sermon: Ecclesiastes Resumed (Part Seventeen)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 31-May-14; Sermon #1215; 74 minutes
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that satisfaction in life does not derive from material things or wealth, by instead from an eternal relationship with God who has given us abundant spiritual gifts which we must reciprocate by developing skill in living from using godly wisdom. Wisdom enables us to make the very best practical use of all of the other gifts He has given, to make the best practical use of our calling, mobilizing our knowledge, judgment, discernment, understanding, and skill in living in alignment with God's purpose. Any skill, whether it be welding or playing basketball, comprises multiple and complex aspects. In sports or military contexts, it is important that the participants accept the system, breaking old ingrown habits and changing the way they do things. Wisdom can be defined as doing the right thing at the right time in the right way to the right measure. Godly wisdom is not given as a whole, but incrementally, involving much time and pressure. We must give ourselves willingly and patiently to this process in order that skill in living may be built. God has given the Book of Ecclesiastes to us to nudge us on to what is important and away from what is vanity, steering us to a perpetual mindset of faith and trust in God. Wisdom cannot at this time help us to understand all of life's mysteries. It is possible to act wisely in a given circumstance, but still feel frustrated because we do not see how all the pieces fit together. One should always look for the better choice, realizing the better choice is not necessarily the "best" one. In life's journey, a good reputation (a good name) and a positive relation with another (a wonderful marriage) is better than much material wealth. God admires integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, straightforwardness, and structural soundness of character in a person, the name a person has acquired by
A good name is far better than money Basketball player Better to go to house of mourning Busy-ness Chraracter is as character does Day of one's death better than the day of one's birth Discretion Ecclesiastes 1:12-18; 7:1-4 Fear of the Lord I Corinthians 10: 13 Godly wisdom Integrity J. Paul Getty John D. Rockefeller Judas Iscariot Living by faith Materialism Mike Ciechoski Minds fixed on the present Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College - Thomas Gray Ointment Optimistic view Philippians 1:21-25 Proverbs 1: 1-7; 22:1- Prudence to the simple Satisfaction in life Shemen Skilled Song of Solomon 1:1-4 Thomas Bosson Thomas Gray Wisdom
A brief overview of the first half of my previous sermon is that satisfaction in life is not derived from wealth, status in society, or any other material thing. Material things can indeed give pleasure and that is good; but like everything else the pleasure is short lived, sometimes almost momentary. It is a fact that the material lifestyle actually generates more intense desire for yet more. This is really open and easily seen in a child; you give a child a gift and in no time at all they want another gift, because they do not have the understanding that would refuse or reject. They just want more; the carnal mind is working, and it is also showing us an important lesson. Gifts have the opportunity to generate another gift.
I offered the example of John D. Rockefeller wherein he commented, after being asked how much is enough (a man with multi, tens of millions, maybe a hundred million dollars at the time, which might be worth a great deal more than that today because of inflation) answered, “Just a little bit more.” Even a multi, multi, multi, millionaire, did not have enough.
Materialism moves a person in that direction, and it proves this point that I am making. The Bible as well shows us that materialism, any list that we get from materialism, is temporary. It cannot produce satisfaction in one’s life, and thus materialism’s major fruit is the meaningless hamster in the wheel life which features endless movement but little progress regarding quality of life. Materialism is actually a main player in producing the “under the sun life” that Solomon coined there in the book of Ecclesiastes.
It indeed may be a life with very much busyness, but without proper direction; this proper direction goes in another direction than materialism. Now because of God's calling that we have been given, which is not something that we have earned, we have been given the right direction, and that direction is toward a marriage with the One who loves us far beyond our wildest dreams. It is toward the eternal, spiritual relationship with our Savior and Creator. His lifestyle is spiritual in nature, and that is why it takes spiritual qualities in order to give real satisfaction in life.
Now He deliberately, by design, has already begun the relationship. He has given us the responsibility to voluntarily respond and by faith return His love through submission to Him. By this it means developing the relationship by growing in spiritual maturity.
It is within the relationship that He gifts us with the spiritual powers that are needed, like knowledge, understanding, insight, wisdom, faith, and love—to use our God-given life wisely—that brings the balance and sustained measure of satisfaction we all desire.
