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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 5

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-7

Ecc 5:1-7


Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

"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.”

"Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God" (Ecclesiastes 5:1). Recent versions render this: "Guard your steps, as you go to the house of God,” or, "Go carefully when you visit the house of God.” 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" (Ecclesiastes 5:1). "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" (Ecclesiastes 5:3). 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." (Ecclesiastes 5:4). 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 Peter 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, 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" (Ecclesiastes 5:6). 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" (Ecclesiastes 5:7). 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.”

For the first time the Preacher resorts to admonition. It is direct and extended. He is concerned about the possible corruption of the heart as it reaches toward God in worship. He is observing the citizenry making their way to the temple, turning their feet toward the proper places, and moving through the correct procedures. However, he is also aware that their approach is more formalistic than genuine, more ritualistic than contrite. Since God is the object of worship and therefore has ultimate worth, to worship Him in word only would be ultimate folly. The “house of God” is undoubtedly the temple as the synagogue has not been established, and there was not a plurality of houses where God was worshiped.

“Guard your steps” is to be taken figuratively for examining your heart. Make sure your motives are pure and in line with your external orthodoxy. The Preacher is not implying that one should not approach God in the temple or that external acts are unimportant. He is suggesting that it is possible to give the appearance of worshiping God correctly when actually nothing is happening between you and God. The vanity of hypocritical worship is but another illustration of the vanity of all things. It is likely that his insertion of vain worship at this particular place has a very definite purpose. It is because men are out of step with God that they are out of step with one another. An improper approach to worship leads to the inequitable situation discussed in chapters one through four and also the illustrations which follow. God may be supplanted by numerous other loves. The Preacher is extremely pointed in this application (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:8-10). We are drawn to the evil activities of men which undoubtedly result from an improper attitude in God’s house. Men oppress the poor, deny justice and righteousness, and have an unhealthy love for money and abundance. One way to escape the futility of the things of this world is to be in harmony, in act and spirit, with the will of God.

Much is made of this passage by those who hold to a late date and non-Solomonic authorship. It is argued that the short-lived joy and dedication of the people to the things of God after the Exile was but a “flush of enthusiastic faith.” The people soon developed a hardening of heart. One could see the outward signs of worship were in harmony with the rules, but the spirit of the act was far from what God desired. They cite such passages as Nehemiah 13:10-20 and Malachi 1:8 as evidence. One could not argue successfully against the lack of spiritual sincerity on the part of Israel, for it is manifestly denounced in the Minor Prophets. However, to conclude that such hypocrisy was limited to that particular generation, and that the rebuke and admonition of the Preacher would not be just as applicable in Solomon’s day, is also indefensible. As a matter of fact, men in every generation have been guilty of meaningless sacrifices in worship. From the time of Cain and Abel to the present day the history of man has been the same in respect to worship. Every age needs a clear voice calling men back to outward form and inward feeling; to truth and spirit; but not only to sacrifice, but a detailed adherence to the will of the One to whom the sacrifice is offered. Read 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:10-17; Jeremiah 7:33; Proverbs 21:3; Mark 12:40. Surely in the day of Solomon, with the corruption of justice and the erection of altars of false gods on the very soil of Israel, there was a need to admonish men to greater consistency in their performance in the house of God. Similar instruction is found in Proverbs 1:15-16 where Solomon indicates that the direction of one’s steps betrays the intent of the heart.

The purpose of this section is to prevent one from acting the part of a fool in the most important of all activities of men. One is personally responsible for his own behavior when he comes before God. Evidently one can rise above the circumstances around him and behave in such a way that will number him among the wise. It is to the wise, or the potentially wise, that the Preacher addresses himself as he suggests that one should not be “shocked” at what he sees in the perversion of worship or justice (Ecclesiastes 5:8)—just be certain that you “guard your steps as you go to the house of God.”

