Honey along the Path

And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright.

Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” (1Sa 14:24-27,43-45)

This will be my last post in this series looking at the symbolism of honey. I have deliberately left this one until last, and given it a great deal of thought. Whilst what follows is certainly not the only, or even the most obvious exegesis of this passage regarding Jonathan's tasting of the honey (and I have drawn other lessons from it myself) I believe there is an important lesson concerning the word of God and how we receive it.

The word of God is living and active. It is not static; it is not a text book. This means that it always has more to teach us. Whilst the cannon of scripture is closed - we do not expect any new scriptures, or any new truths - this does not mean there will not be new revelation. New revelation is different from new truth. All truth about God is eternal, it cannot by definition be new. However, no-one has a complete revelation or understanding of God. When our eyes are unveiled (or brightened) to see something new (for us) from God's word, we have received fresh revelation by the Spirit into eternal truth.

The problem is that man always has a tendency to try and institutionalise the truth of God. To make formulas and constructs of human wisdom that act as a wineskin for the revelation of God. This in itself is not a bad thing, until those who grow up in these "institutions" become more attached to the wineskin than they are to the reason it was constructed, or the wine it contains. Thus when a "new vintage" comes along, one that will not fit with their beloved constructs, traditions, practices - they would rather reject the new revelation of God, and run-out the men who bring it, than to have to adapt and change to accommodate it.

Such has always been the way, even before the Scriptures were complete. Each generation of God's people rejoiced in the legacy of the prophets of past generations, whilst rejecting, despising and persecuting the prophets who spoke to them in their own time. Even Jesus himself was rejected in this way:

We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from. (Jn 9:29)

Church history is full of the same warnings. Those who begin in the power of the Spirit and/or a new conviction of truth from the Holy Scriptures, become in the passage of time just another institution with its own traditions and values which they hold to more dearly than the principle of pursuing the revealed truth of God's word no matter what the cost which drove their original founders.

"There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted." ~ Thomas Cranmer [Founding figure of the Church of England]

Even in the early church this tendency had begun. Thus Paul's uncompromising words to the Galatians:

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal 3:3)

Saul was such a man. He began well, in a powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit, leading God's people to victory over that which held them captive. But then he tried to establish and consolidate his victory in the flesh. He became jealous and hostile towards those who carried the anointing of God, and made his own rules that God had no part in that prevented the people receiving the food they needed.

Yet even in such a situation, God causes fresh honey to spring up along the path for those who are bold enough to taste it.

It was the people of God who were the final judge this day, because the old rules and ways of the flesh did nothing for them. But the man whose eyes had been brightened with the fresh revelation of God, was the one who led them into victory, the way the old man once had.

The lessons are clear. Because the "institution" we are a part of was in the cutting edge of God's plan in the past, is no guarantee it is today. Or indeed, because we are part of a fresh revelation of God's purpose today, is no guarantee that the "institutions" we are a part of today will still be manifesting the life of God in the years to come. God cares nothing for the institutions of man or the monuments they leave behind. He only has one church, one people, however they are distributed or fragmented. What he cares about is those who will live according to all that continues to be revealed from his wonderful word of truth.

He doesn't need another denomination - what he wants is a people who all have the sparkle of fresh honey in their eyes.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. (Pr 4:8)

"God has yet more light and truth to break forth out of his holy Word." ~ John Robinson 1620


Honey from the Rock

He [the Lord] made him [Jacob] ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock. (Dt 32:13)

But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. (Ps 81:16)

There is a very short answer to the imagery of the honey from the rock: honey is the word of God, and the rock is Christ. Christ came as the ultimate word from the father. He is the ultimate revelation of God. All of God's word finds its focus in him.

But there is a longer answer. For the imagery of the rock is another of those frequently occurring motifs in Scripture that is highly significant. God is frequently referred to as the Rock in the Old Testament, so Christ as the Rock (1Co 10:4) is an obvious reference to his deity. But interestingly, Abraham is also referred to as a rock:

Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. (Isa 51:1-2)

Abraham became Israel. He was one man when he was called, and he responded to a personal call, but he was driven by his corporate vision of the city of God, and he became a people belonging to God.

The rock in this context represents the eternal kingdom purpose of God: to take hold of a man, and through him to fill the earth with his people.

