Sunday, September 13, 2020

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 "Funerals are better than Birthdays!"

Some General Observations from Chapter  7

At face value Ch. 7 looks like a disconnected set of Proverbs. But upon closer inspectionr we  see that there  is  a coherent theme. Words are repeatedly used  -  wisdom and foolishness. The way of the wise and the foolish is contrasted. Wisdom is better than foolishness.There are  some  unusual perspectives contained here, and since this chapter contains so many gems, I want to slow down  and use  this chapter to provide us with some ‘home truths’.  

OUTLINE 

  • 7:1-10 wisdom and foolishness with particular application to the  matter  of facing  of our life and  death.
  • 7:14 The   wisdom of maintaining our joy in adversity and prosperity.
  • 7:15-18 That enigmatic text  in v. 16
  • 7:19-29  Living between wisdom and foolishness

 Ecclesiastes 7:1-10

There is  a  theme  running through  the first 10 verses. Here  we find a series of contrasts  in which the phrase  ‘better than ’ is  frequently  used.

(i)                 A good name is better than  precious ointment (v.1a)

(ii)               The day of death is better than  the day of birth (v.1b)

(iii)             The house of mourning is s better than a house of feasting  (v.2)

(iv)              Sorrow is better than  laughter  (v.3)

(v)                A wise man’s rebuke is better than a fool’s song (v.5)

(vi)              The end of a thing is better  than its beginning (v. 8a)

(vii)            Patience is better than pride (v.8b)

(viii)          Former days are not necessarily better than these days  (v.10a)

Solomon confronts us here with some   unusual logic. We will focus on the first four verses.

“For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow?  This statement proceeds from what   Solomon had said earlier  in  6:12. 

What is good? Is there any good? Yes there is, and now   Solomon will tell us what is good[1] or what is better (more good). Now remember, that his  great concern is to  show us that  wisdom  is better than foolishness. Be  prepared to have your conventional logic challenged!  I have already drawn your attention to the series  of contrasts  found in the first  10 verses  in terms of what is better. And now, in  verses  1-4 there are two things   mentioned which are good,  or better,  and which require wisdom  and mature reflection.

1.       A good name is better than precious ointment

2.      the day of death (is better) than the day of birth

 1.      A Good Name is better than  Eau de Cologne

Fine perfume was a real status symbol in the ancient east, and very expensive2]. This is also true today. Many spend a fortune on designer perfumes (or designer clothes), but do not necessarily give the same amount of attention  to the developing of a  good name, or  good character.  It is generally considered more important to ‘look good’ than to be ‘be good’.  But what is it that will be remembered and appreciated when we are dead and gone?  The fact  that we regularly used  an expensive perfume? Or is our good name  more significant after all?

At the beginning of our lives we receive a name, but at the end of our lives we are left with the legacy of  a good or a bad name.  In fact, one’s name has the potential of being more valuable at death  than at birth. The good in this case comes therefore at death. How will people remember you?

2.      A Death day is better than a Birthday

With that in mind, take note of what follows  in  7:1b- 4 : “…the  day of death (is better than )  the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning  than to go to the house of  feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”

“…the day of death (is better) than the day of birth…”. How is this for perspective? When we are born into this world under the sun, filled with so much vanity, and often with so much suffering, we are reminded  that  we enter  into a temporal state of existence.  After we have lived for a little while, perhaps 70 or even 80 years, then comes death.[3]  How is that better?  This  must be understood with the entire testimony of Scripture in mind. Living life in a fallen world is  very challenging  for  most people. There are very few people in this world who are living their dream , and even if they do,  there is always something guaranteed to upset them.   But for  the believer  in Christ , death is not the end. For  them death is the beginning of a better life.  It  is the beginning of  Life and of  real glory  for all eternity!   With this in mind you will also   begin to appreciate and understand what the apostle Paul meant  when he  wrote  to  the  Philippians  in Ch. 1:22-23,

If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful  labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”   Let us be clear on this. Life in this fallen world  was not meaningless for Paul.  He had no death wish. He had no thoughts of suicide. On the contrary, he  regarded his life as an opportunity for  fruitful labour. However, if he had to choose  where he would rather be, then he  would prefer  to  die, to lay aside this earthly tent and to be clothed with immortality  and live in the presence of the Lord, in heaven and  in eternity!