The activities of the fool as described in this section are not to be emulated. The reader has been introduced to such “fools” before (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:5; Ecclesiastes 4:13). It is a term which suggests stupidity and ignorance rather than evil or brutishness. It does not carry the idea of one who is perverted or wicked, but rather one who is lacking in common sense and the ability to do things correctly. Note the following characteristics of the fool that the wise man will avoid: The fool fails to listen to God; he offers an unacceptable sacrifice; he is ignorant of his own evil activities and is hasty and impulsive in his speech; he fails to remember that he is the created one and God is the Creator; he expends pointless energy in meaningless activities; he is either late in paying or fails to pay the vow he made to God; more than this, he made the vow even though he realized that he would not be able to pay it; he attempts to go back on his word, making God angry with him and thus having his work destroyed; he discovers that both his dreams and promises are empty; and, in addition to all of this, he fails to fear God which is the ultimate duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Ecclesiastes 5:1 One does not see a picture of a hardened, rebellious, heretic who sets himself against God and is in opposition to all that is holy. The individual observed as a fool attends worship. He is not a fool because he comes to stand before God, but because he does not come to listen, but to talk. And in the talking he yields to the temptation to promise much more than he is capable of delivering. James undoubtedly had these words in mind when he wrote, “But let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). The leaders of Israel had a solemn responsibility to read the Law to the people. In like manner, the people had a solemn responsibility to listen to the Law. One of the last acts of Moses was to command the people to observe all the words of the Law. The reading, hearing, and observing of the Law, preceded the ability to fear the Lord. Moses said, “Assemble the people, the men and the women, and the children and the alien who is in your town, in order that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. And their children, who have not known will hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live on the land where you are about to cross over the Jordan to possess it” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13).

To “draw near to listen” would be tantamount to bringing their behavior into harmony with the expressed will of God. This would mean that the many grievous sins being committed throughout the land would cease. To “hear God” has the same force as obeying God. (Cf. 1 Samuel 15:22; Jeremiah 7:33; Hosea 6:6.) The foolishness depicted is heightened because the one who offers the sacrifice of fools has not stopped long enough to listen to find out what he should be doing, and he is thus ignorant of the fact that he is doing evil.

The “sacrifice of fools” is not a sacrifice of blood or physical substance. It is rather the words hastily and impulsively offered to God. It would include promises which cannot be kept or meaningless chatter that slips so easily from the lips but never finds its way through the heart. Evidently “words” have always been considered “sacrifices” to God. When one comes to God through Jesus Christ, he should be aware that he “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15).

Ecclesiastes 5:2 The goal here is to keep your words few and mean what you say. The motivation for making your word sacrifice a thoughtful one is the fact that you are standing in the presence of God. It is the Creator that you have come to worship. You have been instructed where to go and what to do when you arrive. Now, don’t play the part of a fool and negate your worship act. “To bring up a matter” suggests that what is about to be discussed originates from the imagination of the worshiper rather than from the command of God. Since God has not commanded the vow, perhaps it would be better if you did not make it.

Sacrifices of fools are not limited to hasty promises. Vain repetitions, which of course are repeated without feeling and become just so many empty words, are also considered unacceptable sacrifices before God (Matthew 6:7).

There isn’t any doubt in the mind of the Preacher that God and man are not equal. The strong assertion of this verse that “God is in heaven and you are on the earth,” clearly manifests the distinction between God and men. The temple was built for God, not man. The worship is before God, not man. The “fool” is man, not God. The entire context indicates an awareness that the author is cognizant of God’s preeminence. The fact that he speaks of man being of the “earth” implies that he was created from dust and therefore should not forget his rightful place. It is on the basis of this distinction between God and man that he makes his appeal. When man comes before God his words should be few. This same idea is under consideration in Ecclesiastes 6:10. Here Solomon argues that man (Adam) knows that he came from the ground (adamah). He states it clearly when he says “it is known what man is.” It is in the light of this argument that his appeal is to the common sense of the one who has been created. Such a one should keep his guard up when he comes before the Creator and protect himself against the temptation to offer the sacrifice of fools.

A classic example in contrast between the fool who cries loud and long for his god to hear and the one who comes before God in correct fashion is given in 1 Kings 18:25-40. Here the prophets of Baal cried from morning until noon and again they “raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice.” Yet the account states, “there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention.” In what took less than twenty seconds for Elijah to speak before God, he offered a meaningful prayer that resulted in fire falling from the Lord which consumed his sacrifice, along with the wood and the stones and the dust and licked up the water that was in the trench.”

