The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 RSV
The first verse of the book identifies the writer as
the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
The son of David could refer to any descendant of David who sat on the throne after him, but this particularly relates to Solomon, as several things in the book will confirm.
Unfortunately, the translators here refer to Solomon as
the Preacher, and I am sorry they used that term as it makes the book sound a little preachy at the beginning. On reading that second verse it would be so easy to affect a
stained-glass voice. In a modern audience this, of course, would turn everybody off. The word translated preacher is the Hebrew word Qoheleth, which really means
the one who gathers, assembles, or collects things. This is an apt title for the author of this book, who has examined and then collected together the philosophies by which people live. But I think a more accurate English translation would be
the Searcher. Here is a searching mind that has looked over all of life and seen what is behind people's actions. Searcher is the word that I am going to use wherever preacher occurs, because the writer is not really a preacher or proclaimer, but a searcher.
This is indeed a search, and if you are concerned about what the Searcher discovered, he tells us. You do not have to read the last chapter to find out the results of his search, because he puts it right here in verse 2:
Vanity of vanities — that is what he found. Vanity here does not mean
pride in appearance. Perhaps some people spend too much time in front of the mirror in the morning, admiring themselves a little. We call that vanity, pride of face, but that is not what this Searcher is talking about. The word here, in the original, means
emptiness, futility, meaninglessness, blahness.
Nothing in itself; the Searcher claims, will satisfy. No thing, no pleasure, no relationship, nothing he found had enduring value in life. Everyone has seized on one or another of these philosophies, these views of life, and tries to make it satisfy him or her. But according to this Searcher, who has gone through it all, nothing will work. When he says,
Vanity of vanities, emptiness of emptiness, that is the Hebrew way of declaring the superlative. There is nothing emptier, this man concludes, than life.
In verse 3 we have the question that he continually used in his search:
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? What is the profit of it to him? This is an interesting Hebrew word meaning,
that which is left over. After he has sucked dry all the immediate delight, joy, or pleasure from something, what is left over, what endures, what will remain to continually feed the hunger of his life for satisfaction? It is the question we all are asking. Is there anything that will really minister continually to my need—that highest good, which, if I find it, will mean I do not need to look any further?
Lord, thank You for the honesty of this book, written ages ago, but still so relevant. I too have been on a search, and I have found that with You life is not futile but full of meaning and purpose.
Has our pursuit of knowledge and worldly pleasure left us sated and cynical? Do we need to redirect our pursuit from a wholly different perspective?