1A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.
(Ecclesiastes 7:1 ESV)
Having opined on the transience of the things life has to offer and of life itself and thereby arriving at the conclusion that all is meaningless, King Solomon now gives advice on how we all should live in this fallen world which is filled with disappointment and injustice.
To the unthinking person his comments will seem like foolishness. They are indeed paradoxes to the way the world operates. But they are filled with godly wisdom.
Solomon presents these in the form of proverbs, much like we’d find the book of Proverbs which was authored by Solomon. Proverbs are essentially pithy theological statements that present a truth about life.
One such truth is that it is better for us to secure a good name before we die. The Jews covered dead bodies with an ointment of precious spices in lieu of embalming. Such a covering would hide the stench as the body decomposed. But it would last for only a while.
However, someone’s reputation – good or bad – would last much longer. We should, therefore, be concerned about that while we are still living [Proverbs 22:1].
On a related note, Solomon points out that the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. Solomon is not being morbid here. His comment is consistent with what he has heretofore observed about life.
When we are born we enter into a world filled with problems. We live for many years and face many hardships. But death eliminates all this.
Death is freedom from toil, oppression, restlessness. Granted, those who end up in hell will face an even tougher time than they ever faced on earth. But eternity does not have to be that way. Those who lived during Old Testament times didn’t quite understand eternity. God did not reveal this to humanity in full until Jesus.
So Solomon, writing from the perspective of an Old Testament Jew who thought he would spend eternity in what we call heaven, recognized that death puts an end to our struggles and sorrows and gives rest. Therefore it is better [Philippians 1:23].
Earlier in Ecclesiastes Solomon pondered what was good for a man during his lifetime [Ecclesiastes 6:12]. In this passage he give us the answer – to live in such a way that secures a good reputation.
The death rate is 100% among humans. All of us will die. To dwell on that reality is morbid. But to be influenced by it, and to live in light of it is wise.
Everyone’s life spans two dates. The day of our birth and the day of our death: 1902 — 1985. What matters is not the dates but the dash in-between. What we do with our lives matters.
On the day of your birth you were given a name. On the day of your death that name will be either praised or reviled based on the quality of your dash.
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