Make a Good Name with God
“A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”—Eccl. 7:1, Authorized Version.
1. What does everyone make for himself, and sometimes give to others?
EVERYONE makes something additional to what he does, even the one who does nothing. A man makes fine furniture, and, additionally, makes a name as a skilled craftsman. A woman makes delicious meals, and thus makes a name as a good cook. A third person does nothing, and makes a name for laziness. Everyone makes a name for himself. And sometimes we give names to others. Saul and his associates by their slander gave David a bad name. David by his psalms gave God a good name. Jehovah enabled David to make a good name for himself. Some who claim to represent God give him a bad name through their religious lies and immoral deeds. True worshipers by their words and their deeds give God a good name, and in so doing they make a good name for themselves with Jehovah God.—Ps. 64:1-6; 1 Chron. 17:8; Ezek. 36:20-23.
2. What seemingly strange statement is made in Ecclesiastes, and what counsel follows it?
2 There is a verse in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes that may seem to be a very strange statement to some readers: “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” How can this be? How can death be better than life? If you had a choice, would you not prefer to be beginning your life rather than to be coming to its end? Let us read this verse again, along with the verses that follow it:
“A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. 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. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.”—Eccl. 7:1-6, “Authorized Version.”
3. (a) What ancient custom in Israel is here discussed, and what is the most consoling thought for such a time? (b) How do we know that the name here mentioned is a good one?
3 Does this clarify the strange statement that the day of your death is better than the day of your birth? It does if you know the occasion and the background of those words. They concern a custom in ancient Israel. When a household lost a loved one in death, their dwelling became a house of mourning. It was the custom for friends and neighbors to come and offer condolences. The most consoling thought would be that the day of the death of this loved one would be better than the day of his birth—if he had made a good name with God. It is true that in the original Hebrew, verse one of this passage merely says “a name” rather than “a good name.”a However, it is to be understood that the name is a good one. A similar case is Proverbs 22:1: “A name is to be chosen rather than abundant riches.” Some translations supply the adjective “good” to show the kind of name meant.b Necessarily the name is a good one, in both the proverb and in Ecclesiastes 7:1; otherwise, neither of the statements would make sense.
4. What may we have at death that we did not have at birth, and why?
4 As we live, we make names for ourselves—good names or bad names. If we act wisely in God’s eyes, we make a good name for ourselves with God. But it takes time. On the day of our birth we have not lived long enough to make any kind of name at all. Furthermore, we are born under Adamic sin and condemned to death. (Rom. 5:12) Hence, if years later, on the day of our death, we have made a good name with God, we have something that we did not possess on the day of our birth. We have a name that God will remember when he resurrects the dead to life under Christ’s kingdom. “The remembrance of the righteous one is due for a blessing, but the very name of the wicked ones will rot.”—Prov. 10:7.
THE MOURNERS BENEFITED
5. What may the mourner ponder as he sits in a house of mourning?
5 But when an ancient Israelite went to a house of mourning to comfort the bereaved ones, there was benefit for him also. Consider this as we reread some of the verses. “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.” (Eccl. 7:2, AV) Not only does he show a kindly sympathy for the survivors, rather than callously pursuing his own pleasures, but also he ponders the fact that in this house a person has died, that it is not anything unusual, that death comes to every man, and that it will come to him also. When it does, will that day of his death be better than the day of his birth? Will he have acted wisely during his lifetime, so that by the day of his death he will have made a good name with God? The living must lay it to heart, while there is time to change, for a good name cannot be made in the few minutes of a deathbed repentance.
6. Why, in this instance, is sorrow better than laughter?
6 “Sorrow is better than laughter,” the account continues, “for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Eccl. 7:3, AV) Rather than consume time in frivolous merriment, it is better to examine your life, face mistakes made in the past and be saddened by wrongs committed. It will improve your heart and move you to change your ways and start acting wisely, rather than laughing and giggling your way through life like an irresponsible fool. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”—Eccl. 7:4, AV.
7. (a) In what frame of mind may this put the mourner? (b) Why is the laughter of fools likened to the sound of thorns under a pot?
7 Furthermore, “it is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.” (Eccl. 7:5, AV) Contact with death, as at a funeral, is a sobering experience and should cause a person to reflect on his own course in life. It may also put him in a frame of mind to listen to wise counselors. Criticism, even when kindly given, is difficult to endure, but it is better than listening to the song or the “praise of fools.” (The New English Bible) To hear and to heed the wise rebukes found in the pages of the Bible will enable us to make a good name with God. To fritter away our time listening to foolish flattery is vanity: “For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.” (Eccl. 7:6, AV) To use thorns as fuel under a cooking pot accomplishes nothing. The flame shoots up with noisy crackling, but soon dies down as the thorns turn to ashes. There is not enough substance to the thorns to make a fire last until the meat is cooked. The noisy display is as useless as the stupid one’s laughter. Neither accomplishes anything of lasting value.
AN EVEN STRANGER STATEMENT
8. With deeper understanding, what lesson is now discerned?
8 So now, with this deeper understanding, we go back to the statement that ‘the day of death is better than the day of birth.’ We see that it is no longer strange but is a powerful lesson on how we should live our lives in order to make a good name with God. Then the day of our death will be better than the day of our birth. That is, of course, if the day of our death ever comes. ‘What is that?’ some exclaim. ‘If the day of our death ever comes? You mean it may not? Why, that is an even stranger statement than the one about death being better than birth!’
