The Lord has given us many good things to do over the course of our lives. We can enjoy the daily pleasures that make up our portion in this age. We can even enjoy the work that God has granted to us. Yet when we consider the challenges that we face because of the weight of sin in this fallen world, and especially when we consider the overwhelming barrier to meaning that towers over us as death draws nearer every day, only a fool would want to keep on chattering before God. We should come to the house of God together with all who seek our Maker, and we should place our hands over our mouths.
In the single most important passage in this book of wisdom (this chapter contains the thematic center of the book), the Preacher speaks to us of a lesson for the ages, a lesson that we cannot hear unless we draw near to listen. The fool has too much to say, and through it all he thinks he is building a rhetorical palace with his great words. Perhaps he is wiser than a thousand men, yet when he walks into God’s house, he must stop talking. He needs to listen and to consider.
The Preacher speaks here of a “vow.” In Old Testament worship, God’s people were permitted to make special conditional promises called vows. Making and paying these vows were solemn acts of worship before God. Remember Samuel’s mother Hannah? She made a conditional promise: “If you will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” God heard that vow, and He gave Hannah what she requested. According to the law of the vow, Hannah was required to make the payment to God. We don’t make these kinds of conditional promises to God as a regular order of New Testament worship, but vows were a part of Old Testament worship, just as animal sacrifices were also a part of a liturgy that is no more.
The Preacher makes a solemn point at a very critical place in this book of wisdom: “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.” The true worshiper of God does not make promises to the great and fearful Lord of heaven and earth, and then ignore those promises. Better to make no vow at all than to make a vow to God and then not pay! To trifle with God in that way would be a dangerous offense against the Lord before whom all mortal flesh should keep silence.
Our work may come and go, and our names may be forgotten by our descendants, but God is forever, and our eternal blessedness is His great work. We should worship God in reverence.
Even a man of great wealth, if he is wise, will remember the lessons of worship: that there is a great God above him, and that He is his only hope of eternal mercy. This God hates oppression. He watches over every detail of creation, and even kings must answer to Him one day. Until that day comes, the most powerful ruler would do well to remind himself that the poor man brings him his food, and that it is never safe to oppress those who supply good things for his table.
Does anyone really believe that having an abundance of money, possessions, and prestige will actually help a man sleep well at night? Yet the rich easily forget these fundamental lessons of worship and live as if God died and left them in charge of creation to use it all for their own pleasure. The future is unknown to us. We are not actually rulers of our own destiny. We can lose everything we have in a moment, and what our children will do after we are gone is far beyond our control.
There is a better way to live before God. The Preacher’s message of solemn worship and modest thankful living has much to recommend it. This is the central theme on the heart of the author of this book of Ecclesiastes. It is also a way of life that is very near to the heart of the Lord.
When Jesus came to save, his death was the final sacrifice. No other offerings were needed after the real Lamb of God died. That’s why we no longer kill bulls and goats as a part of worship. From His place on the cross, where He atoned for our sins, Christ made the final vow. Quoting from a vow psalm of the Old Covenant, Psalm 22, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” He asked God for deliverance, and He was heard. His worship payment to the Father will be the glorified church in the final world of resurrection. In the words of Psalm 22:27, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” God heard His Son’s cry and gave Him resurrection life. We are to be the payment of the vow that ended all worship vows. The Son will surely keep His promise.
Jesus is living out the most solemn liturgy ever spoken. The cross was His service of worship to the Father. There He offered Himself to God, and there He promised His Father an eternal resurrection Kingdom. He will pay what He has vowed. You can trust Him. He is quietly living out the heavenly life from on high, sanctifying you and keeping you. Whether you are rich or poor, you can calmly and faithfully live out the heavenly life on earth, enjoying your food and drink with a thankful heart, serving in your work under the sun for the few days of life that God has given you here, for this is your lot.
Let us do what God calls us to do while the day remains, rejoicing even in our toil, for we worship God. He will not forget us. His Son will pay what He has vowed.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God Almighty, we draw near to You now. What will You say to us through Your Word? We wait for Your truth and Your grace. We thank You for Your Son. He made the ultimate vow. He promised to give You a kingdom, even a people that You would then present to Him as a bride. We are the payment of that vow. He will surely bring You the praise of the nations. The work of men will fail, but the great labor of Your Son will have eternal fruit that shall never perish. He is the answer for us, and our toil and prayer have meaning in Him. Our labor in Christ is not in vain. His work continues beyond the grave. He is building a resurrection Kingdom. Abundant and sure blessings have come to us through Him.