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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 5

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

Verse 1

5:1 "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."

"Guard your steps" -to exercise great care over, "Never enter God's House carelessly" (Mof). The house of God in the time of Solomon was the Temple (1 Kings 3:1; 2 Chron. 8:16; 5:14). The house of God in the New Testament is the church (1 Timothy 3:15). The idea is, "be careful when you come and worship!" God still feels the same way about worship (see 1 Corinthians 11:28).

"draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools" -"be more ready to hear" (Rhm). Listening here involves the concept of paying attention and be prepared to obey (1 Samuel 15:22 "to obey is better than sacrifice"; James 1:19 "let everyone be quick to hear"; 1:22 "prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves".) "Whereas the prophets hurl their invective against the vicious and the hypocrites, this writer's target is the well-meaning person who likes a good sing and turns up cheerfully enough to church; but who listens with half an ear, and never quite gets round to what he has volunteered to do for God. Such a man has forgotten where and who he is; above all, who God is" (Kidner pp. 52-53).

"sacrifice of fools" -These are not necessarily the sacrifices of the overtly wicked (Prov. 21:27). For these people are unaware that they are doing evil. Points To Note: 1. But even ignorantly worshipping God improperly is sin! (5:6) 2. The sacrifice of fools would include making pious but meaningless statements and treating lightly that which is holy (Matthew 7:21; 23:16; 1 Cor. 11:27). 3. "No amount of emphasis on grace can justify taking liberties with God, for the very concept of grace demands gratitude; and gratitude cannot be casual " (Kidner p. 53). 4. Our modern religious world is bent on pushing for casual and laid back worship services, "come as you are" is a popular slogan. But God says, "come, but come carefully, come but come reverently". 5. Instead of learning about God, some religious bodies want casual and relaxed classes where every view will be met with an attitude of acceptance. But God says, "come, and watch what you say, come and be prepared to obey what God says". 6. Unfortunately, in many circles entertainment has replaced true worship. Man says, "come and feel better about yourself", God says, "come, and be prepared to obey the will of God". Be prepared to discard sinful ways and attitudes, be prepared to get rid of prejudices and preconceived ideas, be prepared to be rebuked or admonished (2 Tim. 4:2).

"for they do not know they are doing evil" -Ignorance isn't an excuse. Many people in the denominational and religious world fit into the above category. They have never really studied for themselves what the Bible says and instead of pleasing God when they come for worship, they are actually rebelling against Him. "Here….the meaningless worship is unwitting; one's sin is that of a fool rather than a rogue, if that is any consolation !" (Kidner p. 53). Please note, ignorant, albeit sincere worship-is evil!

Point To Note:

A lesson needs to be learned from the pains that God took in the Old Testament to guard His earthly sanctuary, the tabernacle/temple. Those who entered, understood that death was a consequence for abusing or misusing those things associated with the worship of God (Lev. 10:1-3; 15:31). God made it very clear that He has no tolerance for people who tinker the rules which govern worship (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Samuel 6:1ff; 2 Chron. 26:16-23). The same respect and purity is also demanded of Christians in the New Covenant (Heb. 10:19ff). Can you imagine Jesus trying to sell people on the gospel message by saying such things as "contemporary music, a light-hearted atmosphere, casual sermons, skits and plays, and, this isn't your parents church!"?

Verse 2

5:2 "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."

"Do not be hasty in word" -(James 1:19), which would include insincere and careless prayers. Prayers which are more rote than a genuine expression of the heart (Matthew 6:7). Worship, including prayer isn't to be verbal doodling! "Be in no hurry to speak" (Jerus). God doesn't exist to be a verbal punching bag for mankind and neither is He some giant cosmic complaint department. Some people seem to think that it is spiritual to question God's wisdom, justice and why He lets certain things happen in this world. Solomon notes, God isn't impressed by people who rashly accuse Him of wrongdoing, who question His righteousness, or blame Him for the evil in this world. God is a giver of good gifts (James 1:5, 13, 17; 1 John 1:5). Job found this out the hard way (Job 38:1ff).

"or impulsive in thought" -God deserves respect! God deserves prayers which have some real thought behind them, God deserves intelligent worshippers, people who really have something to say. Everyday God has selfish, superficial and ignorant people praying to Him. At least let's give Him something pleasant to hear! In addition, some people seem to think that sitting around and speculating is being spiritual. Carefully note that impulsive, on the spurn of the moment worship has a poor track record in the Scriptures (Lev. 10:1-3; 1 Samuel 15). In addition, God always deserves to have people think the very best about Him and the manner in which He governs this world. But why is it, when something bad happens that we immediately blame Him? Why do we insist on putting the worse possible interpretation on the way He is governing this world? God isn't impressed by people who praise Him one moment and who curse Him the next.

