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Ecclesiastes 5


Your Attitude Toward God Fear God, Keep Your Vows Advice on Religious Observance Don't Make Rash Promises Society
5:1-7 5:1-3 5:1-2 5:1-7 5:1 [5:2]
  (2-3)     5:2 [5:3]
    5:3   5:3-5 [5:4-6]
  5:4-7 5:4-6    
  (6-7)     5:6 [5:7]
    5:7   5:7-8 [5:8-9]
  The Vanity of Gain and Honor
Oppression Life is Useless
5:8-9 5:8-9 5:8 5:8  
The Folly of Riches   The Topic of Possessions
5:10-12 5:10-12
5:10 5:10-12 5:10 [5:11]
  (11) 5:11   5:11 [5:12]
  (12) 5:12   5:12-16 [13-17]
5:13-17 5:13-17 5:13-17 5:13-17  
        5:17-19 [18-20]
5:18-20 5:18-20 5:18-20 5:18-20  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentarywhich means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Chapters 4-5 form a literary unit.


B. Chapter 5 begins with a number of commands (warnings) about worship:

1. "Guard your steps," Eccl. 5:1, BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperative

2. "Do not be hasty in word," Eccl. 5:2, BDB 96, KB 111, Piel imperfect, but used in a jussive sense

3. "Impulsive in thought," Eccl. 5:2, BB 554, KB 553, Piel imperfect, but used in a jussive sense

4. "Let your words be few," Eccl. 5:2, BDB 224, KB 243, Qal imperfect, but used in a jussive sense

5. "Do not be late" (in paying a vow), Eccl. 5:4, BDB 29, KB 34, Piel imperfect, but used in a jussive sense

6. "Pay what you vow," Eccl. 5:4, BDB 1022, KB 1532, Piel imperative

7. "Do not say. . .," Eccl. 5:6, BDB 56, KB 65, Qal imperfect, but used in a jussive sense

8. "Fear God," Eccl. 5:7, BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperative

The paragraph, Eccl. 5:1-7, deals with proper worship attitudes and procedures. The summary command is in Eccl. 5:7 (i.e., #8).


C. The recurrent conclusions of Qoheleth are

1. Enjoy each day and the simple God-given pleasures of life as they come (2:24-26; 3:12,13,22; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7-9).

2. Fear God (1:7; 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12; 12:13) and keep His commandments (cf. Eccl. 12:13)!



 1Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. 2Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. 3For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.

5:1 This is an affirmation of the priority of attitude. Verses 1-7 deal with warnings associated with religious worship.

▣ "the house of God" This refers originally to the tabernacle, but later to the Temple in Jerusalem.

▣ "to listen" This is an important and common Hebrew term (BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal infinitive construct). It means "to hear so as to do." It focuses on actions, not just information (cf. Eccl. 1:8; 5:1; 7:5 [twice],21; 9:16,17; 12:13; James 1:22-25).

▣ "to offer" This (BDB 678, KB 733, Qal infinitive construct, "give" or "set") is not the usual word for offering a sacrifice. In context it may refer to sacrifices of the lips (vows).

▣ "the sacrifice of fools" Many do religious things thinking they are right with God because of their actions. God wants a faith relationship before ritual or liturgy. The ritual is not wrong, but only meaningful when done out of faith and commitment (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22; Proverbs 21:3,27; Isaiah 1:10-17; Jeremiah 7:22-23; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:22-24). To put it another way, "God looks at the heart before the hand."

5:2 The three verbs in this verse are all imperfects used as jussives. Qoheleth warns of thoughtless verbosity in God's presence (cf. Prov. 10:19). It is not the eloquence or length of the prayer that impresses God, but the devoted and faithful heart of the one praying!

This verse, in context, may be speaking of making rash vows (cf. Eccl. 5:4; Prov. 20:25).

NASB, LXX"do not be hasty"
NKJV"do not be rash"
NRSV"never be rash"
NJB"be in no hurry"

The term "hasty" (BDB 96, KB 111, Piel imperfect) has a wide semantic range, but the Piel has only two options:

1. "dismay," "terrify"

2. "hasten," "make haste"

The second option (e.g., 2 Chr. 35:21; Esther 2:9) fits this context best.

▣ "God is in heaven" See Special topic at Eccl. 3:1.

▣ "therefore let your words be few" This was proverbial in Israel's literature (e.g., 6:11; Prov. 10:19; Matt. 6:7).


