A sated man loathes honey, But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet. (Pro 27:7 NAS)
Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied. (Pro 27:20 NAS)
The obvious meaning of Proverbs 27:7, “A sated man loathes honey, but to a famished man, any bitter thing is sweet,” is that with the exception of a very few people, if somebody has had his fill food, is no longer pleasant. If I eat too much Lasagna, then ice-cream won’t seem pleasant. On the other hand, if I’m very hungry even mustard greens and turnips might seem tasty.
This simple observation has so many applications in the realm of eating. For instance, if you intentionally eat less during the day while you are busy, then in the evening, a diet of healthier or less expensive food will still be pleasant. This could help you save money or lose weight. If you intentionally satisfy your hunger on healthy food, then dessert won’t seem so necessary. If you learn to live with less superfluous pleasure, then any gift you receive, even from the poorest of the poor will be satisfying. Learning to drink less coffee will make the coffee you do drink more satisfying. Going for walks will make being stuck in traffic not a big deal, etc.
But, there is a counterpoint to this first proverb, “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied. (Pro 27:20 NAS)” Death and Destruction, personified, never have their fill. Every beautiful thing can be destroyed. The most supple body will age and stiffen. The loveliest face will wrinkle, and the strongest man will die. The most wonderful painting will crumble, most savory meal will end, the greatest civilization will be consumed and made into dust. Similarly, the saying states, the eyes of humanity are never satisfied.
The eye here, means the desires of the soul and mind. And so it is observable that humanity will go on desiring bigger and better things if the pleasures are not tempered. This was the wisdom of the Stoics. But the problem is deeper than Stoicism can solve. Even though the desire for more wonderful things must be aimed and disciplined, the Proverb here states this state of affairs as a matter of fact. The insatiable eye of man is not just a problem to be solved, but it is an aspect being human. Ecclesiastes puts it thus, “Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecc 3:11)” This insight is not lost on philosophers and theologians. Everybody is a pleasure seeker. For instance, Pascal noted:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
And yet after such a great number of years, no one without faith has reached the point to which all continually look. All complain, princes and subjects, noblemen and commoners, old and young, strong and weak, learned and ignorant, healthy and sick, of all countries, all times, all ages, and all conditions.
Blaise Pascal, The Harvard Classics 48: Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters, and Minor Works, ed. Charles W. Eliot, trans. W. F. Trotter, M. L. Booth, and O. W. Wight (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), 138.
The question that the text demands to have answered is “what, in the final analysis, can satisfy the eye?” Proverbs has an answer,
Pro 8:11 b” wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
Wisdom, in Proverbs, is the designation for a life lived skillfully and ethically with God as Lord and partner. Gain wisdom and you’ll gain something beyond all of your other desires. This is a tall order. Yet the New Testament says similar things:
Mat 5:3-9 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (4) “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (5) “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (6) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (7) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (8) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (9) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The blessings Jesus offers to his disciples are rather over the top and they include seeing God.
Anyhow, I think there are two ways to apply the notion of satiety to the spiritual life to the Christian:
If we spend time aiming to seek the highest good, rather than merely an immediate good, in God’s kingdom, then we will be satisfied beyond the need to succumb to temptation. Even the honey of sin will seem bitter. This is not instant, it is a life long process of responding to God’s variegated grace. This is why the spiritual disciplines are so important. The help us learn the long view of satisfaction with God.
If we spend all of our time feeding the passions with immediate gratification and never train the mind or will to seek God and the good of others when it feels unpleasant, then we will feel too full for spiritual things and dissatisfied with the things we do acquire. If our hours are filled up with over much television and special effects, aimless internet surfing and youtube binging, then it will be harder and harder to find pleasure in the long journey of following Jesus. In other words, the effort to understand the Scriptures, love neighbor, be a contributing member of a local church, and gain wisdom incrementally will become burdensome or boring. We’ll be too full for the honey of the easy yoke of Jesus.
We could all use a bit of self-control, but at the end of the day, we still have ask, self-controlled so that my self can seek or gain what?
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