VHDL was originally developed at the behest of the US Department of Defense in order to document the behavior of the ASICs that supplier companies were including in equipment. That is to say, VHDL was developed as an alternative to huge, complex manuals which were subject to implementation-specific details.
The idea of being able to simulate this documentation was so obviously attractive that logic simulators were developed that could read the VHDL files. The next step was the development of logic synthesis tools that read the VHDL, and output a definition of the physical implementation of the circuit. Modern synthesis tools can extract RAM, counter, and arithmetic blocks out of the code, and implement them according to what the user specifies. Thus, the same VHDL code could be synthesized differently for lowest area, lowest power consumption, highest clock speed, or other requirements.