4When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it;
For He has no pleasure in fools.
Pay what you have vowed –
5Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
6Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sine, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands? 7For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is vanity. But fear God.
The Story:We might be surprised to discover how frequently we break the vows we have made, not merely before God, but actually to Him. A vow is a solemn declaration, based on the evidence or promise of God’s goodness, of something we intend to do as a result to show our gratitude to the Lord for His kindness to us. For Christians, the most common vows are those we take during the marriage ceremony and those we take upon becoming church members. You might like to pull those out some time and consider to what extent you are living faithfully according to what you have solemnly vowed to God. To break a vow is to sin, and even (v. 6) to risk the anger of God against our works. Words come easy to us, and so we don’t always say what we mean or mean what we say. We shouldn’t expect to be able merely to rationalize them away when confronted by someone in a position to call us to account (“messenger”). Precisely because words do come so easily, we must be very circumspect about the words we speak, especially when those words relate to our worship and vows before the Lord. The proper attitude for taking a vow is fear of God, not simply to satisfy the expectations of others.
The Structure:These seven verses are a masterful construction on Solomon’s part. They appear to get right at the heart both of Rehoboam’s “religion” and of his need. Those whose piety is merely a shell and a façade may think they’re getting by all right with God and men; in fact, they are living in sin and setting themselves up for judgment from God. The point of this interlude is to clarify Solomon’s earlier comments about living “under the heavens.” This is not a calling we can fulfill in merely superficial ways. We must nurture true and genuine, fear of God, as Solomon will remind us at the end of his book as well. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; without the fear of God not only is there no wisdom, there is no true religion,either.
What does it mean to “fear” God? Are we really supposed to be afraid of Him? Why? But why, even though we fear Him, can we “rest” in and rejoice in Him?
Each week’s studies in our Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For this week’s study, “Approaching God: Ecclesiastes 5,” simply click here.
T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.