Up to this point the Teacher in Ecclesiastes has revealed his observations about life under the sun. He has taught us about the futility of wealth, work, pleasures, and possessions. In chapter 7 the Teacher offers a change of pace teaching useful wisdom for life. After speaking about all the futility in this world, there are some things that have value. These are not merely his observations recorded in a journal but wise proverbs that help us place life in its proper perspective.
A Good Name Is Better Than Fine Perfume (7:1)
A person’s reputation has great value. Fine oil or perfume was an expensive luxury item to ancient peoples. There are a few stories in the New Testament that describe the usage of fine oil/perfume. One notable instance is where the sinful woman is washing the feet of Jesus. Fine perfume was an extravagant gift. However, the Teacher tells us that one’s reputation is even better than having such fine perfume.
A reputation is of great value and needs to be cared for properly and carefully. Once one’s reputation is broken, it is very difficult to repair, if it can be repaired at all. Repeated sins and significant sins are ways that we damage and destroy our reputation. Sexual sins are especially damaging to a person’s name. I can name a number of Christians, preachers, and elders whose reputation has been forever damaged because of sexual sins. Even in repentance the stain often remains. This is certainly a point that we must impress upon our younger people. When you commit sins, especially sexual sins, you are ruining your own reputation. Not only your name, you are also destroying your parents’ reputation. Not only that, you are destroying the reputation of the church where you attend. Finally, you do damage to the name of Christ since you claim to be a disciple. This damage should be easy to see. There is no doubt that reputation of the parents (whether fair or unfair) is damaged. I know of one Christian who was caught in fraud so that the 900 numbers he was calling went on other people’s phone bills. This brought a terrible stain against the local church where he had been attending. Obviously, our sins are ultimately against God and we give a cause for unbelievers to blaspheme the name of the Lord, just as the sins of Israel caused the nations to blaspheme God. A reputation is fragile in the face of these sins. Young people, when you are engaged in sexual activities, when you are drinking, doing drugs, or engaged in other unseemly activities, the consequences are not only upon yourself. You have let people down and your reputation is broken. But the reputation of your parents and of the local church are also broken. Be wise and see the value of a good name.
The Day of One’s Death Is Better Than The Day of One’s Birth (7:1)
It Is Better To Go To A House of Mourning Than To Go To A House of Feasting (7:2)
Grief Is Better Than Laughter (7:3)
The next three “better” statements center around death. The day of death is better than the day of birth, the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting, and grief is better than laughter. These seem like puzzling statements. Why would these days of sadness be better than the days of joy and laughter?
One reason pointed out by the Teacher is “that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.” Along these lines, the Teacher also argues that “when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.” The day of death causes reflection. Too often we go through life not thinking, taking our time of life for granted. Too often we are not appreciating the fragile nature of life. Every person is sober, thoughtful, and reflective at a funeral. Death causes deep thought, especially about how a person has been living life. The day of death reminds us of the lessons learned in Ecclesiastes 3: that we only have a short amount of time and the need to appreciate the time we have.
This is why the Teacher draws the conclusion: the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. Fools only want to think about the good times. Fools want to mindlessly enjoy life without realizing that days will not always be like this. Fools do not want to appreciate the good times with others because they assume the future will be the same. The wise keep life in perspective, understanding that we need to regularly be re-centered so that we do not take life for granted and so we will appreciate the seasons of life that we have been given. Pleasure forgets that there will be days of mourning, days of grief, and days of death.
Better To Listen To The Rebuke of the Wise Than The Song of Fools (7:5-6)
In our language we would say that fools say things that are music to our ears. Thus, “the song of fools.” The words of those who tell you what you want to hear will make a lot of noise (the crackling of thorns), but there is no lasting value to their words. Their words will not be useful to your life. How often we like to listen to people who agree with us! We do not want to listen to the correction of those who tell us that we are not doing well. We cannot only listen to those who make music to our ears. It is better to listen to correction and take those words to heart.
The End of the Matter Is Better Than Its Beginning (7:8)
There are many people who enjoy talking about starting new projects. Many people like to start new things. But very few people last to the project’s conclusion. People have great ideas but will not do the work to make the idea come to pass. While not lasting satisfaction, it seems that the Teacher acknowledges there is limited satisfaction in accomplishing a task. Further, what is the point of the work if the task will not be accomplished? The wisdom is that we put our nose to the grind and complete the tasks that we beginning.
A Patient Spirit Is Better Than a Proud Spirit (7:8)
Patience is required to be able to finish the task and get to the end of the matter. Patience is required to bring things to completion. Pride is easily bruised when things go wrong and we abandon the work. If things go easy and go the way we want it to go, we will keep on going. But when things get tough, rather than exhibiting patience, we exhibit pride.
Final Quick Hits of Wisdom (7:9-14)
Control your anger (7:9). Unrestrained anger is foolish. How do we feel foolish for allow our anger to get away from us? We need to show self-restraint and when we fail at self-control, we need to be apologetic and repentant.
Don’t long for the past (7:10). Don’t think the past was better. We have selective memory! We forget the bad times and remember the good times pretty easily. The human mind is amazing in its ability to let go of life’s difficulties of past days. A great example of this was the people of Israel leaving Egypt. When in the wilderness they longed to go back to Egypt. They had forgotten that the Egyptians were killing their male children and oppressed them with harsh labor. But we forget the past.
Further, longing for the past has no value. The past is past and the past will not return. Wanting the past is futile. Time cannot stop. Enjoy today instead.
Wisdom is more valuable than wealth (7:11-12). Earlier the Teacher criticized worldly wisdom and found it to be futile. However, godly wisdom has great value, more value than wealth. Worldly wisdom is not help, being filled with platitudes, cliches, or circular statements. But godly wisdom helps. Don’t long for the past because it is a waste of time. Keep your anger under control. Keep in mind the value of a reputation. Take the sad days of life to reflect and learn about our own mortality.
Accept the day as it comes: prosperity or adversity (7:14). God has made one day as well as another. Wisdom realizes that we regularly shift between both. When you have the days of prosperity, we need to enjoy those days. However, the days of adversity will certainly come. These are the times for learning. The teacher has already told us that the wise abide in the house of mourning not the house of feasting. When we have good times, enjoy them. When we have bad times, learn from them. These are the cycles that will occur in our life. If we think that we will not experience the other cycle, we are wrong.