Milk and honey: Prosperity in the Promised Land

By Nancy Wiechec | Catholic News Service

Milk and honey make grand appearances in the Old Testament to represent prosperity in the Promised Land. It is God that promises to lead the enslaved Israelites “into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8).

This is the logo for the “Food from Scripture” eight-part column series. (CNS graphic/Nancy Wiechec)

The description is so significant in the covenant between God and his people that “land flowing with milk and honey” is repeated at least 20 times from Exodus to Ezekiel. It’s an expression of agricultural prosperity in Canaan (the Promised Land), according to the New American Bible, Revised Edition.

Aside from those references, milk and honey appear in separate mentions throughout the Bible. One favorite passage is Matthew’s introduction to John the Baptist, whose “food was locusts and wild honey” (Mt 3:4).

Bible writers chose well their words because milk and honey were sacred foods for quite a while before their time.

The respected culinary encyclopedia “Larousse Gastronomique” says milk has long been a symbol of fertility and wealth, and milking animals was a venerated ritual in early human societies. Honey had equal respect in ancient times. The sweet golden liquid was “regarded as the food of the gods, a symbol of wealth and happiness.”

These symbols persisted in early Christian communities. The newly baptized would sip from a cup of milk and honey, honoring their entry into the Lord’s new promised land.

In the Bible, milk and honey represent prosperity in the Promised Land. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Before and during Christ’s time on earth, sheep, goats and cows were milked for butter, cream, cheese and yogurt. Although, most of these products looked and tasted a bit different from modern dairy equivalents.

The Book of Job acknowledges the making of curds when the author pleads, “Did you not pour me out like milk, and thicken me like cheese?” (Jb 10:10).

Domesticated beekeeping also was common in ancient Greece, Egypt and Palestine, and honey became the definitive sweet of the Bible, where it often appears as a metaphor.

“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones” (Prv 16:24).

Sugarcane arrived in the Middle East four centuries before Christ’s birth, but it was rare and expensive. Common sweeteners of the time included syrups, also referred to as honey, made from dates, pomegranates or other fruit.

Protein-packed and loaded with good-for-you foods from Scripture, this parfait makes a quick dessert or breakfast. If dates or pomegranates are not available, any fresh fruit would make satisfying substitutes.


A simple parfait of yogurt, honey, fruits and nuts celebrates two esteemed foods from the Bible, milk and honey. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Time: 20 minutes

Servings: 4

1/2 cup walnuts or walnut pieces

4 large Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

1 orange, peeled and segmented

1/2 cup pomegranate arils

16 ounces Greek-style plain whole milk yogurt

4 tablespoons honey

A few lavender buds or mint leaves (optional)

Place the walnuts on a metal tray and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, stirring the nuts once at the halfway point. Remove from oven when golden in color and let cool.

Divide about three-quarters of the yogurt between four dessert cups. Then layer on the fruit and nuts. Save a bit of fruit to garnish the top. Drizzle about 1/2 tablespoon honey over the fruit in each cup. Divide the remaining yogurt between the dishes and drizzle more honey over each.

Garnish with the remaining fruit and lavender buds or mint leaves and serve immediately.

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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