Poetry – Ecclesiastes 5-6

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.
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.
A dream comes when there are many cares,
    and many words mark the speech of a fool.
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 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? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.
Whoever loves money never has enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
    This too is meaningless.
As goods increase,
    so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
    except to feast their eyes on them?
The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
    whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
    permits them no sleep.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
    or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
    there is nothing left for them to inherit.
Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
    and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
    that they can carry in their hands.
This too is a grievous evil:
As everyone comes, so they depart,
    and what do they gain,
    since they toil for the wind?
All their days they eat in darkness,
    with great frustration, affliction and anger.
This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

  • Ecclesiastes 5:1-20

I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.
A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man—even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?
Everyone’s toil is for their mouth,
    yet their appetite is never satisfied.
What advantage have the wise over fools?
What do the poor gain
    by knowing how to conduct themselves before others?
Better what the eye sees
    than the roving of the appetite.
This too is meaningless,
    a chasing after the wind.
Whatever exists has already been named,
    and what humanity is has been known;
no one can contend
    with someone who is stronger.
The more the words,
    the less the meaning,
    and how does that profit anyone?
For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?

  • Ecclesiastes 6:1-12

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 ‘worship’: “Qoheleth here focuses on the creature as a worshiper and addresses himself to conduct that is appropriate in the presence of God. The language is more restrained than that of the prophet since the observed worshiper is well-meaning but forgetful rather than hypocritical (Kidner, 52). There are three separate sayings in this passage.
“First, Qoheleth urges caution relative to the frequency and quality of approach to God (
v.1). While not rejecting sacrifice (his objection to the fool’s sacrifice is probably due to misuse), Qoheleth stresses the importance of listening, i.e., of understanding and obeying.
“Second, he warns against impetuosity and multiplication of words during prayer (
vv.2-3). Words should be carefully weighed before they are uttered. In prayer an adequate distance of awe and respect must be maintained.
“Third, he speaks against hastily made vows (vv.4-7). Better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. Evasion of a vow by alleging that it was a mistake does not exonerate the worshiper. Throughout this section Qoheleth calls for few and careful words when in God’s presence.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 5:1 ‘a vocal sacrifice’: “What great counsel Solomon offers! We know from another section of Scripture that ‘the sacrifice’ quite likely is a reference to words, ‘the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips’ (Heb. 13:15). For that reason, I suggest that Solomon’s comment in verse l means ‘Don’t offer up foolish words.’ Or, more forcefully, ‘Don’t talk so much. Don’t fill the air with noise from your throat. Be quiet. Listen well. Draw near!’
“I have often thought about ways to make that happen. I’ve thought it might help to dim the lights—or maybe increase the volume on the organ, but it’s impossible to outshout all those vocal cords working hard in a congregation.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3,7 ‘curb your tongue in worship’: “I like the way Derek Kidner explains this command—’The dreams appear to be daydreams, reducing worship to verbal doodling.’ Isn’t that descriptive? It’s easy for us to ‘doodle’ our way through a worship service, as we let our dream world take us from one imaginary vista to another: yesterday’s experience on the ocean, or tomorrow’s experience in the office, or the needs of the kids, or the concern of this problem, or that decision we’ve got to make by Wednesday, or that stack of ironing, or the roast that’s burning-—whatever. God’s counsel is, ‘Let it burn. Let it go. Be quiet. Stay calm.’ When you’re churning like an angry ocean, God’s truth doesn’t drop anchor.
“We are explicitly told to let our words be few … to reject being ‘hasty’ as well as ‘impulsive.’ We are to allow ourselves to be calm and meditative. I think of the line from Charles Wesley’s hymn
Love Divine, All Love Excelling, as he writes of being ‘lost in wonder, love, and praise.’ That’s a vivid description from a man who truly understood worship.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 ‘vow and not pay’: “Promises made to God have serious implications. The OT background for this admonition is found in Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Judges 11:35. Ananias and Sapphira learned the hard way (cf. Acts 5:1-11) that disobedience invokes God’s displeasure.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 5:8-12 ‘money matters’: “I find no less than three principles written between the lines of that journal entry. Each relates directly to money matters. The first has to do with oppression, the second relates to dissatisfaction, and the third addresses the struggle of frustration.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 5:10 ‘greed’: “Greed comes in many forms. Greed for approval. Greed for applause. Greed for status. Greed for the best office, the fastest car, the prettiest date. Greed has many faces, but speaks one language: the language of more. Epicurus noted, ‘Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.’ And what was that observation of John D. Rockefeller’s? He was asked, ‘How much money does it take to satisfy a man?’ He answered, ‘Just a little more.’ Wise was the one who wrote, ‘Whoever loves money will never have enough money; Whoever loves wealth will not be satisfied with it” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
“Greed has a growling stomach. Feed it, and you risk more than budget-busting debt. You risk losing purpose.”

  • Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life

Ecclesiastes 5:12-20 ‘stress of earthly treasures’: “Earthly treasures are precarious and bring disadvantages; they produce anxiety (v. 12) and pain (v. 13). They disappear through bad business (v. 14) and are left at death (v. 15). They can even produce fear (v. 17).
“In contrast to the anxiety of those just described (vv. 12-17), for those who consider God as the source of wealth, there are pleasures, riches, and the ability to enjoy them (see 2:24).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 5:13-15 ‘can’t take it with you’: “Of the dozens upon dozens of funerals that I have conducted, I have never conducted one where the casket was occupied by anyone who had anything in his hand. And none of the suits wrapped around those bodies required pockets. ‘You can’t take it with you.’ Solomon forces us to face that moment we all tend to ignore—the moment of death. He backs up three spaces and looks at the crash and says, ‘This is the grievous evil: Those who have clutched can quickly crash.’ Put another way, ‘Those who grabbed and rose to the top will ultimately release and drop to the bottom.’ ”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 ‘an alternate to meaninglessness’: “But not only does Qoheleth express his dissatisfaction, he also offers an alternative approach to life (5:18-20). In the above scenario no reference is made to God, but in this alternative approach, God is mentioned four times. It is God who gives life, wealth, and the ability to enjoy possessions. Recognizing God and appropriating wealth as his gift make a significant difference. Wealth is to be celebrated and shared with others (v.18) rather than hoarded. While this will not increase the length of life, it will increase the quality of life (5:20).”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 6:2 ‘God does not give him power to eat’: “The Lord gives and takes away for His own purposes (cf. Job 1:21, 22). So the blessings of God cannot be assumed or taken for granted. But they should be enjoyed with thankfulness while they are available.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 6:3-5 ‘Let’s add hundreds of children’: “The point is this: Having many, many children won’t make a depressed life free from depression. On the contrary! There is something about having a whole family in front of you to care for and take care of and deal with and relate to and love and discipline and affirm and prepare for life and release that brings increased and often thankless responsibilities.
“We don’t live under the delusion that our problems are solved by having many, many children. Solomon would say, ‘On top of that, this man has life taken from him and he isn’t even allowed a proper burial.’ He adds that a miscarriage is better than that.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 6:7-9 ‘soul satisfaction’: “Lack of soul satisfaction comes from working only for what is consumed (v. 7), seeing little difference in the end between the wise and foolish (v. 8), not knowing the future (v. 9).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 6:10 ‘contending with God’: “Solomon urges that it is idle and vain for one to attempt to contend with God. There is no hope for us in such contention, yet how frequently do we—even we who are his children—begin to contend with our God. If he chastens us, if he takes away our comforts, if he permits us to be disappointed in our aspirations, immediately we begin to enquire, ‘Why is this?’ Our dear one was taken away and we called God cruel. If we did not say as much, we thought it. And we have kept the anniversary of that bereavement, year after year, still unforgiving toward our God. That kind of rebellious spirit creates ten times more pain than the affliction itself did. We ought to feel how absurd it is that we, who are but as a fly, should fight with the flame, for we can but burn ourselves by such folly. Since l am such an ephemeral creature, the insect of an hour, an aphid creeping on the bay leaf of existence, how dare I think of contending with God, who was long before the mountains were brought forth and who be when mountains are gone forever?”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 6:12 ‘a temporal existence’: ”Humanity is but vapor; we appear for a little while and then vanish away. We are as thin and airy and insubstantial as our breath. We come and we go-we are here such a little while that we can scarcely be said to be, for we do but begin to be before we close our being so far as this world is concerned. We do not know what is best for us-not even in temporal things, much less in spiritual things. Which is better for someone in this life—wealth or poverty, health or sickness, fame or obscurity? All depends on our being where God puts us. We had better be content to remain just as we are and be satisfied and thankful to be where God has placed us in his providence. Who knows what is good for us? God does, and that is better than for us to know. Furthermore, it is not for us to know what will happen when we are called away from the earth. Many are plotting and planning to settle what will happen after they are gone, yet much of their scheming is in vain. Somebody else will take that house we have had such trouble to build. Are we not to leave the future as we leave the present—in the hands of God? And will not all be well? The Lord did very well without us before we were born, and he will do very well without us after we are dead. It is not for me to be worried because of what happens to me, or to quarrel with God about it. It is for you and me to know that God sees further than we do and not to begin to measure his work with our ruler. Just leave it all with him, you who are troubled either about the present or the future.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes


My Thoughts

Ecclesiastes 5 starts like the beginning of James 3, a call to tame the tongue, but the taming of the tongue here becomes a warning to not make a vow at all.  Jesus said the same in the Sermon on the Mount.  I recently wrote about a promise that I made to myself to have non-violent homicide fiction, and it took me to a dark place – a fantasy place, but still dark.

