Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
2 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.
3 A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfil it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfil it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore, fear God.Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
I vow to thee my God
Today’s reading from ‘the teacher’ concerns vows. The Jews developed rules surrounding the legalism of vows. In particular how to nullify them, when they would expire and the penalties associated with reneging on the promises made. It was a bit more elaborate than crossing your fingers behind your back! Also, vows were different to oaths, which were more likely to be made in the law courts rather than the temple. Such was the inclination of the facetious religious Jews, such as Pharisees, to miss the point. They inevitably clashed with Jesus with respect to vows and this can be seen in Mark chapter 7 (verses 9-13).
Meanwhile, back in Old Testament times, vows generally were related to promises people made to God, particularly those said in the temple, such as the one Hannah made in 1 Samuel chapter 1.
The teacher (writer of Ecclesiastes) correctly identifies that God isn’t impressed by hollow words, especially within the temple. I believe this could apply to our church services where we should be sincere in our words and worship, otherwise it would be better to keep quiet! I believe this passage can be interpreted to challenge us to consider aligning our hearts with our words, as God is not impressed with ritual without relevance and reverence.
I remember a long time ago, one vicar I knew, used to warn the congregation about praying the post communion prayer.
“We thank you for feeding us, with the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ. Through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice.”
He called it the ‘dynamite prayer’, and it is based on the words of Paul in the letter to the Romans (12:1).
So next time we are in church, let us be careful about the words we use, whether they be our own, or reciting those of others, such as the responses to prayers. What could be more pleasing to God, when your expression of praise is echoed in your heart?
You know me better than I know myself. Search my heart and create in me sincere and worthy praise of your majesty. Help me to see the rich truths of our church worship, in word and song, and that I may be caught up in the eternal praise in the heavenlies. May I enter your gates with thanksgiving in my heart.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Ecclesiastes 5:8-12