Ecclesiastes 5:5
Better is it that you should not vow, than that you should vow and not pay.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
5:4-8 When a person made engagements rashly, he suffered his mouth to cause his flesh to sin. The case supposes a man coming to the priest, and pretending that his vow was made rashly, and that it would be wrong to fulfil it. Such mockery of God would bring the Divine displeasure, which might blast what was thus unduly kept. We are to keep down the fear of man. Set God before thee; then, if thou seest the oppression of the poor, thou wilt not find fault with Divine Providence; nor think the worse of the institution of magistracy, when thou seest the ends of it thus perverted; nor of religion, when thou seest it will not secure men from suffering wrong. But though oppressors may be secure, God will reckon for all.Keep thy foot - i. e., Give thy mind to what thou art going to do.

The house of God - It has been said that here an ordinary devout Hebrew writer might have been expected to call it "the house of Yahweh;" but to those who accept this book as the work of Solomon after his fall into idolatry, it will appear a natural sign of the writer's self-humiliation, an acknowledgment of his unworthiness of the privileges of a son of the covenant, that he avoids the name of the Lord of the covenant (see Ecclesiastes 1:13 note).

Be more ready to hear - Perhaps in the sense that, "to draw near for the purpose of hearing (and obeying) is better than etc."

5. (De 23:21, 23). That thou shouldest not vow; for this was no sin, because men are free to make such vows, or not to make them, as they think fit. See Numbers 30:3, &c.; Deu 23:22 Acts 5:4. But having vowed we cannot forbear payment of them without sin. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow,.... For a vow is an arbitrary thing; a man is not bound to make it, and while he vows not, it is in his own power, and at his option, whether he will do this or that, or not; but when he has once vowed, he is then brought under an obligation, and must perform; see Acts 5:4; and therefore it is better not to vow; it is more acceptable to God, and, it is better for a man;

than that thou shouldest vow and not pay; for this shows great weakness and folly, levity and inconstancy, and is resented by the Lord.

Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
5. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow] The point which the Teacher seeks to press is obviously the optional character of vows. They form no part of the essentials of religion, they are to be deprecated rather than otherwise; but to make them, and then delay or evade their fulfilment, is to tamper with veracity and play fast and loose with conscience, and so is fatally injurious. The casuistry condemned by our Lord (Matthew 5:33; Matthew 23:16-22) shews how fertile was the ingenuity of Scribes in devising expedients of this nature.Verse 5. - Better is it that thou shouldest not vow. 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 sacrilege, and incurs the punishment of false swearing. We gather from the Talmud that frivolous excuses for the evasion of vows were very common, and called for stern repression, One sees this in our Lord's references (Matthew 5:33-37; Matthew 23:16-22). St. Paul severely reprehends those women who break their vow of widowhood, "having condemnation, because they have rejected their first faith" (1 Timothy 5:12). "I saw all the living which walk under the sun on the side of the youth, the second who shall enter upon the place of the former: no end of all the people, all those at whose head he stands." The author, by the expression "I saw," places himself back in the time of the change of government. If we suppose that he represents this to himself in a lively manner, then the words are to be translated: of the second who shall be his successor; but if we suppose that he seeks to express from the standpoint of the past that which, lying farther back in the past, was now for the first time future, then the future represents the time to come in the past, as at 2 Kings 3:27; Psalm 78:6; Job 15:28 (Hitz.): of the second who should enter on his place (עמד, to step to, to step forth, of the new king, Daniel 8:23; Daniel 11:2.; cf. קוּם, 1 Kings 8:20). The designation of the crowd which, as the pregnant עם expresses, gathered by the side of the young successor to the old king, by "all the living, those walking under the sun (המה, perhaps intentionally the pathetic word for הלכים, Isaiah 42; 5)," would remain a hyperbole, even although the throne of the Asiatic world-ruler had been intended; still the expression, so absolute in its universality, would in that case be more natural (vid., the conjectural reference to Cyrus and Astygates). השּׁני, Ewald refers to the successor to the king, the second after the king, and translates: "to the second man who should reign in his stead;" but the second man in this sense has certainly never been the child of fortune; one must then think of Joseph, who, however, remains the second man. Hitzig rightly: "The youth is the second שׁני, not אחר, in contrast to the king, who, as his predecessor, is the first." "Yet," he continues, "הילד should be the appos. and השׁני the principal word," i.e., instead of: with the second youth, was to be expected: with the second, the youth. It is true, we may either translate: with the second youth, or: with the second, the youth - the_ form of expression has in its something incorrect, for it has the appearance as if it treated of two youths. But similar are the expressions, Matthew 8:21, ἓτερος κ.τ.λ., "another, and that, too, one of His disciples;" and Luke 23:32, ἤγοντο κ.τ.λ All the world ranks itself by the side (thus we may also express it) of the second youthful king, so that he comes to stand at the head of an endless multitude. The lxx, Jerome, and the Venet. render incorrectly the all (the multitude) as the subject of the relative clause, which Luther, after the Syr., corrects by reading לפניו for לפניהם: of the people that went for him there was no end. Rightly the Targ.: at whose head ( equals בּרישׁיהון) he had the direction, לפני, as with יצא ובא, 1 Samuel 18:16; 2 Chronicles 1:10; Psalm 68:8, etc. All the world congregates about him, follows his leadership; but his history thus splendidly begun, viewed backwards, is a history of hopes falsified.

