This was how the author of Ecclesiastes began his book (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Here, near the end of his book, he repeats the same idea. We can see that his opinions have not changed.
Here in Ecclesiastes 12:8, he describes life and death as ‘vanity’. The word ‘vanity’ means ‘without any proper purpose’. The author has used that word constantly through his book. He always uses it to describe people: their lives, their thoughts and their work.
The author means that people are very weak. They care about things that do not matter. They work for things that have no real value. They love things that are not important. They do things without any proper purpose. During their whole lives, they achieve nothing that is really worthwhile. And, of course, their deaths achieve nothing, too.
Although the author believed that about people, his opinion about God was very different. People should respect God (Ecclesiastes 5:1-4). Everything that God does is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4). Everything that God says achieves his purposes (Isaiah 55:11). God does nothing that is in vain. Even when God created people, his work was perfect (Ecclesiastes 7:29). For that reason in particular, people should think about their own relationship with God (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
People’s lives are achieving nothing because they do not care about their relationship with God. Instead, people care about their possessions, their desires and even their feelings. But it is different for the people who have chosen to serve God. They have a special relationship with God; God looks after them (Ecclesiastes 9:1; Job 1:8-10). And they do God’s work. So the things that they do are not in vain.
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© 2019, Keith Simons.