The land which God promised to bring Moses and the people of Israel to had a melodious nickname derived from Exodus 3:8. It is called "The Land of Milk and Honey". We often associate the phrase milk and honey with the things that are familiar to us. We hear the word milk and think of cows. We hear the word honey and think of the sweet bounty of bees. But if you were to travel about Israel in the days when God spoke these words to the people of Israel (Dt. 11:8-9; 26: 9, 15), you would have a hard time finding cow farms and bee keepers. Goats were (and in many cases still are) the primary source of milk in Israel and the word most of our translations call honey was a sweet syrupy liquid made from dates. These two words poetically describe the two general environments in Israel. The Land of Milk describes the way of life in the southern and eastern regions, and the Land of Honey describes the way of life in the north and west.
There are three main characteristics of the Land of Milk: shepherds and herds; wide open space with plenty of room for herds to roam; desert areas such as the Negev (Gen. 13:1), the Wilderness of Paran (Num. 12:16), and the Wilderness of Zin (Num. 27:12-14). There are three main characteristics of the Land of Honey as well: farmers, less or no space to roam, and mountains with lots of water. Life in the Land of Milk is unpredictable because of its low rainfall and sparse population. It is a silent and lonely place. Life there is demanding and exhausting. It drives home the need for community. Life in the Land of Honey though is quite different. It is predictable with its cycles of seasons and years. Because there are many villages and cities in this area, it is noisy and congested. Life here is manageable and busy.
When you are reading the Bible stories, it is always a good idea to keep in mind whether it takes place in the Land of Milk or the Land of Honey. Putting these stories within their regional context helps to drive home their meaning. When you read about the Red Sea, wadis and cisterns (Gen. 37:18-24), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Moses and Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-2), think about the Land of Milk. When you read about The Sea of Galilee (Mt. 4:18), mountains, terrace gardens (Lk. 8:5), the prophets and Jesus, or Mount Zion (1 Ki. 8:1), think of the Land of Honey. It is still possible to see all the attributes of the Land of Milk and Honey today. Bedouin still roam with their herds in the Land of Milk. The Negev is thriving, but there is still a vast amount of land that is undeveloped and breath-taking. The Land of Honey is still bustling in the cities of Tiberias, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.
Sometimes our lives reflect this kind of geographical diversity. Like the Land of Honey, they can be filled with activity and the daily demands of family, jobs and predictable routines. We may also have times where life is as unpredictable as living in the Land of Milk. Dried up resources, the loss of a job or the death of someone we love can make us feel isolated and alone struggling to make ends meet. It would be easy to think that living in either of these extremes is not good. However Paul alluded to both of them when he told the Philippians that he had learned to be content with his life no matter what he did or did not have (Phil. 4:11-12). For Paul times of “Honey” meant he could preach and share the Gospel with more people. Times of “Milk” offered solitude to hear God’s direction and feel His presence. These lessons can be learned by us as well. Where do you find yourself right now? Are you in a time of “milk” or a time of “honey”? No matter what your circumstances God has placed you there for a reason and each circumstance gives you an opportunity to draw closer to Him (Heb. 4:16; Js. 4:8).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 11/19/2017