Summary: Solomon exposes the insignificance and absurdity of life IF life were nothing more than what is seen “under the sun”. He offers only two options--a life of hopelessness, or trust in God.
“Vanity” Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 & 2:1-11 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most puzzling and misunderstood book of the Bible. It’s been called “the mystery book of the Old Testament” (Ray Steadman). Few sermons are preached from its pages. We may wonder what it’s doing in the Bible; it seems out of place. Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, who had ample opportunities to observe and experience life thoroughly. He wrote this book after he had plunged into materialism, sensuality, even idolatry. He got lost following his desires and saw his life evaporating into insignificance. Now repentant and nearing the end of his days, he writes a philosophical book for unbelievers, exposing the secular mind/worldview. The title of the book refers to an “assembly”, Solomon’s students. He calls himself “the Teacher” and conveys the logical and tragic outcome of regarding life as a cosmic accident. Solomon offers his class only two options--a life of hopelessness, or trust in God.
The quote we’re most familiar with comes from verse 2, “All is vanity”. This word has been translated many ways. Your Bible might read “futile”, “empty”, “pointless”, “momentary”, or “meaningless”. The word literally means “breath” or “vapor”. The only other place this word appears is (appropriately) in Job. The Message translates vs 2, “There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.” In the NT, James picks up on this when he asks a rhetorical question, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (4:14). James and Solomon weren’t existentialists, denying any purpose or meaning in human life; they were rather saying that life is empty, fleeting, transitory, and nothing matters--without God. Solomon exposes the insignificance and absurdity of life IF life were nothing more than what is seen “under the sun”.
While participating in a REFORGER, major field exercise in Germany, my Chaplain Assistant and I spent a lot of time on the road in our CUC-V, visiting various units comprising the 3rd Armored Division Support Command/DISCOM. At one location we arrived too late; our grid coordinates were correct, but all that remained was some evidence of maneuver damage. The battalion stayed at the site only 2 days, then left. That is how life appears without God—here briefly, and little remains when life is over.
In verse 3 Solomon ponders, “What do people gain for all their hard work under the sun?” I’ve heard many soldiers ask, “What’s the point of all we’re doing?” In a life lived without God, there’s no gain, no advantage, no meaning. Verse 11 of chapter 2 states, “there is no profit under the sun”; in other words, during one’s lifetime. Imagine reaching the end of your days, only to conclude that you accomplished nothing of value! Solomon could afford anything he desired, but discovered to his frustration how nothing he could buy brought happiness. Thomas Aquinas wrote that, “No man can live without delight, and that is why a man deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures”. We need to appreciate pleasure as a gift, not a god. Solomon never said “no” to himself; he gave in to every impulse, devoted to “the pursuit of happiness” -only to discover he was “chasing after wind” (1:14). He was materially rich, yet spiritually bankrupt.