Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 - Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. ... I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. ... I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon the king turns his great wisdom to considering human life "under the sun"—in the world we experience every day. He is looking for some sort of meaning in life—some value to all the things that people do. But Solomon is disappointed. No matter what people do, eventually they must die, and all their hard work goes for nothing. Someone else enjoys the fruit of their labor, and they themselves have nothing. He calls this vanity—meaninglessness—chasing the wind.
Solomon has a point, doesn't he? We see examples of chasing the wind every day. Someone spends years developing a business, only to see it all vanish during a recession. Someone else dedicates his life to caring for his family—only to lose his wife and children to a horrible accident. A young person goes to school for twenty years, graduates and starts looking for work—only to realize there's nothing out there that will pay the bills. Even the happiest life ends in death, and the universe itself will have an end.
This leads Solomon to despair. "Vanity of vanities!" he says. "Total meaninglessness!" Under the sun, nothing lasts forever; nothing is eternally worthwhile; nothing makes a difference. Solomon has no good answer for this.
But God does. Against the basic meaninglessness of human life, God sets Jesus Christ. Jesus comes into our world "under the sun" as a conquering King and Savior. He breaks the cycle of meaninglessness and calls us into God's kingdom. He even breaks the power of death for us through His own death and resurrection.
Now we have a future to look forward to. As Paul puts it, "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. ... For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. ... Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father ... For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (see 1 Corinthians 15:19-26).
THE PRAYER: Father, help me to hold fast to hope in Jesus Christ Your Son. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
1. Is there anything good that comes from a pre-occupation with self?
2. Did Solomon's wisdom lead him to sense life as an ultimate futility?
3. We live in a culture that places a lot of weight on "self." How do you keep from thinking of yourself as the center of the universe?
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