Ecclesiastes 5:3 It is because of the “multitude of business” or the task in which the individual is embroiled that he dreams. The dream, which is an experience that is shared by most, is declared in this instance to be the result of much activity. In like manner, a man is discovered to be a fool because of his many words. Dreams are not necessarily the mark of a fool but stand in this instance only as a comparison to illustrate his point. Once more he is insisting that our words should be few.

Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 He now turns from the subject of prayer to that of vows. One is considered a fool if he is either late in paying his vow to God or fails to pay it. In either situation, God does not find pleasure in such activity, or lack of it! As noted above, the vow stems from the mind of the worshiper and not from God. Vows were not a part of God’s commands and the laws governing them so indicate. “When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God shall 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).

There is a time when it is better not to vow. Such a time obviously, is when you vow but do not fulfill it. A promise is binding among men of integrity. How much more so a promise before God! Yet, if God does not command the promise, how foolish is one who makes promises that he neither intends to keep nor has the ability to keep.

Vows have come into vogue among many churches today. There are faith-promise rallies, faith-care rallies, and numerous methods of either raising financial commitments or time and/or talent commitments through the use of special days and programs. Whereas there is nothing wrong with such activities, and in many churches much good results from them, a proper text in preparing the people to come before God with their “promise” would certainly be the passage under consideration here. Sometimes zeal in promoting for new records and higher goals exceeds wisdom exercised in the practical application of attaining them. The Preacher has a wise word for the church today: “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”

The idea of your “speech” in verse six could just as easily be “mouth,” or “tongue.” Yet, Jesus taught that it is indeed the “heart” that causes one to sin (Mark 7:21). The heart in this instance finds expression through the mouth and more specifically in the form of a hasty vow. Now, new words must be formed as you come before the “messenger of God” (the priest) and confess that it was indeed a mistake! However, both the irresponsible vow and the appeal to the priest are to be avoided. The priest acts only as a representative between you and God. This is why God is angry at your appeal and not the priest. Your vow was made to God and now the covenant has been established. God expects payment. To utter such a vow or make such an appeal places one in the position that his words cause God to become angry with him. God’s anger is now directed toward the individual (fool), and nothing he does will succeed. God destroys the work of his hand. The one in Solomon’s day could expect some act of judgment from the Lord. Not all evil was immediately recompensed, however, and thus the ones who were guilty of offering the sacrifices of fools continued in such activity for a time (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

Verse seven is a summary. It captures both the idea of empty prayers and empty vows and admonishes toward a more positive, fruitful activity: fear God. It is not to be assumed that the Preacher considers everyone who reads his message as guilty before God. He is suggesting that there are those who will follow the foolish ways and that one should avoid that pathway. In Wisdom Literature, the concept of “fearing God” has a marked prominence in the priorities of men and also a distinct meaning. It is both the doing of good and the departing from evil. David wrote, “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Who is the man who desires life, and loves length of days that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:11-14).

Solomon has now completed his discourse on formalistic worship and the futility of such. He ends the discussion with a positive emphasis. He declares that the better way is to fear God. He has given sufficient cause why one is indeed a fool should he follow the way of thoughtless, insincere prayers or vows. Strong religious terminology such as God, temple, priest, sin, vows, and sacrifice, offer a marked and inescapable relationship to religious behavior. Perhaps his appeal is more direct and carries the feeling of admonition because of the seriousness of the matter. Nothing is of graver consequence than man’s relationship to God. Perhaps he could not refrain from “preaching” in the light of this truth.

Verses 8-9

Ecc 5:8-9

Ecclesiastes 5:8-9


"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.” 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.”

"Marvel not at the matter" (Ecclesiastes 5:8). 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.”

Disharmony among men is the inevitable result of hypocritical worship. One should not be shocked at whatever he sees throughout the land when men fail so miserably in their response to God. Once Judas had betrayed Jesus, it was a short step to press into the forbidden inner section of the temple to desecrate it by casting the price of blood upon the floor. In like manner, when men make a mockery of public worship, going through the outward forms but denying the true spirit of worship, corruption runs rampant throughout the land. It is only when men are right before God that they are tapable of living together in peace and harmony.

