A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
The connection between the two clauses of this verse is not at first sight apparent. But it may well be intended to draw attention to the fact that it is in the case of the man who has justly gained a good name that the day of death is better than that of birth.
I. THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH REPUTATION AMONG MEN IS WORTHLESS, AND IN WHICH SOLICITUDE FOR REPUTATION IS FOLLY. If the reality of fact points one way, and the world's opinion points in an opposite direction, that opinion is valueless. It is better to be good than to seem and to be deemed good; and it is worse to be bad than unjustly to be reputed bad. Many influences affect the estimation in which a man is held among his fellows. Through the world's injustice and prejudice, a good man may be evil spoken of. On the other hand, a bad man may be reputed better than he is, when he humors the world's caprices, and falls in with the world's tastes and fashions. He who aims at conforming to the popular standard, at winning the world's applause, will scarcely make a straight course through life.
II. YET THERE IS A RIGHTEOUS REPUTATION WHICH OUGHT NOT TO BE DESPISED. Such good qualities and habits as justice, integrity and truthfulness as bravery sympathy, and liberality, must needs, in the course of a lifetime, make some favorable impression upon neighbors, and perhaps upon the public; and in many cases a man distinguished by such virtues will have the credit of being what he is. A good name, when deserved, and when obtained by no mean artifices, is a thing to be desired, though not in the highest degree. It may console amidst trials and difficulties, it is gratifying to friends, and it may serve to rouse the young to emulation. A man who is in good repute possesses and exercises in virtue of that very fact an extended influence for good.
III. IT IS ONLY WHEN LIFE IS COMPLETED THAT A REPUTATION IS FULLY AND FINALLY MADE UP. "Call no man happy before his death" is an ancient adage, not without its justification. There are those who have only become famous in advanced life, and there are those who have enjoyed a temporary celebrity which they have long outlived, and who have died in unnoticed obscurity. It is after a man's career has come to an end that his character and his work are fairly estimated; the career is considered as a whole, and then the judgment is formed accordingly.
IV. THE APPROVAL OF THE DIVINE JUDGE AND AWARDER IS OF SUPREME CONSEQUENCE. A good name amongst one's fellow-creatures, as fallible as one's self, is of small account. Who does not admire the noble assertion of the Apostle Paul, "It is a small thing for me to be judged by man's judgment"? They who are calumniated for their fidelity to truth, who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, who are execrated by the unbelieving and the worldly whose vices and sins they have opposed, shall be recognized and rewarded by him whose judgment is just, and who suffers none of his faithful servants to be for ever unappreciated. But they may wait for appreciation until "the day of death." The clouds of misrepresentation and of malice shall then be rolled away, and they shall shine like stars in the firmament. "Then shall every man have praise of God." - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.