International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
hun'-i (debhash; meli): One familiar with life in Israel will recognize in debhash the Arabic dibs, which is the usual term for a sweet syrup made by boiling down the juice of grapes, raisins, carob beans, or dates. Dibs is seldom, if ever, used as a name for honey (compare Arabic 'asal), whereas in the Old Testament debhash probably had only that meaning. The honey referred to was in most cases wild honey (Dt 32:13; Jdg 14:8,9; 1 Sam 14:25,26,29,43), although the offering of honey with the first-fruits would seem to indicate that the bees were also domesticated (2 Ch 31:5). The bees constructed their honeycomb and deposited their honey in holes in the ground (1 Sam 14:25); under rocks or in crevices between the rocks (Dt 32:13; Ps 81:16). They do the same today. When domesticated they are kept in cylindrical basket hives which are plastered on the outside with mud. The Syrian bee is an especially hardy type and a good honey producer. It is carried to Europe and America for breeding purposes.
In Old Testament times, as at present, honey was rare enough to be considered a luxury (Gen 43:11; 1 Ki 14:3). Honey was used in baking sweets (Ex 16:31). It was forbidden to be offered with the meal offering (Lev 2:11), perhaps because it was fermentable, but was presented with the fruit offering (2 Ch 31:5). Honey was offered to David's army (2 Sam 17:29). It was sometimes stored in the fields (Jer 41:8). It was also exchanged as merchandise (Ezek 27:17). In New Testament times wild honey was an article of food among the lowly (Mt 3:4; Mk 1:6).
Figurative: "A land flowing with milk and honey" suggested a land filled with abundance of good things (Ex 3:8,17; Lev 20:24; Nu 13:27; Dt 6:3; Josh 5:6; Jer 11:5; Ezek 20:6,15). "A land of olive trees and honey" had the same meaning (Dt 8:8; 2 Ki 18:32), and similarly "streams of honey and butter" (Job 20:17). Honey was a standard of sweetness (Song 4:11; Ezek 3:3; Rev 10:9,10). It typified sumptuous fare (Song 5:1; Isa 7:15,22; Ezek 16:13,19). The ordinances of Yahweh were "sweeter than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb" (Ps 19:10; 119:103). "Thou didst eat .... honey" (Ezek 16:13) expressed Yahweh's goodness to Jerusalem.
James A. Patch
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