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No Delight In Fools

Ecclesiastes 5

Lesson audioIn this section Solomon brings to us something new: the fear of God. Up until this point God is seen as the one who ordains the order of thing; one who cannot be bargained with but must be accepted. In this section his vision rises to the beginning of wisdom: the fear of the Lord.

Guard Your Steps

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 NASB (1) Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. (2) Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. (3) For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. (4) When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! (5) It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. (6) Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? (7) For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.

Our usual approach

If there is any characteristic most noticeable in the American Christian today, it is the confidence with which he approaches God. When we think about the future, we usually do it this way:

  • We dream big. We have a great idea for all sorts of wonderful things, and we submit our plan to God for his approval.
  • Once submitted – it doesn’t take that long – we begin to tell others at church and elsewhere of our great idea.
  • We discover that “it is vanity.” God takes no ideas from us, but rather accords to us that which is in his plan. No matter how smart you are, God has another idea, it seems.
No delight in fools

Solomon’s wisdom gives us the correct method:

  • First, when you are in the house of the Lord, listen rather than talk. Don’t tell him what to do; instead, ask him what to do.
  • Don’t be hasty about it. Think things through.[1] The idea that Christianity is nothing but emotional has no support in the Scripture.
  • “Let your words be few.” It’s much more difficult to get in trouble, with God or with man, when your mouth is shut.
Instead …
  • Remember: dreams do come true – with effort. Just because you can talk about it doesn’t mean God is obligated to make it happen.
  • When you make a commitment to God, keep it. If it angers your fellow human beings when you don’t keep a commitment – and they are sinners just as you are – how much more is God going to be angry?
  • Fear God. Remember who is the Creator and who is the creation.

That last may seem strange; “after all, God is a God of love, right?” Have you ever angered your spouse? You have? They don’t love you? Love is not incompatible with anger – especially for the holy and righteous God.

Oppression and Riches

Ecclesiastes 5:8-17 NASB (8) If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. (9) After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land. (10) He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. (11) When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on? (12) The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep. (13) There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt. (14) When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him. (15) As he had come naked from his mother's womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. (16) This also is a grievous evil--exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? (17) Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger.

Why is there oppression?

The problems of pain and evil have been with us since the beginning. Solomon, by having this passage following his section on fearing God, brings us some measure of understanding of this problem.

  • Oppression exists. Get used to it. It is a normal part of the condition of fallen, sinful humanity.
  • But even out of such oppression some good may come. The “Beloved Leader” may conscript laborers to work his fields, but at least somebody will get something to eat from it. Indeed, it can be argued that God will allow no evil out of which he cannot bring a greater good.
  • Most of all is this: the oppressor in your face reports to a higher one. On it goes up the chain. At the top the ruler is still under God; and God is not finished with him yet. Nor you.
Consider the oppressor’s lot

Of course, the normal human reaction to oppression is not to revolt; rather, it is to accept oppression as normal – and then try to find a way to join the oppressor class as quickly as possible. But do you really want to do that?

  • Consider that such people are always poor – for they always want more.
  • Secondly, while very often such folks have an abundance of “stuff,” there is usually an abundance of people around to want more stuff than is available. Get yourself elected president and you’ll find there are fifty people for every fat job you can fill.
  • And while we’re at it, who sleeps better at night? And how do you think that Solomon knows that?
The problem: greed

Comedy, I’m told, is the sudden perception of the absurd. Jack Benny made a career of posing as a stingy tightwad – and then getting what he deserved, while the audience laughed.[2] His most famous gag was this: a mugger comes up behind him, sticks him up and says, “Your money or your life!” After a long pause (timing is everything) the mugger says, “Well?”

“I’m thinking, I’m thinking!”

It is absurd; hoarding your wealth is absurd.

Solomon points out another absurdity: what if you have the money and lose it? If you never had it, your children don’t expect to inherit it. But if they have silver spoon expectations… then what?

Finally, at the end of your life, it comes down to this: there are no pockets in a shroud. What good did your money do you?

The Right Answer

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 NASB (18) Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. (19) Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. (20) For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.

Good and fitting

So just what are you supposed to do? Solomon is nowhere near the Christian answer, but he sees it in what we might call a pre-Christian light. It’s pretty simple, really.

  • First, eat, drink and enjoy. You need to eat and drink anyway – you might just as well enjoy it.
  • Consider it as a reward from God for your hard work. Much depends on the way you look at things.
  • Life is short, eternity is long – best to focus on what’s at hand.

We can see in this the Christian doctrine of vocation. God has provided a way for you to make your living in this world; whatever that way is, enjoy it. Take pleasure in your work; do not regard it as simply “the way I make money.” Prostitutes make money too.

The spiritual value of work is something which is now minimized in our teaching, but the truth is always there. Paul put it this way:

Colossians 3:23-24 NASB (23) Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, (24) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

What about the rich man?

Well, what about him? Is this really your problem? Consider that he gets his reward from God as well. The Old Testament view often was that riches were a sign of favor from God. Is this really something to worry about? Maybe this is the rich man’s problem!

Long life

Interestingly, Solomon reveals quite a bit about himself in this passage. He is concerned, as many are, about the length of his life. But this is not wise; better a life well lived and short than a long and fruitless one.

  • Do what you are tasked to do by God.
  • Accept the reward he offers in this life.
  • And in all things, rejoice. Give thanks.[3]

[1] I know; think? In church? We are so enamored with “God wants your heart” that we forget he wants mind, soul and strength as well.

[2] For the younger reader, Mr. Benny was a comedian who flourished in the middle of the 20th century. He was also noted for his generosity outside his stage persona.

[3] Ephesians 5:20

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