Honey, the sweet, sticky substance spread over bread or added to hot tea, has been enjoyed by humans since the beginning of creation.
More than just a natural bee byproduct or favorite treat for bears, honey has also been known to have medicinal properties that can help with sore throats, burn treatment, and even memory loss. It is even referenced in the Bible on numerous occasions.
Naturally, some passages describe honey being given as a gift or consumed.
- John the Baptist was said to have survived on a diet of locusts and wild honey in the wilderness (Mark 1:6; Matthew 3:4).
- Samson once ate honey out of the skull of a dead lion’s carcass (Judges 14:8-9).
- The armies of Israel found honey on the forest floor but were instructed not to eat it by order of King Saul (1 Samuel 14:24-46).
- Jacob sent his sons with gifts of “balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds” for the Pharoah of Egypt (Genesis 43:11).
These are practical examples.
More often than not, however, honey is used metaphorically and symbolically in the Bible to convey a deeper spiritual truth or idea. These metaphors are as plentiful, unique, and specific as honey’s numerous applications.
Here, then, are a few of the most significant references to honey in the Bible and what they signify.
God’s Promise of Abundance
Arguably the most popular reference to honey in the Bible can be found in the Old Testament in God’s description of the Promised Land.
This was to fulfill God’s covenant promise with Abraham, which stated, “I will give you and them (Abraham’s descendants) the land in which you are now a foreigner. I will give the whole land of Canaan to your family forever, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).
Though Abraham’s descendants eventually fell into slavery at the hands of Egypt, God had not forgotten His promise.
In fact, in Exodus chapter three, God spoke to Moses through the burning bush, promising that He would deliver His people, the Israelites, and “bring them up from that land (Egypt) to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8, emphasis mine).
We see this description repeated throughout the first five books of the Old Testament (Exodus 13:5; Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 14:8; Deuteronomy 6:3) and even beyond (Joshua 5:6).
In this use, “a land flowing with milk and honey” could be viewed as both a literal and figurative description of the Promised Land.
Honey would naturally imply the presence of bees, who are active in the pollination of flowers, produce, and vegetation. And as far as milk is concerned, an abundance of milk-producing cows or goats would mean fertile land, rich fields, and pastures for them to graze.
In both descriptions, a land “flowing” with milk and honey would not only be suitable for life, but it would also contain an abundance of natural resources for the Israelites and their descendants to enjoy for generations.
God wasn’t just promising His people any land; He was bringing them to a lush, beautiful land where they would be provided for in abundance!
Therefore, when honey is referenced in this instance, it is being used to denote God’s favor and promise of abundance, plenty, and riches to the children of Israel.
This comes up again in the Book of Ezekiel when the prophet writes, “So you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk, and colorfully woven cloth. You ate fine flour, honey, and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty” (Ezekiel 16:13, emphasis mine)
The Bible also uses honey as a way to represent God’s willingness to provide for his people in unique and sometimes desperate circumstances.
The mention of John the Baptist living off of a diet of locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6; Matthew 3:4) points to a man surviving off of the land and the natural resources provided by his Creator.
Similarly, when King David and his men were on the run from Absalom and arrived in Mahanaim, they were greeted with, “beds, basins, pottery, wheat, barley, flour, roasted grain, beans, lentils, roasted seeds, honey, curds, sheep, and cheese of the herd” to eat (2 Samuel 17:28-29, emphasis mine).
Even prior to entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were supplied with manna from heaven, which they described as being, “like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey” (Exodus 16:31, emphasis mine).
And in one of his songs recounting the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness, Moses writes that God had supplied His people with “produce of the land, honey, milk, lamb’s meat, the best of the wheat, and fine wine” (Deuteronomy 32:14, emphasis mine).
The Word of God
There are many ways the authors of the Bible use metaphor to describe the Word of God, and in nearly every instance, Scripture is as highly treasured as one could imagine. It is perfect, precious, and pure.
In the Book of Psalms, David writes, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalms 119:103, emphasis mine).
David also writes that the commands of the Lord, “are more desirable than gold, yes, than much pure gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalms 19:10, emphasis mine).
Even the prophet Ezekiel, in describing the revelation he had received from the Lord, says “and He said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.’ Then I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth” (Ezekiel 3:3, emphasis mine).
To those who treasure the Word of God, the Bible is as sweet and pure as honey.
The Bible compares honey to the benefits of wisdom and discernment.
David’s son Solomon writes, “My son, eat honey, for it is good; yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste; know that wisdom is the same for your soul; if you find it, then there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 24:13-14, emphasis mine).
Solomon argues that “pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24)
This provides a contrasting metaphor to convey the beauty of a well-spoken word compared to the more destructive power of the tongue described by James, who writes, “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire” (James 3:5-6).
Love and Temptation
Of course, one of the more poetic uses of honey can be found in the way it is used to describe both love and temptation.
In the Song of Solomon, the author writes to his wife, “Your lips drip honey, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue, and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.” (Song of Solomon 4:11, emphasis mine). Sensual stuff.
And in another proverb, Solomon warns his sons to be careful about falling into sexual sin. “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end, she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Proverbs 5:3-4, emphasis mine).
Though some may be confused by the multiple uses of honey to describe love, wisdom, the Promised Land, and the Word of God, the Bible is full of similar metaphors that use common, everyday language, ideas, and items to help us understand spiritual truths. They all must be studied in context and applied specifically to their intended idea.
As God created honey for man to enjoy, so the metaphorical and symbolic uses of honey in the Bible can help us better understand, appreciate, and fall in love with the sweet, satisfying wonders of our Creator.
For further reading:
What Is the Significance of the Promised Land in the Bible?
How Can We Actually Taste and See that the Lord Is Good?
Why Did Moses Remove His Shoes in Front of the Burning Bush?
Is it Biblical ‘Where God Guides, He Provides’?
What Does the Imagery of ‘My Cup Runneth Over’ Mean in Psalm 23:5?
Why Does the Bible Say Our Words Overflow from Our Heart?
Does the Earth Belong to the Lord?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Metkalova
Joel Ryan is an author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Salem Web Network and Lifeway. When he’s not writing stories and defending biblical truth, Joel is committed to helping young men find purpose in Christ and become fearless disciples and bold leaders in their homes, in the church, and in the world.