Up to this point in our adventure, the Teacher hasn’t spoken about worship, at least not directly, but that changes in this passage; oh what an excellent adventure we are on; old Solomon doesn’t seem to miss anything!
Watch your step when you enter the house of God, go there to listen and don’t offer the sacrifice of fools; a colorful way to put it, don’t you agree? The house of God (Temple) was said to be the dwelling place of God on the earth, so entering into His presence is a time for a little respect, a time to listen more and speak less, and time to avoid letting your hypocrisy show too obviously; comforting, yes?
This is a common refrain in the Old Testament, for example:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
1 Samuel 15:22
We should enter God’s house eager to listen, to learn and to put into practice His Word, as we can clearly see in Samuel’s comment, yet often this is not the attitude of worshippers, either in Solomon’s time, or for that matter, our own. Putting the Word into practice tends to fly in the face of ritualistic worship in which ritual and ceremony may run the risk of replacing life application altogether; there is a serious warning here for us to consider.
Verses 2-3 speak of prayer, as we can see:
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.
OK, dear reader, I will admit that when thinking about prayer, these aren’t the first two verses that come to mind, but here they are and they must be dealt with. Solomon is trying to warn us about praying without considering what we pray for or about. Are our prayers empty and selfish? Are we merely filling the airwaves with the sound of our voices? Are we just repeating the same old requests over and over as though we can talk God into something, the way a child might try to outlast a parent in their ceaseless requests? Are we just repeating something from a book by rote, with no thought to the meaning? Could we, in our haste and selfish concerns be saying something to God that He would take offense to?
Prayer is a powerful thing when it is within God’s purpose, but to be honest, I don’t hear many of those uttered in “God’s house” I’m sorry to say.
In 4-7, the Teacher speaks of making vows (oaths) before God. Of course, as we know, Jesus spoke even more clearly centuries later when He summed up the subject by simply saying, “let your “yes” be yes, and your “no” be no.
Verses 8-9 seem to be on a different subject and obviously the NIV translators seem to agree, but I see them as transition into the next section; not quite about worship, and not quite about wealth. Maybe you’ll think I’m mistaken, but to me, these verses speak of faith in general.
If we look around us and see the poor being oppressed, taken advantage of, ripped off and defrauded, those who can least afford to defend themselves, who have so little with which to survive and feed their families… with the unofficial approval of the powers that be, it would be rather easy for a person to question not only God, but the whole basis of faith itself. Yet things like this go on under the sun. Here, the Teacher tells us that such is the way of this world apart from God. We should not be surprised by such things, although they are outrageous, for why would we be surprised when the lost behave as though they are lost? Make no mistake: a world that lives apart from God is lost indeed, and isn’t that the message we have seen here in Ecclesiastes through 4 chapters already?
Everything under the sun is meaningless, chasing after the wind, vanity, empty, futility itself. So many who should know better get sucked in, so many have their faith put to the supreme test in this life under the sun. We must be on our guard.
From this point, our Teacher turns once again to wealth; next time, let’s talk dollars and cents…