Ecclesiastes 5:1-7: Vows

Read: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Better not to make a vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it – these are wise words coming from the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. The Jews of his day were certainly religious. Israel had the temple in Jerusalem, and they would make offerings there to God and make vows before God. There offerings were made here too.  The Preacher’s concern for vows is that in not fulfilling one’s vows, one becomes a liar – that is he or she says one thing and does another. The warning is against rash vows made by what the Preacher calls fools. They would go before God and make grandiose promises without thinking them through to completion. The Preacher wants people to be slow to speak before God who is in heaven. God is exalted to be feared and the Preacher encourages one to consider his position before uttering anything before God.

Leviticus 27 covers an assortment of vows people make before the Lord. A person could dedicate himself, an animal, his house, a field among many other things to the Lord. These items were deemed “holy” and became property of the priests for the purposes of the priests. The person would make a vow to dedicate such items then the priest would determine its value. These acts were not compulsory, rather they were completely voluntary. There was no law prescribing how much or how little the Israelites should give or if they should give at all. The Preacher is encouraging his readers to consider what they are doing carefully before making any sort of commitment to the Lord concerning vows.

The nature of vows had become by Jesus day and probably long before then a means of displaying one’s piety in public for all to see. Jesus speaks to this matter in Matthew 5:33-37. Some were apparently swearing upon anything number of things from the temple to the footstool of God as if the level of whatever they were swearing undergirded the fecundity of the vow. Jesus says that one should not swear on anything at all, rather just in a manner of simplicity, one should fulfill his or her vow, rather than make grandiose promises among other things.

Peter’s denial of Christ is a principal example of the foolishness that the Preacher is warning against. Peter, on the night of the Lord’s betrayal made a grandiose promise to never deny Jesus (John 13:36-38). Jesus knew that this was not true. Rather he predicts that before the rooster crowed the next morning, Peter would deny him three times. Peter realized what he had done and wept bitterly. He had failed to fulfill his vow concerning never denying Jesus.

In the same manner Christians would do well to heed the wisdom offered by the Preacher – don’t make hasty vows before God. One should consider the cost of what he or she is doing. When one does make a vow, one should, as Jesus taught, let his “yes” be yes and “no” be no. Vows can be a rich act of worship, acting on one’s own initiative before the Lord in a voluntary manner rather than a compulsory manner as one would do in following commandments. The blessing of a vow is not the display of piety, rather the satisfaction of knowing that one has been faithful in an act of worship to God. In the end, God wants the faithfulness of his people rather than the grandeur of promises.

Lord, let my words be few and my “yes” be yes!