What’s the importance of a “land flowing with milk and honey”?

God doesn’t do anything by coincidence, for no reason, or just “because”.  There’s a plan.  There’s always been a plan.  So there’s got to be something about this milk and honey thing.  There’s got to be a reason why God chose those two things to describe the land He was going to give to His chosen people.  

Eighteen times in the Bible, we read about a “land flowing with milk and honey”.  

It was all about where God was going to lead His people after rescuing them from slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh, as we read in the first instance of its use –  

Ex 3:7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey …

I mean – it’s not like the land was literally flowing with milk and honey.  That would be one heck of a lot of cows and bees – and all that milk and honey – plus everything else that would go along with all that.  Yuck.  It would’ve been a horrible mess.  Obviously, this wasn’t meant to be taken literally.  So we have yet one more reason to wonder – what was the thing about milk and honey?  

I personally don’t like milk – although I really like things made from milk, like ice cream and cheese.  I also like honey.  But to live an a land that was covered in flowing milk and honey?  No thanks.  For these reasons, and probably more that I haven’t though of – milk and honey must have some greater meaning than what we see in the image above.  


Let’s start by looking at milk and honey today.


I guess we should start with the standard dictionary.com definition –


1. an opaque white or bluish-white liquid secreted by the mammary glands of female mammals, serving for the nourishment of their young.

2. this liquid as secreted by cows, goats, or certain other animals and used by humans for food or as a source of butter, cheeses, yogurt, etc.

3. any liquid resembling this, as the liquid within a coconut, the juice or sap of certain plants, or various pharmaceutical preparations.

The dictionary definition doesn’t really tell us much.  That’s not really surprising, since we’re looking for a deeper meaning of some sort.

So, let’s take a look at “special” properties of milk, from the Organic Facts web site –

summary – The health benefits of milk include increased bone strength, smoother skin, stronger immune system, prevention of illnesses such as hypertension, dental decay, dehydration, respiratory problems, obesity, osteoporosis and even some forms of cancer. The beneficial health nutrients obtained from milk are essential for the human body and help prevent a number of chronic ailments.

Supplies Calcium
Milk is the best source of calcium that we can supply to our body. Calcium protects the body from major chronic ailments such as cancer, bone loss, arthritic conditions, migraine headaches, pre-menstrual syndrome, and obesity in children. It also functions as a healthy aid in losing unwanted fats and reducing weight. Calcium is an essential mineral in the creation of bone matter, and bone mineral density measurements rely highly on calcium as the main support structure of our body.

Heart Health
Although most of the focus of calcium is on bones, it has also been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease and the chances of strokes. Two long-term studies in Japan have positively shown a correlation between daily calcium intake and a reduction in stroke, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease. … Furthermore, the magnesium and potassium content in it act as vasodilators, which reduces blood pressure, increases blood flow to vital organs, and reduces the stress on the heart and cardiovascular system. The peptides found in it are also believed to inhibit the creation of ACEs, (angiotensin-converting enzymes), which increase blood pressure.

Skin Care
Have you heard of Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile? She was considered to be one of the most beautiful women of all time. Well, it shouldn’t surprise you that she had a tradition of taking a milk bath every single day!  She used to mix honey and milk in the bath, which enabled her to maintain soft and beautiful skin. For thousands of years, it has been known to benefit our skin by helping us maintain a fair and smooth complexion.

Acidity Reduction
Consumption of milk products can also help in reducing acidity throughout the body. Drinking cold milk specifically provides relief from acidity.

Wholesome Food
It contains many vitamins and minerals to keep you fit, healthy and strong. A full glass of milk contains vitamins A and B for good eyesight and increasing red blood cell count, carbohydrates for vitality and energy, potassium for proper nerve function, magnesium for muscular function, phosphorous for energy release, and proteins for body repair and growth. It also keeps your body functioning at a youthful level as you get older, more so than some other vitamins and minerals.

Prevents Cancer
Intake of milk may also provide relief to those suffering from colon cancer. New study suggests that a diet rich in dairy products may slightly extend lives of people diagnosed with colon cancer.

A Word of Caution: Some people may have lactose intolerance and may have trouble digesting milk. Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk. The symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, stomach pain, gas and diarrhea. For kids it is advisable to consult your health care provider since this is not so common among children. For adults, lactose free milk and milk products are readily available on the market. You can also drink varieties of soy or almond milk to avoid lactose, yet still receive many of the same benefits as mammal-derived milk.