Oppression, corruption, unrighteousness and denial of justice are common sights in any land where God is truly shut out of the heart. The poor are especially susceptible to oppression for they have neither the means nor the authority to champion their own cause (note the comments on Ecclesiastes 4:1). The rich men, wielding some authority, failed to justly deal with the decisions which involved the poor. If the authorities were in a proper relationship with God, none of the evils mentioned would be tolerated in the land. Note the words of Micah 6:8 : “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Why should one not be shocked at such behaviour? These two verses have been variously interpreted. It is clear that certain evils are common throughout the land. It is not clear, however, what is meant by “one official watches over another” or what is meant by “a king who cultivates the field.” Whatever the interpretation, it must be the reason why one should not be shocked at the prevalent evil in the land.

There is an implied line of authority in control, Perhaps Solomon is suggesting that each person who is above another is taking advantage of him and practicing similar graft and corruption. Since this practice is so open and permeates the entire society from the lowest to the highest level, then one should not marvel at the matter. The purpose, however, is to comfort the poor who seem to be at the very bottom, and are not, themselves, taking advantage of another. He speaks to them in verse nine with the comforting thought that the king (and in this instance many believe it to be a reference to God) is over the entire cultivated land—that is, the land where all the activities are taking place. This truth, that God will bring about ultimate justice and that all evil deeds are recorded and will one day be destroyed, is in harmony with the major theme of the book. It is not comforting to one who is imprisoned or denied daily bread, to realize that some day even the “officials” will come into judgment before the true “King,” but it is all the comfort they have. There is an advantage to having such a King.

Solomon is not building a case for the farmer by suggesting that a land who has a king who is interested in and participates in agriculture is a blessing to the land. Although some translations lend themselves to this interpretation, it should be noted that the purpose of the Preacher in this section is to bring comfort to the poor and explain why they should not be shocked at the prevalent evil in the land. If the king is a man and not God, as seems most reasonable, then in the whole land there is an advantage to realize that a final authority exists and that although he will, on occasion, close his eyes to improprieties and even be guilty himself of similar charges, he will be called into judgment before God.

On this verse, Martin Luther has written the following observations which prove to be good advice for Christians today:

The book consequently teachers thee to let thine heart have rest and peace, and not to trouble and worry thyself over much when things go wrongly, but to accustom thyself to be able to say, when the devil brings malice, injustice, violence, and burdens on the poor, ‘Such is the way of the world, but God will judge and avenge it.’ And again, when thou seest things going well, learn to say, ‘God be praised, who, after all, so rules, that we do not merely suffer evil and injustice, but receive also much good.’ Moreover, let every man, according to his rank, and God’s command, do his work with the best industry: other things let him commend to God; let him be patient and wait for Him who is able to find out and judge the ungodly and unjust. He that cannot lift a great stone, let him leave it lying and lift what he can. Wherefore, when thou seest that kings, princes and lords misuse their power, that judges and advocates take bribes and allow causes to sink or swim as they can, being wise and sensible thou wilt think within thyself,—‘God will sometime bring about a better state.’

Futility is still the theme. How fleeting is life, and all too often how very fleeting the pleasures of life. One great lesson gained from reading Ecclesiastes is the awareness that men have always been troubled with the fact that any truly enjoyable experience on earth is very transitory, and in some cases never experienced by those who sojourn here. The Preacher’s message brings us to a deeper appreciation of Jesus and the revelation He brings us. Those who have experienced the grace offered through Christ have found the secret of finding joy in the midst of the temporary. He also has discovered an explanation of the corruption, denial of justice, and oppression of the poor. It does not mean that the Christian either approves or tolerates such when it is within his power to rectify wrong, but it does mean that such evil does not destroy him and he is able to triumph in victory even when he is the recipient of the injustice.

Verses 10-12

Ecc 5:10-12

Ecclesiastes 5:10-12


"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" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). 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" (Ecclesiastes 5:11). 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.

Note the absence of such statements as “I turned to consider,” and “I looked again.” The reason is that Solomon is not turning to a new subject or even a different illustration of the same subject. He is returning to the vanity of all things as it is demonstrated through love for money and possessions. He has discussed this before in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 and Ecclesiastes 4:7-8.

