Summary: The words of an ancient wise man remind us that the "awe" of God is foundational for wise living.
Text: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (English)
Most of us can relate to having a parent’s anxiety or remembering a parent’s anxiety when we either allowed our children a bit of independence or when we were ourselves allowed the opportunity to do something autonomous. I can well remember hearing my mother’s admonition to “Be careful!” as I was hitting the road to go back to college or heading out for a social event on the weekend. To this day, she still quietly urges Wailam and me to be careful as we leave.
When I was young, I always thought it was a silly thing to say. I often wondered how I was supposed to be any more careful than I already was. Was she insulting my driving? Was she accusing me of being so naïve that I wouldn’t see danger as it approached me? Was it wishful thinking on her part? Did she think I was careless?
As I began to earn more gray hair, wrinkles, and experience, I adapted my mother’s admonition to a friendly, “Take care!” I often end phone calls with this phrase and, though it probably mystifies my friends and loved ones in the same way my mother’s concern mystified me, I think I’ve figured it out. Mom knew that very real danger is always out there and she wanted me to know that she really cared. She was reminding me to be aware of potential danger, but not trying to shelter me such that I couldn’t live my own life. In the same way, I say, “Take care!” to my friends and loved ones to let them know that I know they’re going to face dangers and challenges where I can’t help them, but I want them to know that I care.
In the much neglected book of Ecclesiastes, a wise man delivers a similar warning. And, naturally, since God seems to be working me over with texts that are neglected and talk about unpleasant subjects like death, disaster, and depression, I am studying a lot of texts that don’t seem very edifying—at least, at first glance. Of course, they always end up having some sort of edge to them that makes me glad God brought me to them. That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired them and preserved them.
To emulate the late Rod Serling and his clever openings to The Twilight Zone television series: “Society is filled with fools and traitors, the omnipresent temptation to decadence and self-indulgence, a footpath with a myriad of false turns and dead ends. Case in point, a Hebrew wise man who calls himself Qoheleth, a leader who calls people to assemble together for the dissemination of practical wisdom, clever philosophy, and difficult questions. It is wisdom as old as Solomon. Yet, even this font of wisdom must act with caution in The Insight Zone.”
Okay, I know you think old Doc Johnny has gone overboard with this introduction, but I think you’ll agree it’s appropriate as we consider Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (the verses are actually Ecclesiastes 4:17-5:6 in the Hebrew). (Read it)
1) Watch your feet (carefully) when you go to the house of God.
Coming near to listen (is better) than giving the sacrifice of fools
BECAUSE they don’t know they are doing evil.
2) Don’t be presumptuous with your mouth
and don’t be impetuous with your will (lit. heart)
to publish (deliver) a word (or deed) before God’s presence
BECAUSE God is in the heavens and you are upon the earth,
THEREFORE let your words be few.
3) BECAUSE the dream comes with great vexation
and the sound (or voice) of a fool with many words.
4) When you vow a vow to God, don’t delay in paying it
BECAUSE He takes no pleasure in fools.
Give what you vowed to pay.
It is better not to vow rather than you cause yourself to vow
and don’t pay.
5) Do not give your mouth (the chance) to cause your flesh to sin
and do not say in the presence of the messenger,
“BECAUSE it was a mistake.”
6) Why, then, should God be angry at your voice
and destroy the work of your hands,
7) BECAUSE when dreams multiply,
then empty words grow great
THAT you fear God.
Let’s pray. [Precious God, our Father, we are so thankful that the New Testament opens us up to stand in Your presence with confidence rather than being afraid You’re going to slap us down. We thank You that the complete Word you have given us, in both Jesus and in written form, assures us that You want the best for us and that we can never go wrong by responding obediently to You. Yet, we confess that we don’t always respond obediently to You. Sometimes, we rebel. Sometimes, we act presumptuously in both worship and service without getting direction from You. Sometimes, we are careless with the precious gifts You have given us. May we avoid that today as we strive to hear Your voice. In the name of Jesus, Your most complete revelation, we pray. AMEN.]