"God is in heaven" -Realize your "place". God is God and you are not! You come to praise him, you come to worship Him, you come to please Him-and not visa versa. Worship tends to become corrupted when men forget that they are the worshippers and not the object of worship. Our worship services must never become nothing more than a fan club for a popular speaker or singing group. But how many "worship services" in the religious world have become nothing more than a parade of special guests, or "in praise of men and human innovation", rather than in praise of God? Like the Pharisees, many religious people want to be the object of praise (Matthew 6:1-4; 23:1ff).

Verse 3

5:3 "For the dream comes through much effort, and the voice of a fool through many words".

There seems to be a comparison here. Just like a dream or nightmare often results from excess effort (too many earthly cares), folly is often the result of too many words. "by its very quantity, an excess of talk is bound to throw up folly, just as an excess of business ends in troubled dreams…In the context of worship, that….is to pour out a stream of pious phrases which trifle with our Sovereign…and outrun our actual thinking and intending" (Kidner pp. 53-54). See Proverbs 12:23; 13:3; 15:2; 29:11,20; Matthew 12:36. People seem to forget that God takes what we say very seriously. Please note that God doesn't allow religious people the liberty of using corrupt or off-color language (Ephesians 5:3-5). Unfortunately, we are living in a society which feels that certain four-letter words are necessary for emphasis or they are necessary if you are going to get your point across.

Verse 4

5:4 "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!"

"do not be late in paying it" -God expects us to keep our word (Deut. 23:21-23). For security against vows which were made irresponsibility or rashly, fathers were allowed to overrule the vows of minor daughters (Num. 30:5), and husbands could overrule rash vows made by their wives (30:8).

Points To Note:

1 When we were baptized, each one of us made a vow to God. "False worship is as much an affront to God as obscene insults are to a wife or husband. Better to bribe a judge than to ply God with hollow words; better to slap a policeman than to seek God's influence by meaningless gestures; better to perjure yourself in court than to harry God with promises you cannot keep" (David Hubbard). 2. The fool is the person who makes promises to God that he or she doesn't keep. How many of us have played the part of the fool? In the past did we promise to God that we would serve Him better, teach more people, etc….? 3. People also need to remember that when they married they made vows not only to their future mate, but also to God. God holds us to our promises, even if we don't! Do any of us have outstanding and long overdue vows before God that need to be paid? Please note, God doesn't realize us from our promises until we fulfill them.

Verse 5

5:5 "It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay."

Vows weren't mandatory in the Old Testament (Deut. 23:22), but once made they were binding. Before you promise anything to God are you sure you can keep that promise? God has a very dim view of those who start to serve Him and then give up (2 Peter 2:20-22). But we live in a society in which talk is cheap. Especially when facing a crisis we often promise all sorts of things to God if only He will see us through this trial in our lives. But once the trial is over, we often forget such fervent promises. Good intentions, pious words and sincere prayers don't make up for a failure to keep what we have pledged.

Verse 6

5:6 "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?"

"cause you to sin" -Yes, despite the claims of some, our words can be sinful. But we have a choice here, "Do not let". The person who has an uncontrolled tongue is choosing not to restrain themselves. Meaningless prayers and rash vows are two examples of speech that will cause one to sin.

"do not say" -Here is one excuse that you had better not use.

"in the presence of the messenger of God" -the Hebrew word here can refer to both human and divine messengers. Malachi uses the term messenger of Jehovah to apply to the priests among the Jews (2:7). Here is the man who comes to the priest and wishes to be excused from the vow he has made. He argues that such a vow was a mistake, either made rashly or out of ignorance. Cheerfully such an individual approaches the priest, "It was an error that I made this vow, offer the appropriate sacrifice for me". So simply does such a person expect that his sin can be erased. "Solomon warned that it would do no good to try to get out of fulfilling such a vow by pleading with the priest that it was a mistake" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 988).

