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Douglas Sean O’Donnell: As we approach God in worship, Pastor Solomon wants to establish a safe distance between us and the transcendent God. He does this with two imperatives given at the top (Eccl. 5:1) and tail (v. 7) of our text. At the top we are charged to watch out when we go to worship (“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God,” v. 1), and at the tail we are given the central charge of wisdom literature: to fear God. This inclusio of admonitions counsels “caution, reverence, restraint, moderation, and sincerity” before the Lord, as well as recognition that God is God. . .

Here in Ecclesiastes 5:1–7, we learn three truths about God.

  1. First, God has a house.
  2. Second, God knows and judges the way we worship. He sees into the heart—the attitudes behind the actions—and judges whether our worship is “acceptable worship” (Heb. 12:28) or not.
  3. Third, unlike the gods of the Gentiles, which are deaf and dumb, Israel’s God hears and speaks. In the temple God’s people were told “to draw near to listen” (Eccl. 5:1), and in the temple God heard and accepted sincere sacrificial vows.

So, then, in light of God’s transcendence, omnipresence, omniscience, and holiness (God has a house), justice (God knows and judges our worship), and forgiveness and accessibility (God hears and speaks), “God is the one you must fear” (Eccl. 5:7).

Iain Provan: The insertion of this passage on the worship of God in the midst of reflections on the worship of wealth and advancement and its deleterious effects on humanness also reflects a broader biblical emphasis. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). The first Master commands love of neighbor. The second applauds love of self and the trampling of one’s neighbor. This is why false and hypocritical religion is so often linked with economic sin in the Bible (e.g., Mark 12:38–44). It is also why the presentation of the whole self as a living sacrifice in worship to God leads on to just and neighborly behavior with respect to our fellow human beings (Rom. 12:1–21).

Walter Kaiser: The implication seems to be that the “sacrifice of fools” consists of excessive talk, especially talk that has little or no heart behind it, which seems to be borne out in verse 2. Therefore, to avoid looking like a fool, it is best to limit one’s speaking in God’s presence and be more ready to listen to what God has to say instead of offering a lot of chatter. Do not give the impression from your blustering verbiage that you believe you have achieved some kind of super status and what you have to say is all that important—to God (or even to human beings). Remember, you are on earth and God is in heaven! Neither should men attempt to bribe God with vows (vv. 4-7). How frivolous and unbecoming can mere mortals act? “God is in heaven and [we] are on earth” (5:2), as Solomon had already reminded us. Therefore, our words should be few. And thereby we are rebuked for all pretense, hypocrisy, and superficial religiosity by which we hope to be heard merely for our verbosity or “much speaking” (cf. Matt. 6:7). Limits are imposed only on the petitioner’s pretense, and not on the length of his prayers. There may be times when a person’s importunity (and hence the length and persistence of one’s prayer) demonstrates the value and importance of what one asks from God, by the fact that the request is serious enough to be persistently on one’s mind, even as Jacob refused to let the Angel of the Lord go until he blessed him (Gen. 32:26). On the other hand, only fools babble on relentlessly, like a man who has had a busy day and experiences dream after dream all night long (v. 3).

Albert Mohler: Religion that talks big but stays shallow cannot save us from futility; it only displays our futility.  Glib God-talk trifles with the One who is our only hope.  Far better to think before we speak and to say only what we mean.  The Lord’s Prayer, for example, teaches us reverently to get right to the point (Mt 6:9-13).  Why, by our wretched hypocrisies, bring on ourselves divine discipline, in addition to everything we already suffer?

