Let Your Words Be Few: Reflections on Ecclesiastes 5

I really like Ecclesiastes 5. Maybe because it is the first time we get some concrete advice from Solomon on life, rather than observing his comparisons and generalities of what a good life is.

Another reason the chapter intrigues me though is Matthew 6 (another quite practical chapter of Scripture). As I read through the 20 verses in Ecclesiastes, I see a lot of ideas that Jesus goes on to share during the Sermon on the Mount. Identifying the source material for a sermon Jesus preached feels like a pretty neat discovery for the historian in me!

Know Your Place

The way that Solomon paints his instructions on approaching the house of God captivates me.(Ecclesiastes 5:1-7) Guard your steps. Draw near to listen, not speak. Don’t speak quickly. And don’t speak too much. His prescribing proper conduct should be strikes a sense of awe within me. There’s a reason for the specific behavior.

The reason is clear. God is in heaven, and you are on earth. Yes, it does seem that Solomon is stating the obvious. But remember what he has been struggling with the entire time of his quest to understand everything under the sun. It’s just that. He’s only been focusing on life under the sun. When we think we’re the only ones in town, we start to think quite big of ourselves. There is no one else above us.

But that’s not the case at all. Yes, we are on earth. But God is in heaven. There is something—Someone—above the sun. And it would behoove us all to remember what our place is in the grand scheme of the universe. That is why we should fear—that is stand in awe—of God.

Systemic Dysfunction

Next, Solomon seems to change his tune yet again. In previous chapters he talks about the oppression of the poor and weak, and you almost get a sense that he is shocked by this. But now he is saying it’s nothing to marvel at. Why? Because it’s a problem that goes from bottom to top. And yet, it shouldn’t. Because at the end of the day, the king’s food comes from the field, just like the pauper’s does. (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9)

One of the reasons that Matthew 6 means so much to me is because it guards against worry. And I think that Solomon is going to the root of the issue here: no matter how much material wealth you build, you will never be satisfied if that’s what you’re working for. And that’s just the question. What are you toiling for? Because if it’s for the wind, you’ll never catch it. It’s vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-17)

The Key to Happy Living

Once again, Solomon ends his current thought on a happy note, about the blessings which God gives us. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20) His conclusion, though, takes us a step further. The person who is living with God is an integral part of the work doesn’t just find enjoyment in life. That is, enjoyment is not simply an end in and of itself. It’s also a means. It’s the way in which we are able to keep ourselves from worrying about yesterday, or tomorrow, about whether our life is good or bad. Whether we are just chasing after the wind. Those who enjoy the gifts of God enjoy peace.

So why not stop focusing on the corruption prevalent in the world? On chasing after things that will never satisfy? Why not, instead, approach the throne of God quietly and in awe to receive the good gifts He desires to give us? It is, after all, the best way to reduce the amount we worry about our lives.

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