1 ¶ A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. 2 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 lay it to his heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. 6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
For verse 1 of chapter 7 we can see that elsewhere Solomon said;
Proverbs 22:1 ¶ A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.
Ointment for anointing (Exodus 30:25) was very expensive and valuable. In John 12:5 we are told that ointment could cost the ancient equivalent of three hundred pence, the plural of penny. Since Matthew, chapter 20, shows us that a penny was a day’s wages, we know that, in Jesus’ day walking on earth in the flesh, at least, a box of ointment could cost nearly a year’s wages.
Here, Solomon tells the reader that a good name is worth more than something very expensive and the day of one’s death, after one has been proven good or bad and it is settled, is better than the day you were born.
The idea here is that once all is said and done, that is the time to praise someone or something. A similar thought was spoken by King Ahab to his Syrian oppressor.
1Kings 20:11 And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.
In this depressing vein Solomon expressed the thought that a wise man will be sober and even mournful and sorrowful while a fool will take things lightly. In this, he adds that it is better to hear the rebuke of the somber wise man than the light hearted advice of a fool. Remember, Solomon is speaking very temporally in these passages yet and is building a case that will have a conclusion later on.
When a man or woman comes up with a great idea, at least in their own mind, they will seek advice from naïve and foolish friends who tell them, “It’s your thing, man. You’ve got to live your life. Go for it!” While a parent or grandparent or older friend, who has already seen great damage in their lives and in the lives of others caused by so-called great ideas will warn them to be careful or simply tell them that their great idea is a bad idea. It is better to take their advice than to be like Solomon’s son and take the advice of the foolish. See 1Kings, chapter 12, for Rehoboam’s foolishness in taking bad advice resulting in great loss to himself and to his people.
Solomon’s focus is on this temporal existence, fleeting and shadowy like smoke from a small fire that drifts away in a breeze or fog that dissipates with the sun’s heat. Don’t let Solomon’s disgust with the ways of the world and the ways of man bring you down. Read the entire book, not just a drib and a drab here and there.
Solomon’s observations will help us when we consider the end of the matter, as his words imply.
7 ¶ Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. 8 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. 10 Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
A ruler who shows wisdom in other things but who engages in oppression and takes bribes will lose his mind and see his spiritual heart turned into a gnarled, abominable thing. Solomon here may be referring to his own fears about how he will be perceived by future generations like presidents today worry about their historical legacy.
He repeats a sentiment that implies that the end of his life will be better than the beginning as time will have proved his goodness or wickedness, his success or failure. He must be patient in attitude and not proud, not hot-tempered because a hot temper is the pride of a fool. He said elsewhere;
Proverbs14:17 ¶ He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.
Proverbs 16:32 ¶ He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
And Paul warned us;
Ephesians 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.(Neither here is like saying, don’t even. Sometimes it is not even. See 1Peter 2:22 and Galatians 2:3.)
He warns himself not to talk about the, “good old days,” because that is not a wise thing to do. We tend to do that as we get older, talking about how good things used to be. Unfortunately the more I study the former times by reading primary sources; letters, newspapers, eyewitness accounts, and other documents I don’t see that the former times in this country were all that good either physically or, most assuredly, spiritually. The compromises and bad faith Christians displayed in the last two hundred years have helped create the mess we have today; whether it be not living according to the clear commands of God in His Bible or looking to human government as God’s agent on earth, as if we were ancient Hebrews. No, the former times were most certainly not something to brag about. For example, when eyewitness accounts reveal that the so-called Second Great Awakening was initiated in the early 1800’s, in part, by a “revival” where alcohol flowed freely and sexual immorality was rampant there isn’t a whole lot to stand on when it comes to how great the old days were. “Give me that old-time religion,” sort of leaves you cold when you look at the facts, rather than listen to the hype. (3)
Anyway, Christians are not supposed to be looking back. Your best times with Christ on this earth are right now. And then, of course, eternity with Him is waiting.
(3) Gordon S. Wood, Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), Kindle edition, Chapter 16.