The honey and the bee

A land running with milk and honey is repeatedly promised by God to His people (first in Exodus 3:8). But then He wants them to seek honey from the rock (Deuteronomy 32:13, Psalm 81:16). Messy imagery or something more?

pollen on a beeAlways look for more. The Hebrew for honey – dabash – and for bee – deborah – come from the root dabar meaning a ‘word’ or ‘matter spoken of’. Possibly, the original meaning of dabar was ‘to arrange’ and its application to the bee reflects the beautiful symmetry of the honeycomb.

The relationship between the spoken word and the bee in Semitic languages has influenced other religious expressions in the Middle East.* In the Bible, the image of a land flowing with milk and honey points to a land flowing with richness or fatness (the root meaning of chalab, ‘milk’) and with the word of God. The word and speech of God is His dabar; the ten commandments are, in Hebrew, the ten words.** The word of God is compared to the sweetness of honey in Psalm 119:103.

These are pleasant images. So, why the reference to rock honey? Rock honey is not provided through human intervention in convenient hives. It is difficult, indeed dangerous, to collect yet is especially delicious. Maybe its healing properties are especially strong, as the bees have gathered from natural flora amidst the rocks, not from a farming ecosystem. The double imagery about honey tells us that the word of God may be readily available amidst abundance, but what is most valuable must be struggled for.

Honey is sweet, but sweet words can be dangerous. Proverbs warns “the lips of an adulteress drip honey” (5:3). As shown in an earlier blog, adultery is used of Israel’s unfaithfulness to her God, and leads to divorce. Both times the Bible speaks of seeking rock honey, it is in the context of failure by God’s people. Rock honey prevents or is the antidote to such failure.

Words – honey – which are convenient or tempting to us may come from the lips of an adulteress. Just before that verse about the adultress in Proverbs, it says “My son, give attention to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding”. The honey of the word of God requires us to give attention. Understanding is not to be found on the couch of an adulteress but in the place of struggle that is in the rock.

*For example, the Sumerian bee goddess, the Zoroastrian diety Mithra who holds a bee in his lips, or similar images of Diana of Ephesus.
**Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4.

One Response to “The honey and the bee”

  1. Nicola Neil Says:

    Hello,I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wishing you the best of luck for all your blogging efforts.