Honey in the Wilderness
"And when the people had come into the wood, behold the honey dropped . . .Wherefore he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honey-comb, and put his hand to his month; and his eyes were enlightened." —1 Samuel 14:26, 27.
And when the people were come into the wood, behold, the honey dropped; but no man put his hand to his mouth: for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan heard not when his father charged the people with the oath: wherefore he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened. 1 Samuel 14:26-27
When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out, yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 1 Samuel 14:26-27
They didn't even touch the honey because they all feared the oath they had taken. But Jonathan had not heard his father's command, and he dipped a stick into a piece of honeycomb and ate the honey. After he had eaten it, he felt much better. 1 Samuel 14:26-27
The Word of God is rich with the most
beautiful and instructive similitude. We are aware there is a limit to its use,
and that if that limit be overstepped, we may leave the field of a sober
reality, for the uncertain and unsafe path of imagination. Yet, on the other
hand, since God has “used similitudes by the ministry of the prophets,” it were
folly, no, it were sin to disregard them altogether as useless aids in
illustrating and elucidating divine truth.
The army of the Lord was now faint and weary in the conflict. Saul had rashly enjoined that no individual should taste of food until the battle had been fought. Ignorant of the royal command, Jonathan, on coming to a certain woods, and beholding honey dropping upon the ground, in a moment of exhaustion, put forth the end of his rod, dipped it in the honey-comb and partook of it; “and his eyes were enlightened.” Now each particular here is suggestive of some spiritual truth.
Firstly: the Lord’s people are often weary and faint in their spiritual conflicts. It is no ideal picture of the Christian life when the Word of God represents it in the character of a warfare- it is a solemn and serious truth. To the tactics of this warfare we do not now refer; our remarks bear particularly upon that peculiar state which the conflict produces- weariness and exhaustion. It may be instructive to trace this condition to some of its causes.
Among these may be stated, the nature and the number of HIS SPIRITUAL FOES. It may be at the risk of damping the ardor of a young recruit, that we give prominence to this idea, nevertheless, ignorance of our enemies, their strength and variety, has often led to disastrous consequences. The very field upon which the battle is fought is one of sore temptation. What is the world to the believer, but one of his greatest snares? Is there in it anything that sympathizes with the Christian character? Anything in its pursuits, its pleasures, its policy, which advances in his soul the divine life? Can he in his weakness extract from it strength? Can he in his trials derive from it comfort? Can he in his difficulties ask from it aid? Quite the reverse. Yes, the very battlefield is one of severe temptation to the Christian warrior. We can only compare his position to an armed force going out to war, and startled at every turn by some wild beast rushing from its lair, or periled by some pitfall lying concealed at every step. This is no over-wrought picture of the world through which the saints are passing. Things that are lawful, are snares. Things, too, that wear the most innocent and innocuous form, often conceal the greatest danger. Yet how little are we broad awake to this. Why does the apostle so frequently and so earnestly warn the Church of God against the world? Because he knew it to be one of his most subtle and most dangerous foes. I believe the day is coming- hasten, Lord, its arrival! when God will so pour out his Spirit upon his church, that it will be considered then as glaring an inconsistency for a Christian man to become a partner in business with a worldly man, as it is now to form an alliance still closer and more sacred with one who is not a follower of the Lord Jesus. “Don't you know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” “Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord.”
And what shall we say of his great, unseen, but not less dangerous enemy- the devil? Satan has a more accurate knowledge of us than we have of ourselves. He studies us as we study a book. Without ascribing to him divine attributes, there is a kind of ubiquity belonging to him which renders him a most formidable, because an ever-present foe. Nor do we think that it is in things decidedly evil that Satan proves most successful with the child of God. It is oftener in things which wear the appearance and the semblance of good. It is Satan robed as “an angel of light” not Satan appearing as a fiend of darkness, that we have most to dread. Hence we have reason to beware of the many specious, but false religions of the day.
And when with the world and the devil, he numbers among his spiritual foes, the corruptions of his fallen nature, the subtlety and deep depravity of his own heart; is it marvellous that the believer should often be dispirited in the spiritual conflict? “Cast down, but not destroyed.”
The DEFEATS too which he is constantly sustaining- the cutting off of supplies upon which he depended- the seeming withdrawment of the Captain of his salvation, as if indifferent to the conflict- the rusting of his armor- the defection in the camp of some, the desertion from the ranks of others, and the falls upon the battlefield of yet more, often deeply discourage the Christian soldier. His heart sickens, his spirits droop, his courage fails, and he lays down upon his shield, as if to die.