This discourse on the futility of riches runs through Ecclesiastes 6:12. It is lengthy because it is common to all men and it is highly deceptive and dangerous. It also has many sides which need exposed so the reader will not fall prey to any of its insidious nuances. Similarly much is said in the New Testament concerning the principle of Christian stewardship. Jesus offered numerous discourses on the danger of loving the world. His disciples kept the theme alive in their Epistles and instruction to the church. One need not apologize for extended discussion on such an important theme. Jesus said to his disciples on one occasion, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24) It was a “certain rich man” in contrast with a beggar who found himself upon his death to be “in torment.” (Read Luke 16:14-31.) Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus after it is recorded that the Pharisees who had encountered Him “were lovers of money” (Ecclesiastes 5:14).

Ecclesiastes 5:10 It is the love for money and not money itself that Solomon is careful to note. He is talking about the man who “loves” money and the man who “loves” abundance. He shall discover that satisfaction escapes him in reference to both. Even when one continually receives a profit or income from the fortune he has amassed, it will not satisfy him. Many rich people touched the life of Jesus and were members of the church and were both successful and content. Such men as Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas, and Zacchaeus are usually considered wealthy men. Yet, their love was not for their wealth but rather the good their wealth could accomplish. This is the difference.

Solomon identifies this love for money and possessions as “vanity.” It is not the money itself. To this very point Jesus spoke when he illustrated this type of empty, transitory greed in Luke 12:20-21. He said concerning the certain rich man who had such an insatiable desire for riches, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Ecclesiastes 5:11-12 The reader is here confronted with two disadvantages of riches which are kept to the owners hurt. One is the fact that the more you gather, the more people you must have to look after your possessions, and thus you simply become a provider of the necessities of life for others who have not so labored to enjoy your wealth. The other is the fact that restful sleep, which is so vital to the renewal of strength and a proper spirit to both enjoy and care for what one possesses, is taken from you.

A single insight to one facet of Solomon’s many endeavors is given for us in 1 Kings 5:13-16. Solomon became responsible to care for 30,000 forced laborers, 70,000 transporters or burden bearers, 80,000 hewers of stone in the mountains, and 3,300 chief deputies to rule over the people who were doing the work. Although this cooperative work with Hiram and the Gebalites was in reference to the work on the temple, it nevertheless indicates the principle he is now setting forth. His own personal endeavors, which exceeded the work on the temple in both time and riches, necessitated similar involvement of those who must be cared for from his abundance.

What is meant by “to look on”? Perhaps it is the riches which are left over after the expenses of caring for all that it takes to support his wealth that he finally fixes his eyes upon and asks, “What profit is this?” Some believe “to look on” means that he gazes upon all the activity that is the direct result of his own wealth and speaks more to the workers and the fruit of their labor than the actual wealth itself.

It is a sad commentary on Solomon’s activities and lifelong endeavors to come to the conclusion that the humblest man in his employ enjoys a night’s rest more than he. The king is envious of him. The “full stomach” means that the rich man has eaten all that he can possibly hold. Perhaps it was the most delicate and palatable of the finest or rarest prepared foods. Yet, he is unable to sleep. The point is that one man discovered that he is able to find satisfaction in the most meager circumstances while the other discovers that contentment is not the result of excessive riches. It is not so much the full stomach that causes the restless, sleepless nights, but the avaricious spirit of the rich man that causes him to toss and turn throughout the night as he thinks back over the activities of the day and schemes and plans for a more profitable tomorrow. His many activities and responsibilities invade his mind and rob him of sweet peace.

Verses 13-17

Ecc 5:13-17

Ecclesiastes 5:13-17


"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" (Ecclesiastes 5:13). 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" (Ecclesiastes 5:15). 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." 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" (Ecclesiastes 5:16)? See comment on Ecclesiastes 5:15, above, which tells how the rich man indeed may profit magnificently, if he will do it Jesus’ way.

In this section there are two additional descriptions of the futility of riches which lead the Preacher to the same conclusion. He states that both are “a grievous evil.” The reader should keep in mind that it is not riches that are evil but the improper attitude toward riches. In this instance, the man “hoarded” them to his own hurt. This simply means that rather than using them for good, he accumulated riches for the sake of riches.

Ecclesiastes 5:13 He once more qualifies the activity by the phrase “under the sun.” This time, however, he discovers that not only do the riches fail to satisfy and keep one from sweet sleep, they actually harm the owner. The owner once believed the added wealth was good and would be the answer to everything. He is to discover that they not only fail to produce peace of mind; they become the very source of sorrow and pain.

