Proverbs 20:25

It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry.

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Worshipping God can trap you! It is very serious; He will curse those that play with His religion (Lev 10:1-2; Mal 3:7-9). Casual worship of the great and dreadful God of the Bible is unacceptable; He is a great King (Mal 1:14). Beware of contemporary worship!

Do you carefully keep your commitments to God? Haste, greed, selfishness, or laziness can trap you into profaning religious things. You may presumptuously use what belongs to God, or you may make a vow that you cannot or will not pay. There are two sins here, both showing the irreverent foolishness of carnal and careless Christians.

This is one of Solomon’s obscurest proverbs, but also one of his most important. You can grasp its overall lesson and its warning about two sins. Follow closely. Here is the first sin: a man eats something holy that belongs to God, either by His commandment or by the worshipper’s dedication. The sin is using something for yourself that is rightly God’s.

For example, the firstfruits of harvest in Israel were the Lord’s by precept (Ex 23:19), but a foolish man might greedily devour them himself. Or, he might dedicate a lamb to the Lord by a freewill offering (Lev 22:23), but in greed choose to eat it himself. This is the first sin – taking something that is the Lord’s and consuming it for your own pleasure.

The proverb then has the phrase, “and after vows to make enquiry.” Does “after” mean this profane man follows his devouring with vows to enquire into the matter? Or does “after” mean he makes religious vows and does not enquire about their difficulty until afterward? The latter option is the correct interpretation, for the former is nonsensical.

What would a profane man vow to enquire about after devouring the Lord’s portion? Why would such a profane man vow? What would he vow? What would he enquire about? The sin here is that of foolish, hasty, and impulsive vows, a rather common sin, when a man only afterwards thinks about his vow and the cost or difficulty to pay it.

Grasp this second sin. A foolish and irreligious man makes a vow to the Lord, and only later does he think about whether he can pay it or not, and he then looks to get out of the vow (Eccl 5:6). Vows must be thought out before they are made: there is no obligation to make vows, but there is a heavy obligation to pay all vows that you make (Eccl 5:1-7).

Consider the second phrase another way. There is an ellipsis here, as in many proverbs. An ellipsis is missing words that are understood by the reader. The words are left out to avoid repetition or to add force to the sentence. The ellipsis here is, “it is a snare.” If you add them where they are missing, you will see both sins clearly. The verse then reads:

It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and it is a snare after vows to make enquiry.

Both actions above are snares to a man, in that they bring God’s judgment, as do other temptations and sins (Pr 18:7; 22:25; 29:6,8,25). You must be cautious in all religious duties to protect yourself from the wrath of a holy and jealous God, for even in the New Testament He only accepts worship that is reverent with godly fear (Heb 12:28-29).

When a thing belongs to God, it is holy (Lev 27:9,30). It cannot be used for yourself. And when you make a vow, pay it; for it is better not to vow, than to vow and not pay (Num 30:2; Deut 23:21-23; Eccl 5:1-7). You must not seek a way out of a vow later, even if the vow will cost more than you thought, for it shows a wicked heart (Ps 15:4; Eccl 5:6).

The spoil of Jericho was the LORD’s (Josh 6:17-19), but Achan took of the cursed stuff, so Israel stoned and burned him and his family (Josh 7:16-26). This covetous man could not resist devouring things that were holy to the LORD. He died for his irreverent sin.

Moses stoned a man for profaning the LORD’s Sabbath by picking up sticks on the holy day of rest (Num 15:30-36). To remind Israel always of the caution they should use in His worship, God told Moses to require blue fringes on their garments (Num 15:37-41).

God rejected Saul as king of Israel for profanely offering a sacrifice when Samuel was two minutes late to an appointment (I Sam 13:8-14). This man continued to prove for the rest of his life that the snare described in our proverb had altogether swallowed him up.

Ananias and Sapphira thought they could devour some of their offering to the Lord, but He struck them down dead before witnesses in Jerusalem (Acts 5:1-11). While they owned the land it was theirs, but once their mouths had dedicated it, it was the Lord’s.

Jesus warned against the corrupt use of Corban in Israel during His days. Covetous Jews would not financially support their parents, excusing themselves by telling their parents they had given the things to God (Mark 7:9-13). Jesus condemned this profane tradition.

The proverb warns to pay the full cost of worshipping the holy God of heaven. If you do not, you will ensnare your soul in sinful guilt and bring upon yourself the just vengeance of a jealous God. Do not bring less than your very best. As God Himself argued, try cheating your governor or tax collecting agency the way you cheat God (Mal 1:6-14).

Jesus warned hearers to count the cost before committing to be a disciple, because not paying would trap them and bring shame (Luke 14:25-35; Matt 10:34-39). There are serious sacrifices to follow Christ, as the texts explain, which casual worshippers ignore. Unless you are willing to pay the full price He demands, you cannot be His disciple. For your comfort, sacrificing disciples always get back an enormous return (Mark 10:28-30).

Consider the Bible. It is God’s precious words to you, and He has magnified it above all His name (Ps 138:2). Do you honor and value it above even your necessary food (Job 23:12)? How often do you read it? How prayerfully do you meditate on it? Or does it lie unused on a table? How much effort do you make in preparation for hearing it preached?

What about baptism? You vowed a new life in the name of Jesus Christ when you were baptized (Rom 6:1-6; Gal 3:27; Col 3:1-4; I Pet 3:21). Are you living up to your baptism?

Consider your church. You owe the Lord His holy house, which is the temple of the Holy Ghost (I Cor 3:16-17; Eph 2:20-22; I Tim 3:15). When Israel built their houses first, He hindered them financially (Hag 1:1-11). Are you helping build your church (Eph 4:16)? If you forsake assemblies or doing what you should, there is trouble to pay (Heb 10:23-31).

What about your giving? You owe God the firstfruits of all increase (Pr 3:9). When Israel did not pay, He charged them with robbery and cursed them (Mal 3:8-9). Are you giving?

What about your body? It is the temple of the Holy Ghost (I Cor 6:15-20). God created it and bought it, and you owe Him your body as a sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2). Is yours holy?

What about your marriage? You made vows before God and witnesses. Do not look for ways to get out of your marriage, for God is watching and measuring your treachery (Mal 2:10-16). What the Lord joined together, you may not put asunder (Matt 19:3-9).

What about children? They are not yours – they are only on loan to you for a few months from God (Ps 127:3). Are you bringing them up in His admonition and nurture (Eph 6:4)?

What about time? You must buy back all the time you can to not waste your life in foolish endeavors (Ps 90:12; Eph 5:6). Time is God’s gift. Do you use it to honor Him?

You could ask more. How have you snared your soul, dear reader? What are you using for yourself that belongs to the Lord? What have you promised that you are not keeping?

Where will you worship this Sunday, the Lord’s Day? How will you worship? How fervent and zealous will you be? Casual worship of the great and dreadful God of the Bible is unacceptable; He is a great King (Mal 1:14). Beware of contemporary worship!