Ecclesiastes 5 – Vows Before God

This week we will complete the first half of Ecclesiastes.  Please read Ecclesiastes 5-6.  For Eastertide, we will be reading Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond – The Search for Our True Selves.  If you need a book please let me know.

Chapter 5 has three major parts. The first is the theme that fearing God means watching what we say to and about God. vv.1-6. The second part of the chapter addresses bureaucratic oppression and greed. vv.7-11. The final section returns to the theme that wealth and toil are only good if we can enjoy the same. vv.12-19. 

In verses 1-6, the Speaker cautions us to be parsimonious with our words before God. This section is one of the few times that the Speaker will address our relationship with God directly. In this relationship, the Speaker is concerned with our making promises to God (i.e. vows) that we cannot satisfy. It is better not to vow at all than to vow and not fulfill. Compare, v.4 and Deut. 23:22. In the Hebrew Scriptures, vows played an important role. The first vow was Jacob’s vow in his vision of the ladder.  He vowed that if God kept him safe from his brother Esau that he would build a temple to God there. Gen. 28:20. A person could vow people, animals, or land to God. See, Lev. 27. The Law proscribed how the payment of vows could be made. Lev 22: 18, 21. There were special rules for vows made by women. Num 30. The psalms are replete with references to the payment of vows.  Vows are an integral part of having a transaction relationship with God.  

The problem is that once a person made a vow and once God fulfilled the wish, the vow was unbreakable. Num. 30. There is the story of Jephthah’s daughter whom he offered up as a burnt offering in accordance with his vow. Judges 11:29-40. Samson took the vow of a Nazirite (Num. 6) which prohibited him from cutting his hair.  Once his hair was cut (and the vow broken), the Spirit of God left him only to return when his hair had grown back. Judges 13-16.  Hannah vowed that if God gave her a son, she would give him back to God, and thus Samuel was brought up in the Temple. 1 Sam. 1. It was a vow that caused Herod to decapitate John the Baptist. Mark 6.  Thus the Speaker tells us that vows are not to be taken lightly or inadvisably.

When we get to the New Testament, Jesus takes the teaching of the Speaker one step further. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us not to take a vow at all. Matt. 5:33-37. We are prohibited from invoking anything in heaven above or on earth below. As James reminds us, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and therefore making promises about tomorrow is arrogance. James 4:13-17

Dinner is at 6. The menu is chicken potato casserole. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.

Make a vow to the Lord your God and keep it; *
  let all around him bring gifts to him who is worthy
      to be feared.
He breaks the spirit of princes, *
   and strikes terror in the kings of the earth.

Psalm 76:11-12

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