|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
5:1-3 Address thyself to the worship of God, and take time to compose thyself for it. Keep thy thoughts from roving and wandering: keep thy affections from running out toward wrong objects. We should avoid vain repetitions; copious prayers are not here condemned, but those that are unmeaning. How often our wandering thoughts render attendance on Divine ordinances little better than the sacrifice of fools! Many words and hasty ones, used in prayer, show folly in the heart, low thoughts of God, and careless thoughts of our own souls.
Verses 1-7. - Section 6. Man's outward and secular life being unable to secure happiness and satisfaction, can these be found in popular religion? Religious exercises need the observation of strict rules, which are far from meeting with general attention. Koheleth proceeds to give instruction, in the form of maxims, concerning public worship, prayer, and vows. Verse 1. - This verse, in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin Bibles, forms the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 4, and is taken independently; but the division in our version is more natural, and the connection of this with the following verses is obvious. Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, Some read "feet" instead of "foot," but the singular and plural numbers are both found in this signification (comp. Psalm 119:59, 105; Proverbs 1:15; Proverbs 4:26, 27). To "keep the foot" is to be careful of the conduct, to remember what you are about, whither you are going. There is no allusion to the sacerdotal rite of washing the feet before entering the holy place (Exodus 30:18, 19), nor to the custom of removing the shoes on entering a consecrated building, which was a symbol of reverential awe and obedient service. The expression is simply a term connected with man's ordinary life transferred to his moral and religious life. The house of God is the temple. The tabernacle is called "the house of Jehovah" (1 Samuel 1:7; 2 Samuel 12:20), and this name is commonly applied to the temple; e.g., 1 Kings 3:1; 2 Chronicles 8:16; Ezra 3:11. But "house of God" is applied also to the temple (2 Chronicles 5:14; Ezra 5:8, 15, etc.), so that we need not, with Bullock, suppose that Koheleth avoids the name of the Lord of the covenant as "a natural sign of the writer's humiliation after his fall into idolatry, and an acknowledgment of his unworthiness of the privileges of a son of the covenant." It is probable that the expression here is meant to include synagogues as well as the great temple at Jerusalem, since the following clause seems to imply that exhortation would be heard there, which formed no part of the temple service. The verse has furnished a text on the subject of the reverence due to God's house and service from Chrysostom downwards. And be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools. Various are the renderings of this clause. Wright, "For to draw near to hear is (better) than the fools offering sacrifices." (So virtually Knobel, Ewald, etc.) Ginsburg, "For it is nearer to obey than to offer the sacrifice of the disobedient;" i.e. it is the straighter, truer way to take when you obey God than when you merely perform outward service. The Vulgate takes the infinitive verb as equivalent to the imperative, as the Authorized Version, Appropinqua ut audias; but it is best to regard it as pure infinitive, and to translate, "To approach in order to hear is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools." The sentiment is the same as that in 1 Samuel 15:22, 'Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." The same thought occurs in Proverbs 21:3; Psalm 50:7-15; and continually in the prophets; e.g., Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6, etc. It is the reaction against the mere ceremonialism which marked the popular religion. Koheleth had seen and deplored this at Jerusalem and elsewhere, and he enunciates the great troth that it is more acceptable to God that one should go to his house to hear the Law read and taught and expounded, than to offer a formal sacrifice, which, as being the offering of a godless man is called in proverbial language "the sacrifice of fools" (Proverbs 21:27). The verb used here, "give" (nathan), is not the usual expression for offering sacrifice, and may possibly refer to the feast which accompanied such sacrifices, and which often degenerated into excess (Delitzsch). That the verb rendered "to hear" does not mean merely "to obey" is plain from its reference to conduct in the house of God. The reading of the Law, and probably of the prophets, formed a feature of the temple service in Koheleth's day; the expounding of the same in public was confined to the synagogues, which seem to have originated in the time of the exile, though there were doubtless before that time some regular occasions of assembling together (see 2 Kings 4:23). For they consider not that they do evil; Ὅι οὐκ εἰσὶν εἰδότες τοῦ ποιῆσαι κακόν (Septuagint); Qui nesciunt quid faciunt mali (Vulgate); "They are without knowledge, so that they do evil" (Delitzsch, Knobel, etc.); "As they (who obey) know not to do evil" (Gins-burg). The words can scarcely mean, "They know not that they do evil;" nor, as Hitzig has, "They know not how to be sorrowful." There is much difficulty in understanding the passage according to the received reading, and Nowack, with others, deems the text corrupt. If we accept what we now find, it is best to translate, "They know not, so that they do evil;" i.e. their ignorance predisposes them to err in this matter. The persons meant are the "fools" who offer unacceptable sacrifices. These know not how to worship God heartily and properly, and, thinking to please him with their formal acts of devotion, fall into a grievous sin.