Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2
Keep your foot when you go to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools…
Although the precise meaning of the Preacher is open to some doubt, we shall not go wrong in letting these words speak to us of -
I. THE FUTILITY OF FORMAL WORSHIP. Reference is made to
(1) the offering of sacrifice (ver. 1), and
(2) the repetition of devotional phrases.
We may find a Christian parallel in the reception of sacraments, and in the "prayers" and psalmody of the Church. We know that the purest spirituality may breathe in these, and may be nourished by these, but we know also
(1) that they may fail to express any real and pure devotion;
(2) that in this case they also fail in winning the favor of God; and
(3) that they leave the soul rather the worse than the better, for in such futile worship there is a dangerous delusiveness which is apt to lead. to a false and even fatal sense of security.
II. ACCEPTABLE SERVICE. This is threefold.
1. Reverence. This is strongly implied, especially in the second verse. Let the worshipper realize that he is in "the house of God," none other and no less than that (see Genesis 28:17). Let him realize that "God is in heaven," etc.; that he is bowing before the Infinite One himself; that he is addressing him who, in his Divine nature and in his unapproachable rank, is immeasurably removed above himself; that he is speaking to One who sees the actions of every life, and knows the secrets of all hearts, and who needs not, therefore, to be informed of what we do or what we feel. Let language be spared, let sacred thought and solemn feeling flow; let a sense of human littleness and of the Divine majesty silence all insincerity, and fill the soul with reverential awe.
2. Docility. "Be more ready ['draw nigh,' Revised Version] to hear," etc. There is much virtue in docility. Our Lord strongly commended the child-spirit as the condition of entrance into the kingdom; and was not this principally because the spirit of childhood is that of docility - eagerness to know, readiness to receive? We should draw nigh to God in his house, not that we may hear our favorite dogmas once more exalted or enforced, but that we may hear the mind and know the will of Christ better than we have done before; that we may "be filled with the knowledge of his will;" that it may become increasingly true that "we have the mind of Christ." To desire to part with our errors, our ignorance, our prejudices, our half-views, our misconceptions, and to have a closer vision of our Lord and of his Divine truth, - this is acceptable worship.
3. Obedience. "Keep thy foot; go to the house of God 'with a straight foot,' a foot trained to walk in the path of holy obedience." Go to the house of God as one that "has clean hands and a pure heart;" as one that "lifts up holy hands" unto God. To go up to "offer sacrifice," or "make long prayers," with the determination in the heart to continue a life of impurity, or intemperance, or dishonesty, or injustice, or harshness toward the weak and the dependent, - this is to mock our Maker; it is to grieve the Father of spirits, the Lord of holiness and love. But, on the other hand, to go up to his sanctuary with a pure desire and real resolve to turn from our evil way, and to strive, against all outward hostility and all inward impulses, to walk in our integrity, - this is acceptable with God. "To obey is better than sacrifice;" and it is the spirit of obedience rather than the overt act of correctness for which the righteous Lord is looking. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.
WEB: Guard your steps when you go to God's house; for to draw near to listen is better than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they don't know that they do evil.