NASB"For the dream comes through much effort, and the voice of a fool through many words"
NKJV"For a dream comes through much activity, and a fool's voice is known by his many words"
NRSV"For dreams come with many cares, and a fool's voice with many words"
TEV"The more you worry, the more likely you are to have bad dreams, and the more you talk, the more likely you are to say something foolish"
NJB"From too much worrying comes illusion, from too much talking, the accents of folly"

This may have been a well known proverb. It is structured as a balanced double line. The interpretive problem is the word "dream" (cf. Eccl. 5:7, BDB 321). It can refer to

1. simply sleep (cf. Job 7:14; 20:8; Ps. 73:20)

2. prophecies given during sleep (cf. Gen. 20:3; 28:12; 37:5,6,9,10; Num. 12:6; 1 Kgs. 3:5; Dan. 2:28)

3. false prophecies (cf. Deut. 13:2,4,6; Jer. 23:25 [twice],27,28 [twice],32; 27:9; 29:8; Zech. 10:2)

In context motive, not many words, is the focus of Eccl. 5:1-7. Be careful what you say to God. He takes it seriously! Fools say anything and often!

 4When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! 5It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.

5:4 "When you make a vow to God" This is literally, "when you vow a vow." The verb (BDB 623, KB 674, Qal imperfect) is from the same root as the noun (BDB 623). Vows were like deals with God. You do this and I will do this! They were conditional promises based on certain outcomes. I personally do not believe this (foxhole religion) carries over into the New Covenant!

If you promise, do it (cf. Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21-23; Ps. 22:25; 50:14; 56:12; 61:8; 65:1; 76:11; Prov. 20:25)! The laws concerning vows are found in Leviticus 27.

5:6 This possibly refers to one trying to get out of their promise (vow).

▣ "the messenger of God" The KJV has "angel," but the context seems to refer to a priest (i.e., worship setting). The Hebrew word (BDB 521) can mean "messenger" or "angel "(cf. Mal . 2:7-9).

5:7 Human words, though eloquent and multiplied, are vain, empty, and meaningless, be they prayers, dreams (i.e., revelations), or vows. The key is not the sacrifice or the prayer, or the vower, but the object of their address (i.e., God). An attitude of awe and respect (i.e., fear, BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperative) is crucial (cf. Eccl. 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12,13; 12:13).

▣ "dreams" See note at Eccl. 5:3.

▣ "fear God" This (BDB 432, KB 432, Qal imperative) is a recurrent admonition of Scripture:

1. Job, 1:1,8; 2:3; 6:14; 28:28

2. Psalms, 15:4; 25:12,14; 31:19; 34:7; 66:16; 103:11,13; 118:4

3. Proverbs, 1:7,29; 2:5; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27; 19:23; 31:30

4. Ecclesiastes, 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13;12:13


 8If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. 9After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land.

5:8-9 These verses pick up on the problem of social injustice (cf. Eccl. 3:16; 4:1; 8:9). The author feels helpless in the face of the pervasive corruption and injustice of government (a hint the author cannot be Solomon).


NASB"a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land"
NKJV"the profit of the land is for all; the king himself is served from the field"
NRSV"this is an advantage for a land; a king for a plowed field"
TEV"even the king depends on the harvest"
NJB"the greatest advantage in all the land is his: he controls a field that is cultivated"

How do verses 8 and 9 relate to each other? This is the problem. The focus is governmental injustice. Is the king the answer or is the King (God, cf. LXX, Leupold, p. 124) the answer! Also, the "lasting gain" (i.e., a recurrent theme, BDB 452, cf. Eccl. 2:15; 6:8,11; 7:16; 12:9,12) is a common, shared gift from God (cf. Eccl. 2:24-26).

The Anchor Bible Commentary asserts that "king" should go with the first line (i.e., "and over them all is the king"). This is a possible meaning because the remainder of the thought is "the real wealth of a country is in its cultivated land" (p. 228).

Notice the theories:

1. God, Himself is the answer.

2. "Lasting gain" is only from God.

3. God's gift of the "land" (cf. Gen. 12:13) is the source of wealth in this life for an agricultural community.


 10He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. 11When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on? 12The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep.

5:10 "He who loves money will not be satisfied" Money is not the problem but love (BDB 12, KB 17, Qal active participle) of money (cf. 2 Tim. 6:10). Those who make wealth priority never have enough (i.e., "satisfied" negated BDB 959, KB 1302, Qal imperfect, cf. Eccl. 2:8-11).

