Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Keep thy foot 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.
1. From vanity connected with kings, he passes to vanities (Ec 5:7) which may be fallen into in serving the King of kings, even by those who, convinced of the vanity of the creature, wish to worship the Creator.
Keep thy foot—In going to worship, go with considerate, circumspect, reverent feeling. The allusion is to the taking off the shoes, or sandals, in entering a temple (Ex 3:5; Jos 5:15, which passages perhaps gave rise to the custom). Weiss needlessly reads, "Keep thy feast days" (Ex 23:14, 17; the three great feasts).
hear—rather, "To be ready (to draw nigh with the desire) to hear (obey) is a better sacrifice than the offering of fools" [Holden]. (Vulgate; Syriac). (Ps 51:16, 17; Pr 21:3; Jer 6:20; 7:21-23; 14:12; Am 5:21-24). The warning is against mere ceremonial self-righteousness, as in Ec 7:12. Obedience is the spirit of the law's requirements (De 10:12). Solomon sorrowfully looks back on his own neglect of this (compare 1Ki 8:63 with Ec 11:4, 6). Positive precepts of God must be kept, but will not stand instead of obedience to His moral precepts. The last provided no sacrifice for wilful sin (Nu 15:30, 31; Heb 10:26-29).
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.
2. rash—opposed to the considerate reverence ("keep thy foot," Ec 5:1). This verse illustrates Ec 5:1, as to prayer in the house of God ("before God," Isa 1:12); so Ec 5:4-6 as to vows. The remedy to such vanities is stated (Ec 5:6). "Fear thou God."
God is in heaven—Therefore He ought to be approached with carefully weighed words, by thee, a frail creature of earth.
For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.
3. As much "business," engrossing the mind, gives birth to incoherent "dreams," so many words, uttered inconsiderately in prayer, give birth to and betray "a fool's speech" (Ec 10:14), [Holden and Weiss]. But Ec 5:7 implies that the "dream" is not a comparison, but the vain thoughts of the fool (sinner, Ps 73:20), arising from multiplicity of (worldly) "business." His "dream" is that God hears him for his much speaking (Mt 6:7), independently of the frame of mind [English Version and Maurer].
fool's voice—answers to "dream" in the parallel; it comes by the many "words" flowing from the fool's "dream."
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.
4. When thou vowest a vow unto God—Hasty words in prayer (Ec 5:2, 3) suggest the subject of hasty vows. A vow should not be hastily made (Jud 11:35; 1Sa 14:24). When made, it must be kept (Ps 76:11), even as God keeps His word to us (Ex 12:41, 51; Jos 21:45).
Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
5. (De 23:21, 23).
Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?
6. thy flesh—Vow not with "thy mouth" a vow (for example, fasting), which the lusts of the flesh ("body," Ec 2:3, Margin) may tempt thee to break (Pr 20:25).
angel—the "messenger" of God (Job 33:23); minister (Re 1:20); that is, the priest (Mal 2:7) "before" whom a breach of a vow was to be confessed (Le 5:4, 5). We, Christians, in our vows (for example, at baptism, the Lord's Supper, &c.) vow in the presence of Jesus Christ, "the angel of the covenant" (Mal 3:1), and of ministering angels as witnesses (1Co 11:10; 1Ti 5:21). Extenuate not any breach of them as a slight error.
For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.
7. (See on Ec 5:3). God's service, which ought to be our chief good, becomes by "dreams" (foolish fancies as of God's requirements of us in worship), and random "words," positive "vanity." The remedy is, whatever fools may do, "Fear thou God" (Ec 12:13).
If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.
8. As in Ec 3:16, so here the difficulty suggests itself. If God is so exact in even punishing hasty words (Ec 5:1-6), why does He allow gross injustice? In the remote "provinces," the "poor" often had to put themselves for protection from the inroads of Philistines, &c., under chieftains, who oppressed them even in Solomon's reign (1Ki 12:4).
the matter—literally, "the pleasure," or purpose (Isa 53:10). Marvel not at this dispensation of God's will, as if He had abandoned the world. Nay, there is coming a capital judgment at last, and an earnest of it in partial punishments of sinners meanwhile.
higher than the highest—(Da 7:18).
there be higher—plural, that is, the three persons of the Godhead, or else, "regardeth not only the 'highest' kings, than whom He 'is higher,' but even the petty tyrants of the provinces, namely, the high ones who are above them" (the poor) [Weiss].
Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.
9. "The profit (produce) of the earth is (ordained) for (the common good of) all: even the king himself is served by (the fruits of) the field" (2Ch 26:10). Therefore the common Lord of all, high and low, will punish at last those who rob the "poor" of their share in it (Pr 22:22, 23; Am 8:4-7).
He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
10. Not only will God punish at last, but meanwhile the oppressive gainers of "silver" find no solid "satisfaction" in it.
shall not be satisfied—so the oppressor "eateth his own flesh" (see on Ec 4:1 and Ec 4:5).
with increase—is not satisfied with the gain that he makes.
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?
11. they … that eat them—the rich man's dependents (Ps 23:5).
The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.
12. Another argument against anxiety to gain riches. "Sleep … sweet" answers to "quietness" (Ec 4:6); "not suffer … sleep," to "vexation of spirit." Fears for his wealth, and an overloaded stomach without "laboring" (compare Ec 4:5), will not suffer the rich oppressor to sleep.
There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.
13, 14. Proofs of God's judgments even in this world (Pr 11:31). The rich oppressor's wealth provokes enemies, robbers, &c. Then, after having kept it for an expected son, he loses it beforehand by misfortune ("by evil travail"), and the son is born to be heir of poverty. Ec 2:19, 23 gives another aspect of the same subject.
But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand.
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.
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?
16. Even supposing that he loses not his wealth before death, then at least he must go stripped of it all (Ps 49:17).
laboured for the wind—(Ho 12:1; 1Co 9:26).
All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.
17. eateth—appropriately put for "liveth" in general, as connected with Ec 5:11, 12, 18.
darkness—opposed to "light (joy) of countenance" (Ec 8:1; Pr 16:15).
wrath—fretfulness, literally, "His sorrow is much, and his infirmity (of body) and wrath."
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.
18. Returns to the sentiment (Ec 3:12, 13, 22); translate: "Behold the good which I have seen, and which is becoming" (in a man).
which God giveth—namely, both the good of his labor and his life.
his portion—legitimately. It is God's gift that makes it so when regarded as such. Such a one will use, not abuse, earthly things (1Co 7:31). Opposed to the anxious life of the covetous (Ec 5:10, 17).
Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
19. As Ec 5:18 refers to the "laboring" man (Ec 5:12), so Ec 5:19 to the "rich" man, who gets wealth not by "oppression" (Ec 5:8), but by "God's gift." He is distinguished also from the "rich" man (Ec 6:2) in having received by God's gift not only "wealth," but also "power to eat thereof," which that one has not.
to take his portion—limits him to the lawful use of wealth, not keeping back from God His portion while enjoying his own.
For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.
20. He will not remember much, looking back with disappointment, as the ungodly do (Ec 2:11), on the days of his life.
answereth … in the joy—God answers his prayers in giving him "power" to enjoy his blessings. Gesenius and Vulgate translate, "For God (so) occupies him with joy," &c., that he thinks not much of the shortness and sorrows of life. Holden, "Though God gives not much (as to real enjoyment), yet he remembers (with thankfulness) the days; for (he knows) God exercises him by the joy," &c. (tries him by prosperity), so Margin, but English Version is simplest.