What did Solomon mean by the words “all is vanity”?


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Solomon the wise wrote, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The word “vanity” means “breath,” or “vapor.” The word “vanity” reveals the theme of the whole book of Ecclesiastes. It occurs 37 times in Ecclesiastes and but 33 times elsewhere in the Old Testament. Solomon tested each experience, each undertaking, each pleasure. But he found all the joys of life to be mere “wind,” “breath,” or “a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). For this reason, he confirmed the uselessness and disappointing end of all human effort unless it was related to God.

The meaning of the word vanity

By the word vanity, Solomon tried to show that external experiences cannot fulfill the inner hungers of the heart. Material blessings, do not gratify the thinking person. A sincere approach to God is not made through the external senses, but through an inner relationship with Him. For God is spirit (John 4:24), and must, therefore, be approached by man’s spirit. Only in such a relationship can man find fulfillment and happiness. The word vanity is also used to describe “idols” as vain and powerless, and also of their worship (2 Kings 17:15; Jeremiah 2:5; 10:8).

The whole duty of man

Solomon said that anything man may seek in place of God and obedience to Him is “vanity.” He wrote, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14). Thus, the worship of God and obedience to His wise commands are the supreme objective of life.

It is man’s duty, his destiny, to obey God, and in so doing he will find supreme happiness. Whatever his portion may be, whether in failure or success, it remains his duty to offer a loving obedience to his Creator. God reads the hidden motives of people’s hearts; He knows how much of the light of truth has entered their hearts, and for every light He will hold them responsible (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

Love to God is translated into faithfulness

In the New Testament, Paul presented the same truth in Acts 17:24–31 and Romans 1:20–23. And the apostle James concluded, “…So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:10–12). In the great day of the last judgement, it is those who have done the will of God who will enter the kingdom (Matthew 7:21–27).

To confess loyalty to God and at the same time disobey one commandment that His love may ask of humans is to reject the reality of that loyalty (John 15:10; 1 John 2:3–6). Thus, to disobey is to worship God in vain or in vanity (Mark 7:7–9), for in the day of judgement every man will be rewarded “according to his works” (Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12).

God gives people the power to live fulfilled lives

The good news is that God gives man the ability to obey Him to fulfill his destiny. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As man abides in Christ daily through study of His Word and prayer, the Lord dwells in them and gives them the power and strength to obey. Thus, man becomes a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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