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A Guest Article from Kelly Ottaway
A friend of mine has recently started a newsletter called “Springs of Joy” that I think you’ll love. So here’s a bonus article from her for you to peruse this week. She will be releasing monthly and you can subscribe right here:
As the western world has become more conscious about healthy lifestyles, there’s been a movement to replace refined sugar with natural sugars. Though not a calorie cutter, honey does provide more nutritional value than white sugar. As a hobby baker, my favourite application of sugar replacement is substituting honey for white sugar. It’s a simple 1:1 ratio, and it still tastes delightfully sweet.
Psalm 19:7-11 describes God’s law, or his word, as “sweeter than the drippings of honeycomb.” And this description is echoed in Psalm 119, a psalm written all about God’s Word. Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
I don’t know about you, but I feel some cognitive dissonance when I compare rules to something as delicious as honey. Can God’s law really be sweeter than honeycomb?
As I pondered this, I landed on a few things we need to understand in order to truly echo the psalter. We need to know who God is, what is the intent of his law, and why honey? Nothing is an accident with God, so we know that the descriptor of sweetness like honey is intentional.
But first: Context (always!). Psalm 19 was written by David. In the first half of Psalm 19, David beautifully describes the revelation of God through creation. In the second half of the psalm, David turns to the special revelation of God’s law. In his special revelation of himself, we learn about God’s character and who he is. David proclaims that God’s law revives the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, is righteous, endures forever, is a safeguard, is more desirable than gold, and is sweeter even than honeycomb. David failed miserably at keeping God’s law, yet he is confident in all these claims about God’s word.
Psalm 119 is written solely about God’s law and how wonderful it is. While these psalms were focused on God’s Law being the Torah (first five books of the OT), we can extend the term to include the whole counsel of Scripture (Luke 24:44).
So, who is this God that handed down the Law? God is the perfect, eternal creator of everything. He prepared the most beautiful garden for people to live in because he wanted to live in community with the most special objects of his creation. But the first humans chose to disobey God and with that choice, all were condemned to death and separation from God. Yet he promised to save us, restore the world, and make all things new (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 21:5). God desired to do whatever it took to bring His chosen people Israel and all nations back to him before we even desired reconciliation (Rom. 5:6-11).
Who God is informs the intent of his law. Paul says in Romans 7:11, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” God gave us the law to help us live holy lives, acceptable and pleasing to Him because He wants us with Him. Yet, we could not keep the law, and instead, it convicted us of our sin. But God didn’t leave us alone with a law we couldn’t fulfil.
The story gets so good here. We couldn’t keep the law, so God rescued us by sending Jesus, his only son, to perfectly fulfil the law for us and make a way for us to live forever in heaven (Matt. 5:17; John 1:1-5). The law was and is a good thing because it paved the way for Christ to come and save us from our sins.
We begin to see the richness and sweetness of God’s law as it resulted in Christ fulfilling it for us.
But why honey? You know, I can use honey to make my young children eat almost anything. I can put it in plain yoghurt, in oatmeal, on fruit, and more. And they’ll gobble it right up. They even asked me to put it on their eggs one time (gross, but it works). Honey is enticing, and it is a real problem-solver.
When we look at ways “honey” is used in the Bible, one frequent experience comes to mind. When the Israelites were in captivity in Egypt, God promised to rescue them and take them to a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8). Repeatedly, God describes the fulfilment of his promise to include a flourishing land, where honey is plentiful.
What was so wonderful about a land filled with honey? Perhaps because if the land was flowing with milk and honey, it also would have been abundant with animals that produced the milk and plants and bees that produce the honey. In this promise, we see a glimpse of the Garden, of the world in its original state. Flourishing, thriving, producing. We see the kindness of God in wanting his people to experience as much of the Garden experience as they could in a world tainted by sin.
Another way we see honey used is in the description of “manna,” the sustenance God provided for Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (Ex. 16:31). It doesn’t seem like an accident that the food he provided them with had a taste of what was to come in the promised land. This pleasing, fulfilling, and sustaining bread from heaven, a foreshadowing of the Promised Land, was also a foreshadowing of Christ—the true Bread of Life.
In Ezekiel, the prophet is told in a vision to eat a scroll—a word from God. And his description of it is “sweet as honey,” (Eze. 3:3). In Revelation John was commanded to eat a scroll and though it made his stomach bitter, it tasted sweet (Rev. 10:9-10).
Perhaps honey is a marker of God’s fulfilment of his promises, a symbol of his good word. Honey in Scripture contains a story. It’s a story of a God who promised good things to his people. And when they repeatedly failed, he still sustained them.
In his word, God promised a rescuer, a Messiah, eternal life, and all of that was fulfilled in Jesus. We can trust the words in God’s Word, after all, Jesus Himself is the Word (John 1:1).
So why is God’s word sweet to the taste, sweeter even than honey? Because God is trustworthy to follow through on his promises, and he promises that in striving to keep his word, we will be recipients of only good things. In his word we are refreshed, restored, rejuvenated, and refined. So receiving direction from God in his word is sweet. We will continue to fail often at keeping his word, but we will also continue to grow in sanctification as we keep trying and trusting. Because he only wants good things for us, we can trust that it’s good and sweet to obey his word. Other pursuits may entice, but they will always prove to be sour and bitter.
One of my favourite hymns says this:
Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise;
Just to know, Thus saith the Lord.
Do you know why it’s so sweet to obey God’s law? It’s because the law is God’s word, which is fulfilled by Jesus Christ—the only one who sacrificed himself to save us from our sin. Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s word, while living a human life on earth. And he obeyed it with joy, because of who the Father is. God’s law is a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God’s word is good and perfect and sweeter than honey. Taste it today and see for yourself.
Adsum: Here is the Hymn:
Postscript from Kelly:
Here is one of my favorite recipes that uses honey instead of processed sugar.
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