What is the meaning of vanity in the book of Ecclesiastes?
The word “vanity” is used 34 times in the book of Ephesians. It speaks of emptiness or uselessness. The writer of Ecclesiastes, most likely King Solomon, tried out everything that the world has to offer. But after he experienced each thing, he concluded that it was “vanity.”
The message of Ecclesiastes is a “downer” unless you realize that at the end, the author decides that the only thing that’s worth doing is fearing the Lord and living for him. So the idea of vanity is that the things he experiences lead to nothing.
They don’t gain anything. They are empty of lasting enjoyment or purpose. In the New Testament, writers like Paul talk about everything else being rubbish except for the goal of following Christ (Philippians 3:8). The same idea from the writer of Ecclesiastes is in Paul’s comments about his own pursuits before Christ.
The Bible describes life before knowing God, and especially knowing Christ, as empty and worthless, void of purpose. It’s essentially not worth living. Nothing we do apart from Christ yields any eternal results. It may be enjoyable for a time, but it doesn’t lead to anything. Only knowing and serving Christ yields anything of benefit to us.