Monday, February 16, 2015

Ecclesiastes 5:4-20 comments: of rash promises and working for the wind

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. 5  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. 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? 7  For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God. 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.

Here, Solomon is recommending that a Jew not make a vow to the Lord as, he pointed out in the previous passage, those are often rash and not well-considered. Jephthah made a rash vow in a moment of excitement when he offered the first thing that came out of his house, which unknown to him was to be his daughter, to be a burnt offering (Judges 11:31). His daughter could have suffered that fate or have been dedicated to the Lord like Samuel (Judges 11:37), depending on which commentator you read, although it would seem doubtful that God would have approved of Jephthah in Hebrews 11:32 if he had committed such an egregious sin that God said such a thing never came into His mind for man to do in Jeremiah 19:5 and 32:35. It seems absurd that one would vow something for God that the fulfilling of results in a great and horrible sin against God. “Lord, if you let me get this job I promise I’ll go out and rob the first bank I come to.” Most likely, as their animals shared their living space as evidenced by passages in the Bible, he was thinking of a goat or a sheep, not a human.

For verse 7 we are reminded of the lament of Jeremiah;

Jeremiah 23:25  I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. 26  How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; 27  Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.

Solomon then asserts that we should not be too dismayed over the injustices we see because God sees it all and will judge it. So, here, he says do not promise rashly to God, do not listen to people who include God as a co-conspirator in their lying agenda by saying He spoke to them in a dream, and understand that God does see all wrongs committed and will call into account. We must remember, though, that this is in reference to the kingdom of Israel, not to the lost heathen of the world around them. If we narrow the focus to God’s people we might be able to speak of the church by saying don’t make promises to God you either cannot keep or do not have the will to keep to get some mercy or benefit or impress others, don’t listen to people who say God told them to do something or laid something on their heart without comparing it to scriptural principles, and don’t worry when you see an injustice in the church organization as God is concerned about it.  I’m sure anyone can think of several things that would fall in line with that.

A person comes to church and has messed up at his job and is about to get fired over it. He promises God that if he can keep his job he’ll give half his income to the church. That’s not likely to happen, is it? Remember the old joke about the man who promises God that if God lets him win the lottery he’ll give 50% of it to God and God says to him, “Really? You don’t give me 10% now. Why would I believe that you would give me 50% of the lottery?”

Then, there is the man who tells his pastor that God has laid it on his heart to have a Bible study in a bar. Really? You think so? Sometimes what people say God has laid on their heart is just the result of their own carnal imagination.

On the last point, maybe you know someone in the congregation who has been falsely accused of some impropriety by someone in the congregation with influence who you know doesn’t like the person. Don’t worry or fret. God sees that and will deal with it. He is concerned about injustice among His people. I know you can think of better analogies to make this verse apply to today. Solomon is directly speaking of his own kingdom and God’s hand in its affairs.

    9 ¶  Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself  is served by the field. 10  He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity. 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? 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. 13  There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. 14  But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand. 15  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. 16  And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind? 17  All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.

Solomon says that the bounty of the earth is for all people and beasts, capable of serving everyone. The king himself needs the produce of the earth to survive and prosper. But, men who are greedy are never satisfied with what they have and always want more. Men get more than they need and as it no longer satisfies the need it becomes just something to look at as the proverbial miser admires his pile of gold. Paul told a young preacher;

1Timothy 6:10  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

But, a man who works for his living and has just enough to get by, trusting in God, can sleep well. The material possessions of the rich man do not give him that peace. The rich man piles up his goods and it is a harm to him, particularly spiritually.

The rich man can lose everything and pass nothing on to his offspring and what has the value been of all his efforts? He’ll leave the earth just as he came to it, naked and helpless. As Paul warned Timothy;

1Timothy 6:7  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

The man who seeks to be wealthy, then, is laboring for the wind, and he will struggle to gain and hold onto wealth his whole life only to leave it behind when he leaves the earth.

Proverbs 23:4 ¶  Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. 5  Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.

What the carnal man wants is more. What the Christian should want is enough.

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

We are right to enjoy what God has given us. It is from God and is His gift to us, as we rejoice in the fruit of our labor. The Christian is called to give of what he has been given.

Ephesians 4:28  Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

Lest someone say, though, that to have wealth is evil in and of itself, to create a sort of mental class warfare where you resent everyone who has more than you do, we are told clearly that if a man is given riches and wealth, by the hand of God, acknowledging the source of his abundance, then he, too, like the man who labors physically, should enjoy the gift God has given him. If both men understand that God is the source of their sustenance then the sorrows and pains of their labors will be forgotten. The laborer will not remember his aches and pains and the rich man will not suffer from the anxiety and care so often associated with wealth.

The key is to give liberally of your abundance, no matter how scant or how plenty, to those truly in need, and remember, all things come from the hand of God and your efforts, without his blessings, are merely laboring for the wind.


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