Sweeter Than Honey

As I drizzle the honey onto my toasted English muffin, I am repeating an activity which has crossed cultural divides around the globe and endured for millennia. For billions of people, this remarkable golden, viscous fluid has served to delight the senses – not only adding sweetness but enhancing the flavor of the food we eat. It is this simple, common pleasure which God uses to describe the blessings He has in store for us.

When God established the covenant relationship with the people of Israel, it included the promise of a land for His people to inhabit, but not just any land. Over and over again, the promised land is described as being a land flowing with milk and honey[1]. In my childhood imagination I pictured rivers running through the country filled with sweetened milk like the river of chocolate in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. That certainly is not what God had in mind, but what does it mean for a land to be flowing with milk and honey?

To be “flowing” means there is an abundant supply. For both milk and honey, this means the land itself must be both fertile and well-watered. This results in ample pastures for livestock to graze which in turn provide the milk for people. It also results in an abundance of flowers for bees to tend in order to make honey we consume.

I think it is worth noting that, unlike the milk which is derived from animals tended by people, the honey eaten by the early Hebrews most likely was collected in the wild. There is evidence of beekeeping in Egypt 5,000 years ago, but this source of honey was a luxury item. Several passages in scripture refer to collecting honey from honeycombs found in rock clefs, hanging from trees, and even one found inside the carcass of a lion[2].

Honeycomb built into a hole in a cliff face

Promising a land flowing with milk and honey is especially significant to a people who inhabit a region with an arid to semi-arid climate – a climate which is subject to drought and famine. Relying on nature alone would not bring such a promise to fulfillment. It could only happen if God is superintending the land in which they dwell.

This promise of God is more than just about material blessing. It is recognized that the promised land is not the only place flowing with milk and honey. Dathan, one of Moses’ detractors, refers to Egypt as such a place – complaining that Moses has taken them away from a place of abundance to wander in the wilderness[3]. Even before they enter the promised land, scouts who went into survey the land came back with a report that it was already a land flowing with milk and honey[4]. Rather, what God has in mind is a place of both material and spiritual blessing – a place of abundance into which God will go with them[5].

A pasture in Israel with grazing sheep and lots of flowers for bees

God predicted what would happen if the Israelites forgot the spiritual dynamics of the covenant and only satisfied themselves with the material blessings: they would abandon God and worship things of the world[6].  While they may be allowed to get their fill of honey, God does not guarantee the spiritual blessings if the Israelites continue in their rebellion. If they rebel, they can march into the promised land, but God will not go with them[7].

Sadly, this is what happens, and they forfeited the land flowing with milk and honey as a consequence of their repeated rebellion[8]. When they unhitched God’s provision of material blessings from the blessings of God’s presence and guidance, they sunk into abhorrent sins including sacrificing their children to idols[9]. Lest we think this is only true of ancient days gone by, we need to be reminded how our affluent, “enlightened” western culture of today is sacrificing our children to fulfill contemporary ideologies: sex trafficking, gender transitioning and abortion.

Possessing the abundance of the promised land – the land flowing with milk and honey – comes with an understanding that God’s people will abide in the words of God – obedience to His instructions[10]. The God who made us let us know our best life cannot be had through material blessings alone. In order to thrive we need to be nourished by his instructions to us – an insight which Jesus emphasized[11]. There is honey-like sweetness to be found in words of grace and wisdom – the grace and wisdom which comes from God[12].The psalmists remind us that it is not only the honey from the land which is sweet, but that God’s Word is even sweeter[13].

In as much as God’s word is sweet like honey, it does not always go down well. Both the prophet Ezekiel and the apostle John had visions in which they were given scrolls to eat – scrolls which contained the Word of God[14]. The scrolls were at first sweet as honey to the taste, but then they soured the stomach. They contained “words of lament, and mourning, and woe”. God’s Word is not meant to tickle the ear, but is meant to challenge us in the way we live and call us back into righteous living. To many, the gospel of Christ is offensive because it does not permit us to live life in any way we choose. But if we choose a life in Christ, it is an abundant life[15].

If the Word of God is to be likened to honey, it is worth thinking a little bit about how we come by that. The honey we put on toast does not just come down from heaven like manna. While we can see God as ultimately the provider of our honey, it does derive from an intermediate agent: honeybees. In a similar fashion, God’s Word comes to us through intermediate agents – people with whom He has entrusted it. God’s written Word was obtained through humans who were inspired by God to write it down[16]. God has also entrusted people to be the messengers of His words – preachers, prophets, evangelists and Sunday School teachers[17]. In a sense, all believers are God’s little bees since we are challenged to be “prepared to…give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15) – to share with others the Word of God which we have received.

To take the analogy a little further, bees make honey by collecting nectar and pollen from flowers and then process these with enzymes. The product is stored away as honey in honeycombs. The stored honey is then available as a food supply for all the bees in the hive including the developing larvae in the hive. Any one bee only produces a teaspoon of all the honey found in the hive, so many bees are required to make all the honey that is needed.

Similarly, we each gather the Word of God from creation, from scripture, and from the testimony of other believers. We assimilate this into our own lives which sustains us in good times and bad. With what we have learned, we are enabled to share God’s Word with others – especially the next generation. Thankfully, no one person is responsible for providing the “honey” for everyone. God has called us to be a community of believers who sustain one another in the faith.

As I finish my English muffin spread with honey, I am left with one question for myself: how will I be a good bee today?

[1] Eighteen passages in the Old Testament describe the promised land in this way, including Exodus 3:8, 17, 13:5.

[2] In the rocks: Deuteronomy 32:13, Psalm 81:16; Isaiah 7:19-20; from a tree: 1 Samuel 14:25-26, 43; in a lion carcass: Judges 14:8-9, 14

[3] Numbers 16:13-14

[4] Numbers 13:27

[5] Numbers 14:8-9

[6] Deuteronomy 31:16-20

[7] Exodus 33:3

[8] Jeremiah 32:22-23; Ezekiel 20:6-8

[9] Ezekiel 16: 13, 19-20

[10] Leviticus 20:22-26; Deuteronomy 6:3

[11] Deuteronomy 8:1-3; Matthew 4:4

[12] Proverbs 16:24, 24:13

[13] Psalm 19:10, 119:103

[14] Ezekiel 2:9-3:3; Revelation 10:9-11

[15] John 10:10; Romans 5:17

[16] 2 Samuel 23:2; John 14:26; Acts 3:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21

[17] Isaiah 52:7; Ephesians 4:11-12

3 thoughts on “Sweeter Than Honey

  1. Well done, Carl!

    Yes, it’s all about beeing; being busy as a bee about the Lord’s work.

    In God’s field of flowers,

    Liked by 1 person

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