What is the difference between “fast,” “faster” and “fastest”? Isn’t it obvious? “Fast” means that something goes quickly. “Faster” means that something goes more quickly than the thing which only goes fast. The suffix “er” usually means there is a comparison between two things. One is faster than the other. “Fastest” technically means that of three or more things, this one is the quickest of them all. The suffix “est” speaks of a comparison between at least three things.
Similarly, something might be good or beneficial – like an oatmeal cookie. On the other hand, that cookie served with vanilla ice cream is actually better than merely a good cookie. Ah, but a chocolate Blizzard with chunks of fudge is actually better than the other two – it would be best. “Better” is an improvement on “good” or “beneficial,” but “best” is the best of them all.
I am not well-taught enough to tell you that the Hebrew bears this same comparison as English. But Solomon often uses the word “better” – but he never employs “best.” Not once does he tell us that anything “is the best” of its class.
In verse 2 he says that “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.” If using the comparative suffixes means anything, between the house of mourning and the house of feasting, mourning is the better. He is not comparing three places, or four or five – only two. Between a house where death has visited and a home filled with feasting, the house of mourning is better. He could have gone on to say that some other house would be the best to visit. He could have pointed to the house of God, for example, but he didn’t, because that wasn’t his point. All that he gives us is a comparison between mourning and feasting.
My question for us tonight is a simple one – why? Why is a visit to the house of mourning better than to be wined and dined at a great feast? Solomon gives us some answers, and a bit of meditation supplies us with a few others. Why is it better “to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting”?
Because death and mourning are at the end of all life, and people need to remember that fact.
“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.” Feasting is not enjoyed by everyone; it is not for everyone even if they can afford the very best. The word “feasting” is used only 7 times in the Bible. But the Hebrew “mishteh” (mish-the’) which is here translated “feasting” is translated other ways – a total of 46 times. It is rendered “feasting” “feast” “banquet” and “drink” in the sense of wine as in Daniel 1:16. In other words, Solomon was saying “It is better to go to the house of mourning – to a funeral – than to go to the party where the wine and beer are freely flowing.”
Two weeks ago Saturday, despite the cool weather, the woman living directly behind our house had her first patio party of the season. It began quietly during the mid-morning but by mid-afternoon it was raging like a 5 alarm fire. The beer had taken its toll on the woman and her guests, and it didn’t flare out until about 11 p.m. If I had jumped the fence, quoting Ecclesiastes 7:2 those people would have laughed in my face. The world might say that this is “counter-intuitive;” it is not logical. But Solomon’s statement is thoroughly logical, because 99.9% of all human beings who have been born into this world have eventually died. Relatively soon my neighbor will die, as will each of us, because “it is appointed unto all people to die.” The only exceptions are a handful of especially blessed saints of God, and the people who are alive at this moment, but who will die sometime in the next hundred years.
About 3 weeks ago, it occurred to me that I had two weeks to get ready for Victory Baptist’s Men’s Retreat. I had to prepare 2 messages for Colorado, as well as 4 messages for here – today and two weeks ago. I needed to get 3 history lessons and 3 bulletins ready. And then I needed to figure out what sort of things I would need for the high country in the Spring. In other words, I had a lot of preparations to make, without really knowing what all the needs would be. I wonder if my neighbor across the back fence has ever fully considered that she has an appointment with death and with the great eternal Judge? Certainly, her party the other day didn’t cause any of her guests to think about that appointment. But if instead of a beer-soaked BBQ, they had all been at a funeral, the results might have been different. “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.”
As I was forced to hear an unending cacophony of inebriated laughter that Saturday afternoon, I pictured some of our church get-togethers. I have heard exuberant laughter among us, but it was entirely different than that which I heard the other day. God’s people can enjoy one another’s company, but the relationship and the joy are different from that of the world. And yet even OUR feasts can become fleshly and sinful in different ways. For instance, we might eat too much.
In Job chapter 1, we find the same word “feast” used to describe the entertainment of Job’s children. And the scripture tells us that he worried about those young people. Even for them “It (would have been) better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting.” Not one of those children knew that in a short time a great wind would come from the wilderness and bring down the house of the eldest son down on them all while they were feasting on his wine. We have to wonder if any of them were prepared to face their eternal judge. What profit was there in their feasting and parties?
