The Work of our Hand - (A Legacy of Meaning)
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
What we say should only be weighed out more than what we do. They are a direct reflection of our heart and are ultimately the greatest measure of our integrity and character. To God - they both really, really matter. And, to the outcome of our personal reputation and public legacy, they even matter more.
He knows what we do not know, He sees what we do not see, He plans and prepares for what we cannot possibly yet plan or prepare for.
It is essential that we practice listening first - and speaking second. When we become good at it, then we will have the wisdom needed to become good.
All Important Questions
At the end of his life, Solomon's questions were pretty much all the important ones...
· Did my life mean something?
· Will the work I have done be remembered or important to anyone?
· What will my life's legacy be?
In order to answer those important questions here is right where he goes.
Worship comes first. Yep, God takes worship seriously, and so should we. Solomon's words, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” This points us to the fact that we should be faithful, thoughtful, prayerful, and intentional as we approach our time with God in worship. This kind of priority and focus can be seen when our approach to worshiping God is to listen to Him first - and speak to Him second. In the context of Solomon's life assessment and lament here in chapter 5, not to listen to God’s Word first as the people gathered to worship was the same as offering God what he called "the sacrifice of fools.” Even though thoughtless and careless worship was most often done out of ignorance, lack of experience and training, it was still considered in Solomon's day as an evil thing - probably should be the same in our day (just a thought - mull over it for a bit).
In verse 2 of chapter 5, he elaborates on the foolishness of making impulsive and self-centered prayers and proclamations to God rather than first listening to the faithfulness, assurance, and comfort of God.
Solomon says the reason for this is that “God is in heaven and you are on earth." He knows what we do not know, He sees what we do not see, He plans and prepares for what we cannot possibly yet plan or prepare for. Here is Solomon's point - when the worshiper speaks first and does not listen to His word, he or she basically takes the place of God in heaven. Trading places with God does not work - and is not acceptable, so our words must be few, and our hearts and ears must be wide open to listen to what God is saying to us. It is implied that the wise person will always listen but the fool will always talk a lot. If the worshiper does happen to make a vow in the presence of the LORD, he/she must be all-in on keeping that promise and fulfilling that vow - God expects it. The command to fulfill one’s vow is a not a new concept. In the Law, Moses writes,
If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.
This did not change with the arrival of Jesus and the new covenant. In fact, he said, I didn't come to get rid of the law, I actually came to fulfill it.
Interpretation; our word and our reputation for keeping our word is still a very big deal - we will not only be remembered for it, but our life will be judged by it.
If we do not keep our word, we are seen as a fool. How then can the life of a fool mean something? That should probably answer at least one of those important questions for us today.
Did my life mean something?
Solomon's wisdom says, "the worshiper must count the cost before making a promise through a vow or covenant." When we do not consider whether or not we can keep our word or promises to others it is viewed by God as high level disrespect - us to Him, and us to others. This disrespect draws His anger, at which point God Himself is ready to discredit and destroy the work of our hand. Take a moment to think through the personal applications of this. So then, everything we work towards for our entire life can actually be discredited and destroyed with others because of our disrespect towards the process and consideration used in making a vow and then the follow-through to keep that vow. Wow! If I can keep my word, I can honor God and the people I love - Now I know my life has meaning.
Logically, in Solomon's process one thing leads to another as they say! And having said that, this should probably answer a second one of those all-important questions he asks for us.
Will the work I have done be remembered or important to anyone?
While the full relationship between increasing dreams and many words is not clear, the main teaching from Solomon in chapter 5 is clear: FEAR GOD!
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
The concept of the fear of the LORD does not originate with Solomon, it is a concept that originates in the Law of Moses. In this context, a man who does not fear God does not watch what he says. Wisdom Literature indeed associates quick, hasty, hurtful words with foolishness.
“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him."
Later in Ecclesiastes, Solomon declares that “a fool multiplies words…” (10:14). As Christians we are reminded of James’ exhortation: “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
What does this tell us? Well, I don't know about you, but I have often times chosen to win, to be funny, cool, or even to be in control instead of choosing to be wise by holding my tongue and my quick and sharp responses. The truth is that in this regard I have been very foolish. But that's just me.
Legacy of Meaning
As Solomon examines those who (like me) have been or who presently are being foolish, he strongly indicates that the fear of God is not only needed but is essential.
But how does the fear of God produce wisdom? And, conversely, why does a lack of fear produce the foolishness Solomon talks about in chapter five?
It is a reasonable question to ask why would God use fear as a method of motivating human beings - until we know who God is. Once we know who He truly is, then the question is actually quite foolish. Consider that God may have hard-wired a fear system into us for the distinct purposes of both survival and learning. There are multiple theories regarding human emotion, and nearly all of them describe fear as one of the most important emotions for motivating people into action.
One such theory is known as the Differential Emotions Theory. This theory explains that we have six basic emotions: interest, joy/happiness, anger, sadness, disgust, and fear. All of which serve unique and certain motivational purposes. The negative emotion of fear is thought to originate in a brain structure known as the amygdala, which serves the role of aversively motivating the individual to withdraw from whatever environmental stimulus is producing fear.
[The amygdala is one of two almond-shaped clusters of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional responses, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system.]
Theorists of the Differential Emotions viewpoint will argue that fear, along with other basic emotions, blends with the developing human mind to cultivate a complex emotional outlook of the world. Ironically, the emotion of fear allows us to more effectively learn from our problems. When this is put into a spiritual context fearing God as the Almighty overtakes our thinking and may make us more effective learners from our spiritual climate and environment. Although one may not subscribe to the notion that emotions play such a central role our human development, or our relationship with God, there is no doubt that the emotion of fear serves as a powerful teacher and motivator for human behavior.
What I see with Solomon is a reoccurring idea in the book of Ecclesiastes in which he demonstrates how foolishness forms in the hearts of men (verses 1-7). He shows how the core beliefs we hold influence our thoughts and the actions that will subsequently follow. Solomon exhorts us to discipline our minds before God. He also warns us that we must first fear God (Proverbs 2:5). We are then responsible to be careful and attentive to listen with a heart centered on honoring God through our obedience (verse 2). In essence, if the heart of the believer is driven by a set of core beliefs that are centered on trusting God, accepting forgiveness of sins, and being faithful to the Word of God, then we will take delight in obeying God (chapter 12:13) and will in turn provide hope for our future.
Solomon goes a step further to warn us of the patterns of behavior that foolishness will follow. He identifies the core beliefs of the fools who do not humble themselves before God when they approach the house of God (verse 1) and do not accept their lowly position before the God of the universe. A proud arrogant fool does not have a healthy fear of the Lord, which in turn leads him or her to impulsive thoughts and erratic behavior (verses 2-7). The foolish fail to see that because their core beliefs are faulty and incorrect, they are heading rapidly toward a waterfall of impulsive thoughts, feelings, and actions that will have a cascade of huge consequences (verse 1).
As Solomon states in verses 1-5, when one does not fear God, he or she is hasty to speak and act. Fools will ultimately demonstrate hastiness in their speech, which will produce vows and promises before God and lead them to sin because they will be unable to fulfill what they promise. It is in this hastiness with a lack of truth and clarity that man has many dreams and plans that do not come to fruition or that fail to satisfy his soul.
Schemes and Dreams... is not necessarily the name of a good food truck or neighborhood bar. It is actually the foolishness of men and women who talk to too soon too much, who listen to very little, who promise too much and who do not keep their word too often.
This answers Solomon's last important question.
What will my life's legacy be?
Interestingly, Solomon seems to continue this theme of demonstrating a logical sequence of how core beliefs, thoughts, actions, and consequences interact. He illustrates the trap of money when one has a delusion that money will satisfy or answer those important questions we have addressed with Solomon today. This delusion leads to errors in thinking, errors in judgment, and then to foolish actions. By tracing behavior backwards, one inevitably will find a false belief that is contrary to fearing God. In the classic movie trilogy, Godfather, there is a clear example of this delusion and error. The life of the lead character, Michael Corleone, presents a clear depiction of the pursuit of wealth, excess, and strife. Michael Corleone is able to amass large amounts of wealth through many illegal and corrupt ventures and activities - as well as through the legalization of gambling in Nevada. He spends most of his life trying to protect the family fortune while seeking to secure a financial future for his empire. His monetary pursuits, his association with organized crime, and his absence from his family cost him two marriages, countless damaged relationships, and the death of two siblings and one child, and his own exile to a Sicilian villa. In the final scene of the Godfather trilogy, Michael Corleone is sitting by himself in a chair in front of his Sicilian villa where he dies alone and essentially forgotten.