Beyond the Fragrance: The Enduring Legacy of a Good Name

Perfume BottleSolomon wrote, “A good name is better than a good perfume, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Eccl 7:1). This seems antithetical to our worldly culture. That’s fine. God’s Word always challenges our secular viewpoint. A good name speaks of a good character, and a good character is more desirable than a good perfume. But why does Solomon say a good name is better than a good perfume? I’m glad you asked. In the ancient world, perfume was used at funerals to mask a body’s decay, and it was used on all, both the good and the evil. But whereas the pleasant aroma of good perfume is temporary, a good name will endure. It will endure to the end of one’s life and beyond. For this reason Solomon says, “the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” But what is Solomon talking about? Why is the day of one’s death better than the day of one’s birth? I’m glad you asked. A birth marks a beginning of life, one with numerous possibilities, either for wisdom or folly, righteousness or wickedness, goodness or evil. Though there are forces at work (within and without) to push and pull us one way or another, our life is what we make it. And our value system and the daily choices we make, whether biblical or worldly, will direct us onto the path of righteousness or wickedness, and every moment is a choice to continue along that path or turn from it. For the righteous, as long as we are alive and walking with the Lord, there’s the possibility our good name may become ruined if we turn from that path. But if we maintain our goodness and integrity to the end of our life, our good reputation will be sealed forever. And among the righteous, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, and favor is better than silver and gold” (Prov 22:1), and “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Prov 10:7). The death of the righteous is like the setting of the sun on a beautiful day, with bright rays shining through the clouds and lighting the sky on fire for all to enjoy and revel in its glory.

Ironically, Solomon failed to abide by the wisdom he gave to others. For Solomon, who started out well in life, eventually turned away from the Lord and chose a path of idolatry and wickedness. At the end of his life, Scripture reveals that “Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done” (1 Ki 11:6). Though good perfume was used on Solomon’s body at the time of his death, his good name was tarnished by his evil actions.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles: