Ecclesiastes 5:4
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.
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(4) There is here a clear recognition of the passage in Deuteronomy. (See ref.; comp. Ecclesiasticus 18:23.)

No pleasure in fools.—Comp. Isaiah 62:4.

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.

5:4-8 When a person made engagements rashly, he suffered his mouth to cause his flesh to sin. The case supposes a man coming to the priest, and pretending that his vow was made rashly, and that it would be wrong to fulfil it. Such mockery of God would bring the Divine displeasure, which might blast what was thus unduly kept. We are to keep down the fear of man. Set God before thee; then, if thou seest the oppression of the poor, thou wilt not find fault with Divine Providence; nor think the worse of the institution of magistracy, when thou seest the ends of it thus perverted; nor of religion, when thou seest it will not secure men from suffering wrong. But though oppressors may be secure, God will reckon for all.Keep thy foot - i. e., Give thy mind to what thou art going to do.

The house of God - It has been said that here an ordinary devout Hebrew writer might have been expected to call it "the house of Yahweh;" but to those who accept this book as the work of Solomon after his fall into idolatry, it will appear a natural sign of the writer's self-humiliation, an acknowledgment of his unworthiness of the privileges of a son of the covenant, that he avoids the name of the Lord of the covenant (see Ecclesiastes 1:13 note).

Be more ready to hear - Perhaps in the sense that, "to draw near for the purpose of hearing (and obeying) is better than etc."

4. When thou vowest a vow unto God—Hasty words in prayer (Ec 5:2, 3) suggest the subject of hasty vows. A vow should not be hastily made (Jud 11:35; 1Sa 14:24). When made, it must be kept (Ps 76:11), even as God keeps His word to us (Ex 12:41, 51; Jos 21:45). A vow; which is a solemn promise, whereby a man binds himself to do something which is in his power to do.

Defer not to pay it; perform it whilst the sense of thine obligation is fresh and strong upon thee, lest either thou seem to repent of thy promises, or lest delays end in denials and resolutions of non-performance. See Numbers 30:2 Deu 23:21 Psalm 66:13,14 66:11.

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; whom he calls fools, partly because it is the highest folly to despise and provoke, to think to mock and deceive, the all-seeing and almighty God; and partly in opposition to the contrary opinion of such persons, who think they deal wisely and cunningly in serving themselves of God, by getting the advantage or deliverance which they desire by making such vows, and yet avoiding the inconvenience and charge of payment when once the work is done, whereas nothing is more impious or ridiculous than such an imagination.

When thou vowest a vow unto God,.... Or "if thou vowest" (r), as the Vulgate Latin version; for vows are free and indifferent things, which persons may make or not; there is no precept for them in the word of God; instances and examples there are, and they may be lawfully made, when they are in the power of man to perform, and are not inconsistent with the will and word of God; they have been made by good men, and were frequent in former times; but they seem not so agreeable to the Gospel dispensation, having a tendency to ensnare the mind, to entangle men, and bring on them a spirit of bondage, contrary to that liberty wherewith Christ has made them free; and therefore it is better to abstain from them: holy resolutions to do the will and work of God should be taken up in the strength of divine grace; but to vow this, or that, or the other thing, which a man previous to his vow is not obliged unto, had better be let alone: but however, when a vow is made that is lawful to be done,

defer not to pay it; that is, to God, to whom it is made, who expects it, and that speedily, as Hannah paid hers; no excuses nor delays should be made;

for he hath no pleasure in fools; that is, the Lord hath no pleasure in them, he will not be mocked by them; he will resent such treatment of him, as to vow and not pay, or defer payment and daily, with him. So the Targum,

"for the Lord hath no pleasure in fools, because, they defer their vows, and do not pay;''

pay that which thou hast vowed; precisely and punctually; both as to the matter, manner, and time of it.

(r) "si quid vovisti", V. L.

When thou vowest a vow to God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast {c} vowed.

(c) He speaks of vows which are approved by God's word and serve to his glory.

4. When thou vowest a vow unto God] The words are almost a reproduction of Deuteronomy 23:22-24. They point to a time when vows, such as are here referred to, entered largely into men’s personal religion. Memorable instances of such vows are found in the lives of Jacob (Genesis 28:20), Jephthah (Jdg 11:30), Saul (1 Samuel 14:24). In later Judaism they came into a fresh prominence, as seen especially in the Corban of Mark 7:11, the revival of the Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18; Acts 20:23; Joseph. Wars ii. 15, p. 1), and the oath or anathema of Acts 23:21; and one of the treatises of the Mishna (Nedarim) was devoted to an exhaustive casuistic treatment of the whole subject. In Matthew 5:23 we find the recognised rule of the Pharisees, “Thou shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths,” as the conclusion of the whole matter. This the Debater also affirmed, but he, in his deeper wisdom, went further, and bade men to consider well what kind of vows they made.

for he hath no pleasure in fools] The construction of the sentence in the Hebrew is ambiguous, and may give either (1) that suggested by the interpolated words in the A. V., or (2) “there is no pleasure in fools,” i.e. they please neither God nor man, or (3) “there is no fixed purpose in fools,” i.e. they are unstable in their vows as in everything else. Of these interpretations (2) has most to commend it. In Proverbs 20:25, “It is a snare … after vows to make inquiry,” we have a striking parallel.

