THE VANITY OF WEALTH
Ecclesiastes 1:1-3 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanity; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?
These words of Solomon probably came at the close of his life. He had achieved more during his lifetime than anyone that lived before him or after him. He became the wealthiest person to ever live on earth. He was also the wisest, and had the greatest army ever assembled. His kingdom became the greatest of all world powers. He had all that one is capable of possessing while living here on earth. He denied himself nothing that he desired. Wealth, wisdom, power, renown, wives, and servants were all his. Solomon had it all. As he looked back on all he had, his conclusion is stated in this rhetorical question, What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? The answer is this: there is no profit in all these earthly possessions. All of his wealth he concluded was vanity. His labor was in vain; it was futile; it was worthless, unprofitable, and empty. The things that Solomon accumulated while on earthhad no real, lasting value or significance.
The labors of life may be fruitful for a time, but then its over and the fruit of one's labor is lost. One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever (Vs. 4). One generation dies and is replaced by a new generation. People are born and live; people then die. Only the earth abideth forever. The fruit of one generation's labor is lost as the new generation takes over. The cycle of human life is compared to the sun going down, and then coming up again to begin a new day (Vs. 5), and like the wind blowing in a never ending circuit (Vs. 6), or like the rivers flowing into the sea, yet the sea is not filled because they return again to re-supply the river with its water (Vs, 7). This cycle God set in motion from the beginning, and it will continue until the end of time.
The wisest man to ever live here on earth is now sharing his wisdom regarding earthly possessions. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit (Vs. 14). This discourse is continued in Chapter 2. Pleasure..., mirth..., laughter..., wine..., are all earthly things that were considered to be vanity and folly (Vss. 1-3). Solomon also mentions some of his great works. He built houses..., planted vineyards..., made gardens and orchards..., made pools of water (reservoirs distributed by aqueducts)..., had servants and maidens..., had all kinds of cattle..., accumulated silver and gold..., was surrounded by men singers and women singers..., and musical instruments (Vss. 4-8). All of these accomplishments are described in both secular, as well as biblical, history as without equal. Solomon said: whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept it not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my portion of all my labor (Vs. 10).Solomon concludes in verse 11: Then I looked on all the works that my hands wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
In Psalms 48, the writer has this to say about wealth and riches. It can not buy eternal life (Vss. 6-10). About the rich person it is said that when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him (Vs. 17). Proverbs 23: 5 tells us how fleeting wealth is to the rich person: for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.
If not earthly possessions, in what should we place our trust? Solomon, with his infinite wisdom, tells us in the concluding verses of Ecclesiastes: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Eccl. 12:13). This same thought is found in Paul's letter to Timothy: Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. In earthly treasures we find vanity. In heavenly treasures is eternal life. Like Solomon conclusion on life in his older years - be wise. Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven.