What renders devotion vain. (1-3) Of vows, and oppression. (4-8) the vanity of riches shown. (9-7) The right use of riches. (18-20)
Verses 1-3 Address thyself to the worship of God, and take time to compose thyself for it. Keep thy thoughts from roving and wandering: keep thy affections from running out toward wrong objects. We should avoid vain repetitions; copious prayers are not here condemned, but those that are unmeaning. How often our wandering thoughts render attendance on Divine ordinances little better than the sacrifice of fools! Many words and hasty ones, used in prayer, show folly in the heart, low thoughts of God, and careless thoughts of our own souls.
Verses 4-8 When a person made engagements rashly, he suffered his mouth to cause his flesh to sin. The case supposes a man coming to the priest, and pretending that his vow was made rashly, and that it would be wrong to fulfil it. Such mockery of God would bring the Divine displeasure, which might blast what was thus unduly kept. We are to keep down the fear of man. Set God before thee; then, if thou seest the oppression of the poor, thou wilt not find fault with Divine Providence; nor think the worse of the institution of magistracy, when thou seest the ends of it thus perverted; nor of religion, when thou seest it will not secure men from suffering wrong. But though oppressors may be secure, God will reckon for all.
Verses 9-17 The goodness of Providence is more equally distributed than appears to a careless observer. The king needs the common things of life, and the poor share them; they relish their morsel better than he does his luxuries. There are bodily desires which silver itself will not satisfy, much less will worldly abundance satisfy spiritual desires. The more men have, the better house they must keep, the more servants they must employ, the more guests they must entertain, and the more they will have hanging on them. The sleep of the labourer is sweet, not only because he is tired, but because he has little care to break his sleep. The sleep of the diligent Christian, and his long sleep, are sweet; having spent himself and his time in the service of God, he can cheerfully repose in God as his Rest. But those who have every thing else, often fail to secure a good night's sleep; their abundance breaks their rest. Riches do hurt, and draw away the heart from God and duty. Men do hurt with their riches, not only gratifying their own lusts, but oppressing others, and dealing hardly with them. They will see that they have laboured for the wind, when, at death, they find the profit of their labour is all gone like the wind, they know not whither. How ill the covetous worldling bears the calamities of human life! He does not sorrow to repentance, but is angry at the providence of God, angry at all about him; which doubles his affliction.
Verses 18-20 Life is God's gift. We must not view our calling as a drudgery, but take pleasure in the calling where God puts us. A cheerful spirit is a great blessing; it makes employments easy, and afflictions light. Having made a proper use of riches, a man will remember the days of his past life with pleasure. The manner in which Solomon refers to God as the Giver, both of life and its enjoyments, shows they ought to be received and to be used, consistently with his will, and to his glory. Let this passage recommend to all the kind words of the merciful Redeemer, "Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." Christ is the Bread of life, the only food of the soul. All are invited to partake of this heavenly provision.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-20 .
1. From vanity connected with kings, he passes to vanities ( Ecclesiastes 5:7 ) which may be fallen into convinced of the vanity of the creature, wish to worship the Creator.
Keep thy foot--In going to worship, go with considerate, circumspect, reverent feeling. The allusion is to the taking off the shoes, or sandals, in entering a temple ( Exodus 3:5 , Joshua 5:15 , which passages perhaps gave rise to the custom). WEISS needlessly reads, "Keep thy feast days" ( Exodus 23:14 Exodus 23:17 ; the three great feasts).
hear--rather, "To be ready (to draw nigh with the desire) to hear (obey) is a better sacrifice than the offering of fools" [HOLDEN]. (Vulgate; Syriac). ( Psalms 51:16 Psalms 51:17 , Proverbs 21:3 , Jeremiah 6:20 , 7:21-23 , 14:12 , Amos 5:21-24 ). The warning is against mere ceremonial self-righteousness, as in Ecclesiastes 7:12 . Obedience is the spirit of the law's requirements ( Deuteronomy 10:12 ). Solomon sorrowfully looks back on his own neglect of this (compare 1 Kings 8:63 with Ecclesiastes 11:4 Ecclesiastes 11:6 ). Positive precepts of God must be kept, but will not stand instead of obedience to His moral precepts. The last provided no sacrifice for wilful sin ( Numbers 15:30 Numbers 15:31 , Hebrews 10:26-29 ).
2. rash--opposed to the considerate reverence ("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 stated ( Ecclesiastes 5:6 ). "Fear thou God."
God is in heaven--Therefore He ought to be approached with carefully weighed words, by thee, a frail creature of earth.
3. 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 WEISS]. 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 [English Version and MAURER].
fool's voice--answers to "dream" in the parallel; it comes by the many "words" flowing from the fool's "dream."