Verse 4. - Koheleth passes on to give a warning concerning the making of vows, which formed a great feature in Hebrew religion, and was the occasion of much irreverence and profanity. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it. There is here plainly a reminiscence of Deuteronomy 23:21-23. Vows are not regarded as absolute duties which every one was obliged to undertake. They are of a voluntary nature, but when made are to be strictly performed. They might consist of a promise to dedicate certain things or persons to God (see Genesis 38:20; Judges 11:30), or to abstain from doing certain things, as in the case of the Nazarites. The rabbinical injunction quoted by our Lord in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:33), "Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths," was probably levelled against profane swearing, or invoking God's Name lightly, but it may include the duty of performing vows made to or in the Name of God. Our Lord does not condemn the practice of corban, while noticing with rebuke a perversion of the custom (Mark 7:11). For he hath no pleasure in fools. The non-fulfillment of a vow would prove a man to be impious, in proverbial language "a fool," and as such God must regard him with displeasure. The clause in the Hebrew is somewhat ambiguous, being literally, There is no pleasure (chephets) in fools; i.e. no one, neither God nor man, would take pleasure in fools who make promises and never perform them. Or it may be, There is no fixed will in fools; i.e. they waver and are undecided in purpose. But this rendering of chephets appears to be very doubtful. Septuagint Ὅτι οὐκ ἔστι θέλημα ἐν ἄφροσι which reproduces the vagueness of the Hebrew; Vulgate, Displicet enim ei (Deo) infidelis et stulta promissio. The meaning is well represented in the Authorized Version, and we must complete the sense by supplying in thought "on the part of God." Pay that which thou but vowed. Ben-Sirs re-echoes the injunction (Ecclus. 18:22, 23), "Let nothing hinder thee to pay thy vow (εὐχὴν) in due time, and defer not until death to be justified [i.e. to fulfill the vow]. Before making a vow (εὔξασθαι) prepare thyself; and be not as one that tempteth the Lord." The verse is cited in the Talmud; and Dukes gives a parallel, "Before thou vowest anything, consider the object of thy vow" ('Rabb. Blumenl.,' p. 70). So in Proverbs 20:25 we have, according to some translations, "It is a snare to a man rashly to say, It is holy, and after vows to make inquiry." Septuagint," Pay thou therefore whatsoever thou shalt have vowed (ὅσα ἐάν εὔξη), Ecclesiastes 5:4"When thou hast made a vow to God, delay not to fulfil it; for there is no pleasure in fools: that which thou hast vowed fulfil. Better that thou vowest not, than that thou vowest and fulfillest not. Let not thy mouth bring thy body into punishment; and say not before the messenger of God that it was precipitation: why shall God be angry at thy talk, and destroy the work of thy hands? For in many dreams and words there are also many vanities: much rather fear God!" If they abstained, after Shabbath 30b, from treating the Book of Koheleth as apocryphal, because it begins with תורה דברי (cf. at Ecclesiastes 1:3) and closes in the same way, and hence warrants the conclusion that that which lies between will also be תורה דברי, this is in a special manner true of the passage before us regarding the vow which, in thought and expression, is the echo of Deuteronomy 23:22-24. Instead of kaashěr tiddor, we find there the words ki tiddor; instead of lelohim ( equals lěělohim, always only of the one true God), there we have lahovah ělohěcha; and instead of al-teahher, there lo teahher. There the reason is: "for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee;" here: for there is no pleasure in fools, i.e., it is not possible that any one, not to speak of God, could have a particular inclination toward fools, who speak in vain, and make promises in which their heart is not, and which they do not keep. Whatever thou vowest, continues Koheleth, fulfil it; it is better (Ewald, 336a) that thou vowest not, than to vow and not to pay; for which the Tra says: "If thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee" (Deuteronomy 23:22). נדר, which, according to the stem-word, denotes first the vow of consecration of setting apart (cogn. Arab. nadar, to separate, נזר, whence נזיר), the so-called אסר [vid. Numbers 30:3], is here a vow in its widest sense; the author, however, may have had, as there, the law (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:2-4), especially shalme něděr, in view, i.e., such peace-offerings as the law does not enjoin, but which the offerer promises (cogn. with the shalme nedavah, i.e., such as rest on free-will, but not on any obligation arising from a previous promise) from his own inclination, for the event that God may do this or that for him. The verb שׁלּם is not, however, related to this name for sacrifices, as חטּא is to חטּאת, but denotes the fulfilling or discharge as a performance fully accordant with duty. To the expression חטא ... היה (twice occurring in the passage of Deut. referred to above) there is added the warning: let not thy mouth bring thy body into sin. The verb nathan, with Lamed and the inf. following, signifies to allow, to permit, Genesis 20:6; Judges 1:34; Job 31:30. The inf. is with equal right translated: not to bring into punishment; for חטא - the syncop. Hiph. of which, according to an old, and, in the Pentateuch, favourite form, is לחטיא - signifies to sin, and also (e.g., Genesis 39:9; cf. the play on the word, Hosea 8:11) to expiate sin; sin-burdened and guilty, or liable to punishment, mean the same thing. Incorrectly, Ginsburg, Zck., and others: "Do not suffer thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin;" for (1) the formula: "the flesh sins," is not in accordance with the formation of O.T. ideas; the N.T., it is true, uses the expression σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας, Romans 8:3, but not ἁμαρτάνουσα, that which sins is not the flesh, but the will determined by the flesh, or by fleshly lust; (2) the mouth here is not merely that which leads to sin, but the person who sins through thoughtless haste, - who, by his haste, brings sin upon his flesh, for this suffers, for the breach of vow, by penalties inflicted by God; the mouth is, like the eye and the hand, a member of the ὃλον τὸ σῶμα (Matthew 5:24.), which is here called בשׂר; the whole man in its sensitive nature (opp. לב, Ecclesiastes 2:3; Ecclesiastes 11:10; Proverbs 14:30) has to suffer chastisement on account of that which the mouth hath spoken. Gesen. compares this passage, correctly, with Deuteronomy 24:4, for the meaning peccati reum facere; Isaiah 29:21 is also similar.