Moving on with a little bit more review of the sermon which was cut short by the power failure that we had here in the Fort Mill area…a simple definition of biblical wisdom is: it is skill in living. People develop many skills during the course of life, but this particular skill is unique to those truly in a relationship with God. The bottom line regarding biblical wisdom, drawn from the book of James, is that it is a gift given and developed within God's children to enable us to negotiate and complete the trials of Christian life.
It is a gift to those who are in that responsibility, even as God supplied Israel's needs in the wilderness. He supplies our needs as well. The way that He supplied Israel in the wilderness is a type of what He does with our life in our journey to the Kingdom of God. Wisdom is given for a simple reason; it is given to make the very best practical uses of all the other gifts God has given so as to make the very best use of His calling. It must be asked for, as James shows.
If used, it displays a host of characteristics that are very similar to the fruits of God's spirit that we see listed in Galatians 5. I want to begin in this sermon once again in Proverbs 1:1-7, because it is important to get this at the very beginning of this sermon.
Proverbs 1:1-7 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion—a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The first thing he mentions is wisdom; of all the purposes that might be in this book, I think that you understand that the advice, the council, given in Proverbs is practical. It is not something esoteric, way out there, each dealing with life as it is lived.
I am going to make a summary here. Proverbs 1:1-7 shows that this skill consists of other godly characteristics as knowledge, understanding, discernment, discretion, prudence, justice, judgment, and equity. All of these are apart and it is though at the pinnacle, here, is wisdom, skill in living. These others are part of what wisdom is. All of this is for our understanding; we are to understand it as practical—things that we will use in life and in many cases on a daily basis.
Knowledge, understanding, discernment, discretion, prudence, justice, judgment, and equity—all of which melded together and used produce a skill in living that is in alignment with God's purpose and way of life. So when you hear the word wisdom in relation to the Bible, it includes facets of all these other things; and they all contribute to what wisdom is.
Perhaps the melding of various characteristics into one word, wisdom, can be illustrated like this: anybody who is truly skilled in any discipline is not skilled in just one aspect of that discipline, but a whole array of aspects that make up that skill set, all of which in the biblical sense add up to what wisdom is. Wisdom is not just something simple; it is pretty complex, because it consists of all these other parts. I will give you another illustration; this is something that in a way comes from my background and so I am familiar with this. I am not going to talk about welding.
A skilled basketball player must not only shoot well but pass accurately, at the right time, to the right team mates; he must also dribble proficiently, be aware of his team mates and their movements as the plays unfold, and in addition know his opponents and the habits on the court. At the same time he must keep himself disciplined in all of these facets and sometimes will be called upon to make use of them in a blink of an eye, because the events on the court are happening so rapidly. This is not always easy to do whenever this process is applied to life.
This is why we so often fail; we do not make use of all that God has already given us. Remember, He is the one who is our teacher and He is moving us in a direction that He wants. So when He allows these things, He is either showing us that we lack this or that or the other thing. Or, on the other hand, He shows us because we are pleased with what we do, that we are growing; we are doing well.
This is not always easy when applied to life. Melding all these things together in many ways is easier during the unfolding of a play in a sport; it is more difficult in one’s living apart from the sport, because there are so many truly serious variables to challenge ones disciplining himself in real life situations. A guy can be a great basketball player and his life is a mess; he cannot handle the life part of it even though on court he is amazingly athletic and seems to do everything right at the right time. This is because he has never been trained by God to live life the way God wants us to live.
Take that principle, put it in our own life, and understand what I am getting at. I will make a statement later as to how this is being done. So, again…thinking about the basketball court, but now we will shift to life, and I am going to give you a definition that is so simple. Wisdom might be defined as doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, and to the right measure. This can be accomplished if one has a great overriding goal that one keeps his mind on and is striving to achieve. The great goal for us is pleasing God and being in His Kingdom.
You may not be familiar with this name, but then again some of you men may well (I am still on the basketball kick here)…I once heard Mike Krzyzewski (he is the Duke University basketball coach who has produced very many great teams, his teams have won more games than any other coach in the history of basketball in the United States of America) being interviewed and during the interview he was asked by a reporter what the most difficult task he has as a coach. He replied without hesitation, “It is to get the player to accept the coach’s system.” He went on, “Players always begin under his coaching wanting to do things their own way, because that is what they are familiar with.” He is saying that old habits are hard to break. You can relate to these things. What he is saying is that changing our ingrown way is not easy. For us, it is our carnal nature and all of its bad habits.