George Hendry: Surveying the vanity of all things under the sun, Ecclesiastes turns his critical eye upon religion; for secularized man is by no means averse to religion; only, his is a religion which is secularized and humanized.  This is the great pitfall of religion, against which warning is given.  For there is an inveterate tendency in men to seek to “make use of God” (Deo uti, Luther), to subject God to themselves and their own concerns, to treat Him as an ally, an anodyne or an insurance agency.  Characteristic of this man-centered religion is its verbosity; its anxiety to say its say is reflected in a never-ending stream of reports, statements, pronouncements, pamphlets, etc.  But it loses the ear for the word of God.  The word of God is not the echo of our words.  It is His own word, His word of judgment and of grace, and before it we must be silent and listen.  In our approach to God it is necessary to remember “the otherness of God”, and respect “the infinite qualitative difference between God and man” (Kiekegaard).


A.  Requires Proper Preparation

Guard your steps as you go to the house of God,

Iain Provan: In worship, the first task of the worshiper is to “go near to listen” (v. 1), with a view to obeying the divine voice (cf. the same language in Deut. 5:27). The activity contrasted with this listening is the offering of “the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.” The second part of this phrase is (lit.) “who do not know to do wrong,” which is perhaps better translated as “who sin without a thought” (NEB). Their sin is natural to them and does not require any conscious design. The whole line refers to those who perform the rituals of worship without any deliberate intention to bring the whole self before God in an attitude of reverence and awe. The “sacrifice of fools” is thus careless observance of religion, unattached to any genuinely Godward movement of the soul and enacted out of custom, peer pressure, or habit. It is the kind of religion frequently attacked by the prophets, who associate it with oppression of one’s neighbor (e.g., Isa. 1:10–20; cf. also 1 Sam. 15:22–23; Prov. 15:8–9; 21:3, 27).

The wise person comes before God carefully and with due attention, for such a person, unlike the fool, knows that God is really God. The wise person listens, therefore, rather than speaks (v. 2); for God is in heaven and is truly God, and mortal beings are mere creatures of dust found on earth. The fool, by contrast, is someone who is not in control of himself. As he sins without a thought, so too his speech pours out of his mouth just because the words are found in his heart (v. 3). It is as natural for the fool to be verbose as it is for dreams to come to those who toil pointlessly in search of gain. “Cares” is Hebrew ʿinyan (as in 2:23), and the phrase is better translated “as a dream comes when there is overwork.” Overproduction is the root problem in both cases. A heart attentive to God multiplies neither toil nor words.

Cole Newton: The first imperative is a warning for us to guard our steps when approaching God’s house. What does he mean by this? Throughout the Bible, walking is a metaphor for living. And it’s a fitting comparison. As the feet move so does the body. The Scriptures, therefore, repeatedly encourage us to walk down the path of righteousness and wisdom, while avoiding the way of wickedness and folly. Of course, Jesus capitalizes on this metaphor in the Sermon on the Mount by describing a narrow road and gate that lead to life and a broad road and gate that lead to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). The point then is that the steps you take (and where you take them) have much to say about the condition of your heart.

Solomon’s call for guarding your steps whenever you approach God is really a plea for you to consider the condition of your heart. Where have your feet been lately? What does that say about your walk with God and the condition of your heart? These are important questions to ask before approaching God. After all, God is mysteriously awe-striking and deserving of reverential fear. He is so much greater than us that we must always approach Him with the utmost reverence.

However, what does this mean for us under the New Covenant? Hebrews 4:16 tells us that we are to boldly approach God’s throne. Does that not contradict with this verse in Ecclesiastes? I believe that one of the greatest errors of modern Christianity is that we place little value on Old Testament thought. We tend to think that God used to be vengeful and angry, but now because of Jesus, He is loving and kind. We treat God as if He has changed personalities. But that is not the case! The God that we serve today is the same God that Solomon wrote about here. Instead of treating God like He is bipolar, we must understand that God is still worthy our highest reverence. He is still infinitely greater and more majestic than we can ever imagine. The only difference between us and Solomon is that because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice we can now come before God, as His children, without fear that He will reject us. We should still approach in reverence, but we also know now that we come before Him in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

B.  Requires Obedient Listening

  1. Wise Way to Approach God

and draw near to listen

Tremper Longman: Qohelet admonishes people to listen when they approach God. This verb (šmʿ) has connotations of obedience.

Craig Bartholomew: The sacrifice of the fools should be thought of not as a denial of the value of sacrifice per se but as a critique of superficial religion that goes through the rituals with many words but no awareness of God. As N. Lohfink perceptively notes, “What alone matters is that the fear of God, which transcends any particular ritual act, must not be damaged.” “Not of ‘sacrifices’ in general does Koheleth here speak, but of the sacrifices of fools, which were not an outward form expressing the worship which is in spirit and truth, but the contrary thereof, namely an invitation whose purpose was to appease God and to silence the conscience.”

Cole Newton: Unfortunately, we often fail to listen to God’s voice. We are like the people to whom God sent Isaiah, who “keep on hearing, but do not understand” (Isaiah 6:9). God’s Word often goes in one ear and out the other without us having truly listened to any of it. Because of this propensity, God often prefaces His declarations with the word “hear.” By default, we are fools who like the sound of our own voices and who don’t care what God has to say. John Piper describes this heart well: “Many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered”. We will delight in meeting with God so long as the meeting is centered around us.

  1. Foolish Way to Approach God

rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools;

for they do not know they are doing evil.


A.  (:2) Exercise Self Control in Addressing God (in View of the Creator / Creature Distinction)

  1. Curb Impulsiveness

Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought

to bring up a matter in the presence of God.

Allen Ross: While operating with speed and haste can sometimes be good, that principle never applies to speaking in the divine presence. Careful thought should always precede speech in any situation; how much more so when it comes to speech uttered before God. Interestingly, the reason given is that when you are in God’s presence, you are really not in his presence—you are still on earth, but God is in heaven. In other words, do not by your excessive talk give the impression that somehow you think you “have arrived.” The gap between you and God will always be an infinite one.

  1. Creator / Creature Distinction

For God is in heaven and you are on the earth;

Douglas Miller: By declaring God to be in heaven and humans on the earth, he insists on God’s transcendence and power. Similarly, in Jacob’s dream the Lord stands above the ladder, apparently in heaven (Gen 28:13). Solomon exclaims that the highest heaven cannot contain God, let alone his small temple (1 Kings 8:27; cf. Acts 17:24). Cyrus emphasizes heaven as God’s domain (2 Chron 36:23; Ezra 1:2), and in John’s vision, part of the newness is that God descends from heaven to dwell with human beings upon the earth (Rev 21:1-5). Similar to this latter emphasis, the Teacher, like the psalmist, marks the difference between God and mortals as of significant importance: “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Ps 115:3). For this reason, the reader should be circumspect in speech (Seow 1997a: 198-99) [God, p. 230].

Knut Martin Heim: In the light of Isaiah 55:8–9, the statement about the respective locations of Qoheleth’s audience and their God does not emphasize the spatial separation between God and humans, but the discrepancy between human expectations on the one hand and God’s abundant generosity on the other. It is better for worshippers to listen to God’s word, to simply present their requests in the sure knowledge that God is already favourably disposed towards their desires; there is no need for extravagant promises in the form of oaths to motivate divine reward. After all, the temple was a location of God’s presence, where God would favourably respond to the petitions of worshippers (1 Kgs 8:27–30; see also Matt. 6:7–8).

  1. Count Your Words Carefully

therefore let your words be few.

Douglas Sean O’Donnell: Our words should be few because many words do not mediate between God and man. In prayer, the number of words counts for nothing. D. L. Moody memorably said it this way: “Some men’s prayers need to be cut short on both ends and set on fire in the middle.” Augustine put it like this: “Remove from prayer much speaking, not much praying.” And Martin Luther, with his usual blend of bluntness and humor, said that prayers should be “brief, frequent, and intense” because “God has no need of such everlasting twaddle.” He also said:

Remember your situation: God is such a great majesty in heaven, and you are a worm upon earth. You cannot speak about the works of God on the basis of your own judgment. Let God rather do the speaking; do not dispute about the counsels of God and do not try to control things by your own counsels. It is God who can arrange things and perfect them, for He Himself is in heaven. We express all of this in German by saying: “Don’t use many words, but: keep your mouth shut!”

