Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
And the day of death than the day of one’s birth;
Proverbs can have multiple meanings. What about this passage in Ecclesiastes? Is the Hebrew hiding some provocative or esoteric message?
The Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew lexicon does indeed call good, ‘agreeable and pleasant.’ Is death better than birth in a book about having a good time through eating and drinking? We are advised to be happy and gay, choosing a state of joy only as a diversion from the injustice and sadness of life. Isn’t that why Americans go to the theater, beach, mountains, casinos, etc.? We are a pleasure seeking, pain avoiding society. So why this soberness? What am I missing?
Remember, we're reading Ecclesiastes, not Proverbs. Rashbam said in essence you can always screw up your reputation, name etc. until you die. Whatever good or bad has been done is settled then. You can't add or detract, although we know historians can massage, manipulate, air brush you into a caricature or a saint, depending on their own agenda. Follow the money to discover the real motivation. But for most of us, friends and family are the extent of our influence and history will never know we were here. After all, those who remember us will soon follow us.
Rabbi, Ben Sira said, "Call no man happy before he dies, for a man is known at his end," but I most relate to Hillel who said, "Do not trust yourself till the death of your death."
Those who read all of Ecclesiastes will discover it isn’t at all about living a raucous today for tomorrow you die. The main premise is NOT to live a life of pleasure seeking.
In his writings the Italian medieval theologian Bonaventure stays true to his foundational belief that wisdom, not knowledge, is a means to sanctification.
Consider that, wisdom sanctifies, knowledge does not. Knowledge is like the guns we are all in an uproar over. Knowledge can be used for good or evil. The right application, I prefer to think of it as balance, is everything.
We are outraged when we see how guns are used to hurt and destroy, but we are oblivious to the far more sinister and pervasive results of knowledge used for self-aggrandizement.
But getting back to our passage in Ecclesiastes, if the world is good, as Genesis says, how can we despise life on this world as vanity?
I love Bonaventure’s allusion to the world being 'like' a wedding ring given to a bride by her groom. How many brides are in love more with their wedding ring, husband's wealth, talent, good looks etc. than their husband? Are we more in love with life than our Creator?
I read this verse in the context of Bonaventure. Birth is the ring, but at death we go to be with God. Death is really the fulfillment, not the end of life. God walked through the garden and called Adam’s name, but Adam hid. At death we hide no longer.