Making hasty promises to God?

I have been reading the book of Ecclesiastes 5. In verse 2 he says ‘Don’t make rash promises and don’t be hasty in bringing matters to God…’ This seems counterintuitive. How am I to understand that passage?

The passage seems counterintuitive as any promise made to God would be something good.  Why the warning then? It is so because many times a promise is made with the lips only. A promise that seems to serve as an easy escape, a quick exchange mainly to your advantage. And, in honesty, when someone uses the Lord’s name or makes the promise in the church, it looks rock solid while it may be just vain words. Let me detail:

Many times people go through tense situations where they say words they regret, they make promises they will not be able to keep, they take oaths that would prove unbearable etc.

Especially in the realm of spirituality, when a person is in danger and suddenly prays to God “Lord, if you save me I will do this or that…” Remember your last crisis? We have all been through something like this. We know the story and most of the times our plea looks like this “Lord, if you save me this time only, and so I promise is the last time, I will….”

Accordingly, when coming to the Lord one should not rush – that is the message of the verse. 

When you come to the Lord, to His temple, you are not in front of a counter, or booth, or office, where you have just a quick exchange of papers, money, signatures. The Lord invites you to spend time with Him. To check the matters thoroughly, to search your soul deep enough. And then to make a promise based not on your urgency but on His stability. Not on what you can do for Him but on what He can do for you.

Please read in the context (as this is always very, very important) and you will see that the space and time of making the promise is in God’s house, the temple. 

Verse 1 warns us to guard our steps. Step calmly, not in a rush. You are in a church, not in the market place. And then come to listen instead of talking. Many come to God or to church to say things. Probably God wants us more like the listening Mary instead of the busy being Martha (Luke 10:38-42). When you take time to listen you don’t rush into promises. By the way, it seems that talking too much in the temple is similar to those worshipping idols – see a connection with what Jesus said about our prayers (Matthew 6:7-8), that should be much different than those of pagans who use many/vain words.

Now comes verse 2, where the reader is advised not to make any utterance in a haste. That is like an expedient prayer or agreement, where your urgent need goes way before your heart. Once again, there is this difference made: you are on earth, but God is in heaven. He is not rushing, you are. “Therefore let your words be few.” 

You can make a hasty promise in the market place, to a man. But in the church, be aware to the third commandment (Exodus 20). Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.

In verse 3, a comparison is made between those who have dreams and those who are talkative. A wise man will have many thoughts but few words, while a fool will have few thoughts and a lot of words. The same with the dreams, too many worries will disturb the brain so, during the night, the mind goes astray in dreaming and taking for real all kind of fantasies. One who talks much in the temple is like one who tells everyone his dreams. Who cares?

The following verses (4 to 7) keep on the same vein: (a) don’t delay in paying, as a delay will prove that you have rushed into promising; (b) better not to vow than not to bring to fulfilment your own words (counterintuitive also, right?); (c) why say “it was a mistake”, – that is when a reality check will force you to stand still and think (not talk), once again a proof that you rushed in before.

My answer in short 🙂 :

When coming in front of the Lord, we first listen to Him. He is more interested in us knowing Him than in us making ourselves known to Him. He knows us. Accordingly, don’t rush into promising Him things you may not be able to do. You are on earth, He is in heaven. Guess who has the bigger picture.

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