I was recently been asked if honey is kosher since it comes from bees. So, we need to see what the Bible says about it.
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by Lex Meyer
I was recently approached with the question, "is bee honey kosher since it comes from unclean insects?" There are claims that the honey mentioned in the Bible is not bee honey but actually date honey, fig honey, or tree syrup. So, we need to find out what type of honey is being referenced in the Bible.
Bees make honey from nectar, which actually makes it a plant product. The bees collect the nectar for their own food supply and they turn the nectar into honey for long-term storage in the cold months and when food is scarce. Honey is actually very healthy and one of the best types of sugar we can eat. It's also said that honey will never spoil or rot.
Now, I want to be clear that I don't look to the Rabbis as my authority on such matters, but I want to mention this as an interesting side note. The Rabbis teach that honey is kosher because it's not an actual secretion of the bee; the bee functions only as a carrier and facilitator for the honey. Honey is kosher flower nectar which enters the bee’s honey sac where it's transformed into honey.
Both Date honey and fig honey are a thick syrup that's extracted from the fruit through a process of boiling the fruit and making a fruit mash. In Hebrew date honey is called silan and is used in pastries and as a Dip for bread.
There are also a number of trees that produce sap that can be eaten. Maple syrup is the most commonly eaten tree sap. It's recommended that tree sap be boiled and reduced to remove impurities and thicken the syrup, however many tree saps can be eaten directly from the tree.
The Bible mentions honey 61 times and often refers to it as being sweet and good. God's Word is often compared to honey and Israel is said to be a land flowing with milk and honey. So, is this referring to fruit or tree syrup, or is it talking about honey made by bees?
The Hebrew word "debash" is used 54 times in the Old Testament and after checking 12 different translations, I found that without exception it's always translated as "honey". So, let's examine the use of the word debash to see if the context fits with man-made fruit syrup, tree sap, or bee honey. I want to look at four very specific examples when people ate honey to see if the context can help clarify which type of honey they ate.
The first example I want to bring up is when Samson ate honey from a beehive.
"After some time, when he returned to get her, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold, a swarm of bees and honey [debash] were in the carcass of the lion. He took some of it in his hands and went along, eating. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they also ate. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey out of the carcass of the lion."
- Judges 14:8-9
Obviously, the lion carcass was unclean and he shouldn't have eaten honey from a carcass, but his parents didn't know he took it from the carcass, and they ate the honey because they thought it was clean. However, I point this verse out for context, because it clearly says the honey [debash] came from bees.
The next example I want to look at is when Jonathan eats honey from a honeycomb.
"But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his countenance brightened."
- 1 Samuel 14:27
We see again from this context that Jonathan was eating honey from a honeycomb. This makes it very clear that he was eating bee honey, not fruit syrup or tree sap. If the honeycomb was never mentioned then we might conclude that it was tree sap, but there is no way this could be fruit syrup which requires a lengthy man-made extraction process.
The third example is John the Baptist eating wild honey.
"Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild [agrion] honey [meli]."
- Matthew 3:4
The use of the word "agrion" here indicates that it cannot be speaking about a man-made fruit syrup, so we can automatically rule out the date or fig honey. This means it's either tree sap or bee honey. The Greek word meli means honey and refers specifically to the honey made by bees.
The fourth and final example I want to examine is what honey did our Messiah eat? There is an interesting prophecy concerning the Messiah found in Isaiah, which says,
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey [debash] He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good... So it shall be, from the abundance of milk they give, That he will eat curds; For curds and honey [debash] everyone will eat who is left in the land."
- Isaiah 7:14,15,22
This prophecy indicates that the Messiah would eat honey, and we see in the Gospel of Luke that He did, in fact, eat honey, and more specifically the honeycomb.
"When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb [melissios kérion]. And He took it and ate in their presence."
- Luke 24:40-45
The Greek word "melissios" means "belonging to bees, coming from bees, or made by bees" and refers exclusively to honey that's made by bees. The Greek word kérion refers to the wax part of the honey comb. These two words together leave no doubt that Yeshua was eating bee honey with the honeycomb wax. We know that Messiah did not violate the Torah, so this verse should clear up any confusion about this subject. If Yeshua ate bee honey, then we should have no question about it being clean.
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