The Works of

Rev. Prof. Dr. F.N. Lee

15 July

While there’s life there’s hope; but not if one dies in one’s sins!

Ecclesiastes 9:3-6

‘There is one event, for all. Yes, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil…; madness is in their heart while they live; but after that, they go to the dead…. To him that is joined to all the living, there is hope. For a living dog is better than a dead lion…. For…the dead…have no more reward…. Their love and their hatred and their envy has now perished. Neither do they any more have a portion…in anything that is done under the sun!’ Ecclesiastes 9:3-6.

In the Ancient East, a dog was despised. So the comparison here is between the lion as the greatest of animals, even when dead — and the dog as the least worthy animal, even when alive. It is better to be a serf among the living, than a king among the dead. It is better to look forward even to death, than to have no memory at all after death (until the resurrection unto judgment)!

Every level of existence, however humble and even miserable, is far more to be chosen than the state of death. To be a living dog may have little attractiveness, but it is better than a dead lion. All the living have full confidence and joy. It is better to be a dog which lives, than a lion which is dead. The dog is the proverbial emblem of that which is contemptible. The lion is the king among beasts. But if the lion be dead, then all is over with its dignity and its strength. The existence of a living dog is to be preferred to that of a dead lion!

Calvin says in his Institutes III:25:5 & III:20:24: “Although the minds of men ought to be perpetually occupied with this pursuit (of man’s resurrection), yet — as if they actually resolved to banish all remembrance of the resurrection — they have called death the end of all things, the extinction of man…. Solomon certainly expresses the commonly received opinion, when he says ‘A living dog is better than a dead lion’ (Ecclesiastes 9:4).”

However, “while men are alive upon the Earth, they can mutually commend themselves to each other’s prayers…. This they do, by the command of the Lord — and not without a promise!… But all such reasons are inapplicable to the dead, with whom the Lord in withdrawing them from our society has left us no means of intercourse (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).”

In his Psychopannychia, Calvin adds: “(In) Ecclesiastes 9:1(-5)…, shall the believers to whom all things work together for good, regard affliction as an evidence of divine hatred? By no means!… They not only endure whatever befalls them with unshaken magnanimity, but even glory in tribulation — acknowledging with blessed Job: ‘Though He slays us, we will hope in Him!’ (Job 13:15 [and 19:25-27])…. The object of Ecclesiastes is not to show that the souls of the dead perish, but…to confess God…. There is no time of confessing, after death…. No time for repentance!”

Even if you feel like a dog — while you are still alive, there is hope! But if you should feel even like a lion as the king of all beasts — once you are dead, you are dead indeed!

While there’s life, there’s always hope. But not so, if one dies in one’s sins! And you?