NASB, NKJV"abundance"

The Hebrew word (BDB 242) has a wide semantic range:

1. sound, murmur, roar

2. sound of rain falling

3. tumult, confusion

4. abundance of numbers

5. abundance of wealth

It seems that "money" and this term are in a parallel relationship. So, does it refer to:

1. wealth

2. crowd applause (i.e., fame)?


5:11 "When good things increase, those who consume them increase" The phrase "good things" (BDB 375) is purposely ambiguous to cover a range of "good things." When increase (BDB 915 I, KB 1176, Qal infinitive construct) comes, consumers increase (BDB 912, KB 1174, Qal perfect). More of a thing means more workers to help make, distribute, and protect "the thing." More of something often causes the profit margin of the owner to decrease. Is more better?!

5:12 "sleep of the working man is pleasant. . .but" The wealthy are always afraid of losing what is theirs, while the poor man is content with what little he has. Where then is the lasting value?

Again Qoheleth returns to a familiar theme: "enjoy the moment," "smell the roses along the way," "happiness is found in the simple, free, daily life experiences of humans" (cf. Eccl. 2:24-26; 3:12,13,22; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7-9).

Sleep (BDB 445) is a gift from God (cf. Ps. 4:8; 127:2; Prov. 3:24; 6:22). Those who do not trust God devise evil on their beds instead of sleeping (cf. Ps. 36:4; Prov. 4:16; Micah 2:1). Earthly possessions rob the owners of sleep (e.g., Prov. 11:28; 18:10-12; 28:11; 30:8-9). The wealthy constantly worry about (1) losing their wealth or (2) getting more!

 13There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt. 14When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him. 15As he had come naked from his mother's womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16This also is a grievous evil—exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? 17Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger.

5:13-16 Riches are transitory and temporal. Although one can accumulate much wealth, one can also lose it, and all will leave it behind because humans can take nothing physical into the next life (cf. Eccl. 5:15-17). Riches promise much, but often cannot fulfill the expectation.


NASB, NIV"a grievous evil"
NKJV"a severe evil"
NRSV"a grievous ill"
TEV"a terrible thing"
NJB"grossly unjust"

This phrase involves two Hebrew terms:

1. an adjective, BDB 317, the NOUN which denotes an illness, but as an adjective meaning "severe" or "sore" (cf. Eccl. 5:13,16 and similar form in Eccl. 6:2)

2. the noun, BDB 949, which denotes "evil" (the basic root), "misery," or "distress"

This phrase occurs several times in Ecclesiastes (cf. Eccl. 2:17; 5:12,15; 6:1; 10:5).

The term "evil" (BDB 949) is used in Ecclesiastes in several senses. Note NASB and NIV translations.


"grievous task" 
"evil activity" 
"grievous task"
"doing evil" 
"bad investment" 
"sore affliction" 
"an evil matter" 
"to his hurt" 
"an evil deed" 
"does evil" 
"the wicked" 
"evil" (twice) 
"treacherous net" 
"an evil" 
"heavy burden"
"evil that is done"
"miserable business"
"do wrong"
"some misfortune"
"grievous task"
"for a bad cause"
"to his own hurt"
"to do wrong"
"the bad"
"evil" (twice)
"cruel net"
"an evil"

By this limited comparison you can quickly see the range of meanings for this common noun. Qoheleth uses it again and again. He saw this world as sick and unjust because of fallen humanity bent toward self and the terrible exploitation of each other.


NASB"a bad investment"
NKJV, NIV"misfortune"
NRSV"a bad venture"
TEV"some bad evil"
NJB, JPSOA"unlucky venture"

This term (BDB 775) is used several times only in Ecclesiastes (cf. Eccl. 1:13; 2:23,26; 3:10; 4:8; 5:3,14; 8:16). Its basic meaning is "task." The NASB translates it as

1. "task," 1:13; 2:23,26; 3:10; 4:8; 8:16

2. "effort," 5:3

3. "investment," 5:14

The NIV translates it as

1. "burden," 1:13; 3:10

2. "work," 2:23

3. "task," 2:26

4. "business," 4:8

5. "cares," 5:3

6. "misfortune," 5:14

7. "labor," 8:16

BDB offers two suggestions on its meaning in Eccl. 5:13

1. a bad business

2. a bad affair


5:17 "eats in darkness" This phrase refers to (1) a workaholic, (2) a stingy man, or (3) someone once wealthy, but now poor!

