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Category Archives: Promised land

Land of Milk and Honey

Manna was the perfect food for wilderness travel. It didn’t need cultivation, refrigeration or preservation. It was free. It could be eaten as porridge or bread. Manna was healthful. Every morning it blanketed the ground like a dewy nutritional snow. It had a mild taste that hinted of coriander and honey. It was Israel’s desert food for forty years. It was the last food the older generation would ever eat.

English: A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, i...

English: A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey, illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop’s 1894 “Treasures of the Bible” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the younger generation entered the Promised Land, “the manna in the wilderness”[1] ceased. The miracle food was no longer needed because the people ate from fields, trees, vines and gardens in the land.  God called Canaan a land flowing with milk and honey.[2] It was a “ribbon of fertile land between Desert and Sea.”[3] Canaan had adequate water, excellent pastures, plentiful fruit trees and vineyards…great affluence of all sorts of good things…for the necessity and delight of human life.”[4]

Shepherd and author Phillip Keller wrote, “In the Scriptures the picture portrayed of the Promised Land, to which God tried so hard to lead Israel from Egypt, was that of a land flowing with milk and honey. Not only is this figurative language but also essentially scientific terminology. In agricultural terms we speak of a milk flow and a honey flow. By this we mean the peak season of spring and summer when pastures are at their most productive stages. The livestock that feed on the forage and the bees that visit the blossoms are said to be producing a corresponding flow of milk or honey. So a land flowing with milk and honey is a land of rich, green, luxuriant pastures.”[5]

Milk

Others who saw the land firsthand support Phillip Keller’s description. “And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere…like the garden of the LORD” (Genesis 13:10). Also Dathan and Abiram said it was an “inheritance of fields and vineyards” (Numbers 16:13-14). The ancient Israelites must have taken possession of the land with joy because they recognized its suitability for farming and herding. Herds were important in that economy. Animals provided meat, milk, leather, and fabric.

Goats were the hardiest of the herd animals and gave  considerably more milk than sheep. Milk “was regarded as a substantial food for all ages,” and “as a food it ranked next in importance to bread.”[6] Preparing milk, butter and cheese became an important part of women’s work in Canaan. They made a popular soured milk called leben, similar to yogurt or kefir. They “churned” butter by shaking and swinging leather bags of milk until the butter solidified. Women made cheese curds, similar to cottage cheese, by squeezing moisture out of salted leben. In making hard cheese, they shaped curds into cakes and dried them in the sun. The sun-dried cheese is likely what David carried to his brothers’ encampment (1 Samuel 17:18). Sarah and Abraham prepared a meal for the LORD that included roast beef, unleavened bread, milk and butter (Genesis 18:8). The LORD and His companions probably dipped bread into the soft butter, and drank leben with the beef.

Honey

The Israelites ate bread often topped with curds and honey. It was as basic as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Isaiah wrote that as a child Immanuel would eat curds and honey (Isaiah 7:15), and in a time of trouble Israel would revert to a simple diet of curds and honey (verses 21-22). A diet of milk and honey was appropriate for weaning a child, for treating illness, and for a time of dearth. Honey had medicinal and grooming uses. It disinfected wounds, killed bacterial infections, and eased sore throats. Women made lotions and cosmetics with honey because of its astringent and softening qualities.

Honey was the primary sweetener for baking and for making fermented drinks. Women made honey cakes for religious purposes (Jeremiah 44:19; 7:18) and for celebrations. “Tradition says that when King David made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the Ark, the treats he brought with him were honey cakes. And he distributed to all the multitude of Israel, both men and women, to everyone a ring-shaped cake of bread and a date cake and a raisin cake.”[7]

Initially the Israelites depended on wild honey from hives in trees and caves…and other interesting places. Samson found a cache of honey in the carcass of a lion, prompting his riddle for wedding guests (Judges 14:8). In time honey production became a business.

In the Jordan Valley, archeologists uncovered a 3000-year-old city, Tel Rehov, the “oldest known commercial bee-keeping city in the world.”[8] It is believed to have housed two million bees in cylindrical hives made of straw and clay. Bits of preserved bee DNA indicate the bees were imported from Turkey. It is thought that the Turkish bees were less aggressive and produced more honey than the wild bees of Canaan.

