|5 1Step carefully when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than the sacrifice offered by fools; for they don’t even know how to do evil, much less any good. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few.
3 For dreams come with much business, and a fool’s voice with much talk.
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay fulfilling it; for he has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it. 6 Do not let 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 words, and destroy the work of your hands?
In the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins says, ““It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Qohelet tells us it is a dangerous business going to church. “Step carefully when you go to the house of God.” He suggests we go to worship to listen rather than to speak, because rash statements made in the house of God will be taken very seriously. (That is why I write out all my sermons! I may not always be wise, but at least I am not rash!)
Jesus was even sharper in his words:
“Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. (Matthew 5:34, 35)
When I was a kid, if we really wanted someone to believe us, we would say, “I swear to God.” That did not always mean that we were telling the truth. In fact, if you have to say that, there is a good chance it is because people have a good reason to NOT believe what you say.
Qohelet says that if you do make a vow, you better fulfill it. There is an important principle going on behind his words. If being on heaven or earth knows us through and through, it is God. Lying to God is just like lying to yourself. Making a heartfelt promise that you really have no intention to keep to God is like making that promise to yourself. And anyone who lies to themselves, certainly cannot be trusted when they speak to others.
They destroy their own credibility from the inside out. The only thing worse than lying intentionally is lying, and believing your own lies. That person has no real knowledge of truth or falsehood. Qohelet says that they are so inept they can’t even do evil things, much less good things.
This one of the few places where he says that there are divine consequences for bad or good behavior. Remember earlier where he lamented that the wise man and the fool suffer the same fate? Here he implies there is a kind of divine justice that occurs when we speak about God, that it changes our fate in this world.
He ends this section with a penetrating observation: “When dreams multiply, so do pointless thoughts and excessive speech.” Sometimes we say of a person, “Ah, he’s just a dreamer!” meaning that the person is not grounded in reality. The antidote, says Qohelet, is to fear God. God is the ultimate reality, for when we encounter God honestly, we also encounter the deep parts of ourselves.
Thoughts and Questions
- Have you ever made a vow to God? What did you vow? Why did you make that vow to God? What are good reasons to make a vow to God? What are bad reasons?
- An East German (back when there was an East Germany) said that Americans do not value as much as they do. Our words, he said, are cheap because they cost us nothing. When an East German told the truth, they often had to suffer severe persecution from their government. So they were very careful with their words, and valued truth as a precious commodity. Do we in America undervalue truth? What are the consequences of that, if we do?
- Qohelet is not big on dreamers. Does this apply to people like Martin Luther King, who dreamed of a different world? If not, why not?