Recent Posts
Lowell Brueckner

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Ecclesiastes 5


Chapter 5

The vanity of talk

1. Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.
2. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
3. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
4. When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.
5. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.
6. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?
7. For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.

Five times in the biblical books of wisdom an almost identical statement appears: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is the point, at which vanity ends and wisdom begins. In the midst of his discourse on life under the sun, a negative report to be sure, Solomon interjects some jewels. One is found in verse seven, “God is the one you must fear”, and it is the secret to life beyond the sun that has lasting value. It is the theme of the first seven verses. Though these gems may be few and far between in Ecclesiastes, they carry more than enough weight to tip the scale of earth’s value system in the right direction for the person, who knows how to measure and appreciate them. 

A reverent fear of God is beyond price, and it is a rare asset in today’s society. When the time comes to approach the things of God, see to it that it is done with the highest regard for his honor and worthiness. Guard your steps… remove your shoes, when you come to the holy place of encounter with the Almighty. Religious pretense is an enemy; it is not only deceitful, it is evil.

Notice the question given to foolish King Saul, when he impatiently and illegally offered a sacrifice: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” (1 Sm.15:22). Another prime example of religious zeal is that of Saul of Tarsus who, in his attempt to serve God, undermined the plan that He was unfolding. He persecuted His church. Solomon´s advice is to listen and obey.  Empty religion, without the fear of God, has opposed the moving of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible and the history that follows it (v.1). It is always a huge mistakes, which will bring eternal consequences.

A hearer is a student, willing to learn. A closed mind and heart produce a rash mouth, so always be willing to change and adjust your thinking. To the people, who form their opinion and set it as hard as cement, they esteem their position above the truth. They are quick to speak their “wisdom” and slow to hear, even when it comes to dealing with God. They are unwilling to consider the infinite distance between their state and God’s. They cannot fathom the vast expanse between heaven and earth (v.2). If you are a sincere Christian, you need to let the Word of God dominate in your relationship with Him. As an overwrought mind produces light, restless sleep, plagued by dreams, so the words of a fool, who thinks he needs to dominate every conversation,  will bring a distressful ambience to any gathering (v.3).

While the king is covering the subject of careful versus rash speech, he includes the pronouncement of vows. The only good vow is one that is kept. What a need there is today for people, whose word carries weight! Too often, one of the greatest arenas for worthless promises, is in the marriage ceremony. At the first hint of discomfort and unpleasant circumstances, vows spoken in a wedding, are thrown to the wind. They mean little or nothing to the participants and it doesn’t seem to matter that they have been spoken before God. “Better,” says the preacher, “that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (v.4, 5). He maintains that every vow carries a price tag, and the cost must be counted, before the promise is made. Jesus set the cost before all His potential disciples, when He said, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk.14:33). He made it clear that discipleship comes before family relationships and likened it to bearing a cross on the road to crucifixion.

James shows us how dangerous a tool the tongue is and how easily it can lead us into sin. How much harm is caused by it! “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness… staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell… No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (see Jas.3:1-12). You may say after you speak, “I take it all back,” but you can’t really do that. I was listening yesterday to news commentators talking about early voters. Sometimes issues come up after they cast their vote, which cause them to regret the direction, in which they cast it. They said that some even asked, if they could have their vote back. Of course, that is impossible and it is just as impossible to take back an unkind word or a false statement. Unwise speech is sin and incites God’s anger, which in turn brings consequences to the purposes of our lives (v.6).

The Bible shows occasions, in which God worked through the instrumentality of dreams, and I will not be one, who will tell you that He never uses that medium today. The prophet Joel stated, “Your old men shall dream dreams” (Joel 2:28). However, the Scriptures also show that dreams can be problematic. Verse 7 is one that suggests that there are negative connotations, when dreams increase., which means that they are holding too much influence over people's decisions.The king puts them into the same category that he is bringing before us in this chapter… the excess of words. The excess of words and the increase of dreams will contribute to a lower level of solid thinking, and result in foolish and vain living.  This is King Solomon's preoccupation throughout his book.

