Literary Interpretation Of Ecclesiastes: Vows and Self-Promises
Verse 5: New light on old ideas
Making serious vows or self-promises and not continuing to persevere on them can eventually have the affect of losing trust and faith in yourself, creating inertia and stagnation on all levels. In this verse, we see the wisdom of this in one of the books of old.
I like writing about Ecclesiastes for its universal wisdom that can be seen as religious, non-religious, or even akin to teachings from Zen Buddhism and beyond. Here in verse 5, I will offer a simple analysis of a few lines that bear repeating. First, the verses, then the commentary, as usual:
[[Do not be rash with your mouth,
And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth;
Therefore let your words be few.
For a dream comes through much activity,
And a fool's voice is known by his many words.
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it;
For he has no pleasure in fools.
Pay what you have vowed.
It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay.]]
How many people have made New Year's resolutions and not followed through? How many times have you come to a decision, often after pain and suffering, and vowed to change old habits, take on new projects, or finally chase after your dreams, only to think differently a few days later? It's important to show the universe, God, your deepest self, your biological conditioning -whatever you want to call it --that you are serious about your intent, about your shift into the next phase of your growth and your dreams. Spiritual writer Caroline Myss has pointed out that after a new awakening or a desire for a new practice or way of life that "you will be tested." Most folks don't like to think of a God or a cosmos that evaluates your level of commitment like a perfectionist parent, but it doesn't have to be something fantastic or superstitious --the test and the judge could actually be yourself.
Making a vow is not a deep flexing of the will in one moment, nor is it even a thought or a prayerful feeling: a vow is the first action in a series of actions. The vow is strengthened by each successive action. Buddhism and modern bio-psychology both have teachings and studies that the more an action is done, the easier it becomes to do it and the stronger it begins to work. Think of a vow as a living thing that needs to be nourished with continued action. This is what is meant by "For a dream comes through much activity." And it's also why "it's better not to vow than to vow and not pay (act continuously in accord with your intent.)"
The good news, though, is that it just takes regularity, taking actions - usually only once a day -to show the heavens and yourself that you are serious. Don't expect results from the outside to come instantly, but don't be completely surprised when they do, either. A vow is not strong if your actions depend on getting good, quick results all the time. In fact what the "test" often becomes is whether you can continue and persevere in the face of bad luck and undesired outcomes. This perseverance, though, is an investment, paid in regular actions, that strengthens that assets of the vow itself. As the vow becomes stronger, the resistance of the inertia against it will lessen, as if it's a snowball becoming too big for any opposition, too powerful not to succeed. Finally, you pass the test. Your dreams are here.