Have you ever gone to the grocery store and gotten behind a family of six pushing two full grocery carts? There you are with your small basket hoping you’ve added things correctly so you’ve got enough cash. Finally the big family in front of you reaches the check out and the total is $350.00. Everyone in that family looks healthy, despite their boxes of candy and cigarettes – and the beer cartons. Then with Dad smiling, the wife reaches into her purse and pays for all their stuff with food stamps. You and your family are trying to eke out an existence, living on what income you can bring home. And here is a perfectly healthy family living high on the hog at tax-payers expense. It just doesn’t seem right.
And here are two men running for public office – or maybe they are women. One doesn’t have the budget of the other, but he has high ideals and well-known morals. He has ideas that sound great, and it appears he will benefit his constituency. While the other candidate, the incumbent, appears to be corrupt but with plenty of money and power. Which one is more likely to be elected to a fourteenth term in office?
And here are four people, all 50 years old and coming from different backgrounds and life-styles. Only one them lives be 100, and it just happens be one who chews Copenhagen and drinks Jack Daniels. Something isn’t right.
Philosophers have been struggling with notions like this for centuries. And these situations have thrown great and wise men down for the count. Don’t let it bother you.
But, someone says, what good does it do to strive to live right and to please God, when both the righteous and wicked die the same death? As we have seen several times, Solomon raises these questions, but he has learned to do so in a good context. In verse1 he essentially says, “I’ve considered this subject seriously, and therefore I can comment. The righteous and wise are in the hands of the Lord, whether they are rich and famous, or poor and famished. And no man should try to determine God’s love based upon the number of cars in his garage or their daughters’ complexion.”
Like Paul, Solomon reminds us of the common malady of all men – “It is appointed unto men once to die.” What Solomon doesn’t stress is the part which reads: “And after this the judgment.” What Solomon does stress is the necessity of living while you’re yet alive. Or as it is put elsewhere – “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest.” A living dog is better than a dead lion.
Let’s think about the dog and the lion this evening;
First, they say that LIFE is more valuable and important than LIFELESSNESS.
When I was a young teenager, while camping with my family I came across the skull of some dead rodent. It was about 4 or 5 inches long, with really long front teeth. I picked up my little treasure and took it home with me. Is there anything that pictures or illustrates death any more than a skull? I prized that little skull; it sat on the shelf above my desk, watching me do my homework each evening. Just about everyone who came into my room noticed my little skull. Perhaps even Judy remembers my skull souvenir. As much as I enjoyed it, that skull was just a THING – not an animal, and not life. A paleontologist might disagree, but just about anything which lives and breathes is more important than any inanimate object – including a skull.
This is a lesson which no one needs to learn, but it iu easy to misplace. There is the husband with the noble goal of living debt free, until he’s so preoccupied with his job that his family becomes secondary in his life. Can an honest, hard-working husband and father become dead to his family while still alive? And then there is the couple who push their parents into a nursing home, because they can’t be bothered with them any more. And there are those people who sell weapons to terrorists, just to make money. And the drug dealers, and the retailers, who peddle pornography or dangerous junk. Even Christians can get temporary lapses of memory in this area of life and living. There is our favorite TV show which we wouldn’t miss even if someone’s soul depended upon it. And the only day of week that I can sleep-in is Saturday, so forget about prayer meeting. I will tithe, but I refuse to even consider a dime more than 10%. We see these people in church business-meetings. They will insist on making sure that the church bills are paid. But if there is a suggestion about supporting new missionary, they scream in pain. They demand that the absentee be removed from the church rolls, but they can’t be bothered to personally bring a friend to hear the word of God.
When we compare lions to dogs, in most cases, the average man would vote for the lion. But if the lion is dead and the dog is living, there is infinitely more dignity in the dog. Life itself has its own special solemnity.
A second lesson in comparing the lion and dog is that ACTIVITY is better than PASSIVITY.
That little skull was a curiosity in my room; visitors saw it and commented on it. Some laughed, some choked, and some loved it. It had lots of interesting features. Like those teeth that stuck out about an inch, but which were really 3 inches long, extending back into the bone. I knew it to be true, because I could slide them in and out. But after a few moments of inspection by my visitor, it became just another object in the room. It usually sat next to my soap carving of a reclining rabbit. It sat on my shelf and did nothing; it never spoke, moved, danced or told jokes. Oh, but if that little creature rose from the dead, like the bones in Ezekiel’s vision…. If that little animal returned to life and danced on my desk, then it would have been the talk of the town.
Solomon describes two creatures – a worthless mongrel and a lion – the king of the beasts. But a virus has stricken down the lion, and all we can do is mount his head on our wall. That little dog may have been nothing in comparison, but it is ten times the lion now. That dog can entertain us, keep us warm or give us exercise. We can take him to a nursing home and be the star of the afternoon. That little dog may even save someone’s life in a fire or a drowning. That dog can love us – while the lion, whether dead or alive, never will. The dead lion is nothing but dead. He may be a dust collector on the wall and draw a few comments, as my little skull sometimes did. People may praise us for our hunting ability, when we forget to tell them that he died of a virus. And we might even sell the poor head to our neighbor for a couple hundred dollars. But it can have almost no other function.
And the same can be said about you and me. If we are obedient, active, helpful servants of the Lord and to others, we have purpose in life. But wall flowers belong on wall-paper, not in churches or in the Lord’s work. Hands have been created to be used; not to sit on. Minds have been given to us for a purpose, and it is not to store baseball statistics. Money has been put in our pockets for investing wisely. There are active Christians and there are passive ones. Notice that I didn’t say, there are “active people” and “inactive people.” I used the word “Christian.” Do you seek ways to serve the Lord and to participate in the Lord’s work? There is no point in being a lion, if for all intents and purposes you are dead.
And think of the losses of this poor lion.
Gone is all the nobility of his person. Is a dead lion still the king of the jungle? There are no generals, no presidents, no chairmen of the board in death. The righteous, the wicked, the poor and the rich all die the same death, as far as physical death goes.
The Lord Jehovah is not impressed any more with roaring of the lion than with the braying of the ass. And the harem of the lion has been taken by another. All the knowledge that beast has learned about hunting and leading is gone. In fact it won’t be long before no one will remember his name. What is the first name of your mother’s mother? My grandmother was Alice. Now, what was the first name of her mother? Squalabria. What was the first name of your grandmother’s grandmother? My grandmother’s grandmother was an Salish Indian princess, but I don’t even know her name. No matter how grand or great someone was, the late Mrs. Milligan or Miss Chreighton has finished her race. She shall very soon be forgotten.
Today is an important day; this is the day which have been given to do something for our Saviour.
So the noble lion has died, but what are the privileges of that living dog?
He may be a dog, a cur, the king of nothing more than a garbage dump, in comparison to the lion. But that living dog has a lot more before him than that dead lion. He may be captured by the dog catcher, placed up for adoption, taken home by a family with a special needs child, and learn to become a friend of a friendless little boy.
Put into the realm of humanity, what does the living dog possess? He may have no knowledge today, but a PhD in love tomorrow. More importantly, he may know of Christ only in cursing today, but tomorrow he may know him as Saviour. He may know nothing of Heaven today, but tomorrow he may have a deed to a mansion there. An earnest student is better than an unused library. There are thousands of professing Christians who know the Bible inside and out, but are dead lions with that knowledge. On the other hand there may be a puppy of a boy who knows nothing but “Jesus saves” and he is ten times more useful to the Lord than dead adult.
I have known people I’ve wished that I’d never meet again – we just didn’t get along. But as long as those people are yet live, there is the possibility of their salvation and reclamation. With that salvation comes a new life in Christ which can so change them that they may become unrecognizable. On the other hand there have been millions of the sweetest sinners the other side of Calvary, who have died and can never see the gates of glory because they died without Christ. As long as your neighbor has life he has the possibility of redemption. Don’t give up on him. Pray for him and invite him to Church Would this morning’s message been of any help towards his salvation? So who is better off: that dead lion with the name but no life? Or the cursed cur, with the opportunity before the Lord?
If we tried to illustrate our church with some sort of animal which would be the most appropriate? Are we a gazelle church – a jaguar or eagle? Are we a bear, lion or cobra? Its better to be a living dog than a cold, dead, lion of a cathedral or temple.
And what animal would best picture you? Centuries ago, the animal that many Christians chose as their mascot was the ox. In multitudes of ancient illustrations Christians placed that ox between an altar and a plow. They were willing either way to be a tool in the hand of the Lord or a willing sacrifice.
What animal would best describe you? Dog? Lion?