A Live Dog is Better than a Dead Lion? (Ecclesiastes 9: 4) – Enjoying Life between Misery and Mystery

Dog-Thoughts as we enter into the Year of the Dog: Part 1

Better to be  a Live Dog than a Dead Lion
There are times when life disappoints us even to the point of despair. Ecclesiastes 9: 3 confirms our fears: “This is the miserable thing in all that is done under the sun: One fate comes upon all. Moreover, the human heart knows its full measure of misery and folly during life—and after it, they join the dead.”

It is good at such times to take heart the counsel given by Qoheleth, the author of Ecclesiastes.

9:4 But whoever is among the living has hope;
a live dog is better than a dead lion.
9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything;
they have no further reward—and even the memory of them disappears
9:6 What they loved, as well as what they hated and envied, perished long ago,
and they no longer have a part in anything that happens on earth.

For Qoheleth, “a live dog is better than a dead lion”! Like most proverbs, the verse delivers truth with a punch. The despised, scavenging dog fares better than the King of the beasts? How can it be? The living have hope, may yet receive knowledge, gain a good reputation and enjoy a portion of what earthly life has to offer. The dead have none of these. Their time has passed with no hope or redress. The irony of life is that the living know they will die. Nevertheless, this is still better than those who are dead. Yes, life is a mixed bag.

Life can be wretched. There is no justice on earth when we are denied our just rewards while the wicked prosper. We can labour hard with wisdom and skill, but success is never guaranteed.

Is there really a silver lining behind the dark cloud? Actually, the situation is better than hoped for.
9: 7 Go, eat your bread with joy,
And drink your wine with a merry heart;
For God has already accepted your works.

Yes! But the last word is not grit with grief, but grace from God.  To be alive is to be open to receiving God’s grace. So stop complaining. Indeed, God takes delight in what we do (v.7) and we may yet gain his approval. Make the best of it – carpe diem (“seize the day”). Seek joy where it may be found. Live life wholeheartedly. Hence the imperatives:

“Go,” “eat,” “drink” • v. 7
“Let your garments be white,”
“let your head lack no oil” • v. 8
“Live joyfully with the wife” • v. 9
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” • v. 10

Life touched by grace should not a dirge but a delight. It is no longer bleak but bright. By God’s mercies, our lowly existence may be graced with simple luxuries (celebrative garb and oil • v. 6) and joyful relationship (with the wife • v. 9).

Enjoyment of life between misery and mystery may not end as a crescendo, but it is celebration with a minor key: “Joy experienced in circumstances like those is not escapist, not self-deceiving, not hedonistic euphoria. It is seeing life whole, real, valuable, and graceful…In the very face of death, expansive joy is not only possible but demanded. Only God’s grace can make it so. A time there is for everything (3:1), and now, whatever and wherever our “now” is, is a time for enjoyment.”

Enjoy a renewed life in the Year of the Dog

* No original thoughts here as they are plagiarized from several commentaries in the name of sharing research. O, Blessed Intellectual Theft!

Related Post: Friedrich Schleiermacher and “Dog Theology”

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