Many in our society are seeking deep satisfaction. Some seek to find it in a successful career, or a successful home life, or great wealth. However the writer of Ecclesiastes states that lasting satisfaction is not found in any of these areas alone (Chapter 1). In fact it is not found in pleasure, self indulgence or great wisdom and learning either (Chapter 2) – it is found only in knowing the God who made us and gives both what we need and the ability to enjoy what we have (Chapter 3). Yet man rejects his creator’s message. This leads to oppression and corruption of work, however even in this fallen world God’s mercy is evident in that He grants us companionship and value in wisdom (Chapter 4).
In Chapter 5 the spotlight is turned on an area of life which does have lasting meaning, how we act before God, and an area where we can be deceived, that is money. The positive is contrasted with the negative. All too often our world ignores a relationship with God, which matters for all eternity, and focuses on wealth which cannot be taken beyond the grave. Wealth, all too often, can deceive and harm us. But to focus on God’s things means to be humble before Him and have a desire to learn His ways. These are attitudes of mind which not everyone has.
Pursue God’s Ways – You Will Find Lasting Good In Them (5:1 – 9)
Be Quick to Listen to God (5:1 – 3)
“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. 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. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words” Ecclesiastes 5:1 – 3
All in this world is vanity and has no lasting influence or consequence – except the service of God – so be quick to listen to find out about Him! Solomon has multiplied the areas of life that have no lasting or eternal value, yet now he introduces one area that does have eternal value. We need to avoid being continuously filled with our own thoughts, ideas and plans. The need of the hour is to be ready to hear the almighty’s word. What is the cause of any poor service in us? Is it the lack of good teaching or the inability to apply good teaching to our lives? It is easier to hear the direction “Love our neighbours as ourselves”, but often harder to put it into practice. It is easier to be occupied with the preachers dress, mannerisms, tone of voice, gestures or emphasis than to hear the word of God spoken to us from the Bible.
The contrast is immediately made with those who do not listen to their creator – those whom Solomon calls fools. We need to be careful to avoid the same criticism. Worldly thoughts or plans are all too often brought not just to the door, but into the church itself. It is all too easy to be distracted by cares, concerns and the pleasures of this world instead of focusing on the worship of God. True worship comes from the adoration of God. If we are adoring the great football game played yesterday (in our minds) while outwardly singing the praise of God, then no matter how good the musical accompaniment is, our worship will be hollow.
The foolish are filled with their own ways, interests and religious desires – they form their own God and serve that idol! If it is not the God of the Bible that fills our thoughts, but instead a god of our own making that is acceptable to our lifestyle, then we flatter and deceive ourselves and are fools indeed to reject the worship of the one true God. He alone, due to His truth, holiness, love, faithfulness, grace and mercy is worthy of all honour from His people. But worse still such people do not know they do evil – poor deluded people who are in danger of judgment, of hell. Why? Because they have never listened to God.
We have a God, in heaven, who is worth listening too. He is enthroned in majesty, majestic in splendour and holiness. The motivation to hear Him is love for His attributes, love for who He is, and respect for His holiness. We need to recognise that we are sinful by nature, prone to foolishness. It is God who is infinite in wisdom and knowledge, strength and power. Yet the believer has the Holy Spirit working in them, helping them to pray and illuminating His word (the Bible). We need to hear God’s word, recognizing that we are limited by our corrupt nature and in desperate need of God’s infinite wisdom.
Be Careful With Your Vows (5:4 – 7)
“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 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? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.” Ecclesiastes 5:4 – 7
While many areas of life do not last or have no real significance before God – our words do have real significance. The rashness of the mouth causes the individual to sin. In a Biblical context the vow was often a promise to make a sacrifice if God looked favourably on a particular petition – e.g. Jacob giving a tenth if the Lord provided for him (Gen 28:20-22). Japheth promised to sacrifice whatever came out of the doors of his house to meet him if God gave him victory in battle (Judges 11:30 – 31), and Hannah asking for a son which she promised to dedicate to the Lord (1 Sam 1:11). As the sacrifice was often costly people looked for an excuse to avoid making it, but in breaking the vow the individual incurred guilt before God. If you do not make a vow you cannot be held responsible for breaking it.
Our words will affect our eternal destiny. God will hold people guilty for broken promises. On the last Day, when all of humanity will stand before God, unforgiven guilt (which can only be forgiven through the work of Christ on the cross) will condemn people to hell for all eternity. Instead of a vow, instant readiness is the best proof of sincerity. It is better not to make the promise than to make and then break it.
The most common vows people make are their marriage vows. If a married individual seeks a relationship with an individual who is not their spouse then God will call them both to account. Yet further to the promises we make there is how we use God’s name. God has also promised to hold guilty those who misuse His name (Exodus 20:7), yet God’s name is used often as a swear word, or an expletive to reduce tension. How much God means to an individual is revealed by how they use His name. It is a real danger that Solomon considers – adultery, the breaking of the marriage vow, is common in our western secular society.
“There must be a real conviction of our total weakness, acted out in simple dependence upon Omnipotent grace; else the most sincere vow will be found too feeble an engagement for the hour of temptation, and will issue in discouragement and perplexity” Charles Bridges
Be Careful With Your Actions (5:8,9)
“If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” Ecclesiastes 5:8
Solomon brings to our attention that oppression can occur on a wide-scale. Oppression occurs in not just a village, or a town, or a city, but a whole province, and we could add, across a country. The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission has admitted that UK law has been interpreted too narrowly against Christians . The political manoeuvring of sinful ruling officials often results in suffering for the powerless. We should not be amazed when our state or society takes a dim view of Christian ethics or morality as we know that, in spite of our “liberal and tolerant” society, that the sinful nature and the prince of this world, Satan (Ephesians 2:2) is stirring up disobedience against God. Yet the highest authority, the Lord, does not look on as an unconcerned spectator. Instead He watches and waits for the perfect time to right the wrongs, either here or in eternity.
“But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.” Ecclesiastes 5:9
God has perhaps established a balancing mechanism to check the tendency of the sinful heart to oppress others. Oppression can be suppressed to some extent, by mutual interest. Our happiness and misery is given into each other’s power to a certain degree. The king benefits from the field; hence it is in his interest to have productive workers and not to emaciate them. Humility is the lesson for the rich, and contentment the lesson for the poor. The rich need to value the efforts of the poor and realise their good depends on those efforts. The poor need to recognize that the land often cannot support many rich individuals and that usually, but by no means always, it is the rich person’s skill or hard work that has created their wealth.
There is an application for us all – we need to use our actions wisely for the benefit of others as ultimately this is a blessing to us also. The apostle Paul makes this clear in the husband and wife relationship (Ephesians 5:28,29). Similarly parents will often have their own greatest peace when the children are happily occupied.
Do Not Pursue Money – You Will Not Find Lasting Satisfaction In Wealth (5:10 – 17)
Money Does Not Provide Satisfaction (5:10 – 12)
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?” Ecclesiastes 5:10,11
The desire for money is rooted in so many – the popularity of the UK’s National Lottery, the desire of many to gain wealth through sport or popular music all testify to this – as do to a certain extent the recent riots in the UK (August 2011). While the riots started as a grievance against Police action in London, they soon spread to other major cities with looting and greed as the main focus.
Yet the man who had great wealth says it does not give true satisfaction. We end up worshipping it, putting it central, and then we can never be satisfied. Our naturally covetous hearts prevent this. The more we have, the more we want. But the more we have the more time, effort, energy and cost it takes to run and maintain what we have. Big houses require more work to clean and look after. Big cars are notoriously expensive to insure, service and repair. All of this places more demands on our time and finances, which can run us down in the end.
“Sweet is the sleep of a labourer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” Ecclesiastes 5:12
Work tires out the body promoting sleep, and having enough satisfies us as much as having more than sufficient, this is simply put in the phrase “enough is as good as a feast”. Yet the rich man’s wealth often denies him sleep. He can have worries over losing his wealth, worries over planning and executing all the work required to maintain his lands, houses and finances. But sleep can also be denied because of the love of wealth. The thought of possessions dominates the rich man’s thoughts preventing rest. Only the Holy Spirit can control the covetous sinful nature giving us peace. Enough is as good as a feast, and the Holy Spirit makes us content with enough.
