The Hebrew word for “teacher” that shows up in Ecclesiastes is “Qoheleth.” The Greek translation of the Hebrew word is “ecclesiastes” which is where we take the English name for the book. The ecclesia is the gathering or “collecting” of people. It’s the assembly. So the teacher in Ecclesiastes is the guy who collects the people to teach them. The Hebrew Qoheleth is sometimes defined as “collector.” This is interesting because Solomon was a great collector. He collected great wealth of course. He collected a large number of horses. He collected wives and concubines (The pleasure of men). He collected servants and gardens and crops and he also collected wise sayings as we see in the book of Proverbs. Yes indeed. Solomon was a collector. He gathered, collected,  the people together because he had something very important to teach them about collecting!

In Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 he describes all his “collecting” as being exercises in futility. He says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” The expected answer to that question is that there is no gain or profit from his collecting. As Ryken says, “Qoheleth takes the whole sum of human existence and declares that it is utterly meaningless. Then he takes the next twelve chapters to prove his point in painful detail, after which he returns to the very same statement: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:8). So the book begins and ends with the same idea: everything that man does is futile, it’s all just smoke and mirrors!

The Pulpit Commentary of 1909 clarifies what the teacher means by “vanity of vanities.” It says, “If all things are vain and vanity, wherefore were they made? If they are God’s works, how are they vain? But it is not the works of God which he calls vain. God forbid! The heaven is not vain; the earth is not vain: God forbid! Nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor our own body. No; all these are very good. But what is vain? Man’s works, pomp, and vain-glory. These came not from the hand of God, but are of our own creating.” This echoes the uselessness of man’s work as expressed by Isaiah. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that all of Man’s righteous works are as filthy rags to God. Man can never earn or deserve God’s favor, but he can receive it by God’s grace through faith alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says it clearly, “it is by grace you are saved, it’s not of works, lest anymore should boast.”