Have you ever been disheartened by the thought of the “daily grind?” You get up every day, work hard, eat some food, go to bed, and do it all again tomorrow. If you work hard enough someday you’ll get to retire, which is the same thing minus the hard work. Then at the end of your life, you’ll have eaten a lot of food, slept a lot of hours, and have done a lot of work that probably won’t last much beyond your years. Doesn’t seem very satisfying, does it? In the Old Testament, the Hebrew authors had a word (hebel) to describe this. It’s translated in King James English as “vanity” but in our modern vernacular, we would say “frustrating and worthless.”
Solomon repeats this word often in Ecclesiastes. In fact, of the 73 times this Hebrew word appears, 38 of those are found in this book! Think back to the beginning of the book. He summarizes this disparagement, “…Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecc. 1:2b) We might echo it as, “Frustration of frustrations! EVERYTHING is frustrating and worthless!” Don’t so many days feel that way!?
However, even though Solomon uses this word often, he is not hopelessly resigned to the idea that life is meaningless. Let’s examine some instructions he gives to breathe life back into a meaningless day.
5:1 Be careful and purposeful in worship. Don’t give a fool’s (worthless) offering. When we enter the Lord’s house on Sunday, do we come haphazardly, as if church were another meaningless part of our lives, or do we come – intentionally, carefully, purposefully – to the most meaningFUL part of our lives?
5:2-7 Don’t let your words slip meaninglessly out of your mouth. “Tis better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” The more you talk, the more you have opportunity to miscommunicate, or accidentally say something you didn’t intend to say. Make your words meaningful.
5:18 God does allow you to enjoy the rewards of working hard. While the “rat race” may seem meaningless day by day, the person who works enjoys a good night of sleep, while the person who sits around doesn’t have that same satisfaction, even if he has so much money he doesn’t need to work. How many times have you heard of someone retiring, only to go back to work because it’s frustrating to NOT work?
Perhaps chapter 6, verse 7 summarizes the day in, day out frustration best: “You work hard to put food on the table, but then you still get hungry again.” (my paraphrase). As a reader, you may get to the end of today’s reading and feel like it too is “hebel” as there is no resolution of his frustrated thoughts. Take a few moments to meditate on where the real meaning in life is. It’s not in the car you drive, getting a nice house, or having the latest toys. True meaning is only found in our daily, vibrant relationship with our Creator.