Verse 4 adds “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Without a doubt, there is a lot of ungodliness in many modern funeral services. There are lies told about the deceased and there are lies uttered about their futures. There is as much heresy in the average funeral home as there is in the average liberal church. And many times there is a even more wickedness in the wake of those funeral services. The house of mourning often becomes no better the local tavern. But when Christians are in charge of a funeral service, there is often some degree of wisdom. There ought to be a short but accurate presentation of the gospel. There should be a reminder that we all will soon follow that hearse toward our own cemetery plot. There should be comfort presented to the mourners – a solace coming from the God of all comfort. A Christian funeral service ought to be filled with Biblical wisdom. There is even the opportunity for godly praise. That is not usually the case when the participants are not truly Christians, but it ought to be.
On the other hand, I cannot picture a house of mirth as a place of wisdom. I have never been in a comedy club, so I can only imagine what goes on there. But I picture a great deal of alcohol and attempts at being funny where there are no rules. I cannot picture a house of mirth with any degree of wisdom being present. Rarely does someone leave such a place more wise than when they first entered. “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting.”
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better – verse 3.
Only a fool would say that laughter cannot be positive and curative. There is a place for laughter; it is healthy both emotionally and physically. Laughter opens valves which release dopamine, endorphin and other hormones, which can often be very beneficial for a person. But generally speaking the good is only temporary and the benefit is rarely spiritual.
“Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” When tragedy strikes a person, he often follows a predicable pattern of emotions and responses. Both Christian and non-Christian researchers have recorded their observations. Depending on a great many variables, including one’s preparation, grief is often expressed through denial, then anger, followed by depression and finally acceptance. Some add two or three more links to the chain, but these four or five steps are pretty common. Someone who was not close-by may refuse to believe that their loved one has died. If the death was brought about through an accident, or a suicide or some sort of evil, the loved one, may at first refuse to believe that death has come. Then he may become angry at himself for not being there to help, or angry at the cause of the death, or angry at the deceased for leaving him – even if it was through disease or an accident. He may then make excuses or bargain with himself in order to feel better. That may develop into some degree of depression which can sometimes last a very long time. But usually, there comes an acceptance of the loss. And with that peace is restored and healing takes place.
Christians are exhorted not to sorrow as the unsaved do, and sometimes this is difficult. But the saints have resources which are unavailable to the unbeliever. We have promises in regard to the future and often about our loved one. And we have the presence of the Holy Spirit – “the comforter.” When we lose a loved-one no one will ever replace him or her. But eventually “the countenance of the heart is made better” and we can move forward.
Is there genuine progress and growth when it comes to laughter and mirth? I am no expert in the subject, and I am not a biographer of any noted comedians. But I have laughed at the jokes and the lives of some people early in their lives and careers, but over time, been forced to turn away because their humor became lower and more disgusting. Rarely do even Christian comedians get more godly in their entertainment. This makes Solomon’s statement even more true – sorrow is better than laughter.
The laughter of the fool is as useful as a flash light at toasting bread.
“For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.” I am told that in Hebrew there is a play on words in this verse. “Thorns” is “sirim” while “‘pot” is “sir.” One commentator said this sounded to the Hebrew ear like, “the noise of the nettles under the kettles.”
We have very little trouble finding wood to burn in our part of the world. At our camp site this past week, we could hardly step off any path without stepping onto fallen, dried timber. We may get a little persnickety, preferring aged tamerack over newly fallen ponderosa. But put yourself in the sandals of those who had no gas or electric stoves and who also lived where there was little wood. The Jews were often forced to use thorns, hay and stubble to cook their meals. And for the most part those things would quickly and noisily burn, soon dieing away.
What an apt illustration of the comfort and usefulness of laughter. Let’s say that someone really likes to eat Cheetos. How long would that person stay healthy, if all he ever ate were Cheetos? The laughter of a fool is just as healthy for the soul of that man. We all need the meat of the word to go along with the milk. And we need the serious things, blessed by the Holy Spirit. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.”