Our text this morning will be the first seven verses of
Ecclesiastes 5. Don't turn there yet. It'll take me a little while
to get there, because I want to start by reminding
you what a tragic figure King Solomon was. Then I want to
introduce you to this book and what it's about.
First, briefly, let me remind you of the biblical assessment
of Solomon's life. Remember that Solomon made a mess of
his own home life; he compromised on the issue of false
worship; and in the closing years of his life he finished very,
very badly. Here's what 1 Kings 11 says at the end of
Solomon's life and career:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with
the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite,
Sidonian, and Hittite women,
2 from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to
the people of Israel, "You shall not enter into marriage
with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will
turn away your heart after their gods." Solomon clung to
these in love.
3 He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And
his wives turned away his heart.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 2
4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his
heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to
the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.
5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the
Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the
6 So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD
and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father
7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the
abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of
the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.
8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made
offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his
heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel,
who had appeared to him twice
10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he
should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what
the LORD commanded.
What a tragic legacy for such a gifted man! Solomon's life
and character are a bold reminder to us that as the end of life
approaches, we can't coast to the finish line. Even the best of
lives can end in disaster.
But Solomon learned some valuable lessons from his own
failure, and he records them in the book of Ecclesiastes. This
The Sacrifice of Fools 3
morning, we're going to look closely at what he learned
about true worship. But let's go to Ecclesiastes 1 and start
there with a quick survey, so that we get this in context.
I've never preached a full sermon from Ecclesiastes
before. I've used a few verses from chapter four as my text in
a wedding sermon, but I've really never attempted a full
exposition of any verse or passage from this bookCpartly
because this is a hard book to preach from. It's Solomon's
testimony about his quest for wisdom, pleasure, the meaning
of life, and the whole duty of humanity before God.
He recounts his quest from the perspective of human
wisdom, and he candidly describes how an over-reliance on
human wisdom blended with a lack of spiritual discipline
frequently led him into various kinds of spiritual dead ends.
Then he ends the book by telling us the single most
important lesson he has learned from his own life as a
monumental spiritual failure.
Let's trace this through quickly and we'll try to follow the
thread of Solomon's argument. Ecclesiastes chapter 1. He
introduces himself in verse 1: "The words of the Preacher, the
son of David, king in Jerusalem." There's no question who tis
is, so after that one-verse introduction, he jumps right to the
heart of his message. Here is the whole theme of the book in
a single verse (v. 2): "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity." His point is that nothing in this
world has any eternal worth. It's the same point Jesus made
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 4
in Mark 8:36 when He asked, "What does it profit a man to
gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"
Solomon is giving us an earthly perspective on the
significance of human life, and it is a bleak picture from the
very start. He talks (verse 3) about the drudgery and
dreariness of laborCand the fact that with all the work we do,
we never actually gain anything permanent from it. He talks
about the monotony of human existence. Verse 4: "A
generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains
forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to
the place where it rises." He goes on to talk about the circuit
of the wind (verse 6), the water cycle (verse 7). His point
there is not about the wonder and wisdom of God who
engineered and created these phenomena. He's speaking from
an earthly point of view. So he concludes (v. 8) that "All
things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it." In the
immortal words of Mick Jagger, he can't get no satisfaction.
There is nothing new under the sun. Verse 14: "I have seen
everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity
and a striving after wind." And that becomes a constant
refrain, repeated nine times in the first six chapters: "all is
vanity and a striving after wind." Nothing in this world is
permanent, nothing is really pleasurable, nothing has any
lasting worth, and nothing brings peace to the human heart.
It's a very bleak picture. Human life frankly does look bleak
if you face it honestly from a purely human perspective.
The Sacrifice of Fools 5
And Solomon goes on for several chapters in this same
vein. Now understand: Solomon is a believer, even though
he has irreparably destroyed his own reputation and legacy.
He does know and affirm biblical truth, and we'll see that in
the end. After all, he was used by the Holy Spirit to write the
book of Proverbs. So he is not promoting a carnal
worldview; he is simply showing that any worldview that's
not biblical is necessarily negative, nihilistic, narcissistic,
nonsensicalCor all of the above. And Solomon speaks from
personal experience. He tried everything.
Chapter 2, for example, recounts his experiments with a
kind of hedonismCviewing life as a quest for pleasure. He's
not advocating that approach to life. In fact, he starts that
chapter by telling us the end of the matter. Ecclesiastes 2:1:
"I said in my heart, 'Come now, I will test you with pleasure;
enjoy yourself.' But behold, this also was vanity." He goes on in
that chapter to say wisdom and work are more rewarding
than sheer pleasure. However, he says in verse 21,
"Sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and
knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by
someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great
evil." So even wisdom and work per se are no sure answer to
the dilemma of life's monotony and meaninglessness.
