Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 10, Keeping Promises

Solomon begins by talking about the emptiness of fame and fortune, then he moves on to the importance of keeping promises to God.

"Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning." (Ecclesiastes 4:13) Some scholars have tried to make the case that Solomon is speaking of himself as the old king in verse 13. But although Solomon is in the latter years of his life, I don't believe we can accuse him of being foolish or of suffering from senility. Verse 13 may be a reference to the reigns of King David and King Saul. David might be the poor but wise youth who eventually gained the throne of the foolish King Saul who refused to heed the warnings given to him by God through the prophet Samuel. Or verse 13 may simply be the observation of an event that Solomon was aware of in a nearby kingdom, where perhaps the throne of an old king who was a poor leader was usurped by a young man who was a wise leader.

"The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king's successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 4:14-16) Once again he seems troubled by the temporariness of the things of this life. Fame doesn't last forever. This youth who wears the crown begins his reign with many happy followers, but as the younger generation grows up they are not pleased with him. They want someone else. Popularity and power are fleeting and cannot be counted on to last a lifetime. Even if a person is a good leader and a godly man, there will be those who say, "No, not him! We don't want him! Give us someone else." After all, isn't this what happened to the Lord Jesus, the perfect and holy Son of God? When Pilate brought Him out before the crowd and asked if He could be released, they preferred a criminal instead. "They shouted back, 'No, not Him! Give us Barabbas!'" (John 18:40)

Solomon now changes course and speaks of the proper conduct in the temple and the importance of keeping our promises to the Lord. "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 that they do wrong." (Ecclesiastes 5:1) He warns, "Give honor to the Lord when you enter His house. Show respect for Him. Listen to what He has to say and learn from it. Don't be like the spiritually reprobate man who brings offerings with sin in his heart, intending to go right back out the door to commit the same old sins. Come into the Lord's presence in a spirit of humility, being sorry for your sins, bringing sincere offerings." This reminds me of the parable Jesus taught of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. Both men went to the temple and both men left the temple, but only one of them left the temple forgiven. The Pharisee was like the foolish man Solomon speaks of, who loudly babbled about his own good works, who came to the temple to justify himself rather than to worship God. The tax collector stood in the temple in a spirit of humility and sorrow, meekly looking down at the floor and beating his breast, saying, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This is true sacrifice: feeling sorry for our sins and turning away from our sins. This is acceptable in the eyes of our holy God. Solomon's father David understood the value of a repentant heart after he confessed to the sins of adultery and murder, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise." (Psalm 51:17)

Now the king gives us advice about thinking carefully before we make promises, especially promises made to God. "Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool. When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it." (Ecclesiastes 5:2-5)

The wise person will consider whether or not he can keep his promise. A foolish person may make all sorts of promises, saying, "I will do all these things if only You will get me out of trouble, Lord!" The general consensus on Psalm 66 is that David wrote it, and in it he speaks of the importance of keeping our word to God, even if we gave our word in a time of distress, "I will come to Your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to You---vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble." (Psalm 66:13-14) I made some promises to God in my youth that I lacked the ability to keep. It taught me to be very careful about overestimating my own strength and promising things I can't deliver. I've always felt a certain kinship with the Apostle Peter who swore he'd go to the death with Jesus if necessary but ended up denying he knew Him. It's easy for us to think more of ourselves and our strength than we should and to make promises we won't be able to keep. We mean the words when we say them, just as Peter meant what he said. But sometimes we fail to factor in our human weakness. So Solomon says, "Be careful! Don't be so hasty to make promises you might not be able to keep. Spend more time listening to God than talking. If you keep your mouth shut and your ears open you will stay out of trouble."

"Do not let your mouth lead you into sin." (Ecclesiastes 5:6a) Ah, what beautiful advice! If only I had been more careful to follow it! It's bad enough that I've made godly promises to God I couldn't keep, but out of pride I've kept foolish promises I've made to humans. Have you ever made an unwise promise and then immediately realized you've put yourself in a bad spot but felt too embarrassed to back out? Have you ever been struck with the knowledge that the thing you've promised to do is sinful but you've gone through with it anyway? I've been there. I've let my mouth lead me into sin. I've agreed to things I had no business agreeing to and I've followed through on them because I had too much pride to say, "Wait a minute! I don't want to go down this path. I shouldn't have said I would in the first place."

The wise person will back out of sinful promises, but the wise person will try to keep godly promises if at all possible. "And do not protest to the temple messenger, 'My vow was a mistake.' Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God." (Ecclesiastes 5:6b-7) In this passage Solomon may be referring to the man who prays in the temple and promises particular offerings or sacrifices. The temple messenger, hearing these vows, expects to see them fulfilled. How embarrassing it would be to have to say to him, "Yeah, I'm not going to be able to do that after all", and then start giving excuses as to why the promise can't be carried out. Solomon says, "Why risk making God angry? Don't be foolish and babble when you're in trouble, promising all sorts of gifts and money to God's temple, then forgetting your vows when your circumstances improve. If you can't keep your word, don't make the promise. Stop and think before you speak."

The Lord's brother James was of the same opinion as Solomon, saying, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." (James 1:19) Lord, help us to think before we speak. Help us to spend more time listening than talking. In our own strength we are bound to fail, but we depend on Your strength to make us able to live godly lives. Keep us from letting our mouths lead us into sin so that we can live lives that honor You. We want to be men and women of our word, but let our words be few and let our ears be open to Your holy word. Guide us in everything we do, Lord, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen!

Below is our worship song link for today.
Word Of God Speak

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