Biblical logic and perspective had taken hold of  Paul. Death was better in order to gain true Life.  When you meet Jesus, and when you have spent time with Him your whole perspective  changes from an earthly mindedness  to a heavenly mindedness.  When you have   become a Christian  and when  you have seen and tasted what is before you, this life begins to hold very limited attractions for you. And death  holds no fear. In fact  you know that  the day of your death will be your crowning day!

This what David thinks of when he  writes  in Psalm 73:25, Whom have I in  heaven but you? And there  is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

This is what Solomon, the son of David   sees,  and it is on the basis of this understanding that he says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning  than to go to the house of  feasting” ;  and “sorrow is better than laughter”.

What  good is  it that we learn in the house of mourning  which we  will  not learn anywhere else? What good do we learn when we look into a coffin and see the lifeless face of an acquaintance, friend or loved one? 

Consider  these 6 things:

(i)                 We learn  once again  that  death  is the  result  of the fall  (Gen.3;  Rom. 6:23)

(ii)               We are made to face the fact that this life is brief and  that eternity is long.

(iii)             We are led to ask the question, “what have I done with my life so far? Will mine be a good name after I die?”

(iv)              We will ask ultimate  questions  about our future state. Where will I spend eternity? 

(v)                We have the opportunity to  repent  or recommit ourselves in the face of death and in the light of eternity.

(vi)              We  prepare  to die ourselves.  Every funeral anticipates  our  own.

 “…for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” (v.2b).  I regularly remind the mourners at  any given  funeral  that  the death of  a  loved one must not fail to have a good  effect upon themselves. In that sense no death must ever be seen as meaningless. Even when the worst   and most hardened sinner dies, the living must take this to heart, and  learn  from this. If we do this, and regularly meditate  on the  reality  of our death and how we should face that day with full confidence in our Saviour,   then our  death day will be better than a birth day.

And so, frankly speaking, there is more reality at an open grave than at a birthday party! There is more reality in the face of death than  at  a feast.

Both happened on the ship, Titanic -  life on board of the Titanic was a party until an iceberg got in the way!  There is a story told in this regard.  A wealthy woman found her place in a lifeboat  which  was about to be lowered into the icy  North Atlantic. She suddenly thought of something she needed and so she asked permission to return to her cabin before they lowered the boats. She was granted three minutes or they would leave without her. She ran through the gambling room with all the money that had rolled to one side, ankle deep. She came to her cabin  and quickly pushed aside her diamond rings and expensive bracelets and necklaces as she reached to the shelf above her bed and grabbed three small oranges  as  she made her way back to the lifeboat.  Now that seems incredible because a few hours earlier  she would not have chosen a crate of oranges over the smallest diamond in her possession. But, you see, death had boarded the Titanic and that fact had instantly transformed all values. Instantaneously, priceless things had become worthless. Worthless things had become priceless. And in that moment she preferred three small oranges to a crate of diamonds.[4]  The music changed from, “I could have danced all night” to “Abide with me”. Death provides us with that sort of wisdom.

And now you will  remember that  wisdom and folly are the themes of this chapter.  What will be really  important  to you when  you lie on your deathbed? What will be important to you as you must face ultimate reality?  As Solomon surveys life under the sun, he has suddenly lost an interest in the silly side of life. All of a sudden earthly logic is eclipsed  by a greater  logic! Do you know what he is talking about?   And so Solomon’s conclusion here  is this, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”  (4b)

What does this sort of logic teach us?  

Two things:

(i)                 The wise consider death and prepare for it.  They will prepare to meet their Maker.

(ii)              The fools will continue to treat life as one big party. They will   also meet their Maker, but they will  not inherit the kingdom of God.

Blessed are they that have understood that  God in Christ  has  taken death captive.  They do not fear death. They embrace it, and they go through it into eternal life. It is a gift of God.  And so the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, the recognition that we need wisdom from Him.  That is  the first thing  which Solomon teaches us in  chapter 7. 



[1] Hebr.  ‘tov’

[2] Matt  26:6-13

[3] Death is the result of the fall  (Rom 6:23  cf. Genesis  2:17; Chapter 3) 

[4] Charles Swindoll : Living on the ragged edge  , p. 195 


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