Solomon goes on like that for several chapters, sharing
gems of wisdom that he has learned, some profound, some
just good common sense. It's all interwoven with his
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 6
observation that human life, considered by itself apart from
any eternal values or eternal rewardsCmere earthly life, at
the end of the day, is pure vanity.
This, by the way, is the logical and inevitable conclusion
of atheism. Again, Solomon isn't promoting atheism; he's
showing us what happens when you apply common-sense
wisdom and sound logic to atheistic principles (3:19-20):
"What happens to the children of man and what happens to the
beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have
the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for
all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust
all return." And the agnostic is in the same leaky boat (v. 21):
"Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the
spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?"
Here is probably the wisest man who ever lived (aside
from Christ), and he is leading us through the process of
analyzing human life by employing the very best of human
By the way, wisdom is a virtue, commended many times
in Scripture. Jesus Himself says in Matthew 10:16 that He
wants His disciples to "be wise as serpents and innocent as
doves." But sheer wisdom alone is no substitute for moral
integrity. You can possess great wisdom, but if that's all you
haveCif you don't also set your heart on eternal thingsCyour
wisdom is earthly and sensual and of no eternal value.
Solomon himself makes that confession in Ecclesiastes 2:15.
The Sacrifice of Fools 7
It's a shame someone as wise as Solomon felt he needed
to experiment with hedonism and other worldly
philosophies, so that he had to learn these truths that way.
But the Holy Spirit used Solomon's experience for precisely
this reason: to record these lessons for us.
The book of Ecclesiastes is inspired Scripture, and even
though it its themes are human folly, earthly vanity, and the
futility of life apart from God. If we understand the context
and follow the argument all the way to the conclusion, it's a
And of course, Ecclesiastes ends with that famous text in
12:13-14. Jump with me to the end now, and let's look at the
last two verses in the book. Here's the moral of the tale:
Solomon says, [This is] "the end of the matter; [after] all has
been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is
the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into
judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."
Bottom lineCour lives are not for us. The only way to be
fruitful beyond the fleeting years of this earthly existence is
to live our lives for God. After all, we will be accountable to
Him even beyond the grave. We should occupy ourselves
with the authoritative, inerrant, inspired truth He has given
usCand be wary of anything else. That's the final lesson.
In fact, in verse 9, Solomon makes reference to the
inspired wisdom in the book of ProverbsCthe centerpiece of
the Bible's wisdom literature. What is written in that book is
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 8
trustworthy (v. 10). "The Preacher sought to find words of
delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth." Then verse 12:
"My son, beware of anything beyond these." The writings of
mere men do not deserve the attention and honor that we owe
to the inspired text. This is Solomon's declaration of sola
Scriptura: "My son, beware of anything beyond these."
And if we take Solomon's counsel on that, it will save us
from a lot of frustration. Think this through: Solomon, the
wisest man who ever lived, tried to master all the world's
ideas and integrate them with the simple truth God has
revealed, and he confesses that it's too big a project for
anyone. There are too many books for anyone to read, too
many human opinions to sort through and evaluate. It's a
completely futile goal, too, what is deemed wisdom in this
fallen world is ultimately incompatible with divine truth.
I have been a book editor for 40 years, and the end of
verse 12 could be my life's verse: "Of making many books
there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh."
What Solomon is saying here is something I wish every
seminarian would take to heart. There is very little real value
in loading your head with human philosophies and academic
theories. It's especially a waste of time to chase after novel
theological notions, trendy academic approaches to the Word
of God, or the musings of higher critics and anyone who
bows at their feet. If your love for the Word of God and your
ability to handle simple gospel truths doesn't exceed your
The Sacrifice of Fools 9
skill in parsing human opinions, then you really aren't doing
anything of eternal value. And frankly, if your interest in
Scripture is academic only, you're no better off spiritually
than the drunken derelict who sits at the end of the freeway
off-ramp begging spare change.
Furthermore (and this is applicable to all of us), it's
possible to be a redeemed person, full of wisdom and
understanding, and yet make a royal mess of your earthly life
by turning away from the simple yet eternal truth you know
because you want to dabble in things you know are
detrimental to your soul. Solomon is one of several
characters in Scripture who teach us that truth. It's the very
thing David denounced in Psalm 131, where he said, "My
heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not
occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me."
