Vanity in Religion: 3. Broken Vows
Ecclesiastes 5:4-7
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.…

A vow is a promise to dedicate something to God, on certain conditions, such as his granting deliverance from death or danger, success in one's undertakings, or the like, and is one of the most ancient and widespread of religious customs. The earliest we read of is that of Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:18-22; Genesis 31:13). The Mosaic Law regulated the practice, and the passage before us is an almost exact reproduction of the section in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 23:21-23) in which general directions are given about the discharge of such obligations. The vow consisted in the dedication of persons or possessions to sacred uses. The worshipper's self, or child, or slave, or property, might be devoted to God. Vows were entirely voluntary, but, once made, were regarded as compulsory, and evasion of performance of them was held to be highly irreligious (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Ecclesiastes 5:4). The kind of sin referred to here is that of making a vow inconsiderately, and drawing back when the time of performance comes. No obligation to vow rested upon any man (Deuteronomy 23:22), but when the vow had once been made, no one could without dishonor refuse to fulfill it. Of course, it was to be taken for granted that the vow was such as could be fulfilled without violating any law or ordinance of God. And, accordingly, provision was made in the Mosaic Law for the canceling of any such obligation undertaken inadvertently, and found on maturer consideration to be immoral. It could be set aside, and the offence of having made it be atoned for as a sin of ignorance (Leviticus 5:4-6). But when no such obstacle stood in the way of performance, nothing but a prompt and cheerful fulfillment of the vow could be accepted as satisfactory. A twofold fault is described in the passage before us:

(1) an unseemly delay in fulfilling the vow (ver. 4) leading, perhaps, to an omission to fulfil it at all; and

(2) a deliberate evasion of it, the insincere worshipper going to the angel (priest), and saying that the vow had been made in ignorance, and should not therefore be kept literally (ver. 6). And in correspondence with the respective degrees of guilt incurred by such conduct, the Divine indignation takes a less or more intense form: ver. 4, "He hath no pleasure in fools;" ver. 6, "Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?" The idea of the former of the two statements of the Divine displeasure is far from being trivial or from being a tame anticipation of the latter. "The Lord first ceases to delight in a man, and then, after long forbearance, gives him over to destruction" (Wright). The one great source of these three forms of evil which so often vitiate religious life - thoughtlessness, rash prayers, and broken vows - is irreverence, and against it the Preacher lifts up his voice (ver. 7): "For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God." Just as occasional dreams may be coherent, so few well-considered utterances may be characterized by wisdom. But a crowd of dreams, and hasty, babbling speech, are sure to contain confused images and offensive folly. The fear of God, therefore, if it habitually influence the mind, will preserve a man from being "rash with his mouth;" it will hinder his making inconsiderate vows, and afterwards seeking excuses for not fulfilling them. - J.W.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: When you vow a vow to God, don't defer to pay it; for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay that which you vow.

The Vow
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