This chapter starts off warning against being foolish when approaching God in worship:
“Guard 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. 2 Do 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. 3 For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. 4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Do 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? 7 For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. (Vv.1-6)
Our demeanor here seems to be foolish and evil if we think that our primary function of worship is to “offer” religious duty to God (as if He needed anything from us). The sacrifice of fools prevents them from principally “hearing” the law of the LORD when it’s read and explained. There are several lessons I have derived from this text.
First, my heart must first be instructed through God’s self-disclosure in Scripture through my mind before any offering I give is acceptable to God. That is, clear instruction on God’s intended meaning in Scripture precedes and is to inform the worshipper on how to approach this great God.
Second, if primacy to the aforesaid is not given, then idolatry will follow which at its core takes God’s name in vain (i.e., misrepresents His nature and character) and leads the devotee into bondage because God’s truth is substituted for a lie. Right doctrine is necessary for right living.
Third, the fool apparently parades his folly through much “speech”. That is, the fool has forgotten to consider that true worship can’t be bifurcated or separated from the knowing and doing dynamic. It is the two-sided coin of acceptable worship before God for when we don’t follow through on what we have vowed (promise made), sin results. For as the standard of truth, goodness and beauty, God always does what He says and says what He does. His people are to follow suit.
What a difficult concept for us to consider and live out in a culture that largely de-values truth telling on the one hand (e.g., P.C. speech), but deeply longs for it on the other hand. Jesus said that believers must be people whose word can be counted on:
“33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” (Mt.5:33-37)
The fourth lesson is that it’s better to refrain from speaking than to proceed and to sin (v.6). I have often dishonored people and God with my speech. This human malady has been around since the beginning of time and is out of control through our social media forums. Believers need to be very careful how they speak about people with whom they disagree for human beings are precious image bearers not accidents of evolutionary theory.
Of all the created order, what separates human beings from it is the capacity we have for communication through words. It is the instrumentality of words that the soul reveals ideas which have the power to either edify or decimate individuals, communities, provinces and even nations.
Like many of you, I’m prone to much speech. My tone, timing, and audience make the art of communicating well difficult to master. But believer and unbeliever alike will give an account to God for every idol word that comes out of our hearts. This is sobering and worthy to consider.