By the means of a series of contrasts the Preacher makes clear in Ecclesiastes 7:1f that there is a better and worse way and that God’s people should choose the better way. At the same time the Preacher says some things here that seem counter-intuitive. We will examine those as we proceed.
A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
22:1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
Of course our first concern is that our name should be good before God. His assessment is the only assessment that counts. Immediately we are mindful that the only way we can have a good name before God is by having our name hid in Christ. Our names will never have any value or be considered “good” in any sense if our names are not breathed out as a echo of His name for us, and in our place.
So our first concern is to have a good name before God and that can only be the case as we are anchored and resting in Christ. However, taking that as a given it is still important to have a good name among men.
And yet we must hear that counsel for a good name in light of what our Lord Christ said,
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”
From this we could say that to have all men speak well of us would be to have a bad name before God.
Our seeking to keep a good name must be vertically oriented and anchored in God’s revealed Word. Which is to say that we can not adjudicate what a “good name” is by those who are outside the covenant and by those who hate Christ.
There are those who so concentrate on the cash and carry value of their name that they will compromise truth at every turn in order to advance their name and be seen as a fine fellow. They will seldom risk their reputation for Christ with the precise purpose of making sure that they keep their “good” name.
The word “good” here therefore must have a transcendent standard. A “good” name must be counted “good” as God counts “good.”
As Christians we desire then to have a “good” name
1.) First before God
2.) Second before His Saints
3.) Third before those outside the covenant community
The first two should be our priority and the third one as we can, knowing that if they hated Christ that they will hate us as well.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
So, while a good name is to be valued it must not be wrongly valued.
On this score we would also note that because of the importance of a good name it is proper, when possible, to challenge those who rake our reputation and good name. Many times, I have found it is not possible to do so, but when it is possible we ought to undertake to defend our name, not out of Pride, so much as out of defense of God’s truth. Just so, it ought to be doubly incumbent upon us to protect the names of the saints, dead or living, from false calumny and needless denigration. When we protect the names of God’s people from being dragged through the mud we are at that point defending God’s Church. Such a defense ought to inspire us. To often we don’t want to “get involved,” but if the matter is clear and the good name of a saint is on the line we must involve ourself for the sake of God’s honor and the honor of our brother or sister.
Pray for a good name, and live in such a way that your name will be good as God counts good, despite what men may or may not say of you.
The Teacher then says that the day of death is better than the day of birth and with that he begins a treatment on issues surrounding death. At first blush this sounds like one of those counter-intuitive statements.
Why might it be the case that the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth? (cmp. vs. 8)
Well, if we were to read this passage through the lens of Redemption we would say that such a thing is true because in our day of death, unlike our day of birth, we hear the “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” In the day of death we know that to be absent from the Body is to be present with the Lord. In the day of death we know that to die is gain in the words of St. Paul. We know that the end aimed at from the day of our birth has been answered, while at the day of our birth the end is uncertain. So, I think in that sense the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth.
Vs. 2 we find the second contrast of “Better this … than that.”
I believe what is said from this point on through the next few verses is especially pointed at the fool. Between vs. 4-9 the “fool” is mentioned 4 times. In Scripture “the Fool” is the one who lives life apart from an apprehension of the reality of God.
If we read vs. 2 in light of vs. 4 we might conclude that if is the fool that is being spoken of. It is better for a fool to go into the house of Mourning than go to the house of feasting.
The thrust here is fairly obvious. When men are frivolous and full of drink and partying their end is seldom before them. Ashes to ashes …. dust to dust.
However when men are in the house of mourning they sober up and hopefully begin to consider their own end.
There is nothing like a funeral to possibly catch people’s attention. Scripture elsewhere says God’s people take the end to heart.
Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
There seems to be a correlation then in God’s Word between an understanding of our own mortality and end and the gaining of wisdom. The fool … the party girl … the carefree who spend all their time in the house of feasting never become a wise people.
In vs. 3 the contrasts continues. Sorrow is said to be better than laughter and by a sad countenance the heart is made better.
That the Teacher isn’t intending that the house of mourning should be our constant residence and occupation can be seen by what he says elsewhere in this book,
2:24f, 5:18f, 11:9-10
Because of this other counsel in this same book, I believe that the Preacher is especially talking to the fool. The fool, has especial need to occupy the house of the dead and consider his end. The fool, who knows only the escape of merriment has need to learn that sorrow is better than laughter.
