What Did the Wise Man Mean?
The Value of a Good Name
A good name or reputation is something of value that deserves to be safeguarded. Wise King Solomon observed: “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born.” (Eccl. 7:1) In ancient times good oil was highly prized. It gave off a pleasant scent. Yet even more pleasing than the fragrance of good oil is a fine reputation. It is during the full course of life that a person’s name takes on real meaning, identifying him as to the kind of person he is. At death that name or reputation is sealed, finalized. Since a person has no reputation at birth, the ‘day of death is better than the day of one’s being born.’
A serious view of life is essential if one is to preserve a good name. Solomon recommended: “Better is it to go to the house of mourning than to go to the banquet house, because that is the end of all mankind; and the one alive should take it to his heart.”—Eccl. 7:2.
When death strikes a household it is certainly no time for a person to forget the bereaved and callously go ahead with his feasting and reveling. Rather, this provides an opportunity to comfort the mourners. At the same time a person’s going to the “house of mourning” can have a wholesome effect on him. He is forcefully reminded of the brevity of life and how quickly one’s plans and activities can be halted. This can occasion serious reflection on how a person is living his own life. The spirit prevailing in a banquet house, on the other hand, is not conducive to such sober thinking.
Solomon continues: “Better is vexation than laughter, for by the crossness of the face the heart becomes better. The heart of the wise ones is in the house of mourning, but the heart of the stupid ones is in the house of rejoicing.”—Eccl. 7:3, 4.
One at the “house of mourning” is made to appreciate the brevity of life and is vexed over its unforeseen occurrences. The individual’s face takes on a sad and severe appearance instead of being wreathed with smiles, as at a “banquet house.” The serious attitude reflected in the face can have a good effect on the heart, prompting a change in one for the better. “The heart of the wise ones is in the house of mourning” in that their heart gives consideration as to how they should live their life, and why. The heart does not reflect the shallow, reckless spirit associated with a place of revelry.
Continuing this line of argument, Solomon says: “Better is it to hear the rebuke of someone wise than to be the man hearing the song of the stupid ones. For as the sound of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of the stupid one; and this too is vanity.”—Eccl. 7:5, 6.
The person who strays from the right course would surely be benefited by the rebuke of a wise person. But of what value would be the fool’s song or empty flattery? Such could conceal faults and confirm a person in a wrong course, ruining his reputation. When the frivolous laughter of a fool comes at an inappropriate time, it can grate on the ears much like the crackling of burning thorns under a pot, the fool’s laughter making a disagreeable sound and offering no edification.