Ecclesiastes 1:2 says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” There has been numerous attempts to explain that idea of “vanity of vanities” in more modern language. Some use the word “meaningless.” Everything in life under the sun is meaningless. The New International Version translates this as “meaningless, meaningless! Utterly meaningless!” Some use the idea of “empty.” Everything we do in this life is really empty of true value and meaning. Kansas, the old rock group from the 70’s, expressed a similar idea when they sang that all we are is “dust in the wind.” The “teacher” in Ecclesiastes is going to talk about his great accomplishments, his great wealth, his indulgence in sexual pleasure, his power over others, and possessions of every imaginable kind. These things are vanities. They are “meaningless.” They are “empty.” Those terms are all helpful but they miss the idea of the deceitfulness of these things. I like the idea of “smoke and mirrors.”

One article on the internet describes the phrase as I understand it. It says, “Smoke and mirrors exploits errors in human perception and the psychology of misdirection to create compelling illusions for large audiences.” The teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes is going to go to great lengths to expose the draw of wealth upon our lives as nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Wealth, riches,  promise some kind of satisfaction or reward but do not deliver on what seems to be promised. Then the teacher tackles the other “smoke and mirror” issues of life; great accomplishments, many possessions, vast pleasures, much power over others as well as great wealth. All of these things are nothing but “smoke and mirrors.”

Money and riches is what life is all about, isn’t it?  In an article on the deceitfulness of riches, Reagan Rose explains how money is really nothing more than smoke and mirrors. He says, “The first lie money tells is that it is the goal of life. This one seems so obvious on the surface that we might assume it is easily avoidable. But the world screams this philosophy in our faces daily. Every commercial, every celebrity, every new car our neighbor purchases, dangles that carrot of ‘Success’ before our eyes. If we don’t watch carefully, before we know it we may find our days consumed with doing whatever it takes to get that next raise, with comparing ourselves to others, and with constantly asking ourselves ‘have I made it?’” Jesus, the greatest teacher of all, asks us another more important question. In Matthew 16:26, he asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt 16:26). Money is not the goal of life!