4. When thou vowest a vow unto God--Hasty words in prayer ( Ecclesiastes 5:2 Ecclesiastes 5:3 ) suggest the subject of hasty vows. A vow should not be hastily made ( Judges 11:35 , 1 Samuel 14:24 ). When made, it must be kept ( Psalms 76:11 ), even as God keeps His word to us ( Exodus 12:41 Exodus 12:51 , Joshua 21:45 ).
5. ( Deuteronomy 23:21 Deuteronomy 23:23 ).
6. thy flesh--Vow not with "thy mouth" a vow (for example, fasting), which the lusts of the flesh ("body," Ecclesiastes 2:3 , Margin) may tempt thee to break ( Proverbs 20:25 ).
angel--the "messenger" of God ( Job 33:23 ); minister ( Revelation 1:20 ); that is, the priest ( Malachi 2:7 ) "before" whom a breach of a vow was to be confessed ( Leviticus 5:4 Leviticus 5:5 ). We, Christians, in our vows (for example, at baptism, the Lord's Supper, &c.). 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 ). Extenuate not any breach of them as a slight error.
God's service, which ought to be our chief good, becomes by "dreams" (foolish fancies as of God's requirements of us in worship), and random "words," positive "vanity." The remedy is, whatever fools may do, "Fear thou
God" ( Ecclesiastes 12:13
8. 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," the "poor" often had to put themselves for protection from the inroads of Philistines, &c., under chieftains, who oppressed them even in Solomon's reign ( 1 Kings 12:4 ).
the matter--literally, "the pleasure," or purpose ( Isaiah 53:10 ). Marvel not at this dispensation of God's will, as if He had abandoned the world. Nay, there is coming a capital judgment at last, and an earnest of it in partial punishments of in serving the King of kings, even by those who, sinners meanwhile. higher than the highest--( Daniel 7:18 ).
regardeth--( 2 Chronicles 16:9 ).
there be higher--plural, that is, the three persons of the Godhead, or else, "regardeth not only the 'highest' kings, than whom He 'is higher,' but even the petty tyrants of the provinces, namely, the high ones who are above them" (the poor) [WEISS].
9. "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" ( 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 Proverbs 22:23 , Amos 8:4-7 ).
10. Not only will God punish at last, but meanwhile the oppressive gainers of "silver" find no solid "satisfaction" in it.
shall not be satisfied--so the oppressor "eateth his own flesh"
with increase--is not satisfied with the gain that he makes.
11. they . . . that eat them--the rich man's dependents ( Psalms 23:5 ).
12. Another argument against anxiety to gain riches. "Sleep . . . sweet" answers to "quietness" ( Ecclesiastes 4:6 ); "not suffer . . . sleep," to "vexation of spirit." Fears for his wealth, and an overloaded stomach without "laboring" (compare Ecclesiastes 4:5 ), will not suffer the rich oppressor to sleep.
13, 14. Proofs of God's judgments even in this world ( Proverbs 11:31 ). The rich oppressor's wealth provokes enemies, robbers, &c. 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 2:23 gives another aspect of the same subject.
16. Even supposing that he loses not his wealth before death, then at last he must go stripped of it all ( Psalms 49:17 ).
laboured for the wind--( Hosea 12:1 , 1 Corinthians 9:26 ).
17. eateth--appropriately put for "liveth" in general, as connected with Ecclesiastes 5:11 Ecclesiastes 5:12 Ecclesiastes 5:18 .
darkness--opposed to "light (joy) of countenance" ( Ecclesiastes 8:1 , Proverbs 16:15 ).
wrath--fretfulness, literally, "His sorrow is much, and his infirmity (of body) and wrath."
18. Returns to the sentiment ( Ecclesiastes 3:12 Ecclesiastes 3:13 Ecclesiastes 3:22 ); translate: "Behold the good which I have seen, and which is becoming" (in a man).
which God giveth--namely, both the good of his labor and his life.
his portion--legitimately. It is God's gift that makes it so when regarded as such. 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 ).
19. As Ecclesiastes 5:18 refers to the "laboring" 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.
to take his portion--limits him to the lawful use of wealth, not keeping back from God His portion while enjoying his own.
20. He will not remember much, looking back with disappointment, as the ungodly do ( Ecclesiastes 2:11 ), on the days of his life.
answereth . . . in the joy--God answers his prayers in giving him "power" to enjoy his blessings. GESENIUS and Vulgate translate, "For God (so) occupies him with joy," &c., that he thinks not much of the shortness and sorrows of life. HOLDEN, "Though God gives not much (as to real enjoyment), yet he remembers (with thankfulness) the days; for (he knows) God exercises him by the joy," &c. (tries him by prosperity), so Margin, but English Version is simplest.