Vanity

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the concept of “vanity” is central. The word translated “vanity” is the Hebrew word, “hevel.”  Hevel is most directly translated as “absurd.”  The connotation is not meaningless or ludicrous, but absurd in the sense of extremely perplexing.

In Romans 8:18-22, Paul speaks of the creation as being subject to “futility.”  The Greek word used here is the same word the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, uses for “hevel.” While Ecclesiastes does not deny the validity of the truth found in the other Wisdom Books, Qohelet is very aware that the world in which we live is extremely complex and sometimes confusing.

To know wisdom is striving after the wind (1:17), pleasure is vanity (2:1), making great works is vanity (2:4), and having great possessions is vanity (2:7).  Pursuing a legacy is vanity as a fool can squander what you build (2:20).  Toiling for oneself is vanity (4:7).  The increase of dreams and words is vanity (5:7).  The accumulation of wealth is vanity (5:10).

Why are all these things vanity?  Because death comes to all and renders the greatest achievements in this life vanity (9:2).

The contradictions of life are also vanity.  That the appetite is never satisfied is vanity (6:7-9).  Committing evil since there is no immediate consequence is vanity (8:11).  That the punishment of the wicked falls on the righteous and the reward of the righteous comes to the wicked is vanity (8:14).  Much wisdom and study is weariness as well (12:12).

Qohelet is weight down by the apparent lack of meaning in what can be attained in a life with so many contradictions.  Vanity is the fact that things are not the way they are meant to be.  Time and death render most everything done in this life as vanity.

So how does Qohelet invite us to respond?

First, we must acknowledge that we are not God. Man “does not know what is to be” (8:7).  “However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find out.  Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out” (8:17).  “Man does not know his time” (9:12).

Ecclesiastes 11:5-6

5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.  6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Since we are not God, we ought to fear Him.

Ecclesiastes 5:7b

God is the one you must fear.

Ecclesiastes 8:12

Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Finally, because God is good, we are not only to fear Him but to trust Him in the midst of the seeming vanity of all things.

Ecclesiastes 3:11a

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

Ecclesiastes 3:14

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.  God has done it, so that people fear before him.

Ecclesiastes 9:1b

The righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God.

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The Wise, the Fool, and the Simple

There are three characters in the book of Proverbs: the wise, the fool, and the simple.

The wise seek out wisdom and fear God.

Proverbs 4:7

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.

Proverbs 2:1-5

1 My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
2 making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
3 yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.

The fool does not seek wisdom and does not fear God.

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 14:9

Fools mock at the guilt offering,
but the upright enjoy acceptance.

The simple are undisciplined in seeking wisdom and are easily misled.

Proverbs 7:6-9

6 For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
7 and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
8 passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
9 in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.

Proverbs 14:15

The simple believes everything,
but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

I think it would be fair to say that the majority of us are not wise yet. Odds are that we are simple. May we seek wisdom outside of ourselves diligently that we might find we have become wise rather than fools.

I Shall Be Slain in the Streets!

John Piper

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”

– Proverbs 22:13

The controlling emotion here is laziness, not fear. But what does laziness have to do with the danger of a lion in the street? We don’t say, “This man is too lazy to go do his work because there is a lion outside. The presence of a lion does not produce laziness, it produces fear. So what’s the point of the proverb?

The point is that the sluggard creates imaginary circumstances to justify not doing his work, and thus shifts the focus from the vice of his laziness to the danger of lions. No one will approve his staying in the house all day just because he is lazy. But they sleepy-tigermight sympathize with him and approve his staying home if there is real danger outside. So, to hide his laziness and justify himself, he deflects attention away from the truth (laziness) to an illusion (lions).

If we would be wise people – people on the way to being “sages” – we must understand how our sinful human hearts and minds work. One profound Biblical insight we need to know is that our heart exploits our mind to justify what the heart wants. That is, our deepest desires precede the rational functioning of our minds and incline the mind to perceive and think in a way that will make the desires look right. It is an illusion to think that our hearts are neutral and incline in accordance with cool rational observation of truth. On the contrary, we feel powerful desires or fears in our heart, and THEN our mind bends reality to justify the desires and fears.

This is what the sluggard is doing. He deeply desires to stay at home and not work. There is no good reason to stay at home. So what does he do? Does he overcome his bad desire? No, he uses his mind to create unreal circumstances to justify his desire. He may even believe the creation of his mind. Deception can cross from moral depravity to mental derangement – from deceiving others to deceiving ourselves.

Thus Proverbs 26:16 says, “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer.” Now why is that? Does laziness make a person haughty? Not necessarily. But it does make them resistant to any truth that exposes their laziness. So when seven men say, “There is no lion in the street,” the sluggard cannot concede. He must insist that his own answer is wiser: There is a lion in the street. Otherwise his laziness is exposed for what it is. Thus truth is sacrificed on the altar of self-justification.

Too Great and Marvelous

Contentment
Tim Keller

[1] O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
[2] But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

[3] O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.

– Psalm 131

The believer realizes that the reason God’s actions are often opaque is not because we are wise and he is foolish, but because he is too “great” and “wonderful” for us.

Link: Complete Blog Post