Ecclesiastes 5:14 It was suggested in Ecclesiastes 5:10 that money is generally invested for greater gain. But now some bad business investment has resulted in not only a failure to gain a profit, but the loss of the fortune as well. This of itself would be of grave consequence to one who had such a love for money. It is of a more serious nature, however, because the man who has lost the fortune has gained a son. He would naturally wish to instill in his son’s mind the same desire and love for what is so important to him. He would demonstrate first-hand to the young man how to care for and increase the fortune and together they would share in promoting for even more gain. But it is not to be. Money is transitory just like other things that are attached to this world. The father has lost all he possessed and stands empty handed. He is unable to give his son a penny. The text offers that “he” had nothing in his hand. Is it the father or the son? It could be taken either way, and would be true in either instance.

Ecclesiastes 5:15 This verse speaks if death and contrasts it with birth. He is born with nothing and shall leave this life with nothing. The elusive riches one toils for in this life are actually called “wind” by Solomon. From the beginning of his message, he has underscored the truth that one may labor through knowledge, wisdom, and skill only to leave what he has to another. The tragedy of this situation is that the one to whom he wanted to give his fortune did not receive it; neither does the man who accumulated it take it with him. It is a universal truth to which Paul speaks when he says, “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (1 Timothy 6:7).

Death terminates all wealth. This lesson is difficult for many to learn. Yet, it is close to the heart of Christianity. James admonishes when speaking of our new relationship in Christ: “But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away” (James 1:10-11). The Preacher stands as it were, on the edge of the grave of the rich man looking at the freshly shaped mound of earth and asks, “So, what is the advantage of him who toils for the wind?”

Ecclesiastes 5:17 “Darkness” is a metaphor for gloominess and suggests that he lives his life in sorrow, dejection and heaviness of heart. Perhaps this is why James had written “let the rich man glory.” In other words, what riches cannot do, Christ can. But the man who eats in darkness, in this case at least, has had the privilege of riches. He is sorrowful the more because he has the memory of the temporary satisfaction they brought. He thinks back over his poor investment or the ones now who are enjoying what he had labored so hard to accumulate, and this adds to his darkness. His mind turns to view the son who should have inherited the fortune, but now has nothing in his hand. Such thoughts result in vexation, sickness and anger. These are mental maladies which could easily produce physical illness too. However, it is 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.

Verses 18-20

Ecc 5:18-20

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20


"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" (Ecclesiastes 5:19). 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.”

Solomon is still pursuing the “profit” that is available to one who labors “under the sun” and “during the few years of his life.” He speaks of such profit in these three verses as a “reward” or “gift” from the hand of God. He also instructs his reader to “rejoice” and discover the “gladness” of the heart that comes from his labor. This theme is an oft-repeated one that culminates in Ecclesiastes 9:7 with the imperative form which states: “Go then, eat your bread in happiness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” Note also Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 8:15. There is a sense in which man can find pleasure and some advantage in his labor. The qualifying mark appears to be that God must approve.

Ecclesiastes 5:18 To find personal satisfaction in one’s labor and the joys of living is the reward available to men. Yet, on the one hand there are very few who seem to find it. Much of what the Preacher has observed and experienced, has been the opposite of this. There has been the inescapable futility that has marked all his labors. Now, however, there is a shaft of light that reveals some cause for rejoicing and joy that can be shared. He calls it “good and fitting.” Actually the rendering is “good and beautiful” which implies personal satisfaction. What does one have to do to receive such a reward? Evidently avoid the attitudes which have been illustrated with such detail by Solomon in the preceding materials. (1) Eliminate the love for money and abundance. Use your wealth as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. (2) Do not offer hasty words before God. “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it.” (3) Do not put your trust in the acclaims of men. Realize that men are fickle and drawn by success rather than integrity. (4) Avoid selfishness which results in loneliness. Choose friends over insatiable desires for wealth. (5) Admit to the anomalies of life. Sorrow over the oppression of the poor, but do not despair. (6) Do not fail to see the hand of God in control of His world. The prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous are not indicators of God’s justice, but rather His patience. God “has made everything appropriate in its time.” Thus, from Solomon’s own observations we draw the conclusion that there is a way to find a reward in the short years one has upon the earth.