"And yet they who come after do not rejoice in him: for that also is vain, and a grasping after the wind." For all that, and in spite of that (gam has here this meaning, as at Ecclesiastes 6:7; Jeremiah 6:15; Psalm 129:2; Ewald, 354a), posterity (הא, as at Ecclesiastes 1:11; cf. Isaiah 41:4) has no joy in this king, - the hopes which his contemporaries placed in the young king, who had seized the throne and conquered their hearts, afterwards proved to be delusions; and also this history, at first so beautiful, and afterwards so hateful, contributed finally to the confirmation of the truth, that all under the sun is vain. As to the historical reminiscence from the time of the Ptolemies, in conformity with which Hitzig (in his Comm.) thinks this figure is constructed; Grtz here, as always, rocks himself in Herodian dreams. In his Comm., Hitz. guesses first of Jeroboam, along with Rehoboam the שׁני ילד, who rebelled against King Solomon, who in his old age had become foolish. In an essay, "Zur Exeg. u. Kritik des B. Koheleth," in Hilgenfeld's Zeitschr. XIV 566ff., Saul, on the contrary, appears to him to be the old and foolish king, and David the poor wise youth who rose to the throne, and took possession of the whole kingdom, but in his latter days experienced desertion and adversities; for those who came after (the younger men) had no delight in him, but rebelled against him. But in relation to Saul, who came from the plough to be king, David, who was called from being a shepherd, is not נולד רשׁ; and to Jewish history this Saul, whose nobler self is darkened by melancholy, but again brightens forth, and who to his death maintained the dignity of a king of Israel, never at any time appears as וכסיל ... מלך. Moreover, by both combinations of that which is related with the הסורים בּית (for which הסּ is written) of the history of the old Israelitish kings, a meaning contrary to the usage of the language must be extracted. It is true that סוּר, as the so-called particip. perfecti, may mean "gone aside (to a distance)," Isaiah 49:21; Jeremiah 17:13; and we may, at any rate, by סורים, think on that poor rabble which at first gathered around David, 1 Samuel 22:2, regarded as outcasts from honourable society. But בית will not accord therewith. That David came forth from the house (home) of the estranged or separated, is and remains historically an awkward expression, linguistically obscure, and not in accordance with the style of Koheleth. In order to avoid this incongruity, Bttcher regards Antiochus the Great as the original of the ילד. He was the second son of his father, who died 225. When a hopeful youth of fifteen years of age, he was recalled to the throne from a voluntary banishment into Farther Asia, very soon gained against his old cousin and rival Achaeus, who was supported by Egypt, a large party, and remained for several years esteemed as a prince and captain; he disappointed, however, at a later time, the confidence which was reposed in him. But granting that the voluntary exile of Antiochus might be designated as האס בית, he was yet not a poor man, born poor, but was the son of King Seleucus Callincus; and his older relative and rival Achaeus wished indeed to become king, but never attained unto it. Hence השׁני is not the youth as second son of his father, but as second on the throne, in relation to the dethroned king reckoned as the first. Thus, far from making it probable that the Book of Koheleth originated in the time of the Diadochs, this combination of Bttcher's also stands on a feeble foundation, and falls in ruins when assailed.

The section Ecclesiastes 1:12-4:16, to which we have prefixed the superscription, "Koheleth's Experiences and their Results," has now reached its termination, and here for the first time we meet with a characteristic peculiarity in the composition of the book: the narrative sections, in which Koheleth, on the ground of his own experiences and observations, registers the vanities of earthly life, terminate in series of proverbs in which the I of the preacher retires behind the objectivity of the exhortations, rules, and principles obtained from experience, here recorded. The first of these series of proverbs which here follows is the briefest, but also the most complete in internal connection.

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