It is not just Abraham, but all those to whom God made a covenant express this unchanging purpose. Adam was one man whom God commissioned to fill the earth. As was Noah; as was Abraham. In Moses and David too we see a covenant to a man which is to have an outworking to all God's people.

This is the same imagery and the same great kingdom purpose we see in the wonderful second chapter of the prophet Daniel. A rock cut from the heavenly mountain, that impacts the earth and grows until that same mountain is reproduced in all the earth.

For all the covenants, and the kingdom purpose of God find their fulfilment in Christ. He is the true fulfilment of the rock. One man through whom God will produce a people who will fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory.

Honey from the rock is thus the message of Christ and his kingdom. The message of the Kingdom; the good news of the kingdom; the gospel of the kingdom; the gospel.

(It is important that we remember that the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom. It is not the gospel of the individual. Christ's message was not "Repent, and come into all the blessings of God." - though that is indeed the case - but, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." It is not a call to self-improvement, but a call for self-denial for a cause that is bigger than any individual.)

Honey from the rock is not just meant to nourish us, but to be exported by us to the ends of the earth. As the rock that is the kingdom grows to fill the earth, so too the honey from the rock must flow from this mountain to touch all mankind.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mtt 24:14)


Honey from the Lion

Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. (Jdg 14:5-6)

After some days he returned to take her. And he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and behold, there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. He scraped it out into his hands and went on, eating as he went. And he came to his father and mother and gave some to them, and they ate. But he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey from the carcass of the lion. (Jdg 14:8-9)

One thing that causes Christians much confusion and difficulty is the issue of trials and suffering. Anyone who has walked the journey of faith for more than a moment will know, even if they don't admit it, that we as Christians are not immune from the effects of Adam's sin on this fallen world. Jesus himself promised us tribulation. Paul said we must pass through many tribulations to enter the kingdom of God.

Yet many have bought into a false teaching that assumes that once we come to Christ, everything will be a breeze. We will be shielded from all trials and sorrows by the grace and favour of God. As a result when the inevitable trials and difficulties do occur they are off guard and totally unprepared. Their faith is not ready, and they falter, thinking God is no longer for them or that he is no longer in control.

Peter warns us to watch out for our enemy who prowls like a lion. Why would this be necessary if God will never let him come near us? Those who teach in God's house have a responsibility to prepare God's people for when the lion attacks.

Samson, for all his faults, was a man chosen and anointed by God. Yet God did not spare him from the attack of the lion. It came at him with everything it had got. Its full onslaught of might and intimidation. A young lion, in full vigour, roaring with all its might - its sole aim to bring the man of God to a premature end.

But even though Samson has nothing in his hand, nothing in his own ability or resource to defend himself, he stands firm and in the power of God he overcomes.

This is what we must understand: Bad things will come against us, God never promised they wouldn't, but no matter what comes, we can always overcome! The promise of the Scriptures is not that no weapon forged against us will ever come against us, nor even that no weapon will draw blood, or cause us genuine hurt. The promise is that no matter what comes, it shall not prosper. Nothing can overcome those who stand firm in their faith in God. The lion can rush, the lion can roar, but the lion can never overcome. We can always overcome him if we stand our ground.

When the lion comes, he comes roaring. He roars, "Where is your God?", "How could he let this happen?", "Where is his protection when you need it?", "Why you?" But the hallmark of men of faith is this: they shut the mouths of lions! They are not intimidated by his roars, and they do not entertain his doubts. They stand firm and overcome.

Honey from the Lion is thus a delicious irony. That which came against the man of God to consume him is itself consumed, and becomes a source of strength. That which came roaring doubts, became a source of God's word.

We may not understand at the time why we go through times of trial and difficulty. We don't have to. We just have to stand firm in faith and overcome. But when we revisit them later, those past victories can speak to us and be a source of God's word to us.

They proclaim, "The God who was with you in all you overcame in the past, is the same God who is with you today to cause you to overcome anything you may face. He did not let you fall then; he will not let you fall now."

Honey from the lion is the food of warriors. It is the sustenance of those who are ready to overcome today, because they have already been tested and stood firm.

Alone on a hillside, tending his fathers sheep, a young boy with a deep love and devotion for God was attacked by a savage lion. Who knows whether at the time he understood why his loving heavenly father allowed such attack. What we know is this, later in life that boy saw a giant defying the God in whom he had stood firm, and as one who had tasted the "honey from the lion" he was able to declare with complete conviction:

"The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (1Sa 17:37)


Caution: Do Not Boil!

