Posted: 18 Apr 2011 12:00 AM PDT
THE TEACHER PAUSES IN HIS ARGUMENT to offer some reflections and home truths regarding how to live in the world as we find it, including the religious world. His argument now takes a pragmatic turn that runs from Ecclesiastes 4:9 to 5:12. Here we focus on Ecclesiastes 5:1–12, which can be divided into two blocks of material.
In the first, Qoheleth describes and condemns the merely pious man. His target is not the full-blown hypocrite so often denounced by the prophets, but the subtler hypocrite who likes to participate in worship services, chatters piously, and who rarely keeps his promises or performs what he has volunteered to do for God. "Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools" (Eccl. 5:1), the Teacher counsels. "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" (Eccl. 5:2). But if you do make a vow to God, "do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it" (Eccl. 5:4–5). "Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God" (Eccl. 5:7).
Corporate worship is not a time for daydreaming, a retreat for mental scribbling. This is the worship of a fool. All the pious words and corporate expressions and confessions of faith are reduced to meaninglessness. As you pick your way through the apparent meaninglessness of life, remain steady at least on this point: stand in awe of God.
The second block warns against the meaninglessness of riches. In a fallen and broken world, we should not be surprised by corruption that rips off the people at the bottom of the pecking order (Eccl. 5:8–9). Of course, we should support government administration; officialdom is better than anarchy. Nevertheless in many cultures corruption is so endemic that the predators higher up the ladder are constantly scrambling to grab bigger and bigger pieces of the pie. The Teacher's comments are dry and entirely in line with cynical secularism.
The sad fact is that love of money creates greater love of money (Eccl. 5:10). Inevitably it attracts a range of parasites, people who fawn over you, whom you cannot really trust (Eccl. 5:11). And at the end of the day, money leaves you with sleepless nights—unlike the nights of the laborer, who works his shift, tires himself out, and enjoys a good night's sleep (Eccl. 5:12).
The arguments are pragmatic as the Teacher works his way through life pictured from below.
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