Solomon had a lot of experience, as well as divinely given insight. In Ecclesiastes, he writes as an old man kindly passing on to us some of his lessons learned, to prepare men and women younger than him to live a truly good life under the sun, to preserve us from making the same mistakes he did when he wasted years of his life with a heart turned away from the Lord. He had been determined to try and find satisfaction somewhere under the sun. Listen carefully to his conclusion: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity” (2:1 ESV).
If your life is bound up in pleasure and fun under the sun, your life is vanity; you are living a meaningless and futile existence. You must soon learn how to live beyond the sun in these few days of your life, because life is vanity; it is fleeting and transitory. You will need to accept God’s sovereign arrangements in your life. Otherwise, you will become frustrated and get off track spiritually, because life probably won’t turn out as perfect as you planned – life is vanity; it is incomprehensible, an enigma. (Notice these different shades of meaning behind the word vanity throughout the book). Listen again to Solomon’s disappointment: “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure . . . Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labour in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (2:10-11).
Are you going to waste your life? Are you going to spend the few days of your life under the sun pursuing fulfillment in entertainment, education, culture, or business? Those things aren’t necessarily evil – of course not. But if your satisfaction is bound up in these things, if your joy is rooted anywhere other than in God, life will be vanity. Some people are consumed by sexual pursuits. Society is saturated with the message that sexual prowess equals greatness. Sexual chastity and marital loyalty are mocked, and sexual profligacy is glamourized. Are you buying that message? Solomon’s already been there and done that. 700 wives and 300 concubines – and his conclusion? “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Learn from Solomon’s experience! He reflected on wasted years and found that all these were mistaken pursuits in search of a good life.
But Solomon rediscovered the good life. “For apart from [God] who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy” (2:25-26 ESV). Everything you could possibly want under the sun, Solomon had it all . . . and then some. And he said it is vanity. But when he lifted his eyes above the sun, he found joy. Ecclesiastes’ wisdom says, find your satisfaction in God, or else it will be vanity and a waste. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).