WORD STUDY – WANDERING DESIRE
One of the stories from Geoffrey Chaucer’ s “Canterbury Tales” is entitled “The Pardoner’s Tail” In this story he makes reference to an enigmatic old man who is unable to die and wishes to trade his age for someone else’s youth. He explains that he cursed Jesus as he was on his way to the cross and was doomed to wander the earth and never die until Jesus returns, or until the second coming. This is a reference to the old legend of the Wandering Jew. It is told that when Jesus was carrying his cross to be crucified he paused to rest. When he did a Jewish man came up to him and mocked him and ordered him to keep moving, taunting him all the way to his crucifixion. He was then cursed to walk the earth until the second coming, living a life filled with desires but never able to be satisfied in their fulfillment. This theme has been played out in many variations from the Flying Dutchman to modern day morality plays. The idea is that what man desires most, immortality, when given proves to be a curse. He is doomed to wander the earth filled with desires of the flesh, but never able to find satisfaction in their fulfillment. This then becomes a punishment worse than the flames of hell.
Another variation of this legend has the Wandering Jew walking the Halaka or righteous life as atonement for his sin of mocking Jesus, yet never finding true forgiveness because he is unable to really know Jesus and understand that it was the cross that paid for his sin. So the Wandering Jew still wanders the earth to this day seeking his salvation through living a righteous life, yet never finding salvation because he does not know Jesus.
“Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire.” When you read this verse in Hebrew you can find many variations on the rendering of this verse. One variation almost tells the story of the Wandering Jew. The word better is tov and this can be rendered as in harmony with God.” The word sight is ra‘ah which references spiritual sight as well as physical sight. The word for eyes is Ayin which represents deep spiritual discernment and insight. So you could render that first part of the verse: “Harmony in spiritual insight with spiritual discernment is better than wandering of the desire.”
Here is this clincher, the word wander is halaka, a righteous walk and the word desire is nephesh the soul. In other words we can render this verse as: “It is more in harmony with God to have deep spiritual insight than to walk a righteous life to satisfy the soul.
I was reading an article about the Muslim religion and my attention was caught on photos of Muslims. (A Muslim is someone who follows Islam and Isalm is the religion a Muslim follows). I saw Muslims praying and others deeply involved in the study of the Koran. I could not help but think: “My word, these people are more devoted than I am.” I went to the Lord about this and I believe he gave me Ecclesiastes 6:9 as a response. There are a lot of religious devotees in this world that will walk a halaka a righteous walk for the sake of their soul. Yet, that is not in harmony with God. To seek the Ayin, the deep spiritual insight and discernment of God or, as the Ayin can also be expressed, to seek and know the heart of God is more in harmony with God than walking a righteous life for the sake of your soul.
I have to stop and ask myself: “Are these devoted Muslims just “Wandering Jews?” Am I a Wandering Jew?” Do I wander this earth seeking to walk the Halaka through my devotion, prayer and study of the Word and yet end up not really knowing God, not knowing His heart?
To seek to walk the Halaka or live a righteous life for the sake of your soul is vanity, an illusion and is a vexation of the Spirit. Some translations say it is like chasing the wind. The word vexation is ra’ah which has the idea of grazing or feeding. To walk a righteous life for the sake of your soul is like feeding on the wind. There is nothing there and your hunger is never satisfied.
So many people hunger for God and they seek to satisfy that hunger by living a righteous life, or devoting their lives to prayer and study, but like the Wandering Jew they find no satisfaction, their lives are empty. Like the Wandering Jew they can not see that it is Jesus the one they mocked that will fill that emptiness. To follow the Ayin (the sight of the eyes) will lead you directly to Jesus. To follow your own righteousness is like chasing the wind or trying to feed on the wind, it leads to emptiness. Our righteous acts are considered filthy rags, we do not owe them to God we owe them to the wind.