Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 forms a section all by itself within this book and this section of the book. It is the only place in which Solomon looks at the vanity of false religion. Here he is looking at people who realize that there is a God but who fail to love God and His righteousness and therefore who fail to give Him due reverence and feel they can manipulate Him to serve their purposes.
It doesn’t take a great deal of historical knowledge to realize that men have tried throughout the ages to manipulate God. The Greeks and Romans invented gods who were actually just glorified men and who needed flattery and gifts to be put on the sides of men. Just about any – if not all – false religions could be put in here for examples of vain religion.
But the sad part is when even those who should know better try to manipulate God! Even those in the sphere of the Church, who know many truths of the true God, try also to use their knowledge in order to get God to do what they want Him to do.
Solomon’s instruction in these seven verses shows the heinousness and presumptuousness of such attempts to manipulate God. “God is in heaven,” he instructs us. “Let your speech be carefully considered and let your speech before Him be with few words. FEAR HIM!”
Although this section has only seven verses, and although one main idea pervades all seven verses, the thoughts are abundant and there are ideas which take thought to be made clear. So we will take three days to go through this section. Today we will look at the overall idea and next we will take two days to go verse by verse and then again draw it all to a conclusion.
Today, then, the overall idea of verses 1-7.
“The Futility of Trying to Manipulate God”
Solomon has one main point to make here and he has one main illustration which he uses in order to make this point.
Solomon’s main point, as we’ve already said, is that we must fear and reverence God in truth and never dare to try any subversive way of getting Him to do what we wish. HE IS SOVEREIGN AND WE ARE MERELY MEN! Who are we to presume to dare to make this God bend His Almighty will to serve us? God is God and He is not to be manipulated!
Solomon’s overall illustration to make this point is an example which was common in Israel of his day. He lived in the days of shadows and types when God had instituted various sacrifices and temple-worship, all designed with one purpose: to teach and to point to Christ, Who would be their fulfillment.
But many in Israel failed to see Christ in the Temple worship and in sacrifices. Instead, they thought of God as a god who would be flattered and impressed through the giving of sacrifices. And – the special point of this lesson – they failed to see His sovereign omnipotence which knew every thought and intent of their hearts, instead thinking that they could get Him to do what they wanted Him to do by making promises they never intended to keep.
What presumption! Really, now! Do men dare to speak to God Almighty and promise things they never even intend in their hearts to do? And do they really think He is so stupid as to give them things just because of their idle promises?
Yes, men really do think they can play around with God that way. Men really do think they are superior to God. And not only do they sometimes do this, but any man who knows God’s truth without loving it will try in some way to manipulate God. Men are just that brash and faithless.
The man in this illustration is a man who lives for the things of this earth. On this earth he has certain material aspirations and desires.
But he has been taught that God rules and that God gives as He pleases. Men do not gain things only through their own initiative.
So the man figures that He must get God on his side. If he can get God to be impressed with him, then, he thinks, God will give him what he wants.
What it seems to this man that God wants are the things of this earth. God wants sacrifices of various sorts. He is pleased with animals and with thanks-offerings, all the things instituted in Old Testament Israel.
Now, the man loves his things far too much actually to part with them. So, he instead schemes this way: “I will go to God and make known what I desire. Then I will promise to give Him wonderful sacrifices and tithes and offerings if He gives me these things. But, after He does what I want, then I will pretend it was all a mistake and I should not have made those wonderful promises. In that way, He will forgive me but I will still gain what I want.”
That’s the idea all the way through this section. We see here a man who vows to the priest that he will give sacrifices and gifts to God in return for God’s favor but who speaks it all dishonestly. And in this context, with this example, Solomon warns us to come to God with all the reverence due to His majesty, to fear before Him, never to give rash vows, never to play the fool before Him. “Fear thou God!”
P. S. Always, the purpose of our study is to apply the study to ourselves. It is easy to condemn the pagans and the Old Testament Israelites for their attitude of manipulating God. But the question for us is, “Do we also in any ways ever try to do this? How does this apply especially to us?”
Try thinking about this between now and next week and see if you can yourself find ways in which we need this lesson. And then see whether you think I apply it correctly in next week’s lessons. No one has all the answers or makes all the valid points and so we all have to keep on studying and learning. Never will we know it all! (Not even in heaven! Then we will know perfectly whatever we will know but we will still keep on learning forever. God is too great for finite man ever to know completely.)
- Give some historical examples of men trying to manipulate God to do their wills.
- Give some examples in the Church world of ways in which “Christians” try to get God to do their wills instead of His.
- How does the man in 5:1-7 try to manipulate God?