Beekeeping has changed me. I have never been good at observing what is happening around me. I am the person who doesn’t notice that someone has new glasses, a new haircut, or an amputated limb. Months usually pass before I realize a building along my commute has been demolished. I become deeply engrossed in my thoughts and miss what is going on around me, but the bees are changing me. Now I pay attention to flutters in the grass because the movement could be caused by bees on clover. Weather forecasts suddenly hold my interest. I notice the progression of wildflower blooms because wildflowers feed the bees. The fact that bees make me more aware of the natural world may not come as a surprise, but this new sense of awareness has also spilled over into other aspects of my life including my reading of the Bible. Until I began keeping bees, I never realized how frequently honey and bees are mentioned in the Bible.
One internet site I found stated that the word honey is mentioned 61 times in the Bible. I didn’t personally count up all of the references, but the number seems about right to me. Many of the references are made in comparison to something sweet. For example, Psalm 119:103 says: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Other verses give insight into just how ancient the art of beekeeping really is. Honey is mentioned in the book of Genesis, which was believed to be written by Moses between 1450 and 1410 BC. A famine had spread across the land, and Jacob was sending his sons to Egypt to buy grain. Genesis 43:11 states that the gifts the sons were to take included a little balm and a little honey. We don’t know if this honey was from wild bees or bees kept in man-made hives. However, we do know that the practice of beekeeping is an ancient one. Clay beehives estimated to be 3000 years old have been found in Israel. When the Hebrews were living in slavery in Egypt, God told Moses he would deliver the Hebrews into a new land. Exodus 3:8 states: “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 – the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” Honey symbolized abundance. I am guessing that the Hebrews were very familiar with honey since it was probably plentiful among the Egyptians. Pots of honey were found when excavating one of Egypt’s famous pyramids. Honey was even mentioned in the Levitical laws. Leviticus 2:11 states: “Every grain offering you bring to the Lord must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey in an offering made to the Lord by fire.”
Honey appears in several prominent Old Testament stories. Judges 14 describes a swarm of bees and honey that Samson found in the carcass of a lion he had killed. Some scholars think the honey is symbolic of the land God had given the Hebrews. Samson goes on to make up a riddle about the honey that later costs him his wife. (You have to read the chapter for yourself for all the details.) Honey nearly cost the life of Jonathan, King Saul’s son. In 1 Samuel 14 we read that Saul ordered his men not to eat until he avenged himself of his enemies. When his troops were in the woods, honey was on the ground. The wild honey bees must have been plentiful. My NIV Bible says the troops “..saw the honey oozing out..” No doubt this honey was a great temptation to men who were famished and under orders not to eat. Jonathan wasn’t aware of his father’s order. 1 Samuel 14:27 states: “But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened.” You will have to read this chapter for yourself to learn all the details, but you can take comfort knowing that Saul did not kill his son over a bite of wild honey.
The book of Proverbs repeatedly mentions honey. Here is just one example from Proverbs 27:7, “He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” Ezekiel was one of the major Old Testament prophets, and he lived around 570 BC. When Ezekiel ingested God’s word, it tasted as sweet as honey. (Reference Ezekiel 3:3.) The book of Ezekiel contains several other mentions of honey as part of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
If we jump to the New Testament, we can read about John the Baptist. John was related to Jesus. Jesus’ mother and John’s mother were cousins. John was born a few months before Jesus, and he preached in the Desert of Judea calling people to repent of their sins and prepare for the coming Messiah. Interestingly Matthew the Levi takes the time to let his readers know what John ate and how he dressed. Matthew 3:4 states: “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” I like honey, but I am not sure that honey could make me want to eat a locust.
Beekeeping has given me a fresh set of eyes that I use to view the world. I recently told a friend that if you wanted to convince someone of the existence of God, you could just show them a colony of honey bees. How a collection of insects can work in such a coordinated fashion to do amazing things, is extraordinary to me. Next time you are sweating in your bee jacket working your way through a hive check, pause for a moment. Soak up the sacredness of it all. Beekeeping can be a spiritual activity.
Author’s Note: The verses are quoted from an older NIV translation. Comments from people of other faiths regarding references to honey in other sacred texts are welcome. All comments from people of all faiths are appreciated and will be welcomed with respect and with humility.