Ecclesiastes is a book of profound inquiry into meaning and significance, especially in the face of the finality of death. In the course of his inquiry, Solomon makes this observation:
For whoever is joined to the living, there is hope. Surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. (9:4)
This article explores the question, “Why? Why is a live dog better than a dead lion?”
The obvious answer to this question would be that it is always better to be alive than dead, especially if you are only viewing life from the horizontal plane, from the perspective of life “under the sun.” If you cannot see the eternal, then surely it is undeniably true that “a live dog,” whether purebred or mongrel, whether well-groomed or mangy, still has the ability to bark and to bite and to retrieve a ball and to take action, whereas “a dead lion,” however regal and powerful he may have been in life, cannot love or hate or take action of any kind. The legacy of the dead is fixed. “Wherever the tree falls, there it lies (Eccl. 11:3).”
It is from Solomon’s perspective, from the view that the living can still act and can still love and make decisions and make changes and the dead cannot, that I want to answer the question, “Why is ‘a live dog’ better than ‘a dead lion’?”
First I want to consider the believer, the true follower of Jesus Christ. Why for the believer is being ‘a live dog’ better than being ‘a dead lion’?”
The most important thing that you as a believer can do as long as you have breath is to proclaim the excellencies of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). Both Old Testament and New declare that believers are to be witnesses for the Lord (Isaiah 43:10; etc.; Acts 1:8; etc.), so as long as we are “a live dog” we are to testify of His glory. When the demoniac was converted and sent out to preach, Jesus instructed him, “Return to your home and describe what great things God has done for you (Luke 8:39).” There is no reason not to take Jesus’ instruction to this man as applying to all believers. While we still have time on this earth, we are to scatter seed and sow (Matthew 13:3) the word of God. The believer is commanded to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) of all nations, so all “live dogs” should be involved in that task. And we are called to love one another (John 13:34-35) and to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). The perspective of the believer is to be, “As long as the Lord has given me another day to serve Him as ‘a live dog’ here on this earth, I will make the most of my time (Ephesians 5:15-16) and glorify Him.” The believer sees death not as an end to be feared, but as a deadline that marks the completion of their work here on earth, a deadline that limits how much they can do for the Lord here. Because our days on earth are as mere handbreadths (Psalm 39:4-5), the believer labors with urgency while it is still the day (John 9:4), since soon his work will be done and he will become “a dead lion.” So it is better for the believer to be “a live dog,” since the believer can still pour himself out for the Lord.
Now we will turn to the much more dire consideration of the unbeliever, the one who has never truly come to faith in Christ. Why is it better for this person to be “a live dog than a dead lion?” Simply put, it is better to be alive because, as long as they are still alive, they can still be saved. As long as they are joined to the living, there is hope. The one who has never trusted in Christ lives in the perilous situation of being one heartbeat away from a godless eternity, but as long as they are living, there is hope. There is hope that they will hear the gospel and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. O, it is infinitely better to be still joined with the living, because the moment after death will bring judgment (Hebrews 9:27). O, unbeliever, now you are a live dog! Fly to Christ for salvation before it is forever too late. “Seek the LORD while He may be found (Isaiah 55:5).” Now you can still act. Now you can still repent. Now you can still believe. While you are still joined to the living, there is still time to escape from God’s judgment, but if you delay, though you be a dead lion, you will forever feel God’s holy wrath against sin. There is hope now, but you must heed the call and come to Christ. Receive the forgiveness that He gives to all who believe on Him. He died for dogs like you and me, so that we might live forever with Him.
“Surely a live dog is better than a dead lion.”
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