The land of Israel also has a “nickname” which is first mentioned in Exodus 3:8. God calls the land He is about to bring the people to is a land flowing with “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 those 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 that most of our translations call honey was actually 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 the west.
There are three main characteristics of the Land of Milk: shepherds and herds, wide open spaces with plenty of room for those herds to roam, and 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. When you are reading about the Red Sea, wadiis and cisterns (Gen. 37:18-24), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Moses and Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-2), you are reading about the Land of Milk. Life in the Land of Honey though is quite different. It is predictable with its cycles of seasons and years filled with family events such as weddings and the harvesting of grapes and wheat. 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 about the Sea of Galilee (Mt. 4:18), mountains, terrace gardens (Lk. 8:5), the prophets and Jesus, or Mount Zion (1 Kin.8:1), think of the Land of Honey.
Jesus moved about these two regions quite frequently during His earthly ministry and many of His parables feature them as well. Whenever He traveled to Jericho, He was in the Land of Milk (Mt. 20:29-34; Lk. 18:35-43; 19:1-10). His temptation by Satan started there (Mt. 4:1-11) and two of His most well-known parables take place there (Lk. 10:30-37; 15:3-7). Whenever He ministered in the Galilee region or around the shores of the Sea of Galilee, He was in the Land of Honey (Mt. 3: 13; 4:12, 15, 18; 9:1; Mk. 1:9, 14, 16, 28; Lk. 4:14, 31; 5:17-26; 8:22-25; Jn. 2:1-11; 4:46-54- and so many more!). Many of His parables took place in the Land of Honey, using everyday life in this region to illustrate spiritual truths in a way that many could understand (Mt. 20:1-16; Lk. 8:4-8; 15:8-10). The bulk of His ministry took place in the Land of Honey as well as one of the most revealing moments with His disciples (Mt. 17:1-8).
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 if you’re able to travel there. The Land of Honey is still bustling with the cities of Tiberias, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem and the agricultural practice of terrace farming is alive and well around the Sea of Galilee and along the coastal plain. Being able to walk among these regions or see pictures of them, brings Jesus’ life and ministry to a new level of understanding. It also strengthens our grasp of the truth He was teaching in His parables or how dynamic His miracles were in the time and place where He performed them. These lessons and the truth contained in them are just as applicable to us as they were to those who first heard them. So, take some time to visit the Land of Milk and Honey when you take a road trip through the pages of Scripture. I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ride!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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