1Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil.
2Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.
3For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.
Rather than living merely under the sun, Solomon now reflects upon living in light of the fear of God. A fool casually and without careful introspection approaches the house of God. He offers praise and sacrifices without first being diligent to assess the condition of his heart before God. God desires that we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and part of this implies that we approach him with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4). We should go in humility, seeking to listen, learn, and obey, rather than going presumptuously and arrogantly with a heart not sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and working. God wants us to tremble before Him and His Word (Isaiah 66:2), and we must not be casual and careless about the worship of God. Those who approach God in worship casually and without self-examination typically do not realize the severity of what they are doing. They need to be instructed in the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7) and in the splendor of His holiness. They need to know that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5) and that He disciplines those children whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6). Those who mock His table, communion, even risk death or sickness (1 Corinthians 11:30). Approaching God is a serious matter, and it is imperative that the church instructs people to this end.
When we pray, we should think about what we are saying, for it is not appropriate before God to speak carelessly or spuriously. God demands that we respect Him as we share our requests and heart with Him. God is in heaven, a place of perfection, power, and purity, whereas we are mere men on the created earth praying to the Creator of heaven and earth. We must remember just Who it is that we are speaking to lest we insult God with our casual, careless, heartless, and impulsive manner. We don’t need to fill time with many words or meaningless phrases, but we need to simply speak with the Lord with a few but meaningful and well-thought through words. God doesn’t need explanations because He already knows. He doesn’t need lots of wonderful diction to be impressed to listen, for He hears the groanings of the Spirit in our hearts loudly and clearly (Romans 8:26). When we come before God, we come bare and naked in our soul, for God sees and knows all. Let’s keep it simple, pure, and respectful, asking God what we need to ask Him and bringing our requests before Him in simplicity.
Some look to visions, dreams, and fanciful experiences in order to feel close to God. It is the work of fools to labor after an extraordinary mystical experience rather than simply approaching God in faith through prayer. God is within His children, and He doesn’t have to be sought up through my travail and labor. He is right here, within us, and He is omnipresent. Fools labor to find God, and they waste their effort and energy in superfluous words in prayer. Rather than try to conjure up an experience with God, we should simply speak with Him. Rather than try to dream up some selfish ambition for God, we should ask Him for wisdom. Rather than wait for God to speak to us in a dream, we should look to His Word.
4When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools Pay what you vow!
5It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.
6Do 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. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?
7For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.
Continuing in the same vein of thought about approaching God in worship, Solomon explains again that God must be feared, respected, and taken seriously. A person should not make a vow to God and then not pay it. Such is foolish. We would be better off not making a vow if we weren’t going to follow through on it anyway. If we make a promise to God, we had better keep it so that we don’t greatly dishonor God Who always keeps His promises to us. Jesus taught that we don’t need to tack on any oath when we make a commitment as if swearing by something makes any difference. Rather, we should let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” (Matthew 5:36-37). There is no reason to add in the oath when God hears us and takes us at our Word. We, too, should take Him at His Word, and keep things simple. If we do make a commitment to God, we had better be sure to keep it. When we approach God in worship, we need to be very careful as to what comes out of our mouths. We don’t want to have to apologize to other believers that we made a mistake because, though they can forgive us, the foolish words have already done their damage and disrespected God. We need to learn not to make God angry in the first place so that we don’t risk His discipline or divine judgment. If we can control our tongue before God and in the house of God, we likely can control the rest of our lives (James 3:2). God doesn’t want superfluous, spurious speech or fanciful visions and dreams about experiences with Him or about what we want to do with our lives. He is not interested in our selfish ambitions, but He desires our hearts to approach Him humbly, respectfully, in fear, and in trembling. When we have a view of God as holy and authoritative, we will be careful as to what we speak, do, think, and desire. This is the place of wisdom and growth, and it is conducive to us being able to be used by God to accomplish His will in and through our lives.
8If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them.
9After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land.
