The Cookie Crumbles

Ecclesiastes 5:6-7

The cookies on the plate looked exceptionally good. Frankly, my bar for good-looking cookies is rarely all that high, but on one Thursday night, as I attended an evening meeting, there were chocolate-chip wonders calling out my name. “Eat us, Mark!”

I reached down and grabbed two. Popping one in my mouth and chewing, I discovered that it tasted every bit as good as its appearance suggested it might. I savored it for a moment before swallowing. Before the second one went to my mouth, a realization hit me.

“You’re fasting, you idiot!” my mind shouted out.

Indeed, I had determined that for one day each week, as my pastor had suggested, I would abstain from all solid food. Thursday was the day, and my day-long fast helped to explain why I had cookies talking to me.

I’d made a vow of sorts to God and then, with one movement of my hand, I broke it. I’m reminded of that as I continue into Ecclesiastes 5:

Do not let your mouth bring guilt on you, and do not say in the presence of the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry with your words and destroy the work of your hands? For many dreams bring futility, so do many words. Therefore, fear God.

Ecclesiastes 5:6-7

A Vow Before God

In Numbers 6, we can read about the Nazirite vows that zealous Jews were encouraged to take for particular periods or, in the case of people like Samson or Samuel, for their entire lives. If you’re not familiar with it, the Nazirite vow required three things as markers of a period of increased holiness.

  • You couldn’t cut your hair for the duration.
  • You couldn’t consume any alcohol or even grapes.
  • You couldn’t make yourself unclean by touching dead things.

That seems pretty simple, but the most famous Nazirite of all, Samson, had a terrible time with it.

We all know that Samson fouled up the hair part of his oath when he told Delilah about his obligation. It wasn’t that Samson’s hair was magical, but his obedience to the vow did carry power. That Samson was stupid enough to blab his secret after all Delilah had already done is stunning.

But what about the other two vows? Samson famously killed a thousand Philistines with a “fresh jawbone of a donkey” (Judges 15:15). If your animal physiology isn’t strong, a fresh jawbone would be dead thing. Also, when Samson eats from the honey in the carcass of the lion he’d killed, he’s again breaking the “dead things” vow.

Finally, Samson isn’t said to drink any alcohol, but he did go to a seven-day Philistine feast and partake the entire time. The idea that Philistine partiers would go at it for a solid week without alcohol is a stretch, and Samson showed himself willing to get in the swing of their culture. I’m fairly sure he was drinking.

God created Samson with power and a great calling. As it turned out, he squandered a great deal of that power and only achieved a portion of his calling by bringing on his own death.

Getting in Tune

We don’t make a lot of formal vows these days. But we do make promises to God, even if we don’t phrase them in those terms. Any meaningful repentance carries the implication that we will do our best not to commit the sin again. But of course we fail. We start out well, and then, before long, we stick that cookie in our mouth.

To take our vows seriously, we probably need to make fewer of them and to reflect heavily before they are made. Before glibly promising that I’ll never speak rudely to my wife for the rest of my life, maybe I should consider the causes and effects of that action. Maybe I should see it for what it really is, something hurtful to her and an insult to God.

In short, we need to consider the cookies that tempt us more deeply before we allow our hand to begin moving.

Talking a Good Game

Ecclesiastes 5:3-5

Bo doesn’t say much. He’s standing here in my office right now, and not a single word has passed his mouth. This is probably a good thing, since Bo is a dog. And as dogs go, he’s generally a closed-mouth kind of guy.

When Bo wants to go out, he’ll get antsy until we let him out. When he’s hungry–if we’ve neglected to feed him–he might nose at his bowl. Otherwise, he lets his actions speak for him. I admire that. He doesn’t sit around bragging about how he’s going to catch some squirrel in the yard. Instead, he waits until the opportunity arises and gives that squirrel a mighty run.

If only people could be more like Bo. Instead, our mouths tend to promise a great deal more than our hands can deliver. This isn’t a new thing. Solomon spoke of the same 3,000 years ago.

Just as dreams accompany much labor, so also a fool’s voice comes with many words. When you make a vow to God, don’t delay fulfilling it, because he does not delight in fools. Fulfill what you vow. Better that you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it.

Ecclesiastes 5:3-5

The Empty Promise

I used to know a guy named Ralph. Ralph meant well, but his hopes and dreams ran far ahead of his ability to bring those to anything like a reality. He was a master of the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” school of accomplishment. One year, as the Scout troop readied itself to leave for summer camp, we realized that Ralph had taken some of the medical forms home and lost them in the mountain of papers that topped his desk. Happily, a half-hour’s excavation turned them up. It was then that I decided that the best thing you could hear out of Ralph’s mouth was two words: “I found . . .”

As I said before, Ralph meant well. He’d volunteer for things at church, and from time to time, he’d actually do them Normally, he procrastinated, alienating most of the people with whom he dealt. I learned to appreciate him, but I also learned never to depend on him.

If I were totally unlike Ralph, I could feel a little better about sharing these comments. But in reality, I’m all too often just like him, perhaps not to the same degree but with no more excuse.

Today, I’ve been working on a writing assignment–a paying gig that will land a nice sum in my bank account a few days after I submit it. I’ve had this assignment and known the deadline for about eight months, but I have of course put it off and allowed the date to sneak up on me until now I have to push myself to finish it in the next two days.

Getting in Tune

Today’s text warns us about making vows to God. We can sometimes fool people when we make pie-crust promises–easily made and easily broken. We can offer up pitiful excuses like “I never got that email” or “My computer ate it.” Eventually people figure us out, but we can get away with it for a while.

God, of course, knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows when we promise something whether or not we’ll get it done. Perhaps if we keep our mouths shut and listen to Him instead, He’ll help us learn to come through better.

No Expiration Date (Hebrews 4:1)

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. (Hebrews 4:1)

Last weekend, Memorial Day weekend, my family took my mother, her money and her coupons to Logan’s Roadhouse for dinner. The coupons were marvelous, offering two entrees for the price of one. Rarely have I seen five people rack up such a small bill at a reasonably nice restaurant.

The problem with those coupons, however, lay in their useful dates. They could be used only on Saturday through Monday of the holiday weekend. Come Tuesday morning, and they possessed no value whatsoever. The expiring coupon is a tool used by businesses to incite us into buying what they want when they want.

The promises of God, unlike the coupons of Logan’s Roadhouse, do not expire. My mother thought it would be a shame to “waste” those coupons. Of course, they wouldn’t really be wasted. Had I never seen them, I wouldn’t have finished the weekend thinking it incomplete for lack of a Logan’s steak. But God’s promises would be a shame to waste. His promises enrich us far more surely than does a two-for-one dinner offer.

The Christian enters God’s rest through obedience. When we do not obey, we do not have rest. Instead, like diners wandering about town with soon-to-expire coupons, we find ourselves ill at ease, unable to focus. But obeying, we can relax, rest.

With the undated promise, I can enter that rest today or ten years from now. The choice is mine, but it’s rather like opting to pay full price when the discount is readily available. “Yes, I can cut $10 off my cable bill, but I think I’ll wait a few months to do that.” What a shame that believers behave in such a way.