“Hebel hebel’iym, hebel hebel’iym; ha’kol hebel”. Five of the first “words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” are the same word, and through a brilliant mastery of the Hebrew language Solomon wants to let his readers know the canvas he will be painting on will be one of vapors and mists. No matter what other shades or colors Solomon chooses to paint with, it cannot be disconnected from these first five words and the conclusion that “everything is vanity”.
We spent two earlier installments of this series (#3 and #4) examining the word “hebel” and it’s meaning, context, and usage in Ecclesiastes and in other places of Scripture, so we will not re-treat that ground again here. Instead, I want to ask you to consider meditating on the scope and forcefulness of Solomon’s claim here. Everything is vapor; everything is brief. Your life is vapor. Your job is brief. Your family is vapor. Your friends are brief. Your home is vapor. Your possessions are brief. Your memories are vapor. Your health is brief. Your successes are vapor. Your trials are brief. Your city is vapor. Your country is brief. All is vapor.
Or is it? Recall in the previous entry that how we read the book of Ecclesiastes matters. If taken as a proposition, even God must be a vapor in order for Solomon to be true, but if taken as a poetic expression, Solomon is saying something quite different. The next verse sets the parameter for Solomon’s expression: everything “under the sun” is vapor. Everything above the sun, in the heavens where the Lord dwells, is not vapor; on the contrary, the Lord who made the sun and everything underneath it, and sustains all of creation by the word of his power, is eternal and everlasting. Recall the title given the speaker here; who is the Preacher speaking on behalf of? Whose message is he communicating, and what is that person like? Simply put – the God who made the sun and everything underneath it is far better than everything under the sun that eventually fades away. When we look at our world, and the good and bad within it, we must recognize that everything is vapor.