Ecclesiastes 5:4
When you vow a vow to God, defer not to pay it; for he has no pleasure in fools: pay that which you have 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), "For out of the prison-house he goeth forth to reign as king, although he was born as a poor man in his kingdom." With כּי the properties of poverty and wisdom attributed to the young man are verified, - wisdom in this, that he knew how to find the way from a prison to a throne. As harammim, 2 Chronicles 22:5 equals haarammim, 2 Kings 8:28, so hasurim equals haasurim (cf. masoreth equals maasoreth, Ezekiel 20:37); beth haasirim (Kerı̂; haasurim), Judges 16:21, Judges 16:25, and beth haesur, Jeremiah 38:15, designate the prison; cf. Mod katan, Ecclesiastes 3:1. The modern form of the language prefers this elision of the א, e.g., אפלּוּ equals אף אלּוּ, אלתּר equals אל־אתר, בּתר post equals בּאתר contra, etc. The perf. יחא is also thought of as having reached the throne, and having pre-eminence assigned to him as such. He has come forth from the prison to become king, רשׁ ... כּי. Zckler translates: "Whereas also he that was born in his kingdom was poor," and adds the remark: "גם כי, after the כי of the preceding clause, does not so much introduce a verification of it, as much rather an intensification; by which is expressed, that the prisoner has not merely transitorily fallen into such misery, but that he was born in poor and lowly circumstances, and that in his own kingdom בּם, i.e., in the same land which he should afterwards rule as king." But גם כי is nowhere used by Koheleth in the sense of "ja auch" ( equals whereas also); and also where it is thus to be translated, as at Jeremiah 14:18; Jeremiah 23:11, it is used in the sense of "denn auch" ( equals for also), assigning proof. The fact is, that this group of particles, according as כי is thought of as demonst. or relat., means either "denn auch," Ecclesiastes 4:16; Ecclesiastes 7:22; Ecclesiastes 8:16, or "wenn auch" equals ἐὰν καί, as here and at Ecclesiastes 8:12. In the latter case, it is related to כּי גּם (sometimes also merely גּם, Psalm 95:9; Malachi 3:15), as ἐὰν (εἰ) καί, although, notwithstanding, is to καὶ ἐάν (εἰ), even although.

(Note: That the accentuation separates the two words גם־ כי is to be judged from this, that it almost everywhere prefers אם־ כי (vid., under Comm. to Psalm 1:2).)

Thus 14b, connecting itself with למלך, is to be translated: "although he was born (נולד,not נולד) in his kingdom as a poor man."

(Note: נולד רש cannot mean "to become poor." Grtz appeals to the Mishnic language; but no intelligent linguist will use נולד רשׁ of a man in any other sense than that he is originally poor.)

We cannot also concur with Zckler in the view that the suff. of :_b refers to the young upstart: in the kingdom which should afterwards become his; for this reason, that the suff. of תח, Ecclesiastes 4:16, refers to the old king, and thus also that this designation may be mediated, בם must refer to him. מלכות signifies kingdom, reign, realm; here, the realm, as at Nehemiah 9:35, Daniel 5:11; Daniel 6:29. Grtz thinks Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 ought to drive expositors to despair. But hitherto we have found no room for despair in obtaining a meaning from them. What follows also does not perplex us. The author describes how all the world hails the entrance of the new youthful king on his government, and gathers together under his sceptre.

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