Honey in the Bible

HoneyThere’s a whole lot of honey in the Bible! No, really, there’s quite a bit. There’s a land flowing with “milk and honey.” There’s “honey from the rock.” There’s even honeycomb–and no not the cereal kind! Honey is mentioned for its sweetness–both literal and metaphorical. I’m interested writing about honey because to me it is a fascinating thing and a wonderfully rich symbol. If you think about it a bit, honey is one of the weirdest things we eat–it’s made by bugs from yellow dust that flowers produce, after all! Also, it was one of the only truly sweet things that the ancient Israelites would have eaten. They didn’t have candy stores and Coca Cola like we do.

So where does honey show up in the Bible?

In Genesis 43:11, Jacob sends honey with his sons as a gift for the overlord of Egypt (i.e. Joseph). In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua the text mentions “a land flowing with milk and honey” many times. Also, the manna from heaven is said to taste like cakes made with honey (Exod 16:31). Yum! Judges 14 relates a strange story about the judge Samson who eats impure honey from a beehive in a lion carcass. “Honey from the rock” is mentioned twice (Deut 32:13; Ps 81:16). What is that?

In 1 Sam 14, honey becomes a flashpoint for the life of Jonathan who eats some honey despite there being a curse spoken by his father, the king, on anyone eating before sundown. A “jar of honey” shows up in 1 Kgs 14:2. The Psalms compare God’s words to honey (Ps 19:10; 119:103). Proverbs instructs us to eat honey and wisdom (Prov 24:13), but then warns that eating too much honey will cause us to vomit (Prov 25:16) and that it is not good to do so (Prov 25:27). The lover in the Song of Songs eats honey (Song 4:11; 5:1). Honey is often associated with curds (2 Sam 17:29; Isa 7:15, 22)

In the New Testament, John the Baptist eats locusts and honey (Matt 3:4, Mark 1:6). And John eats a scroll as “sweet as honey” (Rev 10:10).

Honey is to be a symbol for sweetness. I mean, you don’t really think that an evil woman’s lips actually drip honey (Prov 5:3)! Honey also appears as a common ingredient for breads and cakes (Exod 16:31; Lev 2:11; Ezek 16:13, 19). It has a kind of raw purity attached to it and is the kind of thing you would eat if you came across it while you are out and about–an ancient Israelite snack. I want to take a look at some other ancient Near Eastern cultures that wrote about honey and compare it to the biblical passages. Hopefully, I can come to a better understanding of what biblical honey is all about.

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