Point To Note:

There is a great lesson here for us. We live in a society in which forgiveness is viewed as something very easy to obtain. Even Christians can develop the attitude that they can go ahead and sin deliberately and then simply ask for forgiveness. But forgiveness has conditions and one of them is genuine repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). After such a deliberate sin, you may not be able to manifest such repentance! If our heart isn't contrite then God won't forgive us simply because we mouthed the words, "please forgive me" in some prayer. In addition, there are many obligations that God will not release us from until we have fulfilled them. Such as the marriage relationship (Matthew 19:9; Romans 7:2-3), or training our children in the ways of God (Eph. 6:4). I cannot ask God to release me from the obligation of teaching my children about Him. Neither can I ask God to release me from the obligation of being the spiritual leader in the family.

"Why should God be angry….and destroy the work of your hands?" -"rendering unsuccessful whatever man attempts" (Leupold p. 122). (Psalm 90:17).

Point To Note:

In the context, the word of our hands would include all our labor, whether religious or secular. Not only can our work lose its joy due to jealousy, rivalry (4:4) or greed (4:8; 5:10), but sin can also undo everything we have previously accomplished. God can turn off the physical blessings. If we place things before God, then God can providentially see to it that we lose those things. If we place career before God, then God can easily cause us to fall down the company ladder. God doesn't allow us to put Him on hold, to put off the fulfilling of our promises to Him because we are too busy with other things.

Verse 7

5:7 "For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God."

It appears that this verse is similar in thought to 5:3. Excessive talk, like daydreams or all dreams are nothing more than vanity. Dreaming doesn't really accomplish anything, and neither does mere talk. The words under consideration are words which are empty, i.e. meaningless prayers, rash vows, hasty promises, speaking off the top of our heads, meaningless speculation, and so on. Instead, Solomon won't be impressed by those who claim that there is some hidden message or truth in our dreams. Mere human dreams are basically empty, and are dreams aren't telling us anything earth shaking!

"Rather, fear God" -That is, approach Him with deep respect. When you pray to God, have something to say. When you make a promise to Him, keep it, and place it as the highest priority in your life (Matthew 6:33). Unfortunately, even some Christians treat God with less respect than mere human beings (Malachi 1:6-9). When we have time for everything else, including our favorite hobby- rather than teaching others, teaching our children, making sure their bible homework is done and so on---we are playing the part of the fool. And if we are tempted to say, "Well, this is nothing more than harsh Old Testament teaching", we need to remember that the New Testament says the exact same thing! (Matthew 6:33; 7:21-23; 1 Corinthians 11:27ff). I still like what Kidner said, "No amount of emphasis on grace can justify taking liberties with God, for the very concept of grace demands gratitude; and gratitude cannot be casual" (p. 53).

Verse 8

5:8 "If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight, for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them."

"do not be shocked at the sight" -Corruption in government, red-tape and bureaucracy is nothing new! "The glimpse of that vista of officials suggests possibilities….to baffle the citizen who presses for his rights: he can be endlessly obstructed and deflected. As for moral responsibility, it can be side-stepped….Every official can blame the system, while the ultimate authorities hold sway at any infinite distance from the lives they affect…another feature of bureaucracy: its predatory self-absorption, each official keeping a baleful eye on the next one down the list" (Kidner p. 54).

Verse 9

5:9 "After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land."

Points To Note:

1 Solomon was well acquainted with political intrigue (1 Kings 1-2). The whole system is one of corruption, and the weaker always suffers. The only comfort is that your local corrupt official is being oppressed and exploited by the higher-ups. 2. But even tyranny, even a very corrupt government is better than anarchy. "True to the standpoint of the book, the comment on all this is dry and realistic. After all, if we are looking at the world on its own terms of thoroughgoing secularism, we cannot expect too high a moral tone, either from the system we find in force or from any other. For all his hatred of injustice, Qoheleth pins no hopes on utopian schemes or on revolution…nothing would be gained by returning to the simple structure of the old nomadic days. A developed country needs the strength of central government, even if it entails the burden of officialdom" (Kidner p. 55). 3. Even a corrupt government provides valuable services, such as organization, standards, a stable economy, protection, etc…4. The idea also could be that while we might view ourselves helpless against "the system", those in high places depend upon what the lowly farmer does. In the final analysis, the king himself is dependent upon the labors of those being oppressed, the industry and labor of the common man. Every government would simply grind to a halt is the common person simply stopped working.


Various threads might be linking this section with the previous one: 1. Where injustice and corruption exist, the cause is typically a love of money. 2. Superficial and misdirected religious activity is vain, and so is placing all our hopes in wealth. In addition, greed is something which robs earthly labor of pleasure and satisfaction. The theme of money has actually already been hit in this book a couple of times and this section will run through 6:12. It is a frequent subject in the Bible for the precise reason that is it a common problem (Mark 10:24; Luke 16:14-15; 12:13-21; Matthew 6:24; 1 Timothy 6:5ff). "The subject of these reflections (5:10-12) is one of our most compelling interests, as Jesus implied when He warned us against making mammon a second God. The three sayings show it up for what it is, by pointing out the craving it creates, the hangers-on it attracts , and the dyspeptic (bad tempered) plight which is its typical reward" (Kidner p. 55).

Verse 10

5:10 "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity."

One of the great passages on the lack of real satisfaction which every greedy person will eventually face. "The unappeased craving it creates is very obvious in the gambler, the tycoon and the well-paid materialist who never has enough-for the love of money grows by what it feeds on…If anything is worse than the addiction money brings, it is the emptiness it leaves . Man, with eternity in his heart, needs better nourishment than this" (Kidner p. 56). This is one reason why greed will plunge us into destruction (1 Timothy 6:9f). Even though Jesus plainly said that no man can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24), many people seem bent on trying to prove Him wrong.

Verse 11

5:11 "When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage of their owners except to look on?"

"those who consume them increase" -Solomon was well aware of the complex establishment that grows with growing wealth. Typically the wealthy man is surrounded by a group of hangers-on. Wealth makes necessary not only the need for legitimate and necessary help such as personal accountants, lawyers, body guards, managers, gardeners, drivers, cooks, maids, etc…(1 Kings 4:4-22-23). It also attracts undesirable elements, such as fair weather friends, people trying to weasel themselves into your favor, and people constantly asking you for favors. Thus in the end increased wealth often simply brings bigger bills. Look at all the people that superstars often find themselves feeding and supporting.

"except to look on?" -"By having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more among others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more" (P.P. Comm. p. 115). "The fortune which it brings to him consists finally only in this, that he can look on all he has accumulated with proud self-complacency" (Keil/Del., p. 297). "only the irony of having to live on one's prestige and little else" (Kidner p. 56). This many mean: 1. In the end the wealthy man outside of Christ only gets to look at more than the poor man. 2. "Solomon argued that the only results of increased wealth for a covetous person are increased anxiety and increased vigilance, not increased enjoyment" (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 989).

Verse 12

5:12 "The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much. But the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep."

Points To Note:

1 Riches also bring anxiety. Those who have nothing to lose aren't going to be anxious about losing it. So the man who lives from paycheck to paycheck will eat little if he has little that night or much he has much that night. On the other hand, the covetous man, far from being happy and content, never has any rest, day or night. "He loses sleep (5:12) worrying about the extra point of interest he could be getting on his riches if he had only moved it 'over there'" (Posey p. 38). 2. Kidner makes the following comment: "Whatever discomforts the labourer puts up with, this will not be one of them; and whatever burdens were laid on Adam at the Fall, there was a rough mercy in the sentence, 'In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread'. We offer an unconscious comment on it by our modern exercise-machines and health clubs-for it is one of our human absurdities to pour out money and effort just to undo the damage of money and ease" (p. 56) 3. The above demonstrates that we can really become the slaves of what we own. When wealth and things are keeping us from having even a good night's rest-then who is serving who? 4. We also see that the materialist isn't even able to enjoy a good meal-for all his worrying has typically given him various stomach problems. What's the profit in striving for material possessions, if by the time you reach the point you can afford to eat the finest steaks, your stomach or health won't allow it?

Verse 13

5:13 "There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt."

Verse 14

5:14 "When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him."

"Here, then, is a man who loses all his money at a single blow, leaving his family destitute" (Kidner p. 57). In fact, is appears that this is the same man who worried about his money (5:12-13), and was unhappy even when he had it all (5:10). This man had put all his trust for happiness in having things (5:13 "hoarded"). Unlike the man in Luke 12:20-21, this man's life was spared, but all his things were taken. Greed has the power to burn you numerous times. It makes waiting for wealth painful, it makes acquiring wealth painful, once you have it you can't really enjoy it, and then it can hurt you again if you lose it all! A "grievous evil" is a great evil, a deep hurtful evil, a severe wound.

"lost through bad investment" -And we cannot arrogantly say, "Well, this won't happen to me". For this man appears to have been a very good businessman, a very shrewd investor (his money was constantly on his mind). But all material wealth has that element of uncertainty (1 Tim. 6:17; 1 John 2:17; Matthew 6:19-20; Prov. 23:5; 27:24).

Point To Note:

Just one more vanity for the man to face who insists on trusting in material possessions. We may have accepted the fact that we can't take anything with us, but the person who gets our "stuff" maybe the wrong person and the intended inheritor may starve! (5:14)

Verse 15

5:15 "As he had come naked from his mother's womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand."

Even if the above wealth hadn't been lost, it would still be lost at death. Such, greed, trusting in wealth is always a bad investment. Note the word "nothing", at death the greedy man can't even take one thing with him. Not one trophy, one gold metal, one handful of cash, one prized possession, absolutely nothing. (Job 1:21; Psalm 49:17; 1 Tim. 6:7; Luke 12:20).

Verse 16

5:16 "And this also is a grievous evil---exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So, what advantage to him who toils for the wind?"

"this is also a grievous evil" -One can almost hear the exclamation, "It isn't fair!" We shall go out as naked as we arrived. The expression "grievous evil" implies trouble that is distressing and deep-seated, a depressing misfortune. Once again the word "advantage" or profit means "what lasting advantage?" The word "toils" sums up the life of the greedy man in this chapter, all that hard work, all those sleepless nights, all that worrying-in the end for nothing! "For the wind"-Like the wind, riches are often very elusive and can vanish over night. Laboring for the wind is to labor with no result, like feeding on the wind, chasing the wind or inheriting the wind.

Verse 17

5:17 "Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger."

"Throughout his life" -That is, throughout the life of the man intent upon finding happiness in possessions.

"he also eats in darkness" -"passes his life in gloom and cheerlessness" (P.P. Comm. p. 117), "eateth in seclusion" (Sprl); "All the rest of his life he is under a cloud..gloomy, discouraged, frustrated, and angry" (Tay).

"with great vexation, sickness and anger" -1 Timothy 6:9 "a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction". "A troubled spirit that broods over what could have been, he placed his trust in material gain and when he lost it, he lost his joy and his life" (Kidwell p. 130). Instead of getting richer and happier, the greedy person often gets richer and sicker, richer and unhappier, richer and more isolated, richer and more depressed. "Great vexation"-"frustration" (NIV). The materialist is envious of those who have more, frustrated that he or she can't close every business deal, constantly suspicious of the competition, and worrying over every financial movement in society.

Verse 18

5:18 "Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward."

"which God has given him" -"At first sight this may look like the mere praise of simplicity and moderation; but in fact the key word is God, and the secret of life held out to us is openness to Him: a readiness to take what comes to us as heaven-sent….Once more, a positive note has broken through, and as the chapter ends we catch a glimpse of the man for whom life passes swiftly, not because it is short and meaningless but because, by the grace of God, he finds it utterly absorbing" (Kidner pp. 58-59).

Verse 19

5:19 "Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, he has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God."

"whom God has given" -The man or woman who really enjoys the things of this life, is the person who realizes that everything they have is from God. If not for the mercy and grace of God, they realize that they would have absolutely nothing (Luke 6:35; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:15-17; 17:25).

"he has also empowered him to eat from them" -that is, the ability to really enjoy such things. Instead of worrying about his wealth, the righteous man simply enjoys what he has. He doesn't fret about losing it all, for if he did-he would still be very wealthy in the sight of God. There is a great lesson here. Only the man or woman who has God as the center of their life-is able to enjoy the nice things this life has to offer. Outside of Christ possessions and wealth will naturally cause you to worry, fret, envy, and so on. Please note that wealth isn't bad or good, riches are not evil in and of themselves. When they are looked upon with a proper attitude and used in harmony with God's ordained will, they bring joy. Abundance is useless without the ability to enjoy it.

Verse 20

5:20 "For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart."

"he will not often consider the years of his life" -the years of his life are the few days already mentioned. The righteous person will not fret over the brevity, uncertainty or possible troubles of his life. Rather he or she lives each day at a time and makes the most of all the possessions, opportunities and talents which God has given them. In addition, such a person realizes that this earthly life is simply a small fraction of their existence, they have a much better life to come! (Phil. 1:21,23; 1 Peter 1:4; Romans 8:18).

"God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart" -In contrast to the claims of unbelievers, being occupied with the things of God is a great way to stay mentally and emotionally healthy! For example, the rich Christian won't be worrying about their wealth, rather they will gain great satisfaction from being providentially allowed to be in a position to help others and be involved in many good works (1 Timothy 6:17). It's hard to worry about what you have, envy those who have more, fear losing it all, when you see how much good is done when you are generous!

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/ecclesiastes-5.html. 1999-2014.
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