Money Can Fail Us Now (5:13,14)
“There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.” Ecclesiastes 5:13, 14
Many a man may use concern for his family as a cloak for covetous desire, but Solomon has seen estates disappear and leave the heir penniless. Uncertain riches are to be contrasted with solid promise from the Lord to provide for His people (Philippians 4:19). The best provision we can make for our children is to give them a work ethic and to fear the Lord, that they may know His perfect provision. It is a poor substitute to teach our children, by our example if not by explicit speech, to trust in uncertain riches. But riches have the capacity to harm our souls and others and not just prove uncertain for our own provision.
“Their riches do them hurt, make them proud secure, and in love with the world, draw away their hearts from God and duty, and make it very difficult for them to enter the kingdom of God … (riches) not only put them into a capacity for gratifying their own lusts and living luxuriously, but give them an opportunity of oppressing others and dealing hardly with them.” Matthew Henry
Money Can Fail Us In Eternity (5:15 – 17)
“As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.” Ecclesiastes 5:15 – 17
All our physical labours will be burned up with this present earth (2 Peter 3:7). Ultimately this is another part of Solomon’s central idea he states in this book – all (in this world) is vanity. All our efforts are short lived, we leave them behind and they will be burnt up when this present world is transformed (Romans 8:20,21).
Do you envy the rich person? Then don’t! As God’s people we have far greater blessings, with less care, less temptation and without the disappointment!
Pursue Contentedness – True Satisfaction (5:18 – 20)
What Is Truly Good – Enjoying What We Have (5:18)
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” Ecclesiastes 5:18
Solomon now turns to a much brighter contrast than the blight of great wealth. True consolation for the labour and hard work we experience in this life is found in having our needs met (being able to eat and drink) and to find enjoyment in some aspects of our work (enjoyment in all our toil). True contentment is not found in wealth, much ease or much leisure, but in working to provide sufficient for self and others.
I can’t see me retiring before the age of 70, but I do know of individuals my age who are planning on retiring at 55! I am often curious as to who will be most content. Our desires (and the world) tell us the one with much ease and leisure. However Solomon’s experience seems to point in another direction. Again we need to remember – the more we have, the more we want and the more time effort and energy it takes to maintain what we have.
Enjoying What We Have Is A Gift From God – And Truly Satisfying (5:19,20)
“Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” Ecclesiastes 5:19,20
True contentment arises from thanksgiving to God! We need to acknowledge and thank God for His provision of the blessings He gives us. Are we successful in our jobs? Then it is God who has given us the health, strength, abilities and stability in our lives to achieve our success. He has promised to meet our needs when He is placed first (e.g. Matthew 6:33, Philippians 4:19) and He graciously delivers for His people. To have and enjoy the fruit of our labour is a gift from God worthy of thanks.
The true servant of God is a truly happy man. They enjoy what God has provided for them and have their covetous heart tamed by the Holy Spirit. In contrast having riches makes entering into this earthly rest (as well as the heavenly rest) very difficult. In terms of this present life the Apostle Paul makes the dangers of riches very clear:
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6:10
But the greatest danger is when the love of money chokes out a love for God:
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24
Lessons From Chapter 5
Don’t Come To God Full of Your Own Ideas – Learn From Him
Fools rush into God’s presence bringing their own thoughts and ideas. Remember who God is. He is the infinitely wise, powerful and holy creator of this universe, who will judge our words and actions, holding us to promises we make to Him.
Don’t Be Seduced by Money – It is Uncertain, It Does Not Satisfy, and It Can Lead Us Away From God to Our Hurt
Remember that by nature we have covetous hearts, the more we have the more we want. Enough is as good as a feast, but it is only God that can make us truly content with enough, as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. Wealth is unreliable, but God’s everlasting provision is completely reliable!
Be Content with What You Have – as the Believer Has God Himself with Them
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5
God does not disappoint, He loves us with a depth we cannot imagine, He always does what is right and good, and He is personally committed to His people for all eternity. Let us be content with what we have, knowing that we have God presence with us, and Him providing for us.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.