Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
Today's passage focuses on this question: ″Who knows what is good for a person?″ (Ecclesiastes 6:12). Hence we see the frequent use of the terms ″good″ and ″better″ (7:1, 2, 3, 5, 8). The Teacher is clear that there are wise and foolish ways of living. It is true that wisdom has its limits (1:18; 2:13-15), but still, some courses of action are better than others.
To explore the difference between wisdom and folly, the Teacher uses a traditional form: one-verse proverbial sayings like those in the book of Proverbs. But if the form is traditional, the content is unconventional and puzzling. You have to work at making sense of these sayings-which is doubtless what the Teacher intended.
Why is ″the day of death better than the day of birth″ (Ecclesiastes 7:1)? Perhaps the underlying idea here is that expressed in 7:8: ″The end of a matter is better than its beginning.″ Wisdom takes a long-term view. Just as a perfume can lose its fragrance, so you can lose a good name through an act of folly or wickedness. A wise person can be coerced or bribed into acting like a fool (v. 7). If you want to be remembered as righteous (Proverbs 10:7), you must maintain your righteous conduct till the end; only when you die is your good name secure. So yes, from this viewpoint, the ″day of death″ is not all bad! Similarly, an unpleasant experience may cause one to wear a ″sad face″ (Ecclesiastes 7:3), and yet it may turn out to be ″good for the heart″ because our character grows as a result (see Hebrews 12:4-11). What is unpleasant at the time may benefit us in the long term. Ecclesiastes 7:5 makes a similar point.
Above all, the Teacher wants us to reflect upon our mortality (Ecclesiastes 7:2, 4). He doesn't literally mean that we should avoid bars and nightclubs and instead spend our days in funeral parlours. As texts like 2:24-26 make clear, he is not against enjoying food and drink-moderately and in a thankful spirit. What he does mean is: don't be escapist; don't use hollow forms of entertainment to help you ignore unwelcome but good advice (7:5), or to distract yourself from thoughts of death. That would be merely futile (v. 6).
What sort of wisdom is this? Essentially, one that encourages a realistic attitude to life. If wisdom helps us to face facts, even facts we might wish were not true, then it does us a great service.
So, who knows what is good for a person? The Teacher does, as evidenced by his strange but highly practical proverbs.
The world today is awash with various forms of entertainment. It is surely not wrong to relax and enjoy such entertainment now and then. When does wholesome relaxation become dangerous escapism?
What are some ways in which you could make yourself reflect on your mortality? What value might there be in doing this?