(Genesis 43.11 & 45.9)
Jacob and his family were living in Canaan from where the honey would have come. However, it was not until some 400 years later that God for the first time told Moses that the Land of Canaan flowed with milk and honey (Ex 3.8). The expression "flowing with milk and honey" is a metaphor that describes conditions as detailed in Deuteronomy 8.7-10, where there is no lack of food and water, and where all is peaceful, restful, and calm. God had prepared such a land for the people He called His "peculiar treasure" (Ex 19.5).
No honey was to be used in any of the offerings of the Lord made by fire (Lev 2.11). The spiritual significance of that divine ruling is valid today. Honey is known for its natural sweetness, and in our worship there should be no intrusion of human sentiment or relationships. Honey may be agreeable and refreshing in its own sphere, but when it is a question of what God delights in, the line is sharply drawn between the natural and the spiritual. Anything in our worship that reflects the sweetness and amiability of the natural man would be tantamount to diminishing the unique excellencies of the manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Another reason why, in the wisdom of God, honey was excluded from the offerings made by fire unto the Lord, may well have been because a latent characteristic of honey is that it ferments. Honey is composed of fructose, glucose, enzymes, oil, and water. When the fructose in crystallised honey ferments, it is used to make mead, an alcoholic beverage going back to Biblical days. Following the death of Aarons sons Nadab and Abihu, Aaron and his remaining sons were warned to abstain from alcohol (Lev 10.9). So, too, our times of worship should not be occasions for uncontrolled excitement of the flesh (carnality), but should be marked by a spirit of divine dignity and peace in which we make much of our Lords perfection and work, and His exaltation to the Fathers right hand.
"Blessed Lord, our hearts would treasure
All the Fathers thoughts of Thee"
- Miss C A Wellesley
Now when we consider the significance of the honey in Jacobs gift, we see a precious and sweet aspect of Josephs humanity and moral qualities in the spirit of the Lord Jesus (Gen 45.4-5). It is clear from the record we have, that Joseph was a person with a sweet and gentle nature, persevering with a quiet and meek spirit in everything he did. Not only did his father cherish his lovely disposition, but the Egyptians also recognised the uniqueness of his character. Sadly, the attitude of his brothers toward him was anything but sweet; rather, they were always filled with bitterness and envy (Gen 37.8, et al). Joseph, on the other hand, was ever kind, caring, and loving, and in due course would again confirm the sweet and sincere affections in his heart toward his brothers. Joseph ever wanted to re-establish the sweet link of family union (Prov 16.24).
When Jacobs sons first came face to face with the "ruler of all Egypt", the manner of their speech was not the harsh, arrogant invective employed against Joseph up to the time they sold him to the Ishmeelites. During the three days that Joseph held his brothers in ward, their individual consciences began working overtime. The brothers had heard from the ruler what amounted to an exposure of their evil thoughts against their brother twenty-one years earlier. Gods word was "quick and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb 4.12).
The second visit of Josephs brothers to Egypt a year later was even more traumatic. The rulers silver cup being found in Benjamins sack led Judah to confess to Joseph, "God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants" (Gen 44.16). Furthermore, the brothers were beside themselves with fear, and in full repentance bowed themselves to the ground, just as Joseph had long ago foretold (Gen 37.7,9). Now was the time for the outpouring of words from Joseph that would be sweet to their taste: "Come near to me, I pray you And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves" (Gen 45.4-5).
So, in the life of the Lord Jesus we see that many different people found His words "Pleasant as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones" (Prov 16.24). Our Lord said to Jairus, "Be not afraid, only believe" (Mk 5.36); and to the widow of Nain, "Weep not" (Lk 7.13). To a trembling woman He said, "Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace" (Lk 8.48). To an impotent man the Lord Jesus said, "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (Jn 5.14). To the woman taken in adultery, Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more" (Jn 8.11).
Sadly, we often speak to and about fellow Christian believers in such a harsh and cruel way that it cannot be said that our words are sweet to their taste. The apostle James, writing about our unruly member, the tongue, would challenge our hearts by asking, "Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" (Jas 3.11). May our gracious Lord help us to speak from a pure heart words that will prompt the holy response, "How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth" (Ps 119.103).
Spices Tragacanth (Astragalus gummifer)
The Hebrew word nekoth, translated as "spicery" in Gen 37.25, and "spices" in Gen 43.11, is more accurately rendered "tragacanth" by Biblical scholars and botanists. The plant astragalus gummifer belongs to the pea/bean family of plants and is commonly known as one of the Milk Vetches. Astragalus gummifer can be found growing on the mountain slopes in the south of the Sinai Peninsula, in Turkey to the north, and Iran to the east. The plant is a multi-branched evergreen dwarf shrub with spiny cushions heading thorny stems and reaching a height of 1m, bearing small, white/yellow, pea-like flowers. To obtain the gum tragacanth the roots are exposed and incised just below the soil surface. The soft gum exudate is allowed to dry before being collected over a period of 10 or more days. The exudate is soluble only in water. As in Biblical days, the tragacanth mucilage is used for fusing different products together, especially in the pharmaceutical and food industries. So why did Jacob, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, include this item in his gift?
The word nekoth means stricken, smitten, afflicted, and broken. Certainly Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers, being stricken, smitten, afflicted, and broken (Gen 37.23-24; 42.21). The very one cast out by his brothers, will, by the unifying power invested in him by God, bind (glue) Jacobs family together again. As individuals, the brothers were so very different in character and disposition one from the other (Gen 49.1-28), and only a miracle of Gods grace through Joseph, would bring the family together again. Joseph accomplished his objective through the exercise of the love and grace in his heart toward his brothers (Gen 45.15). The absence of love among an assembly of Gods people will bring about division and separation, but practical love will bind us together. The apostle Paul exhorts us: "And above all these things put on charity (love), which is the bond of perfectness (Col 3.14).
We know from the Scriptures that Jacobs family, i.e. the twelve tribes, remained united as one body until the death of Solomon when, through idolatry, the nation was divided into two units of ten and two tribes. The unequal division remains to this day and will continue up to the incoming of the millennial kingdom. Then, and only then, will the nation recognise the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, the One whom they rejected, who also was smitten, stricken, and afflicted (Is 53.4). The penitent remnant will look with astonishment upon their Messiah whom they pierced, and enquire about the wounds in His hands; they will hear Him reply, "Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends" (Zech 12.10; 13.6). Israel will be overwhelmed with the spirit of repentance and then be saved to enjoy the millennial kingdom of peace and prosperity. The Lord, by the unifying power of His love, will fuse the nation into one indissoluble family to be joyously in subjection to the King of kings and Lord of lords throughout a glorious millennium.
Today, Christian believers are united in one body in Christ before God (Rom 12.5; Eph 4.4). Sadly, the visible testimony of what divine grace and love has accomplished is not apparent because the "bond of peace" is broken. The divisions among the saints of God are due in the main to bitterness, rancour, envy, and the absence of practical love, the same traits that caused the break-up of Jacobs family. Just as tragacanth is now used extensively in industry for binding different materials together, so Christian believers know they have at their disposal the greatest power and gift for unity in the bond of peace. That power is "the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Rom 5.5). May our gracious Lord help us to exercise the unifying power of His love in our hearts, one toward another (Jn 13.34-35).
To be continued.