Four things we are exhorted to in these verses:—
I. To be conscientious in paying our vows.
1. A vow is a bond upon the soul (Num. 30:2), by which we solemnly oblige ourselves, not only, in general, to do that which we are already bound to do, but, in some particular instances, to do that to do which we were not under any antecedent obligation, whether it respects honouring God or serving the interests of his kingdom among men. When, under the sense of some affliction (Ps. 66:14), or in the pursuit of some mercy (1 Sam. 1:11), thou hast vowed such a vow as this unto God, know that thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord and thou canst not go back; therefore, (1.) Pay it; perform what thou hast promised; bring to God what thou hast dedicated and devoted to him: Pay that which thou hast vowed; pay it in full and keep not back any part of the price; pay it in kind, do not alter it or change it, so the law was, Lev. 27:10. Have we vowed to give our own selves unto the Lord? Let us then be as good as our word, act in his service, to his glory, and not sacrilegiously alienate ourselves. (2.) Defer not to pay it. If it be in the power of thy hands to pay it to-day, leave it not till to-morrow; do not beg a day, nor put it off to a more convenient season. By delay the sense of the obligation slackens and cools, and is in danger of wearing off; we thereby discover a loathness and backwardness to perform our vow; and qui non est hodie cras minus aptus erit—he who is not inclined to-day will be averse to-morrow. The longer it is put off the more difficult it will be to bring ourselves to it; death may not only prevent the payment, but fetch thee to judgment, under the guilt of a broken vow, Ps. 76:11.
2. Two reasons are here given why we should speedily and cheerfully pay our vows:—(1.) Because otherwise we affront God; we play the fool with him, as if we designed to put a trick upon him; and God has no pleasure in fools. More is implied than is expressed; the meaning is, He greatly abhors such fools and such foolish dealings. Has he need of fools? No; Be not deceived, God is not mocked, but will surely and severely reckon with those that thus play fast and loose with him. (2.) Because otherwise we wrong ourselves, we lose the benefit of the making of the vow, nay, we incur the penalty for the breach of it; so that it would have been better a great deal not to have vowed, more safe and more to our advantage, than to vow and not to pay. Not to have vowed would have been but an omission, but to vow and not pay incurs the guilt of treachery and perjury; it is lying to God, Acts 5:4.
II. To be cautious in making our vows. This is necessary in order to our being conscientious in performing them, Eccl. 5:6. 1. We must take heed that we never vow anything that is sinful, or that may be an occasion of sin, for such a vow is ill-made and must be broken. Suffer not thy mouth, by such a vow, to cause thy flesh to sin, as Herod’s rash promise caused him to cut off the head of John the Baptist. 2. We must not vow that which, through the frailty of the flesh, we have reason to fear we shall not be able to perform, as those that vow a single life and yet know not how to keep their vow. Hereby, (1.) They shame themselves; for they are forced to say before the angel, It was an error, that either they did not mean or did not consider what they said; and, take it which way you will, it is bad enough. “When thou hast made a vow, do not seek to evade it, nor find excuses to get clear of the obligation of it; say not before the priest, who is called the angel or messenger of the Lord of hosts, that, upon second thoughts, thou hast changed thy mind, and desirest to be absolved from the obligation of thy vow; but stick to it, and do not seek a hole to creep out at.” Some by the angel understand the guardian angel which they suppose to attend every man and to inspect what he does. Others understand it of Christ, the Angel of the covenant, who is present with his people in their assemblies, who searches the heart, and cannot be imposed upon; provoke him not, for God’s name is in him, and he is represented as strict and jealous, Exod. 23:20, 21. (2.) They expose themselves to the wrath of God, for he is angry at the voice of those that thus lie unto him with their mouth and flatter him with their tongue, and is displeased at their dissimulation, and destroys the works of their hands, that is, blasts their enterprises, and defeats those purposes which, when they made these vows, they were seeking to God for the success of. If we treacherously cancel the words of our mouths, and revoke our vows, God will justly overthrow our projects, and walk contrary, and at all adventures, with those that thus walk contrary, and at all adventures with him. It is a snare to a man, after vows, to make enquiry.
III. To keep up the fear of God, Eccl. 5:7. Many, of old, pretended to know the mind of God by dreams, and were so full of them that they almost made God’s people forget his name by their dreams (Jer. 23:25, 26); and many now perplex themselves with their frightful or odd dreams, or with other people’s dreams, as if they foreboded this or the other disaster. Those that heed dreams shall have a multitude of them to fill their heads with; but in them all there are divers vanities, as there are in many words, and the more if we regard them. “They are but like the idle impertinent chat of children and fools, and therefore never heed them; forget them; instead of repeating them lay no stress upon them, draw no disquieting conclusions from them, but fear thou God; have an eye to his sovereign dominion, set him before thee, keep thyself in his love, and be afraid of offending him, and then thou wilt not disturb thyself with foolish dreams.” The way not to be dismayed at the signs of heaven, nor afraid of the idols of the heathen, is to fear God as King of nations, Jer. 10:2, 5, 7.
IV. With that to keep down the fear of man, Eccl. 5:8. “Set God before thee, and then, if thou seest the oppression of the poor, thou wilt not marvel at the matter, nor find fault with divine Providence, nor think the worse of the institution of magistracy, when thou seest the ends of it thus perverted, nor of religion, when thou seest it will not secure men from suffering wrong.” Observe here, 1. A melancholy sight on earth, and such as cannot but trouble every good man that has a sense of justice and a concern for mankind, to see the oppression of the poor because they are poor and cannot defend themselves, and the violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, oppression under colour of law and backed with power. The kingdom in general may have a good government, and yet it may so happen that a particular province may be committed to a bad man, by whose mal-administration justice may be perverted; so hard it is for the wisest of kings, in giving preferments, to be sure of their men; they can but redress the grievance when it appears. 2. A comfortable sight in heaven. When things look thus dismal we may satisfy ourselves with this, (1.) That, though oppressors be high, God is above them, and in that very thing wherein they deal proudly, Exod. 18:11. God is higher than the highest of creatures, than the highest of princes, than the king that is higher than Agag (Num. 24:7), than the highest angels, the thrones and dominions of the upper world. God is the Most High over all the earth, and his glory is above the heavens; before him princes are worms, the brightest but glow-worms. (2.) That, though oppressors be secure, God has his eye upon them, takes notice of, and will reckon for, all their violent perverting of judgment; he regards, not only sees it but observes it, and keeps it on record, to be called over again; his eyes are upon their ways. See Job 24:23. (3.) That there is a world of angels, for there are higher than they, who are employed by the divine justice for protecting the injured and punishing the injurious. Sennacherib valued himself highly upon his potent army, but one angel proved too hard for him and all his forces. Some, by those that are higher than they understand the great council of the nation, the presidents to whom the princes of the provinces are accountable (Dan. 6:2), the senate that receive complaints against the proconsuls, the courts above to which appeals are made from the inferior courts, which are necessary to the good government of a kingdom. Let it be a check to oppressors that perhaps their superiors on earth may call them to an account; however, God the Supreme in heaven will.
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