Ecclesiastes 5:19 As noted, “riches” and “wealth” are not evil of themselves. God gives them. When they are looked upon with a proper attitude and used in harmony with God’s ordained will, they bring joy. This is what is meant by the fact that God has “empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward.” Such behavior is also called a “gift of God.” It is surely available to every man, but some men choose the unrestrained, selfish pathway of avarice and greed. They miss the gift, the reward and the joy. The Preacher’s admonition is to the better way of life. Do not be carried away with excess. Rather, accept your life each day and live it to the fullest.

Ecclesiastes 5:20 There is a “bonus” for those who seek such a life before God. Not only do they discover that they have a reward in finding joy in their labor and living, but they soon forget the undesirable experiences of the past which causes greater joy for the present. Since it is God who now controls his daily attitudes, it is also God who causes him to forget the sorrows of his past years. This verse does not speak to “eternal” life or the anticipated joys of some future state. This would be out of character for Ecclesiastes. However, it does suggest that one’s present life can be rewarding and filled with joy. One way to accomplish this is to be busy doing what God desires. The memory that haunts the rich, lonely miser and brings him to a prison house of gloom and vexation has no part with the one who discovers God’s gift for living.

All men have past experiences that are better buried and forgotten. Some come as a result of external circumstances and pressures that are beyond the control of the individual but nevertheless erode his peace of mind when recalled. Other experiences are direct results of volitional folly or sin. These have a more damaging influence on the joy of the present. It is a much-desired blessing to be able to close the door to the past and find joy in the present. This is the promise the Preacher now offers to those who make an effort to be wise.

Since such a positive note is sounded regarding the possible rewards that one may find even under the sun, it might be expected that Solomon will turn to a new theme. This is not true, however. This rather refreshing observation that speaks of rewards and joy is to be looked upon as a temporary terminal in his reasoning. He dedicates the entire next section (Chapter Six) to the theme of the futility of riches. Let us close out this section with two observations. One comes from Jesus who speaks to this point with the words, “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Also, the following quote from the Bereleburger Bible is very much to the point: “To the pure all things are pure” (Titus 1:15), “and so a pure man may undoubtedly use riches with purity; and it will, therefore, chiefly depend on each one’s own heart, on how it stands before God. But if any person is unable to remain just as contented and calm, when house and home are burnt down, or when some other damage is done to his property, he proves himself to be not yet truly composed and satisfied: that is the test thereof.”

Awe of God; Riches - Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

Open It

1. What does it mean to be happy?

2. What best helps you worship God?

3. What is your most treasured possession?

4. Why do most people want more money than they already have?

Explore It

5. How should a person go to the house of God? (Ecclesiastes 5:1)

6. How did Solomon encourage us to conduct ourselves in the house of God? (Ecclesiastes 5:2-3)

7. What did Solomon say about vows made to God? (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6)

8. Why should we stand in awe of God? (Ecclesiastes 5:7)

9. What should not surprise us? (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9)

10. What unflattering truths hold for the person who loves money? (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12)

11. What grievous evil did Solomon notice? (Ecclesiastes 5:13-17)

12. What is good and proper for a person to do? (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

13. What sort of experience did Solomon describe as a gift from God? (Ecclesiastes 5:19)

14. What happens to the person who has wealth and possessions? (Ecclesiastes 5:20)

Get It

15. Why is it important to approach God with the right attitude?

16. Why do people make rash vows to God?

17. Why is it hard to keep the promises we make to God?

18. What does it mean to stand in awe of God?

19. Why is money unable to bring happiness or contentment?

20. If we cannot take anything with us when we die, why do we work so hard to acquire things?

21. How should we go about finding satisfaction in our work?

22. What does it mean to accept one’s lot in life?

23. What is the connection between accepting one’s lot in life and finding happiness?

24. Why is it so hard for us to accept our lot in life?

Apply It

25. What vow that you have made to God do you need to fulfill?

26. What is one thing you will change about your life-style to reflect the unimportance of money and things?

27. What can you do this week to accept and better appreciate the things that God has given to you?.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/ecclesiastes-5.html.
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