Life Is Vanity, So What Can You Do?

by Joshua Travers - June 29, 2022

What kind of message did King Solomon leave us with? What should we do to make the most of the life God has given us?

There’s nothing quite like graduating from high school. It marks the end of four years of intense schooling, fun and work. It’s the close of one chapter and the opening of the next, whether that chapter be college, trade school, work or something else.

As you sit there waiting to receive your hard-earned high school diploma, proudly wearing your cap and gown, you realize you have to wait for someone to give a graduation speech.


You already know what the speaker will say: “Congratulations,” “You’re starting the next exciting step in your lives,” and “You can do anything you set your hearts and minds to.”


Nothing new here.

A different type of graduation speech

What if you heard a different type of graduation speech? What if you had a famous speaker with a wealth of experience and all the wisdom in the world speaking to you?

What if your graduation speaker were King Solomon?

Yes, the King Solomon of 1 Kings 1-11. The King Solomon, who built God’s magnificent temple, who had so much silver in his kingdom it was almost worthless, and who received such an abundance of gold on a daily basis that he began covering his wall decorations with the shiny metal. The King Solomon who God promised would have more wisdom than anyone else before or after him.

If he were your graduation speaker, you would hear a very different graduation speech. A speech that you really need to hear and one you couldn’t afford to sleep through!

Nothing new under the sun

Imagine that Solomon were your commencement speaker.

He begins by saying, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

You sit there, wondering where he’s going. You think to yourself that these speeches are supposed to be uplifting, but he’s not starting on a positive note.

He continues, “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after” (verses 9-11).

Your mouth gapes in astonishment. Instead of saying that you can make a difference, he’s saying the exact opposite. You’re an integrated part of the cycle of life—you’ll die, and you and your work will be forgotten by everyone.

This is shaping up to be the worst graduation speech ever.

Vanity of pleasure

Just when you’re thinking that you might as well have fun if it’s all vanity, Solomon continues by describing his quest to experience every pleasure in life. He talks about how he tried alcohol, learning, immersing himself in his work, gardening, being served by a multitude of people and owning every cool thing imaginable at his time, including the best entertainment available.

He says that he tried everything that could give happiness and pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-9).

After sharing his experiences with you, the king delivers his final verdict: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (verse 11).

All of that pleasure, work and money hadn’t made Solomon happy. He was still left feeling empty. He had done it all, and he still declared it to be vanity.

Whoever dies with the most toys . . . still dies.

Continuing, Solomon talks about everything that he had accumulated in his lifetime and says that it distressed him more than anything. He looked at his eventual death and realized that all of his possessions would go to someone else.

He would hardly have a say in who would inherit the things he prized, let alone what they would do with them. All his gold, gardens, entertainment and magnificent palaces would go to others to do with as they pleased.

Looking out at the crowd, Solomon exclaims that all of it was vanity (verses 12-26). All that his selfish toil accomplished was vanity and hopelessness (Ecclesiastes 4:4-8).

What a depressing speech! You look around and see that your classmates and fellow graduates are as appalled as you are.

But Solomon’s not done yet. He goes on to tell a story of a poor, wise youth who went from being a prisoner to becoming king over all the land (verses 13-15). Finally, a silver lining in this melancholy speech! You sit up straighter, thinking that Solomon is finally getting to the positive part of his speech.

The king continues, “There was no end of all the people over whom he was made king; yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him. Surely this is also vanity and grasping for the wind” (verse 16).

Your hopes are dashed. According to Solomon, everything’s pointless.

What type of graduation speech tells you that there’s no point to life?

A message to the youth

The king continues, seemingly uncaring of your despair: “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh, for childhood and youth are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10).

Solomon goes on to describe the life that awaits you once your youth flees from you: the loss of bodily control and body parts, such as your teeth; the weakening of your strong, youthful body; and even the coming loss of passion. He finishes by saying, “Vanity of vanities . . . all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8).

In conclusion

Finally, Solomon delivers the words that you’ve been waiting for since he first started telling you that life is nothing but vanity—his conclusion.  

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

As Solomon walks off stage, you contemplate his final words. The king has decades of experience, all of which tell him that life is vanity.

Life still has to happen. Work, fun and marriage are all still parts that are expected. Even Solomon said, “Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).

Yet that isn’t what makes life worth living—what will give a person fulfillment.

If you want a fulfilled life that isn’t vanity, then you need to live by the king’s final words: “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

What’s next for you?

As you move on from your graduation or whatever stage of life you’re at, dedicate yourself to fearing God and keeping His commandments.

Fearing God is having a deep reverence for Him and His law. This respect includes an attitude of praise and worship as well as a consciousness of how incredibly powerful He is. Everything that we do should be influenced by the fear of God. For more on what this fear of God looks like, read “What Does the Fear of the Lord Mean?

Keeping God’s commandments is a straightforward matter. There are 10 simple laws that dictate our relationship with God and others. Christ took the commandments that Solomon refers to and expanded them, showing the true spiritual intent behind these laws in His famous Sermon on the Mount. Obedience to these commandments in the fear of the Lord should guide our lives.

This is the starting place for a truly fulfilling and meaningful life. God’s plan for you takes you from vanity and meaninglessness to vibrant purpose, eternal meaning, fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11)! Study this purpose in our booklet God’s Purpose for You: Discovering Why You Were Born.

For more insight into the “graduation speech” of King Solomon, read our article on his book of Ecclesiastes.

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