A Full Soul and a Hungry Soul
The full soul loatheth an honeycomb;
but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.
1. In this proverb Solomon makes three contrasts:
a. The contrast between the full soul and the hungry soul.
b. The contrast between something that is loathed and something considered sweet.
c. The contrast between a honeycomb and a bitter thing.
2. By means of these three contrasts, the proverb drives home a point that Solomon (as a wealthy king) probably learned the hard way… many times over.
The full soul loathes a honeycomb
The first part of the proverb makes this point: people who have a lot usually don’t appreciate what they have.
1. The full soul
a. The term “soul” here is used as a synonym for a creature; a person; a life.
b. The person Solomon describes is “full.”
• He is well fed; he eats well every day; he is full and filled.
• It refers to the person who has had enough or even too much. (This describes a man right after a big Thanksgiving dinner.)
• Isa. 1:11 – This term is used in a figurative sense of God being “full” of their offerings. He has had so many He is sick of them… because they were not offered with the right heart attitude.
2. The full soul loatheth a honeycomb.
a. Normally, finding a honeycomb was a real treasure.
b. They didn’t eat as many sweets as we do today. A honeycomb was a treat. Everybody loved honey and the honeycomb.
c. That is almost everybody. The full soul does not love it. He loathes it!
d. Loath: This term has two related meanings.
• Trample down; kick about.
• To loath; to have desire for.
• They are related in that something that is trodden down is usually something you have no desire for; something you loath. (like weeds in a garden)
• The context of this passage makes it clear that it should be translated “loath”; however, there are a few translations that translate the word as “trample down” – Darby; Holman; Young’s; etc.
e. Since Solomon is speaking about eating, “loath” is probably best.
• However, “trampling on” is not as odd a translation as one might at first imagine.
• We are accustomed to getting honey or a honeycomb in a store.
• In Solomon’s day, a honeycomb was often stumbled across in walking along a trail. The nest might get so full of honey, it would fall off the tree. A lucky traveller walking along might come upon it. It was normally considered a great find! (Jonathan found a honeycomb in the woods and ate of it.)
• Solomon’s point here is that a person who is full; a person who ate too much who happens to find a honeycomb might just step on it and keep on walking.
f. Either way (translated as loath or trample on) the point is the same: a man who is full isn’t interested in a honeycomb.
• To him it is no great find. It is not the great treat that it might be to someone else – like Jonathan who was starving after fighting a battle.
• Trampling over it or loathing it in this context is pretty much the same thing.
• Both demonstrate Solomon’s point: This man is so full that even something as delectable as a honeycomb doesn’t interest him.
• He is full; he has no room for it; it is not tempting to him. It doesn’t even look appealing.
• It might even make him feel a little sick just looking at it—like that third piece of pie on Thanksgiving Day.
3. The greater point that Solomon makes here extends far beyond just food and honey.
a. The one who is FULL – to the man who has everything and even more that he needs, the simple treats in life are not very appealing any more. They have lost their “sweetness.”
b. The man who is full will walk right by them, as if he hated them.
c. As an extremely wealthy king, Solomon probably experienced this daily.
d. He had everything his heart desired and more.
e. When you have access to everything imaginable at all times, those things lose their appeal. They are no longer special. They are no longer a treat. The thrill is gone and they become old very fast.
4. This is one of the reasons why rich people aren’t always happy.
a. The man who becomes rich suddenly is able to buy a beautiful boat. It cost him a million dollars and he was thrilled when he first got it. But after time, it isn’t as sweet as it used to be. Before too long it could even become a pain in the neck.
b. The man who buys properties at Vail, another on the French Riviera, and another home in Florida, discovers that soon that which he thought would make him happy becomes a tax burden; unending upkeep; he has to deal with vandals; rivalry and jealousy set in; and before too long he begins to loath the burden they have become.
c. He is so FULL of things that those things are no longer as pleasurable as they used to be.
d. Things that others might consider sweet (like a honeycomb) actually become a source of bitterness for the man who is full.
To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet
The second part of the proverb makes this point: people who have very little tend to appreciate the little things.
1. In contrast to the man who is full is the hungry soul (hungry man).
a. Hungry: to be famished; suffer hunger; to have hunger pangs; a serious lack of food.
b. We’ve all been hungry; and we’ve all been full.
c. Solomon’s point in this part of the proverb is that the hungry man has a sensitivity that a full man does not have.
2. To the hungry man, “every bitter thing is sweet.”
a. Here is the paradox:
• To the full man, sweet things (like a honeycomb or multiple luxury homes) become common place and eventually even distasteful. They can become a source of bitterness. Things that are sweet to others become bitter to him.
• To the hungry man, bitter things (things that others might consider bitter) become sweet. For example, if you told your kids that they were having Fig Newtons for dessert, they might complain. To them, Fig Newtons are not a treat. To them, it is a bitter experience. But trying offering Fig Newtons to a child in Bangladesh! To him who is hungry it is sweet!
b. To most of us, if someone said that you were going to become a millionaire next month, we would probably say, “That’s sweet!”
• But if you were a billionaire, and someone said that you were going to become a millionaire next month, he would see that as a bitter experience!
• Depending upon your present circumstances, things might be either bitter or sweet.
• When it comes to food, there’s a big difference between a man who is hungry and a man who is full. Their appreciation of a cookie might vary greatly.
• When it comes to material goods, there is a big difference between a man who is full (wealthy) and a man who is hungry (poor). The rich man cannot appreciate the little things as the poor man does.
• Solomon experienced that daily—and he saw it on the faces of the poor daily. He saw poor men rejoicing over that which would seem so trivial an insignificant to him—like one small coin; or a little cottage; or one ewe lamb.
• The poor man given the little cottage to live in would rejoice beyond measure; a king given a little cottage to live in would be bitter. It would be like a prison to him.
3. Of course, the way to deal with this aspect of fallen human nature which Solomon observed is to learn to be content in whatever state we find ourselves in—whether a cottage or a palace… rich or poor… with plenty or little.
a. Appreciation for material possessions has nothing to do with how many material possessions we have; but rather on our heart attitude towards those things.
b. Possessing more things doesn’t necessarily make us happier with those things.
c. Those who possess MUCH usually don’t appreciate what they have.
d. And don’t sit around wishing you were full and rich, for the poor man with his little is often much happier than the rich man with his much.
e. Mathew Henry noted that a hungry man can thank God for bread and water whereas a full soul thinks the greatest delicacies are hardly worth thanking the Lord for.
f. What a great lesson to learn—especially at a time of year when so much emphasis is placed on buying “things.”
4. True joy and satisfaction comes through our relationship to Christ… not by possessing things or becoming rich in earthly goods. Satisfaction comes through learning to appreciate our TRUE riches in Christ.
a. To the unbeliever, the Word of God and its message is a bitter pill.
b. But to the believer, the Word of God is sweeter than a honeycomb!