In like manner, I read in “Reminiscences of Douglas MacArthur,” a statement that he attributed to George C. Marshall, who was America's top General during WWII. He confirmed what Mike Krzyzewski said in a somewhat different way, but it amounted to the same general principle. George Marshall said, “The most difficult task in basic training of a soldier was to get the new recruits to give up their independence for the benefit of the unit. In their undisciplined mind set they all wanted to fight the war their own way.”
This fairly closely describes the same basic problem God has with writing His skilled way of living in our hearts. The carnal mind tends always to fight back; what do we fight back with? It is the “I want it my way routine,” or another way of putting it in a more biblical context, “There is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is the way of death.”
Thus wisdom is not given to us as a completed whole. This is the statement that I mentioned to you earlier I would give you. Wisdom is not given to us as a completed whole, but piece by piece throughout life's experiences as we grow in God's way. God keeps adding, a little bit here a little bit there. He takes something away and replaces it with something else that is a lot better. The important thing to know is that it is going to take a long time, sometimes it will be painful, and sometimes we are not going to move anywhere near as fast as we think we are qualified to move.
This is why we not only have to believe God, we have to trust Him. God knows our hearts far better than we do; besides that He knows exactly where He is headed. So wisdom is not given as a completed whole, but in piece by piece aspects through life's experiences as we grow in God's way.
This frequently wears on our patience because in our pride, we want things to happen faster, thinking we are more skilled than we actually are. Children say, “Mommy you can trust me,” or “I'm alright, I know what I am doing.” We may be adults, but we kind of do the same thing that children do with us as parents.
The British poet Thomas Gray (some of you may have heard of him) died just about the time the colonies in America were beginning to get to the mindset that they needed to break away from King George and his taxation. We are putting this back a hundred years, but Gray made a very interesting statement in a poem in regards to what we are facing in our life, in our relationships with God. He did this in a poem titled, “Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College.” It is kind of a weighty poem title.
I want to familiarize you with two words here before we get into his quote. First is the word “college.” He is not using it the way we commonly use college here in the United States. What he is actually dealing with is an elementary or middle school level age for a child. He is not talking about a University.
The second word is the word “doom,” which appears early in the quote I am going to give you. To us it means, “that is the end of that.” It almost means that, but they used the word doomed, at the time that he wrote, the same way that we use the word fate—a person’s fate or a person’s doom. We might even say it is talking about the goal or the end of one’s life.
In the poem, Gray, pictured the students, whether they were on a playing field or in the class room, enjoying life because they were innocent of an ignorant of what lay ahead for them as life progressed on. There they were playing; their minds were fixed on the present, and at that point in time in their life a great goal did not exist for them.
Here is the quote, “Alas, regardless of their doom, the little victims play! No sense have they of ills to come, nor care beyond today…Yet, ah! why should they know their fate? Since sorrow never comes too late, and happiness too swiftly flies. Thought would destroy their paradise. No more; where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.” Gray is correct in this insightful thought. This is why I mentioned pride; we tend to think that we are more mature and correct than we actually are.
God knows better, so he puts things in our life, piles things on in such a way that we are not overwhelmed because, in terms of life, we are like these kids who are playing in the school and in the classroom. They are so happy, happy, happy, but they do not know the future; they do not have enough understanding in their minds. There is not enough experience that they could handle if it was given to them. They would just pass off what is coming in their life. That is the way children are.
So, Gray is correct in his insightful comment. How do we know exactly what our Creator is preparing us for? Would we like to know that beforehand? We would probably like to know, but if we really understood, we might be scared stiff-less if He told us. And, then again, we might have too much pride.
He moves us along. He is doing the grading, and He moves us along at the speed that we can handle. This is why Paul said in I Corinthians 10 that God never gives us anything too great for us. In His mercy, He moves us at His speed that we are capable of accomplishing within.
In one way this puts us on the spot, because if we are in a particular situation, He has determined that we can handle it. Whether we get an A this time the way we handle it or we get an F because we failed, life goes on and God is patient in working with us, but He does not want a loser.
This is why I said earlier that wisdom is added piece by piece. He does not overload us with something that we cannot handle. He takes us through the grades, as we might say, regarding school, so that we grow at a steady rate; but at the same time, it is always challenging enough and not too challenging that we cannot handle it.
