When Moses encounters God at the burning bush, the Lord tells him, “I have come down to deliver [my people] out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad Land, and Land flowing with milk and honey (הלב ודבשׁ; chalav u’devash), to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exod 3:8). Many times thereafter, God repeats that the Israelites are headed for a Land flowing with milk and honey (cf. Exod 3:17; 13:5; 33:3; Lev 20:24). Have you ever wondered why God describes the Land of Canaan as one flowing with “milk and honey”? Why not a land like Havilah (see Gen 2:11-12), that was abundant with “gold” (זהב; zahav), “bdellium” (בדלח; bedolach), and “onyx stones” (אבן השׁהם; even ha’shoham)? One of the main reasons that God directs the people to a Land flowing with milk and honey is that the natural way that these resources are produced reflects the divine desire for abundant life in God’s Land.
Many readers are put off by the violence, recorded in the Book of Joshua, when the Israelites enter into Canaan and either expel or eliminate the prior inhabitants. The (relatively few) instances for wholesale destruction (e.g., Josh 8:22; 10:30-40; 11:8-11; cf. Deut 20:16) can make it seem like the entire point of the conquest of Canaan was for the Hebrews to extricate life from the Land. However, there is another side to the conquest narrative that celebrates life, and a “Land flowing with milk and honey” gives us a clue as to what God’s ultimate goal is for existence in that Land: milk and honey are two resources that do not necessitate death for their production; cows, sheep, and goats give milk without the need for their deaths, and the life’s work of bees is to proliferate honey.
Not only do milk and honey not necessitate death, but these products are only possible through an abundance of healthy life; that is, milk-giving animals must be properly cared for and healthy if they are to keep producing milk, and both bees and the flowers they pollenate must stay alive for honey to remain in stock. Indeed, the biblical promise of “milk” and “honey” goes hand-in-hand with the expression of continued life: “In that day, a man will keep alive (יחיה; y’chayeh) and young cow and two sheep, and because of the abundance of milk (חלב; chalav) that they give, he will eat curds, for everyone who is left in the land will eat curds and honey (דבשׁ; devash)” (Isa 7:21-22). God’s ultimate goal for the Land, as well as for both humans and animals, is abundant life. Yeshua’s own messianic mission aligns with the biblical motif of life, to which the Land flowing with milk and honey points. Jesus proclaims, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10).