Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.Ecclesiastes 5:1. Keep thy foot — Thy thoughts and affections, by which men go to God, and walk with him. See that your hearts be upright before him, devoted to him, and furnished with those graces essential to the true worship of him, especially with reverence, humility, resignation, meekness, faith, and love. It is a metaphor taken from a person’s walking in a very slippery path, in which more than ordinary care is requisite to keep him from falling: when thou goest to the house of God — The place of God’s solemn and public worship, whether the temple or a synagogue; and be more ready to hear — To hearken to, and obey, God’s word; than to give the sacrifice of fools — Such as foolish and wicked men are wont to offer, who vainly think to please God with their sacrifices, without true piety and obedience. For they consider not that they do evil — They are not sensible of the great sinfulness of such thoughts and practices, but, like fools, think they do God good service.
Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.Ecclesiastes 5:2. Be not rash with thy mouth — Speak not without due consideration; and let not thy heart be hasty — Do not give way to every sudden motion of thy heart, nor suffer it to break out of thy lips till thou hast well weighed it. We must think, and think twice, before we speak, when we are to speak, either from God in preaching, or to God in prayer, or in solemn vows and promises made in his presence; which were very much in use in those times, and of which he speaks in the following verses. For God is in heaven — Is a God of infinite majesty, holiness, and knowledge, and therefore not even to be thought of, and much more not to be worshipped, without profound veneration, great solemnity, and much serious consideration; and thou upon earth — Thou art a poor worm of the earth, infinitely below him, and therefore oughtest to stand in awe of him, and fear to offend him; therefore let thy words be few — 1st, In prayer: use not vain repetitions, nor a multitude of words, as if they were necessary to inform God of thy wants, or to prevail with him to grant thy requests; or as if thou shouldest certainly be heard upon that very account: see Matthew 6:7. 2d, In vowing: be not too prodigal in making more vows and promises than thou art either able or willing and resolved to perform. Remember that God looks down from heaven, hears all thy vows, and expects a punctual accomplishment of them.
For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.Ecclesiastes 5:3. For a dream cometh, &c. — When men’s minds are distracted and oppressed with too much business in the day, they are frequently disturbed with confused and perplexed dreams in the night. And as such dreams proceed from, and are the evidence of, a hurry of business filling the head, so many and hasty words flow from, and are a proof of, folly reigning in the heart.
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.Ecclesiastes 5:4. When thou vowest a vow unto God — When thou obligest thyself by a solemn promise to honour God, and serve the interest of his kingdom; or to do good to any of thy fellow-creatures in some particular way, to do which thou wast not under any antecedent obligation: when, for instance, under the sense of some affliction, or through thy desire of obtaining, or in thankfulness for having obtained, some particular mercy, thou hast vowed such a vow as this unto God, know that thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, and thou canst not go back; defer not to pay it — Perform thy vow while the sense of thine obligation is fresh and strong upon thy mind; lest thou either seem to repent of thy promises, or delay should end in denials and resolutions of non-performance: see on Leviticus 27:2; Numbers 30:2. For he hath no pleasure in fools — In hypocritical and perfidious persons, who, when they are in distress, make liberal vows, and when the danger is past, neglect and break them. He calls them fools, because it is the highest folly, as to think of mocking or deceiving the all- seeing and almighty God: so also to despise and provoke him. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow — For this would be no sin, because men are free to make such vows, or not to make them, as they think best; but, having made them, they cannot forbear to pay them, without sin.
Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?Ecclesiastes 5:6. Suffer not thy mouth — By any rash vow, or in any other way; to cause thy flesh to sin — That is, thyself: the word flesh being often put for the whole man; neither say thou before the angel — That is, as some interpret the expression, before the blessed angels, (the singular number being put for the plural,) who are present in the public assemblies, in which these vows were generally paid, (Psalm 66:13,) where they observe men’s religious performances, (1 Corinthians 11:10,) and, as they rejoice in the conversion of a sinner, so are displeased with the sins of men. Or, 2d, Christ may be meant, the Angel of the covenant, as he is called Malachi 3:1; who, even in these ancient times, acted as God’s messenger, appearing and speaking to the patriarchs and prophets in his Father’s name; and who was, and, according to his promise, is, in an especial manner, present in all religious assemblies, observing the whole conduct of all that worship in them. Or, 3d, as many think more probable, the priest, or minister of holy things, is here intended. Such persons are often called angels, or, as the Hebrew word here used is commonly rendered, messengers. And this title may be given to the priest here, because the vow made to God was to be paid to the priest, as one standing and acting in God’s name and stead; and it belonged to him, as God’s angel or ambassador, to discharge persons from their vows when there was just occasion. It was an error — I did unadvisedly in making such a vow. Wherefore should God be angry — Why wilt thou provoke God to anger by these frivolous excuses? And destroy the work of thy hands — Blast all thy labours, and particularly that work or enterprise for the success whereof thou didst make these vows.
For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.Ecclesiastes 5:7. For in the multitude, &c. — There is a great deal of folly, as in a multitude of dreams, which for the most part are vain and insignificant, so also in many words, especially in making many vows, whereby a man is exposed to many snares and temptations. But fear thou God — Fear the wrath of God, and therefore be sparing in making vows, and just in performing them.
If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.Ecclesiastes 5:8. If thou seest the oppression: &c. — Here is an account of another vanity, and a sovereign antidote against it. Marvel not — As if it were inconsistent with God’s wisdom and justice to suffer such disorders. For he that is higher than the highest — The most high God, who is infinitely above the greatest of men. Regardeth — Not like an idle spectator, but a judge, who diligently observes, and will effectually punish them. And there be higher than they — Namely, God; it is an emphatical repetition of the same thing.
Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.Ecclesiastes 5:9. The profit of the earth is for all — The fruits of the earth are necessary and beneficial to all men. The wise man, after some interruption, returns to his former subject, the vanity of riches; one evidence whereof he mentions in this verse, that the poor labourer enjoys the fruits of the earth as well as the greatest monarch, and that the richest man in the world depends as much upon them as the poorest. The king himself is served by the field — Is supported by the fruits of the field.
He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.Ecclesiastes 5:10-11. He that loveth silver shall not, &c. — The greatest treasures of silver do not satisfy the covetous possessor of it, both because his mind is insatiable, his desires being increased by and with his gains, and because silver of itself cannot satisfy his natural desires and necessities, as the fruits of the field can do, and the miserable creature grudges to part with his silver, though it be to purchase things needful and convenient for him. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them — As the rich man’s estate increases, the greater family and retinue, if he will live like himself, he must maintain; and these have a larger share than himself in the daily provision that is made by his expenses, and enjoy the same comforts which he doth in partaking of it, without his cares, fears, and troubles. And as for the rest, that is not expended, which he calls peculiarly his, he hath no other benefit from it, but only that it feeds and entertains his eyes.
When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?
The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.Ecclesiastes 5:12. The sleep of a labouring man is sweet — Because he is free from those cares and fears wherewith the minds of rich men are often distracted, and their sleep disturbed; whether he eat little — For his weariness disposes him to sleep; or much — In which case his healthful constitution, and laborious course of life, prevent those crudities and indigestions which ofttimes break the sleep of rich men: but the abundance of the rich — Hebrew, השׂבע, the fullness, either, 1st, Of his diet, which commonly discomposes the rich man’s stomach, and hinders his rest: or, 2d, Of his wealth, which is generally attended with many perplexing cares, both by day and night. The Hebrew word is used in Scripture both ways, and probably is here intended to include both significations.
There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.Ecclesiastes 5:13-14. There is a sore evil, &c. — “There is another thing, which is very calamitous, and may rather be called a grievous plague than a mere affliction; that these very treasures, which men have heaped up with a great deal of care, from thence expecting their felicity, prove, in the issue, their utter undoing;” being incentives to pride, luxury, and other hurtful lusts, which waste their bodies, shorten their lives, and destroy their souls; and being also great temptations to tyrants or thieves to take away their lives, in order to possess their property. Nay, it often happens, that “some of these miserable men are murdered by their servants, and even by their own children, with a view to become masters of their riches; which riches bring them also at last to the same or like destruction.” — Bishop Patrick. But — Or for, or moreover, as the Hebrew particle may be rendered; those riches perish — If they be kept, it is to the owner’s hurt, and if not, they are lost to his grief; by evil travail — By some wicked practices, either his own, or of other men. And he begetteth a son, and there is nothing, &c. — Either, 1st, In the father’s power to leave to his son, for whose sake he engaged in, and went through, all those hard labours; which is a great aggravation of his grief and misery. Or, 2d, In the son’s possession after the father’s death.
But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand.
As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.Ecclesiastes 5:15-17. As he came forth, &c., naked shall he return — Into the womb, or belly of the earth, the common mother of all mankind. And shall take nothing of his labour — This is another vanity. If his estate be neither lost nor kept to his hurt, yet when he dies he must leave it behind him, and cannot carry one handful of it into another world. And what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind — For riches, which are empty and unsatisfying, uncertain and transitory; which no man can hold or stay in their course; all which are the properties of the wind. All his days also — Namely, of his life; he eateth in darkness — He hath no comfort in his estate, but even when he eats, he doth it with anxiety and discontent. And wrath with his sickness — When he falls sick, and presages his death, he is filled with rage, because he is cut off before he hath accomplished his designs, and because he must leave that wealth and world in which all his hopes and happiness lie.
And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?
All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.
Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.Ecclesiastes 5:18. Behold that which I have seen — That is, learned by study and experience; it is good and comely — Good, or comfortable to a man’s self, and comely, or amiable in the eyes of other men, as penuriousness is base and dishonourable; for one to — enjoy the good of his labour — Both for the constant supply of all the necessities of nature, and for the entertainment of his friends, and the relief of his poor neighbours; all the days of his life — All the time God shall be pleased to continue him in this world. For it is his portion — This is all that falls to his share of the good things of this life. It is his portion of worldly goods: if a truly pious man, he hath a better portion in heaven. This liberty is given him by God, and this is the best advantage, as to this life, which he can make of them.
Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.Ecclesiastes 5:19-20. Every man also, &c. — “And whosoever he be whom God hath blessed, not only with plenty of worldly goods, but also with such a noble and generous mind that he is not their slave, but truly master of them,” (so the Hebrew, השׂלישׂוsignifies,) “being able to enjoy them innocently, and that with cheerfulness, and to delight in doing good to others with them; let him be very thankful to Almighty God for so great a happiness, and acknowledge it to be a singular gift of his bounty.” For be shall not much remember the days of his life — “For he that is thus highly favoured by God, will not think life tedious or irksome; but, forgetting his past toils, and taking no” anxious “care for the future, will spend his time most comfortably; because God hath given him his hearths desire, in that inward tranquillity of mind, or, rather, joy and gladness of heart, wherewith God hath compensated all his pains, and testified his extraordinary kindness to him.” — Bishop Patrick. See notes on Ecclesiastes 2:24; and Ecclesiastes 3:12-13.
For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.