For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 5

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

5:1.  “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.”


The Moffatt translation renders this, “Never enter God’s house carelessly; draw near him to listen, and then your service is better than what fools offer - for all a fool knows is how to do wrong.”


“... the sacrifice of fools” is what the unconverted in their ignorance think is worship, and it just such a “sacrifice” that is offered for the most part every Lord’s day by the vast majority of those who constitute today’s Christendom, but who have never been born again spiritually by accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. 


True worship is that which is offered by born again baptized believers on the first day of the week, when they assemble around the Lord’s table as directed in Scripture, everything said and done there being at the impulse of the Holy Spirit, and apart from the “ministry” of a clergyman, priest, or other human intermediary, every believer being a royal priest as declared in 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”


The misled “worshipers” described in this verse know not that they are doing wrong, for their false teachers have taught them that what they are doing is right.


5:2.  “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.”


While the primary lesson here is against making hasty vows to God, the instruction applies also to the presentation of our worship.  We are not to be in a hurry to speak in God’s presence, either in making a vow, or in the presentation of our worship when we assemble around the Lord’s table on the first day of each week.  Christendom for the most part having long since lost the knowledge of what constitutes scriptural worship, the “worshippers” don’t speak at all at the meeting convened for worship, but leave that to the hired clergyman or priest.  But even amongst the small minority who still adhere to the scriptural order, it happens all too frequently that men participate audibly when it is painfully obvious that the Holy Spirit has not impelled them to speak.


Those who would draw near to God to worship should do so in reverential fear, remembering that He is the omnipotent Creator, they His creatures.


5:3.  “For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fools voice is known by multitude of words.”


The first part of this verse is also translated, “Surely a dream comes from a multiplicity of business,” “For nightmares come with many cares,” “Dreaming comes from much worrying.”  One may become so obsessed with business that it intrudes upon his sleep in the form of disturbing dreams, and robs him of his necessary rest.


And just as the sleep of the over zealous businessman is disturbed by dreams, so does the foolish man betray his foolish  thinking in the volume of his idle words.  The wise man’s words are few and well chosen.


5:4.  “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.”


When a man vows a vow to God he should fulfil it as quickly as possible, for God is displeased with the man, the fool, who makes  vows hastily, and then neglects to keep them.  This knowledge should impel very careful consideration of promises we make to God, lest we find ourselves unable to fulfil what we have promised.


5:5.  “Better is it that thou shouldst not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”


It is far better not to make a vow at all, than to make one and not keep it.


5:6.  “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands.”


The vow not kept makes the delinquent a liar; nor should he seek to excuse his sin by saying to the angel (probably God’s agent the priest), that he had made the vow in error.  A vow is not something to be uttered lightly, without very careful thought as to whether it can be kept.


As for God’s destroying “the work of thy hands,” this is generally understood to mean that the breaking of a vow will provoke God’s anger, so that instead of blessing the man’s work, He will destroy everything the offender undertakes.


The severe punishment attending the breaking of a vow reveals the terrible nature of the sin of lying, its heinousness deriving perhaps from the fact that it was by Satan’s lie to Eve that sin came into the world.


5:7.  “For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.”


This is variously translated, “For through the multitude of dreams and vanities there are also many words: but fear thou God,” “For it was done amidst a multitude of dreams and vanities and many words - but towards God be thou reverent,” “For through many empty dreams come many vows,” “For in many dreams and follies and many words - this remains: You shall revere God,” For when dreams increase, empty words grow many: but do you fear God.”


As a result of dreams and multiplied empty words, many useless things are done, such as making rash vows; but man’s blessing lies in his having a reverential awe of God, which expresses itself in obedient living.


5:8.  “If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter; for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.”


As God’s amanuenses, Solomon advised that no one should be surprised or shocked at seeing oppression of the poor, or perversion of justice by corrupt government officials.  These crimes were only to be expected from men with fallen sinful natures.


The latter half of the verse is generally taken to mean that there are many ranks of judges and government officials; and while “he that is higher than the highest” may refer to God, it is understood by many scholars to apply to the king who is the highest human official or ruler.


5:9.  “Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.”


The produce of the earth feeds all, including the king, for he too, like every other man, cannot live apart from what the earth produces.


The Wycliffe Bible Commentary explains this verse “... not only do all the officials get a share of the extortion, but there is no cultivated area which does not fall under taxation.”


5:10.  “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.”


He who sets his heart on the accumulation of silver, i.e., worldly wealth, will never be satisfied, no matter how much he accumulates; nor will a covetous man’s possessions ever satisfy him; but the truth is that in the final analysis the quest of both is as worthless as chasing the wind.


5:11.  “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?”


The worthlessness of earthly things is further declared in the fact that as a man’s estate enlarges so do his expenses: there is an increasing retinue of servants to be maintained, so that while the owner may find pleasure in looking upon his possessions, that is really the only pleasure he derives from them; and as noted already, when it comes his time to die he will not be able to take even one penny with him into eternity.


5:12.  “The sleep of the laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.”


The sleep of the laboring man is untroubled by anxious care, but the contrary is true of the rich man, for concern relative to his possessions robs him of sleep.


5:13.  “There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.”


“... sore” is also translated grievous, incurable, great, the evil which they describe being the means whereby their riches sometimes bring evil upon those who possess them, that occurrence  being described in such terms as “by evil adventure ... perish by being ill employed ... in some unlucky venture, etc.”  A possible dramatic example of such loss is that which occurred in the great stock market crash of the 1930's, which bankrupted rich men overnight, and led some of them to commit suicide.


5:14.  “But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand.”


“... evil travail” is also translated, “evil adventure; by being ill employed; an evil chance; unlucky venture.”  By some such means as those mentioned here, riches may vanish, and the man who expected to be able to leave them to his son, is reduced to poverty so that the son inherits nothing and is thus left penniless.


5:15.  “As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.”


As men come into this world naked, possessing nothing, so do they leave it.  Whatever riches a man may amass must all be left behind on earth as his soul departs either to eternal bliss or eternal torment depending on whether he trusted Christ as his Savior.


5:16.  “And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath labored for the wind?”


This continues the description of the man who has amassed wealth and then lost it, so that his remaining days on earth are spent in penury, there being not even lasting earthly happiness for all his toil; all his labor to make money being as worthless as if he had chased the wind.


5:17.  “All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.”


“All his days” in the present context seem to relate to the part of his life after he has lost all his wealth, so that the remainder of his days are beclouded or darkened mentally, spent not only in poverty, but in sorrow, anger, and mental perturbation.


5:18.  “Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.”


Solomon’s assessment of one’s life is that it is good and proper for men to eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, that being the portion God has given men during their lives here on earth.


5:19.  “Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.”


To some men God gives riches and wealth, and the health to enjoy them, and such men may rightly rejoice in the labor connected with the management and use of their God-given wealth.  There is nothing wrong with a man’s being rich: it is the coveting and selfish use of wealth that is sinful.


5:20.  “For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.”


This is also translated, “... he shall not often think of the brevity of his life, because God keeps his heart occupied with gladness; he will not brood over the fewness of his days, for God is giving him his heart’s delight; he will hardly dwell on the shortness of his life, because God lets him busy himself with the joy of his heart.”


Relative to what is written here The Liberty Bible Commentary makes the following instructive comment, “The man who achieves this recommended perspective enjoys a heart-joy that makes the circumstances of a given day inconsequential, for God causes him to be continuously occupied with joy.”

[Ecclesiastes 6]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough