“Vanity[a] of vanities,” says the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
So begins one of the most fascinating books in all of Scripture: the sayings of the Preacher, also known as Ecclesiastes. This book is a profound meditation on the futility of life apart from God and is profoundly relevant for our times. Thus, the Presbytery Inn will follow the readings of this book for the next several days.
The book says of itself that it the words of “the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” This is typically understood to be Solomon and canonically this book is placed within the wisdom literature of King Solomon and the concluding chapter gives us good reason to think so as well (see 12:9-14).
In these opening verses, the Preacher uses a word that will recur throughout this book:
What does this word mean? It can be translated in various ways. It can be understood as “vapor” or “fleeting”. The Preacher is saying that all things in this life are fleeting, vain, and not ultimately satisfying. At first blush, this may seem to be cry of despair and hopelessness. However, that is not the main purpose of the writing of this book. As we will see, the Preacher intends to show that seeking contentment in the things of this world, apart from resting in God, is a fruitless effort. It is his goal to show what Christ also commended to us, to seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, before the the gifts of the world (Matthew 6:33).
John Gill, in commenting on this passage, has the following gloss:
Nor is there anything in [the world], and put it all together, that can give satisfaction and contentment; and all is fickle, fluid, transitory, and vanishing, and in a short time will come to an end: the riches of the world afford no real happiness, having no substance in them, and being of no long continuance; nor can a man procure happiness for himself or others, or avert wrath to come, and secure from it; and especially these are vanity, when compared with the true riches, the riches of grace and glory, which are solid, substantial, satisfying, and are for ever: the honours of this world are empty things, last a very short time; and are nothing in comparison of the honour that comes from God, and all the saints have, in the enjoyment of grace here, and glory hereafter…
In the next few weeks, by seeing the vain striving for the things of this world, let’s focus on what our ultimate and chief purpose is in life:
The glory of God.