“And I will come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and bring them up out of that land unto a good, ample land, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.” (Exodus 3:8)
“Flowing with milk and honey”. A familiar phrase. Yet, nonetheless, it’s a bit perplexing to hear a land described that way. Many Jewish scholars believe that the milk and the honey are actually referring to the plentiful and magnificent produce of the land of Israel. The milk represents the livestock, the goats and cows, that give milk. Honey in biblical times was mostly produced from dates and figs, thus representing the fruit of the Holy Land. However, this description God chooses to describe the Land of Israel may raise an eyebrow or two. It’s almost as if the produce will miraculously flow into the land. Someone above is overseeing things. Many believe that the implication of this phrase is something that has left its imprint on Israel’s history.
Israel is not an easy land to develop. It has little natural resources, and, until this day, is highly dependent on rain, which is not a constant. When the People of Israel were exiled over 2000 years ago, it seems almost as if the Land of Israel went into mourning. It lay barren, a desert wasteland, where Bedouin tribes wandered to find areas of vegetation for their flocks of sheep and goats. Quite little grew and there were few who tried to produce anything from its dry and barren earth. In his book “Innocents Abroad”, Mark Twain travels through Israel and describes his impressions of the land in the year 1867:
““….. A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
Things have changed dramatically since those days that Mark Twain toured the desolate Land of Israel. There is plenty of milk and honey. Just pay a short visit to Kibbutz Yotvata in Israel’s arid Arava region. Israel’s cows produce far more milk per capita than in any other country in the world. For example, a cow in the U.S. or the U.K. produces, on the average, about 6000 liters of milk per year. A cow in Israel produces twice that much. Not far from Kibbutz Yotvata lies Kibbutz Keturah. One of the things that the kibbutz is known for is its delicious dates. When starting its date orchards in the 1970’s, Keturah shipped 12 date trees from California, and, from those twelve initial trees, planted 10,000 date trees. Each tree produces 350 pounds of dates a year. Honey? Date honey is the thing here… Dr. Elaine Soloway, head of the kibbutz’s orchards even managed to grow a date tree from a 2000 year-old date seed found in the archeological digs at Masada. The kibbutz has named the tree “Methusela”. Methusela is an incredible phenomenon, and also a symbolic bridge between Israel’s past and present.
“But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit for My people Israel; for they will soon come home.” Prophecies the prophet Ezekiel.
This, Jewish scholars tell us, is a true sign that the redemption is near. The trees of Israel have begun to yield fruit, and the land flows with milk and honey.