9. What conditions do your eyes see, and what should they really see?
9 Again, it is a matter of understanding the times in which we live. Do you have eyes that see, really see? Certainly you see that the times are critical and hard to deal with, that many people are self-centered and haughty, that marriages collapse and families disintegrate, that cheating and lying and crimes of violence are everywhere, and that even many of those claiming to be Christians are proving to be hypocrites. But do your eyes see what these things signify? Second Timothy 3:1-5, 13 tells us what they mean:
“But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. But wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled.”
10. What do your ears hear, and what should they further realize?
10 Do you have ears that hear, really hear? Certainly you have heard about the wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilences that have plagued the world since 1914. You know of the moral collapse that afflicts the whole world. And you have heard of the worldwide preaching of the good news of Christ’s kingdom by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and of the waves of persecution that have rolled over them for declaring that this millennial kingdom is at hand. But do your ears hear the significance of these things? Do they register the truth that these things were foretold by Jesus as a sign of the end, when he was asked by his disciples, “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”—Matt. 24:3.
11. What do scoffers say, and thereby provide what?
11 Is your heart sensitive to what all of this means, or is it thickened with calluses that cause you to say, “All these things have happened before”? Those who scoff are providing another part of the sign that we are in “the last days.” Their presence was foretold at 2 Peter 3:3, 4: “In the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.’”
12. What now is new in world history?
12 However, surely your heart is sensitive to the fact that when you consider the earth-wide pollution of our planet you discern that ‘all things are NOT continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.’ Never before have men had the power to destroy the earth as a habitable planet. They have that power now and they are using it now to do that very thing! The men of science have given industrialists a technology that was to be a blessing to all mankind, but that blessing has turned into a curse, as it pollutes the environment, and deadly diseases stalk the earth. The air we breathe is poisoned, the soil that grows our food is toxic, many rivers and lakes that supply our drinking water are dying, and the oceans are becoming international cesspools!
13. About what feature of the sign are scoffers unable to say, “It has happened before”?
13 Is your heart aware that the earth’s ability to sustain life is in danger, that this has never happened before, and that scoffers cannot dismiss this as history repeating itself? They might like to, for this ruining of the earth was also foretold as a part of the sign of “the last days.” The Bible book of Revelation revealed this almost 19 centuries ago, in Re chapter 11, verse 18: “The nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came, and the appointed time for the dead to be judged, and to give their reward . . . to those fearing your name, . . . and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.”
14. Why did the majority in Jesus’ day, and now the majority of our day, fall to heed the warning?
14 If your eyes really see, and your ears really hear, and your heart is not calloused, you will understand that we are living in “the last days” and that the end of this wicked system of things draws near. But the majority of mankind do not understand this, just as the majority in Jesus’ day did not grasp his warning message. What he said to them then, quoting the prophecy of Isaiah, applies to mankind today:
“Looking, they look in vain, and hearing, they hear in vain, neither do they get the sense of it; and toward them the prophecy of Isaiah is having fulfillment, which says, ‘By hearing, you will hear but by no means get the sense of it; and, looking, you will look but by no means see. For the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response, and they have shut their eyes; that they might never see with their eyes and hear with their ears and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back, and I heal them.’”—Matt. 13:13-15.
15. Who can now rejoice, and with what hope in view?
15 In the next verse Mt 13:16 Jesus adds these words for his followers: “However, happy are your eyes because they behold, and your ears because they hear.” Those today who have eyes and ears and hearts that see and hear and understand that we are living in “the last days” can be truly happy. “As these things start to occur,” they are told, “raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.” (Luke 21:28) Some of those living in “the last days” may never have to face the day of their death. Jesus compared this time to the days of Noah. Just as Noah and his family were preserved through the flood that destroyed that wicked world, so today those who act wisely and make a good name with God will not see death when Jehovah God destroys this evil system of things at his war of Armageddon. So it is not voicing the impossible to say that some may never see the day of their death. Rather, it is expressing a hope from God.
16, 17. What are people reluctant to face, and what is crucial for us now?
16 In ancient Israel, a man might reason that he had the rest of his natural life to make a good name with God. A man hides from the fact that he may die tomorrow. He knows others will, but not he. Others younger than he is will die, but not he. He always sees a few years remaining for him to live. To reason thus is a human mistake, a dangerous one. It would have been so even for a man in ancient Israel, but it is a much more dangerous mistake for us today. We are not living in normal times, when we might expect to live out a normal life-span of threescore and ten or even fourscore years. We are in “the last days.” The death of a system of things draws near. It is crucial for us to heed the words of Ephesians 5:15-17: “So keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked. On this account cease becoming unreasonable, but go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is.”
17 Now is the time, while you have life, before the day of your death, to make a good name with God.
a See the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
b Authorized Version, American Standard Version, The New English Bible, etc.; see also the New World Translation footnote.
[Picture on page 21]
The day of death better than the day of birth—how can that be?
[Picture on page 24]
How can the day of death be better than this?