The wisdom, the skill in living, is added a little bit at a time. Do not forget, though, we are responsible for responding. We are responsible for seeking Him. He called us. He gave us understanding, but we have to give ourselves willingly to the process that He is putting us through; and if we do, then the skill in living will be built within us.
We bear part of the responsibility. We have to study; we have to pray; we have to practice what He teaches us. Would you expect a basketball player ever to get good if he never practiced? You would never be on Mike Krzyzewski’s team. If you are familiar with sports…it is one thing that coaches really respect in a player that he works to earn the spot that he has on the team. Those guys are not lazy; it is their life. So they make millions of dollars a year, but the chances are very great that they have earned it. It is a skill that they are good at—entertaining people—this is all it amounts to, really.
This is why James 1:4, in reference to wisdom, councils us to “let patience have its perfect work, so that we might be complete.” It is clear from Genesis through Revelation that God wants His children prepared and thinking about the world around them, unlike the kids on Eton College. He wants His children to be aware of what is going on in the world, in their life, in their marriage, in their child rearing, and all those things added to that. So He moves us at the speed that is good for us. He, above all, does not want us to get caught in the same mindset that those in the world have. He wants His children living in the present but always aware of the future and preparing for the coming of His Kingdom.
Again, unlike the kids at Eton College, who are totally unaware of what is going on and what they may have to face, God wants us aware of what is going on in the world, not in tremendous detail, but enough to know that what is going on is leading to something that is very great in His purpose.
Wisdom is a very great help in this because wisdom provides us insight into one's place in the world, knowing full well the church is in the world, but it is not of the world. This is why we have to stay clear of the world. The world is moving to the beat of a different drummer than God's family moves.
God's family is being moved toward the goal that God wants and not the goals of Satan and the world. So part of our responsibility is to keep the world at bay in our own life because one knows or is learning the bounds of right and wrong. It is included within wisdom—remember knowledge and understanding. Wisdom can thus play a major, major role in one’s conduct.
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 I The Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this grievous task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be numbered. I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.” And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Those are a series of verses that have to be thought through with some of the book of Ecclesiastes behind you so that you will understand what he is getting at here. At this point in the book, Solomon appears to agree with Thomas Gray. People are just mindlessly scurrying around and going nowhere fast. He looks at life and its spaghetti junction, everything is all mixed up and chaotic.
If we carry that thought forward, we would have to agree with Thomas Gray. We are better off ignorant, but God does not want us to be ignorant. He wants us to be aware of where this world is headed and to deliberately and independently make the choices to do the right things. In order to do that, we have to be aware of the general direction that God is headed in and a very clear understanding of direction the world is headed.
We cannot just let things happen in our life; we have to choose to go in the right direction, and God is giving us that opportunity. He introduced us to it by calling us and He is adding to our knowledge and understanding so that it begins to pay off in our life by our simply doing the right things. That is the payoff. These are the right things that will add to the closeness of our relationship and of becoming like God.
Remember that Solomon was evaluating the world living “under the sun lives.” That is why he said what he did; they are headed nowhere fast is basically what he said. Here in the first chapter, Solomon was not applying what he wrote at this point to God's children, rather he was laying a foundation for the contrast between the “under the sun life” and the “over the sun life.”
By the time we get to chapter 6 and 7, he is describing the “over the sun life” that he wants us to follow, and what we need to do to do that. We are to live by faith trusting God. He is preparing us, and we are not to be ignorant as the children in Thomas Gray's poem. Choosing to not be ignorant is wisdom, because it helps us to avoid what is not good. So God has revealed to us, sometimes vaguely it is true, that what is coming on this world is terrifying, because these people are not using true wisdom. We do not want to be part of those suffering through what is coming with no hope.
We have every opportunity of using this skill in living that God has gifted us with in order to prepare ourselves so that we can avoid the doom this world has before it. In our case, ignorance is most certainly not bliss. If we are ignorant of what is going on, we are behind the eight ball because we have nothing better to do.
Regardless of what Solomon said in chapter 1 (as he laid the ground work for what follows) by chapter 7 he took a second look at the problem; and, as we shall see as we continue on, he modified his first chapter view with positive council.
We are finally getting to chapter 7. I felt that it needed that kind of an introduction so that we will understand that we are not given wisdom all at once. It is built brick by brick is another way of putting it. Now chapter 7 is another “better than” chapter. He uses the term better eleven times in just this one chapter. In a general way chapter 7 begins as a reflection back on the question that appears in chapter 6:12, where he asks,
Ecclesiastes 6:12 For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?