But there is HONEY IN THE DESERT for the Christian soldier, “faint yet pursuing.” There is appropriate refreshment for the weariness and exhaustion of the conflict. The Israelites had been sore pressed by the Philistines. They had fought hard all that day. The rash injunction of their royal leader, had greatly aggravated their suffering. They were forbidden to partake of any nourishment until the evening. Exhausted and faint, weary and discouraged, they light upon a spot in the forest where honey fell, luxuriant and inviting, upon the ground. It met the case of the king’s son. He partook of it, and his drooping spirit revived within him.
The Lord of hosts, the Captain of our salvation, has a kind and considerate regard for his weary and discouraged soldiers. They are fighting in his cause- they are battling for his truth- they have come to his help against the mighty, and in the hour when their strength fails, and their spirits droop, and their hearts faint, he will guide them to the spot in the desert, where the honey- the nourishment of his providing- is found, and of which they may eat abundantly.
The similitude of honey is one of frequent occurrence in the Bible. When God would describe the richness of Palestine, he speaks of it as a “land flowing with milk and honey.” This, too, would appear to have been a provision especially made by him for the nourishment of his church in the wilderness. Moses says that the Lord made his people to “suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.” It is quite clear, then, that we may regard this species of food as the symbol of great spiritual blessings.
The SOURCES from where the Christian’s nourishment is derived are various. We should be grateful to God that he has not limited us to one secondary source of spiritual nourishment. It was proper, it was wise and gracious in God that there should be but one Plant of Renown, but one Rose of Sharon, but one Lily of the Valley, but one Living Vine; in other words, that there should be but one Savior and Redeemer, but one Head and Reservoir of the church. But there are offshoots from this divine plant; there are streams issuing from this sacred fountain-head, from each of which the believer in his weariness and sorrowing may, by faith, extract the nourishment that strengthens and revives him. I would repeat it- be grateful to God for this. Suppose his people were shut up to but one means of grace- that means being the Gospel ministry; and suppose he were to assign your lot where no such channel were accessible- how would it fare with your soul? But it is not so. Let his Providence guide you to the farthest spot on the earth- the desert, the forest, the prairie- where no ministry of reconciliation proclaims the unsearchable riches of Christ, yet, even there, he can guide you to the spot where falls the honey, abundant as his own affluence, and free as his own grace can make it.
Such, believer, may be your present condition. The seclusion of a sick chamber, the solitude of the house of mourning, the deprivation in other ways of the wonted means of grace, may be to you like an exile from the land of milk and honey; but the Lord has his heart upon you still, and “he does devise means, that his banished are not expelled from him.” There is honey for you in the wood.
What is the Word of God but this honey? David’s experience shall testify. “How sweet are your words unto my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” And from where does this honey fall, but from the heart of God? What is the word of God? It is the unfolding of the heart of God. His mind conveys the word, but his heart dictates the word. Take the promises: how “exceeding great and precious” they are. Have you not often found them sweet to your taste as the honey and the honey-comb? When some portion of the wold suited to your present need has been brought home to your heart by the sealing power of the Holy Spirit, how have all other sweets become bitter to your taste compared with this. Your Heavenly Father saw your grief, your divine Captain beheld your conflict and your exhaustion, and bade his Spirit go and drop that sweet promise into your sad heart, and you found the entrance of God’s word gave light and comfort to your sad and gloomy spirit.
The love of God in Christ! O it is sweeter than honey! The love that gave Christ- that chose us in Christ- that has blessed us in Christ- that gives us standing in Christ; surely it passes all knowledge. To see it traveling over all the opposition of our unbelieving minds, and the corruption of our depraved hearts, and meeting us at some peculiar stage of our journey, in some painful crisis of our history, in some bitter lonely trial through which we are passing; how does this exalt our views of its greatness, and bring us into the experience of its sweetness.
Such, too, is the love of the Spirit. His love as tasted in his calling- in his comforting- in his sanctifying- in his witnessing, and in all his effectual and unwearied teaching. “God is love”- and on this truth- sweet in our present experience- we shall be living through eternity: “If so be we have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
But let us not overlook the honey-comb- the depository of this spiritual nourishment. “It pleased the Father that in Jesus should all fulness dwell.” If the grace that flows from Jesus is sweet, Jesus himself is sweeter still. Let us not, then, be satisfied with the fulness of Christ; but let us live on the person of Christ: “He that eats of my flesh, and drinks of my blood, dwells in me, and I in him.” I fear we have too little contact with Christ himself. We do not sufficiently make him our personal friend- walking with him, talking with him, confiding in him as we would with the dearest personal friend of our hearts. And yet this is our high and precious privilege. “This is my Friend,” should be the language of every believer, as he points to, and leans upon, Christ.