"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." (Ex 23:19b)
"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." (Ex 34:26b)
"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." (Dt 14:21b)

Repetition is significant in the Scriptures. It is the prophetic equivalent of using bold typeface, or a highlighter pen.

So I have known that these verses were significant, even though I have been puzzled for a long time as to why!

However, as I have been meditating on the imagery we have been examining in the last few posts, a possible answer has emerged.

Like Paul, when he explains the significance of the ox treading out the grain, I am struck by the question: Is it for young goats that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake?

If we see the young goat as an immature member of the flock, and its mother's milk as that which should have brought it through to maturity, then these verses strike me as an expression of what I have always considered to be the golden rule of preaching:

Never use the platform to have a go at a brother.

There is a time for rebuking, but even this should be done in love with a view to seeing our brother restored.

That brother may be immature. He may have made a massive doctrinal error. He may have totally wound us up the wrong way. But God never gives us his word to use as a weapon - not against flesh and blood anyway! Whatever measure of platform God gives us for our words, we must make sure that they always build our brother up and never boil him alive!

Milk from the flock

He [the Lord] made him [Jacob] ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled him with honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock. Curds from the herd, and milk from the flock. (Dt 32:13-14a)

I finished my last post by proposing that milk and honey represent the word of God that comes to us, that addresses basic issues in our life, and causes us to grow onwards towards maturity.

When the Lord led the people out of Egypt he fed them with manna. This was food direct from heaven, and collected individually. However when the people entered the land the manna stopped. There was a new dynamic, one of milk and honey. It is no longer a sustenance that comes primarily direct from heaven, nor one that is applied to individuals in isolation; it is one that is from the flock for the flock.

It is important for us to realise that God has not just called us out of something, he has also called us into something. The people were not just called out of Egypt to wander in the wilderness being fed by the mercy of God by manna direct from heaven; they were called to enter Caanan to become an established people who would nourish each other with the milk and honey that would cause them to grow up into maturity.

Those who are baptised into Christ are baptised into his body. We do not just become a new person in the waters of baptism, we become part of a new people. We become part of a covenant community, the flock of God, where each member has a responsibility of care for the other, and where each has something that is needed for the common good. No child of God can ever reach maturity in isolation. Manna is not enough, we need milk and honey. It's not just that we need to receive it, as part of the flock we are supposed to produce it.

We need to see our time in the word in this light. God gives both bread and seed. Are we coming to him just for manna for ourselves that will get us through the day, or are we coming for milk that will both satisfy us, and be a source of blessing to others? When you read the word, don't just think how it applies to you, take something for someone else too.

This is how the body is meant to function and build itself up. Paul writes to the Ephesians:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:11-16)

Maturity is not reached by believers in isolation. Nor is it reached just by the working of the "recognised ministries". It is reached by the body, when the whole body is functioning as a body. The milk is not produced the the shepherds, but by the flock. The role of the shepherd-teacher is not to run around from morning to night trying to feed every sheep and goat with the milk that it needs. (Jethro had to rebuke Moses for such behaviour) Rather it is to equip the flock to produce its own milk. So that the members of the body can minister to each other. Only in this way will the body reach maturity.

God wants his church to be a land flowing with milk and honey. He wants a bride that is prepared for his son. He wants a people who continually minister the word of God to each other in love.

Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. (SoS 4:11)


Milk and Honey

I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex 3:8)

The Exodus out of Egypt and into Caanan is a paradigm in the Word for our own salvation. We were slaves in sin, just as they were slaves in Egypt. We were saved by the shed blood of Jesus, the lamb of God, just as each household in Egypt was saved by the blood of a lamb on their door posts. And we too have been brought into an inheritance in Jesus, just as Joshua (the Hebrew pronunciation of Jesus) brought them into the good land that God had prepared for them.

We know, of course, that our salvation is not the end of our journey, it is the beginning. Our pilgrimage begins as we follow Jesus in his triumph, brining in his kingdom and growing ever more closer into his likeness.

We don't have to read far into the Old Testament to find this reoccurring description of the land that God was leading them into: It was a land flowing with milk and honey.

On the surface this represents the abundance of God's bounty and provision towards his people in the inheritance he was giving them. But I want to suggest that the symbolism goes deeper. Honey, we have established, is the taste of the Word of God. Milk is the sustenance that is needed to bring a child from weakness to strength, from immaturity into maturity.

