Ecclesiastes Exegesis


1) When going to the throne of God, we should go in reverence (Exodus 3:5), and there it should not be the formal worship of a foolish man whose conscience is untouched so that, in spite of his worship, he lives in sin. Our prayers and promises to God should be thoughtfully and sincerely made in the presence of the mighty God. This cannot be done if we are dreaming of worldly affairs. Our promises should be honestly followed out. Broken promises should not be excused, but confessed, for God punishes. We should truly fear (reverence and worship) the mighty God (5:1-7). In view of the prevailing false and empty worship one should be surprised to see oppression.

2) Having demonstrated quite fully that all things are vain, the Preacher feels the desirability of warning his readers lest, being set in the midst of so much vanity, they themselves become vain. He warns them to watch that area of life where such vanity is most likely to gain entrance, namely, the area of worship. 5:1-7 is a warning against formalism – those who have substituted the sin of formalism for the sin of disobedience. Inward obedience was not running parallel to outward observance.

Verse 1: The custom of going regularly to God’s house was apparently being strictly obeyed.

What would be normally regarded as a commendable practice is here described as being a course of conduct that is fraught with dangers as long as men drew near in their present harmful attitude of formalism. For such persons the road to God’s house is like unto a rocky road that might bring men to fall. Therefore the caution, “Watch your step.”

“Draw near to hear” – Hearing (anticipation, awareness, acknowledge) is the primary duty and involves obeying. Drawing near to hear implies to “be ready to hear” and would, therefore, be devoid of formalism.

The individual who has dropped to the level of formalism in religious practices has sunk to the level of “stupid fellows” of whom it is further said that they are ignorant. The result of such conduct is that they do wrong.

The concluding clause of cause depicts the unfortunate state of the poor formalists in worship. They have dropped to a level of stupidity that prevents their seeing or understanding that what they deem to be the doing of good is in reality the doing of evil. Surely, there would hardly be a sadder delusion: the works done are the very opposite of what they are thought to be.

The warning against formalism now turns to the subject of prayer. A degenerate age is content with offering words by way of prayer and will usually make many of them because prayer has become an empty ceremony. Feeling the emptiness of what they offer, men will attempt to make up the deficiency in quality by increased quantity. (guard foot, guard mouth)

– Warned to be careful about the bringing of a single word before God

“God in heavens – you on earth” – This very fact points to God’s divine and supreme station in contrast with which we are mere earthworms. Our lowly condition over against the divine majesty should inspire us with due caution, for what miserable and lowly creatures we are.

A man can make a fool of himself even over his prayers if they are unwisely offered.

The vain making of vows (Deuteronomy 23:21-23)

The basis:

I. These vows are being dealt with in an almost frivolous spirit; they are rashly made and just as rashly broken.

He condemns that rash mode of trying to dispose of a rash vow by the mechanical prescription of a sacrifice to cover the seeming deficiency – goes to priest, prescribes a sacrifice.

II. So simply does he expect to dispose of sin. Those who trifle thus with vows are reminded that such levity rouses God’s just anger and induces Him to destroy “the work of the hands” of such a person.

III. This last statement implies rendering him successful whatever a man attempts. God’s blessings cannot attend such a one who so flippantly seeks to despise of religious obligations.

The warning against formalism includes all forms of religious observances, especially those that are performed at the sanctuary. After the general observation that all formalistic worship is a “fool’s sacrifice” Preacher dwells on two areas of worship where formalism is most liable to show itself – prayer and vows – and supplements the discussion by an indication of the cheap spirit of bargaining in religious duties into which formalists are apt to fall. (Leupold)

3) 5:1-7 – A Man’s Reach Should Not Exceed His Grasp

1. The Rectitude of Ritualism v. “Ritualism” (v. 1)
2. The Rashness of Reaction v. Recollectedness of Religion (v. 2)
3. The Refraining of Reverence (v. 3)
4. The Repudiation of Responsibility (v. 4-6)
5. The Recklessness v. Resoluteness of Righteousness (v. 5-7)

v. 2 – When you go into the presence of God, remember it is not to be in a posing mood; everything a man says to God is recognized by God and held clear in the man’s record. Don’t forget you’re in the presence of God.

4) Jaunty liberalism, enslaving superstition, rash vows, wordy prayers, shallow reverence and dreary worship

5) We’ve tried science, education, drinking, is there anything else left to try? Religion = be careful when you do – a sacrifice of promises

6) A thoughtless resorting to the sanctuary; inattention and indevotion here; precipitancy in religious vows and promises are still as common as in the days of Solomon. And for these evils the only remedy is that which he prescribes – a heartfelt and abiding reverence – “Fear thou God,” “God is in heaven and those upon the earth,” “keep thy foot when…”

1. There is a preparation for the sanctuary:
– Remove shoes – Divest self of secular anxieties and worldly projects.
– Be ready to hear – Half the power of preaching lies in the mental preparation.

2. In devotional exercises be intent and deliberate. (v. 2, 3)

3. Be not rash with vows and promises.

7) Look, you’re getting no help or comfort from your worship because you’re coming with preoccupied minds. You’re like a person who can’t sleep at night because his brain is tired and he takes his problems to bed with him. In such a mood you promise more than you perform. The words of your prayers are more devout than the desires of your heart. You speak words you don’t mean. You offer sacrifices as a bothersome necessity rather than in obedience to the laws of God.

I’ll show you a better way to worship. Go to the church with the right purposes. Train yourself to obey God. Keep yourself from being led astray. Do not press for a false emotion or strain for an insincere attitude. But, above all else, watch what you say. Be careful of your prayers. Do not make any promises to God unless you intend to keep them. And, once you do make a promise to God, by all means keep it. Be considerate and prudent in what you say about your fellow man.

8) “keep thy foot” – Stand still and be attentive to manifest reverence.

“sacrifice of fools” – Worship is called sacrifice because it is an offering.

9) “keep foot” – Go not with rash and hasty steps, indicating light and inconsiderate thoughtlessness. Think of the nature of the place, of the purpose for which you are going.

“sacrifice of fools” – Sacrifice that is offered without the heart, this is the fool’s offering because there cannot be a greater folly than to imagine God is pleased with it.

Be more ready to hear, with a sincere desire to know and obey the will of God.

1. Be reverent – “watch your step.”
“Be ready to hear” indicates an attitude of receptivity.
The “sacrifice of fools” is any irreverent or insincere approach to God.

“All a fool knows how to do is wrong – even in his worship.” Moffatt

2. Keep your vows – A vow is a contract with God, a commitment to him.

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