The further warning refers to the lessening of the sin of a rash vow unfulfilled as an unintentional, easily expiable offence: "and say not before the messenger of God that it was a שׁגגה, a sin of weakness." Without doubt hammǎlāch is an official byname of a priest, and that such as was in common use at the time of the author. But as for the rest, it is not easy to make the matter of the warning clear. That it is not easy, may be concluded from this, that with Jewish interpreters it lies remote to think of a priest in the word hammǎlāch. By this word the Targ. understands the angel to whom the execution of the sentence of punishment shall be committed on the day of judgment; Aben Ezra: the angel who writes down all the words of a man; similarly Jerome, after his Jewish teacher. Under this passage Ginsburg has an entire excursus regarding the angels. The lxx and Syr. translate "before God," as if the words of the text were אל נגד, Psalm 138:1, or as if hammalach could of itself mean God, as presenting Himself in history. Supposing that hammalach is the official name of a man, and that of a priest, we appear to be under the necessity of imagining that he who is charged with the obligation of a vow turns to the priest with the desire that he would release him from it, and thus dissolve (bibl. הפיר, Mishnic התּיר) the vow. But there is no evidence that the priests had the power of releasing from vows. Individual cases in which a husband can dissolve the vow of his wife, and a father the vow of his daughter, are enumerated in Numbers 30; besides, in the traditional law, we find the sentence: "A vow, which one who makes it repents of, can be dissolved by a learned man (חכם), or, where none is present, by three laymen," Bechoroth 36b; the matter cannot be settled by any middle person (שׁליח), but he who has taken the vow (הנודר) must appear personally, Jore deah c. 228, 16. Of the priest as such nothing is said here. Therefore the passage cannot at all be traditionally understood of an official dissolution of an oath. Where the Talm. applies it juristically, Shabbath 32b, etc., Rashi explains hammalach by gizbar shěl-haqdesh, i.e., treasurer of the revenues of the sanctuary; and in the Comm. to Koheleth he supposes that some one has publicly resolved on an act of charity (צדקה), i.e., has determined it with himself, and that now the representative of the congregation (שׁליח) comes to demand it. But that is altogether fanciful. If we proceed on the idea that liphne hammalach is of the same meaning as liphne hakkohen, Leviticus 27:8, Leviticus 27:11; Numbers 9:6; Numbers 27:2, etc., we have then to derive the figure from such passages relating to the law of sacrifice as Numbers 15:22-26, from which the words ki shegagah hi (Numbers 15:25) originate. We have to suppose that he who has made a vow, and has not kept it, comes to terms with God with an easier and less costly offering, since in the confession (ודּוּי) which he makes before the priest he explains that the vow was a shegagah, a declaration that inconsiderately escaped him. The author, in giving it to be understood that under these circumstances the offering of the sacrifice is just the direct contrary of a good work, calls to the conscience of the inconsiderate נודר: why should God be angry on account of thy voice with which thou dost excuse thy sins of omission, and destroy (vid., regarding חבּל under Isaiah 10:27) the work of thy hands (vid., under Psalm 90:17), for He destroys what thou hast done, and causes to fail what thou purposest? The question with lammah resembles those in Ezra 4:22; Ezra 7:23, and is of the same kind as at Ecclesiastes 7:16.; it leads us to consider what a mad self-destruction that would be (Jeremiah 44:7, cf. under Isaiah 1:5).

The reason for the foregoing admonition now following places the inconsiderate vow under the general rubric of inconsiderate words. We cannot succeed in interpreting Ecclesiastes 5:6 [7] (in so far as we do not supply, after the lxx and Syr. with the Targ.: ne credas; or better, with Ginsburg, היא equals it is) without taking one of the vavs in the sense of "also." That the Heb. vav, like the Greek καί, the Lat. et, may have this comparative or intensifying sense rising above that which is purely copulative, is seen from e.g., Numbers 9:14, cf. also Joshua 14:11. In many cases, it is true, we are not under the necessity of translating vav by "also;" but since the "and" here does not merely externally connect, but expresses correlation of things homogeneous, an "also" or a similar particle involuntarily substitutes itself for the "and," e.g., Genesis 17:20 (Jerome): super Ismael quoque; Exodus 29:8 : filios quoque; Deuteronomy 1:32 : et nec sic quidem credidistis; Deuteronomy 9:8 : nam et in Horeb; cf. Joshua 15:19; 1 Samuel 25:43; 2 Samuel 19:25; 1 Kings 2:22; 1 Kings 11:26; Isaiah 49:6, "I have also given to thee." But there are also passages in which it cannot be otherwise translated than by "also." We do not reckon among these Psalm 31:12, where we do not translate "also my neighbours," and Amos 4:10, where the words are to be translated, "and that in your nostrils." On the contrary, Isaiah 32:7 is scarcely otherwise to be translated than "also when the poor maketh good his right," like 2 Samuel 1:23, "also in their death they are not divided." In 2 Chronicles 27:5, in like manner, the two vavs are scarcely correlative, but we have, with Keil, to translate, "also in the second and third year." And in Hosea 8:6, והוּא, at least according to the punctuation, signifies "also it," as Jerome translates: ex Israele et ipse est. According to the interpunction of the passage before us, וּד הר is the pred., and thus, with the Venet., is to be translated: "For in many dreams and vanities there are also many words." We could at all events render the vav, as also at Ecclesiastes 10:11; Exodus 16:6, as vav apod.; but וגו בּרב has not the character of a virtual antecedent, - the meaning of the expression remains as for the rest the same; but Hitzig's objection is of force against it (as also against Ewald's disposition of the words, like the of Symmachus, Jerome, and Luther: "for where there are many dreams, there are also vanities, and many words"), that it does not accord with the connection, which certainly in the first place requires a reason referable to inconsiderate talk, and that the second half is, in fact, erroneous, for between dreams and many words there exists no necessary inward mutual relation. Hitzig, as Knobel before him, seeks to help this, for he explains: "for in many dreams are also vanities, i.e., things from which nothing comes, and (the like) in many words." But not only is this assumed carrying forward of the ב doubtful, but the principal thing would be made a secondary matter, and would drag heavily. The relation in _Ecc 5:2 is different where vav is that of comparison, and that which is compared follows the comparison. Apparently the text (although the lxx had it before them, as it is before us) has undergone dislocation, and is thus to be arranged: כי ברב חלמת ודברים הרבה והבלים: for in many dreams and many words there are also vanities, i.e., illusions by which one deceives himself and others. Thus also Bullock renders, but without assigning a reason for it. That dreams are named first, arises from a reference back to Ecclesiastes 5:2, according to which they are the images of what a man is externally and mentally busied and engaged with. But the principal stress lies on ודברים הרבה, to which also the too rash, inconsiderate vows belong. The pred. והבלים, however, connects itself with "vanity of vanities," which is Koheleth's final judgment regarding all that is earthly. The כי following connects itself with the thought lying in 6a, that much talk, like being much given to dreams, ought to be avoided: it ought not to be; much rather (imo, Symm. ἀλλά) fear God, Him before whom one should say nothing, but that which contains in it the whole heart.

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