From the third lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
Look with me, please, in the fourth chapter, because what Koheleth now begins dealing with is a series of apparent contradictions. Namely, that to everything there is a time--that God is sovereign and in control. He points out a lot of inequities in life, a lot of problems, a lot of anomalies that we might say, seem to contradict the statement that God is in control. If he is in control, then why do these things happen? And he deals with all of these, like the oppression of innocent people, for example. Or how governments can become unrighteous forces for governing and oppressing man. How man is isolated and lonely. He then talks about the futility of achievement, of popularity, how it is so fleeting.
But notice what he says in Chapter 4:4-6, “I saw that all labor and all achievement springs from man’s envy of his neighbor. This, too, is meaningless. It’s a chasing after the wind. The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind." Paul said a similar thing, didn’t he? Contentment. Do you know what I am referring to? With contentment there is much godly gain. A man who has contentment, the rabbis said, is a wealthy man. And yet, our natural instincts are to chase after, to toil, to grasp for more and more and more. But Koheleth says, in his wisdom, better to have a handful of tranquility than two hands grabbing for more and more and more. There is a series of these pithy little wisdom sayings, along this line. I wish we had time to look at them.
But I want to move on to Chapter 5. Because he now comes to part of the theme that is at the crux, I believe, of the positive message of Koheleth. Verse 1, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen, rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools who do not know what they do wrong." What is the sacrifice of fools? Somebody who is beating his lips incessantly, someone who is telling God everything. One who as Jesus says, prays these long, elaborate prayers. That’s the sacrifice of fools. Go to the Temple to be impressed, not to impress; to hear, not to speak. “Hear, O Israel.” In verse 2 he continues, "Do not be quick with your mouth. Do not be hasty in your heart, to utter anything before God. God is in heaven but you are on the earth. So let your words be few." The sages of Israel had a saying I like and it goes something like this: “wise words are as silver but silence is as gold.” Some may find this hard to believe, but I actually don’t enjoy talking. I really would much rather listen than talk. At our last meeting when we had a guest speaker -- that was wonderful. That was a feast, to be able to go to a gathering and listen rather than talk. I often feel foolish putting on these Bible studies... as any pastor can tell you, it's an enormous strain, because you are sitting there thinking, “who am I to say these things?” My wife can tell you, my life is not in perfect order. I can tell you what the Lord says, but that does not necessarily mean that I am doing it. And you feel always so inadequate, particularly when you get into something like this. It’s overwhelming.
But when you come before God, do not be eager to speak. Recognize before whom you stand. The King of Heaven. Be cautious what you say, because he measures your words. If you make a vow, for God’s sake, keep it. Don’t make a vow lightly, don’t make a pledge, don’t say that you are going to do something and then don’t do it. Be slow to speak, be cautious. As a dream comes when there are many cares (verse 4), so is the speech of a fool when there are many words. When you make a vow, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools. Fulfill your vow. It’s better not to vow, than to make a vow and not fulfill it -- I would say to you, by application. The truth of the matter is, the more you know, the more you are responsible for. Which is why Bible teachers and pastors can say, what a heavy burden God has laid on us, because the more we know, we are held to a much higher accountability than are you. But you have an accountability. Biblically, it’s not enough to come and have your ears tickled, to have your mind stimulated. You have responsibility here.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.