage when he wrote, “We brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content. But they that are minded to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:7-9). We may also read in Paul’s words an application that he did not state, namely, that “This is exactly what happened to Solomon.”

Several of the great tragedies connected with wealth are mentioned here.

(1) “They perish by evil adventure” (Ecclesiastes 5:14). This might occur in a hundred different ways, a false partner, an unwise investment, a natural calamity of some kind, a revolution, a bankruptcy, or something else

(2) “If he hath begotten a son, there is nothing in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:14). The inability of the sons of rich men to carry on the successes of their fathers is effectively demonstrated continually in the daily newspapers.

“Nothing… which he may carry away in his hand” Oh yes we take something with us when we die; but it is invisible, `nothing in our cold dead hand.’ “We take with us our character and our conscience.”(F9) We take with us those treasures which we have laid up “in heaven” (Matthew 6:20-21). We shall also take with us (in the sense that we shall not lose them) those “friends” whom we have made by the proper use of our wealth, wicked as it is, and who, according to our Lord’s promise, “Shall receive us into the eternal habitations.” (Luke 16:9, Revised Standard Version).

One of the deacons in Sherman, Texas, a brother Travis, many years ago wrote a poem that had this line: “All you can hold in your cold dead hand is what you have given away.” The wisest man who ever lived did not know this; and it emphasizes the truth that Christians are exceedingly privileged and blessed. Wiser that Solomon? Certainly; because just as Jesus explained that `the least in God’s kingdom’ is greater that the greatest man who ever lived, namely, John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11-12); in that same way, `the least in the kingdom of God,’ is wiser than the wisest man who ever lived, namely, Solomon.

“What profit hath he that laboreth for the wind” See comment on Ecclesiastes 5:15, above, which tells how the rich man indeed may profit magnificently, if he will do it Jesus’ way.

Verses 18-20


“Behold, That which I have seen to be good and to be comely is for one to eat and to drink and to enjoy good in all his labor, wherein he laboreth under the sun, all the days of his life which God hath given him: for this is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor - this is the gift of God. For he shall not much remember the days of his life: because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.”

There is a melancholy leveling of all life, embracing all classes from the laboring man to the king on his throne, in these verses. God is the giver of all things, both to the working man and the ruler; and, from the purely earthly viewpoint, about all that anyone gets out of life is what is mentioned here.

“And hath given him power to eat thereof” Christ taught men to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The rich man indeed may have bread stored up for a long time; but whether he has the health and opportunity to eat it, or to profit by it if he does eat it, is altogether a gift of God, granted one day at a time!

We especially appreciate the Anchor Bible’s rendition of this, even if there should be an element of paraphrase (rather than translation) in it.”

“So I reached the conclusion that what is satisfying and suitable is to eat and drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s struggle under the sun, during the few years which God grants a man; that is what one gets out of it. Furthermore, every man to whom God grants riches and possessions, and enables him to benefit from them, and to possess his share and to be happy in his work - he has a bonus from God. Such a man will not brood over the shortness of his life, when God keeps his mind occupied with happy thoughts.”(F10)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ecclesiastes-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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