“Vanity, Vanity, all is vanity.”
Oft quoted. Sometimes even correctly attributed to the bible. But, what does it really mean, and what is the greater truth behind the statement?
I love digging into the original languages of Scripture and here we find the word “hebel” that is translated vanity. Hebel refers to something that is short-lived. Other translations of this word include the following: delusion, emptiness, fleeting, fraud, futile, mere breath, nothing, useless, vapor, worthless.
Calling everything vanity is not giving it any compliments.
Next, we need to ask, “What is vanity? What is worthless?” (aside from the obvious, “all”)
What does man gain by all the toilEcclesiastes 1:3-9 ESV
at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Nothing new under the sun, just lots of same ol’, same ol’ and chasing after the wind.
Solomon searched the earth for some type of meaning, purpose, or value. He tried it all. He poured himself into his work, he indulged every impulse, he achieved power and wealth, even in his wisdom he found only “vanity”– emptiness, a fraud.
That’s a little depressing. Is life just meaningless then?
10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.Ecclesiastes 3:10-13 ESV
Even in this vapor we call life, there is a meaning beneath the surface. In God’s love for us, He gave us this beautiful gift called life. Yes, it is full of ups and downs. Days of success and days we want to crawl back in bed, or worse. But all of that is beautiful in its time. Today I was chatting with a lady who was remembering her days of living in an urban setting and how parking tickets and getting her car towed unfortunately seemed to come with the territory. Now she can laugh about it. At the time it was a huge frustration. Now, it is a beautiful piece of the fabric of her life that even makes her smile at the memory.
22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot.Ecclesiastes 3:22a ESV
I might see an awful day (or even a good one) as mere vanity, but God’s weaving of my life takes light and dark threads. Not for my glory, but for His. Any earthly accomplishments are useless if not done in joy for God’s glory.
My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;Psalm 45:1 ESV
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
The psalmist learned this. His tongue was ready to verbalize praise to God. He was ready, waiting for the opportunity. Sometimes the chance knocks me over the head before I take a breath and realize the perfect circumstance for praising God surrounding me.
Every moment is favorable for praise.
Promotion, lost job. Graduation, failure. Birth, death. Pain, ecstasy. Love, indignation. Fear, confidence. Change, stability. Dark, light. Progress, regression. Feast, famine.
All of it can usher us into the throne room to worship.
14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. 2 Timothy 1:14 ESV
Guard – from the Greek Phulasso. To guard, watch, constantly. Uninterrupted vigilance.
Both mountain-tops and valleys can pull our focus away from God, yet if we guard the spiritual gift of faith that we have, we will find them both a perfect time to praise Him. Uninterrupted vigilance will keep our eyes open to the spiritual perspective.
Awesome Creator-God, You have given me many gifts that I do not steward as carefully as I should. Strengthen my vigilance that it may truly be uninterrupted in guarding the purity of my faith in You and Your word. I want to worship You in each moment and learn the lessons and celebrate the moments that You place in my path. Help me to find the joy in the journey and not just rush through forgetting that You are my purpose. In Jesus name, amen.