“All of the anxiety of man goes to his mouth, even so, his soul is not filled.”
Solomon continues to drive home this theme that so much of what we labor for does not serve us well because it either goes to waste or cannot be taken with us beyond the grave. At face-value, this can be discouraging and disheartening. And, this seems to be largely the focus of many of the Rabbinic commentators on the text — you labor to put food in your mouth, it is consumed and gone, and you are yet unsatisfied.
Yet, in the context of the whole, there is more here than might be seen on the surface. Solomon’s choice to use the word נֶפֶשׁ (nephesh), which does not just encompass the flesh, but the whole of a person as well (hence it is sometimes translated as “spirit”). And here, we begin to see a more important application of Solomon’s words…for it is not just a matter of our body not being satisfied by the works of our hands, our souls…the totality of our being…will find itself unsatisfied with our earthly labors if we are not also laboring in spiritual ways to nourish and strengthen our souls.
As a pastor, I have spent more time than I care to keep track of, talking with people who seem to be trying to find eternal satisfaction in earthly things. Does that mean that earthly endeavors are bad or fruitless? No, of course not. What it does mean is that earthly endeavors must be put into their proper context.
Here is an insight for you…if you spend some time in history, not just looking at the Great Reformation in Europe that spread throughout the world, but if you look at the “pre-reformers” like Waldo, Wycliffe, and Huss (to name but a few) and if you look at the times of great resurgences of faith (for example, in Liverpool with Bishop Ryle or in the areas where Puritanism took hold), there is one thread that unites each and every one of these movements: the conviction that the Word of God was to be studied and understood by every Christian in that Christian’s own language.
Rome fought hard against this because they saw the control of God’s word as the key to the maintaining of power. And thus, they sought to destroy all Bibles other than their own approved Latin edition. With the Reformation and the development of the moveable type printing press, they lost the battle. Now, Bibles are found across the globe in languages that almost anyone can access and in America, there are more translations of the Bible than you can shake a stick at and they seem to multiply annually. Yet, people are beginning to drift back to Rome at alarming rates. Why?
Could it be that the Bible is so accessible in America that no one bothers reading it anyway? Could it be that even in churches, that a kind of feel-good, surface-level theology is taught that no one can discern truth from error anymore? Could it be that the church has become so “polite” that it refuses to engage with the errors not only of Rome but of so many of the so-called “churches” that are out there? Could it be that Americans (even in the church) are as Biblically illiterate as were the medieval Christians who did not have access to the book? It seems to me that this is the only explanation for the trend of people to return to Rome.
Could it be that the solution to our problem is the faithful teaching of the meat of Word of God? I believe that this is the case. And I believe that is the heart of what Solomon wishes for us to understand. Regardless of your vocation, we are to pursue that vocation as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). To do that, you must be a workman in the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). It is accessible to you; read it, study it, and apply it to every aspect of your life. If you wish to see a resurgence of faith in life in America, that is how it begins. Without that, Solomon will assure you, that your soul will never find satisfaction.