Solomon comes to the same conclusion, but only after he
has irreparably ruined his earthly life and reputation.
Ecclesiastes is a sad book, made all the sadder because of
what we know about Solomon's unfaithfulness. The theme of
Ecclesiastes is the very same message that dominates the
opening chapters of 1 Corinthians: "The wisdom of this world
is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their
craftiness,' and again, 'The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile'" (1 Corinthians 3:19-20). But Solomon's
warnings about the folly of human wisdom are all the more
potent because they come from someone so wise and so full
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 10
of great potential, and yet in the end, he became a living
example of the shame of human folly.
But the book of Ecclesiastes is more than just a lament
about the folly of human reason. It's well-salted with wise
counsel for Solomon's childrenCand for you and me as we
read and ponder Solomon's testimony. There are moments of
inspired clarity throughout the book, and one of my favorites
is the text I want you to turn to now: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.
Here Solomon gives some extremely wise and relevant
counsel about religion and the manner in which we worship
God. He knows the average person reading his testimony
will think, I know the solution to the emptiness and
monotony of this life. It's religion. And often what they mean
is that they will adopt some God or buy into some religious
system that suits their personal tastes and build their lives
around that. You know: I'll make God my co-pilot. (I've
never understood why anyone would make a confession like
that. If you're flying the plane with God in the co-pilot's seat,
you need to change places with Him.) But people embrace
silly religious sentiments, or religious superstitions, instead
of biblical truth, and they try to stave off or paper over the
futility of human existence with their own self-directed
notions about God.
No, Solomon says. Even religion can be vain, foolish,
The Sacrifice of Fools 11
And let's be honest: Most of the religion in this world is
precisely that. It's like shoddy clothing made of fig
leavesCinadequate to cover the shame it is trying to hide.
And in the end, false religion simply cannot stand up to the
wear and tear of real life. It will end in eternal disgrace and
dishonor and destruction. Self-styled religion no better (and
in most ways even worse) than the unbelief of the atheist.
Both are sheer vanity.
So Solomon includes this firm but beautiful warning
about the hypocrisy and vanity of all false religion. He
knows that most of his readers will have enough common
sense to understand the point he is coming to. If all of earthly
life is sheer vanity, we need to anchor our souls in eternal
realities. Solomon also knows it's the natural tendency of
every fallen human heart to try to cover our folly with fig
leaves or (if you're more sophisticated) post-it notes, so he
warns his readers not to go that route.
Here's the text (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7:
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.
2 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.
3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's
voice with many words.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 12
4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for
he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.
5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should
vow and not pay.
6 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
7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there
is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
I see in that passage five distinct exhortations, and each one
is in response to some folly that characterizes virtually all
false worship. In fact, these are all common tendencies of
every fallen person. Even Christians can and do fall into
these errors. Solomon is giving us words of caution against
some of the most common mistakes we make with regard to
Five exhortations, and we'll take them in the order they
appear. Verse 1, number 1:
The Sacrifice of Fools 13
1. DON'T SPEAK WHEN YOU OUGHT TO BE LISTENING
Solomon says, "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." The
phrase, "Guard your steps" is a figure of speech. It's
Solomon's way of saying, "Be mindful of what you are
doing. Don't come thoughtlessly to the place of worship."
And specifically: "draw near to listen" and learn, not just to be
entertained, and certainly not to put your own piety on
display. We all know people who want to talk but never
listen. They're willing to teach, but not to be taught. They
love being the center of attention, and in the minds of some
people, the gathering of God's people for worship seems like
the ideal venue in which to put themselves on the public
That was Jesus' chief complaint against the Pharisees,
right? Matthew 23:3, Jesus says, "They preach, but do not
practice." They were good at telling other people what to do,
but somehow all those words didn't translate into any deeds
of kindness. Jesus said, "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to
bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves
are not willing to move them with their finger" (v. 4).
Every distinctive feature of their religion shouted, "Look
at me! See how devout I am!" Jesus said (vv. 5-7), "They do
all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their
phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 14
of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and
greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others."
This is a problem today, too. It's a pervasive problem in
charismatic circlesCmuch like in the Corinthian church.
Everyone wanted to speak at onceCeven though no one had
any discernible message. Nobody was interpreting. No one
was even listening. Everyone was too busy
speakingCspeaking in tongues, no less. In 1 Corinthians
14:23, Paul says, "If . . . the whole church comes together and
all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will
they not say that you are out of your minds?" I've been in
charismatic assemblies that functioned precisely that way.
