A good name is better than fine perfume,(Eccl. 7:1-6 NIV)
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 everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
Frustration 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 the rebuke of a wise person
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.
It is better to be realistic about life and reflect on its hard experiences than it is to try and escape them. In verse one the Preacher says that a good reputation is better than cosmetics or ointment (perfume). The cosmetics are only skin deep and perfume evaporates like ‘heble’. The good reputation is to be valued more then expensive perfume. One should not sacrifice their reputation in pursuit of wealth. But if the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth what does life and reputation amount to?
The Preacher wants to force us from easy escapism. It is so easy to want to hide from reality and numb the pain to avoid the problems. However, the Preacher’s preferred option is to learn wisdom and live wisely in God’s world. The greatest thing that any of us can know is that we cannot know everything. When a bad thing happens, we rush to find out why God allowed it and what He is teaching us through this. It might never dawn on some people that the answers to these questions might be none of their business. God might do something in our life that is nothing to do with us, other than it is happening to us, because it might be for the benefit of someone else, and we might never know. Part of living wisely is learning to live with the limitations of wisdom itself.
If we think we have everything under control, it only takes one brief phone call delivering bad news to show us that we are not in control.
Our life is limited by death. Your life will not go on forever. But death is not just there as an end point to our life. The Preacher is attempting to use death to get a message across to us.
The idea of our death can serve as a teacher about life. I have visited many different types of hospital wards and nursing homes. I have been to the maternity ward on three very happy occasions for our own family and I have shared the joy with other families. I have been in intensive care wards and prayed with unconscious patients. I have visited in a ward caring for stroke patients and watched the patients cry as they could no longer put into words what they wanted to say to me. The saddest ward was the children’s neuro ward in Southampton Hospital. It leaves it hard to imagine what the Preacher means when he says the day of death is better than the day of birth. But the Preacher is a teacher and he is trying to teach us something. We can learn more from the day of our death than from the day of our birth. ‘The day of death is better than the day of birth – not because death is better than life; it’s not – but because a coffin is a better preacher than a cot.’ The question that is asked as I look forward to death is, ‘what kind of person should I be? For one day I will die.
Lord, I know I am not in control, but why do I live and think as if I have control? As I will have no control over the time and nature of my death help me to learn that I have very limited control over life. I always want to know what You are doing, but I know that I could never fully understand, even if it was revealed to me. Lord help me to trust You through all the uncertainties of life. They are only uncertain to me, but not to You. Help me I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.