Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity." This is not the most cheery way to start a book, but this is how King Solomon began his book in Ecclesiastes 1:2. How did Solomon come to this conclusion?
As we will find in the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon contrived a great experiment in his life to find out what really satisfies and what is truly important in life. Solomon was able to take on such an experiment better than anyone because of who he was. He has much to teach us.
Short Solomon Bio
Solomon was born into royalty through his father King David, who was ruler of Israel. When King David died and Solomon took the throne, Yahweh came to Solomon in a dream in 1Kings 3 and told him to ask for whatever he desired. Verses 9-12 give the account of how Solomon responded, and then how Yahweh responded back:
"Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? And the speech pleased Yahweh, that Solomon had asked this thing. And Elohim said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee."
Solomon became the wisest and richest king ever because of this blessing from Yahweh, and he was able to build Yahweh’s temple in 1Kings 6. Because of his vast resources, Solomon conducted his great life experiment to find out what truly satisfied one’s life. No one could ever have done this experiment better than Solomon because of all that he had.
Some of Solomon’s exploits can be found in Ecclesiastes 2:1-9, "I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me."
Still Not Happy
How did Solomon come to his conclusion that life is vanity? One could look at all that Solomon accomplished and believe he must have been the happiest man alive. But he wasn’t. He realized that none of those things he did would last; it was all temporal, vanity.
In Ecclesiastes 2:18 Solomon writes, "Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me." Imagine the frustration one would have in climbing the ladder to success, getting to the top, and realizing that you are leaning against the wrong wall.
As a castle built upon sand will topple, so too did Solomon’s perception of happiness when he leaned upon it.
This is not a totally sad story though. Through his struggle Solomon finally came to the conclusion of what is really important in life. In Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 is his most wonderful synopsis on what really matters, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear Elohim, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For Elohim shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
Solomon realized after all he had accomplished, his only lasting fulfillment was obedience to Yahweh.
Lessons for Us
Ponder for a moment our own lives. The cars, the cell phones, the home, our clothing, the trophies we may have, our jobs, and everything we possess will one day be gone. Now on the one hand this doesn’t give us a license to abuse or neglect what we own; we should be good stewards of all.
And neither does it mean that we are necessarily to sell all our possessions and live in abject poverty. The point is that these things we own should be more peripheral rather than the focus of our lives.
Yahshua spoke a parable that illustrates this point in Luke 12:16-21, "And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But Elohim said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward Elohim."
Most focus on the temporal riches and pleasures of life, which give only temporary pleasure and satisfaction. Solomon found it best to focus upon obedience to Yahweh, as His rewards are eternal.. And what does He command of us? Our Savior Yahshua spoke of it with instruction in Mark 12:28-31, "And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Yahshua answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; Yahweh our Elohim is one Yahweh: And thou shalt love Yahweh thy Elohim with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Love Is What’s Important
Having a loving relationship with Yahweh our Father through Yahshua our Messiah, as well as a loving relationship with each other, is the most important thing we can ever accomplish. Keeping love in the forefront of our minds is so important to our very existence that Yahshua commanded that we must even show love to our enemies. Yahshua knew that without love, everything we become or accomplish is hollow.
What is love? "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things," 1Corinthians 13:4-7.
While we were still sinners and enemies of Yahweh, He showed His love for us by giving us what He loved the most, Yahshua His son. Yahshua obeyed Yahweh because He loved Yahweh and wanted to please Him, and also loved us far greater than His own life, even to the point of extreme anguish. That one act of love sent an eternal ripple in our lives so that we too could have a chance to live forever. That is the power of love.
Love is the only thing that has lasting value in this life. Paul writes in 1Corinthians 13:8 about the enduring nature of love; "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophesies they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." Obey Yahweh, it will last. Forgive one another, it will last. Give to those in need, it will last. Console one who is mourning, it will last. Do all that you can out of love, it will last. The love we produce in our hearts and then show to the world will have more lasting results than anything else that we can ever do.
We conclude with the final two verses of 1Corinthians 13, summarizing what is really important in life: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."