In the Bible honey was the sweet syrup produced by bees, either wild (1 Sam 14:25-26) or domesticated (2 Chron 31:5). it was a delicacy rather than a necessity of life, a sign of luxury and abundance. Occasionally it is referred to as a medicine: “Pleasant words are like honey from a honeycomb-sweet to the spirit and healthy for the body” (Prov 16:24), although overindulgence is warned against (Prov 25:16,27). Honey’s desirability and preciousness is underscored by the fact it was occasionally used as a gift (Gen 43:11; 2 Chron 31:5).
ABUNDANCE AND DELIGHT
Honey most often symbolizes abundance and prosperity. Psalm 81:16 promises God’s tender care for his people: “But I would feed Israel with the finest wheat and satisfy them with honey from a rock.” The Promised Land is described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” twenty times (e.g., Exod 3:8, 17). These words are a description of land that is good for both pasture and agriculture. Animals would have plenteous grazing land so they could produce milk, a necessity of life in Bible times, and people would be able to cultivate plants and bees to produce honey. The pairing of milk and honey symbolizes fullness of life. God was promising abundant satisfaction of both needs (milk) and desire (honey). When the twelve men came back from spying out the Promised Land, they verified that it was indeed flowing with milk honey (Num 13:27).
The sweetness of honey is used in the Bible as a metaphor for delight. In Psalm 19:10 the desirability of God’s Word and the pleasure found therein is portrayed as the product of a honeycomb: “They are sweeter than honey, even the drippings from a honeycomb.” The sweet taste of Scripture should linger in our mouth and make us long for more. The prophets echoed this sentiment about divine revelation. Ezekiel wrote, “He said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I’m giving you, and fill your stomach with it.’ my mouth” (3:3). Meditation on God’s Word enables it to enter our inmost being and have an effect on our lives, and its honey-like sweetness makes it a pleasure to do so.
Isaiah turns the usual symbolism of honey on its head when he speaks of Immanuel eating curds and honey in Isaiah 7:15: “He will eat cheese and honey until he knows how to reject evil and choose good.” Foreign nations will invade Israel, and the few survivors of the invasion will be forced to eat off the land (Isa 7:22). In these end-times prophecies, honey has changed from a symbol of abundance and delight into a symbol of scarcity and judgment. As further illustration of this negative symbolism of honey, John the Baptist consumed honey as of his limited diet (Mark 1:6), living on what God provided at hand. John the Baptist’s lifestyle of self-denial highlighted the nations’s need for repentance and spiritual renewal.