says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
– Ecclesiastes 1:2
There is something important to understand about this word, “meaningless” (הבל “hebel”) that has also been translated “vanity”. If you care to know anything about what Solomon is saying in Ecclesiastes, this word hebel is the key. According to Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, the word used here denotes something beyond a lack of meaning (I have a hard time believing that Solomon was a true nihilist). Hebel is a reference to that which:
“(1) passes away more or less quickly and completely;
(2) leaves either no result or no adequate result behind, and therefore
(3) fails to satisfy the mind of man, which naturally craves for something permanent and progressive: it is also applied to:
(4) idols, as contrasted with the Living, Eternal, and Almighty God, and, thus, in the Hebrew mind, it is connected with sin.” *
Solomon talks about the hebel of life “not with bitterness or scorn, but as a fact, which forced itself on him as he advanced in knowledge of men and things, and which he regards with sorrow and perplexity.”* The word is meant to remind us of how temporal, not meaningless, our existence is.
I’m of the mind to get the message of Ecclesiastes all over me during the next month or two because I think it’s an important book. All of us move through our lives wondering at some point if our lives really matter. Solomon’s answer to that isn’t simple, but it is clear:
You will be gone tomorrow.
But you are here today, so live in this flash-in-the-pan existence with full reverence for God.
It’s the only way that being here today can matter.
* From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Public Domain. Found it here.