Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Remember this phrase and it will help you to remember what the book of Ecclesiastes is all about. You may recall how early on in our study of Ecclesiastes, we talked about the concept of hyperbole, or obvious and intentional exaggeration. Hyperbole is used to make a point, a point that can be missed but is often too big or too important to miss. Ecclesiastes makes many statements that are hyperbolic, and are meant to drive the point home that the reason that any of this exists is to serve our Almighty Creator. Here is a sample of some we have seen:
- 2:11: Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.
- 2:17: Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.
- 6:3: If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he—
- 7:1: …And the day of death [is better] than the day of one’s birth
These ideas coalesce into an expression that life is meaningless. But the underlying meaning of it all is crystalized in the last two verses of the book:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
There are portions of the book that talk about the randomness in the earth and the lack of true order that exists. Amidst all of the confusion, the wisdom of Solomon compels us to hold onto the only that does not change: God.
Seek God when you are young, when passion for Him yet remains. Solomon brings home his previous theme of eternity by describing how our earthly homes – our bodies – will crumble, fade and waste away. Even the ways we perceive the world will deteriorate. Let us look at some of the descriptions in this passage and their meanings:
- v. 2: Losing sight and the enjoyment of it
- v. 3: The skeletal frame weakens and becomes feeble; teeth fall out; vision fades
- v. 4: The sense of hearing is lost; the embrace of sleep is thin
- v. 5: Everyday traversing becomes dangerous and fear results; hair turns white; sexual desire vanishes
- v. 6: Images representative of death
These occurrences with our earthly body actually pre-empt our departure for this life, prepare and in a sense, motivate us for it. Who wants to live in a house that is falling apart? The final verse in this passage echoes the refrain, “Vanity of vanities…All is vanity.”
Because of this, we need to establish and build up our relationship with God early in life. If we establish these concepts early, it will make the span of our life more rewarding and easier. This is due to our perspective, and this book is all about managing our perspective to the most accurate we can. If we follow Solomon’s God-given advice, we will perceive life’s values more accurately than if we were chasing money, a career, or something else equally worldly and worthless when compared to an eternity spent in heaven or hell.
The final passage of this chapter and book sum up the ideas with a master stroke. The wisdom of Solomon comes full-bore as we realize that all of the statements, whether wholly understood by the reader or not, have been leading up to this single message. Solomon (referring to himself once again as the Preacher), looks back on the message of the book and recognizes that he has been honest and has done the best to apply his God-given wisdom to these words. These words are meant to spur us on to be greater than we are. There are countless other books in the world that are meant to be beneficial, but the words of this book are much more beneficial than others.
If we are not serving God in our efforts, they are a waste of time. As far as concluding this chapter and book, I could do no better than the remaining two verses. Remember this conclusion and return to it often:
“…Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.“