And charismatics by no means have a monopoly on this
issue. There are plenty of musicians who identify with the
church because they see it as a venue in which to perform;
businessmen who come to the place of worship mainly
because they think it's a good place to troll for clients; single
people whose first priority is to meet other singles; and so
In fact, let's be brutally honest: we all have a natural
aversion to listening and being taught. It's a tendency we
must fight. We love the music, and the fellowship, and the
coffee and donuts. All of that comes easy. But we have to
discipline ourselves to listen to the teaching. Our minds
wander during prayer. We think through the lunch options
during the Scripture reading. We drift off and sometimes
The Sacrifice of Fools 15
even doze off when we are supposed to be listening and
That's a dangerous corruption of what worship ought to
be. And the remedy, Solomon says, is to "Guard [our] steps
when [we] go to the house of God." Be diligent to listen when
we should be listening.
"To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of
fools." That's Solomon's description of all false, hypocritical,
or half-hearted worship: It's "the sacrifice of fools." And of
course, one of the defining characteristics of all fools is that
they are oblivious to their own foolishness. They lack
self-awareness. In Solomon's words, "they do not know that
they are doing evil."
That doesn't mitigate the evil. Ignorance is no excuse for
foolishnessCbecause it's a culpable ignorance. That's the
difference between foolishness and inexperience. The
ignorance of a fool is the fault of his own thoughtlessness, or
sinful neglect, or willful stupidity.
Instead, Solomon says, "Guard your steps when you go to
the house of God." Give thought to what you are there for.
Pay careful attention to the words of praise, and instruction,
and rebuke, and exhortation. And above all, don't speak
when you ought to be listening.
Here's admonition number two (vv. 2-3):
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 16
2. DON'T TALK WITHOUT THINKING
There's a logic that flows with these admonitions. Listen
when you are being taught. And if you must talk, think first.
Verse 2: "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." Now, the context here pertains especially to
corporate worshipC"when you go to the house of God." The
principle applies to all of life, of course, and these verses
echo several of Solomon's Proverbs. Proverbs 15:28: "The
heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of
the wicked pours out evil things." Proverbs 10:19: "When
words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever
restrains his lips is prudent." Proverbs 17:27-28: "Whoever
restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit
is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is
considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed
Think before you speak, and speak as little as possible. It's
a simple principle that some of us have a very hard time
putting into practice. I think most of my grandchildren
inherited my loquaciousness. They like to talk even when
there's nothing to say. I hope they can learn this principle,
but I admit, I've been struggling for 62 years to learn to hold
my tongue more often than I turn it loose.
The Sacrifice of Fools 17
James expounds on this principle at length in James 3, and
he doesn't mince words. He says, "The tongue is a fire, a world
of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members,
staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,
and set on fire by hell." He calls the tongue "a restless evil, full
of deadly poison." And he starts that chapter with this: "Not
many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you
know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."
He's on the very same page as Solomon here. It's better to
listen than to teach. That's pretty simple, right?
A woman I don't know recently wrote me an angry e-mail
because she heard I agree with the principle the Apostle Paul
spells out in 1 Timothy 2:12, where he says, "I do not permit a
woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she
is to remain quiet." Teaching offices in the church are not
open to women for the public instruction of men. And this
woman scolded me, saying she knows a lot of men who are
worse teachers than she is, and it's unfair for the apostle Paul
to let them teach when they could actually learn a lot from
her, or even from their wives.
I wrote back to say she had misunderstood me, and I
actually agree with her up to a point. My position is that no
one should hold a teaching office in the church unless he
meets the biblical qualifications. That rules out most men,
too. I'm with James on this: "Not many . . . should become
teachers." When the church gathers corporately, only those
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 18
who are gifted and qualified to teachCmen whose gifts and
qualifications have been observed, and examined, and
approved by the elders of the church. Furthermore, James
says, "[those] who teach will be judged with greater strictness."
Therefore it behooves them in particular to think carefully
and study diligently before they speak.
But the principle here applies to everyone, including
teachers. Let your words be carefully measured, and don't
speak rashly. Don't talk at all unless you have thought
through carefully what you are saying. The words we speak
in worship are uttered "before God, for God is in heaven and
you are on earth."
There's one more important application of this principle.
