“‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3).
The key word in Ecclesiastes is “vanity”. The book shows the futile emptiness of trying to be happy apart from God. It is a book so pertinent to today because multitudes will go to their graves this day having tried to live a life apart from God.
In this book, Solomon tells us how he set out to determine man’s purpose in living: “And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). To his credit, Solomon takes time to reflect upon the question: “Why am I here”? Throughout the remainder of the book, he describes the different ways in which he tried to find happiness apart from God.
As he begins, Solomon tries to find happiness mirth and pleasure. However, he did not find joy there (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3). Next, he turns to accomplishing great works such as building houses and gardens, but happiness eludes him still (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6). Then he sought happiness through gathering much wealth and material things (Ecclesiastes 2:7-8). Even though he had become “great” with regard to his riches (Ecclesiastes 2:9), happiness was still not within his grasp: “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” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
In fact, instead of bringing him joy, the accumulation of such vast amounts of wealth brought him sadness as he considered that he will one day have to leave it all to someone else (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16). In fact, he came to despair and hate his life: “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. Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me” (Ecclesiastes 2:17-18). However, Solomon could have found some joy in his labor had he kept it in its proper perspective. His labor wasn’t the place where he would find ultimate happiness, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t experience any joy or satisfaction from his labor: “Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24; cf. 3:12-13; 5:18-20).
As I read these first 2 chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes, it is humbling because I am reminded of how I need to stop and ponder the question: “Why am I here”? It is so easy to just get up and go to school or work without taking time to consider, “Why am I doing this”? When I consider a man like Solomon, who had what most people today would consider “everything”, but yet still could not find happiness, I am reminded how easily it is to just live life and at the end of it have many regrets because I failed to consider what life was really about. It is complete vanity to live for the here and now! I don’t want to live a life full of regrets. I want to live a purpose driven life. Today, I will not search for happiness apart from God. Instead, I will relentlessly pursue God and His Will for my life because I know in Him alone will I find true happiness!
“Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).