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What is the meaning behind God’s promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey”?

We find many times in the Old Testament a description of the Promised Land as a land flowing with milk and honey. The first reference can be found in the episode when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush. He told Moses in Exodus 3:8 that He would deliver His people “out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.” This promise was later repeated many times, for instance in Numbers 14:8; Deuteronomy 31:20; and Ezekiel 20:15. Commentaries tell us that the promise referred to the fertility and bounty that awaited God’s chosen people. The mention of “milk” suggested that Israel’s livestock (consisting of cattle, sheep and goats) could find much pasture; and the reference to “honey” implied the bountiful farmland available where bees had plenty of plants from which to produce nectar. “Honey” could also refer to the sweetness of dates that grew in the land. All of this would mean that the promise included both richness and fertility.

The website gotquestions makes the following comments:

“God called the new land ‘good and spacious.’ The Hebrew word translated ‘good’ means ‘pleasant, beautiful, and fruitful, with economic benefits’… at the same time with promoting the goodness of the land, God mentions the enemies in the land that must be overcome. The nations displaced by Israel from the land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ were significant in number, and they valued that land enough to fight and die for it.

“Later, we have the record of the ten faithless spies who were sent into the Promised Land by Moses. The ten spies disagreed that Israel was able to conquer the inhabitants of the land, but they did agree on this: it was a land… flowing with milk and honey. This is what they told Moses in Numbers 13:27.  The ‘fruit’ the spies showed Moses was a single cluster of grapes that had to be carried on a pole between two men (verse 23). They also brought some pomegranates and… figs from Canaan.”

God made a covenant with the nation of Israel during the time of Moses, which included God’s promise to bring the nation into the Promised Land. Moses told the people in Deuteronomy 9:5 why this was to happen: “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

This same reason was also explained to the nation of Judah by Jeremiah in chapter 11, verses 3-5:  “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Cursed is the man who does not obey the words of this covenant which I commanded your fathers in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, “Obey My voice, and do according to all that I command you; so shall you be My people, and I will be your God,” that I may establish the oath which I have sworn to your fathers, to give them “a land flowing with milk and honey,” as it is this day.’”

We explain in our booklet “And Lawlessness Will Abound”:

“God made a covenant with the nation of Israel at the time when He brought them out of slavery to fulfill His unconditional promise that He had made, through a covenant or agreement, to Abraham, later to Isaac, and then to Jacob. But… God expected of the nation to obey Him—at least in a general way. Since God never offered them the gift of the Holy Spirit, He knew that they could not obey Him in the same way we can today. Still, God expected obedience to an extent. In fact, when they refused to do so, He expelled them from the land.”

Similarities to the Promised Land can be seen with the Garden of Eden–a perfect paradise filled with bountiful trees and fruits and plants, the place where Adam and Eve really had it all. But due to their disobedience, they were expelled from the garden, in a sense a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

Quoting again from gotquestions:

“There are many areas in Israel that are in fact barren and infertile but this does not negate the fact that this land overall is flowing with milk and honey. There are many areas of Israel that are extremely fertile and produce many types of fruits and vegetables. The area north of present-day Israel is biblical Mesopotamia, also known as the ‘Fertile Crescent,’ which is just that—fertile (and crescent-shaped). It is also true that the Bible records severe drought and famine in the land of Israel, but those times were connected to God’s judgment on the sinful people (Deuteronomy 11:16-17; 1 Kings 18:1-2, 18)…

“God’s description of the Promised Land as ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ is a beautifully graphic way of highlighting the agricultural richness of the land. God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt to a prosperous land of freedom and blessing and the knowledge of the Lord.”

God had originally created a beautiful world.  Unfortunately, due to man’s greed and sinful conduct, the world is being destroyed in many ways and man as a whole has taken for granted what God has created.  Because of this, God is angry and mankind will be punished once more in the future.  We read that Christ will come to destroy those who destroy the earth (Revelation 11:18).

But Christ will also restore all things again in the not-too-distant future, including the beauty of our planet. We state in our booklet “Human Suffering, Why.. and How Much Longer?” 

“Isaiah 49:8 explains that Christ, the Messenger of the New Covenant, will come to ‘restore this earth’ to its original beauty. The earth was so beautiful when it was created, that the angels praised God for it. They shouted for joy when they saw its awesome beauty (compare Job 38:4–7). This earth was not created void and empty. God is the Author of beauty and harmony. Whatever He does is beautiful and, indeed, reflects His character of light and brightness and splendor and glory.

“And so, Christ will RESTORE beauty to our planet.

“Christ will also restore those from the nations of Israel and Judah who have remained alive, as well as from all the other nations (Isaiah 49:6). Christ will restore the remnant of Israel by bringing them back into the Promised Land. Today, only a very small percentage of the houses of Israel and Judah live in the Promised Land. Only some of the Jews (descendants of Judah, Levi and Benjamin) live there, and virtually no one of the descendants of the house of Israel. But the Promised Land, as we know it today, is not the kind of land that God had envisioned. Today, it is a land filled with violence, hatred and war. But once Christ has returned and has begun His rule, the Promised Land will be changed into a land flowing with milk and honey again, as it once was—a land of prosperity, beauty, peace, and abundance for everyone (Joel 2:23–27).”

We can also understand some spiritual lessons from God’s promise to His physical people to provide them with a land flowing with milk and honey. In 1 Peter 2:2, a parallel is drawn between milk and God’s Word, and honey is likewise compared with God’s Word in Psalm 119:103.

As God has revealed His Word to us, if we are converted Christians, we must feed on it on a daily basis. As God’s Spirit is compared with rivers of living water, flowing into us and out of us, so God’s Word must be for us like milk and honey, flowing to us and from us.

We should not take for granted what God has done in our lives; the fact that He called us out of this world and made us understand His Word, so we can live a way that is pleasing in God’s eyes, preparing for a future time when we will be involved with beautifying this planet once again–not just a land but a whole planet flowing with milk and honey.

The nation of Israel at the time of Moses had God on their side who took them out of slavery and the land of Egypt in miraculous ways.  Yet they were quick to forget when they were in the wilderness, and they resorted to sinful conduct, due to a lack of faith and the willingness to obey. But God was merciful time and time again and gave them opportunities to obey, but finally, He had enough and many of His people were killed. With just a few exceptions, nobody who had been freed from Egypt was able to enter the Promised Land due to their disobedience and lack of faith.  They had taken for granted what God was trying to give them.

As spiritual Israelites, those whom God has truly called out of this world, we were also once “slaves” of this world, which is ruled by Satan. We are to flee from our carnal nature and to get rid of our old man–our sinful carnal desires–to become something better, to become renewed, to become a new man. Through our proper baptism, we received God’s Holy Spirit and became begotten children of God’s Family.  We still live in this world but we shouldn’t be a part of this world. Rather, we are to be a part of Christ and His spiritual Body, to live a life pleasing to God, based on what He commands. We will still be faced with trials, temptations and difficulties which we need to overcome as we continue to travel on this narrow road which leads us to our “Promised Land,” while we are inheriting the promises that God has in store for us – everlasting life in God’s rich and prosperous Kingdom and Family.

Lead Writer: Michael Link