It's a reminder that when we are gathered to worship, we
should not sing, or pray, or read even a responsive reading
without carefully pondering what we are saying. The practice
of saying or singing things mindlessly, by rote, will sow
seeds of hypocrisy. To do that in worship isn't even true
Verse 3: "For a dream comes with much business, and a
fool's voice with many words." That's a hard verse to interpret,
but the context helps us. Verse 7 also mentions dreams and
long-winded verbiage, and it's clear that Solomon doesn't see
anything beneficial or positive in dreams or unbridled talk.
People today speak of "dreams" invariably as something
The Sacrifice of Fools 19
positive to be pursued. "Follow your dreams," people tell
their children. Scripture says that's a foolish outlook on life.
A "dream" in this context refers to human
whimsyCirrational, spontaneous, fanciful thoughts that may
have the superficial appearance of something coherent, but
Solomon speaks of a dream as something capricious and
"Much business" refers to a distracted, preoccupied mind
lacking any singular focus. That kind of mental frenzy
spawns irrational dreams, and Solomon is saying that's fatal
to true worship. ThinkCthink carefully and with
focusCwhen you come to the place of worship.
Don't speak when you ought to be listening. Don't talk
without thinking. And now thirdC
3. DON'T MAKE A VOW AND THEN FAIL TO PAY
Verses 4-5: "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." This doesn't need a lot of comment. Breaking a vow
made before God is a very serious sin. And life is full of
vows. Marriage is sealed with a vow. Testimony in court is
confirmed with formal public vows.
By the time of Jesus, people were in the habit of making
casual, mindless vows all the time. If someone didn't utter
an oath in that culture, you might assume they were lying.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 20
But Jesus said (Matthew 5:33-37), "Do not take an oath at all
. . . Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than
this comes from evil." James picks up on the same principle in
James 5:12: "Above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by
heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your "yes" be
yes and your "no" be no."
Both Jesus and James were talking about the casual use of
oaths in everyday conversation. They weren't teaching that
Christians should not take marriage vows or be sworn into
office or be sworn in to testify in court. What Jesus taught
and James echoed is simply an application of the principle in
our text: an oath is a very serious thing, not to be entered into
thoughtlessly. An oath is a formal promise to God, and
therefore oaths should never be broken. In most
circumstances, it is better not to swear at all, but "When you
vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure
in fools. Pay what you vow."
Again, the flow of logic is seamless. Don't talk when you
ought to be listening. If you must talk, think first. Verse 2:
"Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter
a word before God." Don't talk without thinking. And the
corollary of that principle is this: Don't make a thoughtless
vow you're not gong to be able to follow through on.
Here's a fourth principle of true, transparent worship:
The Sacrifice of Fools 21
4. DON'T MAKE EXCUSES INSTEAD OF CONFESSING
If you should sinCif, for example, you have made a rash
or foolish vow and find you cannot pay it (v. 6), "Let not your
mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger
that it was a mistake."
In other words, don't compound your sin by trying to
make excuses. First John 1:9-10: "If we confess our sins, he is
faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness. [But] if we say we have not sinned, we make
him a liar, and his word is not in us."
Here again, Solomon is giving us a countermeasure for
religious hypocrisy. And once more, the very honesty
Solomon is calling for compels us to acknowledge that what
he condemns here is a sinful tendency we all have. We
typically try to minimize or deny our own sins. We make
excuses when we ought to be making a confession. True
worship demands that we mortify that tendency and not call
our sins "mistakes." That's pretty much a frontal blow at the
spirit of our generation, isn't it?
Solomon speaks of "the messenger." That's a reference to
the priest. Again, the context here has to do with how we
approach worship in the house of the Lord, and in the Old
Testament, that involved priests. Malachi 2:7 says this about
the priesthood and various duties incurred by both
worshipper and priest in the context of Old Testament
Temple worship. Notice how many ways this parallels our
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 22
passage. It speaks of the duty of the worshiper to listen. It
strongly implies the priest's duty to think before he speaks. It
places the priest under a vow of confidentiality. And it refers
to him as the Lord's messenger. (The priest, by the way, is
the one you would go to in order to formalize a vow, and
then to certify that the vow has been fulfilled.)
Malachi 2:7: "The lips of a priest should guard knowledge,
and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the
messenger of the LORD of hosts."
Here's the point, then: be candid with the Lord's
messenger. These days we don't make confession to a human
priest, but Scripture does say, "Confess your sins to one
another, and pray for one another" (James 5:16). Confess your
sin; don't cover it up or make excuses for it. If you can't
fulfill a rash vow you made, admit it; don't try to justify
The second half of Ecclesiastes 5:6 says, "Why should God
be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?" In
other words, it is better to confess and seek God's mercy than
to cover our sin and face His wrath.
