The Enigma Sermons (Ecclesiastes)

The Enigma Sermons

I’m going to be sharing some talks (video and written)/studies on Ecclesiastes as this has been our Sunday Night series. However I am aware that some of you will appreciate some catch up and background. So I’m going to post a few articles today with background, themes and some past studies.

Warning – this specific post will be longer than most of our articles but I’ve included page breaks so you don’t have to read in one sitting


One word can stand out as iconic making a whole passage or book memorable. It can shape how we think about that passage or book, how we read it, how we understand it.

One such word is “vanity” and the book is Ecclesiastes.

The King James Version of verse 2 reads

“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

Now we have a double problem here because first of all, the word “vanity” has a specific narrow connotation today. We think of vainness in terms of conceit and narcissism, that’s not what the translators had in mind, rather as more modern translations put it, they were thinking in terms of emptiness and meaninglessness. Is that what the original author had in mind?

The Hebrew word translated “vanity” or “meaningless” is hebel.  Literally it refers to breath or vapour.[1] Throughout the book it seems to have a number of nuances and those tend to be negative.[2] However, there is a difference between the negativity that we associate with vanity, emptiness or meaninglessness and the negativity we associate with “vapour.”

I want to suggest that the preacher (Qoholeth)’s concern is not so much that life is meaningless in a postmodern or cynical sense. Rather, vapour is something that is simply impossible to pin down Chasing the wind is a futile exercise.

Bartholomew suggests the translation “Enigma” or “Enigmatic” and I like it – hence the title of this series.[3] Life is an enigma, a puzzle.  How are we meant to make sense of it? How are we meant to live hopefully and faithfully when it is seemingly impossible to pin anything down? Or, how are we meant to live with faith and hope in an uncertain, messy and chaotic world? 

Well, because Ecclesiastes is included in Scripture as special revelation, we can expect to find some answers.

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