The Irish say it this way: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” (one of Murphy’s Laws). Or, less crassly, the Hebrews put it like this: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). Wise worship starts with locked lips.

Jon Glass: He says that we should go to God to listen more and speak less. This sometimes makes us uncomfortable. We are not people who like to be quiet and listen, but when we come to worship God, it is better many times to simply listen to Him. We often come to God with our list of things we want from Him and our promises to Him, but sometimes we need to come to Him and just listen to His voice. In verse 2 he tells us that God is Heaven and we are on earth. Because of this, our words should be few. We are coming into God’s presence to meet with Him. And since He is God in Heaven and we are people on earth, we should be quiet and let Him do the talking.

B.  (:3) Excessive Speech Characterizes the Fool

For the dream comes through much effort,

and the voice of a fool through many words.

Douglas Miller: The dreams indicated here are neither nightmares nor revelations. The term dream—which occurs twice in this unit (5:3, 7) but nowhere else in the book—can express that which is unreal, worthless, or short-lived, that is, insubstantial or transient (Job 20:8; Ps 73:20; Isa 29:7; Sir 34:1-2; and esp. see its use alongside hebel at Zech 10:1-2). The sense of Ecclesiastes 5:3, then, would be as follows: Just as the dream (insubstantial) comes with many cares, so also the fool’s voice (insubstantial) is accompanied by many words. Unlike the fool, the one who fears God will keep words to a minimum to avoid being foolish when talking to God.

Robert Laurin: The author quotes a proverb in support of his previous point.  Just as a night of dreams is the result of too much preoccupation with one’s business, so nonsensical speech is the result of too many words at worship.


A.  (:4) Commitments Must Be Taken Seriously

  1. Prompt Payment Required

When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it,

for He takes no delight in fools.

Michael Eaton: The vow in ancient Israel was a promise to God, which might be part of prayer for blessing (Numbers 21:2) or a spontaneous expression of gratitude (John 2:9). It might take the form of a promise of allegiance (Genesis 28:20-22), a freewill offering (Leviticus 22:18) or the dedication of a child as Nazarite (I Samuel 1:11). As in the matter of prayer, haste in taking a vow is cautioned against elsewhere (Proverbs 20:25). Here the Preacher warns against delay (cf. Deuteronomy 23:21-23) and evasion: Pay what you vow! Failure in these respects is a mark of fools.

Eric Stephens: The vow in ancient Israel was a promise to God, which might be part of prayer for blessing (Numbers 21:2) or a spontaneous expression of gratitude (Jonah 2:9). It might take the form of a promise of allegiance (Genesis 28:20–22), a free-will offering (Leviticus 22:18) or the dedication of a child as Nazirite (1 Samuel 1:11). When vows are made, they must be kept (Psalms 76:11), even as God keeps His word to us (Exodus 12:41, 12:51; Joshua 21:45). Proverbs 20:25 is especially noteworthy:

    It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly
and only later to consider his vows.

There is no harm in not vowing (Deuteronomy 23:22); but a vow once made becomes of the nature of an oath, and its non-performance is a sin and incurs the punishment of false swearing.

  1. Payment in Full Required

Pay what you vow!

Douglas Sean O’Donnell: This section centers on temple vows. Such a vow involved a conditional promise; a worshiper coming to the temple asked God for something in return for something—usually money or an animal sacrifice (Lev. 27:1–25), although it could be just about anything or anyone. For example, barren Hannah vowed to give God her son if she was able to conceive and give birth (1 Sam. 1–2).  So the problem being addressed in Ecclesiastes is not the vow itself (it was a condoned but not commanded biblical practice), but the temptation to “delay” (Eccl. 5:4) or “not pay” (v. 5) the vow once the request has been granted. To say to the temple “messenger” (the spiritual bill collector sent to retrieve the coins for the temple treasury) that “it was a mistake” or “it was unintentional” is intentionally sinful (Num. 15:30–31; Deut. 23:21). It is better not to vow than to vow and refrain from keeping your end of the deal. “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37 NIV), as a wise man once said. Why? Because God doesn’t take kindly to the Ananias and Sapphira vowing club (Acts 5:1–11). Or, as Solomon exhorted, God “has no pleasure in fools” (Eccl. 5:4) and “Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” (v. 6). All toying with God will be exposed (“You blind fools,” e.g., Matt. 23:16–22) and judged (“a rod for his back,” Prov. 14:3). All lame excuses will be leveled by the Lord.

Chuck Swindoll: These are some of the most overlooked words in all of Scripture–and especially so in a day of shallow roots and superficial commitments. We’d much rather bail out than follow through. As a result, a promise is little more than a casual hope. Whether it’s a commitment to pay back fifty dollars or a commitment to stay faithful in marriage, the idea of sticking with a vow regardless is almost unheard of.” Not so in God’s eyes! Again, His truth penetrates. He says, “You vowed it…you keep it.”

B.  (:5) Commitments Should Not Be Entered Into Carelessly

It is better that you should not vow

than that you should vow and not pay.

C.  (:6) Commitments Must Not Lead to Sin and God’s Judgment

  1. Avoid Sinful Speech or Lame Excuses

Do not let your speech cause you to sin

and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God

that it was a mistake.

Robert Laurin: not the angel of judgment sent by God, but rather the priest whose duty it was to collect what had been vowed (cf. Mal. 2:7).

  1. Avoid Angering God and Suffering Loss

Why should God be angry on account of your voice

and destroy the work of your hands?


A.  Avoid Emptiness

For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness.

Douglas Miller: The works of fools are called vapor in this section. This is partly descriptive—these things constitute unproductive effort—but the Teacher also pronounces a value judgment by calling this activity evil (5:1), warning that the mouth may lead to sin, and cautioning that God may bring destruction upon the work of those who speak improperly. Since these are things for which people have choices, Qohelet indicates here (as elsewhere, ch. 4) that at least some things that are vapor and evil can be avoided.

B.  Fear God

Rather, fear God.

Cole Newton: But why is the fear of the LORD necessary? Fearing God simply comes from understanding that God is God. To know God is to fear Him. He is holy. He is unique and in a class all unto Himself. It is only right and proper to have a healthy fear of Him, and only utter foolishness fails to do so. We fear God by simply acknowledging that He is God, and seeing God as God can only result in living a God-centered, not self-centered, life. The knowing and fearing God smashes self-aggrandizement into bits by pointing us to the magnitude of His glorious worth. All of our pretty words and lavish dreams are particles of dust compared to snow-capped mountains of His sovereign decrees.

But fearing God is not just proper; it is also practical. As humans, we were created to fear the awesome might of the LORD, so when we fail to fear God, other fears take root within the heart. Consider the rise of fear, anxiety, and depression within our society which coincides with the decline of those holding to the Christian faith. Fear of terrorism. Fear of disease. Fear of collapsed economies. Fear of isolation. Fear of people. The list can (and does) go on without end. We fear these things because we fail to fear God. After all, the fear of God is exclusive. We cannot have a proper view of God, while continuing to fear other things. Understanding God’s greatness and His love for us must cast all other fears aside. Why fear the uncertain future when the One who stands sovereign over time is our Father? Why fear death when it ushers us into eternal life with our Savior? Why fear the temporal opinion of others when God’s evaluation of us is eternal? There is an exclusivity to fearing God. By properly revering Him, we realize that all else pales in comparison.