Enjoy this Ecclesiastes 5 summary!
Relating to God
So, let’s get to thinking about God – seeing as nothing is worth anything apart from him. And the Preacher wants to help you do that. So, Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 he’s going to tell us about how we should relate to God. And throughout these 7 verses we’ll be repeatedly admonished about our speech in regard to God. Let’s first read verses 1 and 2 where we’ll be told that our words to God should be carefully thought out, and few.
Words to God Should be Carefully Thought Out and Few
KJV Ecclesiastes 5:1 Keep thy foot [guard your steps/be careful what you do] 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. 2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
So, when you go to worship God, listen a lot and speak very little. Remember your sinfulness. Don’t be like a fool that doesn’t consider that he does evil. Don’t feel the need to be quick to say anything. Remember that God is in heaven and knows what you need. He’s in heaven and is the one in control. You want to hear what he says, rather than him hearing what you think. So, humble yourself, settle down, and listen to God. That’s what we should do as we come to worship the Lord.
First Proverb about Dreams and Words
Then the Preacher adds this proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:3…
3 ¶ For a dream cometh through the multitude of business [many cares – explain this]; and a fool’s voice is known by [comes through a] multitude of words.
He’s going to give another proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:7. But the idea is that you don’t want to be like the fool who isn’t careful about his words and just talks and talks.
Vows to God Should be Thoughtfully Made and Always Kept
Then, next in Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, we’re led to consider something else about our speech in relation to God. Your vows and promises to God should be thoughtfully made, and always kept.
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. 5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. 6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh [you] to sin; neither say thou before the angel [messenger/priest], that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice [because of what you say], and destroy the work of thine hands?
So, then, if you do end up opening your mouth and saying something and in this case you make a vow or a promise to God – don’t take that lightly. Do the thing you said you would do. If you have no intention of doing what you promised, you would be better to just not make any promises to God.
And in Old Testament Israel, this promise would be a formal thing that the priest would be involved in. And you don’t want that minister to have to come and then be faced with having to explain your rash promise to him. But it’s not just the human minister you have to deal with in a situation like that. You have God who is now angry and could potentially destroy the work of your hands because you lied to him. You told him you’d do something and you didn’t do it. He holds people responsible for this kind of thing. Don’t be light about making promises to God. Your words directed toward him matter.
Second Proverb about Dreams and Words
And then the Preacher ends this section about our words to God giving a second proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:7.
7 ¶ For in the multitude of dreams [I think not the ones from God, just natural ones] and many words there are also divers vanities: but [here’s the focus] fear thou God.
Fear God. Do this by:
- Really considering the things you say to God and
- Following through on whatever you say to him with those thoughtful words of yours.
So, God is very much in the picture in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. We’ve been taught how to relate to him with our words.
How to Think of Oppression
But I think that God drops back out of the picture as we transition into the next section – in
Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 – where we’re brought back to the matter of oppression. In this case, we’re instructed on how to think about oppression. Before, we were just made aware of the awful reality of the matter. But now we’re going to be taught how to think – or, really, how not to think – about that awful reality…
8 ¶ If thou seest the oppression [oppression/extortion] of the poor, and violent perverting [robbery] of judgment [justice] and justice [righteousness] in a province, marvel [amazed/astonished/astounded/wonder] not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth [a high official is watched over/protected by a higher official]; and there be higher than they [there are higher officials over them, who protect them]. 9 Moreover the profit [produce] of the earth is for all [of these officials]: the king himself is served by the field.
Don’t Be Amazed
So, the Preacher advises us against being amazed or astonished or astounded when we see the poor being extorted – their goods being seized unjustly. When we see justice and righteousness being robbed in a province.
Now, he’s not telling us to not be concerned. He’s certainly not telling us that extortion and robbery of justice and righteousness are good things. He’s simply advising us to not view this as some strange unusual thing that’s never happened before.
Why? Why not marvel at this? Because one official watches over another. And unfortunately, I think this is not talking about accountability. I think this is a use of the word “regardeth” that means something more along the lines of “protect”. So, one official is protected by another. And then there are higher officials over them that protect them.
So the idea is that there’s a plethora of corrupt officials and they’re all in on the corruption. So, is there really any reason you’d marvel at the fact that corruption runs rampant when you’ve got a pyramid of unprincipled evil men in control and watching over and protecting each other?
In addition to those considerations, we have Ecclesiastes 5:9. There we’re told that the produce of the land is for all of these corrupt officials. And of course, the top of the line is the king. It doesn’t go any higher than him. And we can assume that he’s in on the take as well. And what Ecclesiastes 5:9 reminds us of is that he, too, like the rest of the officials that watch out for each other – he’s a recipient of the produce of the land.
Again, we have no mention of God and of his ultimate judgement of evil – like we saw earlier in the book. This is all you have to think concerning corrupt government apart from a knowledge of God. Just don’t marvel. Take it in stride. It’s inevitable. That’s a pretty miserable way to live. But it’s the reality of life under the sun apart from God.
Thinking Right about Riches
Now, the Preacher moves on to Ecclesiastes 5:10-17 where we’re taught how to think about riches.
Riches Alone Provide No Real Satisfaction
First, in Ecclesiastes 5:10 the Preacher tells us that riches alone provide no real satisfaction…
10 ¶ He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
Isn’t that a conundrum? And one reason that this is the case is the next verse where we see the truth that the more you have, the more people take…
The More You Have, the More People Take
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?
Just ask a winner of one of these lottery jackpots and they’ll be able to illustrate for you the truth of this verse.
So, don’t love riches because the more you have, the more people take – especially those corrupt government officials we just talked about!
Relative Value of Labor and Riches Compared
So, that leads the Preacher to compare the relative value of labor and riches. Ecclesiastes 5:12.
12 ¶ The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer [allow] him to sleep.
So, it’s not riches that we need to pursue. Rather, we should pursue work. And the Preacher looks at the sleep life of the rich and the laborer. The sleep of the laborer is sweet. The sleep of the rich is constantly interrupted by worrying about his riches. Maybe he has nightmares about the corrupt government officials that are out to get his money – or other people who want a piece of the pie.
Dangers of Hoarding Riches
And the last consideration concerning our thinking right about riches is in Ecclesiastes 5:13-17 where we explore the dangers of hoarding riches.
13 ¶ There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept [guarded/hoarded] for the owners thereof to their hurt. 14 But those riches perish by evil travail [a bad investment/bad luck/misfortune]: and [although] he begetteth a son, and [yet] there is nothing in his hand [to leave to his son]. 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 labour, which he may carry away in his hand. 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 laboured for the wind? 17 All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.
So, the man here hoards riches and this results in hurt for him. But actually, the man ends up losing it all through a bad investment. As a result he doesn’t have anything to leave his children. He goes to the grave a poor man. And even if he kept all his money to the day of his death, he can’t take anything with him. So, what benefit does he have for all his work and all his hoarding and all his days of eating in darkness and being filled with sorrow and sickness? Absolutely none.
Therefore, the Preacher ends chapter 5 with this conclusion – enjoy life…
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 labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. 19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and [also he] hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. 20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him [keeps him occupied] in [with] the joy of his heart [that he derives from his labor].
Summary of Ecclesiastes 4-5
So, realize the awful reality of oppression and yet don’t be surprised at its existence. Find the right balance in regard to work and appreciate the benefits of companionship. Recognize the superiority but ultimate vanity of wisdom. Be sober in your speech to God. Think right about riches. And ultimately, enjoy God’s good gifts to you – one major gift being the ability to enjoy your work and its fruit.
That’s a fair summary of the message of Ecclesiastes 4-5.