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July 9: The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 

For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?

For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is a vapor; but God is the one you must fear. – Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Looking carefully at this passage last week, we saw that there is something called “the sacrifice of fools.” Certainly, a wise person does not want to offer such a sacrifice, so what is it anyway? If I retranslated the verse slightly, it would go like this: “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools.” The opposite of hearing or listening is talking. Hebrews 13 makes it clear that there is another sacrifice that is made of words, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”

Here we find that “the sacrifice of fools,” at least in this context, is an offering of words—words hastily uttered before God. And ignorance is not an excuse either—the end of v. 1, for they do not know that they are doing evil.

Roughly the second half of the passage has to do with another kind of words at God’s house: vows. Apparently rash vows are a mark of the fool as well. Ananias and Sapphira come immediately to mind. They made a financial pledge, but it really was only a way to try to enhance their reputation at church! A word to the wise: “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.” Certainly you do not want to set God against you. Fear the Lord.

There’s a wonderful line in Psalm 90:17, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” I pray daily, for instance, that my work as a pastor will be both faithful, and that the Lord’s favor will be evident—that my work, by His great power, will be established. The prayer of the wise seeks such favor from the Lord upon their work, otherwise work without the Lord’s favor is a vapor. But the fool disregards the duty to keep his or her vow and thus their mouth leads them into sin, suggesting “before the messenger that it was a mistake.” It is not difficult for the Lord to destroy the work of your hands, and a Certified Financial Planner can’t thwart it.

For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is a vapor; but God is the one you must fear.” Dreamers are going to dream, and talkers are going to talk, but that’s all a vapor if you don’t fear God.

It is the duty of Christians to be the kind of people whose word can be trusted even without the need of swearing oaths. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He feared God. He knew when to speak and when to remain silent. We cherish and study every one of His words in large part because there are so few of them. He is often ridiculed for speaking so little, and ridiculed for the precise wisdom He spoke. He would take no rash vow although Satan’s temptations to do so were enticing. That’s because Jesus is the wisdom of God, the King of kings. He was never rash with His mouth, and the vows He made, He kept. And it is by those vows we are saved. And that’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

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