Special Insights No. 6
First Quarter 2007 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
Rich Man, Poor Man
When my father was on the battlefield as a medic during World War II, the shells were exploding all around. He had to go out under the hail of bullets and extract the wounded, risking his life. As a young man he carefully assessed the meaning of life and before God he made a vow that if the Lord should spare him, by God’s grace, when he returned home to America, he would consecrate his life to the gospel ministry. He was faithful to his vow before the Lord. He later received his degree from Union College and then served for thirty years as a minister in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
King Solomon never had such a battlefield consecration of his life to the service of God. He never made a commitment to lifelong ministry, claiming God’s promise to sustain him. What Solomon did at the time of the dedication of the Temple was to offer “22,000 head of cattle and 120,000 sheep” (2 Chron. 7:5, GNB). Is the Lord pleased with so many animal sacrifices? Does ceremony over substance impress the Lord? When ritual and liturgy are cover for a self-serving life, does God detect the subterfuge?
By the time Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes he had become aware of the deceitfulness of the human heart when it comes to worshiping God. To stand on ceremony and pageantry publicly before God as a cover for economic oppression of the poor was adding sin to sin willfully—and for willful sin there was no provision for forgiveness (Num. 15:30, 31).
In Ecclesiastes 5 Solomon warns of making rash vows to God before counting the cost, and backing out of them when reality sets in of what it will take to make good on the promise. We read:
“When thou vowest a vow unto God,
Defer not long to perform it;
For he hath no delight in fools:
Pay then that which thou hast vowed.
It is better that thou shouldest not vow,
Than that thou shouldest vow and not pay” (Eccl. 5:4, 5, Weiss).
The sin of covetousness is here addressed. It was the sin of Ananias and Sapphira. King Saul also coveted the booty of war from the Amalekites that had been devoted to God. He held it back for himself. When caught, thinking to atone for his wrong, Saul took some of the animals for sacrifice, but the prophet undeceived him. “And Samuel said, hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
The closest that Solomon came to calling himself a fool was with regard to this matter of making vows before God in Ecclesiastes 5:1. He must have remembered those ostentatious ceremonies at the Temple dedication. He characterized going up to the Temple with an offering to God as cover for practicing sin, calling it “the sacrifice of fools.”
“Observe thy feast days,
When thou shouldst go to the house of God;
And be thou more ready to obey
Than to offer the sacrifice of fools:
For they consider not that they do evil” (Eccl. 5:1, Weiss).
Observing the ceremonial law of attending the three mandatory feasts at the Temple annually (Ex. 23:17; Deut. 16:16), in order to bring an offering for willful sin under false cover of sacrifice, was “the sacrifice of fools.” To believe that one may willfully violate the law of God and then offer a sacrifice for its atonement without true repentance was to aggravate the crime and add iniquity to sin. This was “the sacrifice of fools.”
What is the proper relationship between vows and pledges, and God’s everlasting covenant? Is it ever appropriate to make vows to God? Evidently so.
The cornerstone truth of the 1888 message is God’s everlasting covenant. It is God’s promise in Christ to bless the sinful human race with a probationary lifetime of no condemnation for sin and the gift of eternal life given to everyone. God draws the sinner throughout his/her lifespan with the compelling love of Jesus’ cross, who paid the wages of sin,—eternal death,—and the convicted heart appropriates by faith the righteousness of Christ which is the forgiveness of sins and cleansing power to overcome sin, making the heart to rejoice and be glad in it. The sinner may choose to resist the gift of God’s agape in Jesus’ cross and thus judge himself unworthy of eternal life, but if the sinner does not resist he/she will be drawn all the way to the Father’s heart.
Within the one-sided promise of God’s everlasting covenant, which is received by the sinner’s affirmation of “Amen,”—“so be it,”—it is biblically appropriate for Christians to carefully count the cost and make a vow before the Lord. In thankfulness and praise for His wonderful goodness to the children of men, by faith in Christ’s righteousness, one may cheerfully give unto the Lord. Such a pledge will not be used as a cover for practicing sin and disobedience against the law of God. “Think before you speak, and don’t make any rash promises to God. He is in heaven and you are on earth” (Eccl. 5:2, GNB).
—Paul E. Penno
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