In chapter 7, Solomon focuses attention on the “better” things in this life under the sun. Ecclesiastes 7:1 began with the statement that a good name is better than expensive perfumes. I believe 05 live the dashthat his point was that it’s better to leave behind a good epitaph than an expensive embalmment. Corpses were drenched in perfumes to keep the stench of decay at bay for as long as possible so the mourners would not be repulsed by the rotting remains. Solomon seems to be suggesting that positive investments in the lives of others while you are living are far more important than fancy burials. I wonder if Jesus wasn’t echoing this sentiment when he condemned the religious leaders for whitewashing the outside of their tombs that is making the external acceptable, but ignoring the truth of a wicked heart. It appears that Solomon is suggesting this because of the second half of verse 1. Ecclesiastes 7:1 continues, “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”

How can this be? We celebrate at the birth of children and we grieve at the death of loved ones? Two major Rabbis understood this passage as saying the reputation, or the good name, of the first part of the verse was undetermined at birth and it wouldn’t be finalized until death. In other words as long as we’re living there’s a chance we’ll still do something to ruin our reputation. As Ben Sira says, “Call no man happy before he dies, for a man is known [only] at his end.” And Hillel said, “Do not trust yourself till the day of your death.” (Quotes taken from the Jewish Publication Societies commentary by Michael V. Fox) It seems the focus on the first day of one’s life in contrast to the last day of one’s life is what is intended.

Isn’t it interesting that on most tombstones these two dates are separated by a single dash. Everything we do, every day we live is included in that little line. The smallest and most insignificant of symbols on our tombstones and yet it encapsulates every day of my life. The meaning of our lives, our reputations, our names for good or for bad are summed up in that dash. James 4:14 asks, “For what is your life?” you know what it is. Look at any tombstone! It’s a dash! It’s dash! James confirms that truth but uses different words. He says, “It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” James’ epistle is often compared to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament which includes Ecclesiastes. I think Solomon and James are making the same point: both are suggesting that our time on this earth is extremely limited in comparison to eternity. The true heart of the matter is how you fill your dash. It’s today that I plant the seeds that will fill the dash. Today, as one writer put it, “I orchestrate the stories that will be told at the end of the dash.”