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Is Life in Vain? Why Study the Book of Ecclesiastes

One respected conservative scholar called the ‘strangest book in the Bible.’ It speaks in terms that are high and low, mostly the latter. Written by an older man who ‘had it all,’ made some bad moves, and now speaks as one who is in the depths of depression. It’s famous phrase is vanity of vanities, all is vanity? Is this really the case?

Vanity: def. futile, lost, a waste of time, worthless

The book in question is called Ecclesiastes and it is part of the Bible’s wisdom literature. Perhaps the best way to understand this book is to remember that it is describing life ‘under the sun,’ a phrase used 27 times and apparently no where else in Scripture. Life ‘under the sun’ is talking about natural, carnal living in a fallen world; this is the antithesis of a born-again, fruit-bearing, Spirit-filled life.

If a person’s perspective is 100% under the sun, in the natural, valuing the things of the world, and not living though to the Almighty, the transcendent, then our future will not just be vain, but eternally lost.

It is of interest how many of the philosophies of today’s world have some sort of reflection in Ecclesiastes. These include:

Pessimism: Things will definitely get worse;

Hedonism: Living for the moment in pleasure, often excessively so;

Existentialism: Living for the moment because tomorrow may not come;

Cynicism: A deep distrust of human nature to the point that even the good is not as good as it seems;

Chauvinism: One group thinks and acts as if they are better than another;

Fatalism: It is as it is, you cannot change it. ‘The stars’ have determined it.

All of this is the world’s wisdom ‘under the sun.’ Unless the God-element is introduced, it will all be vain. The author of Ecclesiastes ought to know.


The Hebrew name for Ecclesiastes is qoheleth ‘a preacher,’ one who speaks to a congregation. Can also be likened to the speaker in a house of parliament or congress. In the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the word is ekklesiastes (preacher) from ekklesia ‘assembly, congregation.’ The name Ecclesiastes comes from the Latin and is about a ‘speaker before the assembly.’


Not explicitly mentioned but answer the following questions:

1.   The author was ‘the son of David’ (1:1);
2.   He was ‘king over Israel in Jerusalem’ (1:12);
3.   He had ‘more wisdom than all they that have been before me’ (1:16).

Only one man fits description: Solomon.


    The portrait of Christ for Ecclesiastes is simple. If vanity means ‘meaningless,’ ‘futile,’ ‘in vain,’ then Jesus Christ is the antidote to these things.

    When we choose Jesus, we are choosing life, light and blessing for us and our descendants (Deuteronomy 30:19; John 1:4)’

    We have purpose in life - we are God’s handcraft, created in Jesus Christ for good works (Ephesians 2:10);

    We are ordained for abundant life (John 10:10ff);

    We are ordained for eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23);


Life without God, lived for the now in this present fallen world, is not only vain, but vanity of vanity. Only through Godly fear directed to the living God does life have wholeness and meaning. The word ‘vanity’ is used 29 times.


Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. 3What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?Ecclesiastes 1:2-3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:Ecclesiastes 3:1

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.Ecclesiastes 11:1

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; 13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.Ecclesiastes 12:1; 13-14


The king seeks after the things of the world which are ‘under the sun’ but finds that all of it is vain. Even lofty, desirable things like education, work, fun, mirth, everything is still vanity. He also laments at how unfair life ‘under the sun’ can be: a person will live, work, and die, leaving possessions to someone else (who didn’t work for them). The wicked prosper, the righteous suffer, and the poor are downtrodden. Yet, there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ - fear God and keep His commandments, for one day there will be the judgement: God will judge will right every wrong and reward every right. Stop living ‘under the sun’ and take the long-view, spiritual view, and divine perspective.


I.         Meeting Vanity (1:1 - 1:11)

A.    ‘The Preacher’ introduced (1:1-3
B.     Seeking for meaning in science (1:4-11)

II.      Vanity in Daily Living (1:12-6:12)

A.    Seeking meaning through philosophy (1:12-18)
B.     Through mirth and pleasure (2:1-11)
C.     Through building construction (2:4)
D.    Through possessions (2:5-7)
E.     Through wealth and music (2:8)
F.      Through materialism (2:12-26)
G.    Through fatalism (3:1-15);
H.    Through deism (3:1-4:16);
I.        Through religion (5:1-8)
J.        Through wealth (5:9-6:12)

III.    How to Handle Vanity (7:1-12:14)

A.    A good name is better than precious ointment (7:1)
B.     Curse not the king because he will find out (10:20)
C.     Cast your bread on the waters; you shall find it again (11:1)
D.    Remember your creator in the days of you youth (12:1);
E.     Death: body returns to dust, the spirit to God who gave it (12:7);
F.      Fear God and keep His commandments (12:13).

CONCLUSION: If a life is only lived ‘under the sun,’ it is heading for vanity and a lost eternity. If it is lived ‘under the Son,’ then there is forgiveness, salvation, hope and a future.


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