1 A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
3 Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Sometimes when a Bible verse or group of verses are difficult to fathom, it is beneficial to look and see what (if any) heading is given to the chapter in different translations as well as to read the different translations. Usually this helps, while other times it simply adds to confusion – at least initially. This was the case with today’s verses for me. Today I settled upon four different versions, the NIV above, the EXB (expanded Bible), the NKJV, and the NRSV with such diverse headings respectively as
- Some Benefits of Serious Thinking
- The Value of Practical Wisdom
- A Disillusioned View of Life
You may see all four in parallel here at BibleGateway.com.
As I spent more time reading and comparing the various versions and a bit of commentary some understanding finally came. So let me address the four verses above.
Looking at verse one, the first phrase is clear to almost anyone for indeed A good name is better than a fine perfume. However, what are we to make of the day of death [is] better than the day of birth? The second half only makes sense when it is tied to the first half. Having been to many funerals, one for a man with a good name celebrates his life and for Christians his entry into heaven with Jesus and the Father. In addition, all of trials, tribulations, the dramas of life are now over with the triumph of a good name at his or her end.
Reading verse two made the most sense to me initially as it communicates how everyone should be aware and take it to heart, their life will end. Too many people of my acquaintance live as if death is never coming, but it always near. A few Sundays ago we heard of a 17 year old and a brother of 14 who died in a car accident and the mourning of the family and community. I am 70 with two heart attacks in my background. I know death is always lurking just around the corner. Taking this to heart, whether 14 or 70, the question is how will we live our lives. Do not take this as one should not have joy or happiness in one’s life, but instead what should the source of one’s joy and happiness be?
Verse three was troubling for me until the EXB version provided some clarity
Sorrow is better than laughter, and sadness has a good influence on you [in a troubled face the heart is made well].
Clearly this ties directly back to verse two with the idea reflecting on events producing sadness produces a view of life to avoid and is surely better than continually seeking after laughter. In verse two the NIV compares this to a house of feasting and the EXB to a party [drinking house].
Finally verse four speaks about the heart of the wise versus the heart of fools. The fools among us only think of the good times generated by drinking and feasting and the pleasures of the flesh. The wise among us remain aware of how death awaits everyone and seeks to live their lives in such a way as to be pleasing to God.
These can be read and understood darkly or with great joy. The joy comes from rejoicing in the gifts God gives to us in our lives, even simply the wonderful gift of life and then the Gift of Grace through His Son on the cross. The darkness comes from the desire to be always seeking to please or sinful nature instead of pleasing God. The choice, as always, is ours.