According to Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes everything in life is meaningless as the New International Version puts it, “meaningless, everything is meaningless.” Most English translation preserve the original rendition of the Hebrew and translate it as “vanity of vanities. Everything is vanity.” The Hebrew word for “vanity” is often translated as “mist” or “smoke.”  Ryken says, “Taken literally, the Hebrew word hevel refers to a breath or vapor, like a puff of smoke rising from a fire or the cloud of steam that comes from hot breath on a frosty morning.” Eugene Peterson actually uses the word “smoke” in his modern paraphrase of Ecclesiastes. He writes, “Smoke, nothing but smoke. There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.”

But when Solomon says “vanity of vanities, everything is vanity,” I believe he means more than simple “emptiness” or “meaninglessness.” He means there is nothing in this life that brings lasting satisfaction and happiness. He means that riches, possessions, power, pleasure and even our accomplishments are all misleading and deceptive. They are all “smoke and mirrors.” They take our attention from what matters and puts it on something untrue or unreal in order to mislead or distract us. But Solomon offers another perspective.  It’s the solution to the apparent futility of life.

The key to understanding Solomon, and the entire book of Ecclesiastes seems to be found in one three-word phrase: “under the sun.” This phrase is unique to the book of Ecclesiastes, appearing nowhere else in the Bible. Don Glenn, in his commentary explains, “By the phrase under the sun he meant ‘down here on the earth.’ He used this phrase repeatedly (29 times) throughout the book, often in connection with man’s toil.” So you see, Solomon does not leave us with a suicidal complex, as some commentators suggest. Instead, he says there is a heavenly perspective which makes sense out of everything. Ryken puts it this way, “But when we look to God with reverence and awe, we are able to see the meaning of life, and the beauty of its pleasures, and the eternal significance of everything we do, including the little things of everyday life. Only then can we discover why everything matters.” Jesus once said that he came to give us life, not just regular life, but a truly “abundant life.”