Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
In today's passage the Teacher introduces a new topic: How should you worship God? The Teacher isn't interested in worship style, but in our attitude as we come to worship. How real is God to us? When we pray, do we mean what we say?
The Teacher's message in these verses is simple: when you go to the house of God, remember that it is God whose presence you are entering. You should come ready to listen to God's word (Ecclesiastes 5:1), not to blurt out your own words (v. 2). Empty dreams expressed in rash words have nothing to do with worship (v. 3). Bluntly, to pour out a stream of ill-considered prayers in God's presence is the mark of fools (v. 7).
What are fools doing in the temple at all? Perhaps they have come to make a vow to God: ″Grant my prayer, Lord, and I promise to give you . . .″ Making vows was permitted for Israelites (Numbers 30:2; Psalm 66:13-14); it was seen as an expression of dependence upon God (e.g., Hannah in 1 Samuel 1-2).
But, as Ecclesiastes 5:4-7 tells us, you must honour your vow. If God grants your request, give God what you promised. If you were serious in making your vow, then honour it. This is another aspect of the Teacher's repeated call to us to face reality. Here his point is: face the reality of God; take the God whom you worship seriously. The trouble with the person the Teacher depicts in today's text is his refusal to face reality: he toils excessively in pursuit of unrealistic expectations, and this is what leads to his wordy prayers and extravagant vows when he comes before God in worship. This is a recipe for disaster.
Today's passage focuses on one aspect of worship-standing in awe of God. Of course, worship is also about celebrating God's goodness with feasting and rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16; 26), or coming before God in joyful thanksgiving (Psalms 96; 100). The Teacher would not have disagreed with those texts, but he wants to make a yet more fundamental point: Think about what worship involves. Do we truly stand in awe of God? Do we make it an aim always to think of God realistically and soberly?
Finally, what is today's passage doing at this point in Ecclesiastes? It comes in between passages, which speak about injustice (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3; 5:8-9) and about people becoming enslaved to money (4:4-8; 5:10-17). Today's text suggests how injustice arises and how people come to pursue false goals by: forgetting God; treating God lightly; worshipping money rather than God; or by imagining that God isn't really interested in how we conduct ourselves and how we treat our fellow human beings.
By contrast, the Teacher urges us to fear God and to live our lives in the knowledge of God's coming judgment (5:7; see also 11:9; 12:13-14). Are we willing to hear him?
These days we want our churches to be welcoming and ″seeker-friendly″. This is not a bad thing, but is there a danger that in trying not to ″put people off″ we fail to convey an appropriate sense of awe in our worship? Would non-Christian visitors be shocked by what they see as our casual attitude towards God?
The root of all sin is arguably idolatry, holding wrong ideas about God or worshipping false gods (see Romans 1:18-32). Can you think of examples of this in the world around you, or yet more alarmingly, in Christian circles known to you or even in your own life?