There was, by the way, a provision in the Law of Moses
for people who made a rash vow they couldn't possibly
fulfill. Leviticus 5:4-6:
If anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do
good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is
The Sacrifice of Fools 23
hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he
realizes his guilt in any of these;
5 when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses
the sin he has committed,
6 he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the
sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb
or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make
atonement for him for his sin.
And that's followed by a long, careful instruction about what
to do if you were too poor to afford the sacrifice of a lamb or
a goat. So even in the law, God had merciful provisions for
those who could not keep their vows. But notice: whether
you were rich or poor, confession of your sin was the starting
point of forgiveness. To make excuses was to spurn God's
gracious proposal of mercy.
So, to review: Verse 1: Don't speak when you ought to be
listening. Verses 2-3: Don't talk without thinking. Verses 4-5:
Don't make a vow and then fail to pay. Verse 6: Don't make
excuses instead of confessing. And finally verse 7:
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 24
5. DON'T BASE YOUR WORLDVIEW ON YOUR OWN
FANTASIES RATHER THAN THE FEAR OF GOD
This is the fatal mistake most people make in religion.
And sadly, we have a glut of religious leaders who are highly
esteemed among evangelicals who basically encourage
people to pursue their own dreams and base their worldview
on whatever brings them happiness, or comfort, or a feeling
of self-esteem. Robert Schuller made a career of telling that
lie, and the fruit of it was sheer vanity, just as Solomon says.
In the end, Solomon gives us a different, better
perspective. Verse 7: "For when dreams increase and words
grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear."
The first part of this verse echoes the point he already
made in verse 3: "For a dream comes with much business, and
a fool's voice with many words." We're not to be guided by our
dreams. Dreams are a distraction from the truth. "A dream
comes with much business." Remember what that means: a
dream is the product of distractions and double-mindedness.
A dream by definition is a fantasy. I realize there are a few
occasions in Scripture where God spoke to people in dreams.
But those are very rare occasions, and when God did speak
through dreams, there was no ambiguity about whether He
was the source of the dream or not.
The fact is, the Bible never encourages us to look for
inspired meaning in our dreams or mystical significance in
our own imaginations. In fact, we are expressly forbidden to
The Sacrifice of Fools 25
go beyond what is written. First Corinthians 4:6: "Do not go
beyond what is written." and Proverbs 28:26: "Whoever trusts
in his own mind is a fool."
In this context, dreams are expressly named alongside
rambling, wordy speech as one of the key marks of a fool.
Verse 3 makes the two things parallel: "A dream comes with
much business, and a fool's voice with many words." In other
words, a dream is like the blather of a fool.
Verse 7 comes back to that point again, linking the folly
of the motor-mouth with the absurdity of the mystical
The silliness of looking for truth in dreams rather than in
the Bible is a very serious and very potent threat to a person's
spiritual well-being, mental health, and doctrinal soundness.
This was a pervasive problem in Old Testament times. Listen
to Jeremiah 23:25-26 (this is the voice of God speaking): "I
have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my
name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' How long shall
there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and
who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make
my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one
another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal?"
If it's foolish to talk to much, it is at least equally foolish
to let dreams dictate our behavior, our worldview, or worst
of all, our faith. If this was a problem was pervasive in Old
Testament times, it is absolutely endemic in our generation,
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 26
mainly because of the charismatic movement. Anyone and
everyone can claim direct revelation via dreams these days
and teach their fantasies as if they bore the weight of divine
authorityCand rarely will such claims meet with any
challenge or criticism. But if you echo Solomon's opinion
that human dreams are expressions of human folly, and that
"He who trusts in his own heart is a fool," prepare yourself.
That is the idea that gets all the reproach today.
But once more: we are never instructed in Scripture to
pursue our dreams. That is a recipe for folly. We're to fear
God and follow Him. That means His WordCnot our own
dreams and fantasiesCshould be the foundation of our
worldview and the anchor for our faith.
That's Solomon's final point here. Human dreams and
human ramblings contain nothing but vanity. "But God is the
one you must fear."
Solomon is actually giving us a preview of the punch line
he is building to at the end of chapter 12. It is the capstone of
his counsel about true worship. It's the same essential
message we hear from the angel in Revelation 14, who
accompanies Christ to earth and stands in midheaven, saying
"Fear God and give him glory."
That's the essence of true worship. That's our duty when
we come to the place of worship. It doesn't happen
spontaneously, and we can't meet this standard at all, even in
The Sacrifice of Fools 27
the most rudimentary way, apart from the enabling grace of