Read: Ecclesiastes 1:2
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
This is the motto of the Teacher, the echo and refrain throughout Ecclesiastes. The Hebrew word translated “meaningless” is hebel, which literally means vapour or breath (not to be confused with ruach, which means breath, wind or spirit). Hebel conveys the idea of transience, emptiness, futility, vanity; whatever is insubstantial or worthless.
In Isaiah 57:13 and Jeremiah 14:14-15 and 16:19 (and elsewhere in the prophets and wisdom writings) hebel is applied to the ephemeral nature of idols, especially as compared with the eternal might of the LORD God.
At first, it seems as if the Teacher’s motto is a statement of utter despair, frustration and pessimism. I’m left wondering if this Teacher, this wise elder, is nothing more than a grumpy old man.
However, this idea of everything in the world being transient or fleeting is consistent with multiple passages of Scripture which testify to a contrast between the ephemeral nature of the life and wealth of people and the enduring nature and value of the word of God. Isaiah compares the faithlessness of people to fading flowers and the temporary life of people to withering grass, in contrast to the steadfast, enduring word of the LORD (Isaiah 40:6-8). James warns the fall of the rich is like the destruction of a blossom’s beauty under the scorching sun (James 1:10-11).
Further on in his letter, James uses the exact same vapour/mist analogy as Ecclesiastes’ Teacher when he says (4:14), “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” I think the message of Ecclesiastes and the motto of its Teacher may fit surprisingly well with the wise teaching of James, who also warned (4:4) that, “friendship with the world means enmity against God.”
What is meaningless? An ephemeral life lived with no regard for the eternal God.
Everything is ephemeral – except the one eternal God.
LORD God Almighty,
You are eternal, immortal, everlasting, enduring. You have existed forever and will exist forever more. You are the Alpha and Omega, the Living One. I offer praise to you.
In contrast, I am ephemeral. My life is fleeting, my desires futile, my efforts insubstantial, my achievements transient. I am a mist, a vapour. I humble myself before you.
Thank you for Peter’s assurance (1 Peter 1:18-19, 23) that you bought me with the imperishable blood of Christ, that I am born again of the imperishable seed of your Word. Thank you for Paul’s promise (1 Corinthians 15:42-44) that my body will be raised imperishable, in glory and power, a spiritual body. I treasure my hope of sharing eternity with you, my eternal God.