Other translations of Ecclesiastes 1:2
*Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. (KJV & ASV)
*"Everything is meaningless," says the Teacher, "completely meaningless!" (NLT)
*Hevel, havalim, saith Kohelet, hevel havalim; all is hevel. (OJB)
*"It is of no use," says the Preacher. "It is of no use! All is for nothing." (NLV)
*"Futility of futilities," says the Preacher, futility of futilities! All is futility (NASB)
*"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher. "Vanity of vanities! All (that is done without God's guidance) is vanity (futile, meaningless--a wisp of smoke, a vapor that vanishes, merely chasing the wind)." (AMP)
Similar to being mesmerized by a campfire, I love watching steam rise & swirl from a hot beverage. The random fluidity of vapor can be simultaneously mysterious, calmly frantic & delicately serene. A beautiful dance of nature--unrepeating, fleeting & wonderfully artistic. When I read the different translations of Ecclesiastes 1:2, I think of these enjoyable encounters I've had with "hevel" (steam). In saying "All is vanity" the Teacher/Preacher, at least in part, is describing the not so uncommon feeling of being 'stuck in a hamster wheel' ... but there is a bit more to it than that.
The Amplified Bible translation (AMP), with its explanation in brackets, makes sense of this verse in light of the whole twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes. The Preacher says "And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor ... and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun." (2:10-11) It makes sense to listen to this wisdom learned because even after literally having everything one's heart could possibly desire and more, the Preacher proclaims the pointlessness of all of it "under the sun" but what about "in the Son" (as in, in God's way): "For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?" (2:25)
A common question, is the Preacher depressed or just pessimistic? He shares that even wisdom is futile, "...in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain." (1:18) It is God's help through grief & pain that brings the Preacher the Truth of God. Although this does not relieve his own suffering, the Truth continues to come through, from him, to help others, as God allows. Seeing 'the glass as half empty OR half full' is not nearly as important as honoring the One who provides the glass & drinking the living water within it that eternally quenches our thirst.
So first and foremost, meaning & enjoyment (yes, it's fun!) come through a Godly life: "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgement, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." (12:13-14)
"A generation goes and a generation comes ..." (1:4); the fleeting nature of life, like steam, reminds us to put our faith not in people or things but in the Lord, for "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (KJV) & "The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing" (NIV). We are to want, not what we want, but what God wants. When we take this Godly perspective, we live in appreciation of all the beautiful things God provides, such as enjoying the breeze (rather than chasing the wind, lol) & we ask Lord, "Please remove or fulfill my unmet needs & desires in ways that are glorifying to You, amen!" This is not repression, rather it frees & makes us lighter.
I pray God that we do not get caught up in self importance & the pursuit of happiness. I pray for all who are ensnared in the traps of this world; the never ending striving for success on our own terms. Help us put You first & not just give you the time we have leftover after everything else gets done or to turn to You only when we're in dire straits. The Preacher cautions us to: "Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed;" (12:6) Just as a ship needs an anchor onboard before leaving the dock, we are to know & honor "God, the Eternal" before befalling into the pit of despair and before crawling desperately dehydrated upon a well to find only a shattered pitcher there. For a moment of separation from God is (like) an eternity in hell that only ONE lived through & triumphs over. Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God Almighty, In Jesus name, amen!