A common way of understanding the book of Ecclesiastes is that the preacher, Solomon, is observing the perplexities of life and concluding that life is meaningless or vanity and so in the end you may as well give up and grasp on to God. Some of our modern English Bibles make it pretty easy for us to come to that conclusion; for example, the first verse of the NIV declares, “Meaningless, meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Now, I don’t believe that is the message of the book. As we have seen, Solomon is actually developing a positive case that, yes, life is a breath (a better translation of the key word in the book),however, there is beauty in the breath, when every moment is observed to be a gift from the hand of God.. I’ve suggested to you that the key verse in Ecclesiastes is 3:11: "He has made everything beautiful in His time”

Coming to chapter 7, this chapter of Ecclesiastes makes no sense if Solomon’s message is that “Life is Meaningless”. If life is truly meaningless, then it wouldn’t matter how one lives it. However, this section of Ecclesiastes clearly suggests a better way to live. The word better is used seven times and comparisons are made throughout the chapter.

Yet as this chapter unfolds we will find that Solomon is responding to perhaps the most threatening counter to his thesis that God makes all things beautiful in His time. How does God bring beauty out of death and suffering?

He is going to say that there is a better perspective on life, and what he points us too may be surprising: he is going to suggest that the hardest, most difficult, most sorrowful, moments of our lives are actually good things in the hands of God. 

Bad Days Are Good Because They Call Us To Face the Realities of Life and Death

Eccl. 7:1   A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.
6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity.

Verse 1 transitions us from the topic he’s been addressing over the last two chapters, wealth and contentment, concluding that one’s reputation is worth more than riches. The second part of the verse however moves us forward into this next section of the book in which Solomon addresses the problem of death and suffering head on, making the audacious statement “the day of death than the day of birth.” In what way is the day of death better than the day of birth?

What is the day of death? It’s clear from the context that Solomon isn’t speaking about the day of our own death, but is speaking about the days in which we are confronted with death. He’ll go on to speak of the house of mourning and concludes this section by speaking of the day of adversity. The day of death is a day of sorrow in which we face the reality of death, we encounter the breathiness of life. For Solomon, this confrontation with death is a good thing, for as David Gibson writes, "death is a powerful evangelist.”

“Death is an evangelist.” Gibson writes, “He looks us in the eye and asks us to look him right back with a steady gaze and allow him to do his work in us. Death is a preacher with a very simple message. Death has an invitation for us. He wants to teach us that the day of our coming death can be a friend to us in advance. The very limitation that death introduces into our life can instruct us about life … The day of death is better than the day of birth—not because death is better than life; it’s not—but because a coffin is a better preacher than a [crib]”

If Death is an evangelist, then his message is one that we all need to hear. Look at verse 2:

2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.

The first point in death’s sermon is to bring us face to face with the reality that death awaits us all. At some point the curtain will close on your life and mine, and no matter how healthy we live, no matter how we ate, no matter how much we exercised, we have an expiration date. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). To Solomon, going into a house of mourning is better than a house of feasting, because it awakens us to the realities of life and death. Gibson writes:

The Preacher has learned that there are two types of people at the funeral. The fool sits there thinking how unbearably grim this is and can’t wait to be outside in the sunshine and back to what he was doing, and to get out to the pub in the evening. But the wise person sits in the funeral home and stares at the coffin and realizes that one day it will be his turn. The wise person asks himself, “When it is my turn, what will my life have been worth? What will they be saying about me?” He loved his bowling and his partying and his holidays. Is that it? (Gibson, David. Living Life Backward (p. 97).)

Death’s sermon is meant for us all, because all of us will fall before Him. Death is a trap that none of us can escape. The preacher is a realist. He looks at the uncomfortable realities of life: its fleetingness, its monotony, its perplexities, its brevity. The fact that we are all going to die. 

However, death’s message is not one of despair but of hope, verses 3-4:

Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

Here Solomon’s promises us something very profound - that the uncomfortable sorrow (the Hebrew is translated “vexation” elsewhere in Ecclesiastes) that confronts us on the day of death, is actually a tool God uses to bring about a greater gladness. For it is through an unflinching, sober look at the reality of death and tragedy that we can take proper scope of our lives and set our lives in proper order. That is wisdom. Preparing to meet our God is the pathway to true and lasting gladness.

Now here we must understand that our culture has a different strategy for dealing with the uncomfortable realities of life: escapism. Instead of learning the lessons found in the house of mourning, we will run to the house of mirth. Escapism is a defence mechanism. Examples: 

  • Ideological Escapism: college campus Safe Spaces, suppression of free speech, echo chambers, and blocking people on social media

  • Pharmaceutical Escapism: drowning out life with drugs, alcohol, opioids 

  • Fantasty Escapism: gaming, role play, losing yourself in books or television. These are literally called diversions. (not merely hobby’s, but a means to withdraw from life). Pornography is also a from of this. 

  • Leisure Escapism: travel, sports, entertainment, thrill-seeking

  • Religious escapism: there are forms of religion that are escapist, particularly name-it, claim-it prosperity gospel teachings in Christianity and some New Age teachings. Both can have elements which suggest that acknowledging negativity gives it power.

