Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun. — Ecclesiastes 2:11
Barbara Hutton, granddaughter and heiress of the tycoon Frank W. Woolworth, the founder of a chain of retail stores, was often portrayed in news reports as a “lucky” young woman. On her twenty-first birthday in 1933, she inherited forty-two million dollars, making her one of the wealthiest women in the world. During her lifetime she had mansions built around the world, including a house in London’s Regent Park and a luxurious Japanese-style palace in Cuernavaca, Mexico. She bought Old Master paintings, important sculptures, and valuable jewelry, including the forty-carat Pasha Diamond. Her lavish spending habits often put her in the spotlight, and many people followed her extravagant lifestyle with fascination. If wealth and publicity could have brought happiness, she would have been a very happy woman.
However, she was not happy. Barbara married and divorced seven times, attempted suicide, and frequently appeared drunk in public. At times she would give total strangers expensive gifts and money to stay the night with her because she did not want to be alone. Although she had everything her heart could desire in terms of material goods, emptiness and loneliness seemed to fill her life. At her death in 1979 it was reported that only about $3,500 was left of her fortune. A movie made about her life a few years after her death called her a “Poor Little Rich Girl.”
Barbara Hutton certainly could have identified with the author of Ecclesiastes, who described pleasure and material prosperity as simply “vexation of spirit.” Some translations render that phrase, “chasing of the wind,” and Barbara was no more successful at attaining happiness from position, pleasure, or possessions than one would be in attempting to catch the wind.
Where are we looking for satisfaction? A good starting point for finding the answer to that question is reviewing where we invest our time, energy, and resources. We want to make sure that we are not “chasing the wind,” but are focusing on what will bring lasting fulfillment — something that is found only in God.
The Book of Ecclesiastes begins with the author identifying himself as “the Preacher,” indicating that his words were intended to give instruction. The Hebrew word goheleth, translated preacher, means “a person who speaks to an assembly, school, or religious body.” While the writer never disclosed his own name, he identified himself as David’s son and the king, so he is generally accepted to have been Solomon, King of Israel.
In verse 2, Solomon stated his theme: “All is vanity.” The Hebrew word for vanity means “emptiness; something that is transitory like a vapor or a breath; vain or useless,” and the repetition was for emphasis. The writer was saying that life’s secular or earthly efforts and activities are meaningless because they pass away so quickly. This establishes the tone of futility that is characteristic of the book.
In verses 4-18, the vanity of life is illustrated by nature. Generations come and go, and the cycles of nature continue. Every thing a person does has been done before, and what a person accomplishes is soon forgotten. Earthly wisdom alone, though sought diligently, is not enough, for it cannot correct all that is “crooked” and “wanting.” The more one learns, the more sorrow he has.
In chapter 2, the writer recounted other areas where he searched for meaning and profit. He set himself to try pleasure (verses 1-3), looking to amusement and wine, although not to excess for he remembered wisdom in this matter. Then he pursued building and wealth (verses 4-11), constructing houses, vineyards, gardens, and irrigated orchards. He had servants and riches — anything he wanted, and his focus was completely on himself. Yet when he looked at all he had done and accumulated, it did not bring satisfaction.
Next, Solomon considered wisdom and folly (verses 12-17). He perceived that wisdom was better, “as light excelleth darkness,” but the advantages were short-lived. The lifespan of both learned and unlearned individuals ends at the moment of death. The writer observed that once a man died, he did not know whether the one who inherited the wealth he had worked so hard to obtain was using it wisely or not. Such thoughts brought despair to the writer and caused him to lose sleep.
Finally, Solomon noted that satisfaction in life comes only from God (verses 24-26). He realized that people should enjoy their food and drink and also their labor, but this would happen only when they recognized that God made it possible. Verse 25 could be translated, “For who can eat and who can enjoy apart from him?” God decides everyone’s circumstances in life. He gives those who follow Him wisdom, knowledge, and joy. However, if a person labors only for earthly things, his efforts eventually will be worthless to him.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
I. The theme stated (1:1-11)
A. The theme introduced (1:1-2)
B. The theme illustrated (1:3-11)
1. The generations (1:3-4)
2. The sun (1:5)
3. The wind (1:6)
4. The rivers (1:7)
5. The life of man (1:8-11)
II. The theme defended
A. The emptiness of seeking for knowledge (1:12-18)
B. The emptiness of seeking for pleasure (2:1-11)
C. The meaninglessness of lifestyle (2:12-17)
D. The emptiness of human toil (2:18-23)
E. The basis of happiness is in God (2:24-26)
A person who searches for satisfaction in earthly things eventually will find his efforts worthless, for true satisfaction cannot be obtained through prosperity or pleasure. True fulfillment can only be found in God.