The PLACE where this honey- the symbol of such spiritual blessing- was found, was the “wood.” Beloved, the covenant of grace, the fulness that is in Christ, is not for heaven, but for earth. It is not for the church triumphant, but for the church militant- the church in her warfare. Here it is the battle is fought, and the conflict is passing, and the enemy assails, and the wound is inflicted, and the heart faints, and the spirit is discouraged, and the soul is weary. This honey of God’s providing is for the season of sorrow and seclusion, for the need and weariness, the entanglement and loneliness of the forest.
Then, refuse it not, O child of sorrow! Stretch forth your rod of faith, and gather of it abundantly. “Eat, O friends,” is your Lord’s invitation. Drink deeply of your Father’s love- draw largely from Christ’s fulness- confide implicitly in God’s word- invoke believingly the Spirit’s help. All is for you. God is the God of the tried- Jesus is the Savior of the tried- the Spirit is the Comforter of the tried- the Bible, with all its consolations and its hopes, is the Book of the tried. Eat of this honey, and your spirit shall be revived. Your eyes will be opened to see new depths of love in God, new chambers of repose in Christ, new promises of sweetness in the Word, and new unfoldings of wisdom, truth, and goodness in the present conduct of him whose dealings may be veiled in painful mystery, but who will never forget to lead his valiant yet exhausted soldier to the honey in the wood.
Nor let us overlook the mingling of the bitter and the sweet in the Lord’s dealings with us here. Like the Apocalyptic book eaten by John, which was in his “mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as he had eaten, was bitter;” so are often blended the varied dispensations of our God. It is a most wise and gracious arrangement. All bitter would have dispirited; all sweet would have glutted. The one would have created despondency, and the other, loathing. Thus, our sorrows and our joys, our trials and our succorings, our defeats and our victories, are strangely, wisely, and kindly blended in this the “time of our sojourning.”
Be skillful and diligent to extract this honey from every, the bitterest flower. O that God may make us wise to do this. The sweetest apprehensions of Christ have often been in the bitterest dispensations of God’s providence. The stone that was rolled upon the tomb of Christ was heavy: but Christ was beneath it. There may be a stone of difficulty in the way of our mercies, but faith rolling it away, that very difficulty will be found to have brought us to a living Christ full of sweet grace and truth. And let us remember, too, that it is along the path of filial and unreserved obedience that this honey is most thickly strewed. “O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!” What would have been their reward? “He would have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should have satisfied them.”
Beware of being so surfeited with the world, with earthly care and carnal enjoyment as to loathe this honey. “The full soul loathed the honey-comb.” Israel loathed the manna. Learn one reason why God has placed you just where you are- even to create in your soul a zest and a taste for this honey. He will embitter the world’s sweets, when they embitter his. But Jesus can make the world’s bitter, sweet, and the creature s sweet, sweeter. Receive all as from Christ, and enjoy all as in Christ, and then shall Christ be to you all and in all.
Soon we shall be in glory, soon we shall escape from the world, and enter the paradise of God. There the boughs are laden, and drop with honey that never wastes, and that never gluts. The weary pilgrim and the veteran warrior shall repose by the side of the rock from where flowed this precious food all through the desert, partaking of its fulness, lasting as eternity. You who have tasted the honey in the wilderness, shall assuredly partake of it in your Father’s house.
“Spent with the toil of wasting war,
His hosts, with him, compelled to fast,
The longing chief of Israel saw
Where nature furnished wild meal.
“The aged terebinth had shed
Its pure and luscious treasure round;
And the rich feast lay duly spread,
Free as the winds along the ground.
“For there, upon the tangled grass,
Dropt the sweet burden of that hive;
Yet, until the dial’s shade should pass,
No Hebrew might partake and live.
“The monarch’s son, the empire’s heir,
The leader in the conflict’s van,
The victor- say, what was he there?
A weary, worn and famished man!
“He took and ate- no more oppressed,
From eyes, enlightened, flashed his joy!
O fainting soul! be you as blest
With drops of grace, that never cloy.
“And praise Him who leads sons of care,
Pursued by sin and sore distress-
From famine and from flight, to where
There’s honey in the wilderness.”
-William B. Tappan
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