September 15, 2021

Vanity of Vanities . . . All is Vanity

Ecclesiastes 7–12

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The Contrast of Wisdom and Folly

A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
...

The Contrast of Wisdom and Folly

A good name is better than precious ointment,
    and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity. 1
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the heart 2 of fools.
10  Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11  Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
    an advantage to those who see the sun.
12  For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13  Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

15 In my vain 3 life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?

25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.

Keep the King's Command

Who is like the wise?
    And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man's wisdom makes his face shine,
    and the hardness of his face is changed.

I say: 4 Keep the king's command, because of God's oath to him. 5 Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. 6 For there is a time and a way for everything, although man's trouble 7 lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it. All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.

Those Who Fear God Will Do Well

10 Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised 8 in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. 9 11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. 13 But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.

Man Cannot Know God's Ways

14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 15 And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

16 When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one's eyes see sleep, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.

Death Comes to All

But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, 10 to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

Enjoy Life with the One You Love

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain 11 life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, 12 for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Wisdom Better Than Folly

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.

Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench;
    so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
A wise man's heart inclines him to the right,
    but a fool's heart to the left.
Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
    and he says to everyone that he is a fool.
If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place,
    for calmness 13 will lay great offenses to rest.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves.

He who digs a pit will fall into it,
    and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.
He who quarries stones is hurt by them,
    and he who splits logs is endangered by them.
10  If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
    he must use more strength,
    but wisdom helps one to succeed. 14
11  If the serpent bites before it is charmed,
    there is no advantage to the charmer.

12  The words of a wise man's mouth win him favor, 15
    but the lips of a fool consume him.
13  The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness,
    and the end of his talk is evil madness.
14  A fool multiplies words,
    though no man knows what is to be,
    and who can tell him what will be after him?
15  The toil of a fool wearies him,
    for he does not know the way to the city.

16  Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
    and your princes feast in the morning!
17  Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility,
    and your princes feast at the proper time,
    for strength, and not for drunkenness!
18  Through sloth the roof sinks in,
    and through indolence the house leaks.
19  Bread is made for laughter,
    and wine gladdens life,
    and money answers everything.
20  Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king,
    nor in your bedroom curse the rich,
for a bird of the air will carry your voice,
    or some winged creature tell the matter.

Cast Your Bread upon the Waters

Cast your bread upon the waters,
    for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
    for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
If the clouds are full of rain,
    they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
    in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow,
    and he who regards the clouds will not reap.

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb 16 of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. 17

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain 18 from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.

Remember Your Creator in Your Youth

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, 19 and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Vanity 20 of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Fear God and Keep His Commandments

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. 10 The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.

11 The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 21 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with 22 every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Footnotes

[1] 7:6 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a “vapor” or “mere breath” (see note on 1:2)
[2] 7:9 Hebrew in the bosom
[3] 7:15 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a “vapor” or “mere breath” (see note on 1:2)
[4] 8:2 Hebrew lacks say
[5] 8:2 Or because of your oath to God
[6] 8:5 Or and judgment
[7] 8:6 Or evil
[8] 8:10 Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate; most Hebrew manuscripts forgotten
[9] 8:10 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a “vapor” or “mere breath”; also twice in verse 14 (see note on 1:2)
[10] 9:2 Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate; Hebrew lacks and the evil
[11] 9:9 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a “vapor” or “mere breath” (see note on 1:2)
[12] 9:10 Or finds to do with your might, do it
[13] 10:4 Hebrew healing
[14] 10:10 Or wisdom is an advantage for success
[15] 10:12 Or are gracious
[16] 11:5 Some Hebrew manuscripts, Targum; most Hebrew manuscripts As you do not know the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb
[17] 11:8 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a “vapor” or “mere breath”; also verse 10 (see note on 1:2)
[18] 11:10 Or evil
[19] 12:5 Or is a burden
[20] 12:8 The Hebrew term hebel can refer to a “vapor” or “mere breath” (three times in this verse); see note on 1:2
[21] 12:13 Or the duty of all mankind
[22] 12:14 Or into the judgment on

Vanity of Vanities . . . All is Vanity



Key Verse | Ecclesiastes 12:13

The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 

Bio | Don Grimes

Good morning, brothers and sisters!  

A hillbilly from Kentucky here (I can't help but to start moving when I hear Dueling Banjos). I'm husband to Mary; father to Blaine and Claire; a friend to many; and, most importantly, a blessed, forgiven, and immensely grateful child of God.  

We found our way to Dallas (and Watermark!) about five years ago (from Grand Rapids, Michigan—talk about a change in the weather!).  I currently serve on the Frontlines and Moneywise teams.  Now that you know what I look like, please stop me to say "hello" when you see me around church!

Central Truth

God wants nothing more than to have a deep and personal relationship with every believer. The same God who knitted you together in the womb (Psalm 139:13) wants to know you intimately. That's all that really matters. The rest is vanity (Ecclesiastes 12:8).

Devotional | Ecclesiastes 7–12

God wants us to be wise (Ecclesiastes 8:1). But what is true, godly wisdom? The author of Ecclesiastes makes clear that it's not about being book smart (Ecclesiastes 12:12) or "street...

God wants us to be wise (Ecclesiastes 8:1). But what is true, godly wisdom? The author of Ecclesiastes makes clear that it's not about being book smart (Ecclesiastes 12:12) or "street smart." Instead, true wisdom is knowing God and living your life according to His desires for you. "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13) Let me paraphrase that for effect: Fear God and keep His commandments.

Most of my life, I was an avowed agnostic, feeling too intellectually superior to fall into the trap of "organized religion" (but also hedging my bets, I guess, by not proclaiming myself to be a full-blown atheist). The most important thing to me was working hard and feeling the smug satisfaction that resulted from doing well in school and advancing my career. You probably know the story: more money, better vacations, nicer cars, and bigger houses. The American dream, right? More reliance on myself and credit to myself for having achieved worldly success. And no acknowledgement of or reliance on a God that I wasn't sure even existed.  

And then—sadly and predictably—my misaligned priorities and sinful behavior began to have consequences (Galatians 6:7). Infidelity, job loss, and, not surprisingly, marital turmoil. Whom or what could I turn to? Who could repair this broken life? You likely know the answer—our savior God, who had never forsaken me (Deuteronomy 31:8). From almost the first day my wife and I—broken and shattered—crossed the threshold of a tiny church in the hinterlands of northeast Pennsylvania, I have known who my Father is and what He desires for my life.

Today's Scripture makes clear: God makes days of prosperity and adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14) and everything for its purpose, even "days of trouble" (Proverbs 16:4). And the days of adversity and trouble are meant to draw us closer and closer to Him (Psalm 46:1). They sure did for me, and I know they can for you.

See Comments

Discussion Questions

1. In Ecclesiastes 11:8 Solomon points out that "the days of darkness will be many." But dark days have a purpose. Think about your own life for a minute. How have your own "days of darkness" drawn you closer to God?

2. God wants us to gain true wisdom (Ecclesiastes 8:1, 5), as only He defines wisdom. The benefits are apparent and plentiful. How can you, on a daily basis, best increase your reservoir of "godly wisdom"?

3. Scripture makes clear that there will be a day of judgment (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 12:14), and we will receive what is due to us (Romans 2:5-6). How does the certainty of a day of judgment motivate you to be wise and spend your time on this earth differently?

14 Comments available

Michael Scaman 10 days ago

“Always be dressed in white” might be another problem phrase. Put on your best? Always dressing in white is sometimes impractical and not a good choice

Practical advice. Don’t curse the king or a ruler because a little birdie might tell him. They will catch the drift one way or the other.

Michael Scaman 10 days ago
Reply right arrow

Sue. That Eccl 7:28 verse does jump out, yes. Thanks for bringing it up. I think we can consider this where the Bible can report on Solomon’s flawed personal view. He married a zillion women mostly not followers of YHWH. He lived in and was part of himself a broken fallen world and left a broken fallen kingdom(s).

In Christ there is neither male nor female, both are in the ‘priesthood of believers’ both are led by the Spirit and children of God, both have wisdom from God.

Don Grimes 10 days ago
Reply right arrow

Hi, Liese. I’m not acually from NEPA (born and raised in Kentucky), but was there for a job. We lived in Mountain Top (closer to Wilkes Barre, as I’m sure you know) and I worked in Exeter. But we ventured to Scranton occasionally! Thanks for reading the devo today!!

Sue Bohlin 10 days ago

(1/2) Way to bottom-line Ecclesiastes, Don! Thank you!

I came to a FULL STOP on 7:28–“Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman!”

Say whaaaaaaaaat???

So I did a deep dive on this verse and discovered that lots of people have addressed the apparent misogyny of Qoheleth (writer of Ecclesiastes). And the biggest problem is that most translations supply words that aren’t in the text, which definitely put an anti-female spin on this verse.

Finally found a satisfying explanation from OT Professor Dr. Claude Mariottini.

Qoheleth was searching for wisdom and to understand the reason for things (7:25). He was disappointed in his search for the ideal wise person because we are just too broken and messed up. When he mentions “one out of a thousand men,” . . .

Sue Bohlin 10 days ago

(2/2) he uses the Hebrew word “adam” which means “humankind,” not males.

Dr. Mariottini writes,

A close reading of 7:27-28 does not reveal what Qoheleth found or did not find. What Qoheleth discovered in his search was that the reason he could not find the ideal man nor the ideal woman was because human beings, both men and women, have perverted God’s ideal for humanity by devising their own schemes: “See, this alone I found, that God made human beings straightforward, but they have devised many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).

So . . . it’s not that Qoheleth/Solomon hated women. It’s that he couldn’t find a rock star among people.

(And if he is also the author of the poem about the Proverbs 31 woman, she’s a composite rather than a flesh-and-blood rock star anyway.)

So now I can breathe again.

Liese Semans 10 days ago

Great devo! I was starting to get a little depressed with Ecclesiastes. “It’s all meaningless!” It truly is compared to that relationship with God!

So where in NE PA are you from. I was born in Scranton, but lived in a small rural town called Greentown.

Linda Green 10 days ago

What a great Redemption Story, Don! Thank you for being willing to share it. God is good and He works through the darkest times- He redeems what is broken.

Solomon had everything anyone could want, yet was so unhappy. He needed a Redeemer, just like me.

Hugh Stephenson 10 days ago

3 of 3

Quotes from sermons awhile back (paraphrase) –

“What if you wake up one day and you’re in Heaven – and you realize this was all just a bad dream?”

“If you’re not a believer this is your Heaven and Hell comes later.”

“If you’re a believer this is your Hell and Heaven comes later.”

John Rockefeller – was noted to have said, (paraphrase) “I seek to learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others because I won’t make them all myself.

Father, may I know you so well that trust, surrender, and obedience is as natural as breathing.

Hugh Stephenson 10 days ago

2 of 3

In Proverbs there is much discussion of the wise and the fool. The notes talk about our call into a covenantal faithfulness that results in a life that is “quiet and ordered”. The notes on 10:7 indicate that in the Bible, wealth was often associated with “prudent Godly living”, (wealth was not riches as we understand it but a good farm that produces an ample harvest).

I love that.

A pastor friend describes the opposite of vanities, “Love God, Love people”.

In re:gen leader training we were taught to tell the participants, “God loves you”. Not God loves us… but God loves YOU.

Hugh Stephenson 10 days ago

1 of 3

GM Don. Love your Central Truth. So wonderfully and simply stated. Thank you for your transparent testimony. Similar path. Same result.

Speed round -

What is a “goad”? And why should I not kick against it? https://www.gotquestions.org/oxgoad-Bible.html

(Using the KJV form) https://www.gotquestions.org/kick-against-the-pricks.html

When I think about “vanities” I think about pursuits that will ultimately be fruitless and meaningless. Solomon cites many.

God gives me purpose, plan and passion. To not seek and pursue that seems like kicking against the goads. He says, “Go there and do this”.

If need be, he prods.

I kick.

A friend notes: “I seem to like making hard things harder.”

Another notes: “Corruptions are stronger than convictions.”

Greg Jones 11 days ago

1/1 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Is the preacher a) pessimistic or b) optimistic? All the commentaries say yes.

Ecclesiastes and it’s author is realist for me. I’m grateful the editors included it, it would have been easy to leave out I’m sure.

I’ve never experienced God walking through my house calling out my name while I hid behind a lamp stand in a fig leaf. I’ve experienced plenty that has made me question God. I’ve experienced or witnessed or know of plenty that makes me question the Bible.

“The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises”Ecclesiastes1:5. No it doesn’t, but the preacher doesn’t know that, he has no reason to question his understanding of the movement of the sun, so he doesn’t.

Greg Jones 11 days ago

2/2 By his questions I see preacher as dynamic/moving in his view of God. It could be that he moving away from a transactional view of God that blames victims of offending God when bad stuff happens. If it does change it won’t change his understanding of how the sun moves itself across the sky.

Later, God reveals through pastor Copernicus the sun as static compared to the dynamics of the earth. He dies to quick to get kicked out of church, but Galileo didn’t, and did get kicked out. I’m glad the editors of the Hebrew text didn’t kick out Ecclesiastes when forming their canon of scripture.

Galileo got kicked out, Ecclesiastes got put in. Vanity of vanities! a) exactly? b) no it’s not? I say yes.

Michael Scaman 11 days ago

As Solomon goes on he declared life meaningless at first… but now says some qualifiers. Meaningless in some sense and in some pursuits. Maybe meaning can be found.

→ wisdom exceeds folly, righteousness is better than unrighteousness as light exceeds darkness. The suggests things aren’t meaningless

→ man is limited in understanding all that God is doing " man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun." Our understanding of what’s meaningful is limited.

→ cast your bread on the waters. Diversify your efforts because you don’t know which will turn out and how The waters might mean international? Is it business or evangelism or generosity or all?

→ don’t wear yourself out on academic books that is words beyond what was given by the true Shepherd

Know for all things you pursue you will be meaningfully judged

Michael Scaman 11 days ago

Looks like a bit of this is meant for Israel not the world “Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him.” God made promises to David not rulers in general.

In Isaiah God extends “the covenant of David” to be a witness to the people and a leader not to rulers in general but rather to humble believers

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