Ecclesiastes 5:6
(6) The angel.--It has been proposed to translate this word the "messenger," or ambassador of God, and understand "the priest" (see Malachi 2:7); and it has been regarded as one of the notes of later date in this book that the word should be used in such a sense. But even in the passage of Malachi there is no trace that the word "angel" had then become an ordinary name for the priest, such as would be intelligible if used in that sense without explanation from the context. Neither, again, is there reason for supposing that the priest had power to dispense with vows alleged to have been rashly undertaken. The power given him (Leviticus 27) is of a different nature. I therefore adhere to the obvious sense, which suggests that the real vow is observed and recorded by a heavenly angel. It falls in with this view that the phrase is "before the angel." If an excuse pleaded to a priest was intended, we should have, "Say not thou to the priest."

Error.--The word is that which describes sins of ignorance (Numbers 15). The tacit assumption in this verse, that God interposes to punish when His name is taken in vain, clearly expresses the writer's real conviction, and shows that such a verse as Ecclesiastes 9:2 is only the statement of a speculative difficulty.

Verse 6. - Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin. "Thy flesh" is equivalent to "thyself," the whole personality, the idea of the flesh, as a distinct part of the man, sinning, being alien from Old Testament ontology. The injunction means - Do not, by uttering rash or inconsiderate vows, which you afterwards evade or cannot fulfill, bring sin upon yourself, or, as others render, bring punishment upon yourself. Septuagint, "Suffer not thy mouth to Cause thy flesh to sin(τοῦ ὠξαμαρτῆσαι τὴν σάρκα σου);" Vulgate, Ut peccare facias carnem tuam. Another interpretation, but not so suitable, is this - Do not let thy mouth (i.e. thy appetite) lead thee to break the vow of abstinence, and indulge in meat or drink from which (as, e.g., a Nazarite) thou wast bound to abstain. Neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error. If we take "angel" (malak) in the usual sense (and there seems no very forcible reason why we should not), it must mean the angel of God in whose special charge you are placed, or the angel who was supposed to preside over the altar of worship, or that messenger of God whose duty it is to watch man's doings and to act as the minister of punishment (2 Samuel 24:16). The workings of God's providence are often attributed to angels; and sometimes the names of God and angel are interchanged (see Genesis 16:9, 13; Genesis 18:2, 3, etc.; Exodus 3:2, 4; Exodus 23:20, etc.). Thus the Septuagint here renders, "Say not before the face of God (πρὸ = προσώπου τοῦ Θεοῦ)." If this interpretation be allowed, we have an argument for the literal explanation of the much-disputed passage in 1 Corinthians 11:10, διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους. Thus, too, in 'The Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs,' we have, "The Lord is witness, and his angels are witnesses, concerning the word of your mouth" ('Levi,' 19). But most commentators consider that the word here means "messenger" of Jehovah, in the sense of priest, the announcer of the Divine Law, as in the unique passage Malachi 2:7. Traces of a similar use of ἄγγελος may be found in the New Testament (Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1, etc.). According to the first interpretation, the man comes before God with his excuse; according to the second, he comes to the priest, and confesses that he was thoughtless and overhasty in making his vow, and desires to be released from it, or, at any rate, by some means to evade its fulfillment. His excuse may possibly look to the cases mentioned in Numbers 15:22, etc., and he may wish to urge that the vow was made in ignorance (Septuagint, Ὅτι ἄγνοιά ἐστι, "It is an ignorance"), and that therefore he was not responsible for its incomplete execution. We do not know that a priest or any officer of the temple had authority to release from the obligation of a Tow, so that the excuse made "before" him would seem to be objectless, while the evasion of a solemn promise made in the Name of God might well be said to be done in the presence of the observing and recording angel. The Vulgate rendering, Non eat providentia, makes the man account for his neglect by assuming that God takes no heed of such things; he deems the long-suffering of God to be indifference and disregard (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:11; Ecclesiastes 9:3). The original does not bear this interpretation. Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice - the words in which thy evasion and dishonesty are expressed - and destroy the work of thine hands? i.e. punish thee by calamity, want of success, sickness, etc., God's moral government being vindicated by earthly visitations.

5:4-8 When a person made engagements rashly, he suffered his mouth to cause his flesh to sin. The case supposes a man coming to the priest, and pretending that his vow was made rashly, and that it would be wrong to fulfil it. Such mockery of God would bring the Divine displeasure, which might blast what was thus unduly kept. We are to keep down the fear of man. Set God before thee; then, if thou seest the oppression of the poor, thou wilt not 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. But though oppressors may be secure, God will reckon for all.Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin,.... That is, himself, who is corrupt and depraved; either by making a rash vow, which it is not in his power to keep; or such is the corruption of his nature, and the weakness of the flesh, that he cannot keep it; or by making sinful excuses after he has made the vow, and so is guilty of lying, or false swearing, or other sins of the flesh. Jarchi by "flesh" understands his children, on whom his iniquity may be visited and punished; and the Targum interprets this punishment of the judgment or condemnation of hell; see Proverbs 20:25;

neither say thou before the angel that it was an error; that it was done ignorantly and through mistake: that it was not intended, and that this was not the meaning of the vow; and therefore desires to be excused performing it, or to offer a sacrifice in lieu of it. Interpreters are divided about the angel before whom such an excuse should not be made. Some think angel is put for angels in general, in whose presence, and before whom, as witnesses, vows are made; and who were signified by the cherubim in the sanctuary, where they were to be performed, and who are present in the worshipping assemblies of saints, where these things are done, 1 Timothy 5:21; others think the guardian angel is meant, which they suppose every man has; and others that Christ, the Angel of the covenant, is designed, who is in the midst of his people, sees and knows all that is done by them, and will not admit of their excuses; but it is most probable the priest is intended, called the angel, or messenger, of the Lord of hosts, Malachi 2:7; to whom such who had made vows applied to be loosed from them, acknowledging their error in making them; or to offer sacrifice for their sin of ignorance, Leviticus 5:4;

wherefore should God be angry at thy voice; either in making a rash and sinful vow, or in excusing that which was made;

and destroy the work of thine hands? wrought with success, for which the vow was made; and so, instead of its succeeding, is destroyed, and comes to nothing. Vows made by the Jews were chiefly about their houses, or fields, or cattle; see Leviticus 27:28; and so the destruction suggested may signify the curse that God would bring upon any of these, for excusing or not performing the vow made.

Ecclesiastes 5:5
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