Peter uses this illustration in his first epistle:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation (1Pe 2:2)

The writer to the Hebrews also uses the same illustration:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:12-14)

God's spiritual milk then is the basic teachings of the word of God that are foundational to us leading a life of faith. We need them if we are to continue in our pilgrimage in the land onwards to maturity and the fullness of Christ.

This spiritual symbolism of milk bringing us to maturity where we can discern good from evil is not just found in the New Testament either, for Isaiah says:

He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. (Isa 7:15)

Which brings us full circle back to Honey and the unmistakable taste of God's word. We need God's word if we are to grow into maturity. Without it we will stay in infancy.

Having laid the groundwork for this interpretation of Milk and Honey, I will draw some applications out of it in the next post...


Tastes like Honey

Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.(Ex 16:31)

The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Ps 19:9b-10)

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Ps 119:103)

And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. (Eze 3:3)

So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” (Rev 10:9)

The word of God describes its own taste. It tastes like honey.

This sets up a motif and a reoccurring theme that I want to examine in some following posts. Not every occurrence of honey in the scriptures is applicable to the word of God, but many of them are.

If I have time, and I'm not distracted by something else, I'd like to look at: Milk and Honey, Honey along the Path, Honey from the Lion, and Honey from the Rock.

But to kick off, that fact that it tastes of anything speaks volumes by itself. It is meant to be consumed! It's not enough merely to get into the Word, the Word needs to get into us. It's designed to be tasted, eaten, and savoured like sweet honey.

Not just that, but one we have eaten the sticky stuff, there are tale-tale signs, for it sticks to our lips. Once consumed, it is meant to be spoken.

The first mention of the word tasting like honey comes with the manna. Which we are told represents the Word of God in Deuteronomy.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Dt 8:3)

This sets up an important pattern for how we should receive the word of God: daily! We need to get away from thinking the word of God is something we only receive on a Sunday morning. The pattern for the manna was that they would gather it for six days, and live off their reserve on the Sabbath. Sadly, many believer's try to live by the complete opposite!


To fear or not to fear...

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21)

God does not want us to be afraid of him, but he does want us to fear him.

Confused? Let me try to explain.

We are very familiar with fear as a negative thing. Fear locks people up. Fear paralyses. Fear prevents people doing the things they know they should do. Fear robs people of their peace and causes them to live under the cloud of worry and anxiety. There is the fear of man, the fear of failure, the fear of death, along with all manner of phobias and neurosis. Christ came to set us free from all such fear.

But there is another kind of fear, a positive kind, a kind that is often neglected and rarely taught.

I was thinking about this recently as I was talking to my son about crossing the road. Now, on the one hand although I don't want my son to be afraid of the road, to tremble and panic whenever he reaches the kerb, I do want to instil in him a fear of sorts. A fear that gives him a correct sense of danger and that will keep him from putting himself into a situation that could harm or kill him. This kind of fear could save his life! That's a positive thing.

This, I believe, is the correct purpose of fear: a strong motivational force that gives us a correct sense of danger and keeps us from situations that would cause us harm.

A fear of heights is a bad thing, but it has at its root an inbuilt recognition of the danger of falling from heights. We need such recognition of danger to make sure we treat such situations with the utmost care. No fear in this case would be worse than too much fear. As usual with the strategies of the enemy, the phobias he locks people up with are not original inventions, but merely distortions of the good things of God. A brave man is not a man without fear, but a man who can overcome his fears.

This is the kind of fear we should have for God. Not a fear that locks us up and keeps us from coming into his presence. We know that we are forgiven, accepted, invited sons who can come with boldness before God's throne of grace. But to have no fear, here as elsewhere is worse than too much fear. We need to recognise that our God is not "safe!" He is not an indulgent grandparent who winks at our misbehaviour and panders to our demands. He is an awesome holy righteous God, a consuming fire, a God who expresses his holy wrath against sin every day (Ps 7:11). He is our father, whose love will not shrink from discipline when it is needed.

The fear of God is designed to keep us from the situations that would harm us. Keep us from the consequences of bad decisions, and keep us from unnecessary discipline. Like children, if we cannot understand why we should do right, we can at least fear what will happen if we do wrong. God wants us to fear him that we might not sin.

The fear of God is not to keep us from coming, but to keep us from straying.