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God,.... The house of the sanctuary of the Lord, the temple built by Solomon; and so any place of divine worship, where the word of God is preached, and his ordinances administered. The wise man, having observed many vanities under the sun, directs men to the house of God, where they might learn the nature of them, and how to avoid them; though if care was not taken, they would find or introduce vanity there; which, of all vanities, is the worst, and ought to be guarded against. Wherefore, when men go to any place of divine worship, which to do is their duty and interest, and for their honour, pleasure, and profit, they should take care to "keep their feet", for the singular is here put for the plural, not from going into it; nor does it signify a slow motion towards it, which should be quick, in haste, showing earnestness, fervency, and zeal; but they should keep their feet in proper case, in a suitable condition. The allusion is either to the pulling off of the shoes off the feet, ordered to Moses and Joshua, when on holy ground, Exodus 3:5; and which the Jews observed, when they entered the temple on their festivals and sabbaths, even their kings, as Juvenal (k) jeers them: not that such a rite should be literally used now, or what is analogous to it; putting off of the hat, in a superstitious veneration of a place; but what was signified by it, as the putting off of the old man, with his deeds, laying aside depraved affections and sordid lusts; two apostles, James and Peter, have taught us this, when we come to the house of God to hear his word, James 1:21; or the allusion is to the custom of persons in those eastern countries dressing or washing their feet when they visited, especially those of any note; and entered into their houses on any business, as Mephibosheth, when he waited on David, 2 Samuel 19:24; or to the practice of the priests, who washed their feet when they went into the tabernacle of the Lord, Exodus 30:19. Schindler (l) says that hence (because of this text) the Jews had before their synagogues an iron fixed in the wall (which we call a "scraper"), on which they cleaned their shoes before they went into the synagogue. All which may denote the purity and cleanness of the conversation of the true worshippers of God; for, as the feet are the instruments of the action of walking, they may intend the conduct and behaviour of the saints in the house of God, where they should take care to do all things according to his word, which is a lamp to the feet, and a light unto the path: moreover, what the feet are to the body, that the affections are to the soul; and these, when a man enters into the house of God for worship, should be set on divine and spiritual things, and not on the world, and the things of it, which will choke the word heard, and make it unprofitable; the thoughts should be composed, sedate, and quiet, and the mind attentive to what is spoken or done; or otherwise, if diverted by other objects, the service will be useless;
and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools; there are sacrifices to be offered unto God in his house, which are acceptable to him; the sacrifices of beneficence and alms deeds to the poor, with which he is well pleased; and the presentation of the bodies of men, as a holy, living, and acceptable sacrifice unto him; and especially their hearts, and those as broken and contrite, which are the sacrifices of God; as also the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, which are acceptable to him through Jesus Christ: and under the former dispensation, while sacrifices were in use by divine appointment, when they were offered up in the faith of the sacrifice of Christ, they were well pleasing to God; but when they were not done in faith, and were without repentance for sin and reformation of life; when men retained their sins with them, and made these a cover for them, and thought by them to make atonement for their crimes, they were no other than the sacrifices of fools, and abominable unto God; see Isaiah 1:11; when these sacrifices were performed in the best manner, moral duties, as hearing and obeying the word of the Lord, and showing mercy to men, and offering up the spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, were preferred unto them, 1 Samuel 15:22; and much more to the sacrifices of fools. To be ready, or near (m), is to hear the word of the Lord, as Jarchi interprets it; though Aben Ezra understands it of God being near to hear his people, when they call upon him in truth. The word of the Lord was not only read publicly in the temple and synagogues, but was explained by the priests and prophets, the ecclesiastical rulers of the people; see Malachi 2:7; so the Targum,
"draw near thine ear to receive the doctrine of the law, from the priests and wise men:''
and so the people of God should draw near to hear the word; be swift to hear it, attentive to it, and receive it with all reverence, humility, love, and affection; and should not take up with mere outward forms, which is but the sacrifice of fools;
for they consider not that they do evil; or "know not" (n); they think they are doing well, and doing God good service, when they are doing ill; they know not truly the object of worship, nor the spiritual nature of it, nor the right end and true use of it: or, "they know not, only to do evil", so Aben Ezra supplies it: to do good they have no knowledge: or, "they know not to do the will", or "good pleasure" (o); that is, of God; this sense of the word Aben Ezra mentions.
(k) "Observant ubi festa mero pede sabbata reges", Satyr. 6. v. 158. (l) Lexic. Pentaglott. col. 1692. (m) "propinquus", Montanus; "propinquior", Mercerus, Schmidt. (n) "non ipsi scientes", Montanus; "nesciunt", Pagninus, Mercerus, Cocceius; "scire nolunt", Schmidt. (o) "facere veluntatem ejus", Pagninus, Mercerus.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
1. From vanity connected with kings, he passes to vanities (Ec 5:7) which may be fallen into in serving the King of kings, even by those who, convinced of the vanity of the creature, wish to worship the Creator.
Keep thy foot—In going to worship, go with considerate, circumspect, reverent feeling. The allusion is to the taking off the shoes, or sandals, in entering a temple (Ex 3:5; Jos 5:15, which passages perhaps gave rise to the custom). Weiss needlessly reads, "Keep thy feast days" (Ex 23:14, 17; the three great feasts).
hear—rather, "To be ready (to draw nigh with the desire) to hear (obey) is a better sacrifice than the offering of fools" [Holden]. (Vulgate; Syriac). (Ps 51:16, 17; Pr 21:3; Jer 6:20; 7:21-23; 14:12; Am 5:21-24). The warning is against mere ceremonial self-righteousness, as in Ec 7:12. Obedience is the spirit of the law's requirements (De 10:12). Solomon sorrowfully looks back on his own neglect of this (compare 1Ki 8:63 with Ec 11:4, 6). Positive precepts of God must be kept, but will not stand instead of obedience to His moral precepts. The last provided no sacrifice for wilful sin (Nu 15:30, 31; Heb 10:26-29).
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