Summary: Solomon compares wordly wisdom with heavenly wisdom.
SERIES: BE SATISFIED
We’re a people who like to compare one thing to another. We like to compare our favorite sports teams to other people’s favorite sports teams. We enjoy comparison shopping. We like to compare ourselves to other people. We say we want to compare “apples to apples” and “oranges to oranges”.
In our scripture passage this morning, Solomon utilizes a very useful literary style called “comparative couplets.” It’s the same style he uses multiple times in the book of Proverbs. You recognize this style because of the words “better than”.
Eccl. 7:1-9 – A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless. Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart. The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools
A GOOD NAME IS BETTER THAN GOOD PERFUME
Some translations use the term “ointment” as opposed to perfume. Solomon is saying that having a good reputation – being well-known for character and integrity – is better than wearing the most expensive perfumes, colognes, and ointments. Prov. 22:1 – A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
There is an ancient adage that says: “Every man has three names. The one his father and mother gave him, the one others call him, and the one he gains for himself. Prov. 10:7 – The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.
Here are two good biblical examples. Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with expensive ointment and its wonderful fragrance filled the house. Because of what she had done, Jesus promised her that her name would be honored throughout the world. Judas Iscariot was given a good name – it’s a derivative of Judah which means praise. It was the name of the royal tribe in Israel. But Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and turned his honorable name into a name of shame.
THE DAY OF ONE’S DEATH IS BETTER THAN THE DAY OF ONE’S BIRTH
That statement throws us a curve, doesn’t it? In our society we celebrate birthdays but mourn and grieve death days.
Solomon is not contrasting birth and death. He isn’t suggesting it’s better to die than to be born. Think about it – you can’t die unless have been born. Solomon is contrasting two significant days in our human experience – the day we receive our name and the day that our name appears in the obituaries. How we live between those two events determines whether our name leaves behind a lovely fragrance or a foul stench.
When you’re a Christian, death is not the worst thing that can happen. Sometimes, it is a welcome release from suffering or escape from a disease-ridden body. Death for a Christian is a victory, a triumph. Rev. 14:13 – Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Consider the words of the apostle Paul in Phil 1:23-24 – For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Do you remember the old comic strip Li’l Abner? (Yeah, I know. I’m giving away my age.) Li’l Abner used to say, “If I had my druthers…” Both Paul and Solomon are saying, “If I had my druthers, I’d druther be out of this life and into eternity. I’d druther be beyond this veil of tears and at home in glory, enjoying the presence of the Lord.”