“A good name is better than a pleasant ointment and the day of death from the day of his birth.”
Solomon continues to offer application in the form of proverbs and often, if we are only reading the passage on a surface level, he still seems to be rather pessimistic. Yet, do not look at this passage in terms of pessimism, but in terms of giving perspective on how one lives life as a whole.
And so he begins with a phrase that is very familiar to us in the western world — a good name is better than pleasant ointment. Your reputation in society rests on your good name. If you build a reputation that you can be trusted and that your word is your bond, you will go far in this life. If you develop a reputation that you are a rascal, well, society will give you a very short leash. And, the reputation you earn in life will be passed on to your children — they will inherit either your good name or your bad one. If they inherit a good one, they will be expected to preserve it. If a bad one, they will have to overcome it. The former is far easier than the latter.
The second piece of wisdom is related to the first, though it may not seem to be at the outset. When does one know the name that will be left behind? It will be at the day of one’s death. At the day of birth the community celebrates, but it celebrates potential. At the day of one’s death, while the community mourns, they will recognize the realization of that potential (or lack thereof). How sad it is when a person leads a life of reckless folly rather than walking with the wisdom laid out in God’s word.
Solomon will build on this idea as the passage continues; keep in mind that he is not pointing you to hopelessness, but reminding you that there is a hopefulness, but that hopefulness can only be found in God himself.