Our study of Ecclesiastes 5:1–3 a few weeks ago noted the importance of careful, measured speech when one comes before the Lord. The antithesis of such speech is the multiplication of words, talking before one’s heart and mind have a chance to catch up. When we speak before we think, we say things that are not thought through or that we do not really mean. We find an example of this kind of speech in vows that are made too hastily, which is why Ecclesiastes 5:4–7 follows the general warning about speech with a caution about the oaths and vows that we swear in the presence of the Lord.
In v. 4, the Preacher exhorts us not to delay when we make a vow to God. As men and women who must struggle with the ongoing effects of sin in our lives, we continually face the temptation to put off what we have promised. This is bad enough when we delay keeping a promise to another human being, but it is far worse when we do not do what we told the Lord that we would do. Thanks be to God, He has revealed Himself to be exceedingly patient and “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6). He does not bring strong discipline upon us for every vow that we break. However, we would be arrogant to presume upon this grace. As the episode with Ananias and Sapphira illustrates, disaster can befall those who make a vow to the Lord or act as if they have made a vow to the Lord and then do not fulfill it (Acts 5:1–11).
Ecclesiastes 5 offers two practical bits of wisdom to assist us in not making vows that we will later break. First, we should not let our hearts “be hasty to utter a word before God” (v. 2). Vows should be made sparingly and only for the most serious matters, such as when one covenants to live with one’s spouse in holy matrimony or when one covenants to join a church body. Second, we should make no vow at all when we are uncertain as to whether we can fulfill it. “It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (v. 5). Our lives should not be marked by our making bargains with our Creator wherein we promise to do x if God does y. At some point in our lives, many of us have likely made silly vows to God such as, “Lord, if you move the math test to tomorrow, then I promise to study extra hard tonight.” We should not be making a vow like this or any similar frivolous promise. We are to have such a high degree of reverent fear for the Lord that we make vows only in the holiest matters and then keep them when we have pledged to do something.