7 A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
4 The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
I’m going to be honest: proverbs make me feel uneasy. They contain colloquialisms and some cultural elements that I don’t think is easy for us to completely understand and take to heart because we didn’t live in that time. I then have to use a concordance or two to make sure I know what Solomon is talking about here. Chapter 7 is said to offer some consolation or wisdom as follow-on to all the heeds, warnings, and descriptions of vanity in life we have previously read in Solomon’s address. The first 4 verses of this chapter highlight the usefulness of leading what we may call “a good life”. To sum it up with a sentence from what I found in one concordance: “We were born to uncertainty, but a good man does not die at uncertainty.”
Ointment at that time signified importance in the world. We may remember when Mary anointed Jesus with expensive ointment before his crucifixion. In many parts of the world outside of the United States, you will find that scents are very important and they signify importance of the people from which they come. Solomon’s wisdom here portrays that it doesn’t matter what we have, but rather what we have done in life that matters most. This is why death is better than birth in this proverb, because it signifies that we have (or at least should have) done things for others, just as Solomon described is of utmost importance earlier. Verse 2 signifies the importance of taking to heart the importance of our life. Whenever we are faced with death, we are forced to consider our own mortality. It is good for us to do this because we realize how short of a time we are on this earth and it causes us to better consider what is truly important in our lives. Solomon contrasts this to going to a feast where we tend to forget about the important things and only focus on the moment.
Verses 3 and 4 are related (although this whole passage carries similar meanings) in that it teaches us the importance of sorrow. It is when we learn our own frailty and incompetency that we will be able to experience true joy. One of the things we learn in Celebrate Recovery is that we will not truly seek out help until the pain of not changing is greater than the fear of facing the necessary change. It is in our sorrow of recognizing our own sinfulness that we are finally on the path to experiencing true joy. Staying in the house of pleasure is merely a band aid to try to fix what we deny is broken. Whether it is alcohol, drugs, sex, workaholism, anger, physical abuse, or many others: they are all attempts to avoid our own sadness. Once we recognize and accept this brokenness and sadness, we are able to start working towards the solution: Jesus Christ and a relationship with God. This is what Solomon calls wisdom.
I am learning more and more that it is the depravity of darkness that reveals to us the gravity of the light. It really isn’t until we fully comprehend the sorrow and sadness of our brokenness that we were born into that we can appreciate what Jesus’ sacrifice truly did for us. Solomon encourages us not to let our lives slip away and strive after wind, but to appreciate the gift of life and live it fully the way we were designed to. Instead of ignoring and avoiding the tough things in life, we should dive in (as painful as it may be) so we can begin to experience true joy and happiness.