Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.
A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfil it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfil it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.(Eccl. 5:1-7 NIV)
These verses seem like an abrupt change of subject from what has been covered in chapter four. But both chapters have worship in common. In chapter four it was the worship of wealth and in chapter five it is the worship of God. In chapter four we saw how we could get into trouble if we had the wrong relationship to wealth and in chapter five we are going to see the trouble we can be in if we have the wrong relationship to, or approach to, worship of God.
How strange it is as we enter God’s presence to worship to hear the warning, ‘watch’ or ‘guard’ your step. A casual approach to the Temple is dangerous. CS Lewis in his ‘Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ‘says, “Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” God is not safe, but He is good. What should we do when we get into His presence? Listen! Whether it is public or private worship, or public or private prayer that we come to, we should begin by listening to God. Before we say anything, we should wait for God to speak through His word. We often rush in and begin by what we have to say, as if somehow we knew what was the need of hour and how it should be expressed.
Words have been used in chapter four to manipulate and rule over people. Do not think that we can use words to manipulate or rule over the holy God.
As you draw near to God, He requires all of us, every part.
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.(Deut. 6:4-9 NIV)
When our son went to Edinburgh to do his doctorate he studied, not in his office, or the library but in Starbucks. The music was playing, cups and saucers were clinking together, and people were talking. I asked him how he could study in such a noisy place. He said, that in the library it was quiet but when someone made a noise, it interrupted his study and he lost concentration. In Starbucks the noise was expected and constant and he just blanked it out. At lunchtime his wife and young daughter would occasionally meet up with him at Starbucks. Someone once asked his daughter what her father did and she said, ‘he works at Starbucks’ which was true. What was he doing? He was blanking out what was really going on. He wasn’t entering into the real Starbucks experience. That’s what we are in danger of doing when we come into God’s presence. We don’t listen, but create our own experience by making our own noise by speaking when we really should be listening.
We speak as if we had something significant to say to the God of the universe. Is there more coming out of my mouth than coming in through my ears? Whatever the topic, it appears I have an opinion and something to say, even though God knows an infinite amount more than we do on any topic.
We should not enter God’s presence thoughtlessly. We should approach God with a view to listen and learn rather than to offer ‘the sacrifice of fools.’ What is the ‘sacrifice of fools?’ It is usually the first thing that we have to say.
The Preacher has the Temple in view and the offering that the worshipper would bring. He is not devaluing the offering at all, but rather thinking about the worshipper who goes through the motions and rituals of worship using many words but with no awareness of God.
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire– but my ears you have opened– burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.(Ps. 40:6 NIV)
A literal translation of this verse reads, ‘ears you have dug for me.’ Eugene Peterson says of this verse in the same provocative style of many of the Psalmists, ‘God is speaking and must be listened to. But what good is a speaking God without listening ears? So God gets a pick and shovel and digs through the cranial granite, opening up a passage that will give access to the interior depths, into the heart and mind.’
The Preacher wants us to be open to listening, so that we are open to being taught wisdom by God. The fool of course does not know that he is wrong, because the voice of God cannot be heard above the noise of his own voice.
Be still for the presence of the Lord is here:
Dear Lord we long to hear Your voice. Forgive us when we talk over what You are saying. Help us to have ears that are ready to hear and a heart that is ready to obey, for we pray in our Saviour’s name. Amen.