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 1:2-3
Ecclesiastes is so often referred to as depressing, mainly because of this beautifully crafted introduction. The author, Solomon, opens the book with words that, if interpreted correctly, do not just set you up for an eye-opening read, but also teach you some valuable lessons about this life and the one to come. This is not a book of depression, but a book of delight. These three key themes shows us why:
A tip when reading Ecclesiastes: Read through the book in one sitting first, do not try to interpret anything. Read it like you are the scribe listening to Solomon sharing his ideas. When you do this you start to grasp how he makes use of the negative to point out the positive in life.
1. Priorities determine your path This book is a deep well of wisdom that helps us answer some of life’s biggest questions, the author unpacks multiple pursuits from his personal life to point out how useless it is to seek gain in the world. Alcohol (Ecclesiastes 2:3), Work (Ecclesiastes 2:4-6), Possessions (Ecclesiastes 2:7) and Sex (Ecclesiastes 2:8), all of these are ultimately futile and the author makes use of his own experience to provide the reader with an old cliche “Do not make the same mistakes I made” as he exclaims “... and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11) Solomon gives us this insight not to depress us about the things of this world, but to enlighten us about where our priorities lead us.
2. Not ALL is vanity “God has made everything beautiful in its time.”(Ecclesiastes 3:11) In the initial introduction the preacher exclaims “All is vanity” and what he refers to are the material pursuits of our everyday lives. When we look to gain in this world we will find nothing but frustration and aimless living. But he does not leave us high and dry thinking that this life is useless, he then adds that there is a pursuit that bears reward, to seek God and spend your time with those you love, doing what you love. He says “this is God’s gift to man”(Ecclesiastes 3:13)
3. Eternal perspective The depressive aspect that is to be found in this book is unlocked when you realize that your pursuit of the world outweighs your pursuit of God. The author confronts the reader with a harsh reality that we prefer the things of this world above God. But do not despair, Solomon uncovers a perspective in this book, that when discovered, will bring delight to your life. We will not take anything to the grave (Ecclesiastes 2:20-21), neither will we ever do anything new (Ecclesiastes 3:15) so why keep on doing what we hate for no gain? Life apart from God will get you nothing but judgment (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13) and when our perspective goes beyond this life there lies a great purpose in this life (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). So do a job that brings you joy rather than worldly gain (Matthew 16:26), seek God in all you do and purpose will find you (Matthew 6:33) and lastly spend your leisure time in the company of loved ones, eating and drinking, for this is a blessing from God.