The NKJV translates verse 9 as, “Moreover the profit of the land is for all; even the king is served from the field.” Thus, the idea is that, since all people, including the king, the officials, and the higher officials, are served by eating of the fruit of the land, each, being selfish, will try to get their fair share and more, which results in corruption and oppression of the poor, needy, and less powerful in the land. Because of greed, it is typical for the powerful to abuse the less powerful and those who have to take advantage of those who have not. Such is not the way of Christ Who is impartial (Deuteronomy 10:17) and generous to those in need (Philippians 4:19).
10He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.
11When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?
12The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.
Solomon, who himself had great wealth, clearly teaches that money does not make a person happy. In fact, the love of money, wealth, gain, and income leads a person to a place of dissatisfaction rather than satisfaction. Jesus taught that a person could not serve God and money (Matthew 6:24). If a person serves God, He can be content, which is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6). However, contentment will elude the person who makes money his master. Furthermore, things rust and decay, so the only “profit” they can be to those who own them is to see them, which is not much profit at all. Goods decay or are consumed, and the more goods, the more decay and consumption there will be. Thus, man should put his hope and confidence in what cannot decay or be consumed, which is God (Exodus 3:14), His Word (1 Peter 1:25), and eternal rewards in heaven (Matthew 6:20).
Man will do better if he works hard and does not hoard goods, loving wealth. The working man sleeps well, generally speaking, as compared to the rich man who is consumed with his goods and possessions and gaining more. He is never satisfied or able to rest, though his stomach is full. He is never content, and thus his soul is not full or at rest. The poorer man can sleep well, whether he has eaten little or much, because he is not chasing wealth. If a person is content with what he has and his lot in life and if he serves God, he can have full joy (Psalm 16:11). Pleasure does not consist in the amount of things owned but in knowing God.
13There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt.
14When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him.
15As he had come naked from his mother's womb, so will he return as he came He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand.
16This also is a grievous evil--exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind?
When a rich person hoards his possessions, it hurts him and steals from those in need. God blesses so that people can be a blessing to others, not so that they can keep more than they need. Such is greatly offensive to God, and it is even harmful to the person doing it as they become addicted and attached to their material goods. God’s provision never runs out, but if man trusts in his own provision he might be gravely disappointed, particularly if he loses all that he has, say through a bad investment. His son will have nothing even though at one time he had an abundance. Thus, riches are not where our confidence should be placed, but our trust and hope is God. All people must remember that we come into this world with nothing, being naked from our mother’s womb, and we can take nothing out of it. Thus, we had better think about sending treasure on ahead, rather than getting all that we can now. Those who live for the here and now at the expense of the life to come commit a grievous, vain, and empty evil.
17Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger.
18Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.
19Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.
20For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.
A person who puts his hope in his riches will end up with anger, bitterness, and resentment as death closes in because he will be recognizing that he can’t take his possessions on with him. He might be convicted of his wasted life, and he might be angry against the God Whom he will shortly have to face. Even those who do fear God will have to deal with sickness and distress, but the difference is that they have hope and joy, even in the hard times. Thus, they don’t need to isolate themselves in darkness and bitterness, but they can be encouraged with others who share their hope. The perspective man needs to have is a perspective driven by the fear of God. We are to live knowing that we only have so much time on earth as God allots our days. Thus, we should eat, drink, and work, enjoying each, which is only possible if we do it to the glory of God. Whenever eating, drinking, or working becomes about the activity itself rather than about worshipping God, it becomes meaningless, boring, and joyless. So what is good and fitting is to honor God and enjoy Him in all of life, recognizing that the best is yet to come. This is the only perspective that makes any sense or which makes this life possibly enjoyable. Riches don’t make it enjoyable, so even those who have much in this life should honor God as the Giver of their possessions, enjoying Him which makes it possible to enjoy them. They should not become enslaved to their things, but they should worship God. Then they can enjoy His grace to them, and they should be generous toward those in need (1 Timothy 6:17-18). The paradigm which all people should seek to find is a live lived where God keeps them occupied in a state of gladness of heart rather than counting the years down in misery, bitterness, or hopelessness. There should be an eagerness to go and be with the Lord, but there should also be a joyful serving of Christ in this life, even if life is difficult (Philippians 1:21).