Canaan was a "land flowing with milk and honey" ( Exodus 3:8 ). Milk and honey were among the chief dainties in the earlier ages, as they are now among the Bedawin; and butter and honey are also mentioned among articles of food ( Isaiah 7:15 ). The ancients used honey instead of sugar ( Psalms 119:103 ; Proverbs 24:13 ); but when taken in great quantities it caused nausea, a fact referred to in Prov 25:16,17to inculcate moderation in pleasures. Honey and milk also are put for sweet discourse (Cant 4:11 ).
The Hebrew debash in the first place applied to the product of the bee, to which exclusively we give the name of honey. All travellers agree in describing Palestine as a land "flowing with milk and honey," ( Exodus 3:8 ) bees being abundant even in the remote parts of the wilderness, where they deposit their honey in the crevices of rocks or in hollow trees. In some parts of northern Arabia the hills are so well stocked with bees that no sooner are hives placed than they are occupied. In the second place the term debash applies to a decoction of the juice of the grape, which is still called dibs , and which forms an article of commerce in the East, it was this, and not ordinary bee-honey, which Jacob sent to Joseph, ( Genesis 43:11 ) and which the Tyrians purchased from Palestine. ( Ezekiel 27:17 ) A third kind has been described by some writers as a "vegetable" honey, by which is meant the exudations of certain trees and shrubs, such as the Tamarix mannifera , found in the peninsula of Sinai, or the stunted oaks of Luristan and Mesopotamia . The honey which Jonathan ate in the wood, ( 1 Samuel 14:25 ) and the "wild honey" which supported John the Baptist, ( Matthew 3:42 ) have been referred to this species. But it was probably the honey of wild bees.
hun'-i (debhash; meli):
One familiar with life in Palestine will recognize in debhash the Arabic dibs, which is the usual term for a sweet syrup made by boiling down the juice of grapes, raisins, carob beans, or dates. Dibs is seldom, if ever, used as a name for honey (compare Arabic 'asal), whereas in the Old Testament debhash probably had only that meaning. The honey referred to was in most cases wild honey (Deuteronomy 32:13; Judges 14:8,9; 1 Samuel 14:25,26,29,43), although the offering of honey with the first-fruits would seem to indicate that the bees were also domesticated (2 Chronicles 31:5). The bees constructed their honeycomb and deposited their honey in holes in the ground (1 Samuel 14:25); under rocks or in crevices between the rocks (Deuteronomy 32:13; Psalms 81:16). They do the same today. When domesticated they are kept in cylindrical basket hives which are plastered on the outside with mud. The Syrian bee is an especially hardy type and a good honey producer. It is carried to Europe and America for breeding purposes.
In Old Testament times, as at present, honey was rare enough to be considered a luxury (Genesis 43:11; 1 Kings 14:3). Honey was used in baking sweets (Exodus 16:31). It was forbidden to be offered with the meal offering (Leviticus 2:11), perhaps because it was fermentable, but was presented with the fruit offering (2 Chronicles 31:5). Honey was offered to David's army (2 Samuel 17:29). It was sometimes stored in the fields (Jeremiah 41:8). It was also exchanged as merchandise (Ezekiel 27:17). In New Testament times wild honey was an article of food among the lowly (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6).
"A land flowing with milk and honey" suggested a land filled with abundance of good things (Exodus 3:8,17; Leviticus 20:24; Numbers 13:27; Deuteronomy 6:3; Joshua 5:6; Jeremiah 11:5; Ezekiel 20:6,15). "A land of olive trees and honey" had the same meaning (Deuteronomy 8:8; 2 Kings 18:32), and similarly "streams of honey and butter" (Job 20:17). Honey was a standard of sweetness (Song of Solomon 4:11; Ezekiel 3:3; Revelation 10:9,10). It typified sumptuous fare (Song of Solomon 5:1; Isaiah 7:15,22; Ezekiel 16:13,19). The ordinances of Yahweh were "sweeter than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb" (Psalms 19:10; 119:103). "Thou didst eat .... honey" (Ezekiel 16:13) expressed Yahweh's goodness to Jerusalem.
James A. Patch
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