The temptation of escapism is to drown out Death’s stinging sermon, the wise words of rebuke with “the song of fools”, but verse 6 tells us that the laughter of fools is like the the crackling of thorns under a pot.

Face-it-ism: The Christian face takes the opposite perspective. Instead of running away from the uncomfortable realities of life, we actually aim expose the deepest and darkest parts of our soul to some of the most uncomfortable realities of life. As i’ve said before, the church is not a “safe-space”. Every week we come together to allow the word of God to expose our hearts, we reflect on the brevity of life. 

  • We need to face the reality that our life will end, and we don’t know when

  • We need to face the reality that death is something we need to prepare for

  • We need to face the reality that if we are honest with ourselves, we have blasphemed God

  • We need to face the reality that judgment, condemnation and eternal punishment await us.

  • We need to face the reality that our judgement and condemnation is deserved.

  • We need to face the reality that merely reforming our lives is not enough to appease justice

  • We need to face the reality that our only hope for life are death is a saving mercy of God

  • We need to face the reality that Christ was punished severely for our sins in our place

  • We need to face the reality that he bled and cried and was tortured and died for us

  • We need to face the reality that he rose from the grave victorious, having defeated death

  • We need to face the reality that we need a saviour and that God has provided.

  • We need to face the reality that he has given us a mission to set these realities before others.

We must not be the crackling of thorns for others. Laughing with them as we escort them to hell. As uncomfortable as it may be, we must at times preach the sermon of death to them.

2Cor. 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

Bad Days Are Bad Because They Can Ruin Us Solomon argues that bad days are good because they call us to face the realities of life and death, but let’s not be overconfident. Bad days can be very bad - they can ruin us if the Holy Spirit has not prepared us for them. 

7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

When we come face to face with oppression or temptation, and we have not prepared ourselves for the onslaught, it ruins us, “drives us to madness” and “corrupts the heart”. When we are faced with a bad day, a day of death or adversity, we can so easily puff up our pride “How could God allow this to happen?” rather than to accept the days with a patience of spirit. Anger can very easily lodge in our heart. And we can very easily look back at the former days and become bitter or paralyzed from moving forward. 

And so how are we to properly hear the good message of the bad days and not grow bitter?

Understanding God Has Made Both Bad and Good Days Is Wisdom that Can Preserve Life

11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?

Eccl. 7:14   In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

I love Solomon’s picture here. How many of you have money saved up for a rainy day? Many of us. Why do we do that? We do that because we know that some extra cash can carry us through a bad day. Your car won’t start, you’re sick and can’t work. It’s a good thing you put some money away. But Solomon says that there is something better than money to save up for a bad day - save up wisdom for that bad day. Wisdom will carry you through a bad day and preserve your life in which you are confronted with death.

And we is the wisdom that will preserve you: God has made both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity - for his purpose, with his understanding, according to his plan. We don’t know what the future holds. But we know who holds the future. 

Ira Stanphill was born on February 14, 1914, in Bellevue, New Mexico.  He lived most of his younger years in Kansas.  By the age of 10, Ira was an accomplished musician, playing the piano, organ, ukulele and accordion. He also went on to learn the guitar, saxophone, clarinet and xylophone.  Ira accepted Christ at the age of 12. By age 17 he was writing his own music for church services and prayer meetings, and at 22 he began preaching.

Ira married Zelma Lawson on April 23, 1939.  Zelma was also a gifted musician, with the abilities of singing and playing the piano.  Their marriage ended in divorce in 1948.  Accounts of Ira’s life offer differing opinions on why they divorced.  Some say that Zelma had addiction problems and left Ira for other men.  Others say that she was an excellent singer and was not content with life in the ministry.  She left to pursue a career in the entertainment field and to become a celebrity. Soon after Zelma was gone, died in a car accident on February 12, 1951.

Zelma’s leaving and death put Ira in a great state of depression and grief.  He could not understand, after years of being dedicated to the service and ministry of God’s work, why God would allow him to go through this.  Some accounts say that Ira was tempted to give up on Christian work altogether.

The story is told that one day as Ira was driving, deeply sad and in despair, he began to hum a tune.  As the tune became stronger, words formed and Ira started singing!  He sang about not knowing what the future held, but knowing that God would be there to walk with him each step of the way.  When Ira got to his office, his rushed to his piano to write down the words and music to the song we know today as “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”. (https://therisingchristianchurch.com/2016/01/12/story-behind-the-song-i-know-who-holds-tomorrow/)

I don't know about tomorrow;

I just live from day to day.

I don't borrow from it's sunshine

For it's skies may turn to grey.

I don't worry o'er the future,

For I know what Jesus said.

And today I'll walk beside Him,

For He knows what is ahead.

Many things about tomorrow

I don't seem to understand

But I know who holds tomorrow

And I know who holds my hand.

I don't know about tomorrow;

It may bring me poverty.

But the one who feeds the sparrow,

Is the one who stands by me.

And the path that is my portion

May be through the flame or flood;

But His presence goes before me

And I'm covered with His blood.

Many things about tomorrow

I don't seem to understand

But I know who holds tomorrow

And I know who holds my hand.