I think we understand that God knows. The next two chapters he addresses this question; and he gives three overall helpful principles. These principles are not clearly stated as principle number 1, principle number 2; rather, he provides these three principles that must be deduced. What I am saying here is that when we read through it, we have to think about what is he saying, here.
As I said before, Ecclesiastes is not an easy book, but once you begin to understand what he is writing about, then you can begin to see this is one of the most practical books for a Christian in the entire Bible. It is loaded with information on what to do and what not to do, how to live an “above the sun life” and how to avoid the “below the sun life.”
The biggest thing to come out of this, I think, is to help us understand the relationship that we have with God which God Himself established. It is the single most important thing in life. It is where all the gifts to succeed come from because we are in a relationship with Him. He loves us and He gives us gifts. He wants to spend eternity with us, and when He gives us a gift, it is another little notch on the wisdom ladder that we can make use of.
The first principle basically is that wisdom cannot explain or overcome all of life's mysteries. Even though chapter 7 is almost completely dedicated to wisdom, he eventually comes to the conclusion, and again it has to be deduced, that wisdom cannot explain or overcome all of life's mysteries. That may discourage you a bit, but why is it that way? In a way, there is a simple answer: we must live by faith. God has charged us that. When faith is needed, it also means that trust is also required. Faith and trust—faith believing God; trust in carrying it out in one’s life. The two cannot be separated.
Recall what we learned from chapter 3. This is the one that has so much in it about time, circumstances, trials, and testing. What does that chapter teach us in an overall sense? God's unseen hand is maneuvering events on earth, and we do not know precisely where He is headed. We will probably never know until they begin happening to us. But, all the while, He is judging, He is evaluating how we are doing within a situation where we do not have all the answers. Do we still trust Him or do we give up? Do we get discouraged or do we say, “Thank you God, You are giving me exactly what I need.”
Principle number 1 is that wisdom cannot explain or overcome all of life's mysteries. The reason is because all of life's mysteries have not been revealed to us so we are always working a little bit in the dark, if you understand. In the dark we need trust; we need to continue believing in God, and we have to trust Him. He requires that of us, and it is a test for us.
Principle number 2, is this: Since God's hand is maneuvering events on earth, and we do not know precisely where He is headed (we know only in the general way as He directs His creation), thus we may indeed be acting wisely within the circumstance but seemingly getting nowhere, because what God wants to achieve is not accomplished yet.
That is one we have to think through; this does not mean we are failing, understand that, because very often what we are involved in, in our circumstances that touch on the lives of other people as well, God is working with all of them at once. So we can be doing the right thing and really pleasing God, but our particular problem does not seem to end. We are not failing! Let us get that through our mind.
Certainly we will evaluate ourselves and the opportunity to think we are failing is there, but here comes the thing that is important if we are not using the wisdom that God has already given us. Understand that using that wisdom is a necessary requirement in order to make the most positive contribution to our lives as we negotiate the trial, regardless of not knowing precisely where it is headed and where it is going to end. This is another tough one. When I say tough, it is hard to deal with because it involves faith. Let us say you have money problems, and you have asked God for help, and He does not help. We still go stumbling along thinking that because we are not being prospered then we must be failing. We think that we must be displeasing God when nothing like that is in God's mind at all. He is very pleased with what you are doing, but He cannot end your problem until somebody else’s is ended, or maybe a whole group of people are also involved in the same thing. So you cannot let yourself get down and fail to use the wisdom that He has already given us. Keep going; this is why it relates right back to the book of James where he said, “Let patience have its perfect work.” He is as good as telling us that just because we are doing things right does not mean the problem that we find ourselves involved in is just going to blow away.
The third principle is this. This is easier to deal with. He is not saying in these chapters that follow (beginning in chapter 7, verse 1) that one choice—remember I said this is a “better than” chapter—is always absolutely better than the other, but as a general rule of thumb, comparatively, one is better than the other.
Some of the declarations that he makes in these chapters are pretty surprising. We have to accept at face value that what we are dealing with are not necessarily absolutes. Better is not a superlative; maybe you can understand that. Better is comparative. So we have to understand in life that one thing is better than another, but it is not an always. In somebody else’s situation, God may decide that something else is needed than what you are going through.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 A good name is better than precious ointment, And the day of death than the day of one's birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise in in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
These four verses begin with a double comparison. The first comparison is very similar to one that he made in the book of Proverbs, in chapter 22:1. I want you to see this because there is a difference between it and what he says here in Ecclesiastes 7.
Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold.
If we read Ecclesiastes 7:1, we see a different conclusion is reached there. When he wrote Proverbs 22:1, he did so when he was a much younger man. I want to draw your attention to the difference between the comparisons in chapter 22:1 in his young age. He brings a comparison that he did not make in Ecclesiastes 7:1, when it appears as though he was a much older man.
The comparison is made with great riches; what does that remind you of? If you are thinking along with me, he is saying that a good name is more important to one’s life than materialism. He was already beginning to think in that direction.
The second time around, he compares it with an ointment: A good reputation is much better than a fragrant ointment. Both of those statements are wisdom, both of them are true, but each of them makes a comparison with something different.
The first one is that a good reputation, a good name, is more important than material possessions. The second one makes the comparison with something that touches on a person’s emotions, as within a relationship. Now we are going to go to Song of Solomon where he used the same words.
Song of Solomon 1:2-3 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is better than wine. Because of the fragrance of your good ointments, your name is ointment poured forth; therefore the virgins love you.
What he is saying is that the ointments, the fragrance, reminds him of a loving association with somebody. You might say that he loves them to death; in other words, what he is saying (in chapter 7:1) is that both of these things are great, supreme—they are a good comparison—a good name and a wonderful relationship with another person, because it is a woman he is talking about, life itself, maybe even marriage. It is far better to be in a good relationship than it is to have a lot of material wealth. Who was that millionaire who said he would give up his five marriages to have one good one…
As he gets older, he is beginning to see how much better it is to have a good relationship with somebody than it is to have money. One is indeed better than the other; when you are young, the solution to all of life's problems is to have more money. But as one ages, one begins to get wisdom and to see that a good relationship with one’s husband or wife is far more important to the quality of life than having a lot of money. It is teaching us about God and about life. This has to be thought through in order to get the best from it.
In Ecclesiastes 7:1, the comparison is built on a play of words that is not easily seen in English. In fact, it is totally hidden in English translation. The word “name” (“a good name”) is translated from the Hebrew word shem; remember Noah's son, Shem? Shem literally means name. The term “ointment” is that which is emitted as a pleasant fragrance, and it is translated from the Hebrew word shemen. Solomon gives us a good indication of the pleasing emotional impact involved in the effect of a good name in his children.
We might be able to say that, to God, a good name is as emotionally uplifting to Him as our emotion of being in the presence of one we love and who in turn love us. For anybody who has experienced a marriage, either good or bad…when the relationship is good… that is what he comparing a good name to.
It is a very strong illustration used to convey how much God values a good name that His children might achieve. What is God saying in all of this? He is saying a good name pleases Him; it is very pleasant to Him in the same way that a pleasant smelling ointment is in the relationship with another human being.
This tells us what God wants us to shoot for because it is pleasing to Him. People earn a good name among men because they are admired for their integrity. God is intimating that the same thing pleases Him. In other words, people who have a good name are pleasing to others who appreciate a good name. God admires integrity, why? Because such a person is honest, upright, principled, trustworthy, loyal, sacrificial, reliable, decent, kind, straightforward. They keep their word. I could go on and on with this. Integrity indicates structural soundness of character in a person.
All of these characteristics are aspects of wisdom, so why does God think highly of them? Because it is a truth that character is as character does. Thus in building a reputation for integrity among men, the one’s building are also actively preparing for His Kingdom, and in the process they are bringing glory to God by their life's. Someone who is doing that is involved in a win-win situation or circumstance for all concerned.
A person who has integrity is building a reputation with God and for God at the same time. So what does God compare you to? He compares you to a very pleasant, beautiful, fragrance that He just loves to have around.
There is an ancient saying of unknown origin, but it is a truism. I will quote it. “Every man has three names: the one his parents gave him, what others call him, and the one that he acquires himself by the way that he lives.” Thus the name a person acquires is of extreme importance to God. If they have a name that is valued as a person of integrity, God is being glorified.
Again I will go back to the ointment, because God compares that kind of a name that that person has to a fragrance that is really pleasing to Him. Jesus said of Mary of Bethany because of the loving devotion that she expressed as she anointed Him with an expensive perfume that her name would be honored throughout the world, and it is. It is written in the book, it is going to be in there for all time.
