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).

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Nobody, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David..., even in the best of times, experienced this "flow of honey". This promise was a metaphor of "heaven, a time and place at peace with G-d, ourselves, and nature e.g. a lion and lamb together", concrete ideas that relates to the people. It was the blessing to be attained after a life of loving, serving, obeying, praising G-d. Moses was given a "vision of it" before he died, a fate that awaits us all. We are her to love, serve, obey and praise God in this life and be happy with him in the next.
  2. Thanks for sharing Melissa. For those you mention "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." they should read Genesis 6 and understand that the races being wiped out were most likely those of fallen angels and their evilness was polluting the earth.
    Genesis 6: 1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 2 That the sons(angels) of God saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful; and they took them wives of all which they chose. 3 And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
    4 There were giants(races of 1/2 angel 1/2 man) in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons(angels) of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. 5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
  3. The Land of milk and honey...
    When I was studying Biblical archaeology at Harvard during the summer of 2006 under the retired curator of the Jerusalem museum, Dr. Gloria London, she had a different slant of this. Once, there was a palm date, now extinct, that was so delicious, it was said to taste like a mixture of cream and honey. Well, to say it's extinct is wrong. There is one male Palm that sprouted prior to my time at Harvard in the Biblical Museum across from the famous Peabody on Devine Avenue. It came from a grave offering of dates with pits and miraculously one pit sprouted. It took ten years to discover if it was a fruit bearing female, but it wasn't. These dates were amazing and I'm going with Dr. London s explanation. You just didn't know, that's all. These dates were the ultimate and were highly prized. This is why the description meant that this was a heavenly place on Earth with the ultimate fruit.
  4. I have heard some comment about honey as referred to in Scripture. Was it bee honey? I have heard it may have been date honey. But even from the point of view of your article, it still falls in line with life. The date palm doesn't need to die to give or produce fruit. Dates have been a staple food in that area of the world for thousands of years and I suppose bee honey was processed by people even for thousands of years.

    So was it bee honey or date honey or perhaps even both to which Scripture refers? In my mind and in the long run it doesn't really matter. Just wondering. Enjoyed the article though.

    Shalom,
    Bill
  5. Your comment is awaiting moderation
    ... I love this 'Milk & Honey' ... in my family, as children, we were given warm milk with a drop of sweet honey to soothe everything from toothache (infant teeth), to comfort on the cold winter nights ... this was true 'medicine' in many ways, ... so, I imagine YHWH saying, "Milk & Honey", as a blessed medicine of consolation ... something deeply comforting, fortifying, & in remembrance of His sweet & tender love for His Israel ....

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