I think my thoughts on that subject were a little flawed, but I think I needed to realize how impractical such a “rule” might be.

But if you vow to God, you must keep the vow.  With Jesus saying to not vow in the first place, why would you?  It shows that you are trying to do it on your own rather than letting God transform you.

The chapter quickly switches to wealth being meaningless.  The age old question to the man who just made his first million dollars is what is next, and almost always, the answer is the next million dollars.  Ecclesiastes 5:10 says that we will never be satisfied.

I attended countless manager meetings.  The higher ups would make a very stupid statement, but they said it often enough and confidently, some less intelligent believed it.  They would say, “We must derive something other than salary to motivate people.  Experts say that money only satisfies.  Money never drives you to a greater goal.”

This statement is in direct opposition to Ecclesiastes 5, but more so, it was in direct opposition to what the lower-level managers had in their wallets – unpaid bills and no spare cash.  The high level managers had their money and they were … satisfied with being the only ones to have the extra cash, the country club membership, and their children in private schools.  When you hear idiotic statements, and then have those statements often repeated, consider the source.  As for me, I was never satisfied with my salary and I worked extra hard to show the boss that I was worthy of more pay.  But the boss had bought into the statement about money being a satisfier, and the boss felt that a pat on the back would be more motivating.  But he rarely did that, afraid you would quit working hard.

But then, Solomon says that you cannot take it with you.  His solution was to “Eat. Drink. And find satisfaction from the results of your toil under the sun.”

But then Solomon, or Qoheleth (the Hebrew word for Teacher, Preacher, etc. that Solomon uses), takes the idea of not taking it with you a step further.  The rich man amasses great wealth but never enjoys it.  A stranger then enjoys it.  That could mean the one inheriting or it could mean the local government and their inheritance tax collector.

Then there are a few short poems of the same thing.  An appetite is never truly satisfied.

And more words leads to less meaning.  With that in mind, I think I am done.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Ecclesiastes 5: 1. Facing poor or evil leadership in a particular group, when are you most patient? Most prayerful? Most pushy for change? Most ‘quick with your mouth’?
“2. How do you become part of its solution instead of the problem?
“3. What do you do when you make a hasty promise you cannot keep?
Ecclesiastes 6: 1. Do you view the person at the top of your organization as getting rich off the others down below? Where are you on that corporate ladder—getting richer or getting poorer?
“2. What priority does the pursuit of wealth and work have in your life? ls this necessary? What are you expecting your life’s work will give you in the end?
“3. Are you more inclined to help the poor and needy when your situation is similar, or when you have more money to make a bigger difference?
“4. How much ‘gladness of heart’ do you presently experience in your ‘labor under the sun’ (5:20)? What would help you enjoy your work more?
“5. In the Old Testament, the ‘dream of a lifetime’ was hundreds of children and thousands of years on earth (6:3,6). What is your life‘s dream’? When might you most enjoy your life’s attainments?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is one set of questions for each chapter, sort of.  There is a slight overlap with Ecclesiastes 4 and Ecclesiastes 7.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


Add yours →

  1. I had Ecclesiastes in mind when I wrote my post today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe Jesus was viciously murdered because he did not behave in accordance to corrupted human conduct and expectation — and in particular because he was nowhere near to being the vengeful, wrathful, and sometimes even bloodthirsty, behemoth so many people seemingly wanted or needed their savior to be and therefore believed he’d have to be.

    Being fundamentally about compassion, charity and love, Jesus’ nature and teachings [from my understanding] left even John the Baptist, who believed in him as the savior, troubled by his apparently contradictory version of the Hebraic messiah, with which John had been raised. Perhaps most perplexing was the Biblical Jesus’ revolutionary teaching of non-violently offering the other cheek as the proper response to being physically assaulted by one’s enemy.

    Jesus coming to serve, rather than to be served, is also most profound and hope-inducing. Most notably, at least for me, his washing his disciples’ feet was/is the most profound and hopeful example of the humility of the divine, who, through Jesus, joined humankind in our miseries, joys and everything in between. … Personally, I picture Jesus as being one who’d enjoy a belly-shaking laugh over a good, albeit clean, joke with his disciples/followers, now and then.

    [Though I’m probably preaching to the long-ago converted] Jesus was/is meant to show to people that there really was/is hope for the many — especially for young people living in today’s physical, mental and spiritual turmoil — seeing hopelessness in a fire-and-brimstone angry-God-condemnation creator requiring literal pain-filled penance/payment for Man’s sinful thus corrupted behavior. Fundamentally, that definitely includes resurrection.

    The way I perceive it, followers of Islam and Judaism generally believe that Jesus did exist but was not a divine being [albeit Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet]. After all, how could any divine being place himself/itself down to the level of humans (and even lower, by some other standards)? How could any divine being NOT be a conqueror — far less allow himself to be publicly stripped naked, severely beaten and murdered in such a belittling manner?!


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