Ecclesiastes 5

5:1 [observations about religion, temple worship, and the kinds of worship and prayers that do not please God…] Guard your steps [make deliberate and prudent progress in approaching God; watch your step when you go to church!; approach God with reverence] when you go to the house of God [the temple; the place of public worship]. Go near to listen [cf. Jas. 1:19; Zeph. 1:7a] rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools [refers to those who have a tendency to make wrong choices; those whose choices demonstrate the opposite of wisdom], who [refers to those who approach God without reverence and with a false sense of confidence] do not know that they do wrong.

5:2 Do not be quick [rash] with your mouth [cf. Matt. 15:8], do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything [in prayer] before God. God is in heaven [His perspective, understanding, and wisdom exceeds ours; His answers must correspond to His purposes rather than ours; we can count on God to do the right thing] and you are on earth, so let your words be few [thus, the less likely we will say the wrong thing; the fool babbles on carelessly and irreverently].

Note: How we use our tongues…
• to express wanting to get out of worship Amos 8:5-6
• to express boredom at worship Malachi 1:10-13
• to speak boastful words Luke 18:9-14
• to speak words of dissension 1 Cor. 1:10
• to praise God and to curse people James 3:9-12

5:3 [a popular proverb from Solomon’s day; possible meaning: just as business worries disturb sleep, so does many words reveal a fool’s voice] As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool [a fool always chooses to speak rather than to listen] when there are many words [it is better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt (Abraham Lincoln)].

5:4 When you make a vow [making a promise to do something if God will grant a request] to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow [act with integrity in terms of what you promise to the Lord].

Note: In what ways do people try to “bribe” God with vows?

5:5 It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it [cf. Acts 5:1-11 re: Ananias and Sapphira].

5:6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin [do not let careless words lead you to make obligations you cannot pay]. And do not protest [make excuses for not fulfilling your promise] 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?

5:7 [a proverb] Much dreaming [one’s aspirations] and many words are meaningless [describes the emptiness and vanity that comes from a life not focused on honoring God]. Therefore stand in awe of God.

5:8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things [corruption]; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still [with so many levels of government and so many officials overseeing those areas, some corruption is inevitable; the latter part of this verse may mean that these officials cover up for one another].

Reports of corruption in government and the marketplace hardly surprise anyone today. Both in government and in business, a number of people find and seize opportunities to gain personal wealth dishonestly at the expense of others. Greed and the desire to get ahead can intoxicate and entice individuals to employ dishonest practices as a means of gaining wealth. Such practices often leave a trail of damaged and destroyed lives. And, as long as people allow their greed to go unchecked, corruption will continue to exist.

No society has ever been totally free from corruption. Corruption was as widespread in Solomon’s day as in our own. Solomon said that people should not be astonished at outbreaks of corruption in government. He noted the poor and those seeking justice and righteousness as two of the victims of corruption. Instead of finding the help they sought, they became the victims of a bureaucratic system that provided haven to corrupt officials. These officials protected or watched out for one another and disregarded their moral obligation to provide the poor and the oppressed with a fair hearing. These corrupt officials operated without regard to the demands of the law concerning how to treat the most vulnerable members of society (see Lev. 19:15 and Deut. 24:17).

5:9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.

The general idea of this verse seems to be that while corruption inevitably grows in the dark recesses of government bureaucracy, government is still necessary. It is better to have government, with its imperfections, than to have anarchy. A few may profit from corrupt practices, but people are best served by a king or organized authority. A good king can address and stem the tide of corruption. He can help bring stability to the land (see Prov. 29:4,14) and insure that the profit from the land benefits all—both ruler and people.

5:10 [reasons to guard against the love of money and to not make the pursuit of wealth life’s goal…] [1] Whoever loves money never has money enough [wealth is addictive]; [2] whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income [wealth does not satisfy]. This too is meaningless.

Solomon cautioned against the love of money and the pursuit of wealth. He offered several reasons why money breeds dissatisfaction.

First, wealth is addictive. Solomon observed that the one who loves money is never satisfied with money. Those who love money are consumed with thoughts of how to guard and add to what they have. In some cases, the love of money leads people to make moral or ethical compromises in order to acquire more (see 1 Tim. 6:10). People eager for or always grasping at money can easily lose their grip on what really matters in life. They easily can get swept away in the strong currents of greed and sink in the turbulent waters of ruin and destruction.

