In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon writes about life under the sun. His evaluation is the same at the end as it was in the beginning. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
Vanity simply means futile or empty. Occasionally he will add, vanity and vexation, or vanity and grasping after the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14). The imagery of grasping after the wind is very visual. Just imagine trying to grasp the wind. We reach out to grasp it and when we open our hand nothing is there. When our grandkids come we buy soap in a bottle with that little stick with a hole in it. We dip the stick in the bottle of soap, pull it out and blow through the hole and bubbles, big and small, come out. Our grandkids chase after them. They run as hard as they can to catch the bubbles only to open their little hands and nothing is there. They labored to catch nothing. That is what Solomon is telling us about life under the sun.
What profit, advantage, is there to our labor or pursuits? All is vanity and grasping after the wind or vanity and an evil disease (Ecclesiastes 2:11,16; 4:8; 6:2). “Evil disease” does not mean we will catch some dread disease but it is evil as opposed to advantageous.
First, Solomon looks at wealth or riches and says, “What good is it to become wealthy only to leave to an heir who will ruin it all” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19)? I think he looks at Rehoboam and Rehoboam ruined it all before Solomon was cold in his own grave. We see that all the time. Parents labor hard to build an estate only to leave it to heirs who did not build it. The heirs either waste it or bite and devour one another over how much each one will get. It is vanity.
Second, Solomon looks at having a party. His assessment is, “It is better to go the house of mourning” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) He is not suggesting a run on funerals. But at least when we mourn we stop and think about life and how serious it is. When we are at a party all we do is have a good time. There is no thought to the seriousness of life. All is vanity.
Third, Solomon looks at wisdom. He asks, “How does a wise man die? He answers, “As the fool” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). What good is it to be wise if in the end we die like a fool? He is not discounting the advantage of wisdom. In fact, he says, “A living dog has more hope than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:3-4). At least the living dog can see tomorrow. But, in the end wisdom is also vanity.
In the end life under the sun is an endless pursuit of frustration. There is never enough wealth, never enough partying, and never enough wisdom. All are endless pursuits. In the end when we open our hands to see what we have caught, there is emptiness. All is futility.
We need to look at all the things he examines and pronounced as vanity. They are all things of this life. He looked at this world. He looks at the skillful works of a man’s hand, piling up silver and gathering all his ambition. Everything a man would do as he went about life and simply viewing things of this life. He found them unfulfilling. When he was through with them he found them a disappointment. It seems he often had an idea that some of these things will be rewarded but before he was through with them he was calling them names: evil disease, terrible affliction and, empty.
Wow! What a downer!
But look at another man whose pursuit was not life under the sun but life with the Son.
When we read Philippians we hear Paul say something entirely different than Solomon. Paul was not pursuing life under the sun. He pursues life with the Son. Extra biblical literature tells us that Paul, Saul of Tarsus, came from a wealthy family. He will tell us he was of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews and a Pharisee of Pharisees (Philippians 3:4-6). His use of the idiom of doubling Hebrew of Hebrews and Pharisee of Pharisees, means no one excelled him. He may well have been in pursuit of being President of the Sanhedrin.
Saul of Tarsus had it all going his way. He had the resume to credit him as one who is important. Men love their resumes. But, resumes are about life under the sun. Paul found them empty. In fact, he had all those resume stuffers he counted as loss for Christ (Philippians 3:7). More important to him was to know Christ, the fellowship of His suffering and be conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10). Life under the sun was meaningless to Paul. Life with the Son meant everything to him.
Even in times when life was hard for Paul he simply wanted to know Him and the power of His resurrection. Paul does not look back on his life and consider it empty. He looks back and says, “Rejoice and again I say rejoice.” To know Him and be known by Him made life have meaning. Life under the sun would not dampen his view of life with the Son. He wanted Him and pursued Him. And in the end he will say, “I have not labored in vain or run in vain” (Philippians 2:16).
No man who dies in fellowship with the Son looks back and cries, “Vanity of vanity.” For what do we labor?
by Rickie Jenkins