How is one to behave spiritually, given the realities that Solomon has established? All earthly things are vanity. What then is the point of going to a temple, and praying to god for good health, or wealth, or love, or any other thing?
Solomon says there is none. But this is what most people do. They will be terrible people for six days of the week, and one day a week they go to a church or temple. But even there they are not being spiritual. How can you be? If you are not spiritual for six days in a row, how can you suddenly become spiritual on the seventh? You cannot. You can only be pseudo.
So people will go into the church in a big hurry. Almost from the moment they enter a church, or a temple, or they start a meditation, they are thinking about what they will do when it is finished. This is why Solomon says 'keep your foot'. He means stop, don't be in a rush to go.
Second, you will follow the proscribed prayers. You will chant when you're supposed to, say 'amen' and 'hallelujah' when its time to, chant 'hare Krishna' or 'thank you Jesus'. All at its appointed time, all mechanically, following rituals you are programmed to do. They are not real prayer. This is why Solomon says that it is better to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools. Its the priests he's calling fools!
Don't waste your time with religious fools. Just hear, just listen.
That is how to pray.
But very few people can do this. Instead, if you do not pray mechanically then you will pray selfishly; you will put your demands on God. You will say 'you just have to let me get that job', or 'please let me find a girlfriend' or 'please don't let my husband cheat on me'. Whether you demand or beg it is the same, you are creating your conditions. You are chattering to God, instead of listening. Let thy words be few.
Here Solomon says that if you say you are going to do something for God, do it. People will always try to bargain with God, and the funny thing is that most times they will be the ones to break their bargain. A schoolboy will pray "if you let me do well on this test I promise I'll study hard from now on". But of course he will not. A woman will say "if these blood tests turn out OK, I swear I'll eat better and stop smoking"; but even if they turn out fine, she will just forget about her promise.
It is better not to vow, says Solomon, then to vow and not keep your vow to God. I think this line may have been changed, perhaps originally it said it is better not to vow at all. Because Solomon would know that this is true. Its better not to make any promises to God, because what do you have that he wants? What can you offer, that he will not already demand of you? What could you do? Nothing. It is better not to offer anything to God, because whenever you are it is usually as part of a bargain. If you say you want to do something for the sake of God, fine. Do it, without expecting any reward. There are already many things that God will ask of you to do, and if you are quiet you will be able to hear and understand what these things are. So really, there is no need to vow. But if you do, make sure it is not for the sake of some desired reward.
Solomon certainly knew it was better not to vow. So perhaps this line has been changed, or perhaps he did not say it was better not to vow, only because he knew the Jews would not listen to him. The Jewish mainstream religion is very much based on the idea of vows, of covenants, of trying to make bargains with God. Perhaps Solomon thought that they would not listen anyways, so he watered the message down just a bit. What he said is still true, it is better not to vow, than to vow and break your vow. So perhaps he hoped that if this was all he said, and added something about being punished for breaking their vows, the people would at least not make false vows to God. Only human beings could be foolish enough to think they can cheat God. Or negotiate with him in the first place.
To want for material things is a never ending cycle. As soon as you believe you own a little, you will want a little more. If you think you own a lot, you will not be satisfied, instead you will only want a lot more.
If you love silver, says Solomon, you will not be satisfied with silver. Instead you will only want more of it. To start on that path of materialism is to never finish. You will never get to the point where you have enough. Even if you become a king, you will want to be an emperor; and this is how we get people like Alexander the Great, who wished to conquer the entire world.
What is more, even the idea of social prosperity is vanity. When goods (in a kingdom) increase, says Solomon, so will the number of those who eat them. The great failure of social materialism, of philosophies like capitalism and communism, or social engineering, is found here. As soon as you create social wealth to satisfy the needs of the people in your community, more will arrive, who are drawn to this wealth. There is plenty of food, so more people will have children, and your population will increase until food becomes a problem. There is plenty of money, so more people will immigrate to try to have a share of the money. To try to create a utopia is a hopeless endeavour. Neither will individuals be satisfied by materialism, nor will societies.
But an individual can be satisfied only within himself. If he lives for his own moment, lives for life's own sake. Solomon advises to work hard, not for a goal, but for its own sake. Work in the moment, in whatever role destiny has given to you, or wherever you lead yourself to. Really these are the same.
Someone who labours, and by this Solomon means someone who lives in the moment for its own sake, will sleep soundly. They will be satisfied by life, regardless of what conditions they are in. Because even hardship can be a paradise if you are living in the moment. So whether you have much to eat or little, if you accept where you are, and focus on your inner center and this very moment, you will feel satisfied. You will not necessarily be rich, but rich or poor, healthy or ill, with many friends or few, you can find peace by being in the moment. On the other hand, he who seeks, or even gains material abundance, will sleep uneasily. This is because they will always want more, and always worry about losing what they have. They live for their future, for their hopes and fears, not for today. And no peace can be found for them.
There is a story, about Alexander the Great, that when he died he was carried into his homeland in an open coffin with his hands hanging out. He told his men to do this, because he wanted the whole world to see he had been a fool. He would be dragged back to his homeland, dead, and with nothing in his hands, because none of his wealth and power could save him from death, and he could take none of it with him. Whether this story is true or not, it is real.
What profit is there to labour for the wind? For the future? For that which may never come? For that which you will be certain to lose, even if you gain it? It is better to labour for yourself, for the here and now, for that which can be eternal.
Do not much remember the days of your life. Do not linger in the past or in the future. If you are rich or poor, healthy or sick, you can find the joy of God in your heart, by labouring. By doing your work in the moment, the here and now, enjoying your food and drink. When you can find the immeasurable peace of enjoying what you have in this moment, you will see that it is infinitely richer than what any kingdom can offer to you.