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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 5

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-7

The effect of rash vows 5:1-7

An interlude of proverbs follows the personal section just concluded.

"The sacrifice of fools" in view (Ecclesiastes 5:1) is a rash vow, as is clear from what follows. Ecclesiastes 5:3 seems to compare the verbosity of a fool in making a rash vow to God and the endless dreams one often experiences after a very busy day. Much work generates many dreams, and a fool utters too many words. [Note: Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., p. 75.] If a person makes a rash promise to God and then does not keep it, God may destroy the work of his hands (Ecclesiastes 5:6). Pleading with the priest ("the messenger of God," Ecclesiastes 5:6) that the vow was a mistake would not excuse the vow-maker (cf. Deuteronomy 23:21-23).

"Our promise may involve giving to some special work of God or pledging prayer and other support for a missionary. When the representative of the work looks for the fulfillment of our promise, we must not draw back and make an excuse about not having understood what we were required to do." [Note: J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 1168.]

Ecclesiastes 5:7 uses dreams to illustrate what is ephemeral. "Fear God" (Ecclesiastes 5:7) also occurs in Ecclesiastes 3:14; Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13; and Ecclesiastes 12:13.

". . . we should try to put ourselves in a position to discover God’s way to use what he has given us in our daily life." [Note: Ibid.]

Verses 1-9

4. The perishable fruits of labor 5:1-6:9

This section emphasizes the folly of trying to find ultimate satisfaction in one’s work. Solomon focused on a variety of situations that involve the fruits of labor: money and what it can buy, fame, and pleasure.

Verses 8-9

The effect of political officials 5:8-9

The point of these verses seems to be that the fruits of one’s work can also disappear as a result of taxes and unfair oppression by political rulers. A hierarchy of officials is in view. By legal and illegal means, rulers squeeze money out of the populace. Even so, it is better to have government than not have it (cf. Romans 13:1-7). One translation of Ecclesiastes 5:9 is, "But an advantage to a land for everyone is: a king over cultivated land." [Note: Eaton, p. 101.]

Verses 10-12

The effect of personal covetousness 5:10-12

If a rich man is covetous, all that his increasing wealth will bring him will be the need for greater vigilance and more anxiety (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10). For example, more wealth in the home may lead to more locks and burglar alarm systems and the hassle they bring. "To look on" (Ecclesiastes 5:11) means having to keep an eye on them.

"How often have we read of an athlete-say, a boxer-whose golden moments found him surrounded by an entourage that gladly shared his wealth, but whose twilight days saw him both broke and abandoned. Wealth can carry its own frustration-that was the Preacher’s apt observation." [Note: Hubbard, p. 140.]

Verses 13-17

The effect of misfortune 5:13-17

The Hebrew expression translated "bad investment" (Ecclesiastes 5:14) refers to any misfortune that results in the loss of wealth. Striving to hoard the fruits of labor is futile, because any misfortune can overtake one and reduce him or her to poverty-if God allows it. Death itself is such a misfortune that overtakes everyone eventually and robs him of his wealth. No one can take the fruits of his labor with him when he dies. Therefore Solomon concluded that we really gain nothing of truly long-term value from our labor. Ecclesiastes 5:17 pictures the miserly workaholic. One example is Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The way to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor 5:18-6:9

Again Solomon urged the enjoyment of life (Ecclesiastes 5:18; cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22), but he warned of some obstacles to that enjoyment. Solomon was not advocating hedonism but the simple enjoyment of life day by day (Ecclesiastes 5:18). In other words, he recommended that we take some time to enjoy the beautiful experiences of life as we travel down its path. Seize the day (Lat. carpe diem)! Smell the roses!

However, not everyone can enjoy life for one reason or another, even though one may be wealthy (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2). This problem "weighs heavily on men" (NIV, Ecclesiastes 5:1; better than NASB "is prevalent among men"). Only in heaven will we find the solution to why this has been the earthly portion of various individuals. A miscarried baby (Ecclesiastes 5:3) is better off, in that it has not experienced as much sorrow as the rich man who could not enjoy his wealth. The "one place" (Ecclesiastes 5:6) is the grave.

"Better to miscarry at birth than to miscarry throughout life." [Note: Eaton, p. 106.]

Solomon’s final word of counsel was to be content with what you have (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9; cf. Hebrews 13:5). This is the last of nine times the phrase "striving after wind" occurs (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 4:4; Ecclesiastes 4:6; Ecclesiastes 4:16). It opened and now closes the section of the book dealing with the ultimate futility of human achievement (Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 6:9).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ecclesiastes-5.html. 2012.
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