Again, get the point—the ointment (Mary doing what she did and what God is saying through Solomon here) expresses what a person’s name means to Him: He loves it because that person is growing. It is that simple. They are not growing in gold and silver; they are growing in integrity. Their character is becoming whole and this is honoring Him. In order for it to be like that, wisdom has to be gained and to be used. This happens because they are living that kind of a life.
On the other hand, we have Judas Iscariot; when he was born he was given the name Judah and Judah means “praise.” It is a good name, but by the time he died he had changed that honorable name into something shameful by his betrayal. Character is as character does; a person who had a good name would not do what Judas did. His betrayal did not praise Jesus one bit.
One final element is that a good name is a lasting inheritance with a spiritual aspect to it. Another comparison here is that a good name is more praiseworthy than gold and silver. Financial assets are material and are of lesser value. A good name, such as Mary of Bethany, is going to go on for eternity regardless of how much money she had. She may have been as poor as a church mouse, we do not know. Her family might have been reasonably wealthy, but nonetheless she did a praiseworthy thing in what she did.
Again when you make the comparison between Ecclesiastes 7:1 with Proverbs 22:1, you begin to see the logic as to why Solomon said this in one place and that in another. A good name is far better than money because money ends at death, but a good name goes on and on. There is no end to it bringing glory to God because character built is as character does. The lesson there is very clear, and this is why he said a good name is better than these other things.
There is good reason to accept an optimistic view about something Solomon said regarding another comparison, and that is, in the same verses, concerning the day of one’s death being better than the day of one’s birth. This is one of those comparisons, and it may not be necessarily so in every case, but again comparatively speaking the day of one’s death may be better than the day of one’s birth.
We would rather go to a party celebrating the birth of a child than to a funeral; it is a natural inclination that we have. We want to go where we will be happy. Solomon's conclusion here might not be as far out as you think.
I think that there is good reason to accept an optimistic view of what Solomon says regarding this comparison because the first comparison (a good name is an ointment) regarding integrity is definitely optimistic; therefore it seems to follow that what he says in the next part of the verse (the day of one’s death) is to be looked at optimistically, rather than pessimistically.
I will show you a place where Paul wrestled with something very similar to this.
Philippians 1:21-25 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But, if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I Am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
God made up his mind and he continued life on. Paul himself wrestled with it. Paul is comparing life with death in this circumstance. He was having difficulty reaching which is better. If he died his life was secure in Christ, but if he continued living he could accomplish helping others achieve more.
So the first day and the last day in life actually have something good to offer. The first day is good because a new life has been given, thus giving the opportunity to grow and develop and to, despite the trials of life, also prepare for God's Kingdom.
Remember this is written primarily for those who are in the church, for brethren. If they had not been born, they could not have possibly been called; but they were called and so now a new avenue has been opened up which they would not have had if God did not call. So that side has something to offer.
The last day because in many important spiritual ways because if one has a good reputation with God—we are begging to see why that good name is so important—because of overcoming and growing in preparation, having been made for God's Kingdom, and at last one has reached the end of the trials of life at death, that is even better.
What if they made a mess of their calling? But they did not. If they grew and overcame, then there is very much good in it. In fact it is actually far better because they are qualified to be in the Kingdom of God because God gave them grace, and that is far better than just being born. The person could have lost everything. But now he died in the family of God and his life is a success; death secured his future in the Kingdom of God.
Solomon was not off his rocker at all. It all depends of the direction that one is looking in. Here is a good quote by Thomas Boston. He said this of himself, “In the day of his birth he was born to die” We are born to die; it is going to happen to everyone; so that point in time is absolutely certain. Everybody is born to die. The quote continues, “In the day of his death, he dies to live in a better world with a higher perfection, with greater holiness, to enter better company with a higher perfection and better employment than the state that he was leaving behind.” This is why the way of one’s death can be better than the day of his birth. There is so much more at the end of life; there is no comparison, and now it is secure.
We will leave Solomon at this time. I am sorry in a way that I am going this slowly, but there is so much in this book. It is awesome. I never knew when I began this series that there is so much here. It was a book that I always passed over because I thought it was too hard for me, but there is so much here and I am glad to have the opportunity to pass just a tiny smidgen of that on to you.