The term "darkness" (BDB 365) is used in several senses in Ecclesiastes and Wisdom Literature:

1. literal, Eccl. 2:13; Job 26:10

2. ignorance, Eccl. 2:14; Job 37:19

3. distress, Eccl. 5:17; 11:8; Job 15:22,23,30; 20:26; 22:11; 23:17; 29:3; Ps. 107:10,14; 112:4

4. obscurity, Eccl. 6:4 [twice]


NASB"great vexation"
NKJV"much sorrow"
NRSV, JPSOA"much vexation"
NJB"mourning, many sorrows"
NIV"great frustration"

The term (BDB 494) denotes an anger or frustration (cf. Ps. 112:10). It is used twice in Ecclesiastes (5:17; 7:9). It is often used of YHWH in Deut. 4:25; 9:18; 31:29; 32:16,21(twice); Ps. 78:58; 106:29; Jer. 7:18,19; 8:19; 11:17; 25:6,7; 32:29,30,32; 44:3,8.

 18Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. 19Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. 20For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.

5:18-19 "to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor. . .which God has given him" Notice the contrast between Eccl. 5:17 and 18! We need to be content with (1) knowing God and (2) enjoying what He has provided daily (cf. Eccl. 2:24-26; 3:12,13,22; 8:15; 9:7-9).


NRSV"good and fitting"
TEV"here is what I have found out"
NJB"so my conclusion is this"

The literal phrase is, "what I have seen myself to be good which is beautiful."

The term "good" (BDB 373 II) is used often in Ecclesiastes (45 times), but translated in several different ways (i.e., 2:1,3,24 [twice],26 [twice]).

The second term (BDB 421) is literally "beautiful." It occurs eight times in Song of Songs. The NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 495 asserts that it is only in Ecclesiastes that this term means "proper" (cf. Eccl. 3:11; 5:18), which makes it parallel to "good." Remember words only have meaning in a given context. How and why Qoheleth changes the regular meanings (even in other Wisdom books) is uncertain.

NASB"his reward" [margin "share"]
NKJV"his heritage"
NRSV, NIV"our lot"
TEV"our fate"
NJB"the lot of humanity"
JPSOA"his portion"

This is a common Hebrew term (BDB 324) with a wide semantic range, but it is used in Ecclesiastes for temporal benefits for the labor of one who recognizes and respects God's presence and His gifts (cf. Eccl. 2:10,21; 3:22; 5:18,19; 9:6,9; 11:2).

5:19 There are two Hebrew verbs translated "give":

1. BDB 678, KB 733, Qal perfect, very common verb, cf. Eccl. 2:26[twice]; 5:18,19; 6:2; 11:2; 12:11. God has given wealth and possessions.

2. BDB 1020, KB 1521, Hiphil perfect, much rarer verb which denotes giving power or enabling, 2:19; 5:19; 6:2; 8:9

This second verb is followed by three Qal infinitive constructs that describe what God has given those who respect and obey Him. Verses 18-20 are similar to 2:24-26:

1. to eat, BDB 37, KB 46

2. to receive his reward (lit. "to lift"), BDB 669, KB 724

3. to rejoice in his labor, BDB 970, KB 1333

This series is parallel to Eccl. 5:18:

1. to eat, BDB 37, KB 46, Qal infinitive construct

2. to drink, BDB 1059, KB 1667, Qal infinitive construct

3. to enjoy (lit. "to see"), BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal infinitive construct


▣ "man" This is the generic term for mankind from Adam (BDB 9). It is often used synonymously with ish (BDB 35, cf. Eccl. 6:2; Isa. 2:9).


NRSV, NIV"God keeps him occupied"NRSV, JPSOA "God keeps him busy"
NJB"God keeps his heart occupied"
REB"God fills his time"

The one verbal (BDB 772 I, KB 854 III, Hiphil participle means "to keep someone busy" [from KB]. This same root is used in Eccl. 1:13; 3:10 and translated "task." God gives both "the grievous task" and the relief from it! Again the worldview (i.e., "under the sun") without God brings vanity and meaninglessness, but the worldview of awe, respect, truth, and obedience brings a God-given joy in one's daily labors and family life (be the person wealthy, wise, or poor).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is this book so hard to interpret?

2. Why does the Author seem so bitter and pessimistic?

3. What is his final answer to life in verses 18-20?


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