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)
The first four chapters of Ecc have caused us to look at life under the sun. We could hardly be faulted for concluding that life and society is a complicated mess, though I wonder what an uncomplicated mess might look like. The lesson we learned from the Psalms is to take everything into the House of God. The Preacher has us come into the presence of God in chapter five. Surely we have seen enough, and been baffled enough, to warn us not to come as an expert observer of life and society. Our utter bewilderment at life should be enough to warn us to be silent in God’s presence. But it doesn’t, at least not for everyone. We’re quick to ask for solutions as if we really know what needs to be solved. As clever negotiators we are quick to want to do deals with God. If God delivers the answer or the solution to our problem, then we’ll make a vow to do something for God. Many attempt to bribe God with vows. How frivolous and unbecoming can we be?
Be slow to speak, do not be hasty with your words. Who really knows what God is doing? The Preacher rebukes us for all pretence and superficial worship that hopes to have an audience with God because of the multiplicity of words. The question we have to ask of ourselves is, ‘Are we listening more than we are talking?’
The Preacher reminds us of the transcendence of God. God is in heaven and we are upon earth. The grandeur and size of the temple building was a visible reminder of the finitude of the worshipper. The fact that we come into the presence of God helps reassure us of the immanence of God. However, God must be approached with reverence and godly fear.
It was an ancient view that overworking causes people to dream dreams. One commentator says that dreams were often seen as ephemeral, and he views the first part of verse three to mean that much words amounts to an illusion. Many dreams or illusions lead to many words to explain the illusions which the Preacher regards as dangerous.
One who multiplies many words is likely to be rash with his tongue and so is in danger of making a hasty vow before the Lord. The Preacher warns us that God has no pleasure in a foolish approach that says much and does little.
This reinforces the view that we should be cautious in what we say. This should not prevent or restrict us in our prayers. This is not the person who comes in childlike faith, hardly knowing what to say. This is the person who is filled with a sense of their own self-worth, the kind of person who is outspoken before others and is outspoken before God.
Our tongue can lead us into sin. The wisdom literature has a lot to say about the wise use of the tongue. The book of James, which is the closest NT book to wisdom literature, places a stress on guarding the tongue.
If a person makes a vow and doesn’t keep that vow, then they should not protest to the temple messenger who reminds you that you haven’t kept that vow. To update this for our own time: when the preaching of God’s word convicts you, you should not complain to the minister of God’s word – applied preaching should challenge our souls. The word of God should be preached in such a way so as to bind the conscience of the hearers with the word. We should not object to the application of God’s word to our lives. You may not imagine that such objections could be made, but they are made. There are many in the evangelical church who say that the minister should only emphasise the indicative (descriptive parts) of scripture and not the imperative (commanding parts).
An accumulation of words in God’s presence is not profitable, instead we should fear the Lord and let our words be few.
Dear Lord, help us to come into Your presence with confidence, but Lord help us to revere Your name and respect Your presence for Christ our Saviour’s sake, in whose name we pray. Amen.