“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for this is the end of every man; let the one who is living lay this to heart.”
One could render the first part of this verse a little more idiomatically by stating that it is better to go to the funeral home than to the banquet hall. And just as with the former verse, this catches us off guard as a bit. It is certainly a more joyous thing to celebrate a birth than a death, or to celebrate a wedding than a funeral (the language of the house of feasting can be read as the celebration of a marriage — this too is a new life as two are joined together to become one flesh). It is certainly a more joyous event to baptize a child than to intern a body. So, what does Solomon mean here?
As with the previous verse, Solomon is helping us to learn perspective. At a birth there is only potential and the outward wonder at a new life. Yet, that new life is frail, it must be nursed, nurtured, and protected and even with that, sometimes the potentials hoped for are never realized. In Solomon’s day too, infant mortality was far higher than it is today, so there was a real threat that this child would not survive his earliest years.
In contrast, at a funeral, one has the privilege (assuming a life lived well) of witnessing the realization of his or her childhood potential. Having officiated more than a few funerals over the years, I can truly say that the time of sharing memories is a joyous thing and something that can bring great blessing and mercy to those suffering grief.
Solomon concludes this observation with a reminder to us — that we who are living take this to heart. The Jewish Midrash applies this as a reminder to us to attend funerals so that perhaps others will attend our funeral. We can extend this out to say that we all ought to live in such a way that people will wish to attend our funeral and that though they grieve, they too will have many rich stories to share with our widows or widowers and with the generations we leave behind. Counsel such as this is wise counsel for us all.