Jeremiah showed that dreams were the tools of false prophets in his day and they were indeed vain. They were powerless to change the hearts of the people. God spoke through him, “Do not let your prophets and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream” (Jer.29:8). “Let the prophet… tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully” (Jer.23:28). He contrasts dreams with the Word and shows the Word’s superiority: “Is not my word like fire… and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (23:29). There can be no doubt that Jeremiah is saying that had the prophets proclaimed the Word, it would have had a purifying, effective work in breaking the Israelites’ hearts. Their dreams were vain and, in fact, deceitful, and they were not to be feared. The preacher said, “God is the one you must fear.”

The vanity of gain and status

8. If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.
9. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
10. He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.
11. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?
12. Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
13. There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt,
14. and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.
15. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand.
16. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?
17. Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
18. Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.
19. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God.
20. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

Solomon has deep convictions about the vanity of riches. It was also the subject of Jesus’ talks, as well as the writings of the apostle Paul. The lust for riches and status among the people, always seemed to go hand-in-hand with unrighteousness. In verse 8, the king is encouraging the one, who is oppressed, and warning him not to charge God with the world’s injustice. He is not to be overwhelmed by the decisions of his local authorities. A court of appeals exists, which has greater power, and if that fails, there is a higher power still, When all on earth fails, the believer can rest His case at the feet of the heavenly Judge, who is unfailingly just. 

Among the poorer class in Israel were the farmers and now the king will show the value of agriculture.  Rich or poor, everyone depends on the fields of the farmers. The occupation may lack sophistication, but it is at the top of the list of professions in meeting the needs of all. I remember a bumper sticker from many years back: “If you criticize farmers, don’t talk with your mouth full.” This labor has honor, satisfaction and value, even when it does not yield much financial gain.

It is so often the case that young people will abandon the family farm, in search of what they suppose to be the higher status of the city folks. They would be wise to consider the advice of Paul to Timothy: “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Tim.6:8). As the farmers, the apostles were not included in the lofty echelons of society and certainly didn’t enjoy the greatest income. In fact, just the opposite: “We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day” (1 Co.4:13).

The one, who loves souls, and contributes to the welfare of the inner person, knows a satisfaction that nothing else can bring. My counsel to the youth is to keep their lives simple and get involved with the eternal. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” (v.10). The king dumps wealth and gain in the garbage can of vanity. It has been proven many times over that there is no satisfaction or happiness in material gain. The appetite for anything on earth is lost once it gets into the mouth. I mean by that statement, that once you have something in your possession, it loses its appeal. Remember this fact and save yourself a lot of stress and labor. I remember an adage from Mexico: “The rich man is satisfied with a little more." Mull over that morsel for a while, take the preacher's advice and believe his assertion that to pursue money is vanity.

Another of the principles under the sun that prove that all is vanity, is the fact that there is never really enough of anything. With the increase of production, comes the increase of consumers. It is true on a small, family scale and also true worldwide. It is a problem of demographics; the wise king doesn’t seem to miss any area of human existence to prove his point (v.11). The earth’s population grows at an alarming rate. According to data from the United Nations, world population was around a billion at the beginning of the 19th Century. By 1900, it had increased to about 1.65 billion. From 1950 to 1987, the population doubled from 2.5 billion to 5 billion. By the turn of the millennium, there were 5.5 billion people and in 2015, there were 7.4 billion people on the face of the earth. To belabor the obvious, where the population is densest, the problem of feeding that population is greatest. The producer watches, as his product passes through his hands before his eyes, as it is distributed.

Again, Solomon encourages the poor laborer, extolling his advantages. Eight hours of the 24-hour day is spent in sleep, and some people would pay gladly for a good night of rest. How valuable is sleep! When the hard worker hits his pillow at night, he falls to sleep immediately, whether he has eaten or not. Sleep takes priority over the evening meal. In fact, he sleeps better than the one, who has devoured a feast before going to bed. That person may find that indigestion might spoil his rest (v.12).

This most prosperous king of Israel developed a major argument, over his lifespan, against the accumulation of riches. He is speaking of the greatest over all his regrets, when he comes to this subject. They did nothing, but harm him. They stripped him of his morals, robbed him of the true values in life, and demolished his relationship with his Creator. We wonder, why can’t people learn this? From one generation to another, they close their eyes to the true values of life, close their ears to counsel, and pursue monetary gain with all their mental and physical capacities. Solomon is trying to reach them and I wish there were a way to bring this book into every home in the world (v.13).

Everyone makes mistakes, and some make more drastic errors than others. Some gamble and lose everything. It is not just personal loss for the one, who makes the venture, but the effect is felt by everyone around him. The risks on this earth are extremely costly and hurtful. 

One lesson that everyone, who walks the earth, should learn, is that his family should trump business. Bad business is the waste of time invested in it. Years and years can be lost doing business, that could otherwise be given to children. When it is too late and the sons and daughters are grown, the parent, usually the father, feels the loss (v.14). The offspring is left with something less than financial insecurity; his soul has lost, whatever could be gained, from a fatherly input.

This is not the only time that the king will confront us with the ultimate argument that no one can refute. It is the lesson above all lessons. As the church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Ti.3:15), it has the responsibility to preach this message again and again, find multiple ways to express and illustrate it, and warn, with utmost heart concern, as many people as possible. I will cite this truth once again in this paragraph for maximum effect: “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (v.15). This is the ultimate argument to prove that there is nothiing but vanity under the sun. All the fruit of the labor of life is left behind on this side of the grave. Nakedness and empty hands are the rewards for all our effort. There is no argument against this fact… a cruel, heartless fact! Solomon repeats this phrase… toiling for the wind (v.16), working for worthless, unsatisfying, invisible nothingness.  

Grievous evil is a strong phrase, but still an immense understatement and the limitations of the human language paralyze the ability to express infinite loss, but the king makes a mighty effort. “He eats in darkness”, and with these words, he can mean nothing, outside of spiritual darkness. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no future, for which to hope, but only lies and deception to keep him trudging ahead, towards a dark grave. Vexation, sickness, anger… in more common terms, stress, illness, and a surly disposition, are the negatives that plague the human being throughout his life (v.17).

It is a miserable, depressing picture, to say the least, and, as already stated, it is heartless, that is, if the gospel has been removed, ignored, or not preached in the world. However, where the gospel is preached, believed and received, the benefits are incalculable. Not only is the curse of vanity removed, but in its place are infinite, eternal pleasures.

Verse 18 includes the Christian and not just the member of society, who might find this advice useful, as he simply passes through life in the best way possible, humanly speaking. God causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine over all human life on the planet. He is good to all and, as far as the temporal and legitimate pleasures that this earth offers, God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim.6:17). It is not wrong, should God in His mercy, give us good days and times of recreation and rest, to simply relax and enjoy them. The believer can find fulfillment in his work and projects.

However, the Christian should not allow himself to become an integral part of the world’s system, planning, scheming, and worrying about the future. That is against the teaching of Christ. “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt.6:34). In a sense, the believer is to live for the moment, trusting His heavenly Father for tomorrow. As far as this material world is concerned, the king says, “What I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life…” Life is short and this is the maximum that it offers (v.18).

It was concerning the well-to-do people, about whom Paul wrote to Timothy, speaking of God’s rich provision. It is amazing how consistent the biblical principles are, Old Testament and New. However, we should know that not everyone is given riches and God does not promise that all believers will live prosperously, nor should we long for that (There is a false teaching that tells us that we should all be prosperous. We must reject it.). Those who have them, can take them as a gift from God. They are to be thankful to Him and not boast of their own achievements (v.19). And, of course, none of us have a guarantee that at any time the world around us may be turned into turmoil and we may live under persecution and trouble. Should that be the case, we must live it in the will of God and for His glory.

Finally, God would have us occupied, while living upon the earth. “Idleness is the devil’s workshop,” is an old saying that speaks the truth. We all are in danger of spiritual depression, sadness and melancholy, as well as countless other spiritual diseases. We can spend much time in the word, reflecting on the greatness and goodness of God. We can spend as much time in fellowship with God, as time will allow, but it is not healthy to be introspective, for any length of time. The enemy can easily penetrate those times, and he is an expert on robbing us of our joy. Joy is a gift of God, in which He wants us to live. It is a fruit of the Spirit and the atmosphere of heaven.


Post a Comment