Second, wealth does not satisfy. Whoever loves wealth, Solomon said, is never satisfied with his income or with the things that money can buy (see Prov. 27:20). The reason things cannot ultimately satisfy is because God alone, not wealth and possessions, can satisfy the deepest hungers of the human heart (see Ecc. 3:11). Jesus said that “one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The one who dies with the most toys does not win, but only leaves more stuff behind.

5:11 [3] As goods increase, so do those who consume them [wealth attracts human leeches]. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?

Third, wealth attracts human parasites. When good things increase, you can count on the arrival of the ones who consume them. Relatives, friends, or the tax agent are always ready to nibble away at our wealth. When the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32) set off for a distant land with his inheritance, he found no shortage of people to help him squander his wealth on wild living. However, when he had spent all of his money he could not find a single friend to take him in or buy him a meal.

Fourth, wealth and possessions are cold companions. Howard Hughes, once the richest man in the world, died a miserable and lonely death. He could gaze at his possessions but derived no comfort from them.

5:12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but [4] the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep [wealth promotes insomnia because of worries over how it will be maintained or fear that it may be lost].

Fifth, wealth promotes insomnia. A person of average means has little or no problem sleeping at night. He does not have to worry about what will happen to his stuff or whether people like him for who he is or because of his money.

As a young (and poor) minister I drove an old car. When a friend made light of my modest transportation I reminded him of three things. First, insurance on my vehicle was cheap. Second, my car doubled in value every time I filled it up. And third, I never worried about where I parked it. Solomon said that the abundance of the rich robs him of sleep because he is always worried about his assets and what may happen to them. The wealthy are more likely to be concerned about where they park their cars.

5:13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: [5] wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner [hoarding wealth causes harm and suffering to the one who hoards it],

Sixth, hoarding wealth is a sickening tragedy. I once heard a preacher remark that some folks get all they can, can all they get, and then sit on the can! While it is wise to save money for the future, it is unwise to be so obsessed with money that we selfishly hoard it. The one who hoards wealth fears having any of it slip away. The irony is that the miser will eventually lose everything (Ecc. 5:15). We cannot take our money with us when we die—but we can send certain treasures on ahead (see Matt. 6:20).

Jim Elliot, a missionary martyred in Ecuador in 1956, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” The only things we can keep are the things we give to God. Since our funeral plans will not include a U-Haul, we should purpose to send valuable treasure on ahead by being generous.

5:14 or [6] wealth lost through some misfortune [wealth can be easily lost], so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him.

5:15 [7] Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand [you cannot take wealth with you when you die].

5:16 [a life spent in the pursuit of wealth is a misspent life] This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?

5:17 All his days he [the one who makes the pursuit of wealth his aim in life] eats in darkness [metaphor for isolation and lack of joy], with great frustration, affliction and anger.

Solomon said that both the miser (5:13) and the one who loses everything in a bad business venture (5:14) will leave the world in the same way—empty-handed (5:15). According to Solomon, a life spent in the pursuit of wealth is a wasted life because life’s ultimate meaning is not found in riches (5:16). Money does not give meaning to life. In fact, both the miser and the one who loses his wealth orchestrate for themselves a lonely and miserable existence. They eat in darkness and experience sorrow, sickness, and anger—perhaps as a result of regrets over lost wealth.

5:18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.

5:19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.

5:20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life [his mortality], because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

Solomon affirmed the importance of working hard, accepting one’s position in life, and enjoying the blessings graciously given by God (5:18). We should receive riches and wealth as a gift of God. After all, it is God who gives us “the power to gain wealth” (Deut. 8:18) and “who richly provides us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). We should also recognize that it is God who allows or enables us to enjoy these gifts. For example, good food means little without the taste buds to enjoy it. Therefore, we should thank God for our taste buds as well as our food!

Viewing material resources as a gift from God brings satisfaction and joy. However, living for the sake of accumulating and holding on to wealth brings discontent as noted in verse 17. Material things alone cannot satisfy the deepest hunger of the human heart. Hoarding wealth can not fill the heart with joy. Ultimately it is our relationship with God—not things—that brings joy. Those who accept their lot in life and enjoy God’s daily blessings are less likely to be preoccupied with their mortality or depressed by the fact that life is brief. Rather they look to God for the wisdom to enjoy and make the most of every day (see Ps. 90:12).

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