Death is a deal-breaker in Ecclesiastes, but not in Proverbs. Why? Part of the answer may lie in the difference between the worlds implied in the two books. Here are a couple characteristic contrasts:
“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” (Prov. 10:7)
“For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools.” (Eccl. 2:16a)
“Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” (Prov. 22:6)
“I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me — and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish?” (Eccl. 2:18-19a)
And with the social world becoming less stable, the sense of self links less to the multi-generational community, more to the individual—which can also shift perceptions of what counts as justice. Jeremiah: “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge” (31:29-30).
The world of Proverbs may feel like a more comfortable world— “Nice work if you can get it”—but it’s Ecclesiastes that sets death up as the enemy, with its conqueror not yet on the horizon.