This is a pretty impressive list.  Of course, for people of a certain age, we used to be told that milk wasn’t necessarily good for us as we got older.  And there’s the warning about lactose intolerance – which I copied from the web site.  All things considered, it seems like lots of foods go from good to bad to good … And then there’s that thing about moderation – there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.


I came across this while doing the research.  It seems to be true, and is quite fascinating, so I’m including it here.  From gizmodo.com we read –

Honey is magic. Besides its delicious taste, it’s pretty much the only food that does not spoil while in an edible state. But why, exactly, doesn’t honey go bad?

Honey has a lot of pretty incredible properties. It’s been used and investigated for medicinal properties for a long time, especially as a treatment for open wounds. Herodotus reported that the Babylonians buried their dead in honey, and Alexander the Great may have been embalmed in a coffin full of honey.

The oldest honey ever found was unearthed in Georgia, and dates back over 5,000 years. So, if you found yourself in possession of some 5,000 year-old honey, could you eat it? Well. . .

Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at Univeristy of California, Davis says, “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.” The fact that organisms can’t survive long in honey means they don’t get the chance to spoil it.

Another thing that sets honey apart from other sugars is its acidity. Honey’s pH is between 3 and 4.5 (or, more precisely, 3.26-4.48), which also kills off anything trying to make a home in honey.

And there are a few factors behind honey’s low moisture content, including:


First, bees contribute to the low water content of honey by flapping their wings to dry out nectar. Second, the way bees get nectar into honey combs is by vomiting it there. This sounds really gross, but the chemical makeup of bees’ stomachs also contributes to honey’s long shelf-life. Bees’ stomachs have the enzyme glucose oxidase, which is added to the honey when the nectar is regurgitated. The enzyme and nectar break mix to create gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide is also a hostile force for anything trying to grow in honey. (Although, maybe not that effective in your cuts.)


This is important. The fact that honey is hydroscopic means that it has little water in its natural state but can easily suck in water if its exposed to it. If it does that, it could spoil. So the final key to honey remaining unspoiled is making sure it’s well sealed and stored in a dry place.


Related to storage is the problem of crystallized honey. NOTE: Honey that’s crystallized is not necessarily spoiled. Americans apparently see crystallized honey as “wrong,” so large packers filter honey to remove any particles which may lead to crystallization. Raw honey and organic honey doesn’t go through the process, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to spoil. Also, different honey has different rates of crystallization. So it may just be that the honey you have is more prone to crystallization.

So crystallization doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with your honey — but if you don’t like it, the big tip is to not put your honey in the refrigerator. Below 52 °F, crystallization slows down, so feel free to freeze your honey. And at temperatures above 77 °F, honey resists crystallization best. But honey crystallizes most quickly at temperatures of between 50 and 59 °F. So, if you want to avoid having to heat your honey to remove crystals (apparently slow, indirect heat is best for that, by the way), avoid the refrigerator.

Caveat: Infants

So, yes, honey mostly doesn’t spoil. However, honey can contain spores of Clostridium botulinum. This isn’t harmful to adults and children over one year old, whose gastrointestinal tract is developed enough to deal with the spores. But children under one are at risk for infant botulism, so honey is not for your infant.

As for those medicinal properties, we turn to an article at medicaldaily.com

Honey contains a treasure chest of hidden nutritional and medicinal value for centuries. The sweet golden liquid from the beehive is a popular kitchen staple loaded with antibacterial and antifungal properties that has been used since the early days of Egyptian tombs.

Honey’s scientific super powers contribute to its vastly touted health benefits for the whole body. The healthy natural sweetener offers many nutritional benefits depending on its variety. Raw honey is the unpasteurized version of commonly used honey and only differs in its filtration …

Typically, honey is sweet but can be cruel to infants. Spores of Clostridium botulinum bacteria — found in dirt and dust, which can contaminate honey — may lead to infant botulism and produce a toxin inside the body that can cause muscle weakness and breathing problems. The Mayo Clinic recommends waiting until after 12 months of age to give infants honey; consumption is safe for older adults and kids, since they have a mature digestive system that can handle the spores.

Consume honey responsibly and reap the numerous health benefits of this liquid gold.

1. Alleviates Allergies
Honey’s anti-inflammatory effects and ability to soothe coughs has led to the belief it can also reduce seasonal allergy symptoms. Although there are no clinical studies proving its efficacy, Dr. Matthew Brennecke, a board certified naturopathic doctor practicing at the Rocky Mountain Wellness Center in Fort Collins, Colo., told Medical Daily in an email, “A common theory is that honey acts like a natural vaccine.” It contains small amounts of pollen, which if the body is exposed to small amounts of it, it can trigger an immune response that produces antibodies to the pollen. “After repeated exposure, you should build up these antibodies and the body should become accustomed to their presence so that less histamine is released, resulting in a lesser allergic response.”

2. All-Natural Energy Drink
Honey is an excellent source of all-natural energy at just 17 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. This natural unprocessed sugar — fructose and glucose — directly enter the bloodstream and can deliver a quick boost of energy. The rise in blood sugar acts as a short-term energy source for your workout, especially in longer endurance exercises.

Brennecke said there is a con to adding honey to your workout. “If your goal in exercising is to increase muscle mass, working out on an empty stomach first thing in the morning is the way to go. When your body is in starvation mode (upon waking in morning), and you start exercising, you release insulin-like growthfactor-1 (IGF-1), which will help you build bulk,” he said. Brennecke does warn this only works when blood sugars are low.

3. Boosts Memory
The sweet nectar is loaded in antioxidants that may help prevent cellular damage and loss within the brain. A 2011 study published in Menopause found a daily spoonful of Malaysian honey may boost postmenopausal women’s memory, which can provide an alternative therapy for the hormone-related intellectual decline. After four months of taking 20 grams of honey a day, the women were more likely to have better short-term memory than their counterparts who took hormone pills.

Honey’s ability to help the body absorb calcium, according to Brennecke, helps aid brain health. The brain needs calcium in order to process thought and make decisions. “As our populations continue to get older and older, the likelihood of dementia setting in because of poor intake of vitamins and minerals continues to get higher and higher,” he said.

4. Cough Suppressant
Honey can be the all-natural cure when it comes to pesky colds. A persistent cough that won’t go away can easily be remedied with two teaspoons of honey, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics. Children between the ages of 1 and 5 with nighttime cough due to colds coughed less frequently when they received two teaspoons of honey 30 minutes before bed.

The golden liquid’s thick consistency helps coat the throat while the sweet taste is believed to trigger nerve endings that protect the throat from incessant coughing. Honey is believed to be as effective as the common cough suppressant ingredient dextromethorphan. It can be used in treating upper respiratory tract infections.

5. Sleep Aid
Honey can be a health aid for sleepless nights. Similar to sugar, honey can cause a rise in insulin and release serotonin — a neurotransmitter that improves mood and happiness. “The body converts serotonin into melatonin, a chemical compound that regulates the length and the quality of sleep,” Rene Ficek, registered dietitian and lead dietitian nutritionist at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating in Chicago, Ill., told Medical Daily in an email.

Moreover, honey also contains several amino acids, including tryptophan that is commonly associated with turkey. Honey’s steady rise in insulin, according to Brennecke, causes the tryptophan in honey to enter the brain, where it’s then converted into serotonin and then into melatonin, which is a sleep aid. This hormone is responsible for regulating sleep and wake cycles.

6. Treats Dandruff
Honey can bring temporary relief to the scalp by targeting dandruff. A 2001 study published in the European Journal of Medical Research found applying honey diluted with 10 percent warm water to problem areas and leaving it on for three hours before rinsing led to itch relief and no scaling within a week. Skin lesions healed within two weeks and patients even showed an improvement in hair loss. The patients did not relapse even after six months of use.

Thanks to honey’s antibacterial and antifungal properties, it can also treat seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff, which are often caused by an overgrowth of fungus. Moreover, “honey also has anti-inflammatory properties, which address the redness and itching on the scalp,” Brennecke said.

7. Treats Wounds And Burns
Honey is a natural antibiotic that can act both internally and externally. It can be used as a conventional treatment for wounds and burns by disinfecting wounds and sores from major species of bacteria such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). A 2005 study published in the British Journal of Surgery found all but one of patients who suffered from wounds and leg ulcers showed remarkable improvement after applying a topical application of honey.

Dr. Diane Radford, a breast surgical oncologist in St. Louis, Mo., told Medical Daily in an email, Manuka honey has antibacterial properties for wound healing. “The precursor for the active antibacterial agent methylglyoxal (MGO) comes from the nectar of mānuka trees. A specialized research unit at the University of Waikato is looking into the conversion to the active product,” she said.

Honey has been utilized for its medicinal properties for over 2,000 years and continues its legacy as a multipurpose health aid.

Lots of good stuff there, but remember the caveats for both milk and honey.  In this fallen world, where things aren’t as they should be – even things that are good for most people are bad for some.

Still – a land flowing with milk and honey, as in having plenty of milk and honey available, seems like a good thing.
But – is that all there is to it?  Medical benefits for most of the people?
Or – is there more to this milk and honey thing.

Let’s go back to Old Testament days to find out.

Old Testament meaning of the Hebrew words translated as milk and honey

Actually, let’s look at three words – flowing, milk, and honey.
As a reminder, here’s the verse in question – Exodus 3:8

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey


2100 זוּב [zuwb /zoob/] v. A primitive root; TWOT 534; GK 2307; 42 occurrences; AV translates as “flow” 21 times, “have an issue” 14 times, “gush out” three times, “pine away” once, “hath” once, “have” once, and “run” once. 1 to flow, gush, issue, discharge. 1A (Qal). 1A1 to flow, gush. 1A2 to die, pine away (fig.). 1A3 to flow (of issue from woman), have an issue, flux. 1A4 flowing (participle).  1)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Obviously, some of these definitions don’t apply.  Eliminating the ones that aren’t appropriate for this context, we’re left with gush out, have, and run.  Given that we’re looking for a deeper meaning that just the physical “flowing”, it may be useful to look at the root from which this Hebrew word is derived.  That give us –

2307 זוּב (zûḇ): v.; ≡ Str 2100; TWOT 534—1. LN 47.1–47.7 (qal) flow, gush out, i.e., the movement of a liquid or mass, often implying a great quantity (Ps 78:20; 105:41; Isa 48:21+); 2. LN 23.142–23.184 (qal) discharge, i.e., to have fluid come out of the female body (Lev 15:25,33+); 3. LN 59.48–59.61 (qal) abundant, be fruitful, formally, flow, i.e., pertaining to a great quantity of a collection or mass, and so have wealth, as a figurative extension of the flowing or gushing of liquid (Jer 49:4+); 4. LN 23.142–23.184 (qal) lose weight, waste away, i.e., lose too much weight off the body, and so also have accompanying feelings of weakness and distress (La 4:9+); 5. LN 59.48–59.61 unit: (qal) זוּב חָלָב וְ־ דְּבַשׁ (zûḇ ḥā·lāḇ w- deḇǎš) very abundant, formally, flowing with milk and honey, i.e., pertaining to very great quantity of a collection or mass, as a figurative extension of a gushing of the by-products of flock and field (Ex 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3; Lev 20:24; Nu 13:27; 14:8; 16:13, 14; Dt 6:3; 11:9; 26:9, 15; 27:3; 31:20; Jos 5:6; Jer 11:5; 32:22; Eze 20:6, 15+), note: for the qal ptcp. n.masc. and n.fem. in Lev 15:2ff., see 2271.5; Lev 15:19, see 2278.5  2)Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Here we see the expected things, like abundant, fruitful, great quantity, Etc.  We also see the deeper meaning that’s possible with –

very abundant, formally, flowing with milk and honey, i.e., pertaining to very great quantity of a collection or mass, as a figurative extension of a gushing of the by-products of flock and field

Also note that the references verses are the very ones we’re looking at.  Therefore – the thinking that a deeper meaning than just the definitions we looked at above is justified.  With that in mind, let’s take another look at milk and honey – from the Biblical / Hebrew point of view.


The definition of the Hebrew word translated as milk is –

2461 חָלָב [chalab /khaw·lawb/] n m. From the same as 2459; TWOT 650a; GK 2692; 44 occurrences; AV translates as “milk” 42 times, “cheeses” once, and “sucking” once. 1 milk, sour milk, cheese. 1A milk. 1B abundance of the land (metaph.). 1C white (as milk).  3)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Note that, even here, we see the use of milk as a metaphor for abundance of the land.

Here is some cultural background on milk at that time –

MILK, milk (חָלָב, ḥālābh; γάλα, gála; Lat lac [2 Esd 2:19; 8:10]): The fluid secreted by the mammary glands of female mammals for the nourishment of their young. The word is used in the Bible of that of human beings (Isa 28:9) as well as of that of the lower animals (Ex 23:19). As a food it ranked next in importance to bread (Ecclus 39:26). Palestine is frequently described as a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8, 17; Nu 13:27; Dt 6:3; Josh 5:6; Jer 11:5; Ezk 20:6, 15). Milk was among the first things set before the weary traveler (Gen 18:8). In fact, it was considered a luxury (Jgs 5:25; Cant 5:1). The people used the milk of kine and also that of sheep (Dt 32:14), and esp. that of goats (Prov 27:27). It was received in pails (‛ăṭīnīm, Job 21:24), and kept in leather bottles (nō’dh, Jgs 4:19), where it turned sour quickly in the warm climate of Palestine before being poured out thickly like a melting substance (nāthakh; cf Job 10:10). Cheese of various kinds was made from it (gebhīnāh and ḥărīçē he-ḥālābh, lit. “cuts of milk”); or the curds (ḥem’āh) were eaten with bread, and possibly also made into butter by churning (Prov 30:33).  4)Isaacs, N. (1915). Milk. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, pp. 2051–2052). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.

We see that milk was important (second only to bread) – it was served to strangers – and it was also considered a luxury.  BTW – Kine is an archaic word for cows, probably grass-fed.  

Given this importance of milk, there are two things from the Bible that I want to point out.  One is directly related to Exodus – the other not related.

First – Milk in Judges 5:24-27

Jdg 5:24 “Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.

Jdg 5:25 He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.

Jdg 5:26 Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.

Jdg 5:27 At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.

Oh.  That’s sounds awful..  What happened isn’t the point today – it’s the use of the milk that we’re looking at.  However, I do think it’s important to include something about what just happened.

A heartless woman?

So what should we make of Jael; was she a heartless murdering woman who became God’s tool for justice? There is no doubting the fact that she was not a woman to be scorned! But faced with the choice of giving refuge to a man who murdered, raped and pillaged God’s people or bringing his life to a swift end she chose an option that, in the long run, would be less violent. It is true that she lulled Sisera into a false sense of security, which does lay her open to the charge of being treacherous. But when faced with a choice, Jael sided with God’s people and in doing so she was used by God to bring about their deliverance.

These events are set in dark and violent times which called for desperate measures. Sisera was a ruthless man who lived by the sword and perished by the sword (see Matt. 26:52). And Jael implemented some rough justice when it was in short supply. She brought a reign of terror to an end and that is why Deborah rejoiced at her actions and called her ‘most blessed of women’ (5:24).

Perhaps we find passages like this difficult because we try to sanitize the Bible and smooth over the parts we are not comfortable with. Of course the events we have been thinking about do not call on Christian women to arm themselves with tent pegs! There is a significant shift of emphasis from the Old Testament to the New, because the Old focuses on a physical kingdom and the New on a spiritual one. But even in the New Testament there are still issues we might rather gloss over. We like to think of God’s love and compassion but not about his judgement. We might enjoy talking to people about heaven, but not be so comfortable speaking about hell. These are not issues that our politically correct culture finds palatable, but they are addressed in the Bible and we must be faithful to what it says.  5)Robinson, S. J. (2006). Opening up Judges (pp. 29–30). Leominster: Day One Publications.

Note – this is the Old Testament.  At that time, God’s judgement was often carried out during a person’s life, as was the case here.

What we’re looking at today is the false sense of security that was set up.  Sisera asks for water, and Jael brings him curdled milk – a delicacy far more desirable than water.  That’s the point here – someone who would be happy with water, and is given milk instead.

Milk – in the Exodus

While God certainly wasn’t setting up His people for death after rescuing them from the Israelites, they thought He was.  Ironically, it’s that thought and their corresponding lack of faith that kept from seeing the promised land – the land flowing with milk and honey.

Let’s see what happened, if you don’t remember.

the people grumble against God

Ex 15:22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. ) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

Ex 15:25 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.
There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

a couple of chapters later –

Ex 17:1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”

Ex 17:3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Ex 17:4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

Ex 17:5 The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

Oops.  Even after Moses asks the people why they want to put God to the test (again) – they are once more accusing God of bringing them out to the desert to die – after saving them from slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, and after providing water when they grumbled previously.

the people grumble against God – yet again

Water From the Rock

Nu 20:1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

Nu 20:2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’S community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

Nu 20:6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

Nu 20:9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’S presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

Nu 20:12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

They still didn’t learn to trust God, even though He had rescued them, and provided for them.

But really, it’s worse than that.  

At the top of this page, we saw where God told Moses that He was going to bring His people to a land flowing with milk and honey.  It’s not like the people never knew that.  Moses faithfully delivered God’s message to the people, as we see here –

Ex 13:3 Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the LORD brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are leaving. 5 When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites—the land he swore to your forefathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to observe this ceremony in this month: 6 For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the LORD. 7 Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. 8 On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.

What we see then is that God promised them milk – and they grumbled for lack of water.

But still, it was even worse than that.  

This is from a rebellion where some of the people didn’t want to follow Moses any longer –

Nu 16:12 Then Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab. But they said, “We will not come! 13 Isn’t it enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert? And now you also want to lord it over us? 14 Moreover, you haven’t brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? No, we will not come! ”

These people were accusing Moses – and by extension, God – of bringing them to a land that they claim was not flowing with milk and honey, of bringing them to the desert to die, and of having brought them from a land that was flowing with milk and honey.  That’s three times they accuse God of lying.  

As easy as it is to point out the failings of these people, it’s a lot harder to look at ourselves and ask, “Are we any different”?  Are we screaming for water, while God wants to give us milk?  Are we accusing God of trying to kill us, while He’s offering us something far better than what we’re asking for?


Again, let’s start with the definition of the Hebrew word –

1706 דְּבַשׁ [dâbash /deb·ash/] n m. From an unused root meaning to be gummy; TWOT 400a; GK 1831; 54 occurrences; AV translates as “honey” 52 times, “honeycomb + 3295” once, and “honeycomb + 6688” once. 1 honey.  6)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

If we look at the root word, from which honey is derived, we see the following, which is very similar to milk in some ways –

1831 דְּבַשׁ (deḇǎš): n.masc.; ≡ Str 1706; TWOT 400a—1. LN 5.1–5.22 honey, i.e., the sweet viscid product of bees collecting pollen, with the associative meaning of abundance or sustenance (Jdg 14:8); 2. LN 5.1–5.22 (NEB, REB) grape-syrup, i.e., a thick, sweet viscid liquid processed from grape juice (Ge 43:11; Eze 27:17), note: most translations, see prior entry; 3. LN 59.48–59.61 unit: זוּב חָלָב וְ־ דְּדַשׁ (zûḇ ḥā·lāḇ w- deḏǎš) abundance, formally, flowing with milk and honey (Ex 3:8)  7)Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Again, we see the concept of abundance tied to the word honey, just as it was with milk, and with flowing as well.  How many times do we need to hear of abundance before we understand what God is offering to do for us?

Here are some cultural notes on Honey at that time –

Old Testament During Bible times, honey appeared in three forms: honey deposited from wild bees (Deut. 32:13); honey from domesticated bees (one of the products “of the field” 2 Chron. 31:5); and a syrup made from dates and grape juice (2 Kings 18:32). Honey served as a foodstuff (Gen. 43:11) and as an item of trade (Ezek. 27:17).

Almost all references to honey in the OT are to wild honey. Bees made their honeycombs and deposited their honey in holes in the ground (1 Sam. 14:25), under rocks or in crevices between rocks (Deut. 32:13), or in the carcasses of animals (Judg. 14:8).

Honey was prohibited from being used in burnt offerings because it fermented easily (Lev. 2:11). Honey was rare enough to be considered a luxury item (Gen. 43:11; 1 Kings 14:3). Honey was so ample in Canaan that the land there was described as a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exod. 3:8).

Beekeeping is not mentioned specifically in the OT. In later times beekeeping was practiced by the Jews. The hives were of straw and wicker. Before removing the combs, the beekeeper stupefied the bees with fumes of charcoal and cow dung burnt in front of the hives.

The Lord’s ordinances are “sweeter than honey” (Ps. 19:10). God’s goodness to Jerusalem was expressed by the phrase “you ate honey” (Ezek. 16:13).  8)Hardin Gary. (2003). Honey. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 779). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Of particular note here is that, even though it was important, it was rare enough to be a luxury item.  Except, of course, in the land to which God was going to bring them.

We also see the reference to medicinal properties – which are seemingly “new” things to us today.

Honey in Exodus

No surprise I assume, but we’re going to start this off with the Israelites grumbling, this time about food.

Ex 16:1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’S hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Ex 16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

Ex 16:6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”

Ex 16:9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ”

Ex 16:10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

Ex 16:11 The LORD said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’ ”

Ex 16:13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’ ”

Ex 16:17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.

Ex 16:19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

Ex 16:20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

Ex 16:21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. 22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ ”

Ex 16:24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”

Ex 16:27 Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. 28 Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? 29 Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

Ex 16:31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the desert when I brought you out of Egypt.’ ”

We saw the lack of trust in the sections about milk – but here it is with food as well.  The people “remembered” sitting around pots of meat, and eating all the food they wanted.  Yeah – right.  They were slaves and were treated horribly.  It’s really, really hard to believe that food “remembrance” was anything other than a total fantasy.

But God gives them something even better.  Bread may not sound all that great, but consider two things.  God promised they would have enough every day – as in the Christian prayer, give us this day our daily bread – so He took away the concern about whether they would starve to death in the desert.  But even beyond that, remember that honey was a prized food, but rare in the areas they previously lived.  God’s promising them a land flowing with milk and honey – and here they have a reminder of both the promise and evidence of God’s ability to deliver on that promise, but also having the manna taste like honey.  As we already know – the people’s trust just wasn’t there, in spite of everything God did for them.

As we did before, we need to ask ourselves what we would do under similar circumstances.  Do we really have faith in God, or do we continue to grumble to Him about our situation?  Like I said – it’s easy to point out the failures of others, but hard to look at our own.  But looking at our own is the ultimate way to apply what we’ve learned.  Knowing that we shouldn’t grumble against God is one thing.  But looking at ourselves, recognizing that we also grumble against God, and then doing something about it – that’s applying what we’re learned.  And, as Christians, we also recognize that we cannot do these things without Jesus.


Going into a land flowing with milk and honey should have been a really big deal to the Israelites – in both the physical sense and in the extended meanings we just saw.  A land flowing with milk and honey was far more than what the Israelites had.  It was even far more than what they were asking for.  God was offering them something so much better than they had ever experienced.  And all they really had to do was to trust God.

Trust – something very much along the lines of what we call faith today.

FAITH—Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true (Phil. 1:27; 2 Thess. 2:13). Its primary idea is trust. A thing is true, and therefore worthy of trust. It admits of many degrees up to full assurance of faith, in accordance with the evidence on which it rests.  9)Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Like I said, it’s easy to read the Old Testament and see where they messed up big time.  But, as Christians, we also need to remember –

Mt 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Mt 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

We pay attention to the speck of sawdust on someone else’s eye because it’s easier to point out someone else’s problems than it is to acknowledge our own.

What we fail to realize though, is that when we read the Bible, recognize the errors of others, and read the consequences – those consequences are coming our way as well, unless we take the plank out of your own eye.  Sure, Jesus is talking about looking at someone who is alive at the same time we are – in order than we can first allow Him to take care of our sins, so that we can then help someone else see that Jesus can help them as well.  

Having said that, part of the reason the Bible is here is for us to learn from it – to see evidence for the faith we have.  As such, reading about what happened to various people in it teaches us not only what is right or wrong – but the consequences attached to each.  Among other things, we see many instances of people who did some really awful things – but were commended in the New Testament for their faith.  And in the New Testament, we see people like Peter, who denied Jesus three times, and yet was the rock upon which Jesus said His church would be built.  Learning and applying isn’t being perfect – it’s moving towards perfect, becoming more like Jesus.  Some failures are going to happen.  We need to learn and apply what we learn – not grumble to the point where we turn away from God, never to return.

We should also see a connection between what we just saw about the land flowing with milk and honey in the Old Testament, and what Jesus said here –

Jn 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Sounds an awful lot like Jesus is promising us a life filled with “milk and honey”.

We saw what happened in the Old Testament, when God made that offer to the Israelites.

Will we / you end up like them?  Or will we / you accept Jesus’ offer?

There is a follow-up to this article, titled The God of milk and honey versus the god of money.  

It looks at and compare what we learned here with the current state of things in the U.S. (and probably other countries) as far as what the “god of money” is doing to milk and honey – by looking at what the almighty dollar (in U.S.) is doing to cows and bees. 

Series NavigationThe God of milk and honey versus the god of money >>

References   [ + ]

1, 3, 6. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
2, 7. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
4. Isaacs, N. (1915). Milk. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, pp. 2051–2052). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.
5. Robinson, S. J. (2006). Opening up Judges (pp. 29–30). Leominster: Day One Publications.
8. Hardin Gary. (2003). Honey. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 779). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
9. Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

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