Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, “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.”
Ecclesiastes contains wisdom for all of life, including the public, corporate worship of God. We see this in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 as the Preacher outlines the approach we are to have when we draw near to God in His “house.” How do wise people enter into the Lord’s presence? The answer is that they enter with few words and with an eagerness to listen.
In worship, we are to express our praise to God verbally (Psalm 9:11; 30:4). However, if there is no time devoted to hearing from God, then we have not truly offered up worship that is pleasing to our Creator. While we are not to come before the Almighty as spectators who are seeking entertainment, we are to seek a word from Him upon which we will actively meditate and which we will apply to our lives. As Scripture explains, this is listening to the very Word of God itself. Much of our services should consist in the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching and teaching of these oracles of the Lord (Neh. 8:1–8; 1 Tim. 4:13). For the congregation, this consists mainly of silent hearing that nevertheless demands the active engagement of our hearts and minds. Part of loving the Lord with our hearts and our minds involves paying close attention to His words for us (Matt. 22:37). Matthew Henry gives counsel regarding our duties in worship, mainly as we sit under the ministry of the Word: “We must diligently attend to the word of God read and preached,” and “we must resolve to comply with the will of God as it is made known to us.”
Offering the sacrifice of fools in worship is the antithesis of drawing near to listen (Eccl. 5:1). While such things as insincere worship—going through the motions without real heart conviction—are included in the sacrifice of fools, Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 emphasizes hasty speech as being the mark of the kind of praise that fools offer to the Lord. If we are to be “quick to hear” and “slow to speak” in our dealings with other people, how much more slowly should we speak when we go before the Creator (James 1:19)? As many commentators have noted, the point of this is that our words must not outrun our thinking. We are to remember the greatness of our God in heaven and that He deserves only sincere words that accurately reflect our hearts and minds (Eccl. 5:2–3). Our temptation is to go through the motions to get the words out because we know we must speak to God. Often, this leads to hasty prayers and vows that are not well thought out. Those who seek to honor the Lord above all else will put thought into what they say in worship.
When we come into the Lord’s presence, it is particularly crucial for us to be purposeful about what we say and how we listen. We should come to corporate worship, expecting a word from God, namely, the faithful exposition of the Scriptures. Moreover, we should pray to the Lord with words carefully considered. We are to be quick to listen and slow to speak, responding to God thoughtfully that we might love Him with all of our hearts and minds.
See, God is very much concerned with the vows we make, especially since they are made in His name. Because we invoke His presence when we swear oaths, we must make sure that we swear only lawful oaths and then once sworn, we must always keep them.
Oaths are necessary for human society because of the tendency of fallen human beings to lie. As Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 tells us, oaths are extremely important to God — so important that it is better that we never make them at all than if we make them and do not fulfill them (Eccl. 5:4–5). God would rather have us ignore oaths altogether than have us make a vow only to break it.
When we break our vows, we deny that truth is sacred. For if we really agreed that truth was sacred, we would always be true to the promises that we make. If we break a promise made in God’s name, we affirm that His promise to hold us accountable is not valid.
Moreover, Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 also tells us that when we delay paying a vow, we make ourselves to be fools (Eccl. 5:4). It is the fool that has said in his heart that there is no God (Ps. 14:1). Whenever we do not keep our vows, we have really ceased to fear God’s holy judgment on those who break their oaths. If we no longer truly fear His judgment, we have acted as if God does not exist. He then becomes no more real to us than He is to the one who denies God with his mouth.
None of us will ever keep all of his vows perfectly before he dies. However, there is hope for us. When we break our promises, we have an advocate with our Father in heaven (1 John 2:1). He ever lives to intercede for us and plead our forgiveness if we would but repent and turn to Him (Heb. 7:25).
In glory, there will be no need for oaths because our glorification will remove any desire on our part to be less than truthful. Until then, we make lawful oaths on proper occasions so that we will be reminded that we live before the face of God and, therefore, must be as concerned with the truth as He is.
We are foolish if we think that we can make a lawful vow and then not pay it. God regards our oaths as sacred and will hold us accountable if we break them. Take some time today to consider the oaths you have taken and ask yourself if you have fulfilled them. If not, repent today and then begin to do what is necessary to fulfill your oaths. In doing so, you will affirm the sanctity of truth and live out your confession of faith in our God and Father.