part 10 – a word on worship (Ecc 5:1-7)
We are walking through the book of Ecclesiastes in which the Teacher is exploring life in philosophical contemplation. Up to this point in the book, we have seen a lot of observation about life under the sun, but very little to no doctrine and very few exhortations. But as we move into chapter 5, we find that in this section the Teacher becomes much more conclusive, more doctrinal, and instructional, more theological and God-centered – and I love that about this section.
Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Ecc 5.
The teacher’s theology and instruction here revolves around temple worship.
Temple worship was characterized primarily by sacrifice, usually animal sacrifice. This was a common practice among the nations of the Ancient Near East. Sacrifices and offerings were the means of religious expression and the primary approach in attempts to honor their gods. The presence of sacrifices and offerings in Israel, therefore, was a reflection of the larger culture of which this nation was a part. The Philistines had a temple in which they offered sacrifices to their god Dagon, the Canaanites had a temple in which they offered sacrifices to their god Ba’al, and like the ANE cultures in their midst, Israel built a Temple (more specifically, Solomon built a temple) in which they offered sacrifices to Yahweh.
Israel’s Temple worship, offerings and sacrifice were regulated with very detailed specifications, which you can find in the book of Leviticus in case you would like some light reading for this afternoon.
This practice of worship by means of Temple sacrifice is the platform for the Teacher’s discussion in Ecc 5:1-7. Let’s read that together.
Ecc 5:1-7 1Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.
3 A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
This would have been directly applicable in the Teacher’s day, a time in which physical sacrifices in a physical temple were still a reality.
He opens by saying that when going to the house of God, one should guard his steps, to be careful, quick to listen and slow to speak. He says that when one makes a vow he should not delay in fulfilling it and that it would actually be better not to vow than to vow and fail to fulfill it. You can see here the connection between vows and offerings. He is referring to the practice of vowing to make a sacrifice.
And you can probably imagine how this might play out. We still do this kind of stuff today. Perhaps you have done it. God, if you just do this for me, then I will read my Bible everyday. God if you just do that for me, then I will fill in the blank. I remember one time before I was a Christian, I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. And I was on the verge of getting caught. I remember saying, “God, if you help me not get caught, then I won’t do it again.” See the irony there?
The teacher points out that it is a very serious issue to utter a vow to God and to fail to fulfill that vow.
Not to say that one shouldn’t vow at all; we make vows such as in wedding ceremonies, but when vows are made, when oaths are taken, they should be sworn with solemnity and with much consideration. Again, it is better not to vow than to vow and break it.
I am reminded of one story in Judges 11 in which a man named Jephthah makes a rash vow. Keep your place in Ecc 5, and turn to Judges 11.
11 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him.
4 Some time later, when the Ammonites were fighting against Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”
7 Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”
8 The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over all of us who live in Gilead.”
9 Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?”
10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: “What do you have against me that you have attacked my country?”
13 The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.”
14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king,15 saying:
“This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Seaand on to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh.
18 “Next they traveled through the wilderness, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.
19 “Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ 20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israelto pass through his territory. He mustered all his troops and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.
21 “Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and his whole army into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country,22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.
23 “Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? 24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess. 25 Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? 26 For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? 27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”
28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.
29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands,31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”
36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”
Here you see the connection between vows and sacrifices and you can see how a rash vow before God ruined a man. It is evident how the Teacher’s instruction in Ecc 5 here would have literally hit home for Jephthah.
Thus far, we have looked at how this passage would have had immediate relevance and application to the original audience under the Old Covenant as they performed sacrifices and offerings before God in the Temple.
Upon the coming of Jesus Christ, all of that would change.
In John 4, Jesus was passing through Samaria and met with a Samaritan woman at a well and engaged her in discussion which made its way to the topic of temple worship. The Temple of Yahweh was on Mt Zion in Jerusalem, capital of Judah, the southern Kingdom. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel and the Samaritans had their own temple there on Mt Gerazim. Both groups thought they were right and the other wrong. Both claimed that their temple was the true temple and proper place to worship. Jesus told her a time is coming and has come when you will neither worship on this mountain (Gerazim in Samaria) or on Mt Zion in Jerusalem, but true worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth. In other words, these physical temples will be irrelevant in the next oh 40 years.
The sacrificial system came to an end for Israel in AD 70, God brought that system of Temple worship to an end with the destruction of the temple, which ushered in the age of Messiah and the heavenly Jerusalem that Jesus came to establish.
You and I live in the New Covenant age characterized by a heavenly and spiritual worship. Paul says in Ephesians 2:19-22 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Rom 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
So the physical temple has been replaced by a spiritual temple and animal sacrifices has been replaced by spiritual sacrifice, the offering of our body in service to the Lord.
Consider with me the nature of the New Covenant.
We don’t come to a physical temple where the blood of animal sacrifices is sprinkled before us, where the presence of God is manifest in a cloud, where a high priest must cleanse himself with ceremonial washings before entering the holy place, where if he does not purify himself according to the Law he may be struck down by God.
It would be a very visible reminder to us that we should guard our steps and walk in reverence. I believe it would naturally generate a greater sense of sacred solemnity.
But in the new covenant, we are the temple of God, which presents the possibility of tricking us into trivializing the presence of God and removing a sense of reverence.
CONSIDER HOW WE DO CHURCH AT NCF:
- We don’t come on a Sunday morning to an elaborate building with stained glass windows. The Page House is gorgeous, but how many of you walk up the steps on Sunday morning with a sense of wonder and awe and say I am about to enter the house of God, this is a big deal.
- We don’t wear a suit and tie and dresses
- We don’t do a whole lot in the way of liturgy
- We don’t even have an organ
- We are very casual and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be
I’m not suggesting that we change our methods I am simply pointing out that the very nature of the New Covenant combined with our methods here at NCF present the very real possibility of leading us to a commonplace attitude toward God, his presence, and our worship of him. And I am suggesting that we guard our hearts against trivializing God, weakening our worship, reducing our reverence and fear of God. God is holy, he is far from commonplace.
By nature, we relate so easily and readily to the physical elements. It would be so easy to pack up a portion of our grain and take it to a temple messenger and offer a sacrifice. It’s more difficult to take all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our soul and take it as a temple messenger and lay it before God and say, here is my sacrifice, this already belongs to you, but I am willingly, actively, intentionally laying it down before you.
When our actions or inactions have consequences or benefits that are tangible, seen, felt, physical, it seems easier take them more seriously. But when the benefits or consequences are of a spiritual nature as they are in the New Covenant, it’s easier, it seems, to take them lightly and justify certain actions or inactions. It’s easier to say, well, if I sin, if I lie, if I don’t keep my word, there is no condemnation.
It’s easier to say, well, there is freedom and grace in the New Covenant, so
- I don’t HAVE to go to church
- I don’t HAVE to read my bible
- I don’t HAVE to fellowship
- I don’t HAVE to meditate on God
- I don’t HAVE to share the Gospel
- I don’t HAVE to give an offering
- I don’t HAVE to do anything
I’m in Christ, I’m in the Kingdom, and it’s all grace. It’s easy as a New Covenant believer to allow that kind of mentality to creep in and rob us of the spiritual blessings and benefits that come from worshiping God through such practices.
All of those things I listed are really acts of worship in one way or another, provided that they are done unto the Lord, which is really a matter of the heart.
If I say in my heart: I am already a part of the bride of Christ, I’m in the body of Christ. I don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love affection and favor, I already have it. I already have a secure position in the Kingdom of heaven and when I depart from this earth I will reside with him forever. I don’t have to serve him, I don’t have to spend time with him in prayer, I don’t have to find out what pleases him and do it. What does that say about my heart? What is my motivation?
On the other hand, I can love God with all of my heart and the fruit of that love will be to serve him, to speak well of him, to bless him, to love his children, to search his Word to find out what pleases him and do those things, to find out what displeases him and stop doing those things. It is in my best interest to do so.
- So while I don’t HAVE to go to church, a heart that beats for God, a heart that worships him will say while I don’t have to, I want to and I will because it is an opportunity for me to join with his children in singing his praises, to search the scriptures together in celebration of Him.
- And while I don’t HAVE to read my bible or meditate on God, a heart that beats for God, a heart that worships him will say, while I don’t have to I want to because it is an opportunity for me to get to know Him better as that is the main source of his self-revelation.
- And while I don’t HAVE to fellowship, a heart that beats for God, a heart that worships him will say while I don’t have to I want to because fellowship with the saints, with the body of Christ is in a sense, fellowship with Christ.
- While I don’t HAVE to share the Gospel, a heart that beats for God that worships God will want to share the gospel, will want to declare the good news of Jesus Christ, for we tend to speak of the things that we care about that we are excited about, we like to share good news and the gospel of Jesus is news beyond good news and it brings much glory and honor to God.
- And while I don’t HAVE to give an offering, a heart that beats for God, that worships God will say I want to give unto the Lord.
Worship is not limited to these things, but they serve as very real and relevant examples of ways by which we can and should worship.
I believe that we are wired for worship. When we really sit back and ask what is it all for, what does it all mean, why am I here, what is my purpose? The answer, I believe we will find, is to know God, make God known, to love him, fear him, obey him out of reverence, in short to worship him. It is in our best interest to worship God, for in so doing we will find ultimate meaning and fulfill our purpose.
Our text in Ecclesiastes really challenges a flippant attitude toward worship. Guard your steps. Don’t be quick to utter a vow. Don’t be hasty in your heart. If you do make a vow, don’t delay in fulfilling it. As Jesus expounds on life in the Kingdom, he raises the bar, teaching that life in the New Covenant should transcend that of the Old. Therein, Jesus issues the challenge, don’t even make a vow, don’t swear at all, simply let your yes be yes and your no no. If vows are to be taken seriously and solemnly and Jesus says treat every word like it’s a vow, then that’s really raising the bar, reminding us that in the Kingdom, Temple worship is no longer limited to a piece of real estate in the Middle East, but an all day everyday everywhere affair.
So the application for New Covenant life would be not only guard your steps, your hearts, and your lips when you come to the house of God, but since you are the house of God, guard your steps, your heart and your lips always. Always be quick to listen and slow to speak. Always stand in awe of God.
And what is his final word in verse 7? Therefore, meaning in light of everything that was just said, therefore, fear God. I believe that the fear of God is not something that should be restricted to the Old Covenant, because the God of the Old Covenant is the same God as the God of the New Covenant. The God that ordained the shedding of the blood of the Passover Lamb and destroyed the enemies of His people and brought Israel into the Land is the same God that shed the blood of his son, the true Passover lamb, destroyed the enemies of his people and brought His people into a heavenly Kingdom. We should fear that God, not because he will punish us for our sins, not because we stand condemned before him, but because of who He is. He is the Creator, the maker of all things, the Lord of Heaven and earth, the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God of wonders beyond our galaxy, who alone is worthy of our worship.
And while the new covenant is spiritual and we are not required to make physical sacrifices and we do not face physical consequences for certain actions or inactions, we do serve the same God as those who were under the Old Covenant and we do participate in Temple worship, but of a different nature – one that is far more glorious. The Teacher’s exhortations regarding temple worship are more than applicable to us.
In response let’s not take a flippant attitude toward God, and trivialize his presence, let’s not weaken our worship, let’s not neglect to offer up our selves as spiritual sacrifices before God. Let’s guard our steps and our hearts. If the end of the matter – the conclusion of the book of Ecclesiastes is fear god and keep his commands, and the sum of the commands is to love God and love others, then let’s love God with all of our hearts and let that love for God be the motivation to live a life of worship in spirit and in truth.
If the Israelites of Old worshiped God in reverence and awe, how much more should we considering how much more we know of God and his love, grace, and glory bound up in the riches of His Son Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God!