Land of Milk and Honey Today

Looking at Israel today, we might wonder how much has changed since Israel first walked into the land. More than half the nation today is desert. Israel’s success in providing food for its citizens and exporting agricultural products depends on extensive irrigation. Judged by its efforts and exports—avocados, mangoes, persimmons, dates, grapes, plums, melons, citrus, olives, herbs, cotton, sunflower seed—Israel retains a reputation for agricultural productivity.

In checking out a website about Israel today, I found a farm restaurant called Eretz Zavat Chalav u’Dvash (Land of Milk and Honey). Although it’s not far from the Ben-Gurion Airport, it is portrayed as a garden with birds, fish pond and grazing sheep.

The owner, Aharon Markovich, believes that “rare is better.” He raises sheep rather than goats, even though sheep produce only half the amount of milk that goats produce. So sheep’s milk is better for making cheese. The Land of Milk and Honey dairy produces forty different kinds of original cheeses, using such ingredients as wine, fig leaves, rosemary, and bay leaves. The morning buffet serves food the ancients would have enjoyed: flavored cheese balls, breads, salad, roasted peppers, marinated eggplant and spicy carrots.

 Sounds delicious.—Mary Hendren 


[1] John 6:48

[2] Numbers 13:27, 14:8; Deuteronomy 6:3, 11:9 (and many more examples!)

[3] Halley’s Bible Handbook, p. 36

[4] Gill’s Online Bible Commentary,  note on Exodus 3:8

[5] A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,  Phillip Keller, p. 54

[6] Bible History Online, Manners and Customs: Dairy Products

[8] Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2010, “Ancient Bees Found in Israel Hailed from Turkey”

Achsah: The Daughter Who Asked for More

Caleb watched as distant figures, shimmering like a mirage from the arid Negeb, gradually assumed familiar shapes, and he waited. It was his lovely daughter, Achsah, with her new husband. She was no longer under his protective care in the family compound near Hebron. She now dwelled with the one who had won her hand by his acts of bravery and courage—Othneil, slayer of giants, conqueror of Debir. Caleb wondered why they were coming.

How it all began[1]

Over forty years before, Caleb, Joshua, and ten others, leaders all of Israel’s twelve tribes, embarked on a reconnaissance of the land of Canaan, one commissioned by the LORD through Moses. Their mission? Spy out the land, and its inhabitants. Were the Canaanites a people strong, or weak? Many, or few? Did they dwell in fortified strongholds, or tents? Was the land fertile? Were there ample forests for Israel’s needs?

English: Joshua and Caleb, as in Numbers 13

English: Joshua and Caleb, as in Numbers 13 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was around the month of Elul, the season for the first grape harvest. What better time to bring back samples of the ripening fruit of the land? Above all, Moses exhorted them to be of good courage. Much depended on their findings, as would soon become evident.

The twelve tribal emissaries set out immediately, and for forty days furtively scouted the land, covering some 300 miles[2] before returning to their launch point, Kadesh-barnea. En route they saw date palms, pomegranates, ripening grapes, all thriving in abundance. There was ample pasture for sheep and cattle, and fields suitable for growing barley and wheat. Olive and fruit trees dotted certain regions of countryside. The coastline provided fishing, and perhaps even dye works. Canaan, indeed, was full of resources and promise.

Its inhabitants, however, were an entirely different matter—especially the hulking sons of Anak!

An ill wind

 “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey,” the returning  spies reported to eager ears. “Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there.” Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites—all formidable and well-armed—would have to be dealt with as well.

Anak! Apprehension swirled through the ranks of Israel. Caleb quieted the people, then exhorted them, saying, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” The agitators would have none of it, and retorted, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. . . . The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

With weeping and wailing, Israel turned on Moses and Aaron, demanding new leaders, and refusing to enter Canaan. Moses and Aaron, in shock and horror, fell on their faces before the unruly assembly, undoubtedly recognizing a grievous affront to the LORD, their Deliverer.

Only two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, confronted the growing spirit of revolt, warning the tribes not to rebel against the Lord. They implored them rather to trust that “if the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us . . . .” Those words only moved the mob to violence, and cries of, “Stone them! Stone them!” filled the air. Little did the tribes of Israel realize that their own fates were sealed in the wake of that murderous intent. The LORD had had enough!

And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the LORD have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die'”[3] 

To be continued…


[1] Please read Numbers 13 for the entire account.

[2] I estimate that the trip northward was roughly 150 miles based on an atlas scale. The envisioned round-trip could have covered approximately 300 miles using that scale.

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