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. — Ecclesiastes 5:4
Marriage vows are an illustration of the sacred nature of vows made before God. For sixty years, David and Ruby Jordan of Suffolk, Virginia, lived by the wedding vows they had taken. They proved their adherence to the words “in sickness and in health, in adversity and in prosperity,” as well as their commitment to each other.
In March of 1998, Ruby suffered a stroke and it was discovered that she had the disease thrombocytopenic purpura syndrome, which kills brain cells. She spent six months in the hospital, and then was transferred to a skilled nursing facility. When Ruby did not respond to treatment there, David made the decision to bring her home. Amazingly, once she was back in familiar surroundings, a change began to take place. Although she could not speak, she started communicating with her family and friends through gestures and smiles.
The family was able to obtain in-home nursing help during the day, but David took care of Ruby from the time he arrived home from work at 4:00 each evening until 8:00 the following morning. He never complained, and he always wore a smile.
From the outset, David wanted to make life as normal as possible for his beloved wife. He had a special van equipped to accommodate her wheelchair, and he took her out and about — to church, shopping, and on other outings. In 2004, he took her on a four-day vacation to Myrtle Beach to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Another time he rented a boat and arranged a fishing trip for her, because she had always loved fishing.
David once said, “I know what she needs and when she needs it, but I guess after being married for more than fifty years, that’s not hard to do. I cherish my wedding vows and I think everyone who takes them should honor them. If your spouse gets ill or becomes disabled, do what you can to help them. After all, I know that if the shoe were on the other foot, she would do the same for me.”1 He proved those words until Ruby passed away in 2014.
David and Ruby’s vows, while taken before God, were made to each other. In today’s text, Solomon addressed the subject of vows made to God. He cautioned against being rash or hasty in speech, which included the making of vows. He also pointed to the importance of keeping vows that are made, and warned against backing out of a vow by claiming it was a mistake. His three-part emphasis made it abundantly clear that any person who makes a vow before God will be held accountable to keep it.
Circumstances in life change. Adversities come. Feelings ebb and flow like the tide. However, vows are a solemn commitment, and they must be kept. We can purpose to follow the example of David and Ruby, and make sure that we keep our vows!
This portion of text can be separated into two segments. In verses 1-7 of chapter 5, Solomon offered words of advice on two topics: reverence in worship (verses 1-3), and caution regarding vows (verses 4-7). The remainder of chapter 5 (verses 8-20) and all of chapter 6 address how to adjust to economic problems.
In chapter 5, verse 1, the phrase “keep thy foot” alludes to exercising reverence when in God’s house, and being an obedient listener, rather than engaging in meaningless worship. In verse 2, the Preacher exhorted against speaking impulsively to God, indicating that prayers should be reverent and contemplative.
Verses 4-7 address the necessity of fulfilling vows, emphasizing that it is better not to make a vow at all than to fail to accomplish it. The word angel in verse 6 could be translated as “messenger of God,” and most likely refers to the priest. It was not uncommon during that time for the priest to be told that a certain vow was a mistake, and therefore unredeemable. Solomon emphasized that God took all vows seriously, and punishment could result if vows were not kept.
In verse 8, the writer stated that the oppression of the poor and perversion of those in government should come as no surprise, but there is a higher Power who ultimately would be the Judge over all. Verse 9 conveys that the harvest benefits everyone, and even the king is entitled to his fair share.
Verses 10-17 focus on the vanity of trusting in personal wealth. Those who put their confidence in riches are never satisfied, and the accumulation of wealth brings more responsibility. While the sleep of a laborer is peaceful, the rich are wakeful because of stress over their responsibilities and wealth.
In verses 18-20, Solomon said it is acceptable to enjoy the fruit of one’s labor as long as God is given the credit for providing it. He brought out that those who acknowledge their portion as a gift from God would experience joy and gladness.
In chapter 6, Solomon continued his practical counsel on the theme of material prosperity. In verses 1 and 2, he pondered the fate of a man whom God had allowed to obtain wealth, but who did not live to enjoy it. He concluded that the acquisition of riches as a purpose in life is vanity.
In Solomon’s culture, living a long life and having many children were considered worthy goals. However, verses 3-6 indicate that if a man’s life is not filled with goodly purpose or worthy fulfillment, or he is not honored with a proper burial, it would be preferable for him to never have been born.
Verses 7-9 emphasize that man’s spiritual appetite cannot be satisfied with material gain. The wise man and the fool, the poor and the wealthy, will all end in the grave. Solomon also brought out that it is better to be content with what the eyes can see than to desire something that is unattainable.
Verses 10-12 point out that it is futile for man to contend with God. Man does not have the ability to know what is best in life, and can do little to determine what will happen in the world after he is dead.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The theme defended
H. The emptiness of religious formalism (5:1-7)
I. The emptiness of the life of man (5:8 — 6:12)
1. The oppression of the poor (5:8-9)
2. The emptiness of wealth (5:10-17)
a. It does not satisfy (5:10-12)
b. It is temporal (5:13-17)
3. The basis of happiness is in God (5:18-20)
4. The emptiness of man’s experience (6:1-9)
5. The futile struggle against fate (6:10-12)
A vow is a solemn commitment or contract made before or to God, and it is vital that we are very careful about keeping such commitments.