Lord willing, the plan for the next 7 sermons is to look at and study the 7 primary times that Jesus refers to himself as “I AM”. And to accompany those 7 sermons, us pastors would like to lead us in exhortations from the book of Ecclesiastes. Lord willing, we will cover 7 major ideas or topics from Ecclesiastes.
Introduction to Ecclesiastes
Let's introduce this book. Ecclesiastes is in the middle of the Old Testament and it can be grouped with Proverbs and Job (and maybe Song of Solomon as well) where these books address the question “What does it mean to live well in this world?” These books are often labeled as “wisdom literature”. These books help us gain wisdom into answering big questions like “what is the meaning of life”.
Ecclesiastes is probably my favorite book in the Bible because the main character in the book is like that of a middle-aged critic who comes to the realization that there is nothing new under the sun. I will most often refer to the Preacher or the Teacher in this book as the critic, but it is all the same person. The critic (or as it is says in verse 1, the Preacher) points out all the areas in life where we typically latch onto to find meaning, purpose, and ultimate joy. The critic challenges us to see how in the end these things will let us down. The critic dismantles the notion that we can find the meaning of life apart from God. I like this book because the critic calls it how it is and if we are honest with ourselves we will agree with the challenges that the critic raises.
The critic is the main character in the book who is like a philosophy teacher leading us his students through various lessons. But the critic is not the only character in the book. The author who wrote Ecclesiastes introduces us to the critic in verse 1, and then the author summarizes the conclusion of the book at the end.
What Is Hevel?
Today, I want to focus on a phrase that the critic uses 38 times. This phrase is the main theme of the book. The critic mentions it right away in verse 2. It says “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” You may have heard this verse translated as “Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!"
In Hebrew the word we read as “vanity” or “meaningless" is hevel. The translation to “vanity” or “meaningless” can actually be misleading because the critic is not saying that life is meaningless, but rather what hevel means is that our life is a vapor, like smoke. It is a metaphor to help explain that this life if temporary and fleeting.
We just finished the sermon series on James and in that letter he states that our life is a mist or a vapor. James 4:14 says of our lives that we “are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” It is here one minute and gone the next. That’s what hevel means here in Ecclesiastes but it takes it further. In fact, the whole book focuses on this concept. It is not just that our lives are a vapor in general but actually the things in life are all hevel too. The things in our lives are temporary and fleeting.
For example, you work really hard and spend your prime years focusing on your career and by the time you get to where you want to in your career, it is time to hand it over to the next generation.
Or the things you pursue like having children is not a given. We may be enjoying life and then tragedy strikes. The things of our lives are temporary and fleeting, as soon as we try to grab onto something good, it slips through our fingers and is gone. As the critic says, it is a chasing after the wind.
So, the critic introduces this challenge about life, that the things we try to enjoy are here one minute and gone the next. What do we do with this?
Well, the answer is Jesus. He is not fleeting. The things of this world are fleeting. When we put our trust in Jesus we then can accept the hevel of our life. We can enjoy the little things in life like a good dinner, or a sunny day, because we accept that these gifts are not always a given. We cannot control the aspects of our life and there is no guarantee that we will receive good things. Life is too random. When we humbly trust Jesus, and come to daily life with open hands knowing that the things in our lives are fleeting and temporary we will be blessed with the ability to enjoy them, and that is a gift from God.
I want to exhort us this morning to enjoy the little things in life by not expecting them. When we try to demand that life should go a certain way, we are latching onto a vapor. We need to latch onto Christ, who is stable and not fleeting. Everything else in life is hevel, utterly hevel. It is a chasing after the wind.
Prayer of Confession
Father, you are the giver of good gifts. In you there is no evil. You are good.
Father, we confess that we often chase after temporary and fleeting things. Whether it be a pleasure or chasing after an anxious thought, we often run away from you to the things that distract us and capture our thoughts and heart.
Father, this is a great evil, and we know that if we in the church regard sin in our midst, our prayers will be ineffectual, so we confess our individual sins to you now. . . .
Father, we thank you that you have given us the gift of your son Jesus who is solid, and stable, and consistent to forgive us of our sins when we confess them to you. Jesus, thank you for sacrificially dying on our behalf so that we can have life. We feel like these temporary and fleeting things consume us, and they often do, but you are our great advocate. By your Spirit now, be pleased to help us latch onto your grace and your mercy and your story, and let us enjoy the good gifts in our lives through faith in you. In Jesus’ name amen.