Ecclesiastes 12:8, 13 - Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity ... The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commands, for this is the whole duty of man.
This devotion pairs with this weekend's Lutheran Hour sermon, which can be found at lutheranhour.org.
Do you remember the first time you played with soap bubbles? Soap bubbles, whether big or small, many or just a few, they are captivating, fascinating, here in a moment, gone in a flash. And they're a good image for the Hebrew word, "hebel." Hebel is one of the favorite words of Ecclesiastes, who takes us on an explorative journey around the world. He brings us up to mountain tops, down to forest floors, to ocean depths (see Ecclesiastes 1:5-7, 11:3). He shows us smoke-filled back rooms where politicians hold secret deliberations (see Ecclesiastes 5:8), and a fire for cooking that crackles kindling under a boiling stock pot in the kitchen (see Ecclesiastes 7:6). Here and there, everywhere Ecclesiastes looks, he sees hebel.
We are blessed with a variety of ways to express this captivating, fascinating word: "vanity" (as in our translation today), but there are others: "vapor," "futility," "absurdity," "pointless," or "meaningless." The basic meaning is "breath." It's also the name of the second son of Adam and Eve. We usually pronounce it "Abel," but it's the same Hebrew word, "hebel," meaning breath. Abel, or "Hebel," was the second human born outside the Garden of Eden—here in a moment, then gone in a flash of rage, murdered in cold blood by his older brother, Cain. Cain, sounds like the Hebrew word for "acquired." After Adam and Eve betrayed God's trust in the Garden, Cain became their firstborn. And soon after Hebel was born (see Genesis 4). So, the opening chapters of the Bible could be summarized as follows: our first parents, Adam and Eve—whose names mean "Human" and "Life"—had a son called "Acquired." Separated from God, Human and Life brought forth Acquired. And what they Acquired stole their Breath away. And the whole world's been hebel ever since.
For a native Hebrew speaker saturated in these Old Testament accounts, the word hebel was rich with multiple meanings, which may be why it's difficult to pick just one English word to render it. The word evokes the wonder and the weariness of life, both beautiful and brief, fragile, fleeting, sometimes absurd, but also, something God said was worth saving.
Jesus said that God, His Father, sent Him into the world, not to condemn it, "but that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:17b). In Luke 3:38 Jesus is called the "Son of Adam," the true Son. He is the "last Adam," because "in Adam all die," but "in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22, see verse 45). And when Jesus was raised from the dead, He breathed on them, on His followers. He gave them His breath (see John 20:22), not Abel's fleeting breath, but God's breath. And Jesus' blood on the cross "speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24b). By this word, your life is more than soap bubbles. Jesus makes you more; He makes you, as 1 Corinthians 15:58 says, "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not 'hebel.'"
WE PRAY: Holy Spirit, Breath of the living God, give me a living, daring confidence in Your Word, Jesus Christ, so that my labor will not be in vain. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour.
1. Devote one hour to reading the whole book of Ecclesiastes in one sitting, or take an hour-long walk while listening to it on an audio Bible. (Try the NIV Dramatized Audio Bible by Zondervan). How do you feel after that?
2. What wise truths does it "nail down" for you? (See Ecclesiastes 12:11a.)
3. What new thoughts does it "spur" into motion? (See Ecclesiastes 12:11b.)
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