Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. QOHELETH (ECCLESIASTES) 1:2 אתCEPHER. The Hebrew word for “vanity” used in this verse literally means “vapor” or “breath.” It can also be translated “meaningless,” “emptiness,” or “futility.” This preacher is Solomon, and he is telling us that, after exploring all the world has to offer, he has found it amounts to nothing. It is pointless to chase worldly goals because they disappear with our last breath. That foundation helps us understand the other ways the word vanity is used in the Bible.
Romans 8:20 says that all creation was subjected to vanity because of YAHUAH’S curse. When Adam sinned, YAHUAH cursed all that He had made (Genesis 3:17–19). In other words, perfection was lost. All of creation is now falling short of its original purpose; rather than working in harmony with YAHUAH and creation, inhabitants of the earth have turned on each other and against YAHUAH . We still reel from the effects of that curse. Everything meant to be right side up is upside down. The chaos and insanity of the world as we know it are due to the fact that YAHUAH has subjected creation to vanity until the time when it will be set free (Romans 8:21).
When vanity enters our personal lives, it brings with it pride, jealousy, envy, strife, haughtiness, and many other negative things. Vanity devalues what’s important and puffs up what is trivial. Vanity peppers the mind with nervous questions: “How do I look?” “What will people think of me?” “Why wasn’t I honored instead of him?” Proverbs 16:18 warns that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” but vanity rarely listens to warnings.
A person consumed with vanity is self-absorbed and preoccupied with his or her own opinions, issues, and desires. At the root of all vanity is self, which demands to be protected at all costs. Self cannot co-rule our lives along with the Holy Spirit. YAHUAH will not share His throne. That’s why YAHUSHA calls us to die to self in order to follow Him (Luke 9:23). Vanity is an enemy of the Spirit and must be constantly brought to the cross and crucified (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6