Unlike other sections of Ecclesiastes chapter 7:1-12 is a string of proverbs that does not have a unifying theme. There are many themes the Preacher strings together, whereas most of the chapters have a consistent line of thinking.
This stringing together of wisdom sayings is not abnormal for Wisdom Literature. The Book of Proverbs contains many of these. In this passage, the preacher makes many different comparisons. “This is better than that” to show the difference between wisdom and folly.
A Good Name
“A good name is better than precious ointment.”
Proverbs 22:1 makes a similar statement, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” In Proverbs and Ecclesiastes name deals with the character of the person and not their actual name. It is better to possess a good character than a sweet-smelling ointment.
The aroma of our character matters more than the aroma of our cologne or perfume. We know this from Scripture, but we also know this from experience. When we are in the presence of someone with poor character, we know it. It is not a pleasant time and is often uncomfortable.
The Preacher is encouraging , readers, to keep a close watch on our life. The wise person works on their character to conform it to God’s word. The foolish person does not think it matters all that much and ignores God’s word and His wisdom about who we should be.
Birth and Death
The second half of verse one may throw us for a loop. “And the day of death better than the day of birth.” The person with wisdom and good character understands the importance of death. In many ways, it is not how our life begins that matters, but what happens when we die.
The Preacher reinforces this in verses 2-4.
- It is better to go to the house of mourning than of feasting for all will die.
- Being in the presence of sorrowful people is better than a group of laughing people because it makes the heart sound (ESV says the heart is made glad).
- The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the fool is in the house of mirth.
As the wise person is more concerned with possessing good character than fine perfume, they are also wise when it comes to death.
We live in a culture where death is taboo. We do not mention death, and funerals are often awkward. Many in our culture do not know what to do when a death occurs. What do we say to the grieving? We do not face the reality that as this person died, we too will die.
I remember the funeral of two of my family members where one of the children for each person would not go near the casket and would not greet those who came to mourn with them. Ecclesiastes says we are foolish when we do not deal with death.
Death teaches us a lot about life and what really matters. For the Christian death is not something to be dreaded but something we can look forward to in Christ. Jesus has defeated death (Heb. 2:14-15), and death does not and will not have the last word for His disciples. We will be raised to live with Him forever. The wise know this because they gain their wisdom from God’s word. The foolish reject God’s revelation and therefore have every reason to fear death.
Listen to the Wise
The next comparison the preacher makes is listening to the rebuke of a wise person and listening to the songs of fools.
Songs are pleasant even when their message is awful. Recently my daughters were at a neighbor’s house and heard a song there with a catchy chorus. It sounded good but when I went and read the lyrics to the rest of the song is was horrendous. The lyrics were about things God condemns in His word. It sounded nice, but the song was foolish.
A rebuke,, on the other hand, does not appear to be life-giving to us. In fact, most of us think it is life-sucking. The Preacher says when we are rebuked by a wise person, it is best to listen to them than the songs of fools.
Why is that? The reason is given in verse 6, “For as the cracking of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools; this also is vanity.” The image is one of thorns burning in a fire. It will make a sound like a normal fire with sticks, but the fire will be short-lived. The songs and the joy of the fool will be short-lived. But the rebuke of the wise stands the test of time and eternity.
The Long Game
The last comparison has to do with how we look at things.
The first is we can focus on the beginning, but the end or the result is what matters (Ecclesiastes 7:8). Sometimes an endeavor has a small or insignificant beginning, and the temptation is to is to think it will amount to nothing. But great things often start small, and we need to be patient with them and not so proud to think it will never work. We should never judge how something will turn out merely by how it began.
Verse 10 is the next comparison for how we should take a long view of life. The other side of this coin is to look back and to think things were better back then. This is the “back in my day” mentality. “Back in my day, no one sinned or did anything wrong.” Some people do not put it in those terms, but this is what they often say when they look back.
The way to avoid both temptations is to keep looking forward to the result. What is God going to do with these meager beginnings? What is He going to do in the future that we do not know yet?
The Value of Wisdom
Wisdom provides us protection in life in much the same way money protects us.
Money can be something used for evil purposes and ensnares us and draws us to love it rather than God. But the Preacher makes a comparison here that might shock some of us.
“For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money.” Wisdom will help us get along in life, much like money will help us avoid certain things in life. If your car breaks down and you have the money to fix it, life keeps on going as it should. It can help you through a difficult circumstance where it is required to have it.
Likewise, when we have wisdom, we are prepared for all of life. There is not a circumstance the wise person has to shy away from. God’s word, wisdom, helps us navigate life under the sun. Without it, we are like a group of sailors on the sea without a compass. We will have difficulty navigating.
But with it, we can navigate life for God’s glory and a way that pleases Him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the pathway to continued wisdom. God has given us all we need. The question is, what are we going to do with it?