We must say here that the West, including our country, and too often the Church, lives in the house of the feasting fools. We have taken the fools approach by thinking we can live in defiance of God’s reality and keep up our fiat life of mirth and merriment without taking God into account. The Church in the West needs to hear these words ringing from pulpits all across our land because we have become the fools to which the Teacher spoke to in Ecclesiastes. We have not learned the Wisdom of knowing our end. We have refused the sad countenance that could have, by God’s grace, made us wise.
In vs. 5-6 we hear another wisdom contrast, still in the context of fools and wise men.
The setting for the fool here is still the house of mindless mirth and merriment given the fact that we hear mentioned the “song of fools” and the “laughter of the fool.”
The rebuke of the wise is brought forth as being superior to the song of fools. It is far easier to be comforted by silly songs then to be corrected by the wise. Far easier to absorb the pleasures of Top 40 radio (the very definition of the song of fools) than to listen to a lecture or read a book from the wise that forces us to look at ourselves in a mirror that doesn’t reflect well upon us.
Here it is brought to mind the idea of short term vs. long term benefit. In the short term it is more comforting for us to play the fool and avoid the rebuke of the wise. But in the long term it is the rebuke of the wise that makes for our own wisdom and in the long term the song and laughter of the fool is to our harm.
vs. 7 I read as a reflection by the Teacher of living in an age that is characterized by the fool.
Such an age of oppression destroys a wise man’s reason. The threat of destruction is found in the Wise man’s ability to see the folly of his age and to be able to do little about it except lament. The threat of destruction of a wise man’s reason is present because of the temptation of the wise man to embrace cynicism about everything and so be of no aid to those few who desire to escape the age of oppression and be wise themselves.
The Teacher offers that oppression and bribe are common experiences that threaten to destabilize an otherwise good spiritual condition (cmp. 4:1-3)
There is another matter besides oppression that can bite the wise and that is the bribe.
Prov. 17:23 The wicked accepts a bribe in secret
to pervert the ways of justice.
Here the danger is that the wise will give up God’s law word that requires even justice in order to be blind to justice to give favor to the one who is offering the bribe. We are to entrust ourselves to God and to do justice and to not be swayed by the bribe from the wicked. Certainly, it is easier, when living in an age of fools, to take the bribe thinking, “what does it matter anyway? I am surrounded by injustice and fools. What matters it if I profit as well when it won’t matter anyway if I decide what if right by God’s standard.” This is why a bribe can destroy a man’s heart.
We might say here, if we want to connect some earlier matters to this, that the bribe here might be other than money. The bribe could be a good reputation. People could come to the righteous and say … “If you speak this way … or vote this way … your reputation will be ruined.”
In such a case then, he bribe is the promise of a polished reputation for turning a blind eye to wickedness or to becoming mute in the face of injustice.
Whether it is oppression, or whether it is the matter of the bribe we are called to entrust ourselves to God and turn from these wicked temptations.
In vs. 8 we come to another “better” contrast
7:8a I think corresponds to 7:1b. The end is better than the beginning, like the day of death better than the day of birth because at the end one knows if one arrived at what one aimed at.
In 8b – 9 the teacher turns to the dangers of being quick to anger and again juxtaposes the wise man with the fool.
The advice he gives is consistent with what we find elsewhere in Scripture,
James 1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
And again in
Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,”
If we connect these warnings against anger with what has gone before we might observe that anger can arise in the wise when living in the age of folly, and if unquenched the anger can lead to the fools folly.
We are called by the teacher to be patient in spirit. This patience is consistent with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians which teaches that Christians are characterized by patience. By contrasting the patient spirit with the proud spirit what seems to be implied is that the patient spirit is a humble spirit.
Vs. 10 moves the wise towards a particular mindset regarding the times God has give us.
What has been described in Ecclesiastes is an especial age of folly. The temptation is to hearken for “the good old days.” The Teacher says that such an approach is not a wise inquiry.
God’s people are to be future oriented. Even in days of decline. We are to look forward to God’s future that He has for us and not to stuck in some imagined or real past.
Now, this pointed and practical wisdom having been given we would note again that it is impossible for anyone outside of Christ to take up this Wisdom. If it is our goal to be a Wise people we must look to Christ whom Scripture teaches is our “Wisdom from God.”
Also, we must realize that the learning and conforming of this kind of Wisdom is at the same time a matter of being conformed to Christ. Only as we walk in sanctification can we hope to increase in wisdom and knowledge. Scripture teaches that in Christ alone is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. So, if we would be wise and heed the Teacher we must look to Christ alone and then be conformed to Christ who was the incarnation of God’s Law and Grace.