Summary: 13th in a series from Ecclesiastes. Life in the real world requires us to choose things which are better, even though they may not be perfect.
Although it has been around in some form for quite some time, it is only in this century that so called “reality TV” has become a staple of television programming both here in the United States and around the world. Because of the popularity of shows like “Survivor” and “American Idol” as well as the relatively low cost of producing these programs, we have seen a proliferation of this kind of programming in the last few years.
But frankly, I have to laugh at the term “reality TV” because at least for me none of these programs reflects the reality of my life. How many of us in our day-to-day lives try to survive the elements as well as the scheming of a bunch of other people in order to win a million dollars? Or how many of us can sing well enough to make it to the finals of American Idol and get a record deal? Who among us has a chance to be America’s Next Top Model? Or how many of us could take several weeks off of our jobs to travel around the world in “The Amazing Race”?
For most of us reality means getting up each day to go to work or school, trying to juggle our finances in order to pay all the bills, changing diapers, studying for finals, shopping for groceries and fixing meals, dealing with adversity and pain and struggles of every kind. And no one is going to pay us a million dollars to follow us around with a camera so others can watch us do those things.
I think that’s why I’m really enjoying our journey through Ecclesiastes so much. The author, Qoheleth, consistently deals head on with the messy realities of life. He doesn’t try to sugar coat things or close his eyes to the things that he observes that don’t make sense to him. And in the process, he is teaching us how to deal with life in the real world. Perhaps that is best seen in the passage that we’ll look at this morning.
1 A good name is better than precious ointment, And the day of death than the day of one’s birth; 2 Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise Than for a man to hear the song of fools. 6 For like the crackling of thorns under a pot, So is the laughter of the fool. This also is vanity. 7 Surely oppression destroys a wise man’s reason, And a bribe debases the heart. 8 The end of a thing is better than its beginning; The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9 Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, For anger rests in the bosom of fools. 10 Do not say, "Why were the former days better than these?" For you do not inquire wisely concerning this. 11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance, And profitable to those who see the sun. 12 For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, But the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-12 (NKJV)
This section is actually quite different from the rest of Ecclesiastes. It seems to be much more similar to what we might find in the Book of Proverbs. And, at first glance, it appears that these are just a bunch of unrelated, random thoughts. But, as we’ve discovered in other parts of Ecclesiastes where that also seemed to be the case, a closer examination reveals that there really is one underlying theme here.
That underlying theme is found in a single word that is seen explicitly eight times in this passage and which is also implied in several other places – the word “better”. By using that word, Qoheleth is acknowledging that life here on earth “under the sun” isn’t perfect. But in spite of that, there are some things in this life that are better than others. And if we want to live the kind of abundant, fulfilling lives that God wants us to have then we need to choose to incorporate those things into our lives.
At the beginning of this passage, Qoheleth sets the stage for what is to follow with these words:
A good name is better than precious ointment…
In Qoheleth’s day, precious ointment was not a bad thing. In fact, it was very valuable and had many uses. But Qoheleth makes that point that even though precious ointment is good, there is something that is better – a good name. As he has already pointed out earlier in the book, even a good name is fleeting, but it is still more lasting and valuable than something like precious ointment. That is the pattern that Qoheleth is going to repeat in the rest of this section. Even though there is nothing here on earth “under the sun” that is permanent and has lasting value, there are clearly some things that are better than others.