Thus far, Solomon has been looking horizontally. He has visited the courtroom, the market place, the highway (here and there), and the palace, where he contemplated and carried out his dreams under the sun. He has thus far found it all very unsatisfactory. There is no record of him having encountered any kind of a prophet, either good or bad. There was no one in his life who could challenge him on his actions or musings. It is often true that world leaders destroy themselves before they destroy their nations. With Solomon, the destruction of the nation took place after his death.
He believed in God, the Elohim of the Old Testament, the Strong or Mighty One. He met Him in Chapter three, verse twenty-four. What does one do when he meets a Deity such as this? If one believes in God at all, what are the implications? Do we attempt to take liberties with Him as Job apparently did? If God speaks, are we obligated to listen; do we set aside our selfish interests and ambitions? Do we attempt to talk to Him and try to impress him with our charming discourses and useless chatter?
An interesting study is to see how men (and women) reacted when confronted by the God of the Bible. When God (Elohim) confronted Moses and told him to go back to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, Moses asked God “ . . . (if) they ask me ‘what is his name? Then what shall I tell them?” Elohim responded, tell them “I AM has sent me to you.” It meant to Moses that “I will be all that is necessary for any occasion” that you face” (Exodus 3:13, 14).
Note how Adam and Eve responded, Jacob, King David, Elijah and Elisha, Daniel, Ezekiel, the apostle Paul, John the beloved, Peter’s encounter with the Christ, the thief on the cross, doubting Thomas, Joshua and a host of others who met the God of the bible.
And now Solomon looks at mankind as a worshiper of God. How formidable is this God who crops up from time to time as the author looks at life and appears to ignore Him by looking at life “under the sun”? The opening verses drive the truth home with great force as with Job. He is told to stand in awe of Elohim: “Guard 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. Do not be quick with one’s mouth, do not be hasty in one’s heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and we are on earth, so let our words be few.” (5:1-2 NIV)
The indictment is powerful as we meet God in this chapter as high above us (above the sun), as sovereign, as creator and judge. In view of the previous chapters that talk about injustice, isolation, unsatisfying pleasure and uncertainty, it would seem that we stand in need of a more stable relationship to offset the vagaries [unpredictability] of life. Do we find answers in the “house of God?”
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a Danish philosopher and the father of religious existentialism. He was a pietas Lutheran who needed “a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.” The Hegelian system at the University of Copenhagen could not provide what he needed and he reacted strongly against it.
Kierkegaard had a great contempt for the established Danish Lutheran church and delivered a series of bitter attacks against it. He saw the incompatibility between the ecclesiastical conformism and the inward and personal character of Christian faith. For a time, he lived a melancholy life of pleasure, returning to his studies. He noted that “pastors are royal officials; royal officials have nothing to do with Christianity.” To him, the state church was dead and useless.
So Solomon says: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” “Listen” has to do with heeding and obeying with an anxious readiness and demeanor of preparedness—to hear. (I might add here that at our churches, there are three types of people in the congregation:
1. Those that who hear nothing
2. those who hear what they want to hear
3. those who hear what is said
Jesus warned us to “Consider carefully what we hear” (Mark 4:24) and in the passage about the cost of being a disciple he said: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:34). Jesus had much to say about hearing.
James adds to these admonitions when he says: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry . . .” (James 1:19) It is the opposite of the “offering the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong (lit. ‘evil’) Eccl. 5:1
God took pains to guard the earthly threshold of the temple in early times, even by the threat of death: “lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle” (Lev 15:31). Solomon’s target is the well-meaning person attending a church service that likes a lively song service and comes with a happy spirit but listens with half an ear. He never gets around to what he has earlier committed to do for the kingdom of God. He has forgotten his baptismal covenant with the Lord and ends up playing church. More than that, he has forgotten where and who he is and becomes casual with God.
This is all linked with the unreality of dreams and words (verse 3), where he again is referred to as a fool. The word means ‘silly’ or ‘stupid’. The preacher is pressing for the reality in the realm of worship. Many of the prophets, and also Christ, spoke their censures against the cruel and the hypocrites but Solomon seems to be aiming at the careless attendees of the temple and todays apathetic crowd who frolic and trifle with the serious things of Christ. How pathetic that we take pious activity and make it meaningless and treat lightly what is holy.
Consider Matthew 7:21 where Christ warns that “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” No amount of emphasis on grace can justify taking liberties with God. The very idea of grace demands our gratitude, and gratitude cannot be fake and casual.
So, the fact that God has “no pleasure in fools” is powerful. Worship is to be more than verbal doodling. We are to be serious in our worship and know Who we are worshiping. How often do we commit a hoax? The idea of hearing, in Hebrew, often has the double force of paying attention and obeying. (See I Sam 15:22, 23 for further comment on worship)
There is much more that could be said about holiness, but remember that we are to “guard our steps when we go to the house of God.” Fools are not a certain type but people behaving in ungodly ways. Our excuses to the Lord will come off as spiritual defaults and fakes.