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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Ecclesiastes 5

 

 

Verse 1

Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.

From vanity connected with kings, he passes to vanities (Ecclesiastes 5:7) which may be fallen into in serving the King of kings, even by those who, convinced of the vanity of the creature, wish to worship the Creator.

Keep, thy foot. So the Qeri'. But the original Kethibh, 'thy feet' (Psalms 119:101). In going to worship, go with considerate, circumspect, reverent feeling. Better not to go at all, than to go in a wrong spirit. The allusion is to the taking off of the shoes, or sandals in entering a temple (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15), which passages perhaps gave rise to the custom. Compare Jacob's words (Genesis 28:16-17), Surely the Lord is in this place etc.

Be more ready to hear (cf. James 1:19) - rather, 'To be ready (to draw nigh with the desire) to hear (obey) (1 Samuel 15:22) is a better sacrifice than the offering of fools' (Holden; the Vulgate; Syriac). The order of the words and the Hebrew accents forbid the English version, whereby "the sacrifice" governs "of fools." "To give sacrifice" is an unusual phrase (Psalms 51:16-17; Proverbs 21:3; Amos 5:21-24). The warning is against mere ceremonial self-righteousness. Obedience is the spirit of the law's requirements (Deuteronomy 10:12). Solomon sorrowfully looks back on his own neglect of this (cf. 1 Kings 8:63 with 11:4,6). Positive precepts of God must be kept, but will not stand instead of obedience to His moral precepts. The law provided no sacrifice for willful sin (Numbers 15:30-31; Hebrews 10:26-29). "Fools" think to compound for obedience by sacrifice.


Verse 2

Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.

Be not rash with thy mouth - answering to the considerate reverence indicated by the foot ("Keep thy foot," Ecclesiastes 5:1). This verse illustrates Ecclesiastes 5:1, as to prayer in the house of God ("before God," Isaiah 1:12); so Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, as to vows. The remedy to such vanities is living faith, as is stated (Ecclesiastes 5:7), "Fear thou God."

God is in heaven - therefore He ought to be approached with carefully weighed words, by thee, a frail creature of "earth."

Let thy words be few - not directed against the earnest and frequent prayers of true believers, but against the formal petitions of those who think to make up for the devotion they lack by the multitude of their words. So the Pharisees (Mark 12:40), and the pagan (Matthew 6:7-8); as the antidote, Jesus gave the Lord's prayer; the beginning of which, "Our Father which art in heaven" refers to this passage. While as our Father He is to be loved, He at the same time, as being "in heaven," is to be reverently feared in our approaches to Him.


Verse 3

For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.

For a dream cometh ... business. As much "business," engrossing the mind, gives birth to incoherent "dreams," so many words, uttered inconsiderately in prayer, give birth to and betray "a fool's speech" (Ecclesiastes 10:14). (Holden and Hengstenberg.) But Ecclesiastes 5:7 implies that the "dream" is not a comparison, but the vain thoughts of the fool (sinner) (Psalms 73:20), arising from multiplicity of (worldly) "business." His "dream" is, that God hears him for his much speaking (Matthew 6:7), independently of the frame of mind. "Fool's voice" answers to "dream" in the parallel; it comes by the many "words" flowing from the fool's "dream." "Multitude of words" is parallel to "multitude of business."


Verse 4

When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.

When thou vowest a vow (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). Hasty words in prayer (Ecclesiastes 5:2-3) suggest the subject of hasty vows. A vow should not be hastily made (as Jephthah's and Saul's, Judges 11:35; 1 Samuel 14:24). When made, it must be kept (Psalms 76:11), even as God keeps His word to us (cf. as to Israel Exodus 12:41; Exodus 12:51; Joshua 21:45).


Verse 5

Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

(Deuteronomy 23:21; Deuteronomy 23:23.)


Verse 6

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 thine hands?

Suffer not thy mouth ... - vow not with "thy mouth" a vow (e.g., fasting), which thy flesh (thy body, margin, Ecclesiastes 2:3) may tempt thee to break (Proverbs 20:25). Ezekiel 16:26; Ezekiel 23:20 prove that "flesh" is used for carnal desires in the Old Testament as well as in the New, which Hengstenberg denies, maintaining the sense 'Suffer not thyself to be involved in guilt as respects thy whole body, by the one small member the mouth' (James 3:2; James 3:5-6).

Before the angel - the "messenger" of God (Job 33:23); minister (Revelation 1:20); i:e., the priest (Malachi 2:7), "before" whom a breach of a vow was to be confessed (Leviticus 5:4-5). We Christians, in our vows (e.g., at baptism, the Lord's supper, etc.) vow in the presence of Jesus Christ, "the angel of the covenant" (Malachi 3:1), and of ministering angels as witnesses (1 Corinthians 11:10; 1 Timothy 5:21).

That it was an error. Extenuate not any breach of them as a slight error. The distinction between sins of ignorance or heedlessness, and sinning presumptuously or willfully, is alluded to here (cf. Numbers 15:27-31; Hebrews 10:26-28).

Wherefore should God be angry? A broken vow is not to be atoned for by a few fair spoken words before a priest. Thy vow to give so much of the fruits of the earth, and of thy cattle, when not performed, will entail the destruction of the whole work of thy hands-all thy crops and cattle.


Verse 7

For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.

For in the multitude of dreams ... (there are) ... vanities, ... - (Note, Ecclesiastes 5:3.) God's service, which ought to be our chief good, becomes by "dreams" (foolish fancies as to God's requirements of us in worship) and random "words," positive "vanity." The remedy is, "Fear God" (Ecclesiastes 12:13), then thou wilt speak and vow nothing which thou dost not sincerely mean.


Verse 8

If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.

If thou seest the oppression of the poor ... As in Ecclesiastes 3:16, so here the difficulty suggests itself. If God is so exact in even punishing hasty words (Ecclesiastes 5:1-6), why does He allow gross injustice? In the remote "provinces" (Hebrew, m


Verse 9

Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.

The profit (produce) of the earth is (ordained) for (the common good of) all: (even) the king (himself) is served by (the fruits of) the field. So in the case of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:10). Therefore the common Lord of all, high and low, will punish at last those who rob the "poor" of their share in it (Proverbs 22:22-23; Amos 8:4-7); because it was designed to profit all, not merely a privileged few, who by oppression monopolized, wishing to be "alone in the midst of the earth" (Ecclesiastes 4:8; Isaiah 5:8). This obscure passage is interpreted in many ways. The English version seems best; only insert 'itself' in the first clause, as in the Hebrew [ huw' (Hebrew #1931)] The head cannot do without the foot, nor can the king dispense with the poor Labourer that produces the crop for him from his field; a consideration that should check oppression.


Verse 10

He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.

Not be satisfied with silver Not only will God punish at last, but meanwhile, "not be satisfied with silver" - the oppressive gainers of "silver" find no solid 'satisfaction' in it.

Nor he that loveth abundance (Hamon-literally, multitude, bustle; implying the turmoil which is inseparable from wealth) "with increase" - is not satisfied with the gain that he makes.


Verse 11

When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?

When goods increase ... - the rich man's dependents. Either in the rich man's lifetime, or after his death, all his accumulations shall find their consumers. 'Whoso gathers riches, gathers devourers' (Luther).


Verse 12

The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.

The sleep of a labouring man is sweet ... Another argument against anxiety to gain riches. "Sleep ... sweet," answers to "quietness" (Ecclesiastes 4:6); "eat little or much," to "abundance," "not suffer ... sleep," to "vexation of spirit." Fears for his wealth, and an over- loaded stomach without 'labouring' (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:5), will not suffer the rich oppressor to sleep.


Verse 13-14

There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.

A sore evil ... Proofs of God's judgments even in this world (Proverbs 11:31). The rich oppressor's wealth provokes enemies, robbers. etc. Then, after having kept it for an expected son, he loses it beforehand by misfortune ("by evil travail"), and the son is born to be heir of poverty. Ecclesiastes 2:19; Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 2:23 gives another aspect of the same subject.


Verse 15-16

As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.

Nothing of (not withstanding) his labour ... this also (is) a sore evil ... - as in Ecclesiastes 5:13 the uncertainty of wealth was dwelt on, and its vicissitudes; so here the certainty of its being lost at death is put forward as "a sore evil." Even supposing that he loses not his wealth before death, then at least he must go striped of it all (Psalms 49:17).

Laboured for ... wind? - (Hosea 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:26.)


Verse 17

All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.

Eateth - appropriately put for 'liveth' in general, as connected with Ecclesiastes 5:11-12; Ecclesiastes 5:18. In darkness - opposed to 'light (joy) of countenance' (Ecclesiastes 8:1; Proverbs 16:15). He may be seated in a well-lighted hall, but all is gloom in his heart. The sun is darkened to him who is in mental darkness. It shines only for the happy (Ecclesiastes 12:2; Jeremiah 4:23).

(He hath) much sorrow and wrath - fretfulness.

With his sickness - literally, 'sorrow (is) much, and his sickness (through vexation) and wrath.'


Verse 18

Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.

Behold (that) which I have seen ... - in contrast to self-tormenting avarice. He returns to the sentiment in Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22. The Hebrew accent requires a stop at "seen," as in the English version [also the pointing is 'aaniy (Hebrew #589), not 'aniy]; the next clause is literal. '(It is) good which (is also) comely (for one) to eat,' etc. "Good" for the man himself; "comely" in relation to others.

All the days of his life (literally, the number of the days of his life) which God giveth - namely, both the good of his labour and his life. 'The number of the days of his life' is a phrase implying the briefness of life, and therefore the folly of making earthly things, which are so soon ended, one's portion.

For it (is) his portion - legitimately. It is the only good to be gotten of one's goods. Such a one will use, not abuse, earthly things (1 Corinthians 7:31). Opposed to the anxious life of the covetous (Ecclesiastes 5:10; Ecclesiastes 5:17).


Verse 19

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 labour; this is the gift of God.

Every man also to whom God hath given riches ... As Ecclesiastes 5:18 refers to the "labouring" man (Ecclesiastes 5:12). so Ecclesiastes 5:19 to the "rich" man, who gets wealth, not by "oppression" (Ecclesiastes 5:8). but by "God's gift." He is distinguished also from the "rich" man (Ecclesiastes 6:2), in having received by God's gift, not only "wealth," but also "power to eat thereof," which that one has not. "Power" - literally, dominion or rule (Hishlit, to make to rule) - namely, over one's own heart, so as not to be the slave of wealth, but its master, using it freely and rightly. "To take his portion" limits him to the lawful use of wealth, not keeping back from God his portion, while enjoying his own. This (is) the gift of God - literally, a gift bestowed freely and voluntarily of grace.


Verse 20

For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.

He shall not much remember. He will not remember much (looking back with disappointment, as the ungodly do, Ecclesiastes 2:11, on) the days of his life. Life is long to the wretched, short to the happy. He will not vex himself with the remembrance of the unhappy days which he has passed. Nor will he be anxious about the future, but enjoys thankfully the present goods of life, and waits for the better and eternal life.

God answereth him in the joy of his heart. God answers his prayers in giving him "power" to enjoy his blessing. Gesenius and Vulgate translate, 'For God (so) occupies him with joy,' etc., that he thinks not much of the shortness and sorrows of life. "God answereth him in (giving him) the joy of his heart." So to answer in, by, or with a thing, is to bestow it, in Psalms 65:5; Psalms